July 21, 2022 * Hudson River Park’s Pier 45
Sponsored by the Hudson River Park Trust
Queer Urban Orchestra
Margaret Bonds: Troubled Waters
Ethel Smyth: Overture to The Wreckers
Feodor Akimenko: Nocturne in D Major
Georges Bizet: Les Toréadors from Carmen
Georges Bizet: Habañera from Carmen
Felix Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
— INTERMISSION —
Antonin Dvořák: Symphony No 8, Op 88 – Movement IV
inti figgis-visueta: coradh
Arturo Márquez: Danzón No 2
Freddie Mercury: Don’t Stop Me Now (Featuring Sam Kogon)
Margaret Allison Bonds (1913–1972) stands as one of the more remarkable composers in twentieth-century music. Her mother was a musician who studied at Chicago Musical College; her father, a doctor who also authored one of the first published books for Black children and the lexicon Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and Acvies. Margaret grew up in a home that, while on the segregated Black south side of Chicago, was relatively affluent and a cultural mecca for musicians and other artists of color. By the age of eight she had been taking piano lessons for several years and written her first composition, and by the me she entered Northwestern University in 1929 she had studied piano and perhaps composition with Theodore Taylor of the Coleridge-Taylor Music School and Will Marion Cook, as well as (reportedly) Florence Price. In 1933 and 1934, respectively, she earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in piano from Northwestern University, where she had to study in the basement of the library because of her race. By 1967 her renown was so great that Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley proclaimed January 31 of that year as the city’s official Margaret Bonds Day. Having traveled between New York City and Los Angeles for many years for her career, she decided to relocate to Los Angeles after the death of her longtime friend and collaborator Langston Hughes in 1967. She remained based there, composing, collaborang, and concertizing, until her death in 1972.
Troubled Water is arguably Margaret Bonds’s best-known instrumental composition. Published in 1967, it had earlier been the third movement of Bonds’s Spirituals Suite—a set of three big and symphonically conceived piano pieces based on African American spirituals, first published as a set in 2020 by Dr. Louis Toppin. Originally, though, it was a composition for piano solo with audience participation. In that guise, which Bonds performed frequently on her tours in the 1950s, it was titled Group Dance based on the Negro Spiritual Wade in the Water; midway through the composition, just before the reprise, the audience was to sing the familiar spiritual Wade in the Water, and underneath their singing the piano was to re-enter, once again playing the familiar ostinato from the opening.
— From hildegard.com and musicologist John Michael Cooper
Ethel Smyth: from The Wreckers: Overture (1902-1904)
The Wreckers is the third of Dame Ethel Smyth’s six operas and her largest work. Persuaded that they are God’s elect, the people of the Cornwall village where the opera is set believe that they have every right to lure unsuspecting seafarers into murderous traps and to live off the plunder. One man sees it differently, burning beacons on the shore to ward off threatened ships. The Overture introduces the drama of these conflicting perspectives, from the swashbuckling opening to an earnest core to the hymn-like climax, complete with organ.
Smyth had to be a tireless advocate for her work in order to hear it performed, most especially for The Wreckers. It was staged in a few places following the 1906 premiere in Leipzig; in 1907, Gustav Mahler was considering it for a production at the Vienna State Opera when an anti-Semitic smear campaign drove him out of office. Though over 60 years passed without a performance of the work, several 21st Century productions from Glyndebourne to Houston to Bard have met with glowing praise.
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was a British composer and conductor, and the first person to achieve Damehood for her contributions to music. She studied in Leipzig, meeting Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Grieg, Brahms, and Clara Schumann. Though male critics expected little more of her than to teach and write pleasant parlor music, she pursued a career creating large-scale works with ruthless abandon. With numerous stage, orchestral, vocal, and chamber works to her name, most of which she managed to have performed during her lifetime (including many that she conducted), she succeeded.<p?pSmyth defied Victorian gender norms, wearing tweed suits, bicycling, smoking cigars, and enjoying mountain sports, tennis, and golf, almost always accompanied by a pet sheepdog. She writes of her sexuality as a complex matter that she was continually working out. Her long list of lovers included only one man—Henry Brewster, librettist for The Wreckers and others of Smyth’s operas—but also his wife, his sister-in-law, and many prominent women, most notably Empress Eugénie of France. At age 71, she met Virginia Woolf and was instantly smitten. Though the novelist likens her advances to, “being caught by a giant crab,” the two became friends. With one of Smyth’s lovers, Women’s Social and Political Union founder Emmeline Pankhurst, Smyth joined the fight for women’s suffrage in Britain, writing a protest song and eventually landing in prison for her participation.
-— David Bloom
Feodor Akimenko (1876-1945)
You might have heard of Akimenko as the first composition teacher of Stravinsky, or perhaps as a student of Rimsky-Korsakov. A composer, pianist and musicologist, Akimenko was born in the Ukraine in 1876 and at age 10 was sent to St. Petersburg where he sang in the court a cappella choir. It was here he began to compose, and later teach.
