George Walker: Orchestral Works

George Walker

Serenata for Chamber Orchestra · Lyric for Strings

Folk Songs for Orchestra

Orpheus for Chamber Orchestra

Poème for Violin & Orchestra · Gregory Walker, violin

Cleveland Chamber Symphony

Edwin London, Music Director & Conductor

George Walker

George Walker, winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Music, was born in Washington, DC on June 22, 1922. He began the study of piano at age five and attended Oberlin College, the Curtis Institute of Music, graduating with an Artist Diploma in Piano and Composition, the Eastman School of Music, where he received a DMA Degree and the American Conservatory of Music in Fontainebleau, France, where he received a Diploma in Piano. His teachers have included David Moyer, Rudolf Serkin, Nadia Boulanger, Gregor PIatigorsky, Rosario Scalero, William Primrose, and Gian-Carlo Menotti.

Walker made his acclaimed Town Hall debut as a pianist in New York in 1945 and toured for several years under the aegis of National Concert Artists Management and Columbia Artists Management in the U.S. and abroad. In 1953 he began combining performance with teaching and became professor of music at Rutgers State University in New Jersey in 1969. Honors bestowed on him include Fulbright, John Hay Whitney, Guggenheim, Rockefeller and MacDowell Fellowships, and commissions and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Lettters and the New York Philharmonic (which commissioned his Cello Concerto in 1982). Other ensembles and institutions that have commissioned works from him include the Cleveland Orchestra, the Eastman School of Music, the Fromm Foundation, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Kindler Foundation, the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Maryland International Piano Competition and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Among orchestras that have performed his works are those of Boston, Detroit, Dallas, Minnesota, Denver, Buffalo, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Oakland as well as the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. His Pulitzer Prize in 1996 was for Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra commissioned and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

His principal publisher is MMB Music in St. Louis and his works have been recorded on the CBS, GunMar, CRI and Albany labels among others.

Serenata for Chamber Orchestra

The Serenata for Chamber Orchestra was commissioned for the Michigan Chamber Orchestra by George Pelham Head in memory of his wife, Patricia Head. It received its premiere in October of 1983 in Detroit, Michigan. A second performance was given by the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in July of 1984 on a Horizon's '94 concert.

The three movement work begins, after a sustained note, with a rising motive in sixteenth notes. This recurs throughout the movement. The arioso-like quality of the melody in the second movement is often entwined with a counter melody. The third movement begins with a brief introduction that is followed by melodic fragments in the strings. The next section, propelled by repeated notes in the winds, climaxes with quotes from two popular songs, overlapping as a collage. The concluding section, utilizing the arpeggiated intervals of the beginning, concludes wistfully.

Lyric for Strings

Written in 1946, this work was premiered that year under the title Lament by the student orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music conducted by Seymour Lipkin in a radio concert. In the following year it received its public premiere by the National Gallery Orchestra conducted by Richard Bales as part of an annual American music festival in Washington. The work, which lasts approximately six minutes, carries the dedication "To my grandmother."

This work was completed after the death of the composer's grandmother. He was a graduate student at the Curtis Institute of Music at that time.

After a brief introduction, the principal theme is stated by the first violins with imitations appearing in the other instruments. The linear nature of the material alternates with static moments of harmony. After the second of two climaxes, the work concludes with the reposeful cadences that were presented earlier..

Poème for Violin and Orchestra

This work was premiered by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra with Cho-Liang Lin as violin soloist in 1991. It is a revised version of an earlier Violin Concerto.

Walker states that it is, "by no means a tranquil piece." It alternates, in his words, between an "intense lyricism" and "dramatic qualities, which you hear particularly in the final movement." It is dedicated to his mother in tribute to her

extraordinary devotion to her family and friends. I think, he said, "She would have liked the piece."

The ascending intervals that characterize the brief introduction to the first movement appear in similar statements in the other two movements. The violin cadenza in the first movement uses these intervals also in its pizzicato beginning. Following the return of the initial thematic material, the introduction is restated in a more rhythmic guise. In the second movement, solo violin excursions are framed by the dramatic opening measure that recurs at the end of the movement. The third movement follows the pattern of the first two in achieving its climactic moment near the middle of the movement.

Orpheus for Chamber Orchestra

This work was commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony with partial funding from the George Gund Foundation. Completed in October of 1994, it was premiered by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony on March 12, 13 and 14, 1995. It is scored for flute, oboe, B flat clarinet, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, tympani, piano, harp, strings and percussion. Several spoken lines are interpolated into the musical narrative. The work is a retelling of the famous myth of Orpheus, the consummate musician, whose love for Eurydice was so great that he ventured into the Underworld, disdaining Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian, to bring her back to life. The condition imposed by Hades on Orpheus was that he would not be permitted to look back at Eurydice on the return journey.

