Winner: Surround Sound Recording of the Year
ECHO Klassik Awards
A note from Mikhail Gurevich, Concertmaster and Artistic Director
Dear Music Friends;
do.gma has received an abundance of positive criticism, at home and abroad, for its debut CD DO.GMA#1 and I have also had much personal feedback, for which I, on behalf of the orchestra, would like to offer my heartfelt thanks. The title of our first production indicates that we will publish a series of do.gma recordings, introducing composers from different epochs and different parts of the world. We change continents in DO.GMA#2 - American Stringbook and set out on a musical journey of discovery through the U.S.A. We dedicate our new production to the rise and development of the American Classical movement. We focus not just on famous composers such as Samuel Barber, but also on the compositions of less well-known masters, whom we wish to introduce to a wider audience. And there is much to discover musically: Arthur Foote, David Diamond and William Schuman - in an exemplary way, all represent the exciting and very individual development of classical music in the U.S.A. Wishing you a fruitful journey of discovery through the New World, your Mikhail Gurevich
do.gma's American Stringbook In its latest recording, the do.gma chamber orchestra has turned its attention to the music of America, presenting the work of three 20th-century composers, and one from the late 19th-century Romantic period. This music made these composers from New York and Boston famous during their lifetimes. These recordings by the do.gma chamber orchestra of work by David Diamond, Arthur Foote, William Schuman and Samuel Barber demonstrate; the beauty and daring of American compositions during this period.
The composer David Diamond was highly influential in American musical life in the second half of the 20th-century. In the 1960s particularly, Diamond was heaped with prizes, honours and influential posts. The composer from Rochester in New York State had already written his most important work Rounds for String Orchestra. It came about as the result of a commission from the well-known American-Greek composer Dimitri Mitropolous. Virgil Thompson described Diamond's piece as real. He viewed this three-movement composition, based on rounds, as genuine and unique. In England in the 16th-century, rounds were a much-loved form of canon, written for entertainment and sung communally. These circular canons were normally kept very simple. The arrangement was usually in the same beat, employing the same melody and using octave transposition and unison.
Diamond also used these techniques for his rounds, especially in the first movement, marked Allegro, molto vivace. The theme, strongly influenced by Jazz, is continually restarted after four beats. The canon though does not always dominate the rounds. Diamond frees himself repeatedly from the opening theme, to create episodes not based on the strongly rhythmical opening motifs. The sound of the opening rounds is strong and natural and one is reminded of bird song or dance steps. In the second movement, the Adagio, Diamond shows his special strengths. The flowing, slow music captivates the listener with its sincerity and intensity of expression, employing measured and small-stepped melody development.
The closing Allegro vigoroso again uses the rounds technique. This extraordinary movement, played similarly to the previous attacca, feeds on almost archaic energy. Here, the bow strikes set the rhythmic sound. Powerful note repetitions are wild and robust, sweeping again and again through the music. Folk-like melodies emerge within the structure. Finally, Diamond allows his rounds to die away in a long developed final cadence.
Diamond's older colleague from the Boston area, Arthur Foote, was totally committed to the romantic tradition. He admired Johannes Brahms, took lessons with the composer Stephen Heller and in 1876 attended the first opera performance in the newly built Bayreuth Festival Hall, the Bayreuther Festspielhau. Foote though developed his own genuinely American style and his compositions dominated musical life on the east coast of America for many decades.
The Suite in E begins with a movement marked Prelude, characterised by a very tender, almost chant-like theme. A dramatic escalation follows. Interestingly, to attain this effect, Foote works with techniques that condense and intensify the sound rather than using dynamic or forceful motifs. In conclusion, the tender tones die away. In the second movement, Foote counterposes pizzicato with flowing strings. The two styles are played together; and in contrast to one another.
Finally the composer masterfully chooses the fugue form to create a powerful and determined sound. After four conventional entries, a dazzling fugue emerges, which Foote develops to a loud finale.
The composer William Schuman, a contemporary of David Diamond, was one of New York's great musicians. In 1943 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his cantata A Free Song. Two years later he became President of the New York Juilliard School, and 15 years after that the director of the Lincoln Center. The young New Yorker only first discovered music as a 20 year old. His sister had taken him to an Arturo Toscannini concert. William immediately fell in love with the sound of the symphony orchestra.
"I was astounded at seeing the sea of stringed instruments, and everybody bowing together. The visual thing alone was astonishing. But the sound! I was overwhelmed. I had never heard anything like it. The very next day, I decided to become a composer."
Schuman was fortunate in that his teacher at Columbia University introduced him to the influential conductor Serge Koussevitzky. The conductor immediately took Schuman under his wing, organised performances and commissions and helped him attain public recognition. Schuman's Symphony for Strings (his fifth symphony), was also commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation.
In this, one of Schuman's best know works, the 30 year old composer experiments with different structures, which he contrasts with other textures - as his American colleges called them. These textures develop over long passages. This short symphony is brought to life by musical themes repeated in each movement, creating a strong sense of cohesion. In the middle of the first movement, powerful, harshly painted chords are stretched out and repeated. A similar structure can also be found in the extended slower movement, which is dominated by quiet notes and tightly measured melodies. This movement occupies a key position in the symphony. Here the strong tones of the first movement transform into a gentler mood. In the last movement, Schuman mixes extracts from the first movement with new ideas, until at the close, the striking theme of the first movement appears again, leading to a remarkably unpretentious ending. The overall structure of the symphony appears to have programmatic intent: the war-like action of the first movement is followed by expressions of grief and despair in the slow movement. The final movement is steeped in a sense of positive reconstruction.
Samuel Barber, like his colleague William Schuman was born in 1910. Barber already knew as a youngster where his greatest talents lay. As a seven year old, he wrote to his mother that he thought he would become a composer. Barber's assessment proved correct. At just 14 he was given a place at the renowned Curtis Institute in Philadelphia - a hard fought honour for the students who had already passed their school exams. The director of the Institute, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, saw the talent of the young pupil and introduced him to the publisher Schirmer, who went on to publish Barber's collected works. Amongst them was the Serenade opus 1, which he wrote at the age of 19, when he was the most talented member of the composition class run by Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute. First conceived as a string quartet, students of Curtis performed the piece on numerous occasions, and it became well known.
Even then, Barber was the star of the Institute, with his economical yet powerful style. Barber maintained his popularity and became the American composer par excellence.
Almost 15 years after the composition of the Serenade opus 1, Barber orchestrated the work for string orchestra, making just a few changes. Barber adopts a surprisingly multifarious range of styles in this piece. In the first movement especially, he strives for a sense of longing and hope. Up to a point, Barber composed the movement as a perpetuum mobile, as an ever-continuing flow. The piece begins quite differently. One hears an interplay of motifs, as they once might have sounded. In movements two and three, Barber is somewhat more conventional. Following the slow middle movement is a concluding dance, folk-like in character, which give the piece its charm. The do.gma chamber orchestra concludes this recording of the work of the American romantic and modern movements with the best known piece of all American compositions, the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. This piece is the slow movement of the string quartet that Barber wrote in 1936. At the time, the young composer realised the significance of this movement, and published it as a work in its own right. Music journalists commented on the piece following its premier in 1938. Olin Downes of the New York Times praised the Adagio and wrote of perfection in every respect. Other critics thought that Downes' view was over-the-top, but the Adagio was soon accepted as one of the best contemporary pieces of American music. Today, music lovers worldwide share that opinion. This CD does though show that there are many other works of international standing.
Mirjam Schadendorf; Translation: Ian Bild