Children’s Concert




(performance for school/homeschool children only – this concert is not open to the public)

“Nordic Notes”
Deborah Greenblatt, nyckelharpa
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
1:15pm – BJ Haan Auditorium

Evening Concert
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
7:30pm – B.J. Haan Auditorium



(performance for school/homeschool children only – this concert is not open to the public)

“B is for Bravo!”
Douglas Yeo, bass trombone
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
1:15pm – BJ Haan Auditorium

Evening Concert
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
7:30pm – B.J. Haan Auditorium


Teachers/homeschool group leaders – Concert information was sent out and you should have received this information by September 1, 2017.  If you did not, please contact the NISO office immediately at  (Please click here for Children’s Concert initial letter 2017 to teachers/homeschool parents.  Please click here for Intention Slip 2017.)


Welcome to the 2017 NISO Concert For Children! We are delighted that you can join us for this exciting concert featuring great symphonic music by composer whose last names begin with the letter B (there are a lot of them, and we are just playing a few of the best) performed by NISO, world-famous bass trombonist—Douglas Yeo, and the Dordt College Choirs.
Following is material to introduce your classes to the music of the Concert for Children.  Please review all of the material below and use whatever parts you wish to prepare your students for a wonderful musical experience.


“B is for BRAVO!”

Have you ever heard the term “Cover Band”?  A cover band plays charts or songs that were recorded by other artists.   For example, a cover band might play the songs of the Beatles, and even dress like the Beatles (for example, there is a group in Omaha known as Yesterday and Today that does such a tribute to the Beatles).

Some people joke that an orchestra is just an old-fashioned 1800s cover band:  we are always playing great music by composers, many of whom passed away, but whose music is timeless.  The term “cover band” is a little unfair when applied to orchestra.  After all, many of the master composers of the 18th and 19th centuries didn’t have a way to record their music (like MP3 files or YouTube videos), so they had to write their music down, and allow the musicians and conductors to interpret their music.

In our concert for you, NISO will play some of the most popular and well-known music for orchestra.  We are going to be the “cover band” for some of the greatest music ever created.

But first, let’s give a shout-out to the person who has the inspiration, ideas, and genius to write all those notes on the page:  the composer!

In popular music, people often identify music by the singer, such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, or more recent artists who sing Country or Rock music.  Many of these artists don’t write their own music;  they perform and sing music written by other composers.

In classical orchestra music, however, the composer is king.  The composer is who makes all of the music happen.

At today’s concert, NISO is going to celebrate composers whose last names start with the letter “B.”  In the movies, the “B-List” might imply a group of actors who aren’t so well known, but in classical music, the “B-List” is pretty impressive!  Of this long list, NISO will play music of just a few of the great “B” composers:  Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók, Bernstein, and Borodin. This will be a fireworks show of great compositions, all of which are very familiar, even if you don’t know the composer’s name.  Also on the concert is an unusual instrument that starts with the letter “B”:  Bass Trombone.  The world-famous trombone virtuoso, Douglas Yeo, former bass trombonist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, will join NISO in a riveting performance of the Concerto for Bass Trombone by Eric Ewazen (a living composer!).   To top the concert, Dordt Choirs will combine with NISO for Borodin’s heart-pounding Polovetsian Dances.  You are sure to be standing by the end of this concert, shouting “Bravo” for all this great music!
So…let’s get started by learning a little about these composers, and the music you will hear:


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827):  German/Austrian Composer

“To play a wrong note is insignificant.  To play without passion is inexcusable.”


                                       Beethoven (age 13)                               Beethoven (early 30s)

Significant life events

  • Beethoven was born in Bonn of Dutch ancestry.  Beethoven’s father was a servant musician for the Elector of Bonn; Ludwig had two surviving younger brothers.
  • Beethoven’s birthday was falsified by his father in order to make him appear younger when he played piano in public (ala Mozart).
  • By age eleven, Beethoven was assistant court organist in Bonn.
  • At age sixteen, he improvised for Mozart on a trip to Vienna.
  • His father was abusive (“[Beethoven was] made to stand at the keyboard, was often in tears”).  His mother died when young Beethoven was 17, and he assumed the role of guardian of his family, including his father who was dismissed from the court choir.
  • Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792.  He studied counterpoint and composition with Salieri (the legendary nemesis of Mozart) and Haydn.   Beethoven had no respect for Haydn, and Haydn thought Beethoven was too independent.
  • Beethoven won the support of the aristocracy, while at the same time he demonstrated a harsh temperament and a love of the revolutionary ideals of his time (the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789).
  • Beethoven also won the support of the middle class;  his music was played at public concerts and publishers fought to have the rights of his music.

