Monday, August 3, 2009

Letter From Toshi

Each year at the beginning of the every concert season, I have been asked by many audiences, “How do you come up with the works for the concerts?” Well, each music director has his or her own secret; however, I am willing to share how I create my programs. The secret is that I program for the entire season in mind, using very conventional formulas.

Comparatively speaking, it is more challenging to program four-concert season programs than thirty-concert programs. Every day, some composers in the world are producing new pieces; thus, the repertoire for symphony orchestras increases on the top of an immense number of works, written all the way back to the pre-Baroque period. So, how does a music director of a small orchestra create a program for a season? The key to the successful season is balanced programs regardless of whether for four or thirty concerts. I classify the entire symphonic repertoire into two categories: the musical period and the country. So, the classification by the country of the composer’s origin will divide the composers, such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, and Richard Strauss, all into Austro-Germanic composers. Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi, Respighi, into the Italian group; Lully, Berlioz, Gounod, Lalo, Saint-Säens, Bizet, Faure, Debussy, Ravel Honegger, Poulenc, Messiaen, and Boulez all fit into the French category. Slavic composers are Smetana, Chopin, Dvorak, Janacek, Penderecki, and Lutoslawski, and Hungarians are Liszt, Bartok, Kodaly, and Ligeti. I separate Russians from Slavs; thus Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich are all in the same group. And how many composers do you know who are Spanish, British, Scandinavian, Asian, or Latin American. Enesco? He belongs to Rumania (“Other” country) and Romantic/20th century.

Another way to classify music is by the musical periods. Baroque, Classical, early and late Romantic, early and late 20th century, and contemporary periods separate the entire repertoire. Thus, Beethoven is classical and Austro-Germanic, and Tchaikovsky is late Romantic and Russian. Stravinsky would be a 20th century and Russian composer. Prokofiev and Shostakovich will fall into the same category.

Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia but was educated in Vienna, so he might be a crossover composer, a Slavic-Austro-Germanic and late Romantic composer. Most of the American composers will be categorized as 20th century composers, such as Barber, Gershwin, Copland, Piston, Carter, and Bernstein. Now, there is one additional category very important to me, which classifies composers as either male or female. As all of us know, the majority of composers from the past were men. If you can name ten woman composers of the Romantic period, then you should be a musicologist. Without Googling, I can only name four: Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Cecil Chaminade, and Amy Beach, who was an American. Luckily, the late 20th century produced a great number of very prominent woman composers: Vivian Fine, Sofiya Gubaydulina, Barbara Kolb, Libby Larsen, Tania Léon, Thea Musgrave, Nancy Van de Vate, Marta Ptaszynska, Shulamit Ran, Kaija Saariaho, Hilary Tann, Augusta Reed Thomas, Joan Tower, Gwyneth Walker, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Melinda Wager, and Jennifer Higdon. Do you know any of these composers?
Looking through this season’s program of the OSFL, you will find that a variety of music is being represented. I know that there is some void, or deficiency, in certain categories, but I will try to make up for them in the future seasons. Our first concert in October will feature music by Rossini, who was a Italian and early Romantic composer, by Barber who was an American 20th century composer, by Higdon who is an American contemporary female composer, and by Tchaikovsky who was a Russian and late Romantic composer. In December’s concert, you will hear two Russian late Romantic composers, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, Poulenc, who was a French and 20th century composer, Handel, who was German/British and Baroque, and Mozart who was an Austrian Classical period composer. In addition, other works will be featured from British, American (Jewish), and American (Irish) composers of the 20th century.

How about the concert in March 2010? You will be hearing works predominately by the Germanic composers Beethoven and Brahms, in the Classical period and Romantic period, respectively, and the late Romantic/20th century Hungarian composer Dohnányi. Our last concert of the season in May is represented by Austrian, Polish (Slavic), and American composers of Classical, Romantic, and 20th century periods. Can you place these composers into their designated categories?

To get the full benefit and impact of the diverse symphonic music from all over the world, and from the past and present works performed by the OSFL, audiences would need to attend all four concerts. The orchestra and I are very excited to present these masterpieces to you throughout the season. Please try not to miss any of these great concerts and make sure you JOIN the Movement.

Toshi Shimada


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