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Program Notes

The texts of Lalo Schifrin in which he writes about his own music.

"Double Concerto" by Lalo Schifrin (1965)
commissioned by Jasha Heifetz & Gregor Piatigorsky

In the autumn of 1965, I was commissioned by Messrs. Jasha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky to write a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, which they were planning to record and perform in public. The project excited me, especially coming from two such reputable virtuosi. I immediately started writing the sketches and I had several meetings with Mr. Piatigorsky, sometimes joined by Mr. Heifetz. I showed them the work in progress and they would make suggestions which I then incorporated into the piece. On a number of occasions, I remember staying after the meetings to play chess with Mr. Piatigorsky. He played chess as well as he played the cello and he taught me many things about the game. Once they were happy with the themes, developments, variations, cadenzas, etc., they gave me the go ahead to start orchestrating. Mr. Heifetz felt that my original coda was too short so I made it much longer and he was very pleased with the results.

Unfortunately, after the completion of the orchestration, which took me almost an entire year, Mr. Heifetz fell ill and the possibilities of recording and performing the piece started to vanish. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. Far from giving up, I approached Ms. Jacqueline du Pre who, after taking a copy of the score with her, let me know that she liked the piece very much but that she would have to stop performing for six months in order to study it. Furthermore, she indicated, quite rightly, that any violinist of her stature would have to do the same. To top it all, Mr. Jay Rubinoff, who was at that time the Executive Managing Director of the LA Philharmonic, told me that a double concerto would be very costly because it would require two virtuosi in the same engagement. Therefore, I resigned myself to the idea that my composition would never see the light of day. My activities became so multiple that finally I forgot about it.

In 1995, I received a fax from Mr. Terry King who introduced himself as a former assistance and disciple to Mr. Piatigorsky. He had been compiling an archive of Mr. Piatigorsky's legacy for the Library of Congress. While going through his library, he came across the score for my "Double Concerto." He was very excited by the piece and wanted to perform it. By coincidence his wife, Laura, is an excellent violin player and he asked my permission to perform it with the Lubbock (Texas) symphony. He offered to make computer copies of the score and the orchestral parts. I was pleasantly surprised and I naturally not only gave him my permission but my blessing.

The "Double Concerto" [was] premiered by Laura Bothard and Terry King as soloists, with the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra at their concert hall on March 5 and 6, 1999.

"Pulsations" For Electronic Keyboard, Jazz Band and Orchestra (1971)

Lalo Schifrin, onetime pianist for Dizzy Gillespie's quintet; Oscar nominee for his film scores for The Fox and Cool Hand Luke; and, earlier this year, guest composer with the Philadelphia Orchestra, prepared these notes for the world premiere of his Pulsations, commissioned by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Interviewer: Mr. Schifrin, when writing this piece were you attempting to depict the cyclic pulse of Life in an all-harmonizing force of Universal transcendence by applying the relatively new concepts regarding statistical groupings, and by introducing aleatory principles, either at the compositional stage (e.g., leaving certain decisions to chance) or at the moment of execution (the results of free play among several musicians being determined only approximately in advance)?

Mr. Schifrin: Perhaps. Reality can be taken on many levels. I especially had to take into consideration the fact that I have been traveling a great deal this past year and was forced to write large portions of this work on - fortunately - unhijacked airplanes, sometimes at 30,000 feet above the ground, the only interruption being the Musak that filtered through to me as an unwelcome intruder every time the plane made a landing.

Interviewer: I understand you are playing the electronic keyboard in this performance. What kind of instrument are you using?

Mr. Schifrin: Like the Grand Izumo Shrine it is of Japanese origin. Its technical name is Electone EX-42.

Interviewer: And now a third question: I notice that the composition deals with three musical objects (Symphonic, jazz, electronic) and also has three movements. Could you explain if there is any magical significance that you attribute to the number three?

Mr. Schifrin: It may only be a tribute to the late Billie Holiday, who once said: "Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three."

The members of the jazz band are Ray Trascari, Bobby Bryant, Gary Barone, Tony Terran, trumpet; J.J. Johnson, Tom McIntosh, Craig Kupka, Richard Leith, trombone; Bud Shank, Tom Scott, alto saxophone; Don Menza, Tony Ortega, tenor saxophone; Jack Nimitz, baritone saxophone; Ray Brown, bass; Larry Bunker, drums; Emil Richards, vibes; and Howard Roberts, guitar.

"Invocations" (1980)

Since non-western music has always fascinated me, this curiosity led to the study of the rhythms, scales, instruments and musical architectures of a great number of cultures.

