It’s summer, and what better way to celebrate the season than with classical music? WABE music contributor Dr. Scott Stewart, host of Strike Up The Band and conductor of the Atlanta Youth Symphony, created a summer music playlist for all to enjoy.
“I love that composers in all genres—classical, jazz, pop, and more—are usually in tune with the seasons, and there are so many takes on summer out there,” said Stewart.
The playlist features a polyphonic medieval rota (round), 17th-century English country dances, and more music spanning all the way to the present day—most of them composed in joyful celebration of the season.
But there are other perspectives represented, too. Stewart said, “When you scan music about the season of vacations, you might expect to find a lot of upbeat, celebratory music; it’s warm, it’s sunny, the school’s out, and everyone’s headed to the beach. But there is certainly a lot of inward-looking about summer as well. These are pieces that reflect the beauty of nature, the vitality of being near or on the water, relaxing at night after a fun vacation day, and even contending with the hot, muggy weather.”
Italian baroque master Antonio Vivaldi’s “Summer” concerto from the “Four Seasons” is included. It’s a piece reflecting Italy’s intense heat, humidity and thunderstorms, as well as its flora and fauna. In the recording chosen, violinist Nicola Benedetti’s part suggests the characteristic birds local to the Italian countryside—cuckoos, turtledoves and goldfinches, specifically. Another selection explores a more magical interpretation of the season—Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” overture, which he wrote to accompany performances of Shakespeare’s fantastical comic play of the same name.
The romantic side of summer must be represented, and such Romantic era composers as the Russian Mikhail Glinka, the French Maurice Ravel and the British Frederick Delius do the trick nicely. Their pieces paint pictures of sultry moonlit evenings and lapping water waves, offering a moodier chapter to our journey.
The playlist gives a nod to contemporary classical imaginings of summer as well, including Atlanta’s own Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon and her piece “Summer’s Eve,” performed by the Prism Quartet.
“Higdon imagines this idyllic summer evening, where maybe you’re out on your porch swing, you’re on a rocking chair, you’re surrounded by crickets and kids playing outside in your neighborhood,” said Stewart. “She achieves this idea of a relaxing summer night with these really expansive melodic lines that I would say have a pretty far reach, and also with this continually restless and churning rhythmic idea … It’s really lovely summer porch music.”
Another contemporary composer featured is Gao Hong, with the selection “Summer Cicadas,” giving the impression of a swarm of cicadas with the pipa—a traditional Chinese pear-shaped lute.
“Whatever your take is on the season of sun and quiet nights, I hope some of this music will be a good companion,” said Stewart.
||Ad Hoc Wind Orchestra, Jean-Pierre Haeck
||Sumer is icumin in
||Steve Hendricks (mandolin and guitar)
||Upon a Summer’s Day
||Broadside Band, Jeremy Barlow
||The Four Seasons
||Scottish Chamber Orchestra
||Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
||Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell
||Souvenirs of a Summer Night in Madrid
||Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Keith Clark
||Miroirs: Une barche sur l’ocean
||Summer Night on the RIver
||Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner
||Guangxi Impression: II. Summer Cicada
||Minneapolis Guitar Quartet
||“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess
||Kathleen Battle | Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Andre Previn
||London Symphony Orchestra, Joe Hisaishi