Thursday, February 2, 2017 8:00 PM Jones Hall
Friday, February 3, 2017 8:00 PM Jones Hall

Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
Robin Kesselman, double bass





Bass Concerto in F-sharp minor, Opus 3        

I. Allegro

II. Andante

III. Allegro

 PIAZZOLLA  Tangazo   [11]

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story        

I. Prologue:  Allegro moderato—

II. Somewhere:  Adagio—

III. Scherzo:  Vivace e leggiero—

IV. Mambo:  Meno Presto—

V. Cha Cha:  Andantino con grazia—

VI. Meeting Scene:  Meno mosso, sempre rubato—

VII. Cool:  Swing—

VIII. Rumble:  Molto allegro—

IX. Finale:  Adagio



Program Notes


Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)

Silvestre Revueltas belonged a group of Latin American composers who, like Aaron Copland in the United States, strove to break free of European models. The composer Virgil Thomson, a contemporary, described Revueltas’ attitude as “independent, always rebelling against authority, disrespectful of the establishment, and deeply committed to the popular traditions of his native land.”

That unbridled spirit practically bursts from Sensemayá. It’s based on Sensemayá: Chant to Kill a Snake, by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. Rooted in Afro-Cuban rituals, Guillen’s short poem is as taut and pithy as an incantation, and so is Revueltas’ music.

A handful of percussion and woodwinds launch a chugging rhythm that becomes relentless. Solo instruments ring out like excited participants in a ritual, and the strings add a staccato chatter. The commotion builds until the stomping pulsation suddenly stops and the orchestra unleashes a volley of crashes and cries. Then, the chanting resumes, churning up an explosive finish. 

Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat offers Houston Symphony audiences another helping of zesty Latin music in April.

The Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings

Bass Concerto for F-sharp minor, Opus 3
Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)

As conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949, Serge Koussevitzky led the group to the top tier of U.S. orchestras, and he spearheaded the creation of its Tanglewood summer festival. But before he picked up the baton, Koussevitzky played the double bass. 

Born in a small town in eastern Russia, he won a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatory at age 14, and the Bolshoi Theater’s orchestra hired him when he was 20. For solo appearances, he composed his own showpieces, including this concerto—a work that has iconic status among bass players, says Robin Kesselman, the Houston Symphony’s principal bass.

“The Koussevitzky Concerto is one of our theme songs or national anthems,” says Kesselman, this weekend’s soloist. “Its lyrical lines and hyper-expressive drama are unlike most of the music bass players get to play. It never apologizes for wearing its heart on its sleeve from beginning to end.”

The orchestra opens the concerto by flinging out a bold, rugged theme whose urgency harks back to Tchaikovsky. The solo bass enters with a flourish, and it turns the orchestra’s initial outcry into the surging melody that drives most of the concerto. With the orchestra mainly in a supporting role, the music’s passions spur the bass into flights of agility that many listeners might not suspect are within its reach.

The bass sings out the peaceful melody that sets the tone for the slow movement. The music takes on a lilt as the solo part grows florid, and the orchestra’s warmth enhances the movement’s lyricism. Then the orchestra reprises the concerto’s initial outcry, launching the finale. The bass sweeps back into the work’s ardent main theme, and even though the solo part leads in new directions—as in a hushed passage accompanied by plucked strings—the bass’ fire and virtuosity propel the concerto toward its close.

“I hope listeners will come away with a greater appreciation and understanding of the range of the instrument,” Kesselman says. “Typically as bass players (within the orchestra), we drive rhythmic and harmonic motion from underneath. I love playing these roles on a weekly basis. However, the double bass also has a tremendous ability for lyrically expressive and soloistic playing,” and Kesselman relishes the chance to display that. “It is incredibly rare for a bass player to get to perform in front of one of our country’s great symphony orchestras. Collaborating with my colleagues of the Houston Symphony as a soloist is an opportunity I never dreamed of having.”

Another leading Houston Symphony member, principal cellist Brinton Averil Smith, will solo in April, playing Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cello Concerto.

The Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, timpani, percussion and strings

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Astor Piazzolla discovered his musical loves as a youngster. When he was 8, his father gave him a bandoneon (a cousin of the accordion that’s almost synonymous with the Argentine tango). A few years later, studying with a classical pianist, Piazzolla fell under the spell of J.S. Bach.

The result was a blend of classical-music technique and tango soulfulness, which Piazzolla dubbed nuevo tango. Tangazo showcases its richness. The cellos and double basses intone a broad, dark-hued melody, and the rest of the strings gradually join in—a brooding echo of Bach’s counterpoint. Suddenly, a few wind instruments interrupt. The oboe launches a buoyant dance, and the rest of the orchestra follows, with Latin percussion adding zest. Lyricism returns, and it gains urgency from an undercurrent of the classic tango rhythm and a new melody sung out by the French horn. The pace picks up again and Tangazo takes on a swagger, then ends in a wisp, like a dancer slipping offstage. 

The Houston Symphony will again salute Latin America in May, when it premieres Gabriela Lena Frank’s Requiem.

The Instruments: 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, percussion and strings

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

West Side Story’s electrifying score and powerful, contemporary drama made the show a milestone in musical theater history. It was also a hit. After this transformation of Romeo and Juliet premiered in 1957, it ran nearly two years on Broadway, toured the United States, then returned to the Great White Way. The London staging ran more than two years, and a Hollywood adaptation filmed in 1960 went on to win 10 Academy Awards. 

The orchestral suite, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, ranks among composer Leonard Bernstein’s most-performed works. It dates back to 1960, when the show was still a hot property. To help create it, Bernstein tapped the musicians who orchestrated the Broadway and movie versions: Sid Ramin, who also wrote the television ditty, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”; and Irwin Kostal, who later orchestrated Mary Poppins and the film of The Sound of Music. By focusing on West Side Story’s dances, the team capitalized on the way those buoyant, propulsive sequences crystallized the story’s romance and violence. But a quandary arose. After weaving together all the dance music, the team had no ending. A longtime Bernstein assistant, Jack Gottlieb, found a solution. They drew on the heroine Maria’s idealistic song, “I Have a Love.” The result is a suite that encapsulates the show’s youthfulness, ardor and impact without needing words.

“Prologue” describes the rising tensions between the Jets and the Sharks, the New York City gangs that parallel Romeo and Juliet’s Montagues and Capulets. In “Somewhere,” the strings sing out one of the show’s most idyllic melodies—part of a vision of a place free from hate. In the show, that comes from a ballet sequence that also brings the airy music of the Scherzo, continuing the hopeful picture. The flashy “Mambo,” part of the vein of zesty Latin music running through the show, comes from a dance-off between the two gangs at a party. 

“Cha-Cha” turns the melody of the love song “Maria” into a graceful dance for flutes. “Meeting Scene” comes from the music accompanying the first encounter of the soon-to-be sweethearts, Tony and Maria. In “Cool,” the lean, dynamic counterpoint symbolizes the Jets’ eagerness to confront the Sharks. The fight breaks out in the explosive “Rumble.” And in “Finale,” Maria’s “I Have a Love” drives home the tragic contrast between hope and bloody reality. 

In May, the Houston Symphony will perform another work that springs from real-world violence, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

The Instruments: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, alto saxophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings