program notes: parker plays brahms

Tonight’s program covers a wide breadth of musical territory. From the world premiere of a new work by young composer Julia Adolphe to Brahms’ enormous Piano Concerto No. 2—with forays into vocal music from the early 20th century, the Classical period, and the Baroque period—we are in for a fascinating ride. A program like this could not be possible without world class musicians, so LACO and Jeffrey Kahane share this evening with two special guests: Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano, Sasha Cooke and world renowned pianist, Jon Kimura Parker.

Every season, we are treated to new music in the form of the Sound Investment Commission. Tonight we will hear a new piece from Julia Adolphe, which was written expressly for LACO. Julia Adolphe is an accomplished composer, author, and teacher. In the last few years, she has gained attention for pieces like Dark Sand, Sifting Light, for orchestra, and Sylvia, a chamber opera. Adolphe’s emerging style displays a focus on texture and melody, and her use of orchestral colors is skillful and innovative. [Not sure if we will have her note here or if I will get a chance to write something…]

When George Friedrich Handel moved to London, he made his fortune with Italian opera, but as time went by, he expanded his work to English oratorios. The most famous of these is, of course, Messiah, but he also composed a host of others including Israel in Egypt, Solomon and Theodora, which in some ways, are even better exemplars of the genre. Oratorios are at their heart are simply unstaged operas about religious topics. Theodora began as a three-act oratorio about the eponymous Christian martyr. Handel composed it in 1749, and it premiered a year later at Covent Garden. The libretto was by Thomas Morell, who had written the libretti for a few other oratorios set by Handel. The story is a tragedy and ends with the deaths of Theodora and her lover, Didymus, a Roman who had secretly converted to Christianity. Theodora is sometimes presented as a fully staged opera when performed today.

The aria, “As with rosy steps the morn” comes from Act I, Scene 4 of Theodora. It is sung by Theodora’s friend Irene, a fellow Christian. The messenger tells them that Valens, the Roman governor of Antioch has decreed that all citizens must offer a sacrifice to Venus and Flora for Emperor Diocletian’s birthday. The words of the aria speak about how the dawn brings light to illuminate the darkness, and that the savior brings endless light. The aria is in typical da capo form, which has three parts. The outer sections are nearly identical, although the repeat usually has some vocal embellishments. A contrasting middle section offers a change of key and mood before returning to the opening melody. This aria, typical of Handel’s style, allows for the singer to display heartfelt emotion within the boundaries of the set form.

Mozart’s final year was very productive. While composing both the Requiem and Die Zauberflöte, he received a commission for an opera seria to be sung at the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. The chosen libretto was La clemenza di Tito, a work from Pietro Metastasio. This libretto, about the Roman Emperor Titus, had already been set dozens of times before Mozart put his hand to it. The subject matter—a kind and generous ruler—was perfect for the coronation. “Deh, per questo istante solo,” is an aria for the character Sesto, who is condemned to death. As the title of the opera suggests, Titus is a beneficent ruler, and Sesto will eventually be pardoned. The aria is in three main sections, a mournful Adagio, an Allegro middle section, and a quick coda. Sesto regrets betraying Titus, and does not believe he is deserving of mercy. The words speak of sorrow and despair; Sesto’s emotional confession stirs Titus’ kind heart. The gradual quickening of the tempo in each section works contrary to the feeling and the words, but perhaps reveals some hope that Titus’ benevolence and wisdom will right the situation.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Gustav Mahler held two positions in the Viennese musical world, Director of the Vienna Court Opera, and conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. With so much to do, Mahler had little time to compose new material, but as he adjusted to the responsibilities, he found some time to create. His Fourth Symphony was finished in 1900, as were his Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs. The new period of composition would come to be known as the post-Wunderhorn, or middle period, and it was in this period that Mahler completed the ten settings of Friedrich Rückert’s poems. Five of them became the orchestral song cycle, Kindertotenlieder, while the other five were gathered into the collection we call simply the Rückert-Lieder. The first four songs were initially sketched out with piano accompaniment, but Mahler orchestrated them quickly after. Orchestration for the fifth song, “Liebst du um Schönheit” was done by Max Puttmann, who worked for Mahler’s publisher.

Song cycles are occasionally collected in a narrative group that tells an overarching story. The Rückert-Lieder have no such dramatic arc; they can be sung in any order. The instrumentation for the songs varies somewhat, but all five require harp, bassoons, horns, clarinets and oboes. One of the songs asks for Celesta, and two other songs require English horn. The subject matter varies from song to song as well. Our first selection, “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder” (“Look not into my songs”), for example, explains that the creative process should remain mysterious and the listener should not be too intent on examining it. The text mentions the work of bees, and Mahler responds with a buzzing effect created by strings, woodwinds, and horn. “Liebst du um Schönheit”—which was a gift from Mahler to his wife, Alma— forms the center piece of the trio of songs chosen by our performers. It speaks of loving for love’s sake over wealth, youth, and beauty. The set ends with “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,”a text that Mahler characterized as describing himself: a solitary Romantic, whose entire world lies in art. In this song and the first, we see both Mahler’s sensitivity to the poetry and his skilled orchestral choices.

Over 20 years passed between Brahms’ First Piano Concerto and his second, probably due to the negative response he first received for the earlier piece when he premiered it in Leipzig. Terribly disappointed though he may have been, he tried to spin it as a positive thing to his friends, explaining that this setback was bound to help him focus better. Still, he stayed away from the genre for decades. When he undertook the Second Piano Concerto, he was true to words he wrote years earlier to his trusted friend, violinist Joseph Joachim: “a second one will sound very different.” Brahms began composing the work in the spring of 1878, finishing in early July of 1881. The work premiered in November of 1881, with Brahms playing the solo and the Orchestra of the National Theater of Budapest playing under the baton of Alexander Erkel. The following year the piece has its American premiere at the New York Philharmonic.

