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A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

February 8, 9, 10
Copley Symphony Hall

Mei-Ann Chen, conductor
Benjamin Jaber, horn

PRICE: Mississippi River Suite
R. STRAUSS: Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 11
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade, Op.35

Guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen from the Memphis Symphony leads the orchestra in a performance of master orchestrator Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's ever-popular Scheherazade, an orchestral suite drawn from the "Arabian Nights" legends. Principal Horn Benjamin Jaber is featured in perhaps the most acclaimed concerto for French Horn in the classical repertoire, Richard Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 1. The concert opens with Florence Price's atmospheric Mississippi River Suite, drawing from Folk, Negro Spiritual and Native American traditions.

"Ben Jaber, the San Diego Symphony's principal horn, didn't just tame the beast, he danced with it." - CLICK HERE to read U-T San Diego's review of this concert!


Mississippi River Suite


Born April 9, 1888, Little Rock

Died June 3, 1953, Chicago


            Florence Price was a remarkable composer, but today – over half a century after her death – very few have heard of her. Born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, she showed a remarkable talent very early: she gave her first piano recital at age four, published her first piece at 11 and entered the New England Conservatory at 15. There she studied piano and organ and took composition lessons from George Whitefield Chadwick and Frederick Converse. Graduating at age 18, she taught at Shorter College in Arkansas, and in 1910 she became the head of the music department at Clark University in Atlanta. Returning to Little Rock, she married George Price, an attorney, and in 1927 the couple and their children moved to Chicago. There Florence studied composition with Leo Sowerby; she was at this time also writing musical jingles for radio commercials. Price’s Symphony in E minor, composed in 1931-32, won the Wanamaker Competition and was performed the following year by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair. In the following years, Price’s music was performed more widely in the United States and in Europe – Marian Anderson performed several of Price’s songs, including “My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord” and “Songs to the Dark Virgin.”

            Price was a prolific composer. She wrote over 300 different works, including four symphonies, two violin concertos, a piano concerto, piano music, and a large number of songs and choral compositions. Most of these remain unpublished, and while some of her works have been recorded, Price’s music remains largely unknown to modern audiences. Trained in the conservative style of Chadwick and Converse, she remained faithful to that idiom throughout her life; the many new directions of twentieth-century music did not make themselves felt in her music. Price was very interested in the heritage of African-American music, and she made use of it in many ways. She wrote spirituals, arranged folk songs, and incorporated elements of African-American music in such compositions as Three Little Negro Dances, Dances from the Canebrakes, Concert Overture on Negro Spirituals, Arkansas Jitter, Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint, and many others. But it is a mistake to pigeonhole her as just an “African-American composer”: her range of interests was wide, and she wrote a number of works that are not consciously part of that tradition.

            Price composed the Mississippi River Suite in 1934, the year after the successful premiere of her Symphony in E minor. She subtitled the piece, which spans nearly half an hour, “The River and the Songs of Those Dwelling Upon Its Banks,” and that description forms a good introduction to this music. Listeners might imagine that they are on a trip down the Mississippi and hear these songs as that trip unfolds. While some of the songs Price uses are of African-American origin, at least one is a Native American melody, and several are traditional American folk tunes. Along the way, listeners will recognize such familiar songs as “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Stand Still Jordan,” “Deep River,” “Go Down Moses,” “Lalotte,” “Steamboat Bill” and “River Song.” Price weaves these melodies into an appealing travelogue of locales along the Mississippi; she is sensitive to the meaning of each song, her handling of the orchestra is accomplished, and Mississippi River Suite unfolds as a pleasing – and nostalgic – journey into America’s past.


Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 11


Born June 11, 1864, Munich

Died September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen


            Richard Strauss’ father was one of the great horn-players of the nineteenth century. For nearly fifty years Franz Strauss served as first horn of the Munich Court Opera Orchestra, and in that position he performed Wagner operas under the direction of Wagner himself. From the moment of his birth, Richard was surrounded by the sound of the French horn – it was part of the texture of his life – and he wrote brilliantly for the instrument throughout his long career, as the horn solos in Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Heldenleben and the operas make abundantly clear. He also wrote two concertos for his father’s instrument, one at the very beginning of his composing career, the other at the very end.

            Strauss composed his Horn Concerto No. 1 in 1882-83, as he approached his nineteenth birthday. As a composer, young Strauss was still feeling his way at this point. The tone poems, with their fire and wholly original scene-painting, were still several years in the future at this point. And in fact the Horn Concerto No. 1 – for all the brilliance of its writing – is marked by a measure of restraint. Strauss scores it for what is essentially Mozart’s orchestra (pairs of woodwinds, horns, and trumpets, plus timpani and strings), and the concerto’s three movements – played without pause – span only about a quarter of an hour.

            Yet at the same time this music is beautifully conceived for the French horn. The orchestra produces one ringing, introductory chord in E-flat Major, and the soloist sails into the fanfare-like call that will furnish much of the material for the entire concerto. The powerful arc of this call (Strauss marks it energico) is perfectly suited to the golden, blazing sound of the French horn, and instantly it sets the character for the concerto, which is music of youthful vigor and a pleasing melodic sense. Strauss does not cast the opening Allegro in the expected sonata form, choosing instead to write in a more episodic rondo form, built on interludes of different character. The writing for horn throughout the concerto is wonderfully idiomatic, full of flowing themes, dramatic gestures and the glowing sound of the instrument.

            The music eventually slows and proceeds without pause into the Andante, set in the unusual key of A-flat minor. Here the horn sings its long main melody (marked dolce) over quiet fanfare-like figures from the strings. The concluding Allegro is a rondo in 6/8 based on a dancing main theme that is derived from the fanfare at the very beginning of the concerto. The writing here is quiet brilliant, demanding some athletic, accomplished playing from the soloist as this youthful concerto hurtles to its ebullient conclusion.

            Franz Strauss was 61 when his son wrote this concerto, and he never played it in public, though he did play it – with piano accompaniment – at family gatherings (family members reported that he complained about the many high notes in the finale). The official premiere with orchestra had to wait two years. Gustav Leinhos was soloist at that performance, given in March 1885 with the Meiningen Orchestra under the direction of Hans von Bülow.


Scheherazade, Op. 35


Born March 18, 1844, Tikhvin

Died June 21, 1908, Lyubensk


            In the summer of 1888, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, then 44 years old, went to his summer estate on the shores of Lake Cheryemenyetskoye and set to work on a new orchestral composition. He called it Scheherazade and added a subtitle – “Symphonic Suite on 1001 Nights” – that made clear its inspiration. Each movement had a title that suggested a definite program: The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, The Tale of Prince Kalander, The Young Prince and the Princess, and the concluding The Festival in Baghdad, which ends dramatically as The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock. And the composer included an introductory note in the score: “The Sultan Schahriar, persuaded of the falseness and faithfulness of all women, had sworn to put to death each of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saved her life by arousing his interest in tales which she told him during a thousand and one nights. Driven by curiosity, the Sultan put off his wife’s execution from day to day and at last gave up his bloody plan altogether.” Scheherazade, composed within the month of July 1888, quickly became one of the most popular works in symphonic literature, played (and over-played) around the world, where audiences could revel in the stories with which the wily Scheherazade entranced her dangerous husband.

            But does this music tell a story? Each of the movements has a descriptive title, and certain themes are obviously musical portraits: the menacing opening is clearly the ferocious Sultan, while the solo violin is just as clearly the sly and sensual Sultana, spinning her tales. And along the way we hear the swaying sea, the sighs of the young lovers, the festival in Baghdad and the crash of the ship against the rock.