While "Invocations" is a direct result of this interest, it is not a musical travelogue. On the contrary, my intention was to incorporate the richness and excitement of many musical traditions using only the instruments of the western symphony orchestra along with our conventional notation methods. I have also decided that only one conductor would be enough, despite the fact that different "poly-meters" sometimes appear simultaneously while the orchestra is fragmented in smaller ensembles that play against each other. "Invocations" is also a tribute to the universal language and perhaps within its many diversities can speak to us of our similarities.

"Tropicos" (1981)
A Work in five movements written in 1981.

Behind the folk-like tunes and dances, there is another reality in this tropical landscape, sometimes cruel, sometimes ironic.

The piece is written for woodwind quintet and strings, and despite its title, I carefully avoided the use of percussion instruments. Nevertheless, in certain passages the bows hit the strings  with the wood or the woodwinds depress the keys without blowing. The common denominator in these five segments is the fragmentation of binary and ternary rhythms into their smaller components while the harmonic and melodic material expands from simple scales to more complex density and textures. Tropicos is a true etude which encourages a vigorous dialogue between the soloist and the ensemble

"Resonances" (1987)
Three Paragraphs of a Musical Journey

I. Etude. The pianist's ritual practice in the morning, the concentration, the satisfaction of solving and transcending mental-muscular problems. In this case, we deal with modes of more than eight notes in the octave, useful for conditioning the mind and the fingers to move in a non diatonic path.

II. Nocturne. A souvenir from a recent journey to the land of the Incas. A transparent keyboard that betrays its lyrical past. An old piano releasing parfumed filigrees, an ephemeral promise vanishing with the decay of sound.

III. Freres Jacques Variations. The afternoon of a dream, the church next to the school, the hands running towards the multiplying images of an obsession.

"Fantasy for Screenplay and Orchestra" (2003)
Commissioned by the
Chicago Symphony
Dedicated to Daniel Barenboim

The work is the music for an imaginary film. The listeners are invited to create their storylines and their visual images as they react to the different moods suggested by the musical flow.

The structure is borrowed from Mussorsky’s “Pictures (motion pictures) at an Exhibition” (theatre owners are known as exhibitors).

I. Main Title (Overture) contains the principal theme which is based on six note motives that pose two questions.  The strings and woodwinds are in charge of the responses.  A change of tempo gives way to a more agitated version of the theme, with the intervention of the full orchestra and the introduction of the second theme.  Echoes of the six note motive brings the “Main Title” section to a quiet ending.  The sound of the last sustained chord by the diminuendo strings fades out gradually: the equivalent of a visual “dissolve.”

II. Film Noir – This section could be interpreted as a nightmare or the music for a thriller.  The elements of menace, suspense, tension and shock are the ingredients.  An alto flute solo accompanied by a double bass pizzicato contributes to enhance the atmosphere of mystery.  If there was a crime, perhaps it was solved; or, we slowly awake from the dark dream.

III. First Transition – A variation of the main theme, this time introduced by the principal french horn as the bridge to the next scene.

IV. The Silent Comedians – One of the main elements of film music is the audio-visual counterpoint.  I have written the score for a movie, “Rollercoaster,” in which an extortionist destroys amusement parks with bombs. The music of the innocent merry-go-rounds, calliopes and children’s rides plays against the horror of the images on the screen.  Like the circus clown in Andriev’s “He Who Gets Slapped” whose inner tragedy is in contrast to his painted-on smile.

Again, this orchestral journey can be taken as a farcical statement. Its simple naiveté in waltz tempo, which may lead to an absurd chase, could also be the counterpoint to something infamous and abominable that happens on the screen.

V. Second Transition – Another orchestration of the principal theme.  This “promenade” ends with bells and takes us to the next sequence. 

VI.  Love Scene – Many elements which express the most important bonds between two people: attraction, doubt, jealousy and passion are reflected in the music, which searches for a sensual tango rhythm to accompany the many faces of love.

VII. The Final Conflict – Trombones, bassoons and percussion announce the coming battle in the form of a fugue of different sonorities and a montage of violent scenes which lead to the triumphal and heroic ending with the final transformation of the principal theme.  And as the last sound is followed by silence, the last “image” is followed by the “dark screen.”  The silence is important but what “happened” on the screen was an illusion.

Lalo Schifrin

Triple Concerto
For Clarinet, Viola, Piano and Orchestra

The Triple Concerto was commissioned by the Halcyon Trio.  Basically, it is a thorough etude of the interplay between the solo ensemble and the orchestra whose instrumentation contains only a brass choir and a full string section.  (The piano in its high register and the clarinet can easily replace the woodwind section.  And once again the piano can create percussive effects or become a substitute for the harp.)

