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Event Details

Classical Series

2016 - 2017

We again experience the glorious sound of Vadim Gluzman as he returns to play Prokofiev’s soaring and energetic Violin Concerto No. 2 on the extraordinary 1690 ‘Leopold Auer’ Stradivarius. All three composers in this program were fellow-survivors of the Stalinist era who struggled to maintain their creative freedom during a time of great repression in their homeland. The program opens with the lush folk-inspired melodies of Aram Khachaturian’s Suite from Masquerade and concludes with Shostakovich’s transcendent and inspiring Symphony No. 11.

“Gluzman stood out for his big, room-filling tone and his probing emotionality.”
 Chris Waddington, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Vadim Gluzman was recently named one of the top 30 violinists of the 20th century and hailed as “the next Itzhak Perlman.” His extraordinary artistry brings to life the glorious violinistic tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries. Gluzman’s wide repertoire embraces new music and his performances are heard around the world through live broadcasts and a striking catalogue of award-winning recordings.

The Israeli violinist collaborates regularly with leading conductors, and he has performed with the major symphony orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony.
 
Sponsored by Viking Cruises
Conductor Bruno Ferrandis underwritten by Norma Person
Guest Artist Vadim Gluzman underwritten by David and Corinne Byrd
Khachaturian’s Ballet Suite: underwritten by Ann and Gordon Blumenfeld
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 and the Green Music Center

Program Notes

Program Notes by Steven Ledbetter
 
Aram Khachaturian
Ballet Suite from Masquerade
Aram Ilyich Khachaturian was born in Tbilisi on June 6, 1903, and died in Moscow on May 1, 1978. He composed incidental music to Mikhail Lermontov’s play Masquerade in 1941. The score calls for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and three percussionists (playing bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, xylophone) and strings. Duration is about 18 minutes.
           
Aram Khachaturian's career was largely played out under the ups and downs of Stalinist control of the arts. His Violin Concerto of 1941 won the Stalin Prize, but by 1948, when the directorate of the Composers Union came under political attack, Khachaturian was one of the main composers to be censured, along with Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Following Stalin's death, he was one of the first composers to urge greater creative freedom to artists. His own work is particularly colored by the folklore of his native Armenia. It is revealed most successfully in compositions with pictorial images--ballets, film scores and incidental music to plays.          
 
Masquerade was a classic play by Mikhail Lermontov, written in 1835, to which Khachaturian, a great admirer of the playwright’s, composed a score in 1941. He had been hesitant to undertake the task at first, because Glazunov had already written a score for a production in 1917. But Khachaturian made a thorough study of the music of Russian composers in St. Petersburg in the early nineteenth century, and the music that he thus composed became enormously popular.
      
The drama revolves around a bracelet that the lovely, aristocratic Nina has lost at a masked ball. Her husband Arbenin finds it, but assumes that she had given it to an admirer—and believes he knows who it is. Arbenin’s unfounded jealousy generates the tragedy. Since essential parts of Lermontov’s play take place at a masked ball, it is only natural that Khachaturian’s score should be so filled with dance music—and the suite contains three dances between which are interspersed two romantic interludes.
           
The Waltz comes in response to Nina’s excited chattering about a new waltz she has heard—but this waltz is rather dark and foreboding, filled with Slavic sorrow. It became one of the composer’s most famous pieces, and it was played at his funeral. The Nocturne could be the lyrical slow movement of a violin concerto. The Mazurka is lively and vigorous with nationalistic tinges. The Romance is a romantic effusion. The closing Galop is filled with funny moments, particularly with its intentional dissonances and its lightning changes of mood.
 
SERGEI PROKOFIEV
Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 63
Sergei Sergeyevitch Prokofiev was born in Sontzovka, near Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine, on April 23, 1892, and died in Moscow on March 5, 1953. He began sketching his Second Violin Concerto in the fall of 1934 and completed it in 1935 for the violinist Robert Soetens. The concerto received its first performance in Madrid on December 1 of that year with Soetens as soloist and Enrique Fernández Arbós conducting. In addition to the solo violin, the concerto is scored for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets in pairs, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, castanets and strings. Duration is about 26 minutes.

After fifteen years of living in the West, Prokofiev returned to Russia in 1933 and remained there, except for brief tours, the last two decades of his life. On concert tours back to the Soviet Union, his Third Piano Concerto, the Classical Symphony, and the suite from his opera Love for Three Oranges had attracted widespread applause, though he realized that his more avant garde works would not have the same enthusiastic response. Prokofiev was essentially non‑political, and his choice of settling in a state so different from what he had become used to in the West brought a difficult period of readjustment.

