Artists and Repertoire

Yaniv Dinur, conductor
Awadagin Pratt, piano

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings
Serge Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25, “Classical”
Jessie Montgomery: Rounds for Piano and String Orchestra
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D Major, “London”


Guest conductor Yaniv Dinur leads the Orchestra in Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, an audience favorite for its champagne-like energy and effervescence, shot through with an astonishing feeling of boyish wit and joy. The revered pianist Awadagin Pratt performs the celebrated composer Jessie Montgomery’s Rounds, originally conceived for Pratt and based on fractals, the infinite patterns found in nature. (Jessie Montgomery was recently named "Composer of the Year" by Musical America. Follow this link to learn more.) Haydn’s monumental “London” Symphony closes the program.

Insights from our Creative Consultant

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings

One of the most intriguing voices in American music in the second half of the 20th century, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (he was named in honor of the early 20th century Black British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor) is not nearly as well known to the public as he should be.

Partly this is the result of the heavy history of the oppression of the African American voice in so many spheres of modern life. But partly also it is the result of the fact that Perkinson, prodigiously talented, and extremely well trained in both the USA and in Europe, was not only a classical composer, but a gifted conductor, pianist, arranger and jazz- and pop-musician. He was also an organizer and one of the distinguished roster of musicians who in 1965 founded the Symphony of the New World, an immensely bold initiative that sought to create America’s first "integrated orchestra" (the chosen words were important and deliberate) as a reaction by the classical musicians of this country to the passing of the Civil Rights Act the previous year. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson simply did an astonishing number of different things.

But there is another aspect to his music which might also have contributed to his neglect: the delicacy and cultured quality of his inner voice as expressed in his pieces. He simply was not an artist who often spoke loudly and brashly. What we hear in some of his most beautiful works – and this Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings is an example – is someone who loved and cherished the masters of the past, and Bach especially; who loved and cherished the idea of an American music, regardless of race and color; and who loved and cherished musicians and the art of playing musical instruments. This music is marked by precision, delicacy, tact and human feeling.

There’s a touching remark of Perkinson’s from towards the end of his life, when he was asked what Black music really is. He answered:

I cannot define black music. I could say that it is a music that has its genesis in the black psyche or the black social life, but it is very difficult to say what black music really is. There are kinds of black music, just as there are kinds of other musics…

Perkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 1 was written in 1954 when the composer was only 22 years old. There are three movements: a short and lively but shadowy opening, almost like a baroque prelude; a beautiful and longer slow movement, called Song Form, which has been compared to Barber’s world-famous Adagio but which is really far more fragile and elusive; and a finale marked Allegro furioso.

Serge Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “Classical”

The young Serge Prokofiev was a child prodigy, entering the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1904 at the age of 13 and with a slew of operas, orchestral pieces and piano pieces already under his belt. But he was a far from a conventionally outstanding student, being rebellious, willful and openly irritated by the conventions and what he took to be the stupidity of his teachers. He graduated 10 years later with a dizzying performance of his own piano concerto. By that time, he was already published and his music was being performed internationally.

But this was now 1914, and World War 1 had broken out. The political and military situation both quickly deteriorated, and in 1917 a sequence of revolutionary upheavals began with the overthrow of the Tsar and ended with the seizure of power by Lenin and the Bolshevik forces.

And through all of this, Prokofiev was busily composing. One might have expected what he produced at such a time to have been stormy and tragic, but actually this was the period of his life when he wrote his sweetest, most charming and lyrical masterpieces, including his First Violin Concerto and this First Symphony, known as the "Classical."

The title was a deliberate joke by the composer. As a student he had found his teachers of musical history extremely boring, and especially their constant use of the word "classical." So, when he sat down to write this enchanting (but very difficult) symphony, he deliberately chose to make it sound like an uproarious parody of the "real" classical music of more than a century earlier. He cheekily wrote in his diary:

When our classically inclined musicians and professors (to my mind faux-classical) hear this symphony, they will be bound to scream in protest at this new example of Prokofiev's insolence, look how he will not let Mozart lie quiet in his grave but must come prodding at him with his grubby hands, contaminating the pure classical pearls with horrible Prokofievish dissonances…

Actually, there are not very many dissonances (discords) in this music at all. What established this piece in the concert repertoire almost from its first appearance was its champagne-like energy and effervescence, and its astonishing feeling of boyish wit and joy. This is a piece that audiences love. How extraordinary, then, that such music should have been written at a time of terrible civil and military violence, of widespread suffering and even starvation!

In fact, even Prokofiev’s friends at the time wondered what on earth he thought he was doing. In the early summer of 1917, having already finished the rough score of the symphony, he suddenly decided that the last movement would not work and that he had to write another. So, he booked himself on a pleasure boat sailing down the Volga River, took his manuscript paper and during the journey composed the wonderful last movement of the symphony that we have today. His diaries make no mention of the fact that the river-towns he visited along the way often had armed gangs roaming about them, and random shootings. Instead, he talks mostly about how delicious the food was in the boat’s dining room.