            Or do we? Despite what seems obvious musical portraiture, Rimsky-Korsakov discouraged any talk of this music’s telling a specific story and suggested that his intentions were much more general: “In composing Scheherazade, I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had traveled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each listener. All I had desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders . . .” The composer even went so far as to temporarily withdraw the descriptive titles of the four movements.

            And so listeners are free to approach this music in any way they wish. They can experience it as the Sultana’s depiction of a thousand exotic tales and even imagine the specific events the music and movement titles seem to evoke. Or they can listen for Rimsky-Korsakov’s endless transformation of just a few themes, which return in an exotic array of new shapes and colors. Or they can listen for the opulence of the sound he is able to draw from the orchestra, for Scheherazade remains – more than a century after its creation – one of the most sumptuous scores ever composed. Perhaps some of the charm of this music is that it simply cannot be pinned down but remains as elusive, evocative and mysterious as the Sultana’s tales.

            There was a time, a generation or two ago, when Scheherazade was considered the stereotype of the warhorse, music so overplayed and so overfamiliar that the mere mention of its name produced smiles and a certain condescension. But this music appears much less often in concert halls today, and one of the particular charms of a concert like this is the pleasure of hearing this distantly-remembered music burst to vibrant life in front of us one more time.

-Program notes by Eric Bromberger



      Mei-Ann Chen called me from far-off Pasadena where she was about to open that orchestra’s season, as she had done last year as well. Her schedule is extremely busy. Music director of both the Memphis Symphony and the Chicago Sinfonietta, she also has ten guest conducting engagements this season. She is extremely happy about conducting here because of the quality of the orchestra and also because she is able to present Florence Price’s Mississippi River Suite to our audiences. Describing the music as “really beautiful,” she takes considerable pride in championing the first major piece by the first major African-American female composer. Ms. Chen is conducting both the Florence Price piece and Scheherazade with the Chicago Symphony a couple of weeks after her appearance here. She shared another historic bit, pointing out that Florence Price settled in Chicago, and, after writing the Mississippi River Suite, she won a prize for her Fourth Symphony which was played by Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony.

         Scheherazade was Maestra Chen’s choice as a showpiece to conduct here, not least because there are so many passages in it that describe water, good companions to the Price river music. Also, having heard and met Jeff Thayer when he substituted as concertmaster in Houston some time ago, she felt that his playing would be ideal for the wonderful solos in Scheherazade. She pointed out that it was our principal hornist Benjamin Jaber who selected his solo piece.

Florence Price’s Mississippi River Suite is being given its San Diego Symphony premiere at these concerts. Strauss’s First Horn Concerto, however, has been programmed several times here during past seasons. Hermann Baumann introduced this concerto to SDSO audiences, under Robert Emile’s direction, during the 1970-71 season. Barry Tuckwell was the most recent soloist under Aldo Ceccato’s baton during the 1979-80 season.

Scheherazade, probably Rimsky-Korsakov’s most famous and popular work, was first played by the orchestra under Earl Bernard Murray in the 1962-63 season. Jahja Ling conducted the orchestra in the season 2006-07, when he led the 16th and most recent presentation of the work here.

-Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist


One of the most dynamic young conductors in America, Mei-Ann Chen is currently in her third year as Music Director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She is also beginning her second season as Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta.  During this time, the impact of her energy, enthusiasm and high level of music-making has been felt by both of these orchestras, their audiences and entire communities as well.   The League of American Orchestras recognized this fact by choosing her for the prestigious Helen M. Thompson Award at their 2012 national conference in Dallas. 

Among Ms. Chen’s 2012-13 season highlights are debuts on the Chicago Symphony subscription series, the San Francisco Symphony’s Chinese New Year Celebration, North Carolina Symphony, São Paulo Symphony in Brazil and the Tampere Philharmonic in Finland.  Among last season’s debuts were the Netherlands Philharmonic at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Aspen Music Festival, the symphonies of Jacksonville, Naples and Sarasota, as well as the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra.

