Brilliance of Beethoven - March 10
Written by Ken Meltzer
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G Major, Opus 58 (1806)
Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna, Austria, on March 26, 1827. The first public performance took place in Vienna at the Theater-an-der-Wien on December 22, 1808, with the composer as soloist.
Approximate performance time is thirty-four minutes.
Beethoven completed the score of his G-Major Concerto in 1806, and first performed the work during a March 1807 private concert at the palace of his patron, Prince Joseph Lobkowitz. The first public performance of the Fourth Piano Concerto took place at the Vienna Theater-an-der-Wien on December 22, 1808. In addition to the Fourth Piano Concerto, the concert, sponsored by Beethoven, included the world premieres of the composer’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and Choral Fantasy, as well as four movements from his Mass in C and the soprano aria, Ah! Perfido.
Still, the benefit concert (known as an Akademie) was far from a resounding success. The meager rehearsal time was insufficient for a program of such length and difficulty (see, Choral Fantasy, below). Further, the audience endured this taxing winter program in an unheated theater.
Perhaps the Fourth Piano Concerto fared as well as any piece on the December 22, 1808 program. Beethoven was the soloist, and, according to German musician Johann Reichardt: “He played...with astounding cleverness and in the fastest possible tempi. The (second movement), a masterly movement of beautifully developed song, he sang on this instrument with a profound melancholy that moved me.”
The Fourth Piano Concerto proved to be the last such work Beethoven composed for his own performance. Increasing deafness finally made public appearances all but impossible for one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his time.
Beethoven completed his magnificent Fifth Piano Concerto (“Emperor”) in 1809. The “Emperor,” Beethoven’s final Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, is certainly a fitting culmination of the composer’s efforts in this genre. Still, there are many advocates for the G-Major Concerto as the composer’s finest. It is a miraculous blend of haunting lyricism, expressive virtuosity, and formal innovation. As British musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey observed: “Beethoven has now well and truly laid the foundations of his concerto form and is free to raise the edifice to heights undreamt of in earlier music.”
The Beethoven Concerto No. 4 is in three movements. The first (Allegro moderato) is by far the longest. Instead of the traditional purely orchestral introduction, the soloist immediately intones the first principal theme. The brief second movement (Andante con moto) is in the form of a dialogue between the strings and piano. Franz Liszt compared this episode to “Orpheus taming the wild beasts with his music.” The finale (Rondo. Vivace) ensues without pause. Beethoven presents a remarkable variety of moods and instrumental colors throughout. After a cadenza and series of trills, there is a moment of repose before the soloist and orchestra dash headlong to a Presto finish.
Chichester Psalms (1965)
Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1918, and died in New York on October 14, 1990. The first performance of Chichester Psalms took place at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) in New York on July 15, 1965, with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic, the Camerata Singers, and John Bogart, alto.
Approximate performance time is nineteen minutes.
During the 1964-5 season, Leonard Bernstein took a sabbatical from his duties as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, a post he assumed in 1958. Bernstein hoped that the sabbatical would afford him a greater opportunity to devote his energies to composition. Bernstein’s major venture was a collaboration with Betty Comden and Adolph Green—a musical based upon Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. However, by January of 1965, it was clear that the project would not come to fruition. During the sabbatical period, Bernstein also experimented with “12-tone music and even more experimental stuff. I was happy that all these new sounds were coming out; but after about six months of work I threw it all away. It just wasn’t my music. It wasn’t honest. The end result was the CHICHESTER PSALMS...”
In 1964, Bernstein received a commission from Dr. Walter Hussey, Dean of the Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England, to compose a new work for its summer music festival. Bernstein originally intended to call the work Psalms of Youth, but finally decided upon Chichester Psalms, because the piece “is far too difficult.” Bernstein composed his Chichester Psalms in Manhattan during the spring of 1965, completing the work on May 7. The Cathedral graciously allowed Bernstein to conduct the premiere not at Chichester, but at a July 15 New York Philharmonic concert. That performance featured a mixed choir (male and female voices). On July 31, the first performance of the composer’s preferred original version—with a male choir—took place in Chichester.
In describing the structure of the Chichester Psalms, the composer observed, “The work is in three movements, lasting about eighteen and a half minutes, and each movement contains one complete psalm plus one or more verses from another complementary psalm by way of contrast or amplification.”
Bernstein characterized his Chichester Psalms as “the most accessible, B-flat-majorish tonal piece I’ve ever written. If one is trying to find optimism versus pessimism in my music, the closest musical equivalent is tonality versus non-tonality.” And in a poem written at the conclusion of Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic sabbatical, he offered an affectionate tribute to his new work:
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square,
Certain to sicken a stout John Cager
With its tonics and triads and E-flat major.
