Brandenburg:

It was during the reign of Frederick William I, who dismissed all musicians from royal service once he ascended the throne, that Bach visited Christian Ludwig, the margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, to pay him 130 Thalers for a harpsichord. Bach was relieved to find someone still interested in music and wrote a set of concerti for the great margrave, hoping to win his patronage. While most margraves and their margravines were presented with two or three concerti, Bach presented Christian Ludwig with six entire concerti. Unfortunately for Bach, Christian Ludwig lacked sufficient musicians to perform any of the works and was unable to accept Bach’s offer. It probably didn’t help that Frederick William I preferred the music of George Frederick Handel…

The third concerto is unique from the other Brandenburg Concerti in its balanced, blended soundscape and the distinct voices in each of the three string groupings. As Germans always do, they’ve created a wonderfully long word specifically to describe this kind of ‘communal music making’ – Gemeinschaftsspielmusik. There’s nothing like some good old Gemeinschaftsspielmusik to start off a concert! Pay special attention to the trading off of figures between the different instrument groupings, and try to keep track of how many times the violas make Alex Shiozaki laugh during the infamous ‘waggle dance’ movement. Also, look out for the second movement – it’s only one measure containing two chords of a Phrygian mode cadence; what better chance for Jenny Li to bust out the Baroque freestyle? Oh hell yes.

Toch:

Ernst Toch, born in Vienna in 1887, was considered one of the great avant-garde composers in the pre-Nazi era. His works often express a rather humorous aspect and invented the concept of “Gesprochene Musik,” or the idiom of the “spoken chorus.” In addition to traditional classical compositions for symphonies and chamber music, Toch was also a prolific film composer. Not much is known about this piece for three violins. Watch out for the unison E on the G string in the three violins. Hot.

Britten:

Frank Bridge was a British violist and composer, who’s most famous pupil was Benjamin Britten. Britten adored his teacher’s work and paid homage to him in this piece, using the theme from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls for String Quartet. Unbeknownst to both Frank Bridge and Britten himself, there lies within this work a tragic tale of love, loss, and redemption: The Bee Wars.

 

• Introduction: The Bee is born, entering into a world which is both wondrous and terrifying. The sustained lines in the solo instruments indicate the Bee’s fragile, newborn state, while the pizzicati propel him from his larval state. At the end of the movement, the rising figure in the lower viola, upper cello, and bass indicate his curious emergence into the world.

• Adagio: A direct continuation of the Introduction, the Bee contemplates his newfound life. Everything moves in slow motion as the Bee is overwhelmed by his senses, the beauty and pain of everyday existence. By the end of the movement, the Bee, in his innocence, believes the world to be a safe and loving place, where bees roam freely.

• March: The Bee’s notion of the world comes crashing down as, for the first time, he encounters the evil Bee Gestapo, led by the Sting, the Dark Lord of the Yellow Jackets. Hiding in a roadside flower, the Bee watches in horror as thousands of bees march in form behind Sting. Sting makes a speech before the mass, and throws a young Bee-ess out of his transport vehicle; the crowd cheers wildly, and the Gestapo continues onwards, leaving the poor Bee-ess behind in the dust. The Bee vows to fight against Sting and his Gestapo.

• Romance: The title is rather self-explanatory. Begin Montage: the Bee cautiously approaches the Bee-ess; he takes her in his arms and nurses her back to health; they fall in love and swear to destroy the agents of evil that have infested the lives of the Bees.

• Aria Italiana: The Bee and Bee-ess go to Italy to have a party! It’s pretty rollicking. Pizzicato quasi guiterra!!

• Bourree Classique: Sting makes a proclamation to his followers. Down with the good Bees! Gestapo forever!!

• Wiener Waltz: Preparation for the ultimate battle. Military training, hilarity ensues. A final love duet between the Bee and the Bee-ess as they hope to live to see a life without Sting, a life filled only with their love for one another.

• Moto Perpetuo: BEE WARS. At last. Just picture a really epic battle in your head. The most epic – like 300 meets every Star Wars battle, or maybe a combination of Gladiator and D-Day. Either way: so epic.

• Funeral March: Everyone dies. This is what happens in epic battles. Sad. But where is the Bee?

• Chant: The Bee emerges from the rubble. He is mildly wounded, but alive. His thoughts are only for the Bee-ess and he searches the wreckage of the battle for her. He has found his Bee-ess! She is wounded and the Bee holds her tightly, willing her to recover; even if Sting were defeated, life would not be worth living with out her love.

• Fugue and Finale: Just when all hope seems to be lost, the Bee-ess begins to stir. The Bee’s followers emerge from the ashes. What ashes? Doesn’t matter. But they emerge from them. The good Bee forces are insurmountable! They will never fall! But alas, Sting’s followers begin popping out of the ground like daisies; a muted swarming occurs and Sting and the Bee, represented by the solo instruments, prepare for one final battle. Sting mortally wounds the Bee! All hope is lost. The bees mourn as they face the prospect of life governed by the Gestapo. The Bee-ess, holding the Bee in her arms, sheds a tear. Divine intervention (it’s all in the harmonics) and the Bee stirs. He rises from the ground and vanquishes Sting. Nothing like a good deus ex macchina to bring about a happy, albeit improbable, ending. The Bee and the Bee-ess live happily ever after.

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