Akimenko emigrated to Prague in 1924 and while living there began to rekindle his interest in Ukrainian culture. He effectively began a journey of Ukrainization, after growing up in a Ukraine that had undergone ‘Russification’ (during all the nineteenth century, until 1918, Ukraine was officially called ‘Little Russia’). This reunification with the culture of his home country lasted for the rest of his life. Though by then living in Paris, his late work was strongly marked by Ukrainian themes, featuring works such as Ukrainian Suite and Ukrainian Pictures, Christmas carols and choral arrangements of Ukrainian folksongs.
The composer was also greatly influenced by the prevailing Russian and later French genre of Salon music. Angel: Poem Nocturne was an important work in his stylistic development. Based upon the poem of the same name by Mikhail Lermontov, Akimenko perfected an individual lyrical use of expressive romantic Impressionism to embody the calm nocturnal mood of the poem.
— Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826)
“As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
— Spoken by Theseus in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
At age 17, Felix Mendelssohn did exactly that when he encapsulated the Bard’s enchanted comedy in his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, inadvertently inventing a genre. His “concert overture” did not introduce a dramatic presentation, but instead represented a complete story. The work was widely performed early on, spawning the quintessentially Romantic idea of music as literature and inspiring many others to write concert overtures, tone poems, and stand-alone preludes (à la Chopin). Nearly two decades later, Mendelssohn drew on the themes of the work to write a full set of incidental music for the play, but originally the overture was intended to take flight on its own fairy wings.
The magical creatures and whimsy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream made it a favorite among the Mendelssohn children; Felix and his two sisters would read it aloud, acting out the different parts. A childish sense of wonder courses through the veins of this miraculous music, beginning with the evocative opening woodwind chords, which Mendelssohn reportedly scribbled down after hearing an evening breeze rustle the leaves in the garden. A moment later, scurrying violins signal that we’ve flitted “over hill, over dale,” and into the fairies’ woods. There follow themes for the two pairs of lovers, Theseus’ hunting party, the ragtag tradesmen turned aspiring theater troupe, and of course the would-be Thespian’s biggest ham, Bottom, whose head Puck morphed into that of a donkey — listen for a few “hee-haws” in the music. According to Mendelssohn, “When at the end all is happily resolved, the elves return and bless the house, and disappear as morning arrives. So ends the play, and also my overture.”
— David Bloom
inti figgis-vizueta: coradh (bending) (2021) coradh is Gaelic for “bending” or “turning.” I’ve been long interested in the experience of sonic friction through the bending of unisons and octaves, especially the physical sensations when vocalizing. This piece works to keep its materials and spaces fairly simple, facilitating space for audience participation in the creation of rich, varied, spontaneous musical texture and color. I hope to participate myself soon.
inti figgis-vizueta is a New York-based composer who captures the sounds of the magically real, braiding a childhood of overlapping immigrant communities and Black-founded Freedom schools—in Chocolate City (DC)—with direct Andean & Irish heritage and a deep connection to the land. inti is the recipient of the Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences, the National Sawdust Hildegard Award, The ASCAP Foundation Fred Ho Award, and fellowships from Dumbarton Oaks, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and the American Composers Orchestra. Upcoming ‘23-24 commissions include a new piano concerto for Conrad Tao & the Cincinnati Symphony, conducted by Matthias Pintscher; works for Roomful of Teeth, NewWorld Symphony, Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect, Ensemble Reflektor, and string quartets for the Kronos Quartet, Cramer Quartet, and The Rhythm Method. The Washington Post says, “her music feels sprouted between structures, liberated from certainty and wrought from a language we’d do well to learn.” inti studied with Marcos Balter, Felipe Lara, George Lewis, and Donnacha Dennehy. She received mentorship from Angélica Negrón, Andrew Norman, Tania León, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Gavilán Rayna Russom.
inti honors her Quechua bisabuela, who was the only woman butcher on the whole plaza central and used to fight men with a machete. inti is committed to creating and supporting trans and Indigenous futures through her work and advocacy.
— inti figgis-vizueta
Arturo Márquez was born deep in the Sonoran desert in the colonial town of Alamos, Mexico, in 1950. He was named after his father, Arturo Márquez, who was of Mexican descent from Arizona. Arturo’s father was a man of many talents. He played the violin, was a mariachi, and worked as a carpenter when the family needed to make ends meet. He introduced his first born son to music. Arturo’s father often played with a quartet, so his first music lessons consisted of listening to the traditional music, waltzes, and polkas they performed.
The Márquez family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1962 where Arturo began to study violin and several other instruments in junior high school. He also began to compose. Márquez said, “My adolescence was spent listening to Javier Solis, sounds of mariachi, the Beatles, Doors, Carlos Santana, and Chopin.” After studying in France he received a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in the United States, which he used to obtain a MFA degree from the California Institute of the Arts. Arturo Márquez currently works at the National University of Mexico, Superior School of Music, and the National Center of Research, Documentation and Information of Mexican Music.
Until the early 1990s, Márquez’ music was largely unknown outside his native country. That changed when he was introduced to the world of Latin ballroom dancing. Its movement and rhythms led him to compose a series of pulsating danzones. The danzones are a fusion of dance music from Cuba and the Veracruz region of Mexico. His most popular of these works is the Danzón No. 2, which is often called the second national anthem of Mexico.