July 21 2024 : Gabriela Lena Frank’s World Premiere

May 8, 2024

FO3B July 21
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Takacs Quartet CONFIRMED
Gabriela Lena Frank, composer

Florence Price, Adoration 4’
Gabriela Lena Frank, commission with Takacs (world premiere) 25’

Joan Tower, Concerto for Orchestra 30’

Florence Price, Adoration

Since the discovery of a major cache of her works in 2009, Florence Price (1887-1953) has been the subject of a significant revival and reappraisal in concert halls around the globe. Though much interest has centered on her three surviving symphonies and several concertos, her exquisite sense of craft also permeates small-scale works such as Adoration, originally scored for organ.  

Price’s skill as a keyboard player can be traced to her childhood in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she studied piano with her mother, and to Boston, where she double majored in piano and organ at the New England Conservatory of Music. After migrating to Chicago to escape racism in 1927, she developed ties to the Black intelligentsia, and in 1932, won first prize in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition for Black composers. The following year, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony No. 1 in E minor—the first time a major U.S. orchestra performed a work by an African-American woman. Nonetheless, Price faced discrimination and had to make ends meet by writing radio jingles and playing the organ for silent film screenings.  

A side-benefit from these projects was an understanding of miniature forms. The four-minute Adoration was published in 1951 in the Lorenz Corporation’s The Organ Portfolio, a periodical for organists. Though likely intended as a prelude for a church service, its flowing melody and processional tempo made it just as effective in orchestral arrangements. In recent times the score has been published in posthumous versions for violin (or viola) and piano, for wind quintet, and for string orchestra with soloist.

Gabriela Lena Frank, commission

[Awaiting Ms. Frank’s program note (by end of March).]

Joan Tower, Concerto for Orchestra

Joan Tower’s Concerto for Orchestra lives up to its title by giving “star turns” to various instruments in solo, duo, and other small combinations, and pitting them against the entire orchestra. The piece followed a busy period of orchestral experimentation for the American composer, starting with her mighty Sequoia (1981) and continuing with the muscular Silver Ladders (1986) and the Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1, a feminist twist on the Copland classic that has been played hundreds of times since its 1986 premiere.  

Tower did not stop there, of course. Her 2004 Made in America, a stirring take on “America the Beautiful,” was performed by more than 65 orchestras in all 50 states. And in 2020, Tower wrote 1920/2019 for the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19 initiative, in which it commissioned 19 women composers to honor the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

With that in mind, the Concerto for Orchestra marks a pivotal mid-career statement, jointly commissioned in 1991 by the New York Philharmonic, St. Louis Symphony, and Chicago Symphony Orchestras. Tower described it as her biggest work to date, and it carries echoes of the concertos for orchestra by Béla Bartók and Witold Lutoslawski. 

Tower also said that the piece is a study in musical evolution, exploring how themes develop “in the strongest and most natural way—a lesson I’ve learned from studying the music of Beethoven. Although technically demanding, the virtuoso sections are an integral part of the music, resulting from accumulated energy, rather than being designed purely as display elements.” The first section grows in ever-shifting blocks of sound—from the deep tones of the cellos to the crisp, chattering dialogue of paired trumpets. Part two begins slowly, announced by solos for violin, English horn, and tuba before the music surges to a glittering climax full of rapid-fire brass and percussion, and on to a heart-racing finish. 

— Brian Wise


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