The intervening years had given Brahms more confidence. Brahms’ friend Theodor Billroth noted that the composer’s second Piano Concerto in relation to the first was like the relationship of adulthood to childhood. There is also the fact of Brahms’ greater experience of the world. This particular piece was sketched out after his first trip to Italy and completed after his second. Brahms wrote both of his piano concertos for himself as the soloist, and therefore that part is less about flexible delicacy (not Brahms’ strong suit as a pianist) and more about strength and endurance. He dedicated the Second Piano Concerto to one of his early teachers, Eduard Marxen. The tribute is a mark of how much faith Brahms had in his new composition.

There are four movements in the concerto, rather than the traditional three, and one of them is a massive scherzo that Brahms had originally sketched out as part of an earlier piece. The opening movement brings the piano in quite early, and after a bit of dialogue concerning the initial melody played by the horn, the pianist launches into a lengthy cadenza. This asserts the pianist’s role as a powerhouse and focal point, but sets up further development by the orchestra. In the recapitulation, the pianist is simply part of the texture, which is lyrical and sensitive, although affirming. In Brahms’ inclusion of a scherzo as the second movement—an augmentation of the concerto format—he argued that the clarity of the first movement needed a passionate follow-up. It infuses the middle of the concerto with energy and is the perfect gambit to set up the slow movement that follows. The slow movement opens with an earnest cello solo that becomes enfolded into the orchestral texture as the movement goes on. The piano here isn’t competition, but rather another layer of color supporting the proceedings. The fourth movement is a lively finale, with hints of folk music here and there. It’s not firmly in a single style, but dances through a few different moods before ending with a rumbling crescendo that could leave no question that Brahms had finally come into his own.

haydn in london: program notes

This evening’s concert is an emotional affair, featuring the talents of baritone Brian Mulligan and conductor Carlos Kalmar. We begin with Musique Funèbre, Witold Lutosławski’s tribute to fellow composer Béla Bartók. Mulligan sings John Adams’ setting of Walt Whitman’s text in the elegiac piece, The Wound-Dresser. Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 provides a palate cleanser before Rossini’s stirring Overture to the opera The Italian Girl in Algiers.

Witold Lutosławski’s Musique Funèbre is a heartfelt commemoration of composer Béla Bartók. As a student, Lutosławski studied Bartok’s music extensively, which left a distinct impression in the young composer’s style. With Musique Funèbre, Lutosławski seems to reference Bartók’s oeuvre, but not overtly. The scoring of the piece is rather specific: the violins are divided into four groups, and the violas, cellos and basses are divided in into two groups each.

Musique Funèbre does not rely on the language of tonality for its expression—it does not have a “home key”—but its emotional impact is potent regardless. Lutosławski veering away from the tonal system was something different, and he called it the “first word” in a language that was new to him. This one-movement work has four sections, titled Prologue, Metamorphoses, Apogee and Epilogue. The first and last of these are both canons, and they share a similar tempo. The Prologue begins in the low strings and builds slowly, expressing great intensity as it climbs upwards and adding voices as it goes. This intensity eventually recedes, and the section ends quietly with the notes traveling in a downward trajectory. Metamorphoses is an apt title for the next section, which features new material in addition to musical ideas from the first section, as Lutosławski subjects both to developing transformations. These begin almost as tremors that sound like primitive first steps. As the music continues, however, the metamorphoses become more complex. Apogee, a mere dozen measures, is true to its name as the apex of this journey.

Celebrated poet Walt Whitman was forever changed by what he saw during the American Civil War. As men returned wounded from the battlefield, he sat with them, listened to them, wrote letters for them and cared for them in their suffering. In The Wound-Dresser, composer John Adams sets Whitman’s eponymous poem. Its text, inspired by Whitman’s visit to a Civil War hospital, details both the mundane duties of wound-dressing and the spiritual experience of witnessing death. Adams notes that the text itself is “astonishingly free of any kind of hyperbole or amplified emotion,” as well as the absolute precision of the speaker’s observations. Despite the businesslike manner in which the wound-dresser approaches his work, he is nevertheless touched by the sights around him. He dresses the soldiers’ wounds “with impassive hand, (yet deep in [his] breast a fire, a burning flame.)”

A composer of innovative and affecting operas, Adams demonstrates his sensitivity to Whitman’s text, allowing these two moods—the mundane and the spiritual—to coexist musically as well as textually. The piece opens with a musical gesture in the strings that suggests the ghosts of the past, but the solo violin soon cuts through the mist, followed by the solo voice. The opening stanza evokes a sense of endlessness, with a progression in the strings that seems itself never-ending. A solo trumpet emerges as well, a reminder of the horn calls of the battlefield, and as the work progresses the rhythm stumbles forward, the narrator singing about cleaning a gangrenous wound. After this impassioned crisis, the voice falls silent for a moment as the solo violin rises out of the orchestra. When the voice returns, it is to affirm that the wound-dresser remains “faithful” and will “not give out.” Adams’ musical setting highlights the wound-dresser’s care, his compassion and his hope.

We visit the Classical period with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98, which, despite not having a catchy nickname like “The Drumroll” or “The Clock,” has always been one of the composer’s most popular works. It is a typical Classical symphony in many ways, but it features two quirks that are somewhat unusual for Haydn: a slow introduction, and a first movement with only one main theme, as opposed to  two, as was common. Throughout the movement, all of the musical material draws in some way on the main theme, appearing at both transitions and arrival points. The movement is exceedingly charming in its courtly grace. A notable passage by the solo flute appears in the recapitulation.

The second movement provides a change of pace with its languid opening theme played by the oboe and cello. This theme returns frequently, each time with embellishments in the strings. The orchestra punctuates the quiet texture of the movement with the occasional forte chord, including an appearance by the trumpet and timpani, a first for Haydn in a slow movement. The third movement, a minuet, is just the kind of dance we’ve come to expect from the composer. The elements of peasant dances are present, but Haydn surprises his listener with an unexpected harmonic shift here or a dynamic jolt there.

The final movement is full of surprises as well. At the time of its composition, its form was something new for Haydn, a hybrid of the sonata form (found in the first movement) and the rondo form (whose musical theme returns in between passages of other material). The theme Haydn presents in this movement comes in two parts, allowing Haydn to return with either one part of the theme, without repeats, or with a new harmonic interpretation. However, one barely has time to notice as the movement never stops moving (some have called it a perpetual motion finale). All too quickly, a stately fanfare brings Haydn’s enchanting Symphony to a firm and unambiguous ending.