  • Beethoven became increasingly deaf, which became noticeable in 1798, when he was 28 years old.  He was embarrassed by this, and avoided social settings.  His hearing became progressively worse, and he resorted to notebooks and ear trumpets. (Modern hearing aids had not yet been invented.)




  • In a letter called the “Heilegenstadt Testament” (1802), Beethoven expressed his despair over his increasing deafness and his desire to overcome his physical and emotional ailments in order to complete his artistic destiny. Beethoven kept the document hidden among his private papers for the rest of his life, and probably never showed it to anyone. It was discovered after Beethoven’s death.



  • He was known to be very irascible (irritable) and quick-tempered. He stopped performing at the piano if the audience chatted amongst themselves, or afforded him less than their full attention. At soirées, he refused to perform if suddenly called upon to do so. Eventually, after many confrontations, the Archduke Rudolph decreed that the usual rules of court etiquette did not apply to Beethoven.


  • Beethoven was a laborious composer who made copious notes and sketches in sketchbooks.  He had sloppy handwriting and often scribbled out portions of the music.





Musical Style

Beethoven was a pivotal figure, transforming the music of the classical era into a bold new romantic style.
In his time there were new developments with instruments (mirroring the rise of the Industrial Revolution) that allowed instruments to have a greater range of pitch and dynamics than ever before.

Egmont Overture

Beethoven wrote the overture to Goethe’s play Egmont in 1809-1810. In the play, Count Egmont is a Dutch resistance fighter bent on the liberation of his country from Spanish occupation. Egmont dies heroically while making his stand.

Beethoven’s Egmont Overture is an example of programmatic music (music which has no lyrics, but tells a story).   Beethoven does a masterful job of capturing the spirit of the play:

The music opens with ominous chords in the strings, in a slow, stately 6/4 meter, showing the oppression of the Spanish aristocracy:

The music later becomes lively, showing Egmont’s frustration and his heroism.  You can hear this in the violin part:

Towards the end of this section, the French horns enter harshly with a “ff” to condemn Egmont.  Egmont, represented by the gentle violins, reacts meekly with a “piano” dynamic, and is eventually executed:



But Egmont’s spirit lives on with the people of Netherlands. His ideas are triumphant, and the music turns from the somber F minor of the opening, to a rousing F major key, with trumpets and timpani blaring away:

Like many works of Beethoven, the tumultuous and bitter struggle of life is overcome by the joyous and redeeming virtue!  Beethoven was always an optimist in the face of adversity.

(Performance of Egmont Overture with the Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting)

Questions for listening

  • What makes some parts of the music intense like a political revolution or threatening like suppression?
  • What makes some parts of the music sound positive and hopeful like the hero?
  • Even though Egmont dies, why does Beethoven choose a triumphant mood for the end?  What in the music creates the triumphant mood?


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897): German Composer

“It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.”


Young Brahms, and Brahms later in life (distinguished by his wild beard!)

Significant life events

  • Brahms was born in Hamburg, but moved to Vienna as did many great German composers (such as Beethoven).  His main instrument was piano, and he wrote many pieces for it.
  • Brahms represents Conservative-Classical side of Romantic Music, often looking back to the music of Bach and even the Renaissance for inspiration.
  • Brahms created bold new approaches to harmony and timbre (Arnold Schönberg praised his music in an article entitled “Brahms the Progressive”)
  • Brahms waited until he was fifty to write his first symphony;  he had been intimidated by the symphonic legacy of Beethoven, considering himself to be in Beethoven’s shadow.  Quite literally, he wrote in the shadow of a statue of Beethoven, which sat above his shoulder in his office.
  • He was a close personal friend of Robert and Clara Schumann; his music reflects a continuation of Schumann’s style.
  • He may have also had a crush on Clara Schumann.  He remained single all his life, and often used the theme “FAF” for “Frei aber Froh” or “Free but Joyful.”
  • Brahms was opposed to Wagner’s music and philosophies; Brahms’ music was championed by the music critic, Eduard Hanslick, who despised Wagner and held Brahms as the solution to Wagner’s music.

Academic Festival Overture

Most of Brahms’ music tends to be absolute in form–works whose meaning is entirely musical with no reference outside the music itself, works such as  symphonies, concertos, and sonatasAcademic Festival Overture, however, is quite the opposite.  It has a colorful title (derived from university “glee club” tunes), it is humorous, sort of tongue-in-cheek, and very upbeat (not the tendency for all of Brahms’ works).