In great demand as a guest conductor, Ms. Chen recently stepped in on short notice for her very well-received subscription concert debut with the Cincinnati Symphony.  She has been engaged by the Cincinnati Symphony for this season as well.  Ms. Chen has also appeared with the Rochester Philharmonic and the symphonies of Alabama, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Edmonton (Canada), Florida, Fort Worth, Nashville, National (Washington, D.C.), Oregon, Pacific, Pasadena, Phoenix, Seattle and Toronto.  Worldwide engagements include all of the principal Danish orchestras, BBC Scottish Symphony, Bournemouth Symphony, Graz Symphony, National Symphony of Mexico, Norrlands Opera Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra and the Trondheim Symphony.  Festival appearances include Grand Teton, Wintergreen, Chautauqua Institute and the Texas Music Festival in Houston.  

The first woman to win the Malko Competition (2005), Ms. Chen has served as Assistant Conductor of the Atlanta, Baltimore and Oregon symphonies.  The positions in Atlanta and Baltimore were sponsored by the League of American Orchestras.  Recipient of the 2007 Taki Concordia Fellowship, she has appeared jointly with Marin Alsop and Stefan Sanderling in highly acclaimed subscription concerts with the Baltimore Symphony, Colorado Symphony and Florida Orchestra.

In 2002 Ms. Chen was unanimously selected as Music Director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic in Oregon, the oldest of its kind and the model for many of the youth orchestras in the United States. During her five-year tenure with the orchestra, she led its sold-out debut in Carnegie Hall, received an ASCAP award for innovative programming and developed new and unique musicianship programs for the orchestra’s members. She was honored with a Sunburst Award from Young Audiences for her contribution to music education.

Born in Taiwan, Ms. Chen has lived in the United States since 1989. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from the University of Michigan, where she was a student of Kenneth Kiesler. Prior to that, she was the first student in New England Conservatory’s history to receive simultaneous master’s degrees, in both violin and conducting.  Ms. Chen also participated in the National Conducting Institute in Washington, D.C. and the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen. For more information, visit


Benjamin Jaber has been Principal Horn of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra since May 2009, serving in the same capacity since 2008 on an acting basis. He has also performed with the IRIS Orchestra, the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Houston, Richmond and New World Symphonies and the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. As a soloist, Mr. Jaber received first prize in the university division of the 2003 American Horn Competition and was the winner of the Aspen Music Festival's 2004 brass concerto competition. He was also a featured artist at the first-ever Conservatory Project series held at the Kennedy Center in Washington. He has spent his summers at the Aspen Festival, the National Orchestral Institute, the Pacific Music Festival and the Marlboro Music Festival. He has also been active as a freelancer in the recording studios of Los Angeles, adding many different projects to his credits.

Mr. Jaber received his training at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and the Colburn Conservatory where he was the first hornist ever to be graduated from the school. He studied with William Ver Meulen, John Zirbel, David Jolley and Bruce Henniss. He performs on a horn by Mark Atkinson of Burbank, CA.

During his undergraduate years at Rice, Mr. Jaber developed an infatuation with traditional Irish music that has since become much more than just a serious hobby; it is in fact rather a serious facet to his music-making life. He is completely self-taught on the Irish wooden flute, tin whistle and uilleann pipes, and has been active as a session player in Houston, Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. He has also been fortunate to get to play music with some of traditional Irish music's biggest names, including Paddy Keenan, Kevin Crawford, Mick Moloney, Isaac Alderson, Zac Leger, Eileen Ivers, Darren Maloney, Máire Ní Ghráda, David Power and Eliot Grasso. Other major influences include Ronan Browne, Robbie Hannan, Matt Molloy, Michael McGoldrick, John McSherry and older masters such as Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy and Liam O'Flynn. He plays a wooden flute by Michael Grinter of Australia, and uilleann pipes by Kirk Lynch of Missouri and Joe Kennedy of Canada.

February 8 - February 10, 2013

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