Gioachino Rossini was one of the most successful opera composers of the nineteenth century, with thirty-nine operas in both French and Italian to his name. At the age of 21, he composed L’Italiana in Algeri, or The Italian Girl in Algiers, a two-act drama giocoso—an opera that features a mix of serious and comedic elements. Rossini completed it in a very short time; his own account says it took less than three weeks, though it may have actually taken almost four. The opera premiered in spring of 1813 and wowed audiences with its beautiful melodies, Rossini’s specialty. The Overture is often performed on its own, and it packs a surprise with a quiet opening and a sudden forte, not dissimilar to Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony. This was likely no accident as Rossini was a great admirer of Haydn. The overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers  is effervescent and bubbles with energy and many musical delights. It bears some of Rossini’s signature gambits such as memorable melodies, surprising developments and exciting build-ups. It’s a perfect finale for a program filled with many dramatic turns, and luckily, it offers us a joyful ending to the evening’s program.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO

storm large sings 7 deadly sins

Tonight’s program features two works by Kurt Weill, a German composer who immigrated to the United States after the Nazis came to power in 1933. The concert opens with a suite of songs from musicals he composed between 1928 and 1943 and closes with a set of songs he originally conceived as a ballet. In between we will hear Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto, which is based on the life of Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who urged his fellow Jews to flee Germany when it fell under Nazi control. Eventually Prinz himself fled, seeking sanctuary in the United States, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement.

In 2013, violinist Daniel Hope commissioned a suite of Kurt Weill’s music from British composer, conductor, and arranger Paul Bateman. The resulting work – “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra” – takes the listener on a musical journey through some of Weill’s most popular and recognizable songs. With this Suite, Bateman seeks to represent an important period in Weill’s life: his emigration from Germany to the United States. This transition fostered in Weill two contrasting compositional goals, one concerned with uncompromising exploration and experimentation, and the other with catering to a massive, demographically broad audience. Historian David Drew, widely considered the world authority on Weill, introduced the idea of “two Weills,” each epitomizing one of his disparate ambitions. In his arrangement, Bateman juxtaposes works from each of the “two Weills,” evoking a sense of his development over time.

The Suite opens with “Havana Song” from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which premiered in 1930. The opera, with a libretto by Bertolt Brecht, is set in a destination-city for pleasure-seekers. The piece itself is sung by a young woman who discusses the price of her companionship. Next comes “September Song” from Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday, a 1938 musical with book by Maxwell Anderson. This melancholy discourse on the passage of time is the finale of the musical’s first act, but has found a second life as a standard. Then, Bateman switches gears with the lively “Kannonen-Song” from The Threepenny Opera (1928) and “My Ship” from Lady in the Dark (1941). The latter, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, features Liza, the musical’s protagonist, struggling to remember a nursery rhyme from her childhood. Bateman follows these with a song from One Touch of Venus, whose Broadway premiere in 1943 makes it the latest work presented in the Suite. The song in question, “Speak Low,” has lyrics by renowned poet Ogden Nash. The finale, The Threepenny Opera’s best-known song, “Mack the Knife,” is versatile enough to encapsulate the work of the “two Weills” and thus provides a fitting ending to the Suite.

Weill fled Nazi Germany because both his music, which was strongly influenced by jazz and other popular styles, and his Jewish heritage put him in serious danger. Also in danger was Joachim Prinz, a German-born rabbi who lived in Berlin until 1937. Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto “I Will Not Remain Silent” tells his story. Prinz warned his fellow Jews of the coming crisis and encouraged many of them to leave. By doing so he saved countless lives. When Prinz immigrated to New Jersey, he did not settle down for a quiet life. He continued to speak out as part of the World Jewish Congress, and he became involved in the Civil Rights movement. Prinz even gave a public oration during the famous March on Washington, right before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Adolphe chose Prinz as the subject for his Concerto to celebrate his profound contributions to both Jewish culture and American Civil Rights.

As a composer, educator, performer, and author, Adolphe has enjoyed a successful career. Fueled by his interest in the interplay between music and neurology, he authored a book of exercises to help develop what he calls “Musical Imagination.” Furthermore, he has taken up the appointment of composer-in-residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute in Los Angeles. His passion for learning also bleeds into the realms of history and social consciousness, as is evidenced by his Concerto. As Adolphe himself explained, “The violin represents the voice of Joachim Prinz throughout the Concerto. In the first movement, the orchestra represents Nazi Germany; in the second movement, the orchestra represents America during the civil rights era.” The way Prinz’s voice manifests itself in the violin is passionate and urgent. This contrasts drastically with the dissonant, martial, and uncompromising voice of Nazi Germany in the orchestra. The second movement begins more peacefully, although there is still plenty of strife in Prinz’s new home. Steeped in this struggle, Prinz’s voice continues to “speak out” against injustice, racism, and prejudice. A beautiful soliloquy in the form of a passionate violin cadenza brings the Concerto to a close.

On his way to the United States Kurt Weill stopped in Paris, just in time to witness the creation of a new dance troupe, Les Ballets. Choreographer George Balanchine and dancer Boris Kochno commissioned a sung ballet – or ballet chanté – from Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Although he had no interest in working with Brecht again, Weill begrudgingly collaborated on this, their last project together. The resulting piece, The Seven Deadly Sins, was dedicated to the influential patron of the arts Marie-Laure de Noailles, who was involved with some of the most important artists of the 20th century including Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

The Seven Deadly Sins features roles for five singers and one dancer. Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya originated the singing role of Anna I, and Tilly Losch danced the part of Anna II. The two communicate with each other, giving the sense that they are two separate people, but one could interpret the two roles as two aspects of a single personality. Anna I’s strong will and fierce determination help her to convince Anna II to suppress her true feelings. A male quartet provides commentary, acting as the Annas’ “family.”

