125th Anniversary Concert

Program Notes

SAT JAN 18, 8 pm | SUN JAN 19, 2 pm

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor | AARON DIEHL pianist | VADYM KHOLODENKO pianist | GEORGE GERSHWIN pianola | TAL ROSNER video artist | CINCINNATI SYMPHONY YOUTH ORCHESTRA Wilbur Lin, conductor | MAY FESTIVAL CHORUS Robert Porco, director


Passages in Time World Premiere, CSO Commission

YSAŸE (1858-1931)

Exil!, Op. 25, for High Strings

ELLINGTON (1899-1974)

New World A-Comin’

GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Rhapsody in Blue




SCRIABIN (1872–1915)

Symphony No. 5, Op. 60, Prometheus: Poem of Fire


from Music Director Louis Langrée

To celebrate our milestone anniversary, I wanted to include pieces for this special weekend that celebrate the Orchestra, its history, and its commitment to new works and innovation. This program features two commissions. The first was commissioned by the Orchestra from one of our own, retired Principal Bassoonist Bill Winstead. His Passages in Time will feature three generations of Orchestra musicians—retired Orchestra members, the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, and current Orchestra members. The second, by Daníel Bjarnason, was commissioned by the CSO in 2014 and premiered here in 2015. Exil! was written by former Music Director Eugène Ysaÿe and contains a lush texture that is highly chromatic and full of sweeping melodies. Duke Ellington and George Gershwin both performed their own works with the Orchestra. Ellington was the soloist for the CSO’s 1970 recording of New World A-Comin’, and we are overjoyed that American jazz pianist Aaron Diehl will make his debut embodying Ellington in these performances. Gershwin performed his own Rhapsody in Blue with the CSO and music director Fritz Reiner in 1927. This weekend we will hear the closest musical experience to that 1927 performance as, through the use of innovative technology, Gershwin will return to the Music Hall stage as soloist via his own piano roll “recording”!
Another example of the CSO’s commitment to innovation will be bringing to life the synesthetic art that is Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus symphony. Scriabin intended the work to be an immersive story-telling experience through light and sound, and he wrote a part in the score for an instrument he called “Luce.” This device was created specifically to help illuminate the atmosphere and the message of Prometheus. We are thrilled that video artist Tal Rosner has partnered with the CSO to reimagine the light symphony with LED technology. Scriabin also included a massive piano part to personify the character Prometheus, blending the genres of symphony and concerto. The Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko makes his CSO debut portraying the hero and his holy sacrifice.


William Winstead

Born: December 11, 1942, Hopkinsville, KY
Died: February 12, 2020

Former CSO Principal Bassoon, 1987-2018

Passages in Time


  • Work composed: 2019
  • Premiere: These performances are the work’s world premiere.
  • Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, chimes, 2 crotale, 2 crash cymbals, glockenspiel, high hat, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tenor drum, 3 triangles, water gong, wood block, 2 harps, celeste, organ, strings, second orchestra (Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestras [CSYO])
  • Duration: approx. 10 minutes

In the Composer’s Words

For a recently retired member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, it is an extraordinary honor to have been asked to compose music for the opening of the orchestra’s 125th anniversary concert. Maestro Langrée challenged me to produce a composition which celebrates the CSO’s glorious Past, Present and Future. For one composer that might be just a short fanfare; for me, a significant and meaningful task.

The ceremonial beginning of Passages in Time relives the grand harmonic and melodic style of a past century, including conversations with a familiar personality of theaters of the era, the majestic pipe organ. Irresistibly, the focus turns toward the Present as an intimate encyclopedic examination of the make-up of today’s ensemble begins in kaleidoscopic spotlights of mood, style and color. All the while, juxtaposed echoes of past harmonies and rhythms enhance present ones. Nearly every facet of the roster is visited, and eventually, with the return of sweeping gestures and fanfares, the glorious Future approaches—now embracing the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestras (CSYO) in an antiphonal spiral of unfolding flourishing dialogue.

Nonetheless, in a concurrent celebration of my own personal time with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Passages in Time honors the memory of William H. Loring, the man who succeeded in making my musical career happy and productive for a virtual lifetime.
—William Winstead


Eugène Ysaÿe

Born: July 16, 1858, Liège, Belgium
Died: May 12, 1931, Brussels, Belgium


Former CSO Music Director 1918-1922

Exil!, Op. 25, for High Strings

  • Work composed: 1918
  • Premiere: May 9, 1918 (May Festival), Cincinnati, Eugène Ysaÿe conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall
  • Instrumentation: strings
  • CSO notable performances: 2 previous subscription weekends, both led by Eugène Ysaÿe | Subscription premiere: December 1918 (May Festival premiere May 1918) | Most recent: March 1922 | Ysaÿe also led the Orchestra in several tour performances of the work 1919–1922; the work was featured in the first-ever radio broadcast of live orchestral music Nov. 2, 1921, when Ysaÿe led the CSO at the Armory on the campus of the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Ysaÿe also led Exil! at a special October 1919 concert in honor of the visiting Royal Majesties King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.
  • Duration: approx. 8 minutes

Two Visions of Heaven

Eugène Ysaÿe became the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s music director in 1918, the last year of World War I. Having fled his native Belgium when the Germans invaded the neutral country in 1914, Ysaÿe had spent the intervening years in London and arrived in the United States for his American conducting debut with the CSO on April 5, 1918. The concert was so well received that he immediately received an appointment as music director, which gave him a chance to re-orient his career away from war-torn Belgium. Previously recognized as one of the greatest violinists of his time (perhaps the greatest), Ysaÿe had been forced to give up his legendary solo career due to health problems and devoted his energies to composing, conducting and teaching during the remaining years of his life.

Even though the Cincinnati years represented a new start for Ysaÿe, it is hardly surprising if he felt as an exile in America. If that were not enough, his younger brother, Théo, a gifted composer, died on March 24, 1918, less than two weeks before his Cincinnati debut. (One of Théo’s works was performed by the CSO soon afterward.) All this may explain why Exil!, introduced during Ysaÿe’s first May Festival, turned out to be such a tragic work. (Ysaÿe’s son and biographer Antoine further revealed that the 60-year-old composer also had what was referred to as “a seemingly hopeless attachment to one of his violin students,” further complicating his life at this moment….)

Ysaÿe, whose father Nicolas—also a violinist and conductor—had spent several months in Cincinnati half a century earlier, led the Orchestra on several successful domestic tours, and presided over the CSO’s first live radio broadcast in 1921.

What to Listen For
The program book for the 1918 premiere contained the following notes about Exil!:

The title “Exil” must be taken in its broadest and most poetical meaning. The composer has tried to render the sufferings of a soul torn from its sister soul—exiled; to depict its anguish and its lament, its grief and its distress, reaching their climax in a paroxysm of despair.

The end is the submission to fate amidst the gloom and sadness of solitude.

The work is rather unique in its scoring for an ensemble of violins and violas, without cellos or double basses. Each section (first violins, second violins and violas) is divided into two groups, resulting in a saturated texture in which Ysaÿe’s intensely chromatic harmonies come into sharp relief. The chromaticism (use of half-steps) is all-pervasive, causing the tonality to change in almost every measure of this brief, moving elegy. The “submission to fate” mentioned in the 1918 program note is an even slower, and tonally more stable section where the word Exil! is repeated in Ysaÿe’s manuscript, underlined with a thick stroke of the pen.

Edward K. ("Duke") Ellington

Born: April 29, 1899, Washington, D.C
Died: May 24, 1974, New York

Known for:

  • "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" (1926)
  • "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" (1932)
  • Harlem (1950)

Ellington is also known for popularizing hits such as "Caravan" and "Take the A Train," and for his inventive use of the orchestra. He is a pivotal figure in the history of jazz. 

New World A-Comin’

  • Work composed: 1943
  • Premiere: December 11, 1943, Carnegie Hall, New York
  • Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, drum set, Fender bass, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, snare drum, suspended cymbals, vibraphone, harp, strings
  • CSO notable performances: These are the first CSO subscription performances of New World A-Comin’; however, the work has appeared on several special concerts and Pops performances: Duke Ellington himself, along with his Trio (Ellington, piano; John Lamb, upright bass; Sam Woodyard, drum set), performed the work’s Music Hall premiere in April 1966; Ellington returned to perform and record the work with the Orchestra in April 1970, Erich Kunzel conducting. CSO pianist Michael Chertock was soloist when Erich Kunzel led performances at Riverbend in June 1997 and at Carnegie Hall in 1999.
  • Duration: approx. 12 minutes

Another “Rhapsody in Blue”

In a way, New World A-Comin’ might be seen as Duke Ellington’s answer to Rhapsody in Blue as a one-movement piano concerto in jazz style (Ellington’s only work using this format). But, 19 years after the Rhapsody, such a work no longer counted as an “experiment.” It was first performed during a completely sold-out all-Ellington concert at Carnegie Hall on December 11, 1943, and was enthusiastically received. The piece also had a social message reflected in its title, taken from a then-recent book by Roi Ottley (1906–60), in which the African-American journalist and writer offered a sociography of Harlem, ending with a clear call for racial justice and equality. As musicologist David Schiff has written in a 2013 study of Ellington’s work: “In borrowing Ottley’s title, Ellington aligned himself unmistakably with the book’s militant stance.”

