John Harbison: Symphony No. 3

John Harbison

John Harbison is one of America's most prominent composers. He has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Tanglewood, Marlboro, Aspen, Ojai and Santa Fe Festivals, and the American Academy in Rome. His music has been performed by many of the world's leading ensembles, and 40 of his compositions have been recorded on the Nonesuch, Northeastern, Harmonia Mundi, New World, Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Koch and CRI labels. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, Harbison is also the recipient of the Kennedy Center Friedheim First Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Heinz Award. His opera, the Great Gatsby, was produced by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in December, 1999.

As a conductor, Harbison has directed many distinguished orchestras and chamber groups including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony and the Handel and Haydn Society.

Harbison is Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has taught at Cal Arts and Boston University, is President of the Copland Fund and serves on the board of directors of the Koussevitsky Foundation.

The Most Often Used Chords

The Most Often Used Chords (original title Gli Accordi Piu Usati) was composed in 1992 for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which gave its first performance on October 22, 1993. Its four movements are based on instructional “fundamentals of music” pages that are found on the covers of blank music writing notebooks.

I.Toccata: “Here are the two scales you need: Major and minor.” “Use these charts to form chords in any key — major, minor, diminished, and augmented. To make one chord from another, just change one or more tones one half step.” “There are seven modes, each begins on a different white key.”

II.Variazioni: “The chord of chords is the triad, for example C-E-G.”

III.Ciaccona: In the notebook, the ten “most often used chords” were displayed separately, in C, then transposed upward by half-steps. Their Italian chroniclers never meant them to be played in sequence. Nevertheless, here they form a ground, against which a melody emerges. This melody presses to break free of the ground, and does so for a while after the sixth Chaconne statement. Then the “found object” given resumes, in another world of feeling.

IV.Finale: “The Circle of Fifths is easy to memorize: Starting with F and moving clockwise the keys can be learned by saying “Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bread.” The keys counterclockwise are learned by repeating “Boys Eat Aging Dogs Good Cold Food.”” Also present in this movement, the Table of Contracting Note Values, and the Table of Expanding Intervals (coincidentally all twelve tones).

The Most Often Used Chords is essentially a work of play, taking place where theory meets fantasy. It can be followed without any reference to the origins described above.

Flute Concerto

John Harbison's Flute Concerto was composed in 1994, on commission from the Wallace Foundation and Meet the Composer, for Ramson Wilson and the American Composers' Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Oregon Symphony. It is in three connected fast movements, lasting about 19 minutes. Ransom Wilson gave the first performance with the American Composers' Orchestra under Paul Lustig Dunkel on October 29, 1995.

The flute is a traveler, perhaps half bird, half human, who acts as leader and guide. The journey does not seek goals, as much as events, sights, curiosities.

At first the soloist is accompanied by two fellow flute-travelers, then only one, then fares forth solo.

In the first phase of independence, the free-spirited flute encounters a series of “music boxes,” mechanical music which seems to re-direct the solo melody. The whole orchestra interrupts this section with its own kind of mechanical music. (Much of the time the orchestra is a kind of puppet orchestra, making swift little sallies as if on wires).

A steady pizzicato rhythm signals a move to the outdoors. The idealized flute bird finds itself in a dove-cote (four overlapping European doves are heard, with the solo suggesting an American dove for a moment). At the end of this excursion solo flute and strings intone a hymn against a faint background choir of many forest and meadow birds.

The final section begins its journey home with a rather formal gesture, a sort of aviary minuet. Eventually ideas from early in the piece reappear, heralding the return of the original flutist companions, who rejoin their mate in a final mood of celebration.

Symphony No. 3

Symphony No. 3 was composed in 1990, commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony. It is dedicated to my friend, the composer Christopher Rouse. It runs about 22 minutes.

It begins with an ending. Almost ten years after composing it, I realized that the central question of this piece is how to recover from this situation. The orchestra tries to rouse itself immediately with flurries of upward runs, only to be answered by a discouraged melody played by the solo viola and oboe. Consolation seems to arrive with the second half of the movement, in the form of a nostalgic phrase played by the clarinets. This opens to a twilight landscape, darkened by a subterranean horn call. Eventually, the carillon of San Ilario, near Genoa, is heard. I once walked that hill often, wondering if the bells implied transcendence or impermanence. (On my return there recently, they had been removed from the church.)

Massed horns take up the bell song, transforming it into something less comfortable. There are still demons to be countered. The percussion section erupts twice in this scherzo, like a sinister jack-in-the-box, or worse, a Pandora's box.

To go further, the song must be sent outward, must engage the world, and this is the mission of the third movement, where a violin melody appears three times, first as solo, then with marimba and vibraphone shadow, finally with full orchestra. In between are refrains, ritualistic at first but bleeding into each other as the movement progresses.

I intended for the energy of the final movement to be entirely healthy and positive, but neither the material nor the character of the piece permitted this. It is energy partly cleansing, partly demonic. Polished, crusty planes abut each other but hardly interact. The dilemma of the opening of the symphony has been engaged, but no simple, unclouded solution has been found. —John Harbison

David Alan Miller

Since becoming Music Director and Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 1992, David Alan Miller has initiated a period of remarkable artistic growth, including family concerts, school outreach programs and a new music group, “The Dogs of Desire.” Miller's fresh approach to reaching new audiences garnered him a front page feature article in the Wall Street Journal in 1996.