The Prologue introduces us to Anna, who, too proud to sell herself, decides to travel to seven different cities to seek her fortune, but she encounters a deadly sin in each. In the first movement, Sloth, Anna’s family sings a church chorale, warning her to avoid laziness. The second movement, a waltz titled Pride, finds Anna performing topless dances in Memphis. Wrath is a foxtrot and takes place in Los Angeles, where Anna works at a movie studio, though her anger quickly gets her fired. Then the family assembles in Philadelphia for Gluttony, an (almost) a capella barbershop quartet that warns Anna to watch her weight. She moves on yet again, but must contend with Lust in Boston. She is torn between a wealthy man she does not love, and a poor man she does. Greed (Tennessee) is an aria sung by Anna’s father, who expresses the family’s concerns about Anna’s reputation. Finally we will hear Envy in San Francisco, where Anna expresses her jealousy of those who can be true to their feelings. In the epilogue, Anna moves back to her family’s “new little house” in Louisiana. The Seven Deadly Sins received mixed reviews, and was mostly forgotten until its revival shortly after Weill’s death in 1950. Since then, it has grown in stature, becoming one of Weill’s most respected post-emigration works.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO


tonight’s compositions in LACO’s history


All three works on tonight’s program are new to the LACO repertoire. American composer Bruce Adolphe’s contemporary work, Violin Concerto, “I Will Not Remain Silent,” is bookended by two works from Kurt Weill. A collection of Weill’s popular songs, “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra” (arranged by Paul Bateman for violinist Daniel Hope), receives its US premiere. Vocalist Storm Large and vocal quartet Hudson Shad perform Weill’s famous The Seven Deadly Sins.

mozart & mendelssohn

Mozart was very busy in 1786 and 1787. He fathered two children: Johann Thomas Leopold (1786) and Theresia Constanzia (1787), and also grieved the death of his father (1787). In this turbulent environment he composed two operas (The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni), a Piano Concerto (No. 25), and tonight’s Symphony No. 38 in D major. Mozart composed the Symphony in Vienna, but at that time the city was less than enthusiastic about his work, so he decided to premiere it in another city that more eagerly welcomed his music, Prague. The city’s patrons were already enamored with The Marriage of Figaro, so when Mozart arrived to conduct the opera he brought his new Symphony with him.

Most symphonies of the Classical era conform to the standard four-movement structure: a lively first movement, a slow second movement, a minuet and trio third movement, and a fast fourth movement. Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, however, contains just three movements, omitting the minuet. Though it does not feature voices, the Symphony is noticeably influenced by Mozart’s operas. The first movement juxtaposes sections of imitative counterpoint by individual instruments with powerful statements by the whole ensemble, evoking the dramatic flourishes of an opera overture. The next movement provides a lyrical contrast to the first. Its shifting moods and colors add a larger sense of dramatic weight. The finale provides ample evidence of Mozart’s brilliant gift for counterpoint. However, its themes are interrupted by stormy interjections, once again evoking the operatic overture, where the mood can turn from joyous to tragic in the blink of an eye. Despite this, the music’s effervescence shines through, beautifully capturing the theatrical flair that made Mozart the toast of Prague in the late 1780s.

Adam Schoenberg is an award-winning composer who has garnered success with both his concert and film music. Educated by John Corigliano and Robert Beaser, and carrying degrees from both Juilliard and Oberlin, Schoenberg exemplifies the 21st century style: his music is full of bold ideas. It is able to create mystery and evoke color, but still entertains listeners of all sorts. Scatter is a work written for PROJECT Trio, a three-piece chamber ensemble formed by flutist Greg Pattillo, cellist Eric Stephenson, and double bassist Peter Seymour. The concerto features traditional instruments coupled with electronic sounds which add layers of new colors to a traditional orchestra. It opens subtly, with brief fragments of melody seeming to rise out of the atmospheric, electro-acoustic drone. Eventually, however, the piece takes off, and each soloist brings out different repeated “grooves” throughout the vibrant and energetic first section. One might term the style dynamic minimalism, as the work’s repeated phrases always seem to lead somewhere new. Each soloist has their moment to shine, but certain members of the orchestra are also given chances to emerge from the sound. Schoenberg draws upon idioms from jazz, funk, and fusion in addition to classical music, allowing room for much improvisation. The sectional structure of the single-movement work contrasts moments of quiet ambiance with lively, rhythmic, melodic passages. As many of the musical decisions are left to the players’ discretions, every performance will be a little bit different.

As a young man, Felix Mendelssohn was deeply motivated by his travels. A trip to Italy inspired his Fourth Symphony, and a trip to Scotland in 1829 planted the seeds for two works, The Hebrides Overture and his Third Symphony, Op. 56, “Scottish.” He began sketching the music for both pieces right away; he wrote down a couple dozen measures of the Hebrides Overture almost immediately! When it came to the Symphony, however, Mendelssohn took his sweet time. The bulk of the writing came much later on, and he didn’t actually finish the work until 1842. The orchestration calls for a traditional Classical ensemble: winds and brass in pairs, timpani, and strings, but the Symphony also expresses quite a bit of Romantic spirit in two significant ways. First, there’s a decidedly Romantic feel in the work’s dark and stormy sections. Second, Mendelssohn switched the traditional middle movements, normally a slow movement followed by a minuet and trio. In the “Scottish,” the second movement is a quick scherzo to replace the minuet and trio, while the third movement is a mournful, emotional Adagio.

The piece begins with a brief Andante that quickly gives way to an agitated Allegro that comprises the majority of the first movement. Here, Mendelssohn subjects the theme to several variations in which the stormy weather and rough seas of Scotland manifest repeatedly. All of the harmonic and melodic touches typical of Mendelssohn are present: lightly chromatic harmonies and jaunty rhythms and lyricism. The character of the second movement, however, couldn’t be more different. It is loosely based on Scottish folk music, and although Mendelssohn didn’t quote any specific tunes, the movement paints a clear picture. To him, it was the best way to evoke the lifeblood of the country and its people. The movement features several buoyant, playful melodies that are not easily forgotten. One can expect to be humming them for some time afterwards. The third movement, a melancholy Adagio, definitely draws on the dark mood, if not the actual musical material of the introduction. Mendelssohn drives the Symphony to a bombastic close with an energetic fourth movement. More folk-like melodies eventually yield to the same stormy themes heard in the first movement. However, Mendelssohn does not simply recapitulate. Instead, he reinvigorates the music by adding a feeling of majesty, ultimately transforming the earlier gloomy passages into a grand fanfare. The finale perfectly expresses the glory and wonder of Scotland through the lens of Mendelssohn’s music.

beethoven “eroica”

A composer’s inspiration can truly come from anywhere, and the first and last pieces on tonight’s program are proof of this. Contemporary composer Albert Schnelzer found the inspiration for his work A Freak in Burbank in both the past (in composer Joseph Haydn) and the present (in filmmaker Tim Burton). Beethoven found the inspiration for his Third Symphony in a political leader whom he admired for (purportedly) championing the disenfranchised: Napoleon Bonaparte. The inspiration for Jean Sibelius’ Six Humoresques, which fall in between these two bombastic bookends, is not quite as interesting. However, the work reveals the composer’s profound love of the violin, the crux of Sibelius’ musical experience.

