April 29, 2017        7:30PM
Vernon Cook Theater
Clinton High School
Clinton, Iowa

Beethoven: Romance in G Major, Op 40
Katie Wolfe, violin

Bloch: From Jewish Life: Prayer
Vokan Orhon, double bass

Bottesini: Gran duo concertante for violin and double bass

Volkan Orhon, double bass
Katie Wolfe, violin

Glière: Symphony No. 1
in E-flat major
, Op 8
Andante - Allegro


Ernest Bloch: From Jewish Life: Prayer

Ernest Bloch
Ernest Bloch

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), Swiss by birth, came to the United States in 1916, after a spotty music career in Europe, as a conductor with the Maud Allan dance company, to seek his fame and fortune. From his major works - two symphonies and an opera - he had reaped only modest success with the second of the symphonies. His opera Macbeth on which he had expended great effort in composing and getting performed proved at its premiere to be a devastating failure.

After the Maud Allan tour was forced to close because of a lack of finances, Bloch was unsure of his future, but he accepted an offer to teach theory and composition at the newly-established David Mannes College of Music in New York while at the same time he began to accept private students. With an assured income, Bloch was able to bring his wife and children to the United States. The arrival of his family seemed to buoy the composer's spirits, and his compositions began to reflect a renewed confidence and a leaner texture as he moved toward a neoclassical style.

The four years 1916-1920 saw a succession of notable works coming from the pen of the composer. With the praise for his cello rhapsody Schelomo and for his String Quartet No. 1 came offers to perform his orchestral compositions in several American cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. The success of Three Jewish Poems in 1917 gave Bloch the notion that America was a more hospitable environment for him than that of Europe. He was further encouraged when he conducted a program of his 'Jewish' works to broad acclaim in Philadelphia. After contracting with G. Schirmer to publish his compositions, Bloch worked to become an active participant in the musical life of his adopted country by composing, teaching, and discussing his art in forums both large and small. In 1919 he won the Coolidge Prize for his Suite for Viola and Piano (Orchestra).

With success came recognition and offers for new ventures. Bloch was approached in early 1920 by a group of Cleveland entrepreneurs to found a music school in that city. He accepted and thus was born the Cleveland Institute of Music with an initial enrollment of less than ten students. That number increased in two years to over four hundred under Bloch's tireless recruitment and leadership. Yet, despite the obvious rewards of mentoring a growing institute, divergent philosophical views on music education worked from the beginning of their relationship to almost guarantee an eventual parting of the ways for the composer and the founders of the new school. Bloch wanted to do away with textbooks and examinations and have his students study at the source, i.e., the actual scores of the great composers. The board of directors favored a more traditional curricula and approach to music education. This difference became a rift, and Bloch felt compelled to resign in 1925. He then moved on to become director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a position he maintained until 1930.

Bloch composed From Jewish Life for cello and piano while on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the end of 1924, the year before his period of office as Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music came to an end. This set of three short pieces is dedicated to Hans Kindler, who had given the premiere of Schelomo at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1917. They explore the entire range of the solo instrument, musical structures are simple, and the use of Eastern European Ashkenazi modality creates a distinctive atmosphere.

Prayer has two contrasting themes—one broad, the other fragmented—with each introduced by the cello and then repeated in the orchestra. In the final section the melody of the opening appears an octave higher, and is extended into a kind of free recitative. Somber and emotional, Prayer is expressive above all else.  It is distinctly Jewish in style, as its title would suggest.  

Program notes© William H Driver and Clinton Symphony Orchestra