But there it stands—the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering—
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet,
And he stands on his own two tonal feet.
Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C Minor (Choral Fantasy), Opus 80 (1808)
Ludwig Van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna, Austria, on March 26, 1827. The first performance of the Choral Fantasy took place in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808, with the composer as conductor and piano soloist.
Approximate performance time is eighteen minutes.
The world premiere of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy took place as part of the same December 22, 1808 concert that featured the world premiere of the composer’s Fourth Piano Concerto (see, above), as well as several other masterworks. It appears the quality of the December 22, 1808 performance did not match the lofty inspiration of featured works. Beethoven, never the most technically adept of conductors, was unable to secure sufficient rehearsal time to assure competent performances of the new and difficult music. By all accounts, orchestral execution during the concert was precarious at best.
The worst mishap may have occurred during the premiere of the Choral Fantasy. Beethoven composed the work at lightning speed, commencing just a few weeks before the concert, and finishing barely in time for rehearsal. During the performance, the orchestra was forced to stop in the middle of the work, and begin a section over again. Beethoven later apologized to the orchestra, and made a point of publicly assuming the blame for the mishap.
Perhaps the Choral Fantasy was ill-fated from the start. It would in time be eclipsed by a related work, but as Beethoven himself noted, one composed “on a far larger scale”, the epic Ninth Symphony (1824). The similarities between the Choral Fantasy and the finale of the Ninth are readily apparent. Both are structured as a series of variations on a theme. In each work, the variations are first presented by the orchestra, then by the chorus. The Ode To Joy is a clear descendent of the principal theme of the Choral Fantasy (actually first used in Beethoven’s 1794/5 song Gegenliebe (Mutual Love), WoO 118). The Christian Kuffner text Beethoven set to music in the Choral Fantasy, while not as lofty as Schiller’s Ode To Joy, radiates a similar optimism about the human condition.
The Choral Fantasy is frequently presented on the same program as the Ninth Symphony. It’s a natural pairing, given the works’ creator, musical similarities, and the ready presence of a chorus. On rare occasions, as at this concert, the Choral Fantasy is allowed to stand on its own without the daunting presence of the Ninth. Perhaps it is under such circumstances that the Choral Fantasy can best be appreciated for what it is—an engaging, vibrant, and moving work.
The Choral Fantasy opens with an extended improvisatory passage for solo piano (Adagio). There is a brief dialogue between the orchestra and soloist (Finale. Allegro). After some orchestral fanfares, the soloist introduces the principal theme (Meno allegro). The flute begins the first of several variations on the theme involving the soloist and orchestra. A brief transitional passage with cadenza-like flourishes for the soloist serves as a bridge to the entrance of vocal soloists and then the chorus for the triumphant final series of variations (Allegretto, ma non troppo, [quasi Andante con moto.]).
An amazing live session, including stories and performances, with GRAMMY winning guitarist Sharon Isbin on WQLN, hosted by Brian Hannah. Don't miss her concert with the Erie Philharmonic on January 27 at the Warner Theatre.
Written by Music Director Daniel Meyer
Cartoons! So fun, so frivolous, so madcap and wacky. I loved watching them as a kid. The scenarios were entirely improbable – better yet impossible, and always crazy. The energy from these animated shorts buzzed off the television screen, through my eyes, and into my brain. Yet now as an adult, I am baffled by the hours of intense, creative, and detailed work that must have gone into making each of these mini-operas. I assumed that when it came to music, the creators simply tacked their visuals on top of an existing snippet of classical music. Only now do I realize that although many of the classic LOONEY TUNES did indeed make use of orchestral and operatic scores, these shorts are carefully-crafted into arrangements, designed to perfectly support the action on the screen. Traditional instruments may have even been swapped for unlikely substitutes, like a xylophone and tuba added to Beethoven’s Fifth(!) in a brilliant Pink Panther cartoon my son now loves to watch.
Suffice it to say, these cartoons (as enjoyable as they were to watch as a kid) are even more fascinating to me now for the intensity of craft that went into shaping each crash, each disaster, and each knockout. Conductor George Daugherty has helped to bring these mini-masterpieces back to life, assembling and re-coding each orchestral moment as it was originally intended to fit with the action. You will have the chance to watch these moments leap up onto a big screen, positioned above our Warner Theatre stage, while the musicians of the Erie Philharmonic perform the musical scores live. In perfect synchronization with the original films, the Philharmonic will play the brilliantly-crafted arrangements with passion and expertise that only a live orchestra can provide. I do hope you will join us on what should prove to be a brilliant concert experience designed for children of all ages to love.
That’s all folks!
