Thursday, April 20, 2017                           8:00 PM       Jones Hall
Saturday, April 22, 2017                           8:00 PM       Jones Hall
Sunday, April 23, 2017                             2:30 PM       Jones Hall




Overture to Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day)




Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (The Red Violin)     

I. (Chacone):  N = 60

II. (Pianissimo Scherzo):  L = 156-160

III. (Andante Flautando):  Lento

IV. (Accelerando Finale):  L = 138








Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome)  

I. La fontana di Valle Giulia all’alba (The fountain of the Valle Giulia at dawn):  Andante mosso—

II. La fontana del Tritone al mattino (The Triton Fountain in early morning):  Vivo—

III. La fontana di Trevi al meriggio (The Trevi Fountain at midday):  Allegro moderato—

IV. La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto (The fountain of the Villa Medici at sunset):  Andante




Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)      

I. I pini di Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese):  Allegretto vivace—

II. Pini presso una catacomba (Pines near a catacomb):  Lento—

III. I pini del Gianicolo (The Pines of the Janiculum):  Lento—

IV. I pini della via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Way):  Tempo di Marcia


Italian creativity ties together this weekend’s Houston Symphony program. With the Overture to King for a Day, the orchestra spotlights a little-known work by an Italian icon, Giuseppe Verdi. John Corigliano’s concerto, The Red Violin, grows from the Italian-American’s film score for a saga that begins during Italy’s golden age of violin-making. Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome conjure up not only the Eternal City’s landmarks, but the vibrant life that has unfolded amid them.

Overture to Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

King for a Day, Verdi’s second opera, nearly turned out to be his last. He created it as a series of personal heartbreaks reached their climax. Both of the young composer’s children had died within the previous two years. During his work on King for a Day, encephalitis killed his wife. Verdi, devastated, pleaded with the impresario of Milan’s La Scala opera house to release him from his contract, but the answer was no. So, Verdi labored to put himself in the frame of mind for a comedy—the story of a military officer called on to impersonate the king of Poland.

At its premiere, King for a Day flopped so badly that La Scala canceled the remaining performances. Verdi swore he’d never write another opera. Luckily for the rest of us, the same impresario lured him back to work, and Verdi’s next work, Nabucco, made him a star.
King for a Day’s overture sparkles. Rather than showing off any of the opera’s graceful tunes, this five-minute curtain-raiser zips ahead with unflagging high spirits. Three quick, ringing chords launch the introduction, but the gusto soon gives way to a moment of silence. Then, the woodwinds spring into action with the first of the overture’s two main themes. This one has the crispness and momentum of an eager dance, and it grows even breezier when the violins take the lead.

The orchestra fires up the excitement, then breaks off for another moment of suspense. The spotlight returns to the woodwinds, and the overture’s second theme takes off. With its jauntiness and glitter, it looks forward to the party-scene music in Verdi’s La traviata and Rigoletto. Its phrases are punctuated by short gaps, and Verdi promptly puts those breaks to use in the service of humor. When the winds repeat the theme, some of the orchestra’s lowest instruments, including bassoon, trombone and tuba, fire back at them. The strings jump in, bringing back their part of the first theme, and the boisterousness continues until a rousing buildup caps off the fun.
The Instruments: flute, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons,
4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion
and strings

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (The Red Violin)
John Corigliano (1938- )

As the son of the New York Philharmonic’s concertmaster, John Corigliano grew up hearing violin exercises and repertoire. The instrument became his first musical love, and he returned to it with his Oscar-winning soundtrack for The Red Violin, the 300-year saga of an ill-fated instrument. The film’s score was the jumping-off point for Corigliano’s concerto.
The first movement is a chaconne, a favorite genre of composers in the 17th century. A chaconne grows from a short theme that is repeated at length, fitted out on each appearance with different colors and textures. Using the venerable form, Corigliano says, freed him to compose a “passionate and romantic essay.”

The solo violin enters alone, whispering the first two chords of the chaconne theme, and a few glistening threads of sound swirl upward from the orchestra. Listen for the entrance of the bassoons, weighty and dark; they intone the chaconne theme. After the strings bring a new, ethereal aura, the solo violin sings out an ardent melody that comes from the film score, where it represents the violin maker’s doomed wife.

That melody and the chaconne theme propel the first movement’s drama and lyricism. The violin grows passionate, then fierce, and percussive thunderclaps punctuate its bold strokes. When the music quiets, the woodwinds spin out plaintive solos, and the solo violin soars. But vehemence returns, and after an agitated soliloquy for the soloist, the movement builds to a walloping finish.

The second movement brings a rush of phantasmagorical sounds. At the start, the score tells the woodwinds to play as rapidly as possible within a given range. The violin chatters in the stratosphere, and scintillating byplay bubbles up throughout the orchestra. A delicate little waltz appears and vanishes.

