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Event Details

Classical Series

2016 - 2017

In this program Maestro Ferrandis celebrates the talent of our own Santa Rosa Symphony musicians. Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg and principal violist Elizabeth Prior step out from the orchestra to perform Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola; principal cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns shines in Fauré’s Elégie for Cello. The program concludes with two contrasting works by Sibelius—his mysterious Symphony No. 4, followed by the vibrant and luminous Finlandia.

“The playing here was truly moving, particularly from the strings, who played with spot-on intonation and deep expressivity.”
 – Classical Sonoma


Pre-concert talk with Kayleen Asbo:
Saturday, March 25, 2017 at 7pm
Sunday, March 26, 2017 at 2pm
Monday, March 27, 2017 at 7pm

Pre-concert talks are free, general seating and are approximately 30 minutes.


Sponsored by Eileen, Victor and Karen Trione, In memory of Henry Trione                                 
Conductor Bruno Ferrandis underwritten by Norma Person
Guest Artist Joseph Edelberg underwritten by Laura Tietz
Guest Artist Elizabeth Prior underwritten by Laura Tietz   
Guest Artist Adelle-Akiko Kearns underwritten by Laura Tietz
Discovery Open Rehearsal Series sponsored by The Stare Foundation and David Stare of Dry Creek Vineyard
Pre -Concert Talks Sponsored by Jamei Haswell and Richard Grundy, Ellen and Chuck Wear







 

Performance at: Weill Hall at the Green Music Center

Program Notes

Program Notes by Steven Ledbetter

ALAN HOVHANESS

Meditation on Orpheus, for Orchestra, Opus 155
Alan Hovhaness was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, a working-class suburb of Boston, on March 8, 1911, and died in Seattle on June 21, 2000. He composed his Meditation on Orpheus  in 1957. The score calls for three flutes, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, tam-tam, harp, celesta and strings. Duration is about 13 minutes.
           
Before Alan Hovhaness’ work first began to impinge on a fairly large musical audience—this occurred with his Symphony No. 2, The Mysterious Mountain of 1955, and that was already Opus 132!—he had found little encouragement as a composer from the official arbiters of taste and style. Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, he studied with Frederick Shepherd Converse at the New England Conservatory and studied Indian music—then hardly known on this continent at all—through an acquaintance with some Indian musicians in the Boston area. At Tanglewood in 1943 both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein criticized his music. He destroyed many early works and turned in an entirely different direction, studying the music of an Armenian priest-composer named Komitas Vardapet.

The emphasis on non-Western and particularly on religious traditions had a great deal to do with the creation of Hovhaness’ darkly modal style in his best-known works. Of these, the Meditiation on Orpheus followed The Mysterious Mountain by two years, evoking a sense of mystery possibly related to ancient Greek myth.  Both pieces inspired many college students of the late 50s, who found their solemn an ideal accompaniment for meditating in incense-filled rooms. This was about as far as it was possible to get from the avant-garde of the early 1960s, when most composers pursued musical goals that were intensely detailed, rigorously shaped, highly abstract, and for the most part, determinedly secular. Hovhaness had his own style, but to the rulers and shakers of the musical world, it was a style that was backward and of little interest.

It is one of the ironies of the last half of the 20th Century, that by the time of Hovhaness’ death in 2000, so much of the world should have caught up with him. Partly owing to the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, there appeared a whole new group of composers from Eastern Europe whose interest in music as an element of spiritual activity had been suppressed. These figures used themes from the chants of various religious traditions or sought to write music that might at least suggest deep meditation, even if it was not always written actively in aid of it.

Orpheus was the legendary Greek composer, poet and singer renowned for being able to control the natural world (making trees bend to his will and wild animals approach without fear), equally affect the emotions of humans and persuade the ruler of the Underworld to release his beloved wife Eurydice after she had been bitten by an asp (the subject of a number of operas from the very beginning of the genre about 1600).
           
Hovhaness’ Meditation on Orpheus does not seem to tell any particular narrative, though it is filled with somber reflection suggesting his musical power will accomplish surprising things, whether slow and pensive or bright and colorful.
 
WOLFGANG AMADEUS  MOZART
Sinfonia concertante in E‑flat major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K. 364/320d
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791. Most probably he wrote this work in Salzburg in the summer of 1779; we have no information about its early performance history. In addition to the violin and viola solos, the score calls for two oboes and two horns, plus the orchestral strings, with two sections of violas as well as violins. Duration is about 30 minutes.
           
