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Music at the Mission

Sun 8.12 4pm & 7pm

Sponsored by

KAZUSunday, August 12, 2012, 4pm & 7pm
Mission San Juan Bautista


Thomas Adès: Polaris
Behzad Ranjbaran
: Seven Passages
Michael Ippolito
: Nocturne [West Coast Premiere]
John Mackey
: Harvest: Concerto for Trombone (Joseph Alessi, trombone)

TICKETS: $50 DAY / $40 EVE


The 50th anniversary season of the Cabrillo Festival culminates with two Grand Finale performances in the magnificent sanctuary of Mission San Juan Bautista, and welcomes three featured composers for the concerts. The Festival Orchestra presents Michael Ippolito’s Nocturne, a work originally inspired by Joan Miró’s 1940 painting by the same name. Ippolito was struck by its “fantastical figures and swirling lines” and by the tension between the “energy and whimsy” of the imagery and the title of the work, as well as by the commonplace idea of night as a time of rest. Next is composer John Mackey’s Harvest: Concerto for Trombone. a work dedicated to and featuring Joseph Alessi on trombone. Harvest is based on the myths and mystery rituals of the Greek god Dionysus. Classical Review has described the piece as “a cycloramic feast of shifting moods and instrumental hues.” Principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic, Alessi is known to Festival audiences for his unforgettable West Coast premiere performance of Christopher Rouse's Pulitzer-Prize winning Trombone Concerto at the Mission in 1994. Last year, Iranian composer Behzad Ranjbaran wowed audiences and critics at the Festival with his Concerto for Piano. Trained in Tehran and at the Juilliard School, Ranjbaran writes music that is lushly tonal and draws on the music and culture of his native Iran. This year Ranjbaran returns with Seven Passages, the final work of his Persian Trilogy, which takes its inspiration from “The Seven Trials of Rostam,” an episode in the national epic of Iran, the Shahnameh. The concert closes with British composer Thomas AdèsPolaris. The piece is named for the North Star or Pole Star, around which the other stars appear to rotate as if it were itself a magnetic pole. Of this work, Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “there's a rapturous sheen to the score that makes it impossible to resist.” Irresistible, too, is this Grand Finale performance of the Cabrillo Festival's historic 50th anniversary season!

Program Notes

Polaris (2010-11)
Thomas Adès (b. 1971)

Renowned as a composer, conductor and pianist, Thomas Adès works regularly with the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies and festivals. His meteoric rise to international musical prominence in a period of barely a dozen years has been an astonishing phenomenon. He was twenty-two in 1993 when he gave his first public piano recital in London and there has been an unusual consensus among critics of his originality, musicality and importance.

Born in London, where he now lives, Adès initially attracted attention as pianist. He studied piano with Paul Berkowitz and composition with Robert Saxton at London’s Guildhall School of Music, and went on to read music at King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1992 with a double-starred first. Adès’ music has attracted numerous awards and prizes, including the prestigious Grawemeyer Award (in 2000, for Asyla), of which he is the youngest-ever recipient.

Adès’ previous Cabrillo Festival performances include three works in 2003, Darknesse Visible (1992), . . . but All Shall be Well (1993) and the piano concerto Concerto Conciso (1997); Asyla (1997) in 2004; America: A Prophecy (1999) in 2006; and two works in 2010, Catch (1991) performed by guest artists eighth blackbird and the violin concerto Concentric Paths (2005).

Polaris was commissioned by the New World Symphony Orchestra, Miami, for the opening of the Frank Gehry Arts Center in Miami, Florida. Co-commissioning partners included the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Gulbenkian Foundation, The Barbican, London, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It was introduced at the Arts Center on January 26, 2011 by the New World Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The following note is printed with the gracious permission of Philip Jones:

Thomas Adès' new work Polaris is scored for orchestra including groups of brass instruments that may be isolated from the stage. These instruments always play in canon, once in each of the three sections of the piece, entering in order from the highest (trumpets) to the lowest (bass tuba). Their melody, like all the music in this work, is derived from a magnetic series, a musical device heard here for the first time, in which all twelve notes are gradually presented, but persistently return to an anchoring pitch, as if magnetized. With the first appearance of the twelfth note, marked clearly with the first entrance of the timpani, the poles are reversed. At the start of the third and final section a third pole is discovered which establishes a stable equilibrium with the first.