Brahms wrote his Academic Festival Overture in the summer of 1880 as a musical “thank you” to the University of Breslau, which had awarded Brahms an honorary doctorate degree.  As themes for the piece, Brahms chose well-known college songs, bringing to them his genius in harmony and form. For the piece he uses a large symphony orchestra, which includes percussion instruments, three trumpets, a trombone section, tuba, as well as piccolo and contrabassoon.

Here are some of the wonderful melodic melodies Brahms incorporates:

He has the trumpet section introduce a noble melody, known in German as “Wir hatten gebauet ein stattliches Haus” (“We have built a stately house”):

The bassoons play “Fuchslied”  (“The Fox-Ride” or “Was komm dart van der Hoh”—“What comes from afar?”—the freshmen!) with a rather ironic twist.  Once you hear the bassoons play this melody, you will never be able to hear the melody played by any other instrument with quite the same satisfaction:

“Gaudeamus” (“Let us rejoice”) is the crowning melody played by the entire orchestra at the end of Academic Festival Overture— a rousing end to this jubilant overture:

Text:  Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus

Translation:  Let us therefore rejoice, while we are young.

The song continues: “Long live the university, long live the teachers.  Long live each male student, long live each female student;  may they always flourish.  May our Alma Mater thrive!”

(Performance of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture with l’Orchestra de Paris, Paavo Jarvi conducting)

Questions for listening

  • What individual instruments do you hear (horns, strings, etc.)?
  • What mood or moods do you hear at different places in the music (solemn, playful, cheerful, mysterious, celebratory, grand)?
  • What is your favorite musical mood in this piece?
  • Does your school have a school song?  What do the words say about your school?


Eric EWAZEN (born 1954):

“. . . unabashedly tonal . . . Ewazen sunbathes the ears in triadic sonority . . . Ewazen understands the rhythms and rather different complexities of our own fin du siecle. Despite its unabashed Romanticism, this music could not have been written at any other time . . . there is a sense of style, particularly in the way Ewazen expands on an appealing literary, or in this case, itinerant motive…”

Music Connoisseur, Vol. 2, No. 4

Significant life events

  • Eric Ewazen is a living, American composer, who has a tonal and optimistic style.  His music has been compared to Bernstein and Copland, two of the greatest American composers.  He was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Ewazen studied at the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School.  He has been on faculty at the Juilliard School since 1980.
  • His music has been played all over the world, by some of the most famous musicians and orchestras.





Concerto for Bass Trombone

The Bass Trombone usually plays the lowest notes of a trombone section in the orchestra.  It is distinguished from the other trombones because it has a wider bore, a larger bell, and a larger mouthpiece.  It also has a “trigger”—a valve that the trombonist can press with his thumb that allows for lower notes.  The bass trombone can have a “growl” at times, and certain composers and jazz band arrangers love using the instrument (such as Nelson Riddle in his orchestrations for Frank Sinatra).



NISO’s special guest artist for this concert is Douglas Yeo, undoubtedly one of the world’s finest trombonists. He played in the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 2012, where he held the John Moors Cabot Bass Trombone Chair. He has also been on faculty at the New England Conservatory.






Eric Ewazen’s Concerto for Bass Trombone premiered at the 1997 International Trombone Festival at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois by John Rojak. It contains three movements:  Andante Con Moto (3/4); Andante Espressive (4/4); Allegro Ritmitco (5/8).  This will be a NISO premiere of Ewazen’s Concerto for Bass Trombone.  You can watch a performance of this exciting piece by going to this link:

Questions for listening

  • What instruments do you hear in addition to the bass trombone?
  • What is the musical mood of this music:  solemn, cheerful, grand, mysterious, excited, lively, playful, light-hearted?
  • How would you describe the tone of the bass trombone:  bold, light, reedy, gentle, strong, powerful, buzzy?


Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945):  Hungarian Composer

Significant life events

  • Bartók was a native of Hungary.
  • Bartók was a gifted pianist and taught at the Royal Academy in Budapest.
  • Bartók collected folk songs in small villages throughout Eastern Europe and recorded them, becoming a founder of ethnomusicology, the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts.
  • His familiarity with folk music, which doesn’t follow the rules of Western music, allowed him to develop his own compositional style which became very modal, often employing Hungarian tonal inflections, is sometimes very dissonant, and frequently uses mixed meter.

  • A staunch objector to the Nazi invasion of Hungary, Bartók immigrated to the United States in 1940 where he struggled to find a position as a composer or teacher.

Rumanian Dances

Romania (or Rumania) is an Eastern European country that borders on the south of Hungary’s borders.  It is mostly mountainous, well-known for its Transylvanian region, made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Romania is a country close to its traditions;  its language is not Slavic, but is a romance language (like French, Spanish or Italian).