Before coming to Albany, Mr. Miller served as Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While in Los Angeles, Miller conducted subscription concerts and programs at the Hollywood Bowl as well as educational concerts.

David Alan Miller has guest conducted orchestras throughout the United States, including the Detroit and San Francisco Symphonies, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. Abroad he has led the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony, the Dresden Philharmonic, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and the National Arts Center Orchestra in Ottawa, among others. Summer festival appearances have included the Aspen Music Festival, the Bravo Colorado Festival, the Tanglewood Institute, and the Hollywood Bowl.

Mr. Miller has conducted recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Harmonia Mundi, Decca/London, Argo, and Albany Records.

Albany Symphony Orchestra

Founded in 1931 by John Carabella, the Albany Symphony Orchestra has evolved artistically under the leadership of music directors Rudolf Thomas, Ole Windingstad, Edgar Curtis, Julius Hegyi, Geoffrey Simon, and David Alan Miller.

Under Maestro Miller's direction, the Albany Symphony has continued a tradition of championing 20th-century American music through commissioning and recording new works. The Albany Symphony Orchestra has received 14 consecutive ASCAP awards for adventuresome programming and was awarded the first ASCAP/Leonard Bernstein Award for Educational Programming in 1999.

Recordings of the Albany Symphony Orchestra appear on New World Records, CRI, Albany Records, Argo and London/Decca.

Randolph Bowman

Randolph Bowman is principal flute of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. A California native, Mr. Bowman studied at the New England Conservatory with James Pappoutsakis and Julius Baker. He was awarded a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship to attend Tanglewood.

He has performed with Jean-Pierre Rampal, Joel Smirnoff, Ursula Oppens and Peter Wiley, among others. Bowman was an adjunct professor at The Boston Conservatory and the New England Conservatory and is currently on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music.

Albany Symphony Orchestra

David Alan Miller, Music director

Violin I

Jill Levy, Concertmaster

Ilana Blumberg,

Asst. Concertmaster

Elizabeth Silver

Margret E. Hickey

Van Armenian

Olga Dusheina

Lilajane Frascarelli

Danica Mills

Ellen Rademacher

Paula L. Rowe

Paula Shaw

Harriet Dearden Welther

Maria Carruyo

Heather Haskew-Vogel

Christine Kim

Julia Kim

Raymond Zoeckler

Violin II

Elaine Gervais, Principal

Barbara Lapidus

John Bosela

Brigitte Brodwin

Lucille Eggert

Ouisa Fohrhaltz

Michael Glover

Margaret Schalit

Eileen Cozzaglio

Ellen Madison

Guy Rauscher

David Sariti

Ubaldo Valli


Susan St. Amour, Principal

Emily Schaad

Carla Bellosa

Robert Dean

Judith Goberman

Christine Orio

Harriet Thomas

Elizabeth Bonta Moll

Dean O'Brien

George Whetstone


Susan R. Libby, Principal*

Erica Pickhardt**

Gail Falsetti

Peter Greydanus

Catherine Hackert

Erik Jacobson

Petia Kassarova

Zig Mielens

Janet Taggart


Luke C. Baker**

Wendy Kain*

James Caiello

Matthew Dreyfus

Phillip Helm

Marc Schmied


Floyd Hebert, Principal

Linda M. Greene

Hilary Lynch


Linda M. Greene

Hilary Lynch


Karen Hosmer, Principal

Gene Marie Green

Nathaniel Fossner

Joel Evans

English Horn

Nathaniel Fossner


Susan Martula, Principal

Linda Poland

Christopher Cullen

Bass Clarinet

Christopher Cullen


Stephen Walt, Principal

Jonathan Macgowan


Judith Bedford

Edward Marschilok

French Horn

William Hughes*

Victor Sungarian**

Alan Parshley

Virginia Abraham

Alyssa Coffey

Chad Yarbrough


Eric Berlin, Principal

Eric J. Latini

René Hernandez

Louis Milinazzo


Megumi Kanda, Principal

Cathy Stone

Craig Arnold


Matthew Gauph


Peter Wilson, Principal


Richard Albagli, Principal

Mark Foster

Scott Stacey

Cynthia Lee


Nancy Hull

Kristen Tuttman


Lynette Wardle, Principal

*Principal, Flute Concerto, Most Often Used Chords

**Acting Principal, Symphony No. 3

Mr. Harbison's music is published by G. Schirmer, Inc.

Produced and engineered by Gregory K. Squires, Squires Music Production

Digital Editing and mastering by Richard Price, Squires Music Production

Cover photo of John Harbison by Ann Fuller

Photo of David Alan Miller by Gary Gold

Cover Design: Bates Miyamoto Design

The Flute Concerto and The Most Often Used Chords were recorded September 19, 1999. Symphony No. 3 was recorded March 15, 1999. All recordings were made in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York.

This recording is made possible in part by the generous support of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Paul Underwood, and Vanguard, the volunteer organization of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.