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ClassicsOnline Home » HAILSTORK: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, Adolphus Hailstork has written three symphonies, the third of which is dedicated to the artists on this recording, David Lockington (“my most consistently supportive conductor”) and the Grand Rapids
Symphony. In his notes for Symphony No. 3, Hailstork writes: “The goal in my
Third Symphony was to write a piece that was lighter in approach than my second. I created a snappy little trumpet tune that intrigued me and used it as the point of departure.” Premièred in 1999, the Symphony No. 2 was inspired by a visit to Africa in the summer of 1996: “There I visited the forts along the coast of Ghana, and saw the dungeons where the slaves were held before being shipped overseas. I put my reaction to that sad scene in
movement two of this symphony. In movement four I sought to reflect the determination of a people who had arrived in America as slaves, but struggled, with courage and faith, against numerous odds.”
By Walter Simmons
American Record Guide
Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941) is a black American composer currently Eminent Scholar and Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He studied primarily with H Owen Reed at Michigan State, but also worked with David Diamond and Vittorio Giannini at the Manhattan School of Music in the 60s, and with Nadia Boulanger as well. With that background, one would expect Mr Hailstork to be firmly entrenched in old-fashioned American symphonic tradition, and that is indeed exactly what we get here.
The Third Symphony (2003?) comes first and for good reason. This is a vibrant piece of Americana that you don't hear a lot of anymore, with foot-tapping big-city pentatonic motors, an expansive open-spaced slow movement, a humorous multiple-metered scherzo, and a cyclical, virtuosic finale (a little awkward in execution, but fun anyway). It would be good to hear this piece in better sound and with a better orchestra, but I wouldn't hold my breath. If you're attracted to Copland, Bernstein, Barber, and the conservative American symphonic style (I even heard some John Alden Carpenter in the mix), you'll want to hear this. I enjoyed it.
The Second Symphony (1999) is considerably less cheery. The composer took a trip to Ghana in 1996, seeing up close where America's slaves came from, and that experience’s emotional effect is firmly embedded in this composition. The first movement opens with snarls of pain. Its main thematic material resembles those motors of the Third Symphony, but here they are distorted and more angular. The slow movement opens with a lonely English Horn solo that can't help but bring to mind memories of Dvořak's New World Symphony, but this New World is going to be considerably less homey. The slave's pain is palpable, the atmosphere funereal. After an intense scherzo, the finale opens with a lonely clarinet solo out of Sibelius 1, followed by wishful halos of Vaughan Williams. After more intense development and what sounds like a quotation of a spiritual, the work ends (oddly?) with Great American Symphony triumph.
These are heartfelt, serious works by an underrated American composer who doesn't choose to fit in with the major stylistic currents the postwar 20th Century. This was a pleasant surprise, but I wish the sound were better. And Mr Hailstork's scoring requires more than this provincial orchestra can offer.
By Steven Ritter
Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941)
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
Adolphus Hailstork received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, where he was a student of H. Owen Reed. He studied previously under Vittorio Giannini, David Diamond, Nadia Boulanger, and Mark Fax. His compositions have won the Belwin-Mills Max Winkler Award from the Band Directors National Association, the Ernest Bloch Award for choral composition, and First Prize by the University of Delaware Festival of Contemporary Music. During the 1980s he wrote three of his largest and most frequently performed choral works: the triptych Songs of Isaiah, oratorio Done Made My Vow and cantata I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes. In 1990 a consortium of five orchestras commissioned him to write a piano concerto. Leon Bates gave the first performance in 1992. The Barlow Endowment for Music commissioned him to write Festival Music for the Baltimore Symphony. The Opera Theater of St Louis and the Kansas City Lyric Opera jointly commissioned his second opera, Joshua's Boots, which had its première in 1999. Significant performances of his works by major orchestras in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York have been led by leading conductors such as James de Priest, Daniel Barenboim and Kurt Masur. Adolphus Hailstork is Eminent Scholar and Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The Grand Rapids Symphony commissioned his Symphony No. 3, which he has dedicated to David Lockington ("my most consistently supportive conductor") and the members of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
A chance remark led to the composition of Adolphus Hailstork's Symphony No. 2. Shortly after Leslie Dunner, resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted a performance of Hailstork's Symphony No. 1, he asked when he would ever get to give the première of a work by him. Hailstork's reply: "How about my Symphony No. 2?" Hailstork did not wait for an answer. He started working on the symphony in 1995 and had most of it finished even before he received news that Dunner had asked the Detroit Symphony to commission it. That orchestra gave the first performance of Hailstork's new symphony in February 1999.