Music Director, Erie Philharmonic
Written by Music Director Daniel Meyer
Classical music is serious business! Well, it can be, and while I am currently diving in to Mahler’s Third Symphony, it strikes me how different this work is from the other ‘big’ work I will be conducting this month. From a philosophical point of view, Mahler is trying to come to grips with the great themes of existence in a musical format. Steeped in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, he wrestles with how to project the forces of nature and the elements into an all-embracing statement that poses unanswerable questions of how we fit in the cosmos. Heady for sure, but this seems to be how Mahler was able to create such epic musical edifices, making use of such dramatic contrasts and brash juxtapositions.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, on the other hand, is just plain fun. Also a work of dramatic contrasts and brash juxtapositions, it reveals a deft hand in depicting the waves of the sea, the pageantry of ancient Arabia, and the colors and perfumes of the night. The piece is a large, bold musical statement of vivid storytelling. The solo violin role, depicting Scheherazade herself, is stunning in its sinuousness and flexibility. It is one of those pieces that you likely had some contact with when you were very young, whether portions of it were played in a Young Person’s Concert at the symphony or on a ‘Best-Of-Classical’ compilation album (sandwiched between the Bee-Gees and Rolling Stones in your parents’ record collection.)
For me, Scheherazade represents a work that takes very little preparation to understand and fully enjoy upon first hearing. The sweep of the music is irresistible. Combined with Rimsky-Korsakov’s creativity for rich-hued sound pictures, the piece is a pure joy to hear. To conduct, it’s also a thrill. The sonic power, the rapidly dashing figures, the long, curvaceous melodies all conspire to make it a guilty pleasure, and it's certainly 'easy on the baton.'
I’ve combined the piece with two other evocative, colorful works in Britten’s Four Sea Interludes (with obvious maritime connections to the Rimsky-Korsakov) and Rodrigo’s unabashedly Spanish-flavored concerto for guitar and orchestra. With world-renown soloist Sharon Isbin joining us onstage, January’s symphonic concert is the perfect antidote to any wintery blues you may have, and a study in how imaginative composers can bring sonic ‘images’ to life with striking effect.
Music Director, Erie Philharmonic
Scheherazade - January 27
Written by Ken Meltzer
Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Opus 33a (1945)
Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, England, on November 22, 1913, and died in Aldeburgh, England, on December 4, 1976. The first performance of the opera, Peter Grimes, took place at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England, on June 7, 1945, Reginald Goodall, conducting.
Approximate performance time is sixteen minutes.
In 1942, Benjamin Britten attended a performance of his Sinfonia da Requiem by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At Koussevitsky’s suggestion, and with the support of the Koussevitsky Music Foundation, Britten began work on a full-scale opera.
While in Hollywood, Britten read an article about the life and poetry of George Crabbe. Britten was immediately drawn to Crabbe’s 1810 poem The Borough, with its vivid descriptions of life in the seaside town of Aldeburgh. One of the characters in The Borough is the fisherman Peter Grimes. In Crabbe’s poem, Grimes is in many ways a malignant character, with a mind “untouched by pity, unstung by remorse, and uncorrected by shame.”
Britten and his librettist Montagu Slater modified Peter Grimes’s character into a greatly disturbed, but in many ways misunderstood outsider. Crabbe’s Grimes flaunts society’s conventions at every turn. But in Britten’s opera, the title character’s conflicting desires for independence and acceptance by society lead to his ruin.
The story of Grimes’s downfall is told against the backdrop of the ever-present and omnipotent sea. As Britten explained:
For most of my life, I have lived closely in touch with the sea. My parents’ house in Lowestoft directly faced the sea, and my life as a child was colored by the fierce storms that sometimes drove ships on our coast and ate away whole stretches of neighboring cliffs. In writing Peter Grimes, I wanted to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends upon the sea—difficult though it is to treat such a universal subject in theatrical form.
Indeed, while the sea is the basis of Grimes’s livelihood, it ultimately proves to be the instrument of his death.
In Peter Grimes, Britten created one of opera’s most haunting and unforgettable characters. The orchestra too plays a crucial dramatic role, perhaps most notably in the Interludes that bridge scenes of various Acts, and vividly depict the mysterious, powerful, and ever-changing sea. The Sea Interludes have also established a regular presence in the concert hall.
The Four Sea Interludes are played without pause.
I. Dawn. Lento e tranquillo
II. Sunday Morning. Allegro spiritoso
III. Moonlight. Andante comodo e rubato
IV. Storm. Presto con fuoco
Fantasia para un gentilhombre (1954)
Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Spain, on November 22, 1901, and died in Madrid, Spain, on July 6, 1999. The first performance of the Fantasia para un gentilhombre took place at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, California, on March 5, 1958, with Andres Segovia, soloist, and the San Francisco Symphony, Enrique Jordá conducting.
