For a conductor, performing with an orchestra of newly met musicians can be akin to traveling to a new country; even if one has studied the maps and learned the languages, there are bound to be exhilarating surprises along the way. Intense emotions also accompany the truth that the further one travels from where they started, the more they may feel the yearning to return home. In this way, Songs of Heartbreak & Homeland connects music with those undertaking long journeys, both those about to set forth into new realms and those who have come to realize just how far away they have been borne from where they started.
A Somerset Rhapsody (1906) Approx. performance time 10 min.
Gustav Holst Born 21 September 1874, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire Died 25 May 1934, London, England
Songs of Heartbreak & Homeland opens with Gustav Holst’s A Somerset Rhapsody, the young composer’s first critical success, and his pathway forward from a dizzying variety of artistic influences. At various points in his early adulthood the accomplished trombonist was deep in the compositional channel of Victorian greats Charles Villiers Stanford and Arthur Sullivan, knocked dumbfounded by Wagner’s London Ring-cycle triumphs, born again in the study of Hindu Sanskrit poetry, and revitalized by resurrecting lost works of Henry Purcell and Thomas Morely. Holst’s friendship with the young Ralph Vaughn Williams and English musicologist Cecil Sharp helped him to focus his musical pathways and connect with the inspired simplicity of folk-song. The clarity wrought by a deep study and love of English folktunes eventually allowed him to weave his myriad musical influences together in the masterpieces he would produce at the height of his career, such as The Planets, Egdon Heath, and Hammersmith. A Somerset Rhapsody, combining the folksongs It’s a Rosebud in June, High Germany, and The Lover’s Farewell, is a fitting opening to the concert with a delightful combination of nostalgia and excitement, and is charmingly orchestrated by the budding composer for the enjoyment of the audience and performing musicians alike.
Ah! Perfido, op. 65 (1796) Approx. performance time 14 min.
Instrumentation: Flute, Clarinets, Bassoons, French Horns, Strings
Ludwig van Beethoven with libretto by Anonymous Born 14 December 1770, Bonn, Germany Died 26 March 1827, Vienna, Austria
Soprano Erin Wood joins the Beach Cities Symphony onstage to continue the program with Ludwig van Beethoven’s concert ariaAh! Perfido. Beethoven had recently become established in the Hapsburg capital as a soloist and composer, taking lessons in composition with the celebrated masters Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri. Though Beethoven put technique learned from these greats to effective use in this work, credit is due to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Beethoven’s desired mentor when he first moved to Vienna) for the inspiration of Ah! Perfido. The late composer had been a celebrated proponent of the concert aria genre, in fact writing multiple such pieces for Ah! Perfido’s first soloist, Czech soprano Josepha Duschek. Although modern audiences primarily think of Beethoven as a titan in the realms of solo piano, string quartet, and symphonic works, after the 1790s he would also go on to become a revolutionary in vocal music, debuting hallmarks of the Romantic era such as the song cycle (An die Ferne Geliebte), epic opera (Fidelio), and choral symphonies (The Ninth Symphony). Ms. Wood’s deft musicianship and range of vocal colors, and the power of her voice, make her a versatile instrument for both the acrobatic selections of Italian opera and the often-demanding German soprano literature, both synthesized brilliantly here in the young Beethoven’s first foray into dramatic music.
Ah! perfido, spergiuro, barbaro traditor, tu parti? e son questi gl’ultimi tuoi congedi? ove s’intese tirannia più crudel? Va, scelerato! va, pur fuggi da me, l’ira de’ Numi non fuggirai! Se v’è giustizia in Ciel, se v’è pietà, congiureranno a gara tutti a punirti! Ombra seguace! presente, ovunque vai, vedrò le mie vendette; io già le godo immaginando; i fulmini ti veggo già balenar d’intorno. Ah no! ah no! fermate, vindici Dei! risparmiate quel cor, ferite il mio! s’ei non è più qual era son’io qual fui, per lui vivea, voglio morir per lui!
Per pietà, non dirmi addio, di te priva che farò? tu lo sai, bell’idol mio! io d’affanno morirò.
Ah crudel! tu vuoi ch’io mora! tu non hai pietà di me? perchè rendi a chi t’adora così barbara mercè? Dite voi, se in tanto affanno non son degna di pietà?
