Rouse Premiere + Ravel's Bolero

Program Notes

FRI OCT 18, 11 am | SAT OCT 19, 8 pm


RAVEL (b.1875-1937)


LALO (1823–1892)

Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21

  • Allegro non troppo
  • Scherzando: Allegro molto
  • Intermezzo: Allegretto non troppo
  • Andante
  • Rondo

ROUSE (1949-2019)

Symphony No. 6

World Premiere, CSO Commission

We are thrilled to introduce Guy Braunstein as our artist-in-residence this season. Braunstein was the youngest violinist to be appointed concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2000 and is Music Director of the Rolandseck Festival in Germany. As artist-in-residence, Braunstein will collaborate with the CSO on two subscription concerts, as soloist this weekend and as soloist and conductor April 25–26. Braunstein will also coach several of Cincinnati’s youth ensembles, provide workshops and masterclasses to young musicians, and perform with the CSO Chamber Players. In his debut with the CSO this weekend, Braunstein will perform Symphonie espagnole, one of Lalo’s best-known works. Symphonie espagnole and Bolero are works by French composers that use Spanish motives, themes and influences. Written about 50 years apart, these two pieces demonstrate turn-of-the-century France’s fascination with Spain. Symphonie espagnole premiered a month before Bizet’s Spanish-influenced Carmen, which is often described as starting the French attraction with Spanish music. Lalo and Bizet never visited Spain, but the Spanish landscape, perfumes and sounds they imagined allowed them to create the world about which they composed. Ravel’s Bolero started as a ballet for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet troupe, and quickly became one of the most popular and often-performed orchestral pieces. The contrast between the implacable rhythm of the snare drum and the sensuous melody, repeating with various orchestral colors and growing from the softest and subtlest beginning to a roaring end, creates a hypnotic trance.


Maurice Ravel

Born: March 7, 1875, Ciboure, Basses Pyrénées, France
Died: December 28, 1937, Paris

Known for:

  • Bolero (1928)
  • Daphnis et Chloé (1912)
  • 1922 arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition

Associated with Impressionism


  • Work composed: 1928
  • Premiere: November 22, 1928, Paris, at the Paris Opéra (staged ballet); Ida Rubenstein’s ballet troupe, Walther Straram conducting, choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. Ravel conducted the first concert performance with the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris on January 11, 1930, but the North American premiere took place two months earlier on November 14, 1929 in New York, Arturo Toscanini conducting the New York Philharmonic.
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (incl. oboe d’amore), English horn, 2 clarinets (incl. E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, 2 snare drums, tam-tam, harp, celeste, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 18 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1930 (Emery Auditorium), Fritz Reiner conducting (only two months after the work’s American premiere in New York) | Most recent: October 2011, Giancarlo Guerrero conducting (also, January 2018, John Morris Russell conducting the Cincinnati Pops) | One of the most performed pieces in the Orchestra’s repertoire (performed on tours, recordings, Pops concerts, Youth Orchestra concerts, special concerts, Opera at the Zoo in 1933 and 1936), among notable performances, Erich Kunzel conducted Bolero 32 times (at Cincinnati Pops concerts, on tours, at Parks concerts and for Young People’s concerts), and Fritz Reiner conducted the piece 11 times in 11 months in 1930 (on regional and U.S. tours and at the Emery Auditorium). Arthur Fiedler (Boston Pops conductor) led the work at Music Hall for a Pops concert in 1975. Louis Langrée first led the work in Cincinnati at the first Lumenocity concert in 2013.
  • Duration: approx. 13 minutes

First conceived as a ballet for Ida Rubinstein’s dance company in Paris, Bolero is a single orchestral crescendo repeating the same melody and the same rhythm over and over again. It is a bold experiment that, in another composer’s hands, could have turned out tedious in the extreme, yet Ravel made it exciting thanks to a colorful orchestration and an irresistible, and highly challenging, snare-drum part.

“Orchestral Tissue Without Music”
Ravel once described Bolero as “seventeen minutes of orchestral tissue without music.” Somewhat to the composer’s surprise, Bolero eclipsed most of his other works in popularity. Ravel himself considered it “an experiment in a very special and limited direction that should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from, or anything more than, it actually does achieve.”

