Concert Program Notes



Beach Cities Symphony Concert Program Notes for June 14, 2024

Sky Bells Composer, Jennifer Bellor

My inspiration comes from many places, visual elements related to memories, dreams, art, animation, even poetry.  Sky Bells was inspired by a hike I took on the Cathedral Lake Trail in Aspen, Colorado. I remember the blue lake sparkling in the sunlight enclosed by the mountains.  I went back to a piece I had written in 2009 about this hike, Celestial Surroundings for brass, pipe organ and percussion, and found even more inspiration to build upon my original composition. The initial brass theme from Celestial Surroundings gave life to this work which I called Sky Bells.

This piece shows something vast and unchanging juxtaposed against the tumultuousness of passing time. Imagine a large gothic cathedral on top of clouds, bells ringing, remaining firm and rooted. Yet, as time passes, light turns to darkness and back to light, everything in the periphery grows and dies and continues the same cycle, but the cathedral remains unaffected and the bells keep ringing.

— Notes by Dr. Jennifer Bellor, composer

Concerto Movements Performed by MTAC Awardees

This year’s MTAC winners perform movements of four iconic concertos—Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, Wieniawski’s Polonaise Brillante No. 1 in D Major, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. These familiar pieces may need little contextualizing. That said, one commonality between them is that, in contrast to the other works on this concert, the solo instruments here function largely in dialogue with the orchestra. In the Mozart, the opening allegro apperto theme played by the orchestra returns underneath the violin soloist, supporting and propelling the movement in tandem with the soloist (who plays something entirely different in the foreground). The Wieniawski work is a stunning showpiece for violin and orchestra, and what it may lack in compositional austerity, it more than makes up for in virtuosity and bravura. In addition, the violin’s dialogue with the orchestra is much more fluid, featuring a challenging push-and-pull of tempi. In contrast, Beethoven begins his movement starkly, with the piano soloist providing the first statement of the theme unaccompanied and unflinching. The orchestra’s tutti response—with music based on that same theme—is an answer to the piano music. Beethoven anchors the listener to this, and over the seven brief sections of the movement, restates, varies, and/or develops this theme. In culmination, the last movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto maintains its position in the repertoire as one of the most rousing concerto finales. There is tenderness and fluidity, but, as with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, an inexorable drive to an explosive and triumphant finish.

— Notes by Dr. Pope

Suite No. 1 from The Three-Cornered Hat

Manuel de Falla

            The triumvirate of composers Granados, Albéniz, and Falla, are the most important composers of twentieth-century Spain, without question.   But, many would award the palm of “first among equals” to Falla.  American audiences know him primarily for three relatively early works:  The “Ritual Fire Dance” from his ballet, El amor brujo; the symphonic suite for piano and orchestra, Nights in the Gardens of Spain; and, of course, the music for The Three-cornered Hat.  All of these compositions are tuneful, accessible, and either rooted in Spanish folk elements, or French impressionism.  However, he went on from the 1920s to explore imaginative and challenging elements of modernism in his stimulating and influential works.

            Achieving a modicum of success as a young composer in Madrid from the turn of the century, he turned early on to works for the stage—not only for their practical popularity, but also because he had shown from an very early age a flair for literary and dramatic interests.  After composing a series of successful zarzuela (popular Spanish musico-dramatic entertainments), he hit the big time in 1905 with his first major opera, La vida breve, which incorporated significant elements of traditional Gypsy music.  A promised performance that was part of the prize that it won never materialized, so in disappointment, the young Falla left Madrid for Paris.  It changed his life.  There he met and hobnobbed with the luminaries of French artistic life, including Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Dukas, and the impresario, Diaghilev.   Later, insular Spanish music critics harped on the “impressionisms” in his subsequent compositions, at the expense of Spanish elements, but never mind.  At the onset of World War I he moved back to Spain, and achieved much greater recognition as a composer than in his earlier period. Nights in the Gardens of Spain dates from this period. His association from that time with the theatrical personage, Gregorio Martínez Sierra and his wife, Maria, resulted in his writing in 1916 the ballet, El amor brujo, and the incidental music for a modest pantomime, El corregidor y la molinera (The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife). 

            The latter work was immensely successful, and a fateful visit to Madrid by Igor Stravinsky and the acclaimed impresario of the Ballets Russes, Segei Diaghilev, led to Diaghilev’s encouragement of Falla to extend and enlarge the music to a complete ballet.  The little farce, El corregidor y la molinera, was based on the novel, El sombrero de tres picos, and the expansion of the concept by Falla took the original title.  The combination of native Spanish musical material by Falla, Léonide Massine’s choreography, and Pablo Picasso’s cubist sets and costumes received rave reactions at the première.