Jessie Montgomery: Rounds for Piano and String Orchestra

Jessie Montgomery is a New York-born composer, performer and educator, well-known (among many things) for the way her music focusses our attention and imagination on some of the key social and political issues of our time. She is also the daughter of the distinguished African American playwright, the late Robbie Macaulay, author of Sally’s Rape, Mississippi Freedom and Sugar. Montgomery is particularly associated with The Sphinx Organization, and is currently Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Rounds for Piano and String Orchestra was commissioned by a group of nine American orchestras and was conceived for the pianist Awadagin Pratt, our soloist on these concerts. In a fascinating program note, the composer comments:

Rounds… is inspired by the imagery and themes from T.S. Eliot’s epic poem Four Quartets. Early in the first poem, "Burnt Norton," we find these evocative lines:
"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance."

Montgomery goes on to say:

While working on this piece, I became fascinated by fractals (infinite patterns found in nature that are self-similar across different scales) and also delved into the work of contemporary biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber who writes about the interdependency of all beings.

She finishes by saying:

I am grateful to my friend Awadagin Pratt for his collaborative spirit and ingenuity in helping to usher my first work for solo piano into the world.

Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D Major, “London”

On New Year’s Day 1791, Franz Joseph Haydn arrived in England for the first time. He was 58 years old, famous all over Europe for his vast output of music, and he had never traveled so far before. He had also never before seen the ocean. On the ship crossing from France, he wrote to a friend:

I stayed on deck the whole voyage. I wanted to gaze my fill on that mighty monster, the sea!

This first trip to London was a huge triumph. 18 months later Haydn set out for home, enormously richer than he had ever been before, and with the triumphant premieres of six new symphonies behind him – works which remain today among the treasures of the orchestral repertoire.

In January 1794, with the promise of even greater opportunities, and now 62 years of age, he returned to England for a second time, where he was if anything even more successful than the first time. He stayed a further 18 months before returning home to Vienna forever. And on this second trip, he produced six more symphonies, glorious productions of a genius at the height of his powers.

The last of Haydn’s 12 London Symphonies  No. 104 in D Major, known particularly as "The London"  was given its first performance at his final concert in England, in the summer of 1795, not long before his departure. A prolific letter-writer to his friends at home, he told one of them, a female friend of whom he was very fond:

Yesterday I purchased a little trunk in which to put the things I bought for you. And in a few weeks, I will be home, where I look forward to embracing all my good friends. I am bringing with me such a pile of music, and a parrot, and a piece of coconut shell, decorated with silver.

Reporting on the success of this last concert, he added:

The whole company at the King's Theatre was thoroughly pleased by my new symphony. And so was I! On this one evening I made four thousand Gulden. Such a thing is only possible in England.

In the London newspapers of the late 18th century, Haydn was often referred to as "the Shakespeare of music." What the different journalists meant by this was that in his music, as in the plays of Shakespeare, all of human life is there, from the lowest to the highest, from the comical to the tragical. In Haydn, as in Shakespeare, you can experience an astonishing range of emotions in the shortest time. He was not a Romantic, who used music to "express his feelings." He was a child of the Age of Enlightenment and used music to talk about the whole world as he saw it all around him.

This "London" Symphony is a wondrous example of this feeling for the whole human condition: there is such joy in the first movement, but yet little moments of sadness along the way. The second movement begins like a quiet and everyday conversation, but then blossoms into more serious thoughts, as though the composer wanted us to feel how every human encounter, however trivial, has something deeper behind it. And the third is one of the most beautiful minuets ever written by this master who wrote hundreds of minuets.

In his London diaries and letters, Haydn talks of being invited as guest of honor to a huge civic banquet. After the food, there were small orchestras in every room, all playing different minuets for people to dance to. Haydn wandered from one to the next, comparing them. “The English are curious,” he said. “They dance minuets in the Polish way, not like we do back home in Austria!” But even Austrian minuets can sound very different from one another. By comparison with the sophisticated urban minuets of his young friend Mozart, Haydn’s minuets sound more like country dances, perhaps from the flat agricultural west of Austria where he grew up among village musicians.

And a country dance… or possibly a city dance… is what we get in the wonderful final movement, the last music Haydn wrote before going home. When the English audience first heard it, they recognized a London street-cry (someone outdoors selling produce or fish or meat) and some listeners even burst out laughing. And it’s true that Haydn noticed the hubbub of street-cries in the English capital  he even complained about how they disturbed him at his work.

But later, someone from his homeland recognized that the same tune the English thought was a street-cry, was actually a lively dance from Haydn’s native area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So perhaps what this music is really about is Haydn’s joy, after two successful visits to a foreign country, at the prospect of going home to the world he really knew.

– San Diego Symphony Creative Consultant GERARD MCBURNEY

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Time 7:30 p.m.
Venue The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center
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Time 7:30 p.m.
Venue The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center
Ticket Price --

Buy Tickets

If you have never heard Perkinson’s music before, a good place to start is the extremely touching slow movement of this Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings.

Prokofiev was an outstanding pianist, and in recitals he often used to include the Gavotte from his Classical Symphony. In the 1920s he recorded the piece, and here it is.

"Rounds" is a new piece, so there’s no easily accessible recording just yet. But here is Awadagin Pratt delightfully introducing the recent premiere of this music with the Colorado Symphony.

Here is the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra performing (sans conductor) the final movement of Haydn's 104th symphony.

The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center