The first movement starts with a classic rhythmic figure prevalent in the be-bop jazz era (“The Age of Anxiety”).  Besides which, the intervals are based on a twelve tone row and its retrogradation.  The figure exposed by the trio is a passacaglia.  Subtle pyramids by the strings and fast punctuations by the trumpets contribute to build gradually.  The trio is joined by double bass pizzicato and low brass.  A tumultuous climax results by different counterpoints also based on “be-bop” phrases.  The tension keeps building until the trio asserts itself through a second section, always “exploring” their jazz inspired figures on top of the passacaglia (which continues on the piano’s left hand).  A dramatic intervention of the horns, tuba and strings interrupts the previous mood.  A third section based loosely on blues motives serves as an introduction to the movement’s second theme, more diatonic, but extending the scales by a free use of intervals of 4th’s and 5th’s.  A developing section of the second theme allows the different possibilities of alternate and simultaneous interaction between all the players.  This procedure brings forth another build up to the three individual cadenzas by the soloists.  Finally, a short recapitulation of the passacaglia theme leads to a quiet end of the movement.

The second movement is a calmer antidote to “The Age of Anxiety.”  A melodic neo-baroque theme with accompaniment of the string ostinato figure expresses a lyrical mood, which stretches almost into a neo-romantic idiom.

A second theme (“lied”) emerges, exposed by the clarinet and accompanied first by the piano and then by the viola and double basses.  After an expanding development it triggers three variations featuring the various possibilities of technical displays by the soloists and the orchestra.  A short triple cadenza precedes the calm recapitulation of the first theme.  The coda slowly evanesces into distant echoes.

Excitement is the key word to describe the third and final movement.  An introduction by the brass playing syncopated figures announces a short motive by the strings.  This motive is the essence of the first theme (again, the language of modern jazz permeates this whole movement). 

The development by canonic figures, transformations, extensions and contractions are interrupted by the syncopated brass.  The solo viola introduces a second theme; more lyrical, but the nervous pulse continues to push the music forward.  This theme is also subject to different developments.  A new transition brings back the syncopated figure.  The soloists respond with an ostinato based on African rhythms.  The first motive of the first theme starts announcing itself.  A short French horn “call” introduces a fugato by the strings, which re-expose the theme.  New developments take place.  The piano dialogues with the other two soloists accompanied by the orchestra.  The theme goes back through many transformations and builds to the cadenzas by the clarinet, viola, and piano.  This instrument connects at the end of its solo with the final coda.  The initial motive, the “impetus” has the last word with a sense of affirmation.  This very ending is not a question, but rather a reiteration of the celebratory spirit of the whole concerto.


"Letters from Argentina" (2005)

"Like the clear sky, like the rain, like the clouds, music has always been part of the Argentinean atmosphere, ever present in the literature, in the visual arts, and in the history of the country.

The strumming of the Gauchos' guitars, the rhythms of the Indian drums, the expressive melodies of the bandoneón were the aural media with which I grew up.

Tangos coming from radios, folk music sung and danced in festivities, Milongas and Candombes celebrating Mardi Gras surrounded my childhood in Buenos Aires.

“Letters from Argentina” are the musical memories enhanced by my imagination and converted into impressions of my homeland. Working on this project helped me to recreate an unreal past in which a memory persists and invites us to a journey full of promises and dreams."

“Elegy and Meditation” (2009)
Dedicated to Haydn

I. Elegy:
The marionettes from the master's operas float on the waters of the Danube. The flow of the streams keep bringing new visions and memories. Sometimes new musical motives interpolate with thematic material based on Joseph Haydn's Piano Sonata No. 4 in G minor. From the bottom of the currents, we hear neoclassical, post-impressionist, and other thematic material based on polymodal and polytonic scales. The Elegy's structure could be confused with a spontaneous free form, but, nevertheless, a hidden rondo is the underlying connective material between the ever renewing thematic elements.

II. Meditation
An introspective postludium which helps us to evaluate the enormous contribution
which Haydn made to the history of music. At the same time, it is a quiet celebration
of his legacy.

"Pampas" (2009)

In this composition, I tried to convey the vastness of the plains between the South of the Buenos Aires province and the Patagonia which is called the Pampa.  The distant horizon puts into perspective the solitude without shadows.       

The first theme is distant and evocative which leads to a contrasting section of rhythmic energy.  The cello states the introspective second theme but during the responses, the piano accompaniment is reminiscent of Gaucho and Afro-American folk music.  The development is a dialogue between the two instruments in which both themes are being explored.  The last section of the movement brings us the cello against a descending line by the piano.  A somber pedal point is a preparation of the reinstatement of the introduction.  A calm figure pleads to the solo cello’s final response.