The strings’ richness sets the scene for the lyrical third movement. The solo violin harks back to its first-movement melody, spinning it out spaciously. Then the alto flute joins the violin in a lilting duet. Corigliano tells the violinist to play with a technique called flautando, which yields a light, pure sound akin to the flute’s. The finale starts with another string sound effect: The players press their bows against the strings so hard they create a crunch with no pitch. That percussive sound helps drive an explosive contest between the violin’s dynamism and the orchestra’s power. The violin interrupts the tumult with a wistful melody that, in the movie, represents a modern-day violin expert. Then the excitement returns.

The Instruments: 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo, 1 doubling alto flute), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (1 doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano (doubling celesta) and strings

Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) and
Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Frustrated by the career prospects in his native Bologna, Italy, 32-year-old Ottorino Respighi moved to Rome for a teaching job.

The scenic city inspired the tone paintings that would become his most famous works. Fountains of Rome evokes the feelings and visions the sights inspired in him; Pines of Rome depicts Roman life of past and present.

Fountains of Rome
In the score’s preface, Respighi writes that he “endeavored to give expression to the sentiments and visions suggested to him by four of Rome’s fountains, contemplated during the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or…their beauty appears most impressive.”

The Fountain of the Valle Giulia at dawn takes us to a rural area. High, luminous violins and a peaceful oboe melody set the scene. The clarinet takes over the lead, then the rest of the winds join in, and murmuring strings suggest the gentle motion of animals grazing. Things stir a bit as the oboe brings in a new, sinuous theme, and the music gains luster as the solo cello and oboe sing out in tandem. A lusty horn call summons us to The Triton Fountain in early morning, where Respighi imagines water nymphs at play. Glistening trills capture the water’s sparkle, and the woodwinds lead a sprightly dance. Soon after the strings join, the winds take off with an even livelier theme, and the harp’s upward and downward sweeps enhance the motion. The music calms, setting us up for The Trevi Fountain at midday. The English horn and bassoons launch into a theme whose upward surge draws in more and more of the orchestra, and the music swells into a portrait of the sea god Neptune—the actual fountain’s central figure—bounding across the waves in his chariot. The brasses let fly with a ringing, triumphant theme that helps propel the score to its climax. Then the music calms, and Respighi divides the string section into many strands, making the pianissimo close both lush and transparent.

The Fountain of the Villa Medici at sunset builds on that delicacy. The flute and English horn sing out serenely, accompanied by the starry glimmer of winds, harps, strings and celesta. A solo violin floats in the stratosphere, and a clarinet melody has a bit of birdcall about it. The flute warbles in response. As the light dies away, cellos and basses divided into multiple parts conjure up the arrival of velvety night.

The Instruments: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, 2 harps, piano, celesta and strings

The printed music for this work was donated by Dr. and Mrs. William S. Harwell in honor of their grandchildren, Mallory Catherine Frewer and Joseph Harwell Frewer.

Pines of Rome
The Pines of the Villa Borghese thrusts us into the midst of children at play in a park. The orchestra unleashes a salvo of its most glittering sounds with winds and strings in their highest registers, trilling and swirling. French horns and other winds cry out an opening melody that exudes youthful excitement, and zesty new themes keep bubbling up. The flutes offer a buoyant theme, the winds and violins chatter with another theme, and three trumpets add a breezier note. Stillness suddenly takes over as we behold Pines near a catacomb. The strings’ depth creates a somber aura, and the French horns intone a theme redolent of a medieval chant. The strings take it over, then a trumpet’s melody floats in from the distance. A trudging motion begins in the strings, as if a procession is approaching, and the music swells until the trombones issue a ringing proclamation. The procession fades into the distance.

A piano’s strumming leads us to The Pines of the Janiculum, a nocturne. “There is a thrill in the air,” Respighi’s preface says. “The full moon reveals the profile of the pines.” Silky strings back up an ardent, long-breathed clarinet solo, and the music grows even more luxurious when the strings divide into a dozen strands. Sleek solos feature violin, oboe and cello, but the last word goes to a nightingale’s song, captured in a recording. The Pines of the Appian Way begins with a quiet but insistent pulse in the orchestra’s depths. The French horns launch into a martial theme, catapulting a massive orchestra crescendo that evokes an ancient Roman legion on the march.

To heighten the triumphant effect, Respighi asks for six archaic trumpets called buccine. This weekend, trumpets and trombones stand in for them.

The Instruments: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, offstage trumpet, 6 offstage brass, 3 trombones, tuba, nightingale recording (doubling organ), timpani, percussion, harp, piano, celesta and strings

—Steven Brown  

The conductor’s scores for this work were donated by Dr. Gary L. Hollingsworth and Dr. Ken Hyde.