- Rossini, La Cenerentola: Overture (8mins)
- Villa-Lobos, Fantasia for Saxophone (10mins)
- Rimsky-Korsakov, The Golden Cockerel Suite (25mins)
- Williams, Escapades (15mins)
- Stravinsky, The Firebird Suite (1919) (23mins)
Jess Gillam, Saxophone
Hello everybody and thank you very much for coming to the concert tonight! I am really looking forward to playing with this brilliant orchestra again and to collaborating with Eduardo Strausser for the first time.
Whether this is your 100th time watching the CBSO or your very first time, I hope you can feel that palpable buzz of excitement as the lights fade and the orchestra begins to tune… we’re all buckling in for the glorious ride of tonight’s programme!
The orchestra are opening with Rossini’s dramatic overture to his ‘Cinderella’ before we move to Villa Lobos' Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone, strings and three horns. It’s not a very common combination of instruments but I think you’ll hear the richness of the colours Villa-Lobos draws out from the pairings. The first movement, ‘Anime’, flits between quite declamatory and literal material and quite hazy, almost sultry slow dance sections. There is a lot of interaction between the saxophone and the strings, and I think one of the greatest challenges in this movement is trying to imitate the articulation of a bow on a string with the saxophone! In the second movement, the viola begins with what feels like a heavy sigh of a melody which is then echoed by the saxophone, and we are transported into a slightly surreal world. We hear the 3 notes from the very opening of the piece that catapult us into the frenzy of the third movement which finishes with a rush of energy.
The orchestra then move back into the land of fairy tale with Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel Suite before we reach the interval where we’ll all need a moment to digest the drama of the first half!
The concert finishes with some of the most glorious music ever - Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite. Before that though, I’ll join the orchestra alongside percussionist Adrian Spillett and bassist Anthony Alcock for John Williams' Escapades. Here, you can hear the alto saxophone in all its glory - bopping and hard-hitting with jazz-tinged longline melodies. The music was originally written for Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can - if you haven’t seen it, I bet you can almost guess the storyline from this piece alone - the musical characters and ideas are so vivid and vibrant!
I hope you have a brilliant night and thanks again for joining us.
Saxophonist, presenter and all-round force of nature, Jess Gillam makes everything she touches light up. Tonight, she travels to Brazil with Villa-Lobos and to Hollywood with John Williams: the fun-filled heart of a concert packed with enchantment, whether the glittering fairytales of The Firebird or an unmistakably Italian take on the story of Cinderella. Well, it is Panto season, after all.
Overture to La Cenerentola
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
No-one did Italian comedy better than Rossini, and his opera La Cenerentola (1817) is basically a panto set to music. You know the story; we all do, because it’s Cinderella. Well, nearly. Italian censors considered the sight of a lady’s bare foot to be indecent, so out went the glass slipper. Rossini didn’t trust the theatre’s special effects team, so out, too, went pumpkin coaches and fairy godmothers.
Instead, the magic in La Cenerentola is in the music, and it takes a special kind of wizardry to start a story as brilliantly as Rossini does with this overture. He worked to a formula - a teasing introduction, followed by a fizzy fast section, a couple of really good tunes, some spicy orchestration and at least one long, thrilling crescendo. But being an Italian, he had the instincts of a gourmet – this, after all, is an opera with a whole number devoted to the joys of the wine cellar - and it's all cooked for not a second longer than necessary. Prego!
Fantasia for Saxophone, Op.630
III. Très Animé
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
“What is folklore? I am folklore” declared the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. He was born in Rio de Janeiro, and learned the cello and the guitar as a boy, spending his leisure hours playing in dance-bands and cinemas. Throughout his career, VillaLobos drew on the traditions, culture and landscape of Brazil and South America, but always in the service of his own vivid musical voice. As he once put it, “a truly creative musician is capable of producing from his own imagination melodies that are more authentic than folklore itself”.
Villa-Lobos wrote his Fantasia for Saxophone in 1948, inspired by the great French sax virtuoso Marcel Mule. He knew from experience just how well the saxophone could dance, and in the spirited first movement, as well as the rhythmicallydriven third, he lets it do just that. But there’s something else going on here, and Villa-Lobos sets the nimble sax against an orchestra – just strings, plus three horns to soften the edges – that is both agile and lush. Hand-in-hand with Villa-Lobos’s dancing verve flows a mood that’s deeper and more songful: the emotion that Brazilians describe as saudade – an indefinable, aching nostalgia (more sweet than bitter) for an impossible dream.
The Golden Cockerel Suite
I. Tsar Dodon in his palace
II. Tsar Dodon on the battlefield
III Tsar Dodon and the Queen of Shemakha
IV. The wedding and lamentable end of Tsar Dodon
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
arr. Glazunov & Steinberg
“A fairy tale, though far from true / Can teach us all a thing or two…” wrote Alexander Pushkin at the head of his Tale of the Golden Cockerel (1834). Once upon a time, in a land very like Russia, the foolish old Tsar Dodon lived in fear. A wandering astrologer brought a solution to his worries: a magical golden cockerel to watch over his kingdom. Reassured, Dodon retired to bed only to be woken by the cockerel’s cry. But his enemy, the beautiful Queen of Shemakha, possessed powers more beguiling, and more deadly, than any weapon…
On the surface, Rimsky-Korsakov’s final opera was simply a colourful re-telling of Pushkin’s tale – a classic of Russian literature. But this was 1907, and a humiliated Russian Empire was still reeling from the aftermath of the catastrophic Russo-Japanese War. The Golden Cockerel was effectively banned: Rimsky never saw it performed, and it first became famous in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes staged it as a spectacular opera-ballet (Le Coq d’Or), just before the rest of Europe followed Russia into disaster in the summer of 1914.
