February 3, 2024
Hear Native American themes with Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Eric Ewazen’s Shadowcatcher — a concerto featuring our brass quintet and inspired by Edward Curtis’s photography of Native American people in the early twentieth century.
Shadowcatcher: Concerto for Brass Quintet.........Eric Ewazen (b. 1954)
I. Offering to the Sun
II. Among the Aspens
III. The Vanishing Race
IV. Dancing to Restore and Eclipsed Moon
Jeremy Nygard, trumpet, Amy Schaaf, trumpet, Miles Miller, horn,
Tom Mortenson, trombone, Craig Goettle, bass trombone
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World".....Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
I. Adagio - Allegro molto
III. Scherzo: Molto Vivace
IV. Allegro con fuoco
Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra "Shadowcatcher"(2001) by Eric Ewazen (b. 1954)
Eric Ewazen was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1954. His composition teachers at the Eastman and Juilliard Schools and at Tanglewood have included Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller, and Joseph Schwantner. He has had works performed by the American Brass Quintet, the Greenwich (Connecticut) Symphony, and the Borealis Quintet (many of them commissions) at the Aspen, Tanglewood, Tidewater, and Caramoor festivals and elsewhere. He has taught at the Hebrew Arts School and the Lincoln Center Institute. Ewazen is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and has been a lecturer for the New York Philharmonic Musical Encounters Program since 1992. He has been composer-in-residence with the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble and the International Horn Society.
Shadowcatcher was commissioned by the renowned American Brass Quintet, to which the composition is dedicated. Dr. Ewazen often uses traditional musical forms and finds inspiration in written texts and pictorial images to create a piece’s profile: Shadowcatcher clearly fits this pattern. In the preface to his score for this work, the composer tells of the source of his inspiration and provides insight into the concerto’s formal devices: “Edward Curtis, the great American photographer who traveled throughout the American West during the early decades of the twentieth century, took literally tens of thousands of photographs of native American Indians. He chronicled their ancient lifestyle—capturing a time and place destined to disappear in the face of the modern age. His mysterious, beautiful, and powerful photographs had a distinctive play of light and dark, and the Indians dubbed him the “Shadowcatcher.” Four of his photographs are the inspiration for this concerto for brass quintet and orchestra:
1. Offering to the Sun (Tewa, 1925)—between the rock cliffs at San Idelfonso, a Tewa Indian, clutching feathers, raises his arms in supplication to the brilliant sunrise. The opening brass quintet music, with free rhythms and ornamentation, is influenced by traditional Indian flute music—complex and improvisational. A quiet, prayerful chorale leads to music portraying the beauty and excitement of a new day.
2. Among the Aspens (Chippewa, 1926)—portrait of a tepee in the midst of a thick grove of aspen trees bordering a stream. An introduction, consisting of stylized Indian drumbeats and pentatonic melodies leads to a scherzo portraying the rushing waters of the innumerable streams and rivers of the Chippewa nation.
3. The Vanishing Race (Navaho, 1904)—on horseback, a group of Indians in silhouette slowly ride into an uncertain darkness—an uncertain future. Using motives and rhythms of Indian memorial songs commemorating the dead, the music is alternately noble, sad, tragic, angry, and accepting.
4. Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon (Kwakiutl, 1914)—dancers surrounding a smoking fire. The ancient Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest Coast had a belief that the eclipsed moon was being swallowed by a creature of the night sky. By lighting a bonfire of old clothes and hair, they believed the stench would make the monster sneeze, thus disgorging the moon. The music is a programmatic portrayal of this legend. A dark, cold night with clouds rolling in front of the
moon leads to the gradual lunar eclipse. Using heavy Indian drumbeats, the fire is lit, and the frenetic dance begun. The dance culminates in a brass quintet cadenza—a sneeze—and the quiet
return of the moon as feelings of joy and peace bring the work to a close.”
(This note was adapted from an essay about modern works for brass instruments and used with
kind permission of New World Records.) - Dr. Patrick Riley (Bemidji)
Symphony No. 9 (Formerly No. 5), in E minor, Op. 95 (1892-3) “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak
When Anton Seidl conducted the New York Philharmonic in the premiere of this symphony, there were hopes that it might prove the starting point for an American style of composition. As a good Romantic, Dvorak was convinced that great art music must grow from the healthy soil of native folk music (which he identified in the United States as the Negro spiritual and the songs and dances of American Indians). “I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States. When first I came here, I was impressed with the idea, and it has developed into a settled conviction. They are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them . . . Only in this way can a musician express the true sentiment of a people.”
The first movement opens with a strong fanfare for two horns. After a few twists and turns the big contrast comes with the famous melody for solo flute irresistible recalling a favorite spiritual of Dvorak’s, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Dvorak’s belief in the near-identity of Negro and American Indian music is reflected in the famous English horn melody of the second movement. Dvorak had been inspired by the scene of the forest funeral Minnehaha in Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” The scherzo of the “New World,” Dvorak said, “was suggested by the scene at the feast in the poem where the Indians dance and is also an essay I made in the direction of imparting the local color of Indian character to music.”
The last movement has tremendous sweep and splendor with the main theme proclaimed by the horns and trombones. Material from the first three movements reappears and is combined with new themes. The finale concludes in a burst of triumph.
Today, a close look at the score indicates that Dvorak frequently used pentatonic scale-based themes which are common to folk music around the world, and a peculiar seven note minor scale with a lowered seventh (the “minor” mixolydian mode) which is common to most European folkmusic. If you were a Czech, Slovak, Austrian, or Pole, this Symphony “From the New World” would strike you as rich with inflections of the folk music of your own country. - Dr. Patrick Riley