Rumanian Dances consists of six dances that Bartók transcribed from the recordings that he made on his travels to Romania.  The entire piece lasts only five minutes, but the music stays with you forever!

Here is a performance with the Rajko Orchestra in Budapest, emulating the original folk music style of this work.  The instrument used in the middle of the orchestra that looks like a piano with a man using hammers to play the strings is called a “Cimbalom” (hammered dulcimer) and is common to Eastern European gypsy music.

Questions for listening

  • What is the musical mood of each dance?
  • What is the main instrument or instruments of each dance?
  • In which dances do you hear the cimbalom (hammered dulcimer)?
  • Which is the liveliest dance?
  • What makes the music sound like gypsy music?


Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-90):  American, Conductor, Educator, and Pianist

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

Remarks following the death of President John F. Kennedy, November, 1993.

Significant life events

  • Bernstein was born to a Ukrainian Jewish family.
  • He graduated from Harvard University, where he studied composition with Walther Piston.
  • He studied conducting with Fritz Reiner at Curtis Institute, receiving the only “A” ever recorded by that teacher.
  • After being appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he made his conducting debut on last-minute notification—and without any rehearsal—after Music Director Bruno Walter came down with the flu. The next day, The New York Times editorial remarked, “It’s a good American success story. The warm, friendly triumph of it filled Carnegie Hall and spread far over the air waves.”  He became instantly famous because the concert was nationally broadcast.
  • He became principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1957, the first American conductor to hold that post, and the youngest.  He was an advocate of music education, and his Young People’s Concerts were televised nationally, helping to introduce a whole new generation to classical music.
  • He had a long-time association with Israel, conducting the Tel-Aviv Symphony Orchestra in 1948.
  • He conducted the Vienna Symphony Orchestra for the first time in 1966, and helped to revive interest in the music of Mahler.
  • On Christmas Day 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in Berlin as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, reaching a world-audience 100 million people.
  • He married a Chilean actress, Felicia Cohn Montealegre;  they had three children.
  • Bernstein died of complications from emphysema (he was a heavy chain smoker).

As a composer, Bernstein had a double career, writing music for the public with very popular musicals and writing more esoteric music for the concert hall.  He had much better success with his musicals, which blended elements of jazz and romantic ballads.  In the tradition of musicals, dance played a prominent role.

West Side Story (1957), a musical made a film in 1961

An updated retelling of the Romeo and Juliet Story, it features two gangs in New York City:  the Sharks (a Puerto Rican gang) and the Jets (a hometown group of hoodlums).  Tony (an updated Romeo) falls in love with Maria (i.e. Juliet), with a tragic ending.

Contains many famous numbers:  “Cool,” “Maria,” “America,” “Tonight,” and “One Hand, One Heart”

Bernstein told Rolling Stone:

“Everyone told us that [West Side Story] was an impossible project … And we were told no one was going to be able to sing augmented fourths, as with “Ma-ri-a” … Also, they said the score was too rangy for pop music … Besides, who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage?… And then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the characters had to be able not only to sing, but dance and act and be taken for teenagers. Ultimately, some of the cast were teenagers, some were 21, some were 30 but looked 16. Some were wonderful singers but couldn’t dance very well, or vice versa … and if they could do both, they couldn’t act.”

Wenner, Jann S.; Levy, Joe (2007). “Leonard Bernstein”. The Rolling Stone Interviews. New York: Back Bay Books.

Throughout the rehearsal period, the New York newspapers were filled with articles about gang warfare, keeping the show’s plot timely. The choreographer, Jerome Robbins, kept the cast members playing the Sharks and the Jets separate in order to discourage them from socializing with each other and reminded everyone of the reality of gang violence by posting news stories on the bulletin board backstage.  Robbins wanted a gritty realism from his sneaker-and jeans-clad cast. He gave the ensemble more freedom than Broadway dancers had previously been given to interpret their roles, and the dancers were thrilled to be treated like actors instead of just choreographed bodies.  As the rehearsals wore on, Bernstein fought to keep his score together, as other members of the team called on him to cut out more and more of the sweeping or complex “operatic” passages. Columbia Records initially declined to record the work, saying the score was too depressing and too difficult.

Jerome Robbins (1918-98): Choreographer and collaborator with Bernstein on West Side Story.

Selections from West Side Story

“Cool”:  Jets and the Sharks get ready for a rumble.  The music has a very strong element of jazz, particularly the experimental jazz of the early 1960s.

