For more than 50 years, the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba has been instrumental in introducing Cuban and Latin American music to the international classical music community.
We’re thrilled to welcome them to Stephens during their first, historic 21-city tour of the United States.
Music Director Enrique Perez Mesa will share the podium with guest composer/conductor Guido Lopez-Gavilan in an evening of music by Gershwin, Schubert and Cuba’s own Ernesto Lecuona.
Pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera joins the orchestra for Gershwin’s classic Rhapsody in Blue.
Overture Dinner Speaker
Carl Bleyle, Iowa State Associate Professor of Music
Celebrity Café Speaker, 30 minutes prior to the show
Eric McIntyre, Grinnell Associate Professor of Music
- Eric McIntyre is a versatile artist who maintains careers as a composer, conductor, instrumental performer, and educator. He currently serves on the faculty of Grinnell College where he conducts the Grinnell Symphony and teaches music composition, theory, and history. He is also the Music Director of the Central Iowa Symphony and the Fort Dodge Area Symphony.
- Gershwin: Cuban Overture (10 Min)
- George Gershwin composed his Cuban Overture in the summer of 1932. The work was performed for the first time at an all-Gershwin concert at Lewison Stadium in New York on August 16, 1932. Previous Madison Symphony Orchestra performances were in 1963, 1993, and 1996.
By 1932, Gershwin was at the pinnacle of his popularity. He and his brother Ira were among the most successful composer/lyricist teams on Broadway, and his “serious” works had earned respect from classical musicians. During the early summer of 1932, he took a vacation in Havana, staying for a few weeks of parties and good times. Gershwin was fascinated by the vivacious dance music of the Cuban capital, and came back to New York with a suitcase full of Cuban percussion instruments—maracas, bongos, claves, and guiros. It was perfectly natural that he would absorb this Cuban influence in a concert work. In August, he completed a brief orchestral work titled Rumba, now universally known as the Cuban Overture. The rumba rhythm, or clave, the basis of most Afro-Cuban dance music, appears here in a simplified form, as the musical basis of this composition.
The introduction and first main section are dominated by the trumpets and even more prominently by the percussion. In a note to the score, Gershwin directs that the “Cuban instruments of percussion” are, quite literally, to take center stage—right in front of the conductor. Gershwin's quieter and “more plaintive” middle section has sensuous woodwind and string lines. At the conclusion, Gershwin turns up the heat and volume a bit further, returning to the opening theme, and bringing the percussion even more to the fore.
- Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (18 min)
- By 1924, Gershwin was a success on Broadway, and well-regarded as a pianist. He had a full plate of musical theater commitments for that year, beginning with Sweet Little Devil, and the 1924 edition of White’s Scandals. It was at this time that Paul Whiteman, whose band had provided the background to Gershwin’s Blue Monday, conceived one of the most ambitious concerts of the Roaring ‘20s. Whiteman, the self-styled “King of Jazz” lead the Palais Royal Orchestra, one of New York’s best big bands, known for their sophisticated “society” arrangements of danceable jazz.
Gershwin was a very fast composer, but not quite fast enough. He had the accompaniment finished in time for Whiteman’s staff arranger, Ferde Grofé, to orchestrate it, but left large chunks of the piano part to be improvised or played from memory at the concert.
Whiteman’s pretentious “Experiment” was a qualified success; Gershwin’s Rhapsody—the 24th work on a program of 25 pieces—stole the show.
The Rhapsody opens with a famous clarinet glissando, the trademark lick of Ross Gorman, Whiteman’s lead clarinetist, which Gershwin adopted as the perfect lead-in to the first theme. The piece develops freely, with one theme flowing naturally into the next, and with increasing intensity, until the piano takes a long solo and slows the tempo. The central section is based upon a Romantic melody that sounds like a nod to Tchaikovsky with a bit of Jazz punctuation. There is a recapitulation, and the piece ends aggressively, with the piano playing its loudest.
- Lecuona: La Comparsa
- Arranged for Symphony Orchestra by Ignacio "Nachito" Herrera 2004.
Nachito Herrera: “In 2003 I was invited by Doc Severinsen and The Minnesota Orchestra to perform with them the following season. Since this engagement represented my debut performance with my new hometown orchestra, I immediately thought of Cuba’s most important composer of classical music, Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963).
Lecuona was a pianist himself and I thought that if I were to combine two of his more popular piano compositions, arrange them as a two-movement concerto for piano and orchestra and then incorporate some of my own ideas with additional room to improvise, that this would make for a wonderful tribute to the composer many heralded as the ‘George Gershwin of Cuba.’
I chose Malaguena and Ante el Escorial, as I felt they were ideally suited and complementary as Malaguena is a very intense composition involving a complicated technique (especially for the left hand) and Ante el Escorial being a very romantic, sad piece. I hope you enjoy!”
- Schubert Symphony # 5
- Of Franz Schubert's seven surviving symphonic essays, the first five were composed before he had reached his twentieth birthday. Schubert’s career as a symphonist began early, with his output very much in the glorious Viennese classical tradition in the wake of Haydn and Mozart. His last symphonies, however, bespeak a different world and breathe all the passion of the great Romantic movement at its very threshold.
Described by Harold Schonberg as ‘music’s first lyric poet’, Schubert exhibited prodigious talent at a remarkably early age. Singing in his local church choir as a youngster, he was by the age of ten already highly proficient on piano, organ, violin and viola.
The local choirmaster declared: he seems to know each lesson perfectly well before I can begin to explain its contents…A chorister from the age of eleven at Vienna’s Imperial Chapel, Schubert had lessons with, among others, the infamous Salieri (of Amadeus fame).
Despite its early success in performances organized by Otto Hatwig, the violinist and leader/director of the Burg Theatre, the work remained unpublished until as late as 1880, when it was issued by Breitkopf and Härtel of Leipzig. The piece exhibits its composer in his sunniest, most optimistic frame of mind. As he is on record as writing during 1819 - at the time of its composition – Happy moments brighten this gloomy life and happier ones still give glimpses of happier worlds.
The work unfolds from a fabulous scale which announces the main theme – in fact the whole movement seems to be derived from the dotted rhythm of the opening motto. An extremely lyrical and consummately beautiful Andante – a true aria – comes next, with the succeeding Minuet fulfilling much of the function of a scherzo. The whole work abounds in contrasts – listen out for tonic minor to tonic major in the Minuet and Trio (not the usual key relationship at all) and for heady antiphony between energy and repose which underpins every page of this rich and resonant score.