When the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra commissioned Albert Schnelzer to write A Freak in Burbank in 2008, the Swedish composer had the films of Tim Burton and the music of Joseph Haydn on the brain. He admired the playful and humorous elements of Haydn’s music, qualities that seemed to Schnelzer infused in Burton’s work as well. Films like Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and the Batman series (1989–97) evidence Burton’s humorous yet macabre style. These qualities appeared during Burton’s childhood; when he wasn’t watching horror films in the theaters of Burbank, he was spreading rumors of an alien invasion to the kid next door.

Schnelzer’s orchestra is “Haydn-sized,” in the words of the composer, with little more than woodwinds, horns, trumpets and strings. Timpani, wind chimes, and bass drum round out the percussion section. He endeavored to imitate Haydn’s festive transparency, but in a modern context. As Schnelzer himself asks in the score, “Will the spirit of Haydn survive in an American suburb?”

A Freak in Burbank begins mysteriously. A dissonant sting pierces the silence, and tremors in the woodwinds and strings follow shortly. The music is a bit unsettling and makes one feel as though he or she is in a horror film, being chased by some unseen, sinister enemy. Sustained notes in the high strings give way to lower instruments, which rise up out of the sound to play hauntingly beautiful solo lines. There are some passages one might almost consider cheerful, but the orchestra provides sporadic, dissonant punctuations to keep the listener on edge. As the piece nears its end we are thrust violently back into the chase, fleeing for our lives. Tension continues to build until a startlingly abrupt ending. Did something catch us? Or did we just wake up from a dream?

Jean Sibelius began violin lessons at the age of ten, and he wanted nothing more than to become a virtuosic soloist. Despite being denied this dream, he wrote a few yearning love letters to the instrument, including his Violin Concerto and Six Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra. The latter are categorized in two opus numbers, the first two in Op. 87 and the final four in Op. 89, despite Sibelius’ intention to present them as a single suite. The years leading up to the completion of the work were a tumultuous time for Sibelius. He was dealing not only with domestic troubles fueled by his alcoholism, but also the tragedy of World War I and its devastating political effects on Finland. These problems were just the beginning. Before long Sibelius would give up composing altogether. Although he would live to be 92, Sibelius wrote very little in the last three decades of his life. Despite this, he completed the work in 1917 and it premiered two years later, performed by soloist Paul Cherkassky and the Helsinki City Orchestra under the baton of Sibelius himself. On the same program that evening was the premiere of Sibelius’ revised Symphony No. 5.

The entire set of Six Humoresques is brief, about 20 minutes in total, but Sibelius packed them with a multitude of musical ideas, intending to compile them into a collection of dances. Indeed, the mazurka (a lively Polish dance) strongly influences the first Humoresque, while the third draws upon the Baroque gavotte. Sibelius gave the violinist rapid, virtuosic lines evoking the passagework of Paganini. The second and fifth Humoresques contain similarly spectacular passages. The Humoresques are not solely about fireworks, however. The fourth movement especially contains beautiful moments of repose and thoughtfulness. The final Humoresque flirts briefly with the virtuosity of the earlier movements but settles on a lighter, more jovial tone. The set ends not with a bang, but with a wink, perhaps entreating us to not take the whole endeavor too seriously.

At first, Beethoven dedicated Symphony No. 3 to Napoleon Bonaparte out of respect. He felt the man represented the ideals of the revolutionaries in France. The symphony was to be a grand gesture for a grand man, but when Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of the French Beethoven was sorely disappointed, and in protest he renamed the work “Eroica” rather than “Bonaparte.”

The symphony marks the beginning of Beethoven’s middle, or “Heroic,” period. During this time he began to leave behind the Classically influenced simplicity of his early style in favor of large scale, structurally complex, meaningfully deep compositions. Musically speaking, Symphony No. 3 is a tour de force. The first movement alone, with the exposition repeat, is as long as the typical symphony of the day. Several programmatic aspects of the Symphony suggest an intended narrative, notably the funeral march in the second movement and the reference to a ballet in the last. There is certainly no dearth of emotional content in this Symphony, and when one considers his concurrent attempts to come to grips with his encroaching hearing loss, the work’s violently dramatic outbursts make a lot more sense.

It begins with two signal chords, a musical gesture that was common in the very earliest symphonies. From there, Beethoven offers an appropriately heroic theme. He showcases different moods through frequent dynamic shifts, sometimes bigger than life, sometimes dark and pensive. There is enough emotion and struggle in the first movement to tell an entire story in and of itself, but it is only the beginning.

The second movement is a funeral march, a solemn dirge that every so often gives way to sweeter, even optimistic musical interludes. One such interlude culminates near the center of the movement in a triumphant moment, until the original dirge reasserts itself. This movement in particular has a life separate from the Symphony as a ceremonial work for occasions of mourning (it was played at FDR’s funeral, for example). The third movement is a quickly-moving scherzo that crackles with energy. The rhythm in this section is especially inventive. Three French horns playing in counterpoint are featured in the Trio section of the scherzo. Their warm timbre might bring to mind hunting calls or military ceremonies.