Interestingly, the original title of the piece was Fandango, another Spanish dance, which has a much slower tempo. Ravel always insisted that the tempo of his piece should not be rushed, and had a major, and much-publicized controversy with Arturo Toscanini on this very point. The original ballet’s storyline, if it may be called that, is as follows:

The curtain rises on a dark, smoky room in a Spanish tavern. A woman enters, dressed as a gypsy, with a tall Spanish comb and a scarlet and black shawl. Atop a table, she begins to stamp out the rhythm of the bolero. Instantly the room fills with men. The music grows in passion and the woman is joined in the dance, first by one and then by a dozen or so men. The excitement increases. Knives are drawn. A fight is barely avoided. The gypsy woman is tossed from arm to arm. Then, suddenly, all comes to a stop as the music reaches its climax. Curtain.

A Single Long Crescendo
Bolero is a single long-drawn-out crescendo in which the instruments of the orchestra enter gradually to build up the final climax. The melody, which is quite complex, with many irregularities in its phrase structure, never changes. More precisely, it alternates between two forms, one beginning with the note C, the other with B-flat. Generally, we hear the “C” version twice, followed by two renditions of the “B-flat” version, and then the “C” form again. The snare drums play the bolero rhythm without a moment’s interruption from beginning to end. The bass part is not exceedingly varied either: it consists of only two notes, C and G, for about 16-1/2 minutes out of 17. It therefore comes as a great surprise when, just before the end, the bass suddenly changes from C–G to E–B for exactly eight measures. C and G then return to close the piece.

—Peter Laki

What to Listen for:
The melody of Bolero never changes; instead, it alternates between two forms, one beginning with the note C, the other with B-flat. Generally, we hear the C version twice, then B-flat twice, then C again. However, just before the end comes a surprise: the bass suddenly changes from C–G to E–B for exactly eight measures. C and G then return to close the piece.


Edouard Lalo

Born: January 27, 1823, Lille, France
Died: April 22, 1892, Paris

Known for:

  • Symphonie espagnole (1873)
  • Symphony in G minor (1887)
  • Opera: Le Roi d'Ys (1888)

Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21

  • Work composed: 1873
  • Premiere: February 7, 1875, Paris; Édouard Colonne, conductor; Pablo de Sarasate, violinist
  • Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, snare drum, triangle, harp, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 9 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1898, Frank van der Stucken conducting; Eugène Ysaÿe, violin | Most recent: September 1998, Jesús López Cobos conducting; Vadim Repin, violin | In addition to Eugène Ysaÿe, who later became CSO music director, other legendary violinists who performed this work with the CSO include Fritz Kreisler (1908), Jacques Thibaud (1918, Emery Auditorium), Zino Francescatti (1939) and Itzhak Perlman (1968).
  • Duration: approx. 33 minutes

Spanish in its melodic sources, French in execution, symphonic in its proportions, and a concerto in sound, Symphonie espagnole successfully combines the best of all these worlds. It has been on the repertoire of almost every major violinist of the last 100+ years, regardless of nationality. Few would disagree with the assessment of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: “The freshness of its melodic and orchestral language is imperishable.”

When is a Symphony Not a Symphony?
It has been a standing joke among musicians that the Symphonie espagnole is neither Spanish nor a symphony but a French concerto. This doesn’t mean, however, that the title is “pure whimsy,” as some older commentators thought. After all, it wasn’t the first work to combine the structural outline of a symphony with a virtuosic solo part. Lalo had a respectable precedent in Harold in Italy (1834) by Hector Berlioz, a symphony with solo viola that was, perhaps not coincidentally, another French work inspired by a South European country.

Lalo had several good reasons to write a piece with a strong Spanish flavor. First of all, he had one of the great violinists of the time, Pablo de Sarasate, a native of Pamplona, to write for. Another reason was that Lalo, though born far from Spain in the northernmost region of France, was well aware of his Spanish origins. In fact, his ancestors had moved from Spain to Flanders (then under Spanish rule) in the 16th century, and subsequently migrated south to France.

From his northern hometown of Lille, Lalo went to Paris to study violin and composition at the Conservatoire. He first made a name for himself as a performer, playing viola (and later second violin) in a prominent Parisian string quartet. As a composer, he was a late bloomer who did not begin to write larger works until he was in his 40s. His big break came at the age of 51 with Symphonie espagnole. The compositions that followed—the Cello Concerto and the opera Le Roi d’Ys (“The King of Ys”)—were received as mature statements by a composer who had finally “arrived.”