It’s an opera with an atmosphere all of its own – by turns eerie and farcical, and shimmering with sensuous allure – and after Rimsky’s death, in 1910 his pupils Glazunov and Steinberg created this four-movement concert suite. The fierce cry of the Golden Cockerel (trumpet) raises the curtain on the drowsy world of Tsar Dodon’s court, intertwined with the eerie melodies of the mysterious Astrologer. The cockerel cries again, and we see Dodon on the battlefield where his armies lie slaughtered – a scene of ominous desolation, before the Queen deploys all of her sensuous (and distinctly oriental) charms: singing and dancing for the besotted Tsar. Before long, a wedding is on the cards, but even trumpets and cymbals can’t dispel the atmosphere of doom. The Golden Cockerel has the last laugh.
Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
I. Closing In
III. Joy Ride
John Williams (b.1932)
Steven Spielberg’s crime caper Catch Me if You Can (2002) is a Jet Age fantasy of sharp-suited airline captains, beautiful stewardesses and night flights to Vegas. Leonardi di Caprio played Frank Abagnale Jr - a very ordinary American teenager in the early 1960s, with a gift for fraud and a taste for the high life. And John Williams wrote the score: evoking the lounge-bar swing of Frank Sinatra and Dave Brubeck. “A long awaited relative of The Pink Panther has surprisingly emerged" joked Williams.
Escapades turns Frank’s adventures into a three-part concerto for alto saxophone, supported by its own rat-pack of bass and vibes. The sax is our solitary hero: quick-witted, smooth-talking, sometimes deeply lonely. John Williams describes its three movements without wasting a word. “In Closing In we have music that relates to the often humorous sleuthing which took place in the story” he says, “followed by Reflections, which refers to the fragile relationships in [the hero’s] broken family. Finally, in Joy Ride, we have the music that accompanied his wild flights of fantasy, that took him all around the world before the law finally reined him in”
L'oiseau de feu (The Firebird) Suite (1919)
II. Appearance of the Firebird
III. Dance of the Firebird
IV. The Princesses' Khorovod
V. Infernal Dance of King Kashchei and his Subjects
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
In summer 1909, when Serge Diaghilev planned a new show for his brilliant Ballets Russes seasons in Paris, Stravinsky wasn't his first choice of composer. He wasn't even the second. Diaghilev had originally wanted Rimsky-Korsakov, but Rimsky had inconveniently died the previous summer. Diaghilev turned instead to Rimsky's pupil
In summer 1909, when Serge Diaghilev planned a new show for his brilliant Ballets Russes seasons in Paris, Stravinsky wasn't his first choice of composer. He wasn't even the second. Diaghilev had originally wanted Rimsky-Korsakov, but Rimsky had inconveniently died the previous summer. Diaghilev turned instead to Rimsky's pupil Anatoly Liadov, but Liadov was a very slow worker, and Diaghilev had a show to put on. Desperate for a quick-fix, he turned to another, much younger Rimsky pupil – the 27 year-old Igor Stravinsky. Early in November 1909, Stravinsky got down to work. The Firebird is full of musical tricks and even melodies cribbed from Rimsky-Korsakov, but with his teacher no longer looking over his shoulder, Stravinsky went for broke. He even invented a totally new orchestral effect, the shimmering, iridescent "harmonic glissandos" that you can hear in the strings during the Introduction.
The ballet premiered in Paris on 25th June 1910 and with Fokine's stunning choreography, it was a triumph. Stravinsky, though, was concentrating on his music: "The stage and the whole theatre glittered at the premiere, and that is all I recall". This concert suite follows the story of the ballet. The realm of the immortal demon-king Kashchei is dark and lifeless (Introduction). Enter, in a shower of sparks, the magical Firebird (Dance of the Firebird), hotly pursued by Prince Ivan Tsarevich. The Prince catches the Firebird and the bird gives him one of its feathers - the only thing that can break Kashchei's spells. The Prince encounters thirteen beautiful princesses, enslaved by Kashchei. As he watches them dance a gentle Russian Khorovod (round dance), he falls in love; but Kashchei's attendant monsters swarm round and prepare to turn him to stone in a frenetic Infernal Dance.
Just in time, the Prince remembers the magic feather. The Firebird re-appears, putting the monsters to sleep with an eerie Lullaby. Guided by the Firebird, the Prince finds and smashes the egg containing Kashchei's soul; and the demon's spells are undone. While a solo horn sings a quiet folk-song, Kashchei's petrified victims return to life, and as daylight spreads across the land, the full orchestra celebrates in a majestic and jubilant Final Hymn.
© Richard Bratby