Evening Concert

Debussy’ “La Mer” (The Sea) by Dudamel and LA Phil


Tonight at 7 we'll have the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel leads the group in Debussy’s symphonic suite “La Mer” (The Sea) and Stravinsky’s complete concert suite from his ballet “The Firebird.” Also on the program an excerpt from Claude Vivier’s “Zapanga for String Orchestra.”

Los Angeles Philharmonic (Program #13-09)
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Claude VIVIER (Canadian) (d.1983):  Excerpt from “Zipangu for String Orchestra” (1980)
DEBUSSY: La Mer (The Sea)
STRAVINSKY: The Firebird (complete)

( here's the weblink to the LA Philharmonic page, where you can link to biographical pages about the composers, and info about the pieces: http://www.laphil.com/tickets/dudamel-conducts-stravinsky/2013-03-03 )

Zipangu” was the name given to Japan at the time of Marco Polo. Within the frame of a single melody I explore in this work different aspects of color. I tried to “blur” my harmonic structure through different bowing techniques. A colorful sound is obtained by applying exaggerated bow pressure on the strings as opposed to pure harmonics when returning to normal technique. A melody becomes a color (chords), grows lighter and slowly returns as though purified and solitary.

— Claude Vivier

(Reproduction Rights:
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer....per Boosey & Hawkes website, C.Vivier's music publisher)

Debussy was fascinated by the sea, which he first depicted in the final Sirènes movement of his 1899 Nocturnes, in which 16 women's voices wordlessly depict the allure of the mythological temptresses amid undulating waves – a monochromatic mood, and a rather clear portrayal of the title characters and setting. La Mer was more evocative and less literal, perhaps in part because Debussy wrote it in landlocked Burgundy,Cover of the score of La Mer, featuring part of the Hokusai print distilling memories of his childhood and holidays at the shore into an intense vision of the essence of the sea rather than a mere portrait. He wrote to a friend, "I have an endless store of memories [that] are worth more than the reality, whose beauty often deadens thought." Carson claims that Debussy felt overwhelmed in the presence of the sea and could not compose within sight or sound of it.

In La Mer, the full scope of Debussy's remarkable art is on display...... the vast orchestral resources are rarely massed, but rather handled with delicacy and resourcefulness to "shimmer in a thousand colors." Thus, Debussy divides his strings into up to a dozen separate lines, combines the sonorities of disparate instruments, violates accepted rules of harmony with parallel chordal movement and unresolved progressions, and toys with thematic fragments that never coalesce into full-blown melodies, all to achieve unprecedented, yet wholly natural, sonorities and timbres. Pierre Boulez calls the result "an infinitely flexible conception of acoustical instrumental relationships" that avoided symmetry, "a development conceived in feelings and irreducible to a formal classical plan."

Debussy subtitled La Mer "Trois esquisses symphoniques" ("Three symphonic sketches"). Many commentators refer to it as a symphony, yet it deliberately shuns the essential structure and developmental focus of that genre. Indeed, Its three movements bear specific titles – "De l'aube à midi sur la mer" ("From dawn to noon on the sea"), "Jeux de vagues" ("Play of the waves") and "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" ("Dialog of the wind and the sea"). The first begins in inchoate mystery, the second suggests lively motion, and the third conjures the interplay of powerful forces. Yet, to the frustration of those inured to the schematic literalism of the popular tone poems of the time, it's impossible to assign a specific program. Thus, the shimmering, vibrant, imposing climax of the first movement could just as easily be a stiff breeze, clouds dispersing, sun penetrating the depths, or the appearance of a great ship. When Debussy's friend Erik Satie quipped that he liked the part at 11:15, he was deriding the title of the first movement, rather than the wholly evocative music.

Indeed, the entire work conjures moods and feelings evoked by the sea and defies classification. Saint-Saëns said "Debussy has not created a style but has cultivated the absence of style." Boulez remarked: "What was overthrown was not so much the art of development as the very concept of form itself, … giving wings to a supple, mobile expressiveness, … a miracle of proportion, balance and transparency." Or, in Debussy's own words: "There is no theory. You merely have to listen. Pleasure is the law."

(per website: http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics/lamer.html)

Stravinsky was a young, virtually unknown composer when Diaghilev recruited him to create works for the Ballets Russes. The Firebird was his first project. Originally, Diaghilev approached the Russian composer Anatoly Lyadov, but later hired Stravinsky to compose the music.

The ballet has historic significance not only as Stravinsky's breakthrough piece — "Mark him well", said Sergei Diaghilev to Tamara Karsavina, who was dancing the title role: "He is a man on the eve of celebrity..." — but also as the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would also produce Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. (per wikipedia....)