Miguel Harth-Bedoya was born into a musical family in Peru in 1968. When he was 15, having developed a passion for vocal music, he got a chance to work as an assistant at the theatre in Lima and was able to see all its opera and operetta productions. To his great surprise, he was one day invited to conduct the rehearsal of the end of the first act of Tosca, and from then on, he was totally sold. With degrees from both the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School in his pocket, he got launched on a professional career in 1993, as Music Director of the New York Youth Symphony. Then as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic he was called in to cover for Leonard Slatkin (who was delayed at the airport) at Carnegie Hall.
Since then, Harth-Bedoya has made guest appearances with all the major US and European orchestras and been Music Director of the Auckland Philharmonic and the Eugene Symphony in Oregon. He is at present Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony. The best year of his life was, he says, 2000, when he married Maritza, whom he had met in Chile when he was only 19. They nowadays live in Fort Worth and have three children.
Audiences across the world, from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and London’s Wigmore Hall to Carnegie Hall, New York have been dazzled by Martin Fröst (b. 1970), the charismatic Swede who was inspired to learn the clarinet on first hearing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto while still a child. He enjoys reaching out of his comfort zone, likes improvising, singing and playing simultaneously, and beatboxing, making the performance a physical experience. So the concerto by Aaron Copland is right up his street. He has recorded it twice (in 1998 and 2011), and it is part of the Genesis project launched by him in 2015 in which he traces the instrument’s origins by various means. Mozart, he says, discovered the clarinet’s soul, but Copland’s concerto comes closer to folk and jazz, though they, too, are elements of the clarinet’s soul. Fröst’s performance tonight is a combination of Copland’s original score and the one he modified for Benny Goodman.
Martin Fröst has been appointed Chief Conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra for the period 2019–2020.
George Gershwin: Cuban Overture
The most famous American composer of his day, George Gershwin (1898–1937) is still just as well-known today for such works as An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue. In 1932, he spent two “sleepless and hysterical weeks” (as he put it) in Havana, absorbing Cuba’s exotic culture and receiving a practical crash course in the Cuban version of the rumba of African origin. Returning home, he began putting his holiday memories down on paper in a work he simply called Rumba. For his opening theme he borrowed from the currently popular hit Échale Salsita by the Afro-Cuban song-writer Ignacio Piñeiro, and he assigned a prominent solo role to the maracas, claves, bongos and guiro he had brought home as souvenirs. Thousands flocked to hear its premiere in New York, and thousands failed to get tickets for this concert dedicated solely to his music.
Later renamed Cuban Overture, the piece is in three sections.
Aaron Copland: Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano
Many composers, especially Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith and Malcolm Arnold , spotted the potential of the jazz, swing, blues and other ‘ethnic’ genres that blossomed in New Orleans and South America in the 1940s, but the only American to produce a work that is still in the active repertoire was Aaron Copland (1900–1990), who composed a Clarinet Concerto (1948) for Benny Goodman. For various reasons, the honour of premiering it in public went to Ralph McLane, but the King of Swing did play it at the NBC’s radio studio in New York two weeks before.
Instead of using the traditional three-movement format, Copland divided his concerto into two contrasting movements of equal length. The first, Slowly and expressively, spotlights the clarinet’s melodic qualities and saves displays of brilliance for the big solo cadenza. The second movement, Rather fast, is seasoned with Brazilian elements and works up to a furious tempo before the end. Copland had to modify this slightly to make it easier for Goodman, but Martin Fröst is more than up to playing the original version.
Samuel Barber: The School for Scandal, Overture
American composer Samuel Barber (1910–1981) is nowadays known primarily for his Adagio for Strings often played on solemn, sad occasions, but his first orchestral work was quite the opposite: the zippy School for Scandal Overture (1931). He did not, however, intend this as a curtain-raiser for the play (1777) of that name by Richard Brinsley Sheridan but as an independent piece in the nature of a tone poem designed to mirror the antics of the play’s star-crossed lovers. Barber’s piece, in the form of a Rondo, is far less complicated than the play, which beats the present-day soap opera hands down with its rumours, misunderstandings, false identities and general mix-up. In the middle, Barber quotes from the very apt children’s game-song I sent a letter to my love (and on the way I dropped it. One of you has picked it up and put it in his pocket), which has all the makings of a scandal!
Jennifer Higdon: Loco
The coming of the railways in the mid-19th century revolutionised the concept of distance. Journeys that once took days or weeks could now be covered in hours. The puffing steam train also opened up a new sound world for a host of composers with its approaching rumble, shrill whistle, chugging and clunking, and scenery passing by in a flash. Though trains no longer hold the same appeal, railway music has not, thanks to such film composers, minimalists and neo-romantics as American Jennifer Higdon (b. 1961).
Loco (2004) was commissioned for Ravinia, the summer festival of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a town closely associated with the railway. Says Higdon:
“‘Loco’ celebrates the centennial season of Ravinia, and the train that accompanies the orchestra. When thinking about what kind of piece to write, I saw in my imagination a locomotive. And in a truly ironic move for a composer, my brain subtracted the word ‘motive’", leaving ‘loco’, which means ‘crazy’. Being a composer, this appealed to me, so this piece is about locomotion as crazy movement!”
Leonard Bernstein: On the Waterfront
Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was a conductor-composer equally at home in a number of genres: symphony (Jeremiah), ballet (Fancy Free), musical (West Side Story) and film (On the Waterfront). In 1955, he arranged the music from this film as a concert suite in its own right. The listener does not need to know the plot of the film, but it helps in listening to the music. Basically, the suite is in five sections but it holds together as a single entity with a beginning, a middle and an end. Right at the start, the recurring French horn call transports the listener straight to the waterfront at Hoboken, where organised crime holds the dockworkers firmly in its grip. On the Waterfront is claimed by many to be one of the world’s best films, and it won no fewer than 8 Oscars. Bernstein was nominated for best score but the honour went to Dimitri Tiomkin for the score of The High and the Mighty. Bernstein was so bitter that he never wrote for the silver screen again.