Originally written for piano solo to the accompaniment of Ellington’s own band, New World A-Comin’ will be heard today in an arrangement for full symphony orchestra prepared by master arranger and longtime Ellington associate Luther Henderson. The arrangement was premiered at Philadelphia’s Robin Hood Dell on July 25, 1949. The piano part, which Ellington apparently never wrote down, was transcribed from recordings by jazz pianist and composer John Nyerges.

What to Listen For

The dazzling piano solos and orchestral passages are strung together loosely like beads on a chain. As David Schiff pointed out, the work’s “…sequence of events...is itself a representation of freedom, as much of a musical topic as the character of the individual themes. Over and over again, the solo piano defies expectation and redraws the map: how better to enact a liberated state? In achieving this synthesis of form and content Ellington gave musical expression to Ottley’s ideas of political liberation.” 

George Gershwin

Born: September 26, 1898, Brooklyn, New York
Died: July 11, 1937, New York

Known for:

  • Rhapsody in Blue (1924) 
  • An American in Paris (1928)
  • I Got Rhythm (1930)
  • the opera Porgy and Bess (1935) which spawned the hit Summertime

Rhapsody in Blue

  • Work composed: 1924, orch. by Ferde Grofé
  • Premiere: February 12, 1924, New York, Paul Whiteman conducting the Palais Royal Orchestra
  • Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 alto saxophones, tenor saxophone, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, banjo, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 9 previous subscription weekends, although this performance with Gershwin’s own performance on Piano Roll is a CSO premiere | Premiere: March 1927, Fritz Reiner conducting; George Gershwin, pianist | Most recent: March 2017, Louis Langrée conducting; Alexander Gavrylyuk, pianist (also on tour to China and Hong Kong, March 2017) | Rhapsody in Blue has appeared several times throughout the Orchestra’s history on “special” concerts (including April 1947, when Paul Whiteman led the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and pianist Earl Wild in the work), Pops concerts, tours, etc. (CSO pianist Michael Chertock was soloist for several, including New Year’s Eve 2010), including at Carnegie Hall (March 1988, Erich Kunzel conducting; William Tritt, pianist); in Taipei and Tokyo (November 1990, Erich Kunzel conducting; William Tritt and Annie Chang, pianists; Taipei also in 1997; Tokyo also in 1998); 2009 Japan tour, Paavo Järvi conducting; Krystian Zimerman, pianist. Erich Kunzel led the Orchestra and pianist Eugene List in a recording of the work in 1983; Erich Kunzel recorded the original “jazz band” version in 1988 with the Cincinnati Pops; William Tritt was pianist for a 1998 recording.
  • Duration: approx. 16 minutes

“…and then all hell broke loose…”
“When the Rhapsody ended, there were several seconds of silence and then all hell broke loose,” writes Charles Schwartz in his Gershwin biography, describing the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue. The work was heard at the end of a long concert given by the famous bandleader Paul Whiteman and labeled, somewhat ambitiously, an “Experiment in Modern Music.” In reality, all Whiteman had in mind was to have popular tunes arranged for a classical orchestra to enhance the respectability of jazz among a high-brow audience.

It was for this concert that Whiteman had commissioned the Rhapsody from Gershwin. He invited musicians like Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Leopold Stokowski to come and witness the great “experiment,” which, however, rapidly began to degenerate into quite a boring affair—until, that is, the 27-year-old George Gershwin came on stage.

Schwartz writes:

Whiteman gave a downbeat and [Ross] Gorman began his clarinet solo. At the sound of the clarinet, with its opening “wail,” the audience became as if transfixed. Jolted by the exuberant, unexpected beginning, they were rooted in their seats, their ennui and restlessness disappearing as if by magic....It was unmistakably clear as the Rhapsody continued that it was generating a vitality and cohesiveness that are only too infrequently encountered in creative works. The Rhapsody seemed to have something pertinent to say and was saying it forcefully and directly, with personality and conviction.