Approximate performance time is twenty-two minutes.
Joaquín Rodrigo composed his work for solo guitar and orchestra, Fantasia para un gentilhombre (Fantasia for a Gentleman) at the request of the legendary Spanish guitarist, Andrés Segovia (1893-1987). Segovia was the soloist in the Fantasia’s world premiere, which took place in San Francisco on March 5, 1958. Enrique Jordá conducted the San Francisco Symphony.
The “Gentleman” reference in the work’s title is two-fold. The first gentleman is the Spanish Baroque guitarist, Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710), whose music provides the thematic basis for the Fantasia. The composer also dubs Segovia “the ‘gentilhombre’ of the Spanish guitar, a noblemen in his own right among Spanish guitarists and musicians.” Segovia dedicated the Fantasia both to Sanz and Segovia.
The quoted descriptions below of the various movements are by the composer.
I. Villano y Ricercare—“The Villano which opens the work is developed monothematically within a melodic framework appropriate to the period. Following this…is a Ricercare in which I have worked out the fugue which Gaspar Sanz had only sketched.”
II. Españoleta y Fanfare de la Cabellería de Nápoles—“La Españoleta is interrupted by a curious episode which serves as a trio, or middle part…(Bugle Calls of the Naples Cavalry) obviously makes reference to the time when that kingdom was in close contact with Spain (Because of this contact, the Siciliana of Italy and the Españoletta are first cousins.)”
III. Danza de las hachas—“The Danza de las hachas (Hatchet Dance), with its great rhythmic animation, is like a duel between the guitar and orchestra.”
IV. Canario—“The work ends with a Canario, a popular folk dance full of tense gayety.”
Sharon Isbin, guitar soloist
Acclaimed for her extraordinary lyricism, technique and versatility, multiple GRAMMY Award winner Sharon Isbin has been hailed as “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time”. She is the winner of Guitar Player magazine’s “Best Classical Guitarist” award, and the Toronto and Madrid Queen Sofia competitions, and was the first guitarist ever to win the Munich Competition. She has appeared as soloist with over 170 orchestras and has given sold-out performances in the world’s finest halls, including New York’s Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, London’s Barbican and Wigmore Halls, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Paris’ Châtelet, Vienna’s Musikverein, Munich’s Herkulessaal, Madrid’s Teatro Real and many others. She has served as Artistic Director/Soloist of festivals she created for Carnegie Hall, the Ordway Music Theatre (St. Paul), New York’s 92nd Street Y, and the acclaimed national radio series Guitarjam. A frequent guest on NPR’s All Things Considered and Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, she has been profiled on television throughout the world, including CBS Sunday Morning and A&E. She was a featured guest on Showtime Television’s hit series The L Word, and a soloist on the GRAMMY nominated soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed. On September 11, 2002, Ms. Isbin performed at Ground Zero for the internationally televised memorial. Among other career highlights, she performed in concert at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama in November 2009, and was the only classical artist to perform in the 2010 GRAMMY Awards. She has been profiled in periodicals from People to Elle, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as appearing on the covers of over 45 magazines. Her 2015 national television performances on PBS include the Billy Joel Gershwin Prize, Tavis Smiley, and American Public Television’s presentation of the acclaimed one-hour documentary on her life and work produced by Susan Dangel titled Sharon Isbin: Troubadour, seen by millions on nearly 200 PBS stations across the US, and the winner of the 2015 ASCAP Television Broadcast Award. The film was released with bonus performances on DVD/Blu-ray by Video Artists International. Watch the trailer at:www.sharonisbintroubadour.com
Scheherazade, Opus 35 (1888)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was born in Tikhvin, Russia, on March 18, 1844, and died in Lyubensk, Russia, on June 21, 1908. The first performance of Scheherazade took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on November 3, 1888, with the composer conducting.
Approximate performance time is forty-two minutes.
The fantastic collection of tales known as The Arabian Nights, or A Thousand and One Nights, has captivated readers for centuries. The ancient stories, mostly of Arabic, Indian, or Persian origin, were first presented to European readers in an early 18th-century French translation by Antoine Galland. In the late 19th century, British explorer Sir Francis Richard Burton created a popular English-language version. To this day, the tales of Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba continue to weave their magical spell.
Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov created his Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite after “A Thousand and One Nights,” in the summer of 1888. During that same period, Rimsky-Korsakov also completed his brilliant Russian Easter Overture, Opus 36. The composer proudly acknowledged: “my orchestration had achieved a considerable degree of virtuosity and bright sonority.” The composer led the first performance of Scheherazade in St. Petersburg on November 3, 1888.
