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An invitation to the Dance

Friday 5 May, 8.00pm | High Storrs School,  Sheffield

Natalia Luis-Bassa – Conductor

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Courtly Dances from Gloriana

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten's opera Gloriana, commissioned by Covent Garden, was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II in honour of her coronation in 1953. The libretto, adapted by William Plomer from Lytton Strachey's Elizabeth and Essex, explores the complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. Despite its grand debut at Covent Garden, the opera was heavily criticized for its portrayal of Elizabeth as a flawed and vain individual. Britten later arranged a symphonic suite for orchestra, which included the Courtly Dances from the opera's third scene of Act III. 

The first dance, the March, is a stirring and energetic piece that sets the tone for the rest of the suite. It features bold brass and percussion, creating a regal and majestic atmosphere that captures the pomp and circumstance of the royal court.

The second dance, the Coranto, is more subdued and introspective, featuring delicate woodwind and string passages that convey a sense of grace and refinement. It is a fitting accompaniment to the courtly dances of the opera's third act, which focus on the love affair between Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex.

The third dance, the Pavane, is a stately and elegant piece that features a slow and dignified tempo. It conveys a sense of grandeur and formality, evoking the rituals and ceremonies of the royal court.

The fourth dance, the Morris Dance, is a lively and playful piece that features lively woodwind and percussion passages. It is a contrast to the more formal dances that precede it, reflecting the more carefree and joyous aspects of court life.

The final dance, the Galliard, is a triumphant and celebratory piece that brings the suite to a rousing conclusion. Featuring bold brass and percussion, it captures the exuberance and excitement of courtly revelry, bringing the opera to a satisfying close.

Personal reflection

Joy Paul (Cello)

I was fortunate enough to attend a production of Gloriana while I was at school and have never forgotten it. Wikipedia now helpfully informs me that this was the Sadler’s Wells Opera 1966 staging, the first since the coronation premiere in 1953, though a concert performance had toured earlier in the 60’s. My musical education was indeed blessed, on this occasion and many others, thanks to that wonderful organisation Youth and Music, which offered tickets for such events to young people for next to nothing.

 

Although it is possible that my mental images of the opera are now coloured by familiarity with portraits of Queen Elizabeth I such as the one at Hardwick Hall, early exposure to Britten has led to a lifelong love of his music. I am always delighted by his affinity with earlier traditions in English music and the way he creates something fresh and modern while conjuring up the spirit of a bygone age. The Dances from Gloriana are a lovely example of this and make a very appropriate contribution to our coronation-weekend concert programme.

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Next Concert
Passenger Seats: The Natural World

Saturday 17 June, 3.00pm and 7.00pm
Victoria Hall, Sheffield

Passenger Seats is back! After a gap of four years, Hallam Sinfonia once again offers you the chance to sit amongst the orchestra during the performance - this time for works all related to the natural world.

We have two performances, a shorter programme for families with younger children at 3pm and a full programme at 7pm.

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Symphonic Dances

Sergei Rachmaninoff

  1. Non allegro

  2. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)

  3. Lento assai - Allegro vivace - Lento assai. Come prima - Allegro vivace

As Hallam Sinfonia prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it is with great honour that we pay tribute to Sergei Rachmaninoff on the occasion of his 150th birthday year. By the mid-1930s, Rachmaninoff had nearly stopped composing, dedicating himself primarily to his career as a pianist, which had brought him great success but left him feeling unfulfilled. Furthermore, his most recent compositions, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Variations on a Theme by Corelli, had been poorly received by the public. From 1937 to 1939, Rachmaninoff composed nothing, and his growing fatigue and discouragement were compounded by anxiety about his daughter Tatiana, who lived in France.

Despite these challenges, Rachmaninoff suddenly turned to composing again during the summer of 1940. The Rachmaninoffs had rented Orchard Point, an estate near Huntington, Long Island, which provided an ideal situation for Rachmaninoff to compose without interruption. He was able to attend to both his professions, composing and practising for his winter concerts each day from nine in the morning until eleven at night. On August 21, he wrote to Eugene Ormandy, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, to tell him about his new symphonic piece, which he had just finished and which he called "Fantastic Dances." He planned to orchestrate it, but was uncertain whether he would be able to finish before his concert tour began in October. Rachmaninoff's association with the Philadelphia Orchestra went back to 1909, and it was the only orchestra he ever conducted on recordings. The Philadelphians had given three of his premieres, and it was natural that Rachmaninoff wanted to offer his newest score to his favourite orchestra and its music director. The piece would eventually become known as the Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff's final work and considered to be one of his most mature compositions.

Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances consist of three movements. The first, marked Non allegro, opens with a series of nervous, pulsing violin phrases that set an agitated mood. The winds enter with a descending minor triad, while the strings establish a quickstep tempo. The opening triad becomes the foundation of the movement, repeated, reversed, and otherwise developed. The middle section features a haunting alto saxophone solo, set against the backdrop of the waltz-like rhythm. The movement ends with a return to the agitated quickstep and fluttering triad, never to return.

The second movement, Andante con moto, begins with muted trumpets and pizzicato strings executing a rather lopsided waltz rhythm that stutters fitfully, followed by a subdued violin solo. The main theme has none of the Viennese lightness of a Strauss waltz; instead, its haunting, ghostly quality borders on the macabre. The waltz is periodically interrupted by sinister blasts from the brass section, adding to its eerie atmosphere.

In the third movement, Rachmaninoff incorporates a variety of allusions to his earlier works. He quotes the Gregorian Dies Irae melody from the Mass for the Dead, which had often appeared in his music as a haunting presence. The quotation is preceded by frenzied Danse Macabre fiddle-tunings, adding to the ominous atmosphere. Interestingly, towards the end of the movement, Rachmaninoff writes "Alliluya" at the top of the page, which is a reference to his earlier composition, the Vespers of 1915. 

Given that this was Rachmaninoff's last composition, it is tempting to view the third movement as a sort of farewell. The exultant theme that triumphs over the Dies Irae could be interpreted as a symbol of faith and victory over death. Overall, the third movement of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances is a complex and multi-layered piece that rewards close attention and interpretation.

 

Personal reflection

Charlie Hardwick (Cello)

I really am excited to be playing this piece again! I have played it only once before, and yet every quaver has lodged itself into my memory. I remember reading once that listening to music when you're a teenager has an effect on your developing brain comparable to class A drugs (!) and my experience with this piece would align with that theory (not that I would know in practice, of course…!).

 

I was extremely privileged to be part of Suffolk Youth Orchestra growing up, and I have vivid and fond memories of all the pieces we played, (maybe one or two not so much - I'm looking at you Poulenc!) But there is something about this piece in particular that has stuck ever since. I'm pretty positive that all my favourite musical 'tropes' come from the experience of learning the symphonic dances; complicated rhythms that demand focus, lots of time signature changes to keep you on your toes, luscious melodies with rich and unexpected harmonies and a full (read, loud) symphony orchestra with lots of percussion and all the wonderful extras, like the harp and piano. 


Suffolk Youth Orchestra was given the great honour of performing as part of the prestigious Aldeburgh Festival every year, where the dressing rooms might still have 'LA Philharmonic' or 'Sir Simon Rattle' on them from the night before. So believe me, we worked hard. I remember going over and over the tricky rhythmic changes and although I do feel pretty confident that I'll get them right this evening, Rachmaninoff certainly won't let me switch off for even a quaver. If in any doubt, I'll be the one dancing at the front of the Cellos, but with my serious counting face very much in place! I really hope you enjoy the journey too.

Rachmaninoff
Marquez
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Danzón no.2

Artuto Márquez

Arturo Márquez, a Mexican composer born in 1950, has gained popularity with orchestras and audiences worldwide. His Danzón No. 2, which is based on a Cuban dance that migrated to Veracruz, Mexico, is one of the most popular works written after 1950 from Latin America. Márquez, the son of a mariachi musician and grandson of a folk musician, moved to California in his late childhood and continued his musical training, playing various instruments and studying composition at different institutions in Mexico, Paris, and the US. By the beginning of the 21st century, his music was frequently performed by Mexican orchestras, but it was little known elsewhere until Gustavo Dudamel included Danzón No. 2 on the program of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra's tour in 2007. As a result, many other orchestras performed it, and it has practically become a second national anthem in Mexico. Márquez is now one of the leading Mexican composers of classical music.