Beethoven based the final movement on one of the main themes of his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. The ballet details the myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give to his fellow humans, an act for which he was severely punished. The theme begins haltingly, but soon gains momentum. We are subsequently treated to ever-more-complex variations, including fugal sections. The coda is suitably grand, with a triumphantly bombastic ending. The reference to the Prometheus myth might suggest an allegory for the artist’s creativity, with Beethoven as Prometheus and his music as the life-giving fire. Indeed, in the 200 or so years since his death, Beethoven’s stature as an artist has grown to near demi-god status. Nothing could put out his flame, not deafness, chronic illness, despair, or loneliness. His Third Symphony is when that first spark catches fire, and it is truly brilliant to behold.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO

yo-yo ma plays haydn & brahms

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is fortunate not only to have so many talented musicians, but also to be able to invite guests of the highest artistic caliber. Tonight we welcome international cellist YoYo Ma, who, along with our own Jeffrey Kahane, presents a special evening featuring music by Haydn and Brahms.

Joseph Haydn spent most of his career in the service of the Esterhazy family. On one hand, this was a fortuitous circumstance —Haydn had unwavering financial support and a plethora of fine musicians for whom to write—but on the other it limited his ability to travel, perform and compose for a larger public. When Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy died in 1790, Haydn was released from his duties, and thus began a new phase in his career. We know of Haydn’s time in London from the dozen symphonies he wrote during his two visits, but he also composed some exciting showpieces for the English audience, who adored his music. His Piano Trio No. 39 in G major is one such piece. Its nickname, “Gypsy,” comes from its final movement, which is marked with the directive “all’Ongarese,” or “in the Hungarian style.” Haydn dedicated the work to Rebecca Schroeter, a music copyist with whom the composer was romantically involved.

The opening movement, a charming Andante waltz, eschews sonata form in favor of a set of double variations. True to the era’s prevailing style, each variation offers something special: a more complex part for one of the players, a version in a minor key, or a more chromatic rendering of the theme. The second movement slows the tempo to Poco adagio and provides a lovely melodic exploration, at first in the piano, but later, and more notably, for the violin. The third movement, a lively Rondo, is really what this Trio is known for. It is even occasionally performed as a stand-alone piece. This lively Rondo features a melody that evokes folk tuneswith its syncopated accents and almost dance-like, rhythmic quality. As with any rondo form, we revisit the same melody numerous times, but with each subsequent appearance Haydn treats us to some surprises: excursions into minor keys, dynamic shifts, and pizzicatos. Later piano trios would give the cello a more prominent part in the conversation, but here the violin and piano do most of the quick passagework. The Rondo is an exciting movement, made all the more special by its brevity.

Johannes Brahms wrote only two Cello Sonatas in his life. He completed the first in 1865 but waited until 1886 (more than two decades!) to compose the second. It is the latter composition—the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major—which we will hear this evening. Brahms dedicated the work to its first performer, cellist Robert Hausmann, who also played in a string quartet led by Joseph Joachim, a famous virtuoso violinist of the time and a close friend to Brahms.

Content with the traditional forms and ideas with which he was accustomed, Brahms did not involve himself with the exploratory Romanticism of his contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, he constructed this Sonata in four movements, with a sonata form Allegro vivace to begin the piece. Brahms’s writing is passionate from the very first moment, with stormy mood shifts and effusive declamations, especially in the cello. He labeled the second movement Adagio affetuoso, calling for a slower pace and a deeper emotional quality. It is a quiet meditation, less concerned with drama and more with pathos. Pizzicato passages, including the opening theme, provide some contrast to the long and flowing melodic lines. The lyrical third movement brings back a feeling of impetuousness. Even though Brahms was in his fifties when he wrote this sonata, it feels youthful and passionate, even brooding and angsty at times. The central F major section places us in the eye of an emotional storm before returning to the more comfortable F minor introduced in the opening. The fourth movement, a rondo, is the shortest section of the Sonata, but it provides something of an optimistic ending to the work. It is not without its emotional turbulence, however, as Brahms withholds a complete harmonic resolution until the very last moment.

Brahms’s passion for the music of his past is evident not only in the forms of his pieces. He also collected published scores of Baroque and Classical masters and analyzed them, often copying out works that particularly intrigued him in order to study their styles. In the 1870s, Brahms found a divertimento for wind instruments (supposedly by Haydn) titled “Chorale St. Antoni.” Its theme, which may have actually been written by Haydn’s student Pleyel, Haydn moves primarily by step, but has a few leaps as well. Interestingly, the first phrase is five measures long instead of the usual four.

Brahms composed a set of variations on this theme in 1873, which he titled Variations on a Theme by Haydn. The piece begins with an introduction that quotes the original chorale theme. Brahms then works through eight variations in which he changes tempo, texture and mood, but keeps that unique initial five-bar phrase (and a four-bar coda) as a structural anchor. Each variation ranges farther afield, obscuring the identity of the theme more and more as the piece progresses.

In the finale of the work, Brahms used the old-fashioned technique of building variations over a repeating bass line—a passacaglia. Brahms’s bass line adapts the opening five-measure phrase; he retains the length of the phrase, but simplifies the notes. He then spins out 17 variations over the passacaglia. Little by little, the theme works its way through different parts of the texture until it regains its place as the melody. Throughout the piece, Brahms shows his harmonic inventiveness and creativity despite his strict, self-imposed framework. Brahms’s unique gift was to marry the forms and techniques of the past with the harmonies and rhythms of the Romantic period. He did this in many of his works, but nowhere is it as evident as in Variations on a Theme by Haydn.

We close out this spectacular evening with Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major. The work, written as the forms of the Classical period were coalescing, features both Baroque influences and the sonata form that would become the central formal concept in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Haydn used the traditional three-movement structure found in most Classical concertos, wherein two energetic movements bookend a slower middle section. In each of these, Haydn calls upon the skills of the soloist often. The first movement opens up, in typical fashion, with the strings taking the lead, but Haydn also evoked color in the woodwinds. After the orchestral exposition, the cello soloist presents similar material to which Haydn adds flourishes and variation. The woodwinds sit out the slow movement, changing the color and mood a bit. The cellist’s sustained notes in this section are achingly beautiful, and there is a cadenza for the soloist, a slightly unusual touch. The finale, again in sonata form, features more opportunities for the soloist to shine. LACO and Yo-Yo Ma are sure to bring Haydn’s Cello Concerto to a satisfying and scintillating close.

baroque conversations 1

Mahan Esfahani, LACO’s very first Baroque Conversations artistic partner, has named three different cities to be the focus of the music during his three-year tenure. Tonight he leads us to the first stop, Berlin in the 1740s and 50s. The composers on this evening’s concert did not merely overlap geographically, but also shared many similar experiences. Three worked at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia (CPE Bach, Janitsch and Benda), three were German (Benda was Czech), two studied law before pursuing music as their central focus (WF Bach and Janitsch),  and three came from musical families (Janitsch was born of a merchant). While all four lived during the important decades between the end of the Baroque period and the beginning of the Classical period, each chose a unique way to navigate through these transitionary times, some carrying the past with them, some looking firmly ahead.

