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Morihiko Nakahara, conductor
Zhu Wang, piano

Beloved by Spokane, conductor Morihiko Nakahara returns with a program of romantic passions. Amy Beach is the composer of the first published symphony by an American woman, weaving old-world folk songs into symphonic form. Mozart’s beautiful 1785 piano concerto is often used in films—you’ve heard it in Superman Returns, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Elvira Madigan—giving the music its unofficial nickname.

Sydney Guillaume
Lavil Okap
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major (Elvira Madigan), K.467
Amy Beach
Gaelic Symphony in E minor, Op.32

“I recently realized that my first Masterworks concert conducting the Spokane Symphony was on Oct. 24, 2003 — 20 years ago! Spending those formative years as a professional conductor and being nurtured by these incredible musicians and human beings of the SSO have had such a lasting impact, and that’s why Spokane will always remain my musical home.
The joyous and energetic spirit pervades throughout this program showcasing the orchestra’s versatility and virtuosity in three contrasting works spanning over 230 years. Beginning with Sydney Guillaume’s jubilant “Lavil Okap” and Mozart’s immortal Piano Concerto No. 21 highlighting Zhu Wang’s sparkling musicianship, we close the evening with Amy Beach’s Celtic inspired “Gaelic” Symphony — a truly grandiose Romantic symphony full of drama.”
—Morihiko Nakahara

A native of Kagoshima, Japan, Morihiko Nakahara has served as Music Director of the South Carolina Philharmonic since 2008. Equally at home in a variety of genres and concert formats, Nakahara remains active as a guest conductor during the 2023-2024 season, including multiple programs with the Virginia Symphony and Spokane Symphony, as well as appearances with the Florida Orchestra, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and the Festival at Sandpoint Orchestra. Nakahara holds degrees from Andrews University and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He and his family reside in Yorktown, Virginia. Keep in touch with Nakahara via Instagram @morihiko_naka.

Sydney Guillaume
Lavil Okap

Composer: born July 22, 1982, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

 Work composed: 2020. Written for the Haitian Orchestra Institute to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of the city of Cap-Haïtien, and 200 years since the death of Haiti’s first and last king, Henri Christophe.

World premiere: Guillaume led the Haitian Orchestra Institute in front of the historic cathedral in Cap-Haïtien on April 1, 2023.

 Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, optional bass clarinet, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, agogo bells, bass drum, bongos, cabasa, claves, congas, cowbell, crash cymbals, snare drum, suspended cymbal, optional wind chimes, and strings

Estimated duration: 12.5 minutes

Sydney Guillaume’s compositions, praised by the Miami Herald for their “impressive maturity and striking melodic distinction” are intricate, challenging, and full of spirit. Guillaume is known for his choral music, which has been performed at many international festivals and renowned conferences, including the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), the World Choir Games, and Cork International Choral Festival in Ireland.

Guillaume is currently based in Portland, OR, where he works as a composer, conductor, and choral workshop leader with university and high school choirs across North America.

Guillaume writes, “Composing [Lavil Okap], my first orchestral work to celebrate Cap-Haïtien’s 350 years, was a great honor for me. The city is steeped in history – it was Haiti’s first capital during its early years of independence, and it played a critical part in the Haitian Revolution.

“The first movement … was inspired by the journey of King Henri Christophe and the Haitian Revolution. It includes a Yanvalou rhythm, which has roots in the slavery era of Haiti [Yanvalou is a type of Haitian dance whose roots trace back to Benin, in West Africa]. This traditional rhythm emerged among the African slaves who brought their cultural traditions and spiritual practices to the island.

“In the second movement, I aimed to capture a jubilant atmosphere – what Cap-Haïtien must have been like in its heyday after gaining independence. However, as the movement unfolds, it transitions to a somber tone, symbolizing the ongoing struggles Haiti has faced since becoming the world’s first free black republic.

“The third movement was inspired by the Haitian people’s resilience, with a repeated melody representing their unwavering determination. It starts with the trombones mimicking Haitian bamboo instruments playing Rara music. Rara originated as a form of expression for enslaved Africans during the Haitian Revolution and has become a very popular form of festival music used for street processions throughout Haiti, as well as among Haitian communities abroad. The work concludes with a joyful Rara celebration, symbolizing the hope for a brighter future in Haiti.”

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

Composer: born January 27, 1756, Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, Vienna

 Work composed: 1785

World premiere: The Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major was performed for the first time on March 10, 1785, in Vienna’s Burgtheater, at a subscription concert for Mozart, with the composer at the keyboard.

 Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings

Estimated duration: 31 minutes

Without Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the piano concerto format as we know it would not exist today. Just as J. S. Bach perfected the art of the fugue, Mozart made the solo piano concerto into a significant genre. Mozart’s 28 solo keyboard concertos took the piano in new directions and gave it greater stature; they can also be seen as the operatic equivalent of instrumental music. In no other instrumental form of the time could both composer and performer display virtuosity, and at the same time express a full spectrum of emotions.

As often happened when Mozart faced a concert deadline, he put the finishing touches on K. 467 just hours before its first performance (the date of completion in Mozart’s personal catalogue of works is March 9, 1785, a mere 24 hours before its premiere). This rapid sequence of conception to writing to performance was characteristic of Mozart, particularly for the piano music he performed himself.

The ability to improvise at the keyboard was a standard component of competent musicianship in the 18th century. All performers of the time were expected to improvise their own ornaments and cadenzas (a cadenza is an embellishment by the soloist of a cadence, which is defined by the Harvard Dictionary of Music as “a melodic or harmonic formula that occurs at the end of a composition, movement or phrase, conveying the impression of a momentary or permanent conclusion.” In Mozart’s time, cadenzas were usually placed at the end of a solo concerto’s first movement. Mozart wrote down some of his improvised cadenzas after he performed them; however, none of the original cadenzas for K. 467 survive today.

Of the three movements, the central Andante stands out in particular. It contains one of Mozart’s most exquisite and recognizable melodies, which has been used in commercials for Estee Lauder and De Beers, among others. The Andante also figures prominently in the score for the 1967 award-winning film Elvira Madigan, which led to K. 467 becoming known as the “Elvira Madigan” concerto.

Amy Beach
Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 “Gaelic”

Composer: born September 5, 1867, Henniker, NH; died December 27, 1944, New York City

 Work composed: 1894-96

World premiere: Emil Paur conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston on October 30, 1896.

 Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, triangle, and strings

Estimated duration: 40 minutes

Amy Beach’s musical accomplishments include several firsts: the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony – and the first American woman to have a symphony performed. She is also one of the first American composers – of any gender – whose musical training occurred wholly within the United States, rather than Europe. As such, Beach’s approach to composition and her aesthetics are uniquely American, and she did not measure the quality of her work by comparing it to music by European composers, unlike some of her contemporaries.

Beach’s prodigal musicality emerged as early as age two, as documented by her mother Clara: “Her gift for composition showed itself in babyhood before two years of age. She could, when being rocked to sleep in my arms, improvise a perfectly correct alto to any soprano air I might sing … She played the piano at four years, memorizing everything that she heard correctly …” Clara was Beach’s first piano teacher; the young girl later studied piano in Boston. By the time she reached age 12, Beach’s parents were being lobbied by musical impresarios eager to launch their wunderkind daughter onto the concert stage. Beach’s parents declined, allowing Beach to refine her piano skills and pursue other musical studies through her teenage years. She made her concert debut at age 16, to great acclaim, and continued concertizing for the next two years, until her marriage to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, 25 years her senior.

In keeping with 19th century societal expectations for women, after her marriage Beach limited her concert appearances to two recitals per year. She did, however, with her husband’s encouragement, continue studying and writing music on her own at home. She read everything she could find pertaining to harmony, theory, counterpoint, fugue, and instrumentation, and she studied scores diligently. “I am a staunch believer in the possibilities offered for a musical education in our own country,” Beach wrote.

In 1894, Beach began work on her first symphony, known as the “Gaelic” for its use of Irish folk melodies and musical idioms. It is worth noting another significant “first” here: Beach, in the Gaelic Symphony, became the first American composer to incorporate folk melodies into a classical work. Her choice of Irish tunes had both pragmatic and sociological significance. Boston was home to a significant number of Irish-born and Irish-American people, but Beach’s choice to elevate the music of the Irish has a more nuanced meaning as well. In 19th century America, most particularly in Anglo-Saxon Boston, the Catholic Irish were considered inferior, ignorant, dirty, and undesirable by many, and they suffered discrimination in employment and housing. By centering Irish themes, Beach’s Gaelic Symphony can be heard as a protest against the pervasive anti-Irish bigotry of her time.

Beach used both preexisting Irish tunes and her own original melodies in Irish style as the thematic foundations of the Gaelic Symphony. The Allegro con fuoco features a melody from one of Beach’s songs, “Dark is the Night,” about a rough sea voyage, as well as an Irish jig. The second movement features a lilting tune heard first in the oboe, which Beach develops and uses as a throughline for harmonic exploration.

The Lento con molta espressione, according to Beach, expresses “the laments … romance and … dreams” of the Irish people, while the closing Allegro di molto describes “their sturdy daily life, their passions and battles.” The music features an uptempo march, original Irish-inflected melodies and gradually builds to a heroic, hopeful conclusion.

© Elizabeth Schwartz

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