Mozart’s flair for the theater shows itself again and again in his concertos, for the concerto is surprisingly like the opera in its structure and approach. In both cases there is a soloist who comes on stage and waits while the orchestra plays an introduction (or ritornello, as it was called in the 18th century), providing the main material of the piece, whether concerto movement or aria. The audience listens patiently, knowing that soon the soloist will begin. When the soloist pauses, the orchestra continues, and the audience waits for soloist to return. In both concerto and opera, the prime prerequisite for a composer was a fertile melodic imagination; it is through melody that musical character is expressed. Mozart’s melodic gift is second‑to‑none, and his ability to produce a whole series of themes in the structure of a single movement‑‑each serving its particular purpose‑‑meant that he was particularly fitted to the twin genres of opera and concerto. (Haydn, on the other hand, who greatly preferred to develop the implications of a single musical idea through the course of a movement, was far more successful in the symphony and string quartet.)

Far and away the most successful of his works for multiple soloists is the one that also stands as his finest concerto for stringed instruments, the E‑flat sinfonia concertante for violin and viola. Mozart himself had been an accomplished violinist, and in chamber music he preferred to play the viola, since he liked to be in the middle of the texture. This predilection reveals itself in two ways in his Sinfonia concertante: Mozart makes the orchestral viola sound more prominent by dividing the section in two, giving a mellow richness to the orchestral sonority; and he helps the solo viola stand out in the texture (where the violin’s brighter sonority might threaten to engulf it) by playing a little trick of tuning. The work is composed in the key of E‑flat; stringed instruments are tuned to the notes that are prominent in the sharp keys (G, D, A, etc). But Mozart tells the solo player to tune a half‑step higher than the rest of the orchestra, so that playing as if in the key of D will produce the sounds of E‑flat. This allows the viola to get more resonance out of the instrument compared to the others, who are playing in E‑flat with normal tuning. At the same time, the extra half‑step by which the pitch is raised makes the sound of the viola slightly more penetrating.

This is only one element of Mozart’s aural imagination to appear in the piece. From beginning to end the work is filled with wonderful details of scoring and texture. Unlike a piano concerto, where the soloist’s arrival brings a sound entirely new to the piece, the two string soloists here emerge out of the texture, only gradually to develop their individuality. But individuals they become, singing to themselves, or with the tiny complement of winds (oboes and horns), or contrasting with the larger body of strings. During the slow movement, the two soloists embark on elaborate embellishments that recall the fioritura of great operatic scenes, filled with passion and pathos. The finale returns to light‑hearted high spirits with the soloists leading the way in virtuosity (showing the other strings, for example, how to turn the 2/4 meter into a figure filled with triplets) to the satisfying conclusion.
 
GABRIEL FAURÉ
Élégie for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 24
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was born in Pamiers, Ariège, on May 12, 1845, and died in Paris on November 4, 1924. He composed his Élégie for cello and piano in 1880; in that version it was first performed by cellist Jules Loëb at a concert of the Société Nationale on December 15, 1883. Fauré orchestrated the work about 1897; a revision dating from about 1901 received its premiere in Monte Carlo on January 23, 1902; Carlo Sansoni was the soloist, Léon Jéhin the conductor. In addition to the solo instrument, the score calls for woodwinds in pairs, four horns and strings. Duration is about 8 minutes.

In the last months of Fauré’s life, Aaron Copland, then a student in Paris, wrote an article for the American journal, The Musical Quarterly, in which he commented, “The world at large has particular need of Gabriel Fauré today; need of his calm, his naturalness, his restraint, his optimism; need, above all, of the musician and his great art.” These terms sum up much of the effect of Fauré’s music. Every voice student learns at least a few of his exquisite songs; every chorus sooner or later assays that most tranquil of nineteenth-century settings of the Requiem. Instrumentalists play some of his exquisite chamber works with great frequency, others far less often than they deserve. For all practical purposes, orchestras limit themselves to the suite from the incidental music he composed to Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande and a few other small lyric pieces, of which the Élégie is among the most familiar.

On June 24, 1880, the Élégie received a private performance in the home of Saint-Saëns, following which Fauré wrote to his publisher, “My cello piece was excellently received, which greatly encourages me to go on and do the whole Sonata.” By 1883 he had clearly decided against finishing a cello sonata, since he published what would have been its slow movement as a separate work. Not until 1917 did Fauré actually write a cello sonata, but by then he was a very different composer than he had been in 1880. Its success evidently encouraged him to write a second sonata in 1921.
 