The work is divided into six sections. Part I begins with a brief spoken preface that summarizes the Greek myth. A fanfare and dance, initially elegant and then becoming increasingly frenetic, follow. Part II begins with an instrumental song to Eurydice, terminating with her death and disappearance. Part III, The Underworld, emerges without a clear separation and leads to the encounter of Orpheus with Hades. Part IV recalls briefly the ascent of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Underworld and her final disappearance. Part V suggests the agitation of Orpheus upon his realization of his loss. In Part VI he dies, after being dismembered by the Ciconian Women.

Folk Songs for Orchestra

Completed in the fall of 1990, this work was premiered in May of 1992 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Zinman.

The composer describes his intention as "to set these melodies in an interesting way, in a respectful orchestral manner. They are wonderful melodies. The four spirituals are quoted intact, which is an unusual procedure for me, because I am much more in the habit of using only snippets from various sources pop tunes or folk songs. The focus is to frame these melodies in a miniaturistic fashion; they should be easy for the listener to identify."

After a brief introduction, the melody of "Going to lay down my sword and shield" is stated. The second spiritual, "And they crucified my Lord" becomes fragmented after the initial trumpet phrase, but the melody is completed later after strings repeat the first phrase and trombones accelerate the final pitches of the melody to the words "Not a word, not a word." The flutter-tonguing of the flute above sustained strings links the second spiritual to the third, "My Lord, what a morning."

In Walker's setting of this melody the tune is apportioned to several wind instruments, each successively playing only a few notes of the theme. Between presentations of the theme, an interlude involving two trumpets in heard. The setting of the fourth spiritual, "O Peter, go ring dem bells," employs a ritornello, introductory material that recurs between phrases of this most jovial of religious statements.

Edwin London

Edwin London, music director of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, has served living music throughout his career. He has formed two highly-acclaimed ensembles: Ineluctable Modality, a new-music choral ensemble, in 1968, and the award-winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony in 1980. He has earned the Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center, the ASCAP-John S. Edwards Award and the Laurel Leaf Award from the American Composers Alliance.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, London began his career as a horn player in both symphony orchestras and the Oscar Pettiford Jazz Band. After graduation from the Oberlin Conservatory, he received a doctorate from the University of Iowa. Subsequent teachers have included Luigi Dallapiccola, Darius Milhaud and Gunther Schuller. He taught at Smith College, the University of Illinois and the University of California at San Diego before becoming a professor at Cleveland State University in 1978.

Cleveland Chamber Symphony

The Cleveland Chamber Symphony is a professional ensemble-in-resident at Cleveland State University whose mission is to present new music along with neglected masterworks of the past. Since its founding in 1980, the orchestra has premiered over 120 works, the majority of which were commissioned. The Cleveland Chamber Symphony has received national recognition for its strong commitment to new American music.

Gregory Walker

Gregory Walker, violinist and composer, earned a bachelor's degree in music and English from Indiana University and holds two masters' degrees one in computer music from the University of California at San Diego and one in composition from Mills College. He completed his doctorate in composition at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Among his teachers have been Yuval Yaron, Oswald Lehnert, Janoes Negyesy, David Abel, Josef Gingold and Dorothy DeLay.

Walker has performed with pop stars like Lyle Lovell and the French singer Anne Pigalle. He has appeared as a soloist

with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra which also premiered his own rap/symphonic composition Dream 'N The Hood. He has recorded a number of his father's compositions. Mr. Walker is concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic and Assistant Professor and Director of Ensembles at the University of Colorado at Denver.

This recording is made possible in part by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Cover photograph by Nancy Lee Katz, New York City

George Walker

Serenata for Chamber Orchestra

I. Quarter Note = 63 (4:08)

II. Quarter Note = 40 (4:00)

III. Quarter Note = 52 (3:29)

Lyric for Strings (6:09)

Poème for Violin & Orchestra

I. Eighth Note = 88 (8:12)

II. Eighth Note = 72 (4:02)

III. Eighth Note = 120 (5:31)

Gregory Walker, violin

Orpheus for Chamber Orchestra

I. (6:47)

II. 3:33)

III. (5:49)

IV. (1:09)

V. (1:06)

VI. (1:49)

William Demsey, narrator

Eileen Moore, Eurydice

Folk Songs for Orchestra

I. Going to lay down my sword and shield (4:01)

II. And they crucified my Lord (1:51)

III. My Lord, what a morning (3:31)

IV. O Peter, go ring dem bells (2:07)

Cleveland Chamber Symphony

Edwin London, Music Director

Total Time = 68:05