Ah! Faithless one, perjured, barbarous betrayer, do you leave? And are these your last farewells? Who ever suffered such cruel tyranny? Go, wicked man! Go, run from me, The wrath of the Gods you shall not escape! If there is justice in Heaven, if there is mercy, They will join together to punish you! Pursuing shade, present wherever you go, I shall see my vengeance; I already enjoy it in my mind; I see already lightning flashing about you. Ah no, ah no, stop, Gods of vengeance! Spare that heart, strike mine! Though he has changed, I am what I was, Through him I lived, I would die for him!
For pity, do not bid me farewell, What shall I do without you? You know, fair beloved, I shall die troubled.
Ah, cruel one, you would that I stay! Have you no pity for me? Why do you treat one who adores you With such barbarous reward? Tell me if in such trouble Am I not worthy of pity?
Vissi D’Arte from Tosca (1900) Approx. performance time 4 min. Instrumentation: Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, Bassoons, Harp, French Horns, Strings
Giacomo Puccini with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa Born 22 December 1858, Lucca, Italy Died 29 November 1924, Brussels, Belgium
The evening’s first half closes with one of Giacomo Puccini’s finest arias, Vissi D’Arte from Tosca.Tosca was composed in the middle of a run of three operatic triumphs unmatched by any other composer since Verdi and Rossini. Following on the heels of La Boheme and presaging Madame Butterfly, Tosca tells of the tragic intersection of opera singer Florian Tosca’s doomed love for artist Mario Cavaradossi, Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, and the lustful treachery of one of opera’s greatest villains, chief of police Baron Scarpia. In this aria from Act II, Florian Tosca stands mournfully inside Rome’s iconic Castel Sant’Angelo, asking God how she was so quickly cast from an existence of making music and love and forced to bargain with Scarpia for Cavarodossi’s life and freedom
Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore, non feci mai male ad anima viva! Con man furtiva quante miserie conobbi aiutai. Sempre con fe’ sincera la mia preghiera ai santi tabernacoli salì. Sempre con fe’ sincera diedi fiori agli altar. Nell’ora del dolore perché, perché, Signore, perché me ne rimuneri così? Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto, e diedi il canto agli astri, al ciel, che ne ridean più belli. Nell’ora del dolore, perché, perché, Signor, ah, perché me ne rimuneri così?
I lived for art, I lived for love, I never harmed a living soul! With a discreet hand I relieved all misfortunes I encountered. Always with sincere faith my prayer rose to the holy tabernacles. Always with sincere faith I decorated the altars with flowers. In this hour of grief, why, why, Lord, why do you reward me thus? I donated jewels to the Madonna’s mantle, and offered songs to the stars and to heaven, which thus did shine with more beauty. In this hour of grief, why, why, Lord, ah, why do you reward me thus?
Symphony No. 8 in G major, op. 88 (1889) Approx. performance time 38 min. Instrumentation: Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, Bassoons, French Horns, Trumpets, Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, Strings
Antonín Dvořák Born 8 September 1841, Nelahozeves, Czechia Died 1 May 1904, Prague, Czechia
Following intermission, Songs of Heartbreak & Homeland closes with Antonín Dvořák’s sunny Symphony No. 8 in G major, composed just as its author achieved high reputation in his homeland and was preparing to embark on extended travels to England, Russia, and the United States. Unlike his stormy 7th Symphony in D minor (modeled after those of his mentor Brahms) and the “New World” Symphony (utilizing musical influences from his time in America), Dvořák takes his inspiration from the folksongs and dances of his native Bohemia to weave a lyrical tapestry within a symphonic framework.
