NEC Philharmonia + Hugh Wolff: Tower, Berlioz, Beethoven

NEC: Jordan Hall | Directions

290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA
United States

NEC Philharmonia opens the 2023-24 academic year with a performance of Joan Tower's Sequoia, Berlioz's overture for his first full-length opera Benvenuto Cellini, and Beethoven's "Eroica" SymphonyHugh Wolff conducts. 

This is an in-person event with a private stream available to the NEC community here:

  1. Joan Tower | Sequoia (1981)

    Program note

    I think most composers would have to admit that they live, to various degrees, in the sound-worlds of other composers both old and new, and that what they consciously or unconsciously take from them enables them to discover what they themselves are interested in. Long ago, I recognized Beethoven as someone bound to enter my work at some point, because for many years I had been intimately involved in both his piano music and chamber music as a pianist. Even though my own music does not sound like Beethoven's in any obvious way, in it there is a basic idea at work which came from him. This is something I call the "balancing" of musical energies.
         In Sequoia, that concept is not only very much present in the score but it actually led to the title (which is meant in an abstract rather than a pictorial sense). What fascinated me about sequoias, those giant California redwood trees, was the balancing act nature had achieved in giving them such great height.
         Cast in three continuous movements (fast, slow, fast), Sequoia opens with a long-held pedalpoint on G with percussion punctuations. Around this central G (finally arrived at in a solo-trumpet note), there begins a fanning-out (first high, then low), on both sides of harmonies symmetrically built up or down from G. This "balancing" of registers like the branching of a tree, continues to develop into more complex settings, as the "branches" start to grow sub-branches. The main pedalpoint (or trunk, to continue the analogy) on G eventually shifts, both downward and upward, thereby creating a larger balancing motion that has a longer-range movement throughout the piece. Because musical gestures are not confined only to registers and harmonies, the balancing principle permeates every facet of Sequoia - most importantly, in the areas of rhythm, tempo, dynamics, pacing, texture and instrumental color. For example, the initial movement's first two sections (connected by quick, repeated Gs in the muted trumpet) exhibit a balancing of loud dynamics with soft; of heavy and thin sound (a possible parallel: despite the enormous size of sequoias, their "leaves" - literally, needles - are miniscule, the size of thumbnail); of static (one-note) and moving harmony; of many instruments with a few; of middle-low and middle-high registers, and so on. In this score, the pacing is active and energetic, perhaps suggesting (with the exception of occasional solo instrumental passages) the power and grandeur inherent in the sequoia.
    — Joan Tower

    Learn more about Tower and her work in this interview with WBUR.

  2. Hector Berlioz | Overture to "Benvenuto Cellini"

    Program note

    The Italian sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) and the French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) were outsized talents and personalities who wrote colorful, self-serving memoirs. It is perhaps not surprising then, that the latter chose the former to be the hero of his first attempt at grand opera. Berlioz based the opera loosely on Cellini’s memoir, centering the story on the commissioning of Cellini’s bronze sculpture of Perseus. The details of the story are fiction: a patron wants the commission to go to a sculptor whose daughter, Theresa, he hopes to marry. She however is in love with Cellini, who in turn fatally stabs one of his rival’s cohorts. And so on… After the opera’s 1838 premiere, Berlioz wrote “the overture received exaggerated applause, and the rest was hissed with admirable energy and unanimity.” This evening’s Overture to Benvenuto Cellini and his Roman Carnival Overture, also based on music from this opera, are among Berlioz’s most popular works; the opera itself has faded into obscurity. Something of the Cellini’s swashbuckling personality is audible in the power and rhythmic verve of the overture’s opening. A quieter passage, featuring Cellini’s love aria to Teresa, follows. At the climax of the overture, Berlioz superimposes the aria over the opening energetic music, a technique that Berlioz pioneered and at which he excelled.


  4. Ludwig van Beethoven | Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55 "Eroica"

    Allegro con brio
    Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
    Scherzo: Allegro vivace
    Finale: Allegro moltoPoco andante – Presto

