Concert Programs

USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra concert program

April 12, 2024
7:30 p.m.

Carl St.Clair leads the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra in an evening performance.
The program features Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, Narong Prangcharoen’s Absence of Time (Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Orchestra) and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67.
Established in 1988, the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra performs works from the eighteenth and twentieth centuries that were written for a smaller, more intimate ensemble.


The Unanswered Question

Charles Ives

Absence of Time (Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Orchestra)
David Ramirez, flute
Sonia Matheus, oboe
Yan Liu, clarinet
Benjamin Richard, bassoon

Narong Prangcharoen
(b. 1973)

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67
I. “Allegro con brio”
II. “Andante con moto”
III. “Scherzo. Allegro”
IV. “Allegro”

Ludwig van Beethoven

Program Notes

The Unanswered Question
Charles Ives
The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives (1874-1954) is structured as a three-part orchestral work, composed between 1908 and 1909. Originally part of a set titled Two Contemplations in 1908, it was revised by Ives between 1930 and 1935. Gilbert Chase’s work America’s Music, describes Charles Ives as afflicted with “innate originality within a culture of conformity.” Influenced by his father’s unconventional musical methods as well as inspired by transcendentalist figures like Emerson and Thoreau, Ives combined American folk melodies and hymns from his upbringing with his vision. Employing avant-garde techniques such as bitonality and polyrhythms well ahead of their widespread adoption in 20th-century composition, he forged his own unique artistic expression. Musicologist Wayne Shirley has proposed that the composition was influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “The Sphinx,” which contains the title of Ives’ work. Ives admired Emerson, considering him to have achieved an “almost perfect freedom of action, of thought, and of soul, in any direction and to any height.”
“Thou art the unanswered question;
Couldst see thy proper eye,
Alway it asketh, asketh;
And each answer is a lie.
So take thy quest through nature,
It through thousand natures ply;
Ask on, thou clothed eternity;
Time is the false reply.”
-from “The Sphynx,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
This composition features slow, quiet strings symbolizing “The Silence of the Druids,” against which a solo trumpet poses “The Perennial Question of Existence.” A woodwind quartet representing “Fighting Answerers” attempts futilely to provide a response, becoming increasingly harmonically frustrated and dissonant until they cease their efforts. The three groups of instruments perform at independent tempos. Ives’ adept manipulation of dissonance and harmony serves to emphasize existential themes, where unresolved tensions and conflicting harmonies highlight philosophical inquiries.
-Sarah Beth Overcash (MM ’24)
Absence of Time (Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Orchestra)
Narong Prangcharoen
Time is one of the main factors impacting the world and our lives. Einstein saw time as the relationship of the motion of one object relative to the position of another object, as measured through observation. But can we really measure time objectively? Music, the art which moves through time, can affect our perception of time, and can affect each person’s perception of time differently. Depending on the emotion it stimulates, music can make time seem to pass quickly or slowly. A composer can use music to convey time to an audience and different musical ideas can create different sensations of time. Absence of Time is a concerto for woodwind quartet and orchestra. It has three main sections (fast, slow, fast), recalling traditional concerto form, but it does not use the solo instruments in the traditional way, i.e. as soloists in contest with the orchestra. Inspired by the idea of juxtaposing different experiences of time, I divided the instruments into two groups: the four soloists and the orchestra. The orchestra functions mostly as the keeper of time (real time) while the quartet of soloists fluctuates (in imaginary time or in the absence of time) around the orchestra’s time. While the quartet’s instruments do play solos, they also play in ensemble with the orchestra. You could say that they play in both imaginary time (as soloists) and in real time (with the orchestra). In addition to this, the woodwind section of the orchestra plays in conversation with the solo quartet, calling it back to real time. Fusion is achieved at the end of the piece through the use of strong, driving rhythm. Absence of Time was commissioned by the Pacific Symphony and was first performed by the Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Symphony Woodwind Quartet with Carl St. Clair as conductor on October 20, 2016.
-Narong Prangcharoen
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op.67
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) left an indelible mark on Western classical music through bold musical experimentation and structural development. His Fifth Symphony premiered on December 22, 1808 at a concert that marked his last public appearance as a soloist. During this period of Beethoven’s life, he was losing his ability to hear. Alongside several other notable works, including his Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto, and Choral Fantasy, this pivotal composition stands as a testament to Beethoven’s innovative spirit and enduring legacy.
The symphony’s structure is comprised of four movements, each with distinct characteristics and forms. Marked “Allegro con brio,” the opening movement adheres to the traditional sonata form inherited from his Classical predecessors, including Haydn and Mozart. It is driven by a striking four-note motif that opens the movement, meant to symbolize fate’s relentless pursuit. Beethoven weaves this motif throughout the symphony and showcases its transformative power through imitations and sequences. A brief fortissimo bridge by the horns leads to the introduction of a second theme in E-flat major, characterized by a more lyrical quality and featuring the four-note motif in the string accompaniment. The codetta that follows is also based on this motif. During the recapitulation, there’s a brief solo passage for the oboe in a quasi-improvisatory style, and the movement concludes with a substantial coda.
Moving into the second movement, “Andante con moto,” Beethoven presents variations on two themes, including a tender melody for violas and cellos juxtaposed with a bold, militaristic march. This movement offers a respite from the intensity of the first, and displays Beethoven’s ability to evoke diverse emotional landscapes within a symphonic context.
The third movement, “Scherzo. Allegro,” reintroduces the four-note rhythmic motif featured in the first movement before leading to a playful and spirited interlude. Unlike earlier symphonies which typically featured a minuet and trio, Beethoven chose a newer scherzo form: his use of a fugue adds a whimsical element, demonstrating his penchant for experimentation within the classical tradition.
The finale, “Allegro,” brings the symphony to a triumphant conclusion in the key of C major. Beethoven employs a Sonata-allegro structure, punctuated by the introduction of new instruments—piccolo, trombones, and contrabassoon—and signifying a grand expansion of the orchestral scope. This movement serves as a culmination of thematic threads woven throughout the symphony and finishes with a victorious coda.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony holds profound significance both structurally and thematically. The recurring “fate motif” symbolizes Beethoven’s personal struggles, including his battle with deafness, imbuing the symphony with a profound sense of perseverance and triumph over adversity. A fascinating fact about the symphony lies in its instrumentation, particularly the inclusion of piccolo, trombones, and contrabassoon in the final movement. Beethoven’s innovative use of these instruments imbues the finale with a martial quality, reflecting the composer’s contemporary socio-political context and his aspiration for artistic and personal triumph. This symphony’s thematic depth, structural complexity, and historically unique instrumentation continue to captivate audiences, reaffirming its status as one of the most monumental works in classical music history.
-Sarah Beth Overcash (MM ’24)