The work had originally been titled simply “American Rhapsody.” According to another Gershwin biographer, Edward Jablonski, the title Rhapsody in Blue came from Gershwin’s brother and collaborator, Ira. After visiting a gallery and seeing some paintings by James McNeill Whistler—with titles such as “Nocturne in Black and Gold” and “Arrangement in Gray and Black”—Ira thought, “why not a musical Rhapsody in Blue?”

What to Listen For

Although notated precisely in score, the Rhapsody contains a quasi-improvisatory quality in the loose and unpredictable way its various sections follow one another; a sense of order is restored at the end when two of the main themes return. Elements of jazz and Western classical music are combined in a way that many composers, both American and European, have sought to emulate, though few can be said to have succeeded as well as Gershwin. The extraordinary success of this work catapulted Gershwin, already a noted presence on Tin Pan Alley and Broadway, to fame as a composer of serious music. The Rhapsody is a landmark composition, one of the first American concert pieces to become truly popular both at home and abroad.

Gershwin himself stressed the distinctive American quality of his work:

In the Rhapsody I tried to express our manner of living, the tempo of our modern life with its speed and chaos and vitality. I didn’t try to paint definitive descriptive pictures in sound....I consider the Rhapsody as embodying an assimilation of feeling rather than presenting specific scenes of American life in music.

For this weekend’s performances, Gershwin’s piano roll recording has been digitized and transferred onto a Yamaha Disklavier piano. Since the version originally recorded was a reduction with piano accompaniment, with both parts recorded onto the same roll, the accompaniment was removed so the orchestra could play it live.


Daniél Bjarnason

Born: February 27, 1979, Reykjavík, Iceland

Known for:

  • Album: Processions (2010)
  • Over the Light Earth (2013)
  • Ek Ken Die Nag (2014)


  • Work composed: 2015
  • Premiere: March 14, 2015, Cincinnati, Louis Langrée conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • Instrumentation:4 flutes (incl. 2 piccolos), 4 oboes (incl. English horn), 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, floor tom, glockenspiel, guiro, large tam-tam, marimba, sandpaper blocks, small gong, snare drum, 2 suspended cymbals, tubular bells, vibraphone, water gong, whip, wood block, xylophone, harp, piano, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 1 previous subscription concert: March 2015 (world premiere, MusicNOW concert), Louis Langrée conducting
  • Duration: approx. 15 minutes

Daníel Bjarnason was born in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1979. (Icelandic names usually consist of given name and patronymic [father’s name]; people are customarily addressed and referred to by first name only.) Daníel composed Collider on commission from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the MusicNOW Festival in honor of Louis Langrée with support from Ann and Harry Santen and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

Daníel has seen his music performed by the most prominent orchestras and soloists both in Europe and the United States. A New York Times music critic wrote: “His colorful, restless score drew me in, with its passages of overlapping cyclic riffs, slowly heaving instrumental expanses and episodes of darting fragments, like some mystical dance.”

Daníel’s Collider is named after those powerful particle accelerators that are so important in subatomic physics. The musical equivalents of particle collision are the multifarious intersections of long-held notes that give the impression of moving along simply by getting louder or softer; insistent repeated-note figures and fast runs constitute further elements that audibly “collide” with one another. And, talk about accelerators: the piece is nothing if not a continuous speeding up from an extremely slow opening to an ecstatic conclusion. Daníel employs a gigantic orchestra, with quadruple woodwinds, six horns and a large percussion battery; he writes intriguing polyphony for the woodwinds and the brass in 12 voices or more, requires various non-traditional techniques (including harmonics) of the strings, and gives prominent roles to the harp, the piano and the percussion. More thinly scored episodes, such as a stunning alternation between the contrabassoon and the piccolo, or a slowly ascending clarinet solo, both on a bed of shimmering orchestral sonorities, enrich the work’s palette of colors as the “collider” progresses toward the completion of its experiment.