Johann Gottlieb Janitsch was a German composer who became very active in the musical community in Frankfurt while he was a law student at the University there. Not only did he write music, but he also conducted and played in Prince Frederick’s orchestra. When Frederick II – known as Frederick the Great – ascended the throne, Janitsch was named contraviolinist in his court orchestra in Berlin, where Janitsch was to remain for the rest of his life. While there, he also began a weekly concert series called the “Friday Academies” that featured musicians from the court orchestra, enthusiasts from the community and guests. These concerts flourished for years and inspired other concert series of a similar nature. Janitsch witnessed the transition from High Baroque complexity to the beginnings of a cooler symmetry and simplicity in the Classical period. His musical style reflects both of these shifts. Some of his works show great mastery of counterpoint, while others use the simpler, gallant style found in the works of CPE Bach. Among his surviving works are about three dozen trio sonatas and 40 or so quadro sonatas. The theme of his Quadro in G minor for Harpsichord and Strings is the Lutheran chorale, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” whose text is related to the Passion story in the Bible.

Of Bach’s many children, a few carried on the musical tradition of the family. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was his oldest son and the second child born to him. Like his father, who was also his teacher, he was known as a fine organist with incredible skills as an improviser. When WF Bach finished at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig, where his father was working, he briefly studied law at Leipzig University but changed focus to mathematics. When he began finding employment as a musician, however, his interest in math became more of a leisure activity. WF Bach worked as an organist, first in Dresden and then in Halle. Unhappy in the latter position, he left without any other prospects for employment, and his professional life fell into disarray, though is unclear exactly why things went sour. Perhaps it was WF Bach’s uncompromising personality or his unwillingness to write music that was easily accessible to the public. Unlike his brother, CPE Bach, who embraced the clarity emerging in the nascent Classical period, WF Bach continued to write in the complex contrapuntal style that was his birthright, as is evidenced in his Sonata in D major for Solo Harpsichord. His reputation is somewhat sullied by the fact that he, as one of the caretakers of his father’s manuscripts, sold off some of these precious documents to pay his debts. Regardless of whatever troubles he may have experienced in his personal life, his music masterfully displays the scintillating joy of counterpoint and improvisation. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s contribution to this concert is his Sonata in B minor for Violin and Harpsichord. As a composer and musician, CPE Bach worked tirelessly, producing dozens of works including sonatas (for various instruments, but especially keyboard), symphonies, liturgical works and songs. In addition, he published a keyboard treatise while he was working in Berlin of which Haydn and Beethoven were reportedly big fans.

Jirí Antonín Benda, known as Georg Anton Benda, was a Czech composer born in Bohemia. Like Janitsch, Benda also found a place at Frederick the Great’s court. He was just 19 years old when he was appointed second violinist of the orchestra. In 1750, he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Duke of Gotha, where he wrote primarily instrumental works, but he was very interested in writing for the voice as well. He traveled to Italy to absorb the Italian style, and was particularly interested in opera there. A young Mozart admired Benda’s stage works – melodramas and singspiels (vocal dramas with spoken dialogue). Benda was well-known for his instrumental works, of which the Concerto in G minor for Harpsichord and Strings is a prime example.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO

bach & beethoven 7

Jeffrey Kahane and LACO have chosen some heavy hitters to open this concert season, and it’s no surprise; the entire season is going to be spectacular. If we think about the length of time it would take to listen to all of the music of JS Bach, Wolfgang Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, we would be listening to symphonies, sonatas, cantatas and concertos twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for three solid weeks. And I didn’t even include the work of the fourth prolific composer on this weekend’s program, Tigran Mansurian, who is in his seventies and still actively composing. Each one of these composers found ways to make their music, even as they overcame challenges that ranged from heavy workloads to financial troubles to serious illnesses.

JS Bach lived sixty-five years. He fathered twenty children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. He produced consistently throughout his career in the various jobs he held. The work that opens our concert is a cantata written by Bach, likely in 1730. In his job as cantor of the main churches in Leipzig, including the St. Thomas Church, Bach was called upon to write a new cantata every Sunday. Now, just in case you think this was a quick thing Bach could dash off in an afternoon, let’s go over just how complex one of these cantatas could be. Cantata No. 51, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” which will be presented on this weekend’s concert, requires two skilled soloists, soprano (Joèlle Harvey, in our performance), and trumpet (played by our own David Washburn), along with an instrumental ensemble. The cantata has five movements, with a breathless opening that joyfully praises God, followed by an accompanied recitative that shifts the mood into more serious territory. A heartfelt aria forms the emotional core of this cantata. While listening to this, one might be forgiven for forgetting that this was a musical piece to presented in the middle of the Lutheran service and not some dramatic opera. It premiered on a regular Sunday on the church calendar—not even a holiday or feast day. But, Bach would not let us forget; the fourth movement is the Lutheran chorale, a feature present in all cantatas (whether they featured choir or soloists). In the case of Cantata No. 51, the chorale is “Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren,” a song giving praise and glory to God. The chorale—which alternates lines for the soprano soloist with music for two virtuosic violins—gives way without pause to a scintillating and contrapuntal “Alleluia.” This is not just some church music; this is a mini-drama! And he did this every week for years—sometimes very simply, sometimes with more soloists and a choir. All of the while holding down a job that required his attention throughout the week and seeing to the needs of a large family, including giving music lessons to his children. Bach had a secret weapon, though: coffee. Also he was brilliant.