Virtuoso Fireworks, Spanish Flair
Symphonie espagnole is in five movements, which is rare in a symphony and almost unheard-of in a concerto. The opening Allegro non troppo is based on two Spanish-flavored melodies, one more muscular, the other more lyrical, providing the kind of contrast symphonic form demands. Lalo also subjected his themes to motivic development, breaking them down to their fragments and then modifying those fragments in a variety of ways—a procedure familiar from many classical and romantic symphonies. Yet while Lalo was careful to give his work a solid structural grounding, our attention remains riveted to the virtuoso fireworks in the solo part.

The second-movement “Scherzando” uses certain elements of Spanish folk dance, and plays some delicious games with slowing down and speeding up the tempo. The subsequent “Intermezzo” has an extended orchestral introduction, introducing a more serious dance melody that becomes quite passionate as it unfolds. After embellishing this same melody, the solo violin presents a second one, more delicate than the first, which then returns, suddenly taking a more sentimental turn at the end.

The slow fourth movement provides a brief moment of reverie, before the arrival of the work’s most memorable themes in the spirited finale, the emotional and technical high point of the entire piece.

- Peter Laki

What to Listen for:
The Symphonie espagnole opens with two Spanish-flavored melodies, one more muscular, the other more lyrical. The second-movement uses certain elements of Spanish folk dance, and plays some delicious games with slowing down and speeding up the tempo. The subsequent intermezzo introduces a more serious dance melody that becomes quite passionate. The slow fourth movement provides a brief moment of reverie before the work’s most memorable themes emerge in the spirited finale.

Christopher Rouse

Born: February 15, 1949, Baltimore, MD
Died: September 21, 2019, Baltimore, MD

Known for:

  • Requiem (2007)
  • Dozens of Concertos
  • Symphony No. 1-5

Symphony No. 6

World Premiere, CSO Commission

  • Work composed: 2019
  • Premiere: October 18–19, 2019, Cincinnati; Louis Langrée conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (incl. bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets (incl. fluegelhorn), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, xylophone, harp, strings
  • CSO notable performances: These performances are the work’s world premiere
  • Duration: approx. 25 minutes

Christopher Rouse is one of America’s most prominent composers. His works have won a Pulitzer Prize for his Trombone Concerto and a Grammy Award for Concert de Gaudí, as well as election to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters. Rouse has created a body of work perhaps unequalled in its emotional intensity. The New York Times has called it “some of the most anguished, most memorable music around.” The Baltimore Sun has written: “When the music history of the late 20th century is written, I suspect the explosive and passionate music of Rouse will loom large.” The Symphony No. 6 is the second of the CSO’s 125th Anniversary season commissions, this one made possible by Dianne and J. David Rosenberg.

In the Composer’s Words

In my earlier years I found the task of writing a program note for a new work a comparatively easy, even pleasant, one. More than a few of my pieces had some sort of quasi-programmatic basis, and I found that I could often say much about the sources of inspiration in hopes that my observations might help the listener better understand my intent. In more recent years, however, I find that my new pieces fall into one of two categories: (a) scores that, while always placing emotional expression at the forefront of my intent, had no particular story or triggering event that led to the work’s composition, or (b) works that were so deeply personal that I found myself reluctant to share intimately private sources of motivation. In both cases, though, it seemed that there wasn’t much I could say.

My Sixth Symphony inhabiting the second of these two categories, I hope listeners will not be disappointed if I limit myself to more “objective” observations about the music. Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of their 125th Anniversary, this 25-minute piece was completed at my home in Baltimore on June 6, 2019. The first challenge I face when planning a new piece is to settle upon a beginning and an ending and to decide the number and order of movements; in this case, I (rather unusually for me) chose a more-or-less standard four-movement structure with the outer movements being slow in tempo and elegiac in mood. The two middle movements are faster and the third, in particular, is meant to be highly dramatic. As is usual in my music, each movement connects to its successor without a break. In each of my symphonies I’ve also chosen to use an instrument or instrumental combination that might be seen as somewhat unusual in a symphonic context. My First Symphony, for example, requires a quartet of Wagner tubas. Here I have chosen to make use of the fluegelhorn, a larger and more mellow member of the trumpet family, and it is the fluegelhorn that presents the symphony’s opening melodic material; it returns later in the first movement and again near the end of the entire work as a way of bringing the music “full circle.” The scoring comprises two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets (second doubling of bass clarinet), two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets (first doubling on fluegelhorn), three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion (two players), and strings. As is also my wont, the harmonic language traverses areas of substantive dissonance as well as sections much more consonant (especially near the end of the symphony).