Several musical themes recur throughout the work’s four movements. However, Rimsky-Korsakov emphatically cautioned:
In vain do people seek in my suite leading motives linked unbrokenly with ever the same poetic ideas and conceptions. On the contrary, in the majority of cases, all these seeming leitmotives are nothing but purely musical material or the given motives for symphonic development. These given motives thread and spread over all the movements of the suite, alternating and intertwining each with the other. Appearing as they do each time under different illumination, depicting each time different traits and expressing different moods, the self-same motives and themes correspond each time to different images, actions and pictures.
Nevertheless, the composer did acknowledge that the famous recurring violin solo, which makes its initial appearance at the beginning of the first movement, is symbolic of the heroine Scheherazade, “telling her wondrous tales to the stern sultan.”
As a preface to his score, Rimsky-Korsakov provided the following program for Scheherazade:
The Sultan Schahriar, convinced of the perfidy and faithlessness of women, vowed to execute each of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saved her own life by interesting him in the tales she told him through 1001 nights. Impelled by curiosity, the Sultan continually put off her execution, and at last entirely abandoned his sanguinary resolve. Many marvels did Scheherazade relate to him, citing the verses of poets and the words of songs, weaving tale into tale and story into story.
Throughout the work, a solo violin represents Scheherazade bewitching the Sultan with her intoxicating tales. The work is in four movements, each with a descriptive title.
I. The Sea and Sinbad's Ship
II. The Story of the Kalendar Prince
III. The Young Prince and the Young Princess
IV. The Festival of Baghdad—The Sea—The Ship Goes to Pieces Against a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior—Fest in Baghdad
Provided by GoErie.com
Meet and hear the Erie Philharmonic via one of its first chair violinists, Maura Pelinsky, of Erie. Pelinsky has been playing the violin since she was in second grade and has been playing with the Erie Philharmonic since 1985.
From Music Director Daniel Meyer
I’ve finally recovered from the Thanksgiving holiday (and that recovery involves very happy memories of shared stories and wonderful meals with my family!) only to turn around a realize that we have just entered one of the busiest months in any musician’s life. December is filled with holiday music, and it should be. It’s a chance to relive special traditions, hear music that can put a smile on your face, and rekindle the special feeling you had when you were little. I have the distinct pleasure of reliving those feelings now with my three-year-old son, and I am particularly happy that he loves and already recognizes the music I will conduct this month. In fact, number 18 on the Nutcracker compact disc player we keep in the kitchen has been nearly burned with too many repeat plays! He simply loves to sing and dance along to the music, and I cannot wait for him to hear and see the Erie Philharmonic and Lake Erie Ballet perform the complete score live in a couple of weeks.
The more I get in to the spirit of this season, the more I am grateful that music constitutes such a huge role in my life. The music we play this time of the year triggers memories of some very happy experiences for me. Even more than the gifts I give or receive, it tends to be the musical moments that resonate so clearly with me, and our December performances remind me that we have such a wonderful opportunity to touch so many lives at this time of year. Even if you are not a ‘regular’ Philharmonic goer during the rest of the year, December becomes a time to establish lasting and fun traditions with your family. You can join other happy families, turn off your mobile phones, forget about the crowded malls and the perpetually clogged Upper Peach Street, and just live in the moment. That means a lot to me, and I know our musicians are also thrilled when you join us for these concerts.
Whether you plan to join us at the Warner for our Home for the Holidays concerts this Saturday, a special performance in Meadville at the Academy Theatre on Sunday, Handel’s Messiah, or the timeless score and colorful dancers of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, I want you to know how much we value your passion for the Erie Philharmonic. We also want you to continue to make us a part of your December traditions, and we will continue to do our best to delight you with beautiful music. Thank you for spending time with our performers who dedicate their lives to bringing you memorable moments each December. We hope to inspire you to savor and truly enjoy this ‘most wonderful time of the year.’
With warmest holiday greetings and cheer!
~ Daniel Meyer
An unforgettable performance from cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, soloist on our November 4 concert. Tickets are still available to hear Narek perform Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 - don't miss this concert!
Zarathustra Speaks - November 4 @ 8pm
Written by Ken Meltzer
Fratres (1977, 1983, rev. 1991)
Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia, on September 11, 1935. Fratres is scored for percussion (claves and bass drum) and strings.
Approximate performance time is twelve minutes.
The Estonian-born composer Arvo Pärt has described his method of composition as “tintinnabulation.” As Pärt explains:
Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers—in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises—and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. Here, I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements—with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.
Pärt first composed Fratres (Brothers) in 1977, for performance by an early music ensemble with which he was associated, Hortus Musicus. In that original version, Fratres was scored for string quintet and wind quintet. Over the years, Arvo Pärt has created varied arrangements of Fratres for numerous different kinds of ensembles. This concert features Pärt’s arrangement of Fratres for string orchestra and percussion.
