The Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra will play a nicely varied program of Vivaldi, Haydn, and Douglas Townsend this weekend. Concerts are Saturday, November 16, at 7 PM, and Sunday, November 17, at 3 PM at Falmouth Academy.
The Vivaldi piece is the lively “Concerto in C for Two Trumpets and Strings (RV 537), and the Haydn is his final symphony, No. 104, considered by many to be not only among his best, but, according to FCPO conductor John Yankee, “among the greatest symphonies ever written.”
But, who, you might ask, is Douglas Townsend? Townsend, who died last summer at the age of 90, was a very active contemporary composer, musicologist, teacher, coach, and music enthusiast. He wrote over 100 works, including symphonies, concertos, chamber works, ballet music, film scores, incidental music for theatrical productions, operas, operettas, and choral music, as well as works for wind ensembles and symphonic bands. He studied composition with a number of well-known composers, including Aaron Copland.
The orchestra will be performing the first movement of Townsend’s “Concerto in the Old Style for Three Violins and String Orchestra.” The FCPO is dedicated to playing Baroque and classical music, so it is unusual that they would chose a contemporary piece, but there is a strong connection between Townsend and the orchestra.
An active participant in social media, Townsend connected with musicians around the world through Facebook, his YouTube channel, and by gathering musicians and composers together for social networking concerts, where contemporary composers shared their recent works.
Townsend met Laura Sonnichsen, FCPO’s concertmaster, on Facebook in 2009: both had graduated from Manhattan’s famed High School of Music and Art, and Sonnichsen attended Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York, where Townsend taught for several years in the early 1970s. Although they did not meet in person, they shared ideas about music and Sonnichsen listened to his music online.
When Sonnichsen heard his “Concerto in the Old Style for Three Violins and String Orchestra,” she “fell absolutely in love with it,” and urged Yankee to include in a concert program. The orchestra played through it last summer in their informal summer reading sessions.
Yankee noted that the concerto features and challenges the string section. “It is fun, quirky, and challenging, yet accessible to players and listeners alike,” he said.
“The movement we are playing recalls a Baroque concerto, such as Bach’s Brandenburgs, where solo instruments are accompanied by a ‘ripieno’ [full] orchestra. It is a fitting work to follow the Vivaldi, and provides a little foreshadowing of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, which we will be performing in March.”
Jean Townsend, Douglas Townsend’s widow, agreed. “It is a challenging piece, not written for community orchestra, and it is a tribute to the orchestra and to its director, John Yankee, that the FCPO is performing the first movement.”
Ms. Townsend, who continues to promote performances of her husband’s music, will attend the concerts and speak about her husband and his work.
“This contemporary concerto—it was written in 1994—is a break from our standard classical repertoire,” said Sonnichsen, “but it was written in the ‘old style.’ It is a very interesting, very complicated piece in the classical style with some atonal qualities.”
Sonnichsen will play first violin in the concerto; Jordan Mora, principal second violin for the orchestra, will play second violin; and Carol Rizzoli, the assistant concertmaster, will play third violin.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 to 1741) wrote his “Concerto in C for Two Trumpets and Strings” (RV 537) around 1718 to 1720. The concerto is one of his most popular works, one of only two trumpet concertos he wrote.
“The concerto features our trumpeters Richard Bahman and Ted Schmuhl,” said Yankee. “Given the classical repertoire we mostly play, they do not usually have melodic passages. This is a brilliant exception.”
Vivaldi wrote many of his 500 concertos at the Ospedale della Pieta, an orphanage for girls in Vienna, where he taught violin.
Like Vivaldi, Gustav Holst (1874 to 1934) taught at a school for girls and wrote many of his compositions for his pupils while he was director of music at the St. Paul’s Girls’ School in West London from 1905 to 1934. His “St. Paul’s Suite,” which he wrote in 1912, is among the most popular of these works, incorporating dance and folk song themes.
“I have wanted to do the “St. Paul’s Suite” for a while,” said Yankee. “Holst originally wrote it for strings, but continued to add wind, brass, and percussion parts as more students at St. Paul’s joined the orchestra. Our version includes the composer’s official additions and gives the entire orchestra [sans trumpet] opportunities to play and enjoy.”
Nicknamed the “father of the symphony” for his many contributions to the form, Joseph Haydn (1732 to 1809) wrote his final symphony, No. 104, in 1795.
“It is a measure of the orchestra’s growth and development that we can perform Haydn’s final symphony,” said Yankee. “It is exciting, familiar, and forward-looking—one of the greatest symphonies ever written.
After the premiere, Haydn wrote in his diary, “The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I.” The review in the London Morning Chronicle confirmed Haydn’s assessment. “This wonderful man never fails,” it read.
What: Falmouth Chamber Player Orchestra Fall Concerts
When: Saturday, November 16, 7 PM, and Sunday, November 17, 3 PM
Where: Falmouth Academy, 7 Highfield Drive, Falmouth, MA
Tickets: Admission is by donation. A donation of $20 is suggested for adults; $5 for students.
For more information: Visit FalmouthChamberPlayers.org or call Fritz Sonnichsen, president of the orchestra, at 508-274-2632.