BEFORE HE WAS 25, AWADAGIN PRATT became the first African-American pianist to win the Naumburg International Piano Competition, one of the world’s oldest musical competitions. Since then, he’s performed with nearly every major orchestra in the US, at the White House —and most importantly, on classical music’s greatest winner of young hearts and minds, Sesame Street.
Awadagin also famously earned degrees from the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in conducting, violin, AND piano. (You read that right.) But it’s to play piano on a Bach harpsichord concerto (BWV 1055) that this polymath joins us. He leaves the strings for our crack orchestra and the conductor’s baton in the capable hands of Anne Manson, our Music Director. How nice to have her back, after she spent a busy summer in the Maine, Germany, and London, UK.
A fun fact about Bach’s harpsichord concertos: it’s thought that Bach wrote earlier versions of nearly all of them for other solo baroque instruments. But Bach’s keyboard concertos are overflowing with ideas so rich, they work as ready vehicles for a whole whack of instruments. Seen this way, Glenn Gould’s “scandalous” arguments for performing Bach’s concertos on piano, rather than harpsichord as originally written, seem less far out. Awadagin will also make the case for this freedom of interpretation with his mind-blowing rendition on piano of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in A major (BWV 1055).
As well as masterworks by Purcell and Vaughan Williams, the concert features exciting new pieces by Marcus Goddard and Jessie Montgomery. The Canadian-American Marcus will be known already to MCO audiences as one of the most interesting composers working today. His Allaqi received the 2011 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Composition and has been performed nearly one hundred times by quartets across North and South America. Born and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East side, Jessie is a leading young American composer whose works are performed all over the world. She wrote Rounds specifically for her friend Awadagin, who plays it at this concert.
What a concert to start the season!
Please note: to make access to this new venue even easier for you, we're going to be accepting any proof of ticket purchase, including the order confirmation emailed to you, at the door. So: no need to line up to pick up your tickets if you have that handy.
The concert begins at 7.30pm on Wednesday, September 6th, in Crescent Arts Centre, 525 Wardlaw Avenue. Casual tickets will be available 7 July 2023 here and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Crescent Arts Centre, 525 Wardlaw Avenue
7.30pm, Wednesday, 6 September 2023
Anne Manson, conductor
Awadagin Pratt, piano
Suite from ‘The Fairy Queen’ (Z 629)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Keyboard Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Concert sponsor / Pollard Banknote Ltd.
Music Director sponsor / Don Streuber
Concertmaster sponsor / Maggie Keller, in memory of Dr. Robert Keller
Among his generation of concert artists, pianist Awadagin Pratt is acclaimed for his musical insight and intensely involving performances in recital and with symphony orchestras.
Born in Pittsburgh, Awadagin Pratt began studying piano at the age of six. Three years later, having moved to Normal, Illinois with his family, he also began studying violin. At the age of 16 he entered the University of Illinois where he studied piano, violin, and conducting. He subsequently enrolled at the Peabody Conservatory of Music where he became the first student in the school’s history to receive diplomas in three performance areas—piano, violin and conducting. In recognition of this achievement and for his work in the field of classical music, Mr. Pratt received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Johns Hopkins as well as an honorary doctorate from Illinois Wesleyan University after delivering the commencement address in 2012.
In 1992 Mr. Pratt won the Naumburg International Piano Competition and two years later was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Since then, he has played numerous recitals throughout the US including performances at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and many others. His many orchestral performances include appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra and the Pittsburgh, and more. Internationally, Mr. Pratt has toured Japan four times and performed in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Israel, Columbia and South Africa.
Recent and upcoming appearances include recital engagements at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere, and appearances with orchestras across the US. He also serves on the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina where he coaches chamber music, teaches individual pianists and performs chamber music and concertos with the festival orchestra. An experienced conductor, Mr. Pratt has conducted programs with ensembles across the world.
In November 2009, Mr. Pratt was one of four artists selected to perform at a classical music event at the White House that included student workshops hosted by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and performing in concert for guests including President Obama. He has performed two other times at the White House, both at the invitation of President and Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Pratt has recorded several albums, and is currently a Professor of Piano at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He also served as the Artistic Director of the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati and is currently the Artistic Director of the Art of the Piano Festival at CCM.
Marcus Goddard is an award-winning composer and internationally respected trumpet player whose music has touched the hearts of audiences around the world. His catalog of over fifty works includes ten pieces for large orchestra, many frequently performed chamber works, and a large body of innovative work for solo instruments and electronics. Goddard is the Composer in Association and Associate Principal Trumpet with the Grammy and Juno Award-winning Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in British Columbia, Canada.
Goddard’s work is routinely praised by musicians, audiences, composers, and critics alike. HIs quartet Allaqi, which received the 2011 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Composition, has been performed nearly one hundred times by quartets across North and South America. This includes performances at Carnegie Hall, the New World Center, and the Banff International String Quartet Competition.
I Send Only Angels, commissioned by Maestro Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, has received over thirty performances to date.