The first movement Allegro con brio opens with a cantabile introduction in the cellos and French horns, followed by dancelike woodwind solos evoking the dawn. The full orchestra rushes in with liberal helpings of brass and timpani to take the audience on a whirlwind adventure through the remainder of the movement, finishing with a bang from the tutti ensemble. The 2nd movement Adagio brings together the quasi-religious sounds Dvořák had mastered in his Stabat Mater and Te Deum with musical evocations of bird calls, gypsy tunes, and country dances, particularly during the violin solo leading into the climax of the piece. The 3rd movement Allegro Grazioso is a charming intermezzo, with a lyrical waltz alternating with a folkdance-inspired trio to engender wisps of nostalgia and melancholy. The mostly minor-key movement takes a surprise turn in the exhilarating G major coda, like a placid river suddenly giving way to a rushing waterfall as the orchestra prepares for the symphony’s finale. The fourth movement Allegro ma non Troppo opens with a ceremonial fanfare in the trumpets, heralding a stately dance in the Pavane style by the strings and low woodwinds. Suddenly, the tutti orchestra crashes the party with a festive celebration marked by French horn flourishes, violin acrobatics, and musical shouts from the low brass and strings. An athletic flute solo gives way to another exclamation from the full orchestra, but this time in a faster tempo as if the strain of holding back its excitement previously was simply too much to bear. Different sections of the orchestra take turns in the musical spotlight leading to the movement’s climax. Dvořák then revisits the courtly dances of the opening, expanding and drawing out the lyrical qualities of the ensemble before setting up the final, exhilarating coda with a blast of trumpets and drums.
Paul Piazza utilizes his diverse array of experiences as a professional conductor, trumpeter, vocalist, and music educator to foster connections between audiences, orchestras, and the community-at-large, making meaningful artistic experiences available to all. Mr. Piazza currently holds the positions of Music Director with the Westlake Village Symphony and Assistant Conductor with the Riverside Philharmonic, and he has shared the stage with some of the world’s greatest musical artists, including conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, pianist Jeremy Denk, and soprano Laura Aiken. Mr. Piazza is also the co-founder of the modern music collective Vitus Ensemble, producing a well-received performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Byron Adams’ Serenade for Nine Instruments in July 2019, and he will be leading an additional program as the trumpeter in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (to be performed without conductor) in February 2020. He has conducted orchestras in the United States & Europe, was selected as a finalist in the 2014 National Trumpet Competition Ensemble Division, and recently participated in a highly selective conducting masterclass with world-renowned conducting pedagogue Neil Varon in Rochester, New York.
Highlights of Mr. Piazza’s conducting engagements this season include a West Coast Première of David Fick’s Hanukkah Symphony with the Riverside Philharmonic, and a concert by the Westlake Village Symphony featuring the symphonic music of Amy Beach, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Hildegard von Bingen. As a music educator, Mr. Piazza has taught for highly acclaimed music programs such as Idyllwild Arts and the Grammy-Prize winning Diamond Bar High School music program, delivered lectures on music appreciation and aesthetics for Los Angeles Pierce College’s Encore program, and served as Artistic Director of the Esperanza Azteca Youth Orchestra for underprivileged youth in the L.A. area. A passionate advocate of bringing great music making to all levels of audiences and students in their own communities, he helped found the New Horizons Music learning program in Miami, Florida, coordinates the popular Music Van program for the New West Symphony throughout Ventura County, and is currently developing the Westlake Village Symphony’s very first educational concert series for young people and families throughout the Conejo Valley. When not musically engaged, Mr. Piazza frequently shares his love of Roman-Greco & American history with varyingly tolerant friends and family, and his skills as an amateur gourmet chef with decidedly more enthusiastic audiences.
ERIN WOOD, Soprano Soloist
California native Erin Wood’s portrayals of Verdi and Wagner heroines have received praise for her “soaring soprano”, her“immense voice full of grit at the bottom and transcendent radiance at the top” and her “volcanic outpouring of sound”. For Lyric Opera of Chicago, Ms. Wood has portrayed Sieglinde in Die Walküre, Lisa in Queen of Spades, Gutrune/Third Norn in Götterdämmerung as well as 9 other roles since her tenure with their Ryan Opera Center. She has been seen as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera with San Francisco Opera and Opera Colorado, and proudly joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera for Die Walküre. She has been featured with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Anchorage Opera, Opera Pacific, Opera Grand Rapids, Toledo Opera, the Grant Park and Ravinia Music Festivals, as well as the Milwaukee, Macon, Bakersfield, Pacific and Lake Forest Symphonies. Concert engagements include Verdi Requiem with the London Symphony Chorus, concert performances of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, Brahms’s Requiem, Strauss’s Four Last Songs, Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Humperdinck’s Haensel und Gretel. Awards include the George London Foundation’s Kirsten Flagstad Award for up-and-coming Wagnerian singers, and she was finalist at the Lauritz Melchior International Singing Competition for Wagnerian Singers in Aalborg, Denmark. Ms. Wood is an alumna of UCLA, is seen weekly on Hour of Power and is a member of the El Camino College voice faculty.