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New Bedford Symphony Orchestra

November 2017 Program Notes

The Sibelius Connection

Lauri Porra: Entropia: Concerto for Electric Bass Guitar and Orchestra

Second law of thermodynamics: ∆S ≥ 0

Entropy can be used to measure both disorder and the direction of time. One goes forward in time when disorder increases. For instance, disorder increases when a porcelain vase breaks as it falls on the floor. We perceive that this is the natural progression of time. It is highly unlikely to see a broken vase ever to become whole again by itself. Likewise, disorder increases when cold and hot water are mixed together creating a warm solution. It is impossible to divide the cold and the hot components back from the warm solution. They are permanently mixed. Hypothetical perfect order can only be found in a perfect crystal in absolute zero temperature.

Perfect disorder, on the other hand, will occur if the universe becomes a mere homogeneous gas without any variations in density or temperature. According to current scientific consensus, that is what will eventually happen.
~ Simo Huotari, Professor of Physics, Helsinki University


In the Entropia concerto two contrasting elements are combined: a symphony orchestra and a bass guitar. The encounter readily produces disorder, as their history and aesthetic values are fundamentally dissimilar. That which one perceives as richness may be regarded by the other as impoverishment. In the worst case the two worlds may be blind to each other’s greatness.

As an allegory of entropy, I use the meeting of two people, and their sharing of a connection. Two different worlds come into contact, creating disorder in each one’s original world view and in the experience of the self. Unlike hot and cold water, or a falling dish, human beings have their own free will. They can experience change as an enhancing or a destructive force. Chaos can, at best, serve as a strength and as an enriching element in the quest for a new, unlimited world.
~ Lauri Porra

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 1

On February 15,1899, in response to Finland’s increasing agitation for independence from Russia, Czar Nicholas II unveiled the “February Manifesto,” which gave Russia the right to set policies in Finland without consent from the Finnish Senate. The following year, Czar Nicholas announced that Russian would become the official state language of Finland. These and other oppressive decrees were part of a larger Russian governmental strategy known as the “Russification of Finland.”

The importance of Jean Sibelius’ music to the people of Finland, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century, cannot be overstated. Sibelius was an ardent Finnish nationalist, and his music, particularly Finlandia and his symphonic poems, became a central rallying cry for the Finnish people in their fight to preserve their linguistic, cultural, and political independence. However, Sibelius also clearly stated that his symphonies should not be viewed through the lens of an extra-musical program. “[My symphonies] … [are] worked out as musical expression without the slightest literary basis,” he explained. “I’m not a literary musician. For me, music begins where words leave off … A symphony should be music first and last.” But, as musicologist James Hepokoski points out, Sibelius’ insistence that his symphonies were purely musical did not prevent Sibelius from using the First Symphony for non-musical ends. In the summer of 1900, the Helsinki Philharmonic toured Europe with it, using it to garner support for the Finnish cause against Russia. Not incidentally, this tour also brought Sibelius his first international recognition.

When some of Sibelius’ contemporaries pointed out the Tchaikovskian influences in the First Symphony, Sibelius concurred, replying, “There is much in that man that I recognize in myself.” Sibelius borrowed specific musical aspects from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, including the key of E minor and the clarinet solo that opens the first movement. More generally, Sibelius evokes Tchaikovsky in his use of recurring themes as unifying devices, as well as his affinity for drama and atmospheric orchestrations. There is also no denying the heroic nature of several themes in this symphony, particularly the primary melody of the opening Andante, which returns at the end of the Finale.

Inspired by Tchaikovsky he may have been, but Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 is an original work. Within the structure of a four-movement symphony, which by 1900 many composers had dismissed as moribund, Sibelius explores color and a wide spectrum of moods using rhythmic and melodic currents that ebb and flow like the tide. Within its meticulously crafted structure, Op. 39 is both passionate and enigmatic. It demonstrates Sibelius’ affinity for and facility with the symphonic format, and hints at the innovations and styles he would develop in his later symphonies.

In 1905, six years after Op. 39’s premiere in Helsinki, English critic Ernest Newman wrote, “I have never listened to any music that took me away so completely from our usual Western life, and transported me into a quite new civilization. Every page of [the First Symphony] breathes of another manner of thought, another way of living, even another landscape and seascape of ours.”
~ ©2017 Elizabeth Schwartz

NOTE: These program notes attributed to Elizabeth Schwartz are published here by the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra for its patrons and other interested readers. Any other use is forbidden without specific permission from the author, who may be contacted at Elizabeth Schwartz is a writer and music historian based in Portland, OR. She has been a program annotator for more than 20 years, and her clients include the Oregon Symphony, the Oregon Bach Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, and Portland Piano International. Ms. Schwartz has also contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today” (now heard on American Public Media).