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Baton and Podium: Ether Game Playlist

This week, we explored the vast influence of the orchestra on classical music. Browse our playlist below for nine orchestras that made history, and the legacies of their conductors. 

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, Op. 83 With a writers' strike over contract negotiations happening in the entertainment industry as we play tonight’s game, it’s an eerie coincidence that the first orchestra on tonight’s show, arguably the best European orchestra in the business, began after contract negotiations failed in 1882. Fifty musicians from an orchestra founded by conductor/composer Benjamin Blise went independendant after they were refused better pay and travel conditions for touring. They started the Berlin Philharmoniker, and would go on to support a legendary roster of conductors, including Hans von Bulow, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan and Simon Rattle. Although the Berlin Phil now has 129 musicians, the needed number to perform massive works by Mahler and Wagner, it began as an orchestra of less than half that size, playing music by Beethoven and Mozart. The Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto has special significance to the Berlin Philharmonic. It was one of the first pieces performed by the newly formed ensemble, and was conducted by a close friend of the composer, Joseph Joachim. 

Hugh Martin (1914-2011) The Trolley Song (From Meet Me In St. Louis) The musical forces required to accompany the Hollywood musical were unique. A symphonic orchestra capable of producing grand swells of high-octane, Wagnerian-inspired music was essentially combined with a big band and a rhythm section. Unfortunately the scores for many of these memorable soundtracks were not preserved, or only exist as piano reductions. English conductor and musicologist John Wilson has made it his specialty to meticulously re-transcribe some of these scores by ear, and it has become something of a tradition for his reconstructions to be featured in a special concert at the Proms in Royal Albert Hall, with a focus on the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein and other classic MGM musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis. 

César Franck (1822-1890) Symphony in d: I. Allegro ma non troppo With the ascent of the radio as a harbinger of media and culture in the early 20th century, a new kind of music ensemble emerged as well: the radio orchestra. Particularly in the 1930’s, orchestral and jazz musicians enjoyed a hiring boom as broadcasting stations formed numerous ensembles to provide incidental and theme music, as well as special broadcasts of classical and contemporary repertoire. In America, the NBC Symphony Orchestra achieved legendary status after it was formed especially for the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini. From 1937 to 1954, the NBC Symphony Orchestra was broadcasted weekly, with Toscanini conducting around 10 concerts each season. The orchestra also made frequent recordings for RCA which has helped document the legacy of this prestige ensemble. 

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Jeu de cartes When you hear the phrase “Big Five” in classical music, the first thing that might come to mind are the composers of the New Russian School: Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and company. After radio was invented and orchestras began broadcasting concerts across the United States however, the Big Five came to mean five prestigious American orchestras: The New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Cleveland Orchestra. Originally, it was the Big Three, New York, Boston and Philadelphia, but by 1950, George Szell and Fritz Reiner had made Cleveland and Chicago as reputable as any of the East Coast old guard, and the title was expanded. Now, the term “The Big Five” is considered anachronistic, with many music critics defending majorly acclaimed orchestras found all over the country: Baltimore, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and of course, Indianapolis, to name a few. 

Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) Symphony in E-flat, Op. 11, No. 3 The Czech composer Johann Stamitz lived just at the cusp of the transition from the Baroque era to the Classical period. He is considered the founding father of the Mannheim school, which is a term used to refer to both to the groundbreaking techniques pioneered by the court orchestra of Mannheim during the last years of the 18th century, and to the composers who wrote for that orchestra. His two surviving sons, Carl and Anton Stamitz, both grew up to also be considered important composers of the Mannheim school. A number of Mannheim school techniques still play an important role in orchestral repertoire today. The Mannheim Crescendo, a sudden crescendo developed via the whole orchestra? Even if you didn’t know the name for it, you’ve definitely heard it before. And the Mannheim Rocket, an ascending arpeggiated melodic line, coupled with a swift crescendo, it all started with Johann Stamitz.

Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747) Les éléments [The Elements] Tambourin Though he composed, Jean-Fery Rebel’s day job was as a court violinist in Les Petit Violons, the violin band that accompanied the Sun King’s ballets (Louis XIV was famously an excellent dancer). The band consisted of at a minimum, twenty musicians, and became a sort of proto-symphony orchestra when brass and woodwinds were added to accompany the operas of Lully. What is unusual is the way the string parts of Rebel’s orchestra were organized. The modern orchestra usually has four string parts: first violin, second violin, viola and cello with bass. The French Baroque orchestra used five parts, a treble violin, alto viola, tenor viola, low-tenor viola and bass violin, which was tuned a step lower than the cello. The unusual inner viola parts used instruments tuned to the same pitch, however they were built in three consecutive sizes to give them different volumes and timbres. Another unusual element of the orchestra, because of their proximity to the royal court, all the members had to be roman-catholic, and they were allowed to carry swords. 

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) Symphony No. 3 We heard earlier that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is one of the reasons the term the Big Five is not used anymore to reference American orchestras. With regular seasons at Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, they’ve been named the most “contemporary-minded” orchestra in the country. This was in part due to the orchestra’s two most recent conductors: Esa-Pekka Salonen, who we heard on this recording, and Gustavo Dudamel, who succeeded him. Salonen not only toured the LA Phil all over the world, marking them as an international force and the first American orchestra to be the opera pit orchestra at the renowned Salzburg Festival, he premiered the music of many now famous contemporary composers, including John Adams and Thomas Ades. Just this year, Dudamel announced that he will end his tenure in Los Angeles to take up the baton with the New York Philharmonic, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new for the LA Phil.  

Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour (b. 1974) Persian Echoes: I. Andante, allegro The English Chamber Orchestra was known as the Goldsbrough Orchestra when it was founded in 1948, but changed its name in 1960. The orchestra gained a reputation through its association with Benjamin Britten, who was the English Chamber Orchestra’s first patron, as well as by touring extensively and internationally during the last five decades. Though the orchestra is especially known for recording and performing Mozart’s works, they also perform and record contemporary works, including this harp concerto by Iranian- Danish composer Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour. The English Chamber Orchestra is one of the most recorded music ensembles, with around 1,500 works in its extensive catalog. 

Simon Jeffries (1949-1997) Music for a Found Harmonium The Penguin Cafe Orchestra is the brainchild of classically-trained guitarist Simon Jeffes. Having already become disillusioned with classical music, Jeffes was recovering from a bout of food poisoning when he had a fever dream of a dystopian future. He has said this made him realize how precious spontaneity, irrationality and surprise were in life and was inspired to create the Penguin Cafe Orchestra to explore this spirit of spontaneity. The original line-up of the group featured 10 musicians who played a variety of stringed, wind and percussion instruments. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra released their first album in 1976 on Brian Eno’s label Obscure Records, however it was in the early 80’s that they became popular, after this track “Music for a Found Harmonium” was featured in many films.

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