JEAN SIBELIUS
Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Opus 63
Jean  Sibelius was born in Hameenlinna (then known by the Swedish name Tavastehus), Finland, on December 8, 1865, and died at Jarvenpaa, near Helsinki, on September 20, 1957. He composed his Fourth Symphony in 1910-11 and led the Helsinki Philharmonic Society in the first performance that September 25. The score calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bells and strings. Duration is about 29 minutes.
           
Many of the leading orchestral composers around the turn from the 19th to  the 20th century, including Richard Strauss, Mahler, and the young Sibelius, turned out scores of lush color and richness. But by the time he came to write his Fourth Symphony, in 1910, Sibelius was moving away from his own early lush sounds, and away from Mahler’s approach (symphonies that included the entire world, as the two men had once told Sibelius) in preference for a sparer sound and a tauter architectonic approach. The Fourth is a major turning point in Sibelius’s symphonic output, a work distilled to its essence. More than ever before the work is conceived as a whole, not as a series of separate movements, however attractive. The themes are less “tunes” and more abstract in feeling, growing and developing in motives that some authorities compare to Beethoven, yet in a structure so powerfully compressed that it can take a number of hearings for the listener to parse the form.
         
The opening six notes start off suggesting a kind of rocking bass figure, though they will become very important thematically later on. The themes are compact and contain references to one another. The second theme begins (reaching fortissimo in the full orchestra) with the first four pitches of the opening six, but the last two of these are an octave higher than the first two, thus generally concealing the relationship. Almost at once the music moves into the development. A rapid murmuring passage in the strings seems to have the opening motive buried in its running sequences. The brief recapitulation mostly brings back the secondary material.
           
The Scherzo has some harmonic surprises, but it is fairly straightforward in its layout. Woodwinds lead the thematic ideas in very rapid motion, over measured tremolos in the strings. Though the basic meter is in 3/4, there is a surprising section in 2/4 in the strings which turns out to be a version of the Trio.
           
The four-note  motive, which opens the entire symphony returns at the beginning of the slow movement, where it is heard both in this form, slipping smoothly in the flute line, and soon after in longer notes in the cello. The four-note figure alternates with rising (and later falling) fifths in the horns. These are almost the only materials used to build the movement, which grows from delicate intertwining woodwind lines with tremolo strings, becoming a backdrop to the long-arched thematic ideas. What began as bits and pieces gradually becomes more continuous, building to a full but brief climax, then dying away.
           
The finale brings the earlier parts together in a brilliant orchestral conclusion (brightened by the unusual use of bells), a striking shape that Sibelius may have thought of in terms of sonata form but that involves fresh and varied ideas that seem to grow of their own accord—and then, surprisingly, to all but die away—dolce, of all things! The novelty of the work was intentional on Sibelius’s part. As he noted on one occasion, “I wrote the symphony as a protest against the compositions of today.There is nothing, absolutely nothing, circus-like about it.”
 
JEAN SIBELIUS
Finlandia for Orchestra, Opus 26
The history of Finlandia is described below. It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, triangle and strings. Duration is about 8 minutes.

Finlandia virtually sparked a revolution. In November 1898, Sibelius composed music for what seemed a thoroughly innocuous purpose: to raise money for the pension fund of Finnish journalists. But the true (if discreetly concealed) purpose of the fund was to provide moral and financial support to a free press in a Finland that was strongly under Russian control. The main event of the evening was a set of six historical tableaux, each introduced by a musical prelude composed by Sibelius. The event was successful, but when Sibelius played five of the six movements in an orchestral concert a month later, it became sensational.
           
The last movement of the set was originally entitled “Finland Awakes!” It was a call to struggle and to glory. Though Sibelius himself knew that this was a “relatively insignificant piece” compared to his First Symphony and other large-scale works, he recognized that its directness would make it by far his most popular composition—which is exactly what happened. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra was scheduled to play in the Paris World Exhibition that ended the nineteenth century. In March 1900, a few months before the concert, an admirer wrote to Sibelius suggesting that he compose a great overture entitled Finlandia to express the aspirations of the Finnish people for the coming century. Sibelius did not write a new piece, but he obviously liked the idea of the title, since he attached it to the finale of his old pension fund composition. With that title, it has gone around the world.
 
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)

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