Program Notes

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Program Notes for January 27, 2023

PROGRAM NOTES – By Dr. Geoffrey Pope


Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Despite the many stylistic developments over his

long compositional life, Aaron Copland is most

associated with establishing the Americana genre.

Often characterized by wistfulness, openness, and directness, this music evokes landscapes and some American communities. Other founders of this genre include Ferde Grofé, Leonard Bernstein, and Howard Hanson, whose styles endure in both concert music and the film scores of composers such as Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven) and Bruce Broughton (Silverado). Ironically, An Outdoor Overture was written for a distinctly indoor space. In 1938, in the midst of work on his ballet Billy the Kid, Copland was commissioned by the High School of Music and Art in New York City to write a short piece to launch a new music education movement (“American Music for American Youth”).

Though written at the height of the Great Depression and fears over the political landscape in Europe, An Outdoor Overture is an optimistic, playful piece that makes use of a medium-sized orchestra. Its alternation between accentuated dance-like rhythms and nostalgic, lyrical melodies, is bridged by an iconic trumpet passage that has become part of the standard repertoire. Supported by a bed of jaunty string rhythms, the solo accentuates unusual parts of each bar and is of an unconventional length. This sense of freedom over the regularity of the string support contributes to the sense of openness that inspired the piece’s title. The culmination is a march that ties together earlier themes from the piece, ending joyfully and with vigor. Writing of the piece, famed American composer Elliott Carter wrote that “Its opening is as lofty and beautiful as any passage that has been written by a contemporary composer. It is Copland in his prophetic vein… never before has he expressed it so simply and directly.”

—Notes by Dr. Pope


Part I: Manzanar

Movement 1: Winds;

Movement 2: Mountains;

Movement 3: “Soul Consoling Tower”;

Part II: Death Valley

Movement 1: Road/Dunes;

Movement 2: Overlook;

Movement 3: Strong Winds;

Movement 4: Basin/Nightfall;

Niall Tarō Ferguson (1994- )

Inyo County Echoes is an exploration of musical exploration of Eastern California’s unique geography. The piece was inspired by a quick-paced road trip I took to these two places in 2019. Starting in the High Desert, we tour Manzanar, one of California’s Japanese Internment camps used during World War II. The remains of this camp stand in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains The combination of the area’s eerie silence, harsh environment, and deeply painful past create an otherworldly atmosphere.

Just over 100 miles away and 4,000 feet of elevation lower, we find ourselves in Death Valley, home to the lowest elevation point in North America. Here the conditions are even more severe, and the landscape far more alien. These conditions have created a strange and magical place, full of high temperatures, violent winds, serene sand dunes, and colorful rock formations.

This music, for me, is a declaration of reverence both for the people who have suffered at Manzanar, as well as the incredible power of nature.

—Notes by composer Niall Tarō Ferguson


Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

Most recognized as a virtuoso touring pianist, whose activities included writing extravagant showpieces extravagant “transcriptions” of others’ music, Franz Liszt was himself a formidable composer whose depth and musical significance can be overlooked. His depth is evident harmonically and structurally in many of his works, and this is no surprise—he married Richard Wagner’s daughter, yet also supported the rival musical camp of Richard Schumann as a performer. Some of his compositional techniques influenced Austrian Romantic and Expressionist composers, as well as the French impressionistic composers Satie and Debussy. Les préludes is likely the most well-known of Liszt’s orchestral works, and considered an early “symphonic poem”—a work whose contents and structure did not follow earlier standard symphonic traditions of multiple disconnected movements, but rather were integrated within a single cohesive movement establishing its own narrative arc or basing its narrative on another work of art.

Les préludes was completed in 1854, having taken Liszt nine years to complete. This duration does not seem largely due to the length of the work, but its circumstances and structure. It was not initially a standalone work, but an overture to The Four Elements (a cycle of four choral works written within that period). Revised as a symphonic poem, the allusions to the four choral works remain as some of the sections of Les préludes: The Stars, The Earth, The Winds, The Waves, Pastoral, Triumphal. What unites these sections is a three note melody (or musical motif) consisting of a note, a lower “neighbor” to that note, followed by an upward leap beyond the first note. This motif appears in different rhythms and pitch alterations throughout the piece, uniting it in a cyclical structure, even if the motif is inaudible to most on a first listen.

With the revision, Liszt aligned the piece with a poem of Alphonse de Lamartine, “Les préludes,” which is printed in prose (translation below):

“What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song whose first solemn note is tolled by death? The enchanted dawn of every life is love. But where is the destiny on whose first delicious joys some storm does not break?… And what soul thus cruelly bruised, when the tempest rolls away, seeks not to rest its memories in the pleasant calm of pastoral life? Yet man does not long permit himself to taste the kindly quiet that first attracted him to nature’s lap. For when the trumpet sounds he hastens to danger’s post, that in the struggle he may once more regain full knowledge of himself and his strength.”

I hope the musical arc we have brought you tonight has been meaningful, and I invite you to meet our wonderful musicians at a reception following the concert.

—Notes by Dr. Geoffrey Pope



Beach Cities Symphony is playing the world premiere of Ferguson’s “Inyo County Echoes” on January 27, 2023

A Los Angeles native, Niall Tarō Ferguson is a cellist, composer, and orchestrator. He is currently an active freelance musician, contributing in equal capacity to the worlds of concert and commercial music.

Niall has participated in music festivals such as the Rencontres Musicales Internationales at the International Menuhin Music Academy, Musique à Flaine, and the Borromeo Music Festival in Altdorf, Switzerland. He has studied with cellists Antonio Lysy, Lynn Harrell, Niall Brown, Ben Hong, and Timothy Loo.

In Los Angeles, Niall has performed on many of the city’s premiere contemporary music series, such as Monday Evening Concerts (M.E.C.), Jacaranda Music, and the Hear Now Festival. As a session cellist, he records regularly on motion picture and TV soundtracks, record dates, and reality shows. Niall has performed with artists such as David Foster, Andrea Bocelli, Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus, Olivia Rodrigo, Danny Elfman, and many others.

Niall has studied music composition with composers Mark Carlson, Ian Krouse, and Bruce Broughton. His concert works have been performed throughout California and overseas, in such places as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Barnum Hall, the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Aratani Theatre at JACCC, among others. In 2021, his piece Scamper was chosen to be performed virtually for the California Orchestra Directors Association’s All-State High School Orchestra.

Niall has orchestrated on several films including Bruised (2021), Cat Burglar (2021), American Factory (2020 Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature winner), Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019), Ni No Kuni (2019), and Kruimeltje (2020), among many others. He has worked as an orchestrator on two of composer Joe Hisaishi’s concert tours: Kiki’s Delivery Service in 2019, and Porco Rosso in 2022. Niall’s string arrangements have also been featured on a number of commercial recordings, most notably on Lukas Graham’s 3 (The Purple Album) which was released in October 2018 by Copenhagen Records, Then We Take the World, and Warner Bros. Records, and debuted at number one in Denmark.

As of 2019, Niall is a Program Associate with the Asia / America New Music Institute (AANMI), a collective that pursues cultural exchange through modern

music. In April 2019 he participated in his first AANMI tour, accompanying founder Chad Cannon and contributing to lectures given at institutions throughout Asia such as the Hong Kong Baptist University, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and The American School in Japan, among others.

Niall received his bachelor’s degree in 2017 from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, where he studied cello performance with Antonio Lysy, and music composition with Ian Krouse and Bruce Broughton.

Niall is of Japanese descent on his mother’s side, and of Scottish and Irish descent on his father’s. He goes by both his Gaelic and Japanese names, Niall or Tarō respectively.

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