The piece is named for Polaris, the North Star, or Pole Star, around which the other stars appear to rotate as if it were itself a magnetic pole, and which has since ancient times been used by seafarers as a navigational tool.

Not recorded

Seven Passasges (1999-2000)
Behzad Ranjbaran (b. 1955)

Bezhad Ranjbaran made his Cabrillo Festival debut last season with the West Coast premiere of his Piano Concerto, performed by French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Born in Tehran, Iran, Ranjbaran entered the Tehran Conservatory of Music at age nine. In 1974 he came to the United States for studies at Indiana University and at The Juilliard School, where he obtained his doctorate and where he currently serves as a member of the faculty. Previous commissions include works from the Virginia and Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestras, and he has served as composer-in-residence for the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra and the 40th anniversary season of the Saratoga Music Festival.

Seven Passages was composed during 1999-2000 on a commission from the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Orchestra introduced the work on March 25, 2000, conducted by JoAnn Falletta. The London Symphony Orchestra recorded Seven Passages on a CD titled Persian Trilogy, also conducted by JoAnn Falletta.

Ranjbaran has provided the following program note:

Seven Passages, the final work composed in my Persian Trilogy, draws its inspiration from an episode in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) titled “The Seven Trials of Rostam.” All three orchestral works in the Persian Trilogy were inspired by the stories of the Shahnameh, the national epic poem of Persia/Iran. The Shahnameh was written by the poet Ferdowsi (c. 940-1020), recounting the mythological and legendary history of the country from the creation of the world up to Persia’s conquest by the Arab conquerors, who brought with them the new religion of Islam in the Seventh Century. The main hero of the poem is Rostam, who spends much of his life fighting on behalf of the Persian kings, often saving them from situations in which their own pride and foolishness have entangled them.

When I was 10 years old, my mother won a contest in Tehran, Iran, for which the prize was a copy of the Shahnameh. It was a 9"x14" volume, 640 pages long, and sported a magnificent picture of its main hero, Rostam, in battle with the White Demon on the cover. I would soon learn that the cover was in fact a depiction of an episode from “The Seven Trials of Rostam.” My first look at the dramatic and bloody scene sent chills down my spine. Seeing the mighty Rostam, with his wise and determined face, overcoming the hideous White Demon, had me transfixed, and captured my imagination forever.

Another strong influence in composing Seven Passages came from my very early years during the summer trips to Taleghan, a chain of villages on Mount Alborz, near Tehran. I always found the nights in Taleghan to be breathtaking. With its countless stars shining brilliantly, the sky at night looked spectacular. I repeatedly heard stories about genies and fairies that would come down in hordes from surrounding hills, hand in hand, in white dresses, to celebrate their nightly rituals. I was reminded often that one could only see the fairies after midnight, and only if one believed in them. There were times when I actually thought that I had seen them! But, in retrospect, it seems to have been a figment of my imagination. In writing the slow section of Seven Passages, those powerful images were a constant source of inspiration.

Seven Passages refers to seven epic trials Rostam endures while traveling to rescue his king, Kavus, and countrymen from an enemy territory where they have been imprisoned. In the first encounter, Rostam’s horse, Rakhsh, saves him from a lion; in the second, he traverses a waterless desert; in the third, his horse again saves him, this time from a dragon; in the fourth, he outwits a sorceress; in the fifth, he fights against an enemy hero called Ulad; in the sixth, he defeats a demon called Arzhang; and in the seventh, he vanquishes the most terrifying of his adversaries, the White Demon.

In writing Seven Passages, I was inspired by the symbolism evident in the story that depicts a heroic struggle with all of its pain, tragedy, self-doubt, joy, and ultimate victory. Throughout these trials, Rostam emerges triumphant from his encounters with wild beasts, witches, demons, and dragons while performing one act of heroism after another. However, I have come to realize that in real life, courageous acts are not limited only to heroes. Unsung heroes perform countless acts of courage and struggle daily.