His biographer Harlow Robinson believes that Prokofiev's return to Russia was motivated in large part by his desire to write in a simpler style. Certainly the best‑known works of his Soviet period—Lieutenant Kijé, Romeo and Juliet, the Second Violin Concerto, Peter and the Wolf and Alexander Nevsky among them—seem to confirm that view. And those works achieved a widespread popularity.

Even so, Prokofiev's works were not always accepted at once by the public or the musicians who acted as political functionaries for the arts and dominated critical discussion of new music. They attacked many of his late works—especially the operas—as "formalist," the Soviet buzz‑word for music that is neither immediately accessible to a broad general audience nor directed to clearly propagandistic ends. Only after Stalin's death and Prokofiev’s own (the two events occurred within hours of each other) did much of the later music attain a position of honor in the prophet's homeland; within a decade of his death, the derided operas were hailed as classics.

Though we deplore the intrusion of political pressure into artistic creation, Prokofiev's music might have been much the same between 1933 and 1953 if there had been no Union of Composers looking over his shoulder. Both his early and late scores fuse lyrical elements with a wit and satirical bite, an occasional grotesquerie. Reports from his Russian colleagues in those years indicate that the composer often stood up to the critics quite boldly, at least until the Zhdanov denunciation of 1948, when he was no longer in good health and lacked the strength for the struggle.

In late 1934 Prokofiev found himself in Voronezh, on the banks of the Don, at the end of a concert tour, and there he wrote down the theme that became the first subject of the second movement. During the summer of 1935 he stayed in a quiet, secluded house in Polenovo, a country retreat for the staff of the Bolshoi Theater in central Russia, which proved conducive to work. There he made rapid progress on both the concerto and the ballet. Part of the concerto was also composed on tour, and he completed it in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, in August.

During the winter of 1935‑36, Prokofiev made a concert tour with Soetens, playing one of his own violin sonatas as well as works of Beethoven and Debussy. It was during this tour that the concerto received its first performance; it was successful from the very first and was popularized in this country by Jascha Heifetz, who played it frequently following his performance in Boston, the American premiere.

From the very outset, with its opening phrase for the unaccompanied solo violin, Prokofiev emphasized the cantabile qualities of the instrument. The structure of the opening movement, a straightforward sonata form, is purposely kept clear, with articulations to set off the various sections and to mark, for example, the beginning of the second theme (in the classically expected key of B‑flat), a lyrical descending line over murmuring strings in contrast to the ascending (but equally lyrical) line of the first theme. The long‑breathed melody of the Andante assai, which here and there plays off the slight rhythmic jolt of 4/4 time against the accompanimental 12/8, has long been recognized as one of Prokofiev's most glorious melodic effusions. The last movement, lively and dance‑like (with castanets occasionally lending it a Spanish flavor), is still rather more lyrical than virtuosic, though the various sections of its rondo shape have plenty of vigor.
 
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH
Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Opus 103, The Year 1905
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg on September 25, 1906, and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. He composed the Symphony No. 11 in 1956 and 1957; Nikolai Rakhlin led the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on October 30, 1957. The score calls for three flutes (third doubling piccolo), three oboes (third doubling English horn), three clarinets (third doubling bass clarinet), three bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, xylophone, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, triangle, tam-tam, chimes, two harps (playing the same music), celesta and strings. Duration is about 55 minutes.

To a Russian, particularly during the Soviet era, but even today, the words “the year 1905” have an explicit, powerful significance. On Sunday, January 9 that year (January 22, new style), a group of workers carrying religious icons and portraits of Tsar Nicholas II appeared in front of the Winter Palace carrying petitions pleading for help. As it happens, the Tsar was not even present in the Winter Palace, so there could have been no question of a threat to his life, even if the demonstrators had been carrying weapons rather than religious symbols. But without provocation, the police opened fire upon the demonstrators. One hundred and thirty men, women and children were killed, according to the official estimate (which might have been lower than the actual number; the revolutionaries insisted that at least a thousand had died). Hundreds more were wounded.