Goddard has enjoyed frequent creative partnerships with performers, dancers, and visual artists. He’s also an enthusiastic educator, and has been inspiring and instructing students for over twenty years in composition and trumpet performance. For instance, he has taught at the master’s level at the University of British Columbia and taught undergraduate performance majors as an Associate Instructor at Indiana University. Goddard has been on the faculty of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Institute at Whistler, BC. Goddard graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of music degree from the University of Michigan and holds a Master’s degree at Indiana University.
In his free time, Goddard explores the Pacific Coast Mountains with his family and friends by foot on skis and mountain bikes. Goddard was born in Burlington, Vermont and holds both Canadian and U.S. citizenship.
Jessie Montgomery is an acclaimed composer, violinist, and educator whose works are performed frequently around the world by leading musicians and ensembles. Her music interweaves classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, poetry, and social consciousness, making her an acute interpreter of 21st-century American sound and experience. Her profoundly felt works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (Washington Post).
Jessie was born and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s during a time when the neighborhood was at a major turning point in its history. Artists gravitated to the hotbed of artistic experimentation and community development. Her parents—her father a musician, her mother a theater artist and storyteller—engaged in the activities of the neighborhood and regularly brought Jessie to rallies, performances, and parties. It’s from this unique experience that Jessie has created a life that merges composing, performance, education, and advocacy.
Her growing body of work comprises solo, chamber, vocal, and orchestral works, with highlights including collaborations with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Albany Symphony and the American Music Festival. Since 1999, Jessie has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latinx string players and has served as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s flagship professional touring ensemble.
The New York Philharmonic has selected Jessie as one of the featured composers for their Project 19, which marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting equal voting rights in the United States to women. Other forthcoming works include a nonet inspired by the Great Migration, told from the perspective of Montgomery’s great-grandfather William McCauley and to be performed by Imani Winds and the Catalyst Quartet; a cello concerto for Thomas Mesa jointly commissioned by Carnegie Hall, New World Symphony, and The Sphinx Organization.
Jessie began her violin studies, at the Third Street Music School Settlement, one of the oldest community organizations in the country. A founding member of PUBLIQuartet and former member of the Catalyst Quartet, she continues to maintain an active performance career as a violinist appearing regularly with her own ensembles, as well as with the Silkroad Ensemble and Sphinx Virtuosi.
Jessie holds degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University and is currently a Graduate Fellow in Music Composition at Princeton University. She is a professor of violin and composition at The New School. In May 2021, she will begin her appointment as the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Concerto for Keyboard in A Major, BWV 1055
Johann Sebastian Bach
- Allegro ma non tanto
In 1729, Bach added to his numerous responsibilities at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig by launching what proved to be a decade-long term as the supervisor of the collegium musicum (Musical Fraternity). The ranks of this volunteer ensemble were made up of talented university students and amateur performers, augmented on occasion with professional musicians. His good and greatly esteemed friend, Georg Philipp Telemann, had founded it in 1702.
When Bach took it over, it was giving public, evening concerts during the winter months at a coffee house owned by Gottfried Zimmerman, and on summer afternoons in a garden. It blossomed under Bach’s expert direction, a development that gave him enormous satisfaction, during a period when his primary duty—the creation of sacred vocal music—was causing him a great deal of grief.
Bach created 13 concertos for one or more keyboards, plus strings and continuo. In his day the solo parts were performed on the harpsichord or the organ. They have long since been adopted by pianists, as well. It’s most likely that he created them to be performed at the collegium musicum concerts—and they were certainly heard at those events. The soloists were often his talented sons, his finest pupils—and himself. They are the earliest of all surviving keyboard concertos. Bach was the first composer to bring the harpsichord forward into the solo spotlight from its long-standing role of accompanist or continuo player.
He appears to have conceived only one of them, the Concerto for Two Keyboards, BWV 1061, specifically for that instrumental combination. It’s likely that he based all but one of the others on previously existing concertos that showcased a variety of instruments. The odd piece out in the latter group is the Concerto for Four Keyboards, BWV 1065. He transcribed it, as a gesture of homage, from the Concerto for Four Violins, RV 580 by a contemporary whom he greatly admired: Antonio Vivaldi.
Since the manuscript of the concerto that appears on this program has been lost, it is impossible to determine when Bach composed it. It appears that he created the original version to feature the oboe d’amore, a practically obsolete member of the oboe family, whose range of pitches lies lower than the modern oboe’s. The concerto has been well-known in his own transcription for harpsichord, which he probably prepared during the 1730s for the Collegium musicum concerts in Leipzig. The manuscript of the harpsichord version has survived, complete with details of the transcription process. From it the original oboe d’amore version has been reconstructed and published. This piece is subdued and pastoral in nature. This is particularly true in the slow second movement, which displays the melancholy lyricism of the lilting, rustic dance, the siciliano.
Suite from the semi-opera 'The Fairy Queen' (Z 629)
- Dance for the Fairies
Purcell composed the semi-opera The Fairy-Queen in 1692.
Purcell is widely considered England’s greatest composer before Elgar. His compositions in many fields—especially church music, incidental scores for the theatre, and operas—gave the period of the English Restoration much of its finest musical art.