Adolphus Hailstork intended to write a standard four-movement symphony, pure symphonic music without an extra-musical story or programme. In his notes to the symphony Hailstork writes how his plans were changed:
"In the summer of 1996, I took a trip to Africa. There I visited the forts along the coast of Ghana, and saw the dungeons where the slaves were held before being shipped overseas. I put my reaction to that sad scene in movement two of this symphony. In movement four I sought to reflect the determination of a people who had arrived in America as slaves, but struggled, with courage and faith, against numerous odds."
Even with the new programme the forms of each movement fall into standard symphonic frameworks. The first and last movements are in sonata-allegro form. The inner movements have a simpler three-part form. The first movement begins very quietly in the strings. Suddenly the brass stab the calm with harsh chords. A rumble from the timpani sets up a rhythmic base for the entire movement, full of melodically and rhythmically angular themes. The movement ends just as it began with ethereal strings and the fatalistic brass chords. The English horn frames important moments in the second movement. Its lonely solo introduces and closes this movement of grim and foreboding music. Its solos in the middle frame the urgent central part. Dance-like, angular rhythms are the hallmark of the fast third movement. But this is not happy music; there is an urgent minor feel. The clarinet introduces the final movement with an extended melody over soft strings. Sharp brass chords punctuate chattering woodwinds and strings as the main body of the movement begins. As it progresses, the dark tone that has prevailed throughout the symphony begins to lighten. In spite of a good deal of musical turmoil, the symphony ends with an optimistic and triumphant finale.
The chance remark made by Leslie Dunner that led to the composition of Symphony No. 2 had its parallel in Grand Rapids. When David Lockington asked Adolphus Hailstork if he would be willing to write a work for Grand Rapids, his reply was "How about my Symphony No. 3?" The composer has provided the following remarks about his Symphony No. 3:
"The goal in my Third Symphony was to write a piece that was lighter in approach than my second. I created a snappy little trumpet tune that intrigued me and used it as the point of departure. I especially liked the asymmetrical rhythm of the theme with its eighth notes grouped as 6 + 8 + 13 over three measures of 9/8 meter. The melody is mostly in the pentatonic scale (G-A-B-D-E) with an extra note (F-sharp) tucked in just near the end."
"The first movement is in traditional sonata-allegro form. The presentation of the first theme concludes with short brass fanfares answered by woodwinds and strings. The second theme begins with a long trumpet note followed by a flurry of sixteenth notes sounded in unison with the marimba and xylophone. A quiet period of string chords serves to reduce the rhythmic drive in the movement momentarily before the development. During the development, elements presented in the exposition bounce around and tumble all over each other. The recapitulation follows the pattern of the exposition with the added element of a solo violin teasingly bringing back an idea that had originally been presented by the marimba. The second movement is a simple song structure that begins with an extended string chorale and gradually adds the woodwinds and horns. There is an intense unison moment in the middle, followed by a short flute solo. An ascending build-up in the strings leads to a dark and very quiet ending. The angular theme of the third movement begins over the held final chord from the previous movement. This is a jaunty Scherzo with many cross-rhythms and a lot of colorful percussion. The bluesy middle section with its 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 rhythm is begun by the unlikely combination of Marimba, Indian Tabla, and Glockenspiel. The Finale also features dance-like rhythms with many meter changes. The development of the opening material is capped off by a boisterous string cadenza followed by a quiet episode with sustained strings and solo woodwinds. In place of a standard recapitulation, themes from the first movement come back and build to a flashy conclusion to the work."
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HAILSTORK: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3