Fratres opens with a drone bass figure of an open fifth, punctuated by statements from the percussion. The central hymn-like melody is played over the drone bass, capped by the percussion statement. The pattern repeats, with the melody transposed downward upon each return. Ever-darkening instrumental sonorities and elevated dynamics lead to the apex of this musical arch. From there, Fratres journeys to hushed silence.
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in E-flat Major, Opus 107 (1959)
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 25, 1906, and died in Moscow, Russia, on August 9, 1975. The first performance of the Cello Concerto No. 1 took place in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) on October 4, 1959, with Mstislav Rostropovich as soloist, and Evgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.
Approximate performance time is thirty minutes.
Shostakovich finished the score of his First Cello Concerto on July 20, 1959. The composer notified the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) of the work’s completion. Rostropovich and his accompanist, Alexander Dedyukhin, then journeyed from Moscow to Leningrad. There, on August 2, 1959, Rostropovich received the score of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1. Four days later, Rostropovich and Dedyukhin performed the Concerto for the composer, who was amazed by the fact that the cellist had already memorized the entire work. Shortly thereafter, Shostakovich dedicated his First Cello Concerto to Rostropovich.
Mstislav Rostropovich was the soloist in the triumphant world premiere of the Concerto, which took place in Leningrad on October 4, 1959. The composer’s longtime friend and champion, Evgeny Mravinsky, conducted the Leningrad Philharmonic. Five days later, Rostropovich again performed the work, this time in Moscow. Alexander Gauk conducted the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
On November 6, 1959, Rostropovich was the soloist in the Concerto’s American premiere, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Shostakovich, who was in the United States as part of Soviet-American cultural exchange program, was in attendance.
Two days later, the performers gathered in Philadelphia’s Broadwood Hotel for the first commercial recording of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto. According to the liner notes for the recording, Shostakovich “was the first Soviet composer to attend an American recording session of his own work and to supervise its progress in close cooperation with conductor and instrumentalists.” That historic recording was reissued as part of the Sony Classical “Masterworks Heritage” series (MHK 63327).
The Concerto is in four movements. The first (Allegretto) is, according to the composer “in the style of a jocular march.” The concluding three movements are played without pause. The second (Moderato) opens in somber, introspective fashion, but later becomes increasingly agitated. The third movement, an extended unaccompanied Cadenza for the soloist, features echoes from the preceding movements. A series of ascending and descending flourishes leads directly to the final movement. The acerbic tone of the opening movement returns in this whirlwind finale (Allegro con moto), the most overtly virtuoso of the Concerto. Toward the close, the opening movement’s march theme makes a prominent return, as the Concerto proceeds to an emphatic resolution.
Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra), Opus 30 (1896)
Richard Strauss was born in Munich, Germany, on June 11, 1864, and died in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on September 8, 1949. The first performance of Also sprach Zarathustra took place in Frankfurt, Germany, on November 27, 1896, with the composer conducting the Museums-Orchester of Frankfurt-am-Main.
Approximate performance time is thirty-three minutes.
During the years 1895-97, Richard Strauss composed three orchestral tone poems based upon famous literary characters. The first, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1895), is a rollicking tour-de-force depicting the exploits of the medieval jokester. The last, Don Quixote (1897), is a witty and often affecting musical portrayal of the misadventures of Cervantes’s beloved “Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.” Strauss’s inspiration for the middle work in this trilogy was of a far different nature—Friedrich Nietzsche’s epic philosophic poem Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra) (1883-5).
The protagonist in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra is based upon the ancient Persian prophet, also known as Zoroaster. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, the prophet leaves the solitude of his mountain refuge to share his wisdom with mankind. During the course of the poem, Nietzsche, in the person of Zarathustra, denounces the very foundations of society—organized religion, democracy and civilization—that he believes inhibit man's ability to reach his greatest potential.
Strauss was first drawn to Nietzsche’s masterwork during the composer’s preparations for his opera Guntrum (1894). He began composition of the score on February 4, 1896, and completed the work on August 24 of that year. The composer led the Museums-0rchester of Frankfurt-am-Main in the November 27, 1896 premiere. Prior to the first performance, Strauss provided this brief program:
First movement: Sunrise, Man feels the power of God. Andante religioso. But man still longs. He plunges into passion (second movement) and finds no peace. He turns toward science, and tries in vain to solve life’s problem in a fugue (third movement). Then agreeable dance tunes sound and he becomes an individual, and his soul soars upward while the world sinks far below him.
Nietzsche, an ardent music-lover and amateur composer, once remarked to his friend, Peter Gast, of his Also sprach Zarathustra: “I almost believe it belongs among the symphonies.” Gustav Mahler quoted a portion of Zarathustra's text in his Third Symphony (1896), as did Frederick Delius in A Mass of Life (1905).