In the composer’s own words:

“The idea of writing the Danzón 2 originated in 1993 during a trip to Malinalco with the painter Andrés Fonseca and the dancer Irene Martínez, both of whom [have] a special passion for the danzón, which they were able to transmit to me from the beginning, and also during later trips to Veracruz and visits to the Colonia Salon in Mexico City. From these experiences onward, I started to learn the danzón’s rhythms, its form, its melodic outline, and to listen to the old recordings by Acerina Mariano Merceron and his Danzonera Orchestra. I was fascinated and I started to understand that the apparent lightness of the danzón is only like a visiting card for a type of music full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness, a genre which old Mexican people continue to dance with a touch of nostalgia and a jubilant escape towards their own emotional world; we can fortunately still see this in the embrace between music and dance that occurs in the State of Veracruz and in the dance parlours of Mexico City.

“Danzón 2 … endeavours to get as close as possible to the dance, to its nostalgic melodies, to its wild rhythms, and although it violates its intimacy, its form and its harmonic language, it is a very personal way of paying my respects and expressing my emotions towards truly popular music.”

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Natalia Luis-Bassa
Conductor

Natalia is a dynamic conductor and a passionate advocate for young musicians’ education. 

 

Promoting the conducting craft and orchestra playing for young people has been a highlight of her career and she believes that music education should be a right for everyone, everywhere.

 

Music making as a tool for social transformation is a reality. 

 

Natalia has formed partnerships with many institutions like the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain, National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Leeds Conservatoire, and most recently with the Benedetti Foundation.

 

She is a record breaker as the first person to obtain a degree in Orchestral Conducting in her native country of Venezuela and also by being the first woman to conduct various orchestras around the world.

 

Since 2020, she has been appointed as Principal Guest Conductor of the Oxford University Orchestra.

 

After completing her studies at the Royal College of Music in London, where she also held the RCM junior Fellowship in opera conducting, she today maintains her relationship with the college as an undergraduate Professor of Conducting. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Huddersfield.

 

It was at the Royal College that she developed a love for the music of Elgar and was named an Elgar Ambassador by the Elgar Society because of her enthusiasm for introducing the composer’s music to Latin American audiences.

 

She has held many successful conducting workshops around the country.

Web: www.natalialuisbassa.com

Natalia

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Hallam Sinfonia

 

Violin 1

Jacob George, Paul Adam, Mary Dougherty, Kate Fehler, Catherine Pugh, Richard Gilbert, John Cooper, Richard Allen

Violin 2

Dyzelle Sutherland, Catherine Bowman, Hannah Watson, Rachael Evans, Deborah Blewitt, Holly Ormrod-Stebbings, Matthew Cobbald, Adrian Garratt

Viola

Charlotte Kenyon, Kiri Smith, Sue Adam, Charlotte Boig, Laura French, Jo Powis 

Cello

Charlie Hardwick, Jeremy Dawson, Dominic Smith, Benjamin Jackson, Sue Dumpleton, Joy Paul, Matthew Moore, Angela Rosenfeld, Nat Blakesley

Bass

Tom Davies, David Shearn, Wendy Willis

Flutes

Judith Ennis, Kath Hathaway, Tony Jones

Oboes

Cath Grey, Carolyn Bean, Helen Jenkinson (Cor Anglais)

Clarinet

Karen Burland, Catherine Rodgers, Becky Stroud (Bass Clarinet)

Saxophone

Laura Skeet

Bassoons

Dawn Allenby, Liz Versi, Bia Carvalho

Horns

Rachel Wilkes, Rachel Melland, Frank Edenborough, Jo Towler

Trumpets

Matthew Redfearn, Jo Beach, Jocelyn Allsopp

Trombones

Andrew Knowles, Nick Hart, Matt Doubleday

Tuba

John Pullin

Percussion

Mick Godber, Adam Harrod, Tom Mascarenhas, Tommy Roberts, Gareth Widdowson

Harp

Alley York

Piano

Chris Noble

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