Questions for listening

  • Can you snap your fingers with this song?
  • In what ways does this music sound like jazz?  “America”:  the Puerto Rican community sings about the pros and cons of living in America.  Notice the strong elements of Latin American music.

Questions for listening

  • Tap or clap the very fast rhythm:

123 123 12 12 12

123 123 12 12 12


“Maria”:  Tony meets Maria for the first time.  The music is operatic and lyrical, and the melody stays with you.

“Tonight”:  Tony and Maria fall in love.  Again, the music is operatic and lyrical with a tinge of samba accompaniment.  You can feel the anticipation of their love in the fluctuating tempi of the music.

“One Hand, One Heart”:  Tony and Maris pledge their love and their lives in a pretend wedding.

But they are not meant to be together. Though they dream that somewhere there will be a place for them, they become victims of the gang violence in the West Side of New York,


Alexander BORODIN (1833-87):  Russian Composer and Chemist

“In winter I can only compose when I am too unwell to give my lectures. So my friends, reversing the usual custom, never say to me, ‘I hope you are well’ but ‘I do hope you are ill.’ At Christmas I had influenza, so I stayed at home and wrote the Thanksgiving Chorus in the last act of Igor.”


Borodin is portrayed in this matryoshka set (Russian nesting dolls).  Can you spot him?

Significant life events

  • Born in St. Petersburg, Borodin had a confusing childhood:  his father was an aristocrat, but did not publicly acknowledge his son.  Borodin always referred to his mother as his “aunt.”
  • Borodin pursued a career in chemistry. On graduation he spent a year as a surgeon in a military hospital, followed by three years of advanced scientific study in Western Europe.
  • Borodin was foremost recognized as a chemist, being particularly noted for his research on aldehydes.  He taught chemistry at the Imperial Medical-Surgical Academy and spent the remainder of his scientific career in research, lecturing and overseeing the education of others. Eventually, he established medical courses for women (1872).
  • Borodin was an “amateur” composer. He wrote in his leisure on weekends and long holidays.  Nevertheless, his musical output is extremely well-crafted and he wrote many memorable melodies.
  • Borodin became a member of the Russian Five (sometimes known as the “Mighty Handful,” which included Balakirev, Cuí, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and, of course, Borodin).  This group of Russian composers sought to encourage original Russian compositions that espoused Russian folkmusic and nationalism (music that uses ideas or motifs that are identified with a specific country, region, or ethnicity).
  • Borodin also incorporates a fascination with “exoticism” in his music and operatic subjects.

Because of Russia’s unique geographic location, and vast expanse encompassing Europe and Asia, Borodin was in contact with Asian culture, and adopted elements of “exoticism” in his music.


Polovetsian Dances from the Opera, “Prince Igor”: (Knyaz Igor) – Performed with the Dordt College Choirs

Borodin never completed this opera;  his friends, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, finished much of it.  This is a historical opera, and can be confusing to non-Russians.

The Polovetsian Dances, which have become the most popular part of the opera throughout the world, take place in the second act.  By the end of the second act the Polovtsian Khan Konchakhas has taken Prince Igor as a prisoner. The Khan is intrigued by his depressed captive, and calls a group of slaves to cheer up Prince Igor. The servants’ songs begin as sentimental recollections of their homeland, but gradually gain vigor and become shouts in praise of the slaves of the royal master.

Incidentally, the Polovtsi are a Tartar tribe (not a country or state) driven out to live on the plains by Igor’s father, Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev.  This rousing music was used in the musical, Kismet.  Here are some of the themes you will hear from Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances:

You will hear the flute and oboe play this lyrical music at the beginning.

One of the most beautiful themes in the whole work, the violins play this impassioned melody.

The following wild melody is first played by the clarinet, and followed by the entire orchestra.

Polovetsian Dances is choral as well as orchestra.  In the most famous tune in the entire opera, the choir sings this in praise of the Khan:

Prisoners of the Khan, praise the Khan!
Sing songs of praise to the Khan, Sing!
Praise his generosity, praise his kindness, Praise!
For his enemies he is terrible, our Khan!
Who can be equal in glory to the Khan? Who?
With a blaze of glory equal to the sun is he.

(Performance of Polovetsian Dances with the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet)

Questions for listening

  • What instruments take turns playing “the most beautiful theme” above?Ask your parents or grandparents if they remember this melody as a song called “Stranger in Paradise.”
  • What instruments take turns playing “the wild theme.”
  • How would you label the 4th melody?
  • One of these themes begin with the interval of a perfect 5th;  which one?


THANK you so much for listening and studying these great “B-List” composers!  Enjoy NISO’s Concert for Children!  We can’t wait to see all of you there!