DARKO BUTORAC, Music Director
Recently praised by the Westdeutsche Zeitung for his "elegance and well-timed pacing", Maestro Darko Butorac is establishing himself as one of the world's most sought-after young conductors. Following his debut with the Belgrade Philharmonic in January of 2011 he was invited to both close the 2011 and open the 2012 concert seasons. In addition to his activities in Belgrade, notable concerts include collaborations with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Neuss and the Georgische Kammerorchester Ingolstadt (Germany), the Rubinstein Philharmonic of Lodz (Poland), the Tallin Sinfonietta (Estonia), and a debut at the celebrated Vienna Konzerthaus with the Slovenian Radio Orchestra in the spring of 2014.
Since taking the baton in 2007, Butorac has propelled the Missoula Symphony Orchestra to a new level of musical achievement, with an expanded repertoire and local premieres of works by established and emerging composers. Butorac and the orchestra have shared the stage with renowned guest artists including Grammy-nominated violinist Robert McDuffie, pianists Stewart Goodyear and Antonio Pompa-Baldi, and celebrated actor J.K. Simmons. The Symphony’s growing popularity has ignited ticket sales and established Butorac as a cultural leader in the community. An enthusiastic ambassador for classical music, he also creates the award-winning “Downbeat DownLow” podcasts with radio personality Leah Lewis.
Within North America, Butorac has been featured as a guest conductor with the Charleston Symphony, the Canton Symphony, the Springfield Symphony, Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers, the Montana Lyric Opera and as the Principal Conductor of the Northwest Mahler Festival in Seattle. In May of 2013 Butorac was hired as the new Music Director of the Tallahassee Symphony in Florida, following a two-year long international search. Highlights of his guest conducting engagements abroad include the Mendoza and Neuquen Symphonies in Argentina, the Xiamen Philharmonic in China, the Slobozhansky Orchestra and the Kharkov Philharmonic in the Ukraine, and annual visits with Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra of Parma as the principal conductor of the Fidenza Opera Festival in Italy.
In 2003, Butorac was awarded a fellowship by David Zinman to study at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival. Upon his return to the festival in 2004, Butorac was named Assistant Conductor of the Aspen Opera Theater Center and worked with Julius Rudel and Arnold Oestman. He has also worked extensively at the Brevard Music Center, Aspen Music Festival and Indiana University. His principal mentors are David Effron, Jorma Panula, Imre Pallo and David Zinman. For more information on Butorac, please visit www.darkobutorac.com.
KATHERINE CHI, piano soloist
Pianist Katherine Chi , firmly established as one of Canada’s fastest rising stars, has performed throughout Europe and North America to great acclaim. “Ms Chi displayed a keen musical intelligence and a powerful arsenal of technique” notes the New York Times. Recent and upcoming performances include her debuts with the San Antonio, Huntsville and Richmond Symphonies, concerto appearances with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony and with I Musici de Montréal, and a Washington, DC recital debut at the National Gallery of Art.
Sought after as a concerto soloist of musical and technical distinction, Ms. Chi is noted for the breadth of her repertoire. While hailed for her interpretations of Mozart, she is also acclaimed for performances of major romantic and twentieth century concertos. “… the most sensational but, better, the most unfailingly cogent and compelling Prokofiev’s Third I have heard in years” writes the Globe and Mail. And when Katherine Chi recreated Stockhausen’s landmark work, Mantra, for two pianos and electronics the Boston Globe wrote “when the superb pianists Katherine Chi and Aleksandar Madzar took on the challenge at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Sunday, it was a welcome opportunity: courtside seats at the creation. Chi and Madzar were ensconced among percussion, microphones, and MIDI controllers … the form unfolding like a venerable suite even as it pushes the modernist envelope.”
She has appeared with the Alabama, Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Edmonton, Grand Rapids, Kitchener-Waterloo, Nova-Scotia, Philadelphia, Quebec, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria Symphony Orchestras, CBC Radio Orchestra, Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, I Musici de Montreal, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, the Neue Philharmonie Westfalen and Toronto Sinfonia. Festival appearances including Aldeburgh, Banff, Canada’s Festival of the Sound, Launadière, Domaine Forget, Marlboro, Osnabrück Kammermusik, Germany’s Ruhr, Santander Summer Music, and Festival Vancouver.
