Program Notes: “Rachmaninoff’s Three Russian Songs”

[In spring 2020, the Minnesota Orchestra commissioned me to write program notes for Rachmaninoff’s Three Russian Songs, which would be performed with the Minnesota Chorale (and, yours truly). Unfortunately, the concert was canceled due to the coronavirus. But the Orchestra authorized me to post them anyway, and I am happy to do so below. Enjoy!]

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The Russian Revolution profoundly disrupted Sergei Rachmaninoff’s comfortable life, in ways that would resonate for decades. As chaos spread at the end of 1917, the composer began to fear for his family’s safety. In December, Rachmaninoff gathered his wife and daughters and fled overland from St. Petersburg toward Helsinki in an open sleigh, taking only what they could fit in their suitcases. He later learned his family’s estate had been burned to the ground; the family had lost nearly everything. Continue reading

Program Notes: Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”

[In spring 2020, the Minnesota Orchestra commissioned me to write program notes for Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, which would be performed with the Minnesota Chorale (and, yours truly). Unfortunately, the concert was canceled due to the coronavirus. But the Orchestra authorized me to post them anyway, and I am happy to do so below. Enjoy!]

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One reason Igor Stravinsky’s music is so exciting is that the composer absolutely refuses to follow convention. Symphony of Psalms is a perfect case in point. It was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary 1930.  The commissioners wanted something “symphonic,” and Stravinsky’s publisher pleaded for him to compose something “popular.” Stravinsky complied… but in ways they could likely never have foreseen. Continue reading