Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 7:30pm
Vista Philharmonic Orchestra: Fleet Feat
Bruce Hangen, Artistic Director & Conductor
Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 7:30pm
The Concert Hall at Groton Hill
Symphony No. 5 (“The Western Hemisphere”)
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
I. The vigorous, life-sustaining forces of the Hemisphere. Briskly.
II. The natural beauties of the Hemisphere. Slowly and with utmost grace.
III. The nervous energy of the Hemisphere. Energetically.
IV. The overshadowing spirit of kindness and justice in the Hemisphere. Moderately.
Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 36
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Randy Steere, organ
∼ INTERMISSION ∼
Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 “Organ”
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
I. Adagio – Allegro moderato – Poco adagio
II. Allegro moderato – Presto – Maestoso – Allegro
Randy Steere, organ
Vista Philharmonic Orchestra
Bruce Hangen, Artistic Director & Conductor
Stone Family Endowed Music Director’s Chair
*Alice Hallstrom, Concertmaster
Li-Mei Liang, Associate Concertmaster
*Amelia Hollander Ames
*Young Sook Lee
Colleen McGary Smith
*Andrew van der Paardt
Laura Crook Brisson
Librarian: Kate Weiss
+Groton Hill Music School Faculty
PROGRAM NOTES by Maestro Bruce Hangen
This concert, a “Fleet Feat” (pun intended), is our opportunity to feature the new, virtual pipe organ that is now Groton Hill’s. With many thanks to Randy Steere, tonight’s soloist and whose tireless efforts at providing for, installing, tuning, and maintaining this cutting-edge instrument, I am very excited to perform two very important symphonic works that place the organ front and center as well as within the orchestra. For more specific information regarding this amazing technology, please see the note below based on information provided by Randy himself.
As soloist with the Orchestra, Randy will perform the “Toccata Festiva” by American composer Samuel Barber. This piece had its inception for an occasion much like ours –– the Philadelphia Academy of Music installed a new pipe organ in 1960, and the “Toccata Festiva” was commissioned for the premiere presentation of the organ. “Toccata” is a musical term dating as far back as the Renaissance, but its peak development occurred with Johann Sebastian Bach, who created some fantastically difficult yet still very important, virtuosic toccatas in the late Baroque (early 1700s) period. Barber’s “Toccata Festiva”, then, represents a festive, contemporary virtuosic display (including a cadenza for the pedals only!!) but honoring the long-standing traditions of the form established by J.S. Bach.
For the Symphony No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saëns, the organ becomes just another––albeit very important ––instrument in the orchestra. Therefore, you will see the organ console is moved away from center stage, joining the semi-circles that are the orchestra. Saint-Saëns was an incredibly talented youngster (beginning music study at the age of 2!) and a prolific and popular composer in adulthood. I like to describe his style as facile. Always flowing though often technically difficult, I’ve always found his music to be true also to the specific characteristics of the instruments for which Saint-Saëns is composing –– which is particularly true in the case of the organ in this symphony. In two separate movements, Saint- Saëns nevertheless creates the effect of a traditional four movement symphony, but with the innovation of subtly transitioning without stopping between movements 1-2 and 3-4. The ending, as you might expect, is truly exciting, majestic and glorious.
William Grant Still, often referred to as the “Dean of African-American Composers,” was born in 1895 in Mississippi and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. His first exposure to live performance was by performing with jazz musician W.C. Handy in Memphis. Later, in New York City, he performed and composed with many icons of popular music, including Eubie Blake, Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, and Artie Shaw. As a composer of “classical” music, Still achieved many firsts over the course of his life. First African-American to be performed by a major orchestra; first to conduct a major orchestra and the first to conduct in the Deep South; first to have an opera performed by a major opera company and the first to have an opera broadcast on national television.