Alexander Scriabin

Born: January 7, 1872, Moscow
Died: April 14, 1915, Moscow

Known for:

  • Piano Concerto (1896)
  • The Poem of Ecstasy (1908)
  • Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910)

Symphony No. 5, Op. 60, Prometheus: Poem of Fire

  • Work composed: 1908–1910
  • Premiere: March 2, 1911, Moscow, Serge Koussevitzky conducting
  • Instrumentation: solo piano, SATB chorus, 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, chimes, crash cymbals, 2 glockenspiels, tam-tam, triangle, 2 harps, celeste, organ, strings, color organ
    CSO notable performances: These performances are the work’s CSO subscription premiere. It was performed once before at Music Hall, during the 1931 May Festival, Eugene Goossens conducting; Daniel Ericourt, pianist.
  • Duration: approx. 21 minutes

A Symphony in Color
Prometheus: Poem of Fire is also sometimes referred to as Scriabin’s Symphony No. 5, although it doesn’t remotely resemble a symphony—not any more, by the way, than do Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, better (and more appropriately) known as The Divine Poem and The Poem of Ecstasy. All three “poems” are part of Scriabin’s monumental attempt to set his mystical visions to music that was universal in scope and revolutionary in sound.

Prometheus, the Titan (demi-god) of Greek mythology who stole the fire from the gods of Olympus to give it to humanity, was no stranger to music even before Scriabin came along. Beethoven’s ballet, Schubert’s song, Liszt’s symphonic poem all celebrated the hero’s courage and independent spirit. But none of them identified with him as deeply as did Scriabin, for whom, as biographer Faubion Bowers has pointed out, Prometheus the fire-bearer was the same as Lucifer, the Judeo-Christian God’s fallen angel, whose name means “light-bearer.” It is typical of Scriabin’s contradiction-ridden personality that on another occasion, he likened Prometheus to Christ—after all, they were both divine and human, and had to suffer in punishment for their good deeds.

The myth of Prometheus, then, took on a cosmic significance for Scriabin who, as a follower of the theosophical movement, was obsessed with the idea of reaching out to Infinity and uniting with the Universe. These ideas, which had also been at the root of The Divine Poem and The Poem of Ecstasy, attained the highest point of their development in Prometheus: Poem of Fire, which turned out to be the last major orchestral work Scriabin was able to complete.

The composer’s extreme ambitions were matched by the size of the performing forces: in addition to the large orchestra, Prometheus calls for a concerto-sized piano solo, a mixed chorus, and—extraordinarily—a “color organ.” The latter was a device built for Scriabin by an electrical engineer named Alexander Mozer according to the composer’s specifications. Depressing one of the color organ’s keys caused the corresponding color to be projected on a screen. In these performances, the following color scale will be used:

C – red 
C# – violet 
D – yellow 
D# – flesh, glint of steel
E – sky blue 
F – deep red 
F# – bright blue
G – orange
G# – violet purple
A – green
A# – rose
B – pearly blue

What to Listen (and Watch!) For

The color organ plays from the first measure of Prometheus to the last. At the same time, the sounds of the orchestra seem to repeat Prometheus’s creative act by moving from an inchoate primordial state to gradual articulation of life’s sorrows, passions and delights. The various themes of the work were described by Scriabin as “Joy of Life,” “Intense Desire,” “Ego,” etc.

Faubion Bowers began his description of Prometheus with the following observation:

The arrangement A, D#, G, C#, F#, B, the so-called mystic chord of fourths augmented, diminished and perfect, opens the piece. It is the Ur-chord of many chords in Prometheus. Its distribution is so wide, releasing such unusual resonances (G lies at the bottom, which throws the ensuant overtones out of line), that Scriabin used to defy anyone to repeat it after him by ear.

The piano solo, which enters soon thereafter, symbolizes Prometheus himself, the fierce individual with uncommon gifts and aspirations as the mysterious blue of the introduction gives way to the color of steel. The music subsequently explores the joyful, even erotic aspects of existence. A solo violin gives the piano a “feminine” response. The excitement keeps rising and reaches its peak; the color red becomes predominant on the screen. Near the end, the wordless chorus enters “with a dazzling burst of sound” (Scriabin’s performance instruction), with their vowels carefully matched to the color organ. (Scriabin was familiar with Arthur Rimbaud’s famous sonnet in which the French poet assigned different colors to each vowel in the alphabet; Scriabin’s associations, however, were different from Rimbaud’s.)

Out of the chromatic maze—and we shouldn’t forget that the musical term “chromatic” comes from the Greek word for color—a pure and radiant F-sharp-major sonority emerges unexpectedly, to conclude the piece as the color organ returns to the bright blue light of the beginning.

The visual effects for these performances were specifically designed by video artist and filmmaker Tal Rosner.
—Program Notes by Peter Laki