            The risqué story is a bit complicated, but the essence is that a village magistrate (whose uniform includes a traditional tricorn hat) tries foolishly to seduce a miller’s wife, and ends up making a complete clown of himself.  The lecherous magistrate has the miller arrested on trumped up charges, inadvertently falls in the river, jumps into the Miller’s bed.  Clothes are surreptitiously exchanged, resulting in mixed up identities and competing seductions—you get the idea.  But, in the end virtue triumphs and the ridiculous magistrate is suitably humiliated.

            Falla extracted two suites for orchestra from the ballet, one from each act.  The first suite opens with a very short fanfare for the curtain rise, and we see the mill.  Following that is a leisurely depiction of the warm, sleepy afternoon and the magistrate’s pretentious procession near the mill (the droll bassoon depicts the latter).  The miller, taking a dislike of the magistrate, has his wife tantalize him with a swirling, seductive fandango to lure him on.  Upon the conclusion of the dance the bassoon/magistrate returns.  A tender moment in the music depicts the miller’s wife disingenuously teasing him with an offer of some grapes; she then coquettishly runs away.  Pursuing her, he’s led into an ambush, and the angry husband jumps out of the bushes and frightens away the clownish magistrate with a stick—ending act one.

            The success of the ballet came after Falla, Massine, and Diaghilev had taken time and trouble to tour the country and research the native Andalusian materials.  That took a while, but paid off handsomely a few years later, at the London première, in 1919.  Its Spanish tunes, dramatic storytelling, and brilliant orchestration have made it an audience favorite ever since—even if, like Aaron Copland’s populist music of the 1930s—it represents only one facet of the composer’s musical style.

— Notes by William E. Runyan

Meet BCSO’s “Artists of the Future”

Li (Luke) Li

Eleven-year-old violinist Li (Luke) Li has been captivating audiences with his music since he began studying under Mr. Elmer Su at the age of six. Now a first violinist, Li has already performed with the prestigious Palos Verdes Regional Symphony Orchestra. His talent shines through in numerous competition wins, including first place in CAPMT and the 2023 SYMF competition and selection as the young musician to perform with the orchestra at the 61st Music Festival. He has also played at the Arthur Grumiaux International Competition, reaching the semi-finals, and recently embarked on a five-city performance tour through Belgium and the Netherlands.

Beyond his musical accomplishments, Luke enjoys a well-rounded life. When not performing to audiences with his violin, Luke enjoys reading, writing, and drawing, or simply enjoying the world of music as a listener.

Noah Liao

Noah Liao is a 8th grade student at Calle Mayor Middle School and has been learning violin since he was 5 years old with Mr. Elmer Su. Under Mr. Su’s professional guidance, Noah has been winning in VOCE of MTAC, SYMF, ASTA, SCJBF and CAPMT competitions.  Noah enjoys his school with his non-orchestral classmates, receiving straight A scores, Student of The Quarter, honor student in Speech and Debate Club, along with all his orchestral friends under Mr. Su’s enthusiastic conducting of Palos Verdes Regional Symphony Orchestra and had been to Liege, Belgium for his final round of Ysaye international music competition in 2023. 

Jacob Sun

Jacob Sun is a 10-years-old violinist and he is in 5th grade at Rolling Hills Country Day School. He started learning violin with Mr. Elmer Su at the age of 6. Under the professional guidance of Mr. Elmer Su, he has been winning CAMPT,Scholarship and SYMF competitions. At this young age, he was selected to participate in the semi-final of Grumiaux International Violin Competition in Belgium. He also has performed in five cities in Europe. His favorite composer is Niccolo Paganini and his favorite violin concerto is Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. In addition to playing the violin, he likes reading books and playing tennis. Jacob has a great passion for music, especially classical music!

Abigail Tenn

Pianist Abigail Tenn began piano studies at the age of five with her mother and currently studies with Esther Keel. She has won multiple prizes at the Southwestern Youth Music Festival, including first prize in the Chopin category, second prize in the Baroque category, second prize in the Duet category, and third prize in the American category.  She was both branch and regional winner of the Southern California Junior Bach Festival and was awarded the silver medal at the Complete Works Auditions.  Most recently, she was the first prize winner at the CAPMT Contemporary Competition and advanced to win second prize at the State Finals.  Outside of competitions, Abigail shares her love of music at church by spreading joy and inspiration through her performances. 

Abigail is currently in sixth grade at Calle Mayor Middle School, where she was recently recognized as student of the month.  Outside of piano, Abigail values her cultural heritage by attending the Korean Institute of Southern California where she has garnered multiple first prize awards in their poetry recitation contest, art contest, Korean writing contest, and tongue twister contest.  She has also participated in the Sejong Music Competition where she performed Korean traditional works by Korean composers.  Abigail is also active in kendo.  She has won third prize at the Southern California Kendo Federation Team Championship Youth Division and most recently won second prize in the individuals event at the Mori Hai Kendo Tournament.  Her hobbies include reading, doodling, and making iMovies with her friends.

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