Just a year after her debut recital at the age of nine Katherine Chi was accepted to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. She continued studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she received her Master’s degree, Graduate, Artist Diploma and Doctorate. She later studied for two years at the International Piano Foundation in Como, Italy, and at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. In 2000, Ms. Chi was named Prize Laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition and was the first Canadian, and the first woman, to win this award. She was also a prizewinner at the 1998 Busoni International Piano Competition. Her debut recording, on the Honens label, features works of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff and a new album is slated for 2014 release.
Pictures Of Power
April 23 & 24, 2016
Fernández — “Batuque”
This driving, raucous dance piece reflects the urgent, raw character of South American classical music in general, and the folk music of Brazil in particular.
Ravel — Piano Concerto in G
The French composer sought to echo the spirit of traditional concertos by Mozart and Saint-Saens. But, Ravel being Ravel, the result is both daringly original and utterly captivating in its use of musical contrasts and alluring melodies.
Mussorgsky — Pictures at an Exhibition
Inspired by an exhibition of remarkable sketches by the architect Victor Hartmann, the Russian composer Mussorgsky penned this set of ten vivid and exciting “pictures” for piano. This orchestration by Ravel is now the music for which Mussorgsky is best known.
Oscar Fernández (1897-1948) — “Batuque” (from Reisado do pastoreio)
The orchestral concert hall has not been a particularly welcoming place for the music of South American composers. Despite many deep musical traditions such as the tangos of Argentina and the sambas of Brazil, South America’s best-known native composers — including Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla — are still unfamiliar to many classical music lovers. Only in recent years has the music of those artists begun to show up regularly on concert programs in the United States and Europe.
In 1930, the Brazilian composer Oscar Fernández penned an orchestral triptych meant to echo the characteristic folks melodies and driving rhythms of Afro-Brazilian music. In today’s concert we will hear the exciting third movement, a driving, raucous dance that develops simple melodies into a fierce climax.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) — Piano Concerto in G
Born in France in 1875, Maurice Ravel showed plenty of early promise as a pianist and composer, and was accepted into the Paris Conservatory for training. However, after failing to win a competitive medal at the school for three years straight, he was expelled in 1895. Undaunted, Ravel returned to the school’s composition program. In 1900, he was expelled from that program, too.
Ironic, then, that one of Ravel’s most enduringly popular compositions would be a piano concerto.
Yet in a way, the challenges that Ravel faced in his early years make perfect sense when we listen to this music. Arguably none of the great composers of the early 20th century experimented more freely than Ravel with the blending and straddling of forms, moods, instrumentation and international musical influences. His Tzigane perfectly captures the spirit of Eastern European gypsy music. Bolero stands as one of the best examples of Spanish-style music in the entire orchestral repertoire, as well as risky formal experimentation — a single melody that plays out in a steadily building crescendo over the course of 15 minutes. Such radical defiance of musical traditions didn’t sit well with the establishment of the day; but today, Ravel’s unique talent is revered by musicologists and cited as inspiration by composers who followed him.
In 1929, fresh from a visit to the United States, Ravel decided to write a piano concerto, one that would mirror the spirit of traditional concertos by Mozart and Saint-Saens. “The music of a concerto should, in my opinion, be lighthearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects,” the composer explained.
The composer’s core intent is certainly achieved in the completed work. But make no mistake: This is no Mozart concerto, as is evident from the outset.
The first movement begins with a snap and a colorful swirl of sound. After a lively rhythmic section, the piano appears, languid and jazzy — sudden echoes of Ravel’s time in America. The contrasts could hardly come faster in that first minute, providing a quick encapsulation of the range of mood, tempo and dynamics — not to mention the daring yet perfectly juxtaposed contrasts — that will follow.
At the climax of the first movement a soaring melody erupts, surely one of the most beautiful Ravel ever wrote. Yet just as it climaxes, the music dashes off in another direction, rhythmic and light, driving quickly to the rather abrupt end of the movement. From the pen of almost any other composer, such sudden shifts would surely seem schizophrenic; yet here, the ease and intuitive logic of each twist bespeaks Ravel’s brilliance.