About his Fifth Symphony (“The Western Hemisphere”), Still says, “One day in eternity has come to its close. A mighty civilization has begun, come to a climax, and declined. In the darkness, the past is swept away. When the new day dawns, the lands of the Western Hemisphere are raised from the bosom of the Atlantic. They are endowed by the Great Intelligence who created them and who controls their destiny with virtues unlike any that have gone before: qualities which will find counterparts in the characters of the men who will inhabit them eventually, and who will make them the abode of freedoms, of friendship, of the sharing of resources and achievements of the mind and of the spirit.” There are four separate movements, all with a hint at underlying ideas referring to the above quote, and include Still’s late symphonic style of writing music accessible to all, and often with jazz-influenced harmony and melody.
Some Notes on Groton Hill’s Virtual Pipe Organ (by Randy Steere)
Groton Hill Music Center is now home to one of the largest Hauptwerk installations in the world. Built by Meta Organworks of upstate New York, this instrument is not an “electronic” or “digital” organ, but rather a “Virtual Pipe Organ” (VPO) driven by the Hauptwerk software. Hauptwerk is the German term for the “Great,” or primary keyboard of an organ.
While an electronic instrument derives sounds artificially or electronically, a Virtual Pipe Organ allows one to purchase specific instruments or “sample sets.” Each sample set contains thousands of audio samples or .WAV (wave) files, all of which came from that specific instrument. Each of those samples is typically taken in stereo from 3 different locations within the original room housing the organ in order to capture the ambiance and audio characteristics of each sound.
When the organ is played, the software grabs all of the samples for each note being played, processes them and sends them out to the speakers in real time! This “polyphony” can be as many as 5,000 – 6,000 samples at the same time – a truly impressive feat of technology [creating] the realism of reproducing the actual pipe organ sound.
When an organist goes to play a program, the first decision is which sample set to load. Groton Hill has about 15 different sample sets or organs to choose from representing the wide range of organ building styles through the years from various geographic areas. For the March concert, I’ll be using the French Romantic instrument by Cavaille-Coll, as that is exactly what Saint-Saens would have composed for.
We’ll use the same sample set for the Barber, which makes the point that Hauptwerk isn’t about “purist” and “authentic” performance practices only. It’s about selecting an instrument that has all the sounds the performer is trying to achieve without the many compromises that most organists constantly have to make when one only has the pipe organ at hand in the room.
Specific statistics on Groton Hill’s organ:
- 32 Main Speakers
[12 different] subwoofers for various deep sounds
- In total, there are 44,500 watts of speaker power
- The computer running the organ has:
64 GB of RAM memory
2 TB of disk space
8 processor cores running Windows
2 touch screen monitors that take on the characteristics of the specific sample that is loaded
ABOUT TONIGHT’S GUEST ARTIST: Organist Randy Steere
Acclaimed for his solo appearances throughout New England, Randy Steere has served as Assistant Organist at Old South Church. A New England native, he received his B.M. degree from Barrington College (student of Alan Brown), an M.M. from Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music (student of Dr. Baker), an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and a Master’s of Computer Science from RPI. After graduating from Yale, he became the full-time Minister of Music at the First Church of Christ, Congregational, Glastonbury (CT) for 9 years where he developed an expansive ministry, including two large adult choirs, two handbell choirs, a children’s choir, two concert series, young singles ministry, and weekly commercial TV and radio broadcasts. Under Randy’s initiative, the church hosted the East Branch of the Hartford Camerata School of Music, where he also taught organ and choral conducting. Additionally, he taught organ performance, handbells, and church music classes at Barrington College (now Gordon College). Following his career in music, Randy switched to computers and became an IT Director at a mid-sized law firm for 7 years before running his own consulting and software company for 20 years. In 2020, he fully retired to become more actively involved in the music world once again, taking several study trips to Europe, working for a pipe organ builder, and concertizing widely on the East Coast. Randy has served on the Board of the Hartford Chapter AGO and was on the Board of Trustees for Arioso, a string ensemble of Hartford Symphony players where he was responsible for grant applications. He is currently Treasurer of the Merrimack AGO Chapter and a Trustee of the Methuen Memorial Music Hall.
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