Violin I
Bradely Adam Bascon, concertmaster
Anna Renton
Veronika Manchur
Laura Gamboa
Kaiyuan Wu
Yu Gong
Sarah Yoo
Abigail Park
Sara Yamada
Violin II
Haesol Lee, principal
Soomi Park
Sarah Beth Overcash
Eric Cheng
Marena Miki
Diana Dawydchak
Emily Hsu
Yu-Chen Yang, principal
Gloria Choi
Nicolas Valencia
Cecile McNeill
Katherine Brown
Jay Maldonado
Paulina Flores
Yuqi Wang, principal
Maddie Bolin
Ji Sun Jung
Olivia Marckx
Jonathan Lin
Joseph Kim
Eric Windmeier, principal
Xinyun Tu
Sarah Wager
Jared Prokop
Avery Weeks

^ denotes principal on Ives
* denotes principal on Prangcharoen
+ denotes principal on Beethoven
Antonina Styczen-Leszczynska^*
Jenny An+
Celine Chen
Gaby Beltran
Celine Chen
Gaby Beltran
Sara Petty+
Neil Cole*
Monica Song
Insoo Oh+
Anders Peterson*
John Gonzalez*
Taki Salameh+
Cal Lieungh
Steven Phan*
Jean Smith
Lauren Goff+
Abraham Murillo
Lauren Spring*
Tali Duckworth^
Amy Millesen+
Ryan Fuhrman
Stephen Hannan+
Terry Cowley*
Bass Trombone
Kevin Truong
Nehva Kudva
Brandon Lim