Of the second movement, many words could be said, but none will amply explain its magic. There is arguably no more lovely, gentle movement in any classical concerto. Its loveliness is born this time out of simplicity: A dreamy piano solo introduces the initial melody, then passes it to the orchestra. The piano returns to ornament the melody, building to a restrained climax before fading to a magical trill.
The finale is another showcase of color and contrasts. Ravel’s mastery of off-kilter rhythms is explored here to its fullest; sometimes it seems that the underlying pulse has completely disappeared, yet nothing ever seems out of place. The ending seems to come too soon — but isn’t that true of all great works?
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) — Pictures at an Exhibition
When the Russian architect Victor Hartmann died in 1874 at the age of 39, he left St. Petersburg with a few nice buildings of his design. He also left a pile of sketches — watercolors, stage designs, and architectural fantasies. After a posthumous exhibition of these sketches, many of the works were lost, and have never been recovered.
How ironic that Hartmann would eventually be best known throughout the world for these sketches — not by sight, but by the way they sounded to one of Russia’s great 19th Century composers, Modest Mussorgsky.
Mussorgsky was a long-time friend of Hartmann’s, and the latter’s death was a terrible blow to the fragile composer. “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, live on? — and creatures like Hartmann must die!” wrote Mussorgsky in a letter to his composer-friend, Vladimir Stassov.
Stassov, also an ardent fan of the radical architect, organized the posthumous exhibition of Hartmann’s sketches, which Mussorgsky naturally attended. Touched deeply by his experience at the exhibition, Mussorgsky set to work on musical interpretations of several of Hartmann’s works. The result, a ten-movement suite for piano penned in just six weeks, would become Mussorgsky’s most famous work.
The music opens with a depiction of Mussorgsky himself walking in wonder through the exhibit. The stately Promenade halts at the first sketch: “Gnomus,” a portrait of a mysterious and not altogether sprightly gnome. Then comes another Promenade, followed by a portrait in more subdued hues, titled “The Old Castle.” The haunting melody, played on the alto saxophone, evokes a troubadour singing a lilting tune in the shadow of the castle.
Another Promenade takes the composer to his next stop, a portrait of quarreling children in the famous Tuileries garden in Paris, near the Louvre. Here, the music dances and swirls brightly, and the movement plays out quickly.
The composer then turns his gaze to a sketch of an old Polish oxcart on enormous wheels. Beginning softly, the music swells and then recedes as the impressive procession passes.
Next comes the “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks,” one of the most vivid of the sound-portraits in Mussorgsky’s collection. One can almost see the rocking eggs as the chicks peck their way out into the world.
“Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” depicts sketches of two Jewish men — one wealthy, one not. Each man is shown separately; their music is then blended together before ending in a mysterious coda. That’s followed by a sprinting, sun-dappled portrait of the market at Limoges in France, where women quarrel playfully.
Suddenly, the scene shifts to the catacombs of Paris, illuminated only by Hartmann’s lantern. Here Mussorgsky himself offered cryptic notes in the score: “With the dead in a dead language,” and later, “The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me towards the skulls, invokes them; the skulls begin to glow softly from within.”
That sets the stage for the most grotesque of the portraits: the stomping, romping hallucination known as “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs.” Mussorgsky drew his inspiration from an image of the mythical chicken-legged hut occupied by the witch Baba Yaga. Close your eyes and listen: You will see it.
Finally, the composer’s eyes leap to the most majestic of Hartmann’s sketches: the Great Gate of Kiev. Here, Mussorgsky finds a fitting end for his tour: A glorious structure on the grandest scale, gilded and glinting under the Russian sun.
Today, Pictures at an Exhibition stands as Mussorgsky’s most widely beloved creation. Yet therein lies another irony unto itself: For just as we only know several of Hartmann’s pictures through Mussorgsky’s music, most of us know Mussorgsky’s “Pictures” through music that is not entirely his own.
The version that we will hear tonight was transcribed for orchestra by Maurice Ravel. Ravel’s version was based on an edition of the original piano music produced by Mussorgsky’s friend, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov — who himself took liberties with the original score.
That adds up to a lot of lenses through which we view Hartmann’s original pictures. Yet, in a way, it only makes the wonder of this creation all the greater.
- Joe Nickell