When he heard the news, the Tsar was appalled. Generally regarded by history as a good man but a poor ruler, Nicholas had tried to retain the autocratic power of the Romanov line in the face of a rising push for reforms that would extend power more broadly in Russian society, including the creation of an effective representative arm of government. “Bloody Sunday” motivated uprising and demonstrations by workers, students and peasants. Film buffs are no doubt familiar with one of these, the mutiny on board the battleship Potemkin as depicted in Sergei Eisenstein’s classic 1925 film of the same name. The Tsar gave in to the point of allowing a Duma, or representative body, which gave the appearance, at least, of a constitutional monarchy. By the following year (which was, incidentally, the year of Shostakovich’s birth), demands for further reform faded.

Yet much more was to come. Americans might think of the Boston Massacre as a roughly analogous event, a relatively minor incident involving the overreaction of the forces of the government in power, yet one that laid the groundwork for an eventual revolution some years later. Historians have seen the political ferment, and the violence, of 1905 as an anticipation on a small scale of the much vaster and more violent revolution of 1917.
By the time Dmitri Shostakovich reached adulthood, he was hailed as the first great genius of new Soviet music. But his career, after a brilliant start, foundered when Stalin disliked his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1934. Suddenly his career and his very existence were called into question.

For the rest of his life Shostakovich maintained a careful line between the music he wrote for his symphonies and the comments he made about it for public consumption, which would inevitably color the reactions of the officials whose views might end his career. Nonetheless he managed to compose a number of symphonies of remarkable range and expressiveness, including the Fifth, the Seventh (partly composed during the siege of Leningrad, which automatically gave it a heroic stamp), the tragic Eighth (another wartime work), the surprisingly irreverent Ninth and the Tenth, composed immediately after Stalin’s death in 1953, and generally regarded as his greatest symphonic achievement.

But even after Stalin had left the scene, Shostakovich remained careful and discreet in his compositions and his descriptions of them. The Eleventh Symphony was intended for the 40th anniversary of the October revolution of 1917, but Shostakovich specifically linked to the earlier, abortive uprising. The resulting work turned out to be the most strictly programmatic of any of the fifteen symphonies, though far different in character (and more profoundly expressive) than the two “political” symphonies, Nos. 2 and 3. The Eleventh is in the traditional four movements (though they are played without pause), and it has no chorus or text, though Shostakovich does make frequent reference to tunes that were as familiar to his Russian listeners as “We Shall Overcome” does to us. Words, then, were not necessary to depict the events of “Bloody Sunday.”

The opening movement is a static, but tense, preparation for the horrors to follow. Entitled The Palace Square, it is bleak, with ambiguous tonality (G minor with passing hints of an uncertain major mode). Early on the timpani quietly present a motto figure that will appear in many places in the symphony. Shostakovich also alludes to two traditional prison songs, both implying a government of tyranny. The mood is somber, dark, sustained, but with a hush of expected violence.

This violence breaks forth in the second movement, The Ninth of January, which offers a depiction of the actual massacre. We hear workers pleading for a hearing in music that explicitly evokes the famous opening scene of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov in which peasants are appealing to the Tsar. What follows is a shattering depiction of the attack, savage and harsh, closing with a return to the icy mood of the first movement.
The remainder of the symphony depicts reactions to the massacre. Eternal Memory grieves for the dead, with the violas intoning a well-known revolutionary funeral march, one that Lenin is supposed to have sung with his comrades in exile upon hearing of the events of Bloody Sunday. The words to the song ran, “You fell a victim in the fateful battle, with selfless love for the people.”

The finale, Alarm, uses more revolutionary songs to depict the growing reaction to the events. The opening theme is a phrase of the march-like song “Rage, tyrants, mock at us...though our bodies are trampled, we are stronger in spirit.” In this vigorous finale, Shostakovich alludes to a number of other revolutionary march songs, all distinguished by dotted rhythms that move the marching feet. The natural expectation is to have a grandiose heroic finale compounded of these marches (and indeed, some Soviet critics complained that Shostakovich did not write that kind of a close).

The Eleventh remains a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit even in the face of oppression, and a powerfully dramatic treatment of a powerful historical event. But the fall of the Soviet Union allowed those who knew Shostakovich well make public other details. One friend, Lev Lebedinsky, pointed out that Shostakovich had written the symphony, “in the aftermath of the [1956] Soviet invasion of Hungary. What we heard in this music was . . . the Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest. This was so clear to those ‘who had ears to listen,’ that his son . . . whispered to Dmitry Dmitriyevich during the dress rehearsal, ‘Papa, what if they hang you for this?’”

And Shostakovich himself evidently told the choreographer Igor Belsky, who was planning to produce a ballet using the Eleventh Symphony as the score, “Don’t forget that I wrote that symphony in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising.”

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