The music reflects my general impression of the story rather than following it faithfully. It is one continuous piece that is organized tightly around a three-note-motif (B, A#, B), transforming in the heroic finale to its inversion (B, C, B). This three-note motif functions as a unifying element weaving a tight organization throughout the many contrasting sections. There are references to other pieces of the Persian Trilogy. For example, in the slow introduction, the opening of The Blood of Seyavash is quoted briefly, the second movement of Seemorg is visited vividly, and furthermore, the three-note motif is directly derived from the first three notes of the opening theme of Seemorgh.

Suggested recording:
Persian Trilogy, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falleta
Delos Records B0003JAHRE

Nocturne (2010-11) West Coast Premiere
Michael Ippolito (b. 1985)

Making his Cabrillo Festival debut this year, Michael Ippolito is a graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in Ohio and currently is a doctoral fellow at the Juilliard School, studying with John Corigliano. Commissions include works for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Juilliard Orchestra, among others.

Ippolito’s Nocturne was originally composed in 2010 as a trio for flute, violin and piano. The orchestral version was completed almost a year later and was introduced on February 27, 2012 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre in New York by the Juilliard Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky. Ippolito has written the following note:

My Nocturne was originally inspired by Joan Miro’s 1940 painting of the same name. I was first drawn to the pure visual appeal of Miro’s fantastical figures and swirling lines, but I was also intrigued by the idea of a “nocturne” with so much energy and whimsy. As I thought about the tension between the title and the image, the other approaches to the nocturne came to my mind—from the Whistler paintings and the dreamy world of Chopin and Field that inspired him, to the colorful and diverse Debussy pieces, to the creaking and sliding “night music” of Bartók. In the end, my piece is about the different connotations of the title as much as it is about an imagined nocturnal scene.

Nocturne is in three large sections. The opening evokes a hazy world, with allusions to familiar nocturnal imagery floating in and out of focus. The middle section is a wild scherzo inspired by Miro’s bizarre nocturne. At the end, the music from the opening section returns, with a brief nod to Chopin before the music evaporates to nothing.

Not recorded

Harvest: Concerto for Trombone (2009-10) 
John Mackey (b. 1973)

John Mackey has appeared at the Cabrillo Festival once before, in 2005 with a performance of his piece Redline Tango (2002-03). His Harvest: Concerto for Trombone is scored for solo trombone and orchestra without strings. It is dedicated to trombonist Joseph Alessi, principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic, who first appeared at the Cabrillo Festival in 1994, performing the West Coast premiere of the Trombone Concerto by Christopher Rouse.


Harvest was commissioned by The Ridgewood Concert Band, The West Point Military Academy Band, University of Texas at Austin, United States Air Force Academy, Illinois State University, University of Florida, Miami University, University of Georgia, Texas Tech University, Case Western Reserve University, Ithaca College, University of South Carolina, University of Washington, Roxbury High School, University of South Florida, Florida State University, Baylor University, Syracuse University, McNeese State University, Arizona State University, and the University of Alabama. Harvest was introduced on March 12, 2010 in West Chester, Pennsylvania by The West Point Band conducted by Timothy Holton. The composer writes:


Harvest: Concerto for Trombone is based on the myths and mystery rituals of the Greek god Dionysus. As the Olympian god of the vine, Dionysus is famous for inspiring ecstasy and creativity. But this agricultural, earth-walking god was also subjected each year to a cycle of agonizing death before glorious rebirth, analogous to the harsh pruning and long winter the vines endure before blooming again in the spring. The concerto's movements attempt to represent this dual nature and the cycle of suffering and return.


The concerto is set in three connected sections, totaling approximately eighteen minutes. The first section begins with a slow introduction, heavy on ritualistic percussion, representing the summoning of Dionysus's worshippers to the ceremony. The rite itself builds in intensity, with Dionysus (represented, of course, by the solo trombone) engaging in call and response with his followers, some of who are driven to an ecstatic outcry—almost a "speaking in tongues"—represented by insistent woodwind trills. But when Dionysus transitions to a gentler tone, his frenzied worshippers do not follow. Their fervor overcomes them, and they tear their god to shreds in an act of ritual madness.


This brutal sacrifice by the ecstatic worshippers—the pruning of the vine—is followed without pause by the second section, representing Dionysus in the stillness of death, or winter. The god is distant, the music like a prayer.


The shoots of spring burst forth in the final section, following again without pause. The earth is reborn as Dionysus rises again, bringing the ecstasy and liberation that have been celebrated in his name for centuries.


Not recorded