Deer Valley® Music Festival

History of the Music

History of the Music

Moab Music Festival

By Jeff Counts

Symphony No. 1 in G Major, Op. 11

Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)

Duration: 14 minutes in three movements

Without question, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (or Joseph Bologne) has the single most outrageous and impressive biography of any composer from any era. The son of a wealthy European planter and an enslaved African woman, Saint-Georges was a fencing champion, brilliant horseman, revolutionary fighter, regimental captain, skilled dancer, illicit paramour to many high-born ladies, and so much more. This brief rundown barely scratches the surface of what he accomplished during his incredible life as a man of mixed race in 18th-century Europe. His could not have been an easy reality to navigate, but Saint-Georges lived every second of his 53 years to the fullest and took advantage of the opportunities begrudgingly offered by French high society. How Saint-Georges found time, amid everything else he got up to (did I mention that he was imprisoned after the French Revolution and barely escaped the guillotine?), to study music and achieve such success as a composer and conductor is yet another baffling miracle. Not much is known about his formal training, but we can confirm that he joined François-Joseph Gossec's prestigious orchestra in 1769 as a violinist. In addition to his virtuoso instrumental talents, Chevalier de Saint-Georges' list of completed works and podium engagements is as impressive as any other part of his spectacular story (did I also mention he was involved in a slave revolt on his native island of Guadeloupe at one point, and presumed dead for a few years?). Saint-Georges' Symphony No. 1 was likely written in the late 1770s and, in addition to great taste and better instincts, it shows the influence of Haydn and other early Classical Period practitioners.

Concerto for Saxophone in E-flat Major, Op. 109

Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936)

Duration: 13 minutes

It is impossible to consider the place of the saxophone in classical music without recalling a particular quote from Igor Stravinsky. It happened in 1949 when fellow composer Ingolf Dahl told Stravinsky he was writing a concerto for one and the Russian master remarked that "the saxophone has always reminded me of a slimy, pink worm." By then the instrument had been around for a century and had certainly made its mark on "serious" orchestral music, thanks to Prokofiev, Ravel, Bizet, and Mussorgsky by way of Ravel. Stravinsky did not speak for everyone, it would seem, when making his memorably uncharitable assessment, and indeed one of his own countrymen had previously walked the path Dahl was then considering. German-born saxophone virtuoso Sigurd Rascher approached Alexander Glazunov about a concerto in 1934. Glazunov's letters show an interest in the instrument from at least two years prior, when he mentioned his intention to compose a saxophone quartet to a colleague at the Leningrad Conservatory. He was fascinated by the saxophone's directness of sound and its ability to project over other instruments in an ensemble, and the excellent performers who premiered the quartet convinced him that the instrument had limitless expressive potential as well. Glazunov was quite ill with bronchitis and the flu during the first months of 1934 (sadly a common circumstance for him) but got to work on the Concerto anyhow, claiming that he did so "under the influence of attacks rather than requests from…Rascher." He completed the piece in the summer and Rascher premiered it in Sweden the following December. Glazunov was not present (illness, again) for those concerts and there is no indication he ever heard the piece live before he died in 1936. The Saxophone Concerto would turn out to be Glazunov's last major work and it remains an important pillar of the small but thrilling classical canon for this unique instrument.


Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981)

Duration: 7 minutes ­­ American composer Jessie Montgomery's biography describes her compositional style as an interweaving of "classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, poetry, and social consciousness, making her an acute interpreter of 21st-century American sound and experience." "I've always been interested in trying to find the intersection between different times of music," she told the Chicago Symphony (where she is currently Composer in Residence) in 2021, "I imagine that music is a meeting place at which all people can converse about their unique differences and common stories." Montgomery grew up in Manhattan's Lower East Side with activist/artist parents and she experienced the intersection of culture and advocacy from a very early age. In the years that followed those formative days, Montgomery has received awards and commissions from a staggering list of prestigious institutions and remains a highly sought-after educator, performer, and creator. About the construction of Strum, a work she revised often from 2006 to 2012, Montgomery writes, "Originally conceived for the formation of a cello quintet, the voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound. Within Strum I used texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinato that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece." From lonely campfires to packed arenas, strumming is a quintessentially North American tradition and Strum clearly takes its title and its "texture motives" from this onomatopoeic guitar technique and its analog in the classical string instruments. "Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement," Montgomery continues, "the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and ecstatic celebration."

Serenade for Strings, Op. 48

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Duration: 28 minutes in three movements.

In an effort to stave off gossip regarding his sexuality, Tchaikovsky married in 1877. For reasons including but not at all limited to the most obvious one, the arrangement fell apart quickly and left Tchaikovsky a bit listless for the next few years. He spoke of "emptiness" and "boredom" and the notion that he was "incapable of living long without work." Sadly, fulfilling projects were rare for a time.

Rare, but not unknown. Tchaikovsky was able to admit to a patron in 1880 that the suddenly "benevolent muse" had inspired a Serenade for String Orchestra that he "wrote from an inward impulse" and hoped was "not without artistic qualities." Given that the immediately previous project had been the 1812 Overture (a work that gave Tchaikovsky little pleasure at the time), the modesty of both the Serenade and the composer's estimation of it are noteworthy. "Artistic qualities" indeed abound. Tchaikovsky said that he came to the Serenade form by chance, after sketching out ideas for a work he called "something between a symphony and a string quartet." Tchaikovsky seems to have had a desire to emulate Mozart with this music. Mozart was indeed a hero of Tchaikovsky's and, after the bombast of 1812, he may well have been inspired to channel the classical cleanness of an older time. The juxtaposition of 1812 and the Serenade is also an important example of the difference between the external and internal motivations of an artist. While the overture was public commission and not much more, the Serenade was built of pure inspiration and the beautifully simple (and simply beautiful) score shows the true value of the latter. With such powerful symphonies in his catalogue, Tchaikovsky's emotional/musical temperament is often measured in muscle, making the understated grace of the Serenade all the more thrilling.

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