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  • Writer's pictureHelsingin Kamariorkesteri

The American Seasons

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on October 10th 2020. Aku Sorensen: conductor, violin. Register here.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau

For the first orchestral project after the Coronavirus hiatus, the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra returns with a program of two American giants reflecting on time. After a spring and summer where time seemed to stand still, these two works examine time in two very different but related ways. Copland takes a single day, reminds us how, as a moment in time, it is affected by both what was and what will be. He reminds us how much can change between sunrise and sunset. Glass instead takes an entire year, rushing us through a larger unit of time. We see how chaotic life is, and how important it is to take a moment to reflect on what we have and where we are. If there is one lesson this last year has taught us, it is how everything that is and can be changes in a moment. And that is worth reflecting on.


  • Phillip Glass: Violin Concerto No. 2 “American Four Seasons” (2009)

  • Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite (1972)

Phillip Glass: Violin Concerto No. 2 “American Four Seasons” (2009)

Philip Glass (b. 1937) is generally regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. A pioneer of minimalist and post-minimalist composing, his instantly recognizable style has led to award winning operas and film scores, as well as 12 symphonies, 11 concertos, and countless other orchestral and chamber works. The Violin Concerto no. 2, subtitled “American Four Seasons” was born of a request by American violinist Robert McDuffie, who asked Glass to write a modern counterpart to Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons. McDuffie had found great similarity in the styles of Glass and Vivaldi, with a similar taste for “chugging ostinatos and pleasant melodies up top”. McDuffie had just a handful of requests: he wanted a synthesizer to replace Vivaldi’s harpsichord, he wanted four movements that could correspond to seasons, and he wanted a “rock and roll ending”.

The concerto is in four movements, just as McDuffie requested, with 4 solo-violin “songs” replacing traditional cadenzas between movements. Each movement reflect a different character, all containing Glass’s signature drive but clearly representative of different seasons. The songs create a momentary pause in the texture, an almost improvisatory space for the soloist to shine. Interestingly, none of the movements were given a seasonal name, as McDuffie and Glass were unable to agree on which movement was which season. As a result, the season of each movement is left up to the listener’s imagination.

Gustav Holst: A Fugal Concerto

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the most important composers in American history, often referred to by friends and critics alike as the “Dean of American Composers”. His harmonically open style defined what came to be known as the American sound, and no work is more representative of this sound than Appalachian Spring.

This work, from a series of ballets he wrote for Martha Graham, was originally performed in 1944, with Graham dancing the lead part. The music proved so successful that Copland published the work 4 times, with both a suite and a full ballet released for both full orchestra and the original 13 instruments. The Helsinki Chamber Orchestra will perform the final version to be published, the suite for 13 instruments from 1972.

Originally ordered simply as a ballet with an “American theme” and only renamed “Appalachian Spring” shortly before the premiere, the ballet tells a story of a young pioneer couple on their wedding day. They wake up, reflect on the past, enjoy an energetic and sweet wedding, then retire to reflect on future as the sun sets. Copland himself described the 8 sections of this suite as follows:

  1. Very slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.

  2. Fast/Allegro. Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.

  3. Moderate/Moderato. Duo for the Bride and her Intended – scene of tenderness and passion.

  4. Quite fast. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feeling – suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.

  5. Still faster/Subito Allegro. Solo dance of the Bride – presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.

  6. Very slowly (as at first). Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.

  7. Calm and flowing/Doppio Movimento. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title "The Gift to Be Simple." The melody borrowed and used almost literally is called "Simple Gifts."

  8. Moderate. Coda/Moderato – Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. At the end the couple are left "quiet and strong in their new house." Muted strings intone a hushed prayerlike chorale passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.

Information regarding COVID-19: In order to guarantee the safety of our audience and in following the recommendations of the Finnish Government, the following concert has a total of 140 seats available, in order to guarantee the safety distance of at least 2 meters between each audience member. Due to the rapidly changing conditions, tickets will not be paid for in advance. Instead, register online now to save your seat and pay your ticket at the door!

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