    Program note

    Throughout life, Ludwig van Beethoven was both a fervent believer in individual rights and someone who unapologetically curried favor with the nobility.  Supremely confident in his abilities, he yearned for a world that rewarded according to those abilities, not birthright. At times he even promoted the fiction that he himself was of noble birth, changing his Dutch “van” to the “von” of German nobility. So when Napoleon Bonaparte swept through Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, Beethoven was one of many who saw him as the avatar of a new world. Inspired by the promise of a republican future, Beethoven seriously planned to move to Paris in 1803. Perhaps with the dream of meeting Napoleon, he started work on a new symphony – grander and more ambitious than anything written prior – something worthy of the title Bonaparte. In the summer of 1803, Beethoven isolated himself in the little village of Oberdöbling and set to work. Throughout its composition and right up to the preparations for its premiere, the symphony retained its title Bonaparte. Only when Napoleon declared himself emperor in May 1804, did the bitterly disillusioned composer change the title to “Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo” (Heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man). But the work itself was clearly designed as a tribute to the man who was already dominating Europe.
            The scope of the hero’s life determines the size and shape of the symphony’s first movement, Allegro con brio. Beethoven’s expressive and dramatic ambitions expand the traditional three-part form of exposition, development, and recapitulation into a four-part form – exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda – in which the development and coda become equal partners with the exposition and recap. In striking innovation, they share melodic elements not found in the exposition or recap, and together are considerably longer.
            The symphony begins with a simple melody in the cellos that follows the outline of the E-flat major triad – the tonic note on each of the first four downbeats. This melodic straightjacket is abruptly broken with an astonishing chromatic turn down to C-sharp. Triads and chromatic steps become essential building blocks for the entire movement, and, in some ways, the entire symphony.
            The second movement, Marcia Funebre, is a meditation on a fallen hero’s life. The sotto voce opening dirge with its characteristic dotted rhythm, is placed at the beginning, center, and end of the movement, and frames two important episodes. The first, Maggiore, is a sunnier C major episode perhaps recounting great deeds and happier memories. The second, a massive fugato, begins with stoic power but culminates in a passage of unrestrained grief, the emotional climax of the movement and, arguably, the whole symphony. After the dirge returns, the music breaks into fragments – shards of melody over bass pizzicato are all that is left.
            The third movement is Beethoven’s first symphonic scherzo – a form he invented by speeding up the minuet of Haydn and Mozart. What had been an elegant 18th century dance is now a breathless 19th century romp. Beethoven instructs the entire orchestra to play pianissimo for the first ninety-one measures, before erupting into a jubilant fortissimo. The trio features the three horns, outlining the E-flat major triad, just as the cellos did at the symphony’s outset.
            The Allegro molto finale is a complex set of variations on a theme Beethoven had used in his Creatures of Prometheus ballet and Piano Variations, op. 35. After a short, stormy introduction, a simple, skeletal theme (with a wink to the symphony’s opening cello melody) first outlines E-flat major for four measures, then moves chromatically up to F. Two variations follow: for string trio and string quartet. When the winds finally appear, they have a new melody, revealing that the skeletal theme was really just a bass line (much as Berlioz superimposed two melodies in his overture). Subsequent variations include two fugatos, a virtuosic flute interlude, and an exuberant Hungarian-style dance. Halfway through the movement, as Beethoven transforms the main melody into a hymn, the tempo shifts abruptly to Poco Andante. A grand climax precedes the brilliant Presto coda.
            Bear in mind that Beethoven was just thirty-two years old when he wrote this symphony, and Haydn was still alive. Beethoven’s first two symphonies, while full of beautiful and original ideas, are very much within 18th century traditions. In the Eroica Symphony, Beethoven has made an enormous leap forward. He breaks fully with the past of his mentors and confidently ushers us into a brave new artistic world.

  5. NEC Philharmonia

    First Violin
    Mitsuru Yonezaki
    Minami Yoshida
    Joshua Brown
    Tsubasa Muramatsu
    Anatol Toth
    Thompson Wang
    Jiaxin Lin
    Sydney Scarlett

    Jusun Kim
    Passacaglia Mason

    Sarah McGuire
    Peixuan Wu
    Tzu-Tung Liao
    Hannah Park

    Second Violin
    Hannah Goldstick
    Michael Fisher
    Kristy Chen
    Emily Lin
    Olga Kaminsky
    Arun Asthagiri
    Chloe Hong
    Min-Han Hanks Tsai
    Byeol Claire Kim
    Jisoo Kim
    Ioan-Octavian Pirlea
    SooBeen Lee
    Angela Sin Ying Chan

    Cara Pogossian
    Nicolette Sullivan-Cozza
    Yeh-Chun Lin
    Inácia Afonso
    Corley Friesen-Johnson
    Peter Jablokow
    Xinlin Wang
    Katie Purcell
    Chi-Jui Chen
    Po-Sung Huang
    Bram Fisher


    Noah Lee
    Lexine Feng
    Xinyue Zhu
    Zachary Keum
    Claire Deokyong Kim
    Rei Otake
    Shijie Ma
    Joanne Hwang
    Annie SeEun Hyung
    Zac Fung
    Thomas Hung
    Hayoung Moon

    Alyssa Burkhalter
    Misha Bjerken
    Cailin Singleton
    Shion Kim
    Yu-Cih Chang
    Beth Ann Jones

    Chia-Fen Chang *
    Shengyu Cui
    Jay Kim
    Jungyoon Kim
    Elizabeth McCormack §
    Anna Ridenour ‡

    Shengyu Cui
    Jungyoon Kim *
    Anna Ridenour ‡

    Robert Diaz *
    Abigail Hope-Hull ‡
    Alexander Lenser §
    Christian Paniagua

    Hyunwoo Chun §
    Phoebe Kuan ‡
    Chasity Thompson *

    Bass Clarinet
    Hyunwoo Chun

    Zoe Beck *
    Seth Goldman
    Abigail Heyrich §
    Evan Judson ‡
    Wilson Lu
    Erik Paul

    French horn
    Grace Clarke §
    Jihao Li ‡
    Noah Silverman *
    Qianbin Zhu

    Ko Te Chen §
    Matthew Dao
    Reynolds Martin ‡
    Justin Park *
    Alex Prokop

    Matthew Dao *
    Reynolds Martin

    Eli Canales ‡
    Noah Korenfeld  
    Ethan Lehman *
    Kevin Smith

    Bass Trombone
    Scott Odou *
    David Palingora ‡

    Masaru Lin
    Hayden Silvester *

    Felix Ko
    Jeff Sagurton §
    Lucas Vogelman *
    Connor Willits ‡

    Jordan Fajardo-Bird
    Ross Jarrell
    Felix Ko ‡
    Ngaieng Lai *
    Liam McManus
    Jeff Sagurton
    Lucas Vogelman

    Shaylen Joos

    Yali Levy Schwartz

    Principal players