By contrast, Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is a purely orchestral representation of Nietzsche’s work. From the time of the premiere, commentators have attempted to find a direct relationship between the music of Also sprach Zarathustra and Nietzsche’s text. Strauss understood the difficulty, perhaps even the futility, of attempting a musical depiction of Nietzsche’s philosophy. At the time of the tone poem’s December, 1896, Berlin premiere, Strauss confessed:
"I did not intend to write philosophical music or portray Nietzsche’s great work musically. I meant rather to convey in music an idea of the evolution of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of development, religious as well as scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman. The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to the genius of Nietzsche, which found its greatest exemplification in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra."
Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra opens with the famous “Sunrise” Introduction, followed by eight sections, performed without pause. Each has a title taken from a chapter in Nietzsche’s book.
I. Sunrise (Sonnenaufgang)
II. Of the Backworldsman (Von den Hinterweltlern)
III. Of the Great Longing (Von der grossen Sehnsucht)
IV. Of Joys and Passions (Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften0
V. Song of the Grave (Das Grablied)
VI. Of Science (Von der Wissenschaft)
VII. The Convalescent (Der Genesende)
VIII. The Dance Song (Das Tanzlied)
IX. Night Wanderer’s Song (Das Nachwandlerlied)
From Music Director Daniel Meyer
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, or so the saying goes. But what about writing music about philosophy? How does a worldview creep in between the notes of a symphonic work? Well, you could certainly argue that over history artists and composers have tried to bring a distinctive philosophy to light based on the content or intended effect of their creations. Richard Strauss, deeply steeped in the Romantic notion of the artist as hero, had a special take on how philosophy may or may not be revealed in his music.
He named his stunning tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra directly after the famous work by Nietzsche, yet disavowed the source to say "I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray Nietzsche's great work in musical terms." Rather, Strauss wrote that he strove to musically portray “the evolution of the human race from its origins, through its various phases of development, right up to Nietzsche's idea of the superhuman." Pretty heady stuff for a 35-minute musical composition, but Strauss didn’t shy away from such grandiose ideas. More important to us today as listeners of this densely-packed work is to know that Strauss crafted his musical sections based on chapter titles from Nietzsche's original. He reshuffled the chapter titles in order to fashion a unified work. Today we may or may not subscribe to Nietzsche’s self-reliant attitudes, but it certainly makes for wonderfully over-the-top symphonic music that leaps off the stage in colors and bold gestures that made Strauss famous.
Dmitri Shostakovich must have known deep down that he was an artist of ‘superhuman’ power and creativity, faced with the often dangerous task of producing music that didn’t offend the rather ‘less-than-superhuman’ Soviet leaders who stood in judgement of his life’s work. This stifling and critical atmosphere, while personally miserable for Shostakovich, certainly fired his creativity in ways that forced him to explore the role of a hero in the face of insurmountable obstacles. You can hear some of this desperation and strife in the Cello Concerto No. 1. It’s a strikingly personal work (hear Shostakovich’s own initials encoded in the first few bars!) in which the interplay between soloist and orchestra becomes a model for the individual versus society. But even more than that, with its angry outbursts and searing, heartbreaking moments, the concerto contains the full range of human expression. I am so pleased that Narek Hakhnazaryan has agreed to make his Erie Philharmonic debut with such a rich and dramatic piece, and I am confident you will appreciate what makes him such a special young artist.
We will begin our November concert with a piece that is strikingly anti ‘superhuman.’ In fact, Arvo Pärt’s Fratres is distinguished by its humble, simple gestures and hauntingly slow chord progressions. This music strikes me as about an ego-free piece as one could imagine. The music sets you in a contemplative space. Imagine a room lit by one simple candle, and you will already have an appreciation for the slowly-unfolding process by which the composer reveals this music. The instrumentation is also sparing, making use of only the strings of the Philharmonic plus one bass drum and claves. The percussion instruments mark the passage of time much like an old, reliable grandfather clock. This music has always haunted me (in a good way!) and I have admired how, with such simple materials, Pärt constructs an atmosphere that transcends its place in time and space. It should, if we get it just right, provide the perfect foil to the turbulence, passion, and decadence of the ‘superhuman’ music of Shostakovich and Strauss.