As a boy, he had been a member of the prestigious Chapel Royal Choir. After leaving that group, he probably studied with a number of celebrated composers, including John Blow and Christopher Gibbons. His rise to the highest ranks of the profession proceeded swiftly. At 18, he was appointed composer for the violins at court; he became organist at Westminster Abbey in London two years later; and added the position of organist to the Chapel Royal three years after that.
Between 1680 and the death of King Charles II in 1685, Purcell composed virtually nothing but music for the royal court, including more than 70 choral anthems. The king’s exile in 1688 greatly diminished Purcell’s contributions to that field.
From 1690 onwards, he shifted his primary focus to the theatre. He composed music to accompany more than 40 plays, as well as numerous operas and semi-operas. A semi-opera consisted of a spoken play, throughout which interludes of singing and dancing (masques) were interspersed.
The Fairy Queen is one such piece. The scenario was inspired by Shakespeare’s celebrated romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was then some 100 years old. The identity of the librettist is unknown. The most likely author was Thomas Betterton, the actor-manager of the troupe that staged the premiere, The United Company of the Theatre Royal.
Produced on a hefty budget of £3 thousand, The Fairy-Queen failed initially to return its investment. One year after the first production, Purcell created a revised version with additional music. It finally achieved the great success that had previously eluded this marvelous score, which is held by many scholars to be his finest work for the theatre.
Connections between Shakespeare’s play and Purcell’s semi-opera are loose. The Fairy-Queen used none of Shakespeare’s dialogue, and the subjects to which Purcell dedicated the masques, with their many brief, charming dances, are only related to the storyline in metaphorical terms. Each dance is a gem. Whether it be spirited or gracious in character, it admirably fulfills its function by portraying characters, setting a mood, or ingeniously covering a change of scene.
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) was one of Tudor England’s most celebrated musicians. In 1567, he contributed eight themes to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hymn book, the Metrical Psalter. When Vaughan Williams helped to edit a new version of the English Hymnal in 1906, he used the opportunity to restore to circulation the third of those melodies. Tallis used it as the tune for the text that begins, “When rising from the bed of death.” His lovely, sorrowful theme, set in the antique Phrygian church mode, rather than the more common major or minor, moved Vaughan Williams to create a piece based upon it, one that would expand and intensify its inherent qualities. He composed the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis in 1910.
Reflecting his studies with master orchestrator Maurice Ravel two years earlier, he richly and ingeniously scored the fantasia for three string groups: solo quartet and two orchestras of different sizes. He used them in strikingly antiphonal ways throughout the fantasia. The music explores a wide range of emotion and texture, from whispered intimacies to bold, compelling grandeur.
Vaughan Williams conducted the highly successful première himself, in the vast, imposing space of the thousand-year-old Gloucester Cathedral, on 6 September 1910. His wife Ursula wrote, “With the Norman grandeurs of Gloucester Cathedral in mind and the strange quality of the resonance of stone, the ‘echo’ idea of three different groups of instruments was well judged. It seemed that his early love for architecture and his historical knowledge were so deeply assimilated that they were translated and absorbed into the line of the music.”
That fantasia’s premiere, and the debut of A Sea Symphony (his first symphony) one month later, laid the foundation of his international reputation. He revised and shortened the fantasia twice before it was published in 1920.
On the evening of his death, his close friend Sir John Barbirolli, a superlative interpreter of his music, conducted a performance of the fantasia in Vaughan Williams’s honour, at a Henry Wood Promenade concert in the Royal Albert Hall, London. A lovelier, more heartfelt tribute would be difficult to imagine.
Rounds for solo piano and string orchestra is inspired by the imagery and themes from T.S. Eliot’s epic poem Four Quartets.
In addition to this inspiration, while working on the piece, I became fascinated by fractals (infinite patterns found in nature that are self-similar across different scales) and also delved into the work of contemporary biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber who writes about the interdependency of all beings. Weber explores how every living organism has a rhythm that interacts and impacts with all of the living things around it and results in a multitude of outcomes.
Like Eliot in Four Quartets, beginning to understand this interconnectedness requires that we slow down, listen, and observe both the effect and the opposite effect caused by every single action and moment. I’ve found this is an exercise that lends itself very naturally towards musical gestural possibilities that I explore in the work—action and reaction, dark and light, stagnant and swift.
Structurally, with these concepts in mind, I set the form of the work as a rondo, within a rondo, within a rondo. The five major sections are a rondo; section ‘A’ is also a rondo in itself; and the cadenza—which is partially improvised by the soloist—breaks the pattern, yet, contains within it, the overall form of the work.
To help share some of this with the performers, I’ve included the following poetic performance note at the start of the score:
Inspired by the constancy,
the rhythms, and duality of life,
in order of relevance to form:
(like a sparrow) flying
in circles patterns
Playing with opposites—dark/light;
I am grateful to my friend Awadagin Pratt for his collaborative spirit and ingenuity in helping to usher my first work for solo piano into the world.