I know the “meaning” of this work in my own mind but wish to leave it to each listener to decide for him or herself what this could be. My main hope is that it will communicate something sincere in meaning to those who hear it.

About Christopher Rouse
Born in Baltimore in 1949, Christopher Rouse developed an early interest in both classical and popular music. He graduated from Oberlin Conservatory and Cornell University, numbering among his principal teachers George Crumb and Karel Husa. Rouse maintained a steady interest in popular music: at the Eastman School of Music, where he was Professor of Composition until 2002, he taught a course in the history of rock for many years. Rouse is currently a member of the composition faculty at The Juilliard School.

While the Rouse catalog includes a number of acclaimed chamber and ensemble works, he is best known for his mastery of orchestral writing. His music has been played by every major orchestra in the U.S., and numerous ensembles overseas, including the Berlin Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sydney and Melbourne symphonies, London Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Stockholm Philharmonic, Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Gulbenkian Orchestra of Lisbon, Toronto Symphony, Vienna Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Moscow Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Bamberg Symphony, Bournemouth Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique du Montreal, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, as well as the radio orchestras of Helsinki, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Tokyo, Austria and Berlin.

Since the early 1990s, Rouse has gained particular notice for his concertos, which include his Violin Concerto (1991), commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival for Cho-Liang Lin; the Violoncello Concerto (1992–93), premiered by Yo-Yo Ma, David Zinman and the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Seeing (1998), a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax, the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Slatkin; a Clarinet Concerto (2000), commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its principal clarinetist, Larry Combs; the Oboe Concerto (2009), which had its world premiere with the Minnesota Orchestra; Heimdall’s Trumpet (2012), commissioned for Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal trumpeter Christopher Martin; and, most recently, his Bassoon Concerto, premiered in 2018 by bassoonist Andrew Cuneo and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, led by Cristian Măcelaru.

Numerous recordings of Rouse’s works have won him critical accolades and awards, including the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition for Concert de Gaudí, his guitar concerto written for soloist Sharon Isbin. An all-Rouse disc with Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony featuring his Symphony No. 2 (1995), Phaethon (1986), and his Celtic-inspired Flute Concerto (1994) performed by Carol Wincenc won a Diapason d’Or. Passion Wheels, Marin Alsop’s 2000 recording of Rouse’s Concerto per Corde, Rotae Passionis, Ku-Ka-Ilimoku and Ogoun Badagris won “Best of the Year” designations from both Gramophone and Fanfare magazines. RCA has also issued a CD devoted to Rouse’s music, featuring Marin Alsop leading the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Gorgon, Iscariot, and his Pulitzer Prize–winning Trombone Concerto, with soloist Joseph Alessi. Most recently, the New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert released an all-Rouse album on Dacapo of Rouse’s Third and Fourth symphonies, Odna Zhizn and Prospero’s Rooms; the CD was listed as one of NPR’s best recordings of 2016.

In addition to this weekend’s world premiere of Rouse’s Symphony No. 6, recent performance highlights include Berceuse Infinie, written for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and longtime collaborator Marin Alsop in November 2017; Rouse’s Organ Concerto, performed by organist Paul Jacobs with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin in 2016; 

Symphony No. 5, premiered in February 2017 by the Dallas Symphony and Jaap van Zweden; and a dance work titled Friandises, jointly commissioned by the New York City Ballet and The Juilliard School, which was televised nationally on PBS.

In 2012, Rouse began a two-year tenure as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, an appointment that was extended through the 2014–15 season. He has also been in residence at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Biennalle, Pacific Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival and Aspen Music Festival. Most recently he served as Composer-in-Residence with the Eugene Symphony during the 2016–17 season. Christopher Rouse is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Biography reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

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