Hear it live on November 4 at the Warner Theatre
Written by Chris Brubeck
People often ask me what it is like to play jazz while being accompanied by a symphony orchestra. When the Brubeck Brothers Quartet (Dan Brubeck, Chris Brubeck, Mike DeMicco and Chuck Lamb) comes to Erie later this month to play with the Erie Philharmonic with Daniel Meyer conducting, we will all experience this exciting fusion of two musical genres. As a jazz musician who also wears the hat of an orchestral composer and arranger, I can report that this kind of performance can be an incredibly thrilling experience! I am very lucky because I grew up hearing my father's pioneering work in bringing together the classical and jazz worlds. He was fortunate to collaborate with one of the most amazing musical geniuses America ever produced: Leonard Bernstein.
As a young man Bernstein played jazz piano and therefore appreciated the skills required to be a fine jazz musician. If you doubt this, think of the brilliant West Side Story score which sparkles with incredible rhythmic and harmonic energy. Of course, Bernstein also loved Mahler, and had an impressive command and understanding of classical music. He totally embraced the idea of improvising jazz combos integrating with the symphonic world. The music that Dave Brubeck, Lenny Bernstein and my uncle Howard Brubeck produced together was somewhat controversial and revolutionary in a sense during the early 60s. My father first depended on his older brother Howard to compose and arrange while Dad learned the art of writing for orchestra. He achieved this a few years down the road. My father and I would talk about how improvisation used to be an important element in classical music. Bach, Mozart and many others were great composers who also attained fame in their time by dazzling audiences with their compositions AND their improvisatory excursions during expanded cadenzas. Both Bernstein and Brubeck thought the legitimate heritage of improvisation in a symphonic context was arbitrarily abandoned. From an audience point of view, witnessing the performer create music spontaneously right before your eyes was an extremely engaging musical practice that deserved a resurrection. Brubeck & Bernstein were trailblazers whose combined talents opened paths for other musicians to follow.
I grew up hearing their efforts and went on to perform with orchestras and various jazz groups for about 40 years. Quite a few things have changed over the decades. The biggest difference is the attitude of orchestral musicians. When I first started playing with my father and orchestras, about 20% of the symphony players thought it was a "cool" thing to be integrating classical and jazz music. About 50% of the orchestral musicians didn't like the idea at all. The remaining players were tolerant. It basically boiled down to classical players not understanding and respecting what jazz players did. There has been a big attitude adjustment throughout the 1970s to this day as many music conservatories such as Julliard (which produces superb classical players) now also feature jazz performance major programs. The classical students have roommates or friends that they hear honing their jazz skills and excelling at music theory and composition courses. The orchestra majors now comprehend that the jazz players' skills take serious study, practice, intuitive chops and something the classical musicians don't have -- the amazing ability and courage to instantly compose solos on the fly; in other words, improvising.
Then there are the orchestral arrangements themselves. The arranger who creates these orchestral "charts" is always looking for ways to allow the orchestra to sound great at what they do best, and to make sure the jazz combo gets to shine as well. There are certain things one learns to not write because the odds of a "train wreck" accelerate. It can be like walking a tightrope to get the two worlds to swing together on uptempo tunes. An additional factor that the audience doesn't think about is that often there is only a two-hour rehearsal to put a performance together. It costs a lot to get 70 musicians on stage, rent a hall, employ stage hands etc. Financial support from the government for the arts is constantly being cut, which adds to the real challenge orchestras face to pull everything together musically, financially and technically. It is a true testament to Erie's love of the arts and The Erie Philharmonic that your community supports its orchestra and exciting programs such as this one.
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet are looking forward to playing with the Erie Philharmonic October 28th. We have had many great experiences working with classical musicians in America and around the world. We played several unforgettable concerts with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra a few years ago. Another highlight was performing with the Russian National Symphony Orchestra at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. That event was completely sold out and was televised across Russia. The highly educated audience loved our combination of classical and jazz. We even played some movements of a chamber piece I had written for woodwind quintet and jazz quartet titled "Vignettes for Nonet." We also performed my new arrangement of "Take Five", my brother Darius' arrangement of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and several other charts I had been asked by my father to write for him when he appeared with orchestras over the last few decades. The Russian orchestral musicians were very enthusiastic to be playing this music and it was a beautiful thing to experience. Obviously, America's relationship with a certain strata of Russians has deteriorated precipitously, but not with the musicians we played with. We shared something special with each other on stage and that was embraced by the audience. There was a level of joy and wonderful communication in our concerts. Remember that underneath the nasty rhetoric of competitive governments there are common people like you and me who get along great and can remain friends despite the stormy political seas at the surface.
This is the importance of cultural exchange and one of the reasons that collaborating with symphony orchestras is such a beautiful endeavor. Whether in a foreign land or right here in America seeing two different genres come together to create something exciting on stage is a rewarding experience. We jazz musicians love to hear the rich colors of the orchestra integrate with the essence of the composition we are playing. Most of the time we have to be content with imagining these sounds in our minds. When I play with an orchestra, my musical fantasies become real for everyone in the concert hall.