Mozart’s productivity was pretty amazing, considering that he did not make it to his thirty-sixth birthday. But then, we must remember that Mozart started composing as a child, so he had a few years of work experience under his belt by the time most of us got our learner’s permit. He wrote his first opera-like piece (it was a section of an oratorio) when he was eleven. He composed symphonies, concertos, sonatas, string quartets, serenades, divertimenti and plenty of vocal music. When he was about fifteen, he traveled to Italy with his father Leopold, and composed a motet for a famous castrato of the Milan opera. It is this piece, Exultate jubilate that we will hear in the concert. Mozart was a fast enough creator and worker to be able to feel the stroke of inspiration and complete a piece within a matter of days. A lot of Mozart’s challenges were more difficulties of management than they were of creativity or output. By his last years, the struggle to make enough money to support a certain kind of lifestyle caused lots of stress, but through it all, Mozart kept writing. One veteran composer of music for television once quipped to me that he thought Mozart would have made a stellar composer of tv music: the man could churn out quality work in a pinch.

Tigran Mansurian’s fifty-year career as a composer was not without its ups and downs. As a composer in Armenia when it was part of the Soviet Union, Mansurian was not entirely free to experiment with avant-garde art music, one of his important influences. Rather than writing in a style that was not true to his artistic sensibilities, Mansurian found work writing film scores, which allowed him a little more leeway to experiment. His style also focuses on another important influence, Armenian folk music. Violin Concerto No. 2, “Four Serious Songs,” which Mansurian composed in 2006, suggests a reflection on grief and acceptance. With his title, Mansurian made reference to Brahms’ late composition Vier ernste Gesänge, which was composed after his long-time friend, Clara Schumann, suffered a stroke. Mansurian continues to compose even now, the political issues a distant memory, the challenges coming only from himself.

Our program ends with Beethoven. The ease with which Mozart seemed to compose contrasts starkly with the ‘tortured artist’ aesthetic Beethoven exuded. I’m sure you can think of one struggle Beethoven had on the road to immortality. Who would have imagined that one of history’s greatest composers would have spent nearly half his life with significant hearing loss? And that wasn’t all of it either. His health in general was not good. He probably had some sort of inflammatory bowel disease, and he suffered problems with his liver and kidneys, to say nothing of the migraines he endured. The figure of Beethoven is synonymous with struggle itself. We see it in his questioning “Heiligenstadt Testament” (a letter he addressed but never sent to his brothers considering how he might go on with his infirmity). We see it in the mad cross-outs and alternative versions that appear in his scores. And even though he outlived Mozart by more than twenty years, he wrote only nine symphonies to Mozart’s forty-one. But what majestic pieces they are! Born of passionate struggle. Each one evidence of dedication and hard work. LACO’s opening concert features the magical Seventh as its finale. This is the piece Wagner once labeled “the apotheosis of the dance.” Only the methodical theme and variations in the second movement (an absolutely perfect slow build) nods at the internal struggle. Otherwise it is pure elation. How Beethoven could access that feeling and somehow express it in music is the miracle. This concert will get Jeffrey Kahane’s farewell season off to a wonderful and joyful start.

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all about the schumanns

Robert Schumann was a fascinating person. We think of him as a composer first, but he also was quite a talented writer, penning articles, poetry, and reviews. His father was an author and a publisher, and Robert grew up around literature. He was a voracious reader, and at the ago of thirteen, wrote short articles for one of his father’s publications. In his passion for both literary matters and music, Robert Schumann embodies the quintessence of the Romantic spirit.

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Schumann was devoted to his own self expression, but also wrote about and reviewed the music of other composers. In earlier publications and in the Neue Zeitcschrift für Musik, a music magazine founded by Robert Schumann and Friedrich Wieck (who would become his father-in-law), Robert wrote articles—more than three hundred in total—about up and coming composers, new compositions, and the state of affairs for music in the nineteenth century. In these writings, he introduced a secret society called the League of David (Davidsbündler), a group of artists whose main purpose was to slay the Philistines. In this context, the Philistines were the makers and consumers of music that was banal and pedestrian. Schumann’s society had members like Eusebius, Florestan, and Raro, three imaginary men who represented aspects of Schumann’s own personality. He used these characters to advocate for other artists, and to debate and discuss the music of the day. As a champion of new music, Schumann supported the work of Chopin, Brahms, Berlioz, and others.

He lived for literature, art, and music. And in keeping with his stature as the model of a “Romantic,” we must of course mention the epic love story of Robert and Clara Wieck. What could be more romantic than a tale of forbidden love? When Robert was 21 years old, he began studying piano with Friedrich Wieck. Wieck not only taught piano, but had a prodigy for a daughter. Clara’s skill at the piano was well-known from her very first public appearance.

Robert moved in with the Wieck family, and eventually fell in love with Clara, much to Mr. Wieck’s consternation. Schumann kept very detailed journals, so we know that Robert and Clara kissed for the first time on November 25, 1835 when Robert was 25 and Clara was 16. Friedrich did everything he could to discourage this relationship, taking Clara away on tours that lasted months at a time, and forbidding their correspondence. Schumann, prone to depression, suffered a great deal from their separation. The young lovers went so far as to take up a court case, asking for legal permission to marry without Friedrich’s consent. This caused a rift between Clara and her father, and in the long battle that followed, Schumann’s depression worsened. Eventually, however, their case prevailed, and the two were married.

The Schumanns had eight children, and endeavored to find balance in their lives. Robert needed time and quiet to compose, Clara needed a place to practice so she could continue playing concerts. They faced the same challenges of any working couple with a large family. Sometimes the difficulty was in trying to find someone to care for the children, and sometimes it was simply finding the time and space to create. Sometimes there was tension because of Clara’s more public success as a performer (Schumann gave up performing years earlier because of an issue with his right hand). They experienced the loss of one of their children at the age of one. And then there were Robert’s severe bouts of depression.

Next weekend, LACO presents Schumann’s Second Symphony. Composed in a time of mental turmoil, this work represents a triumph of creativity over adversity. In the 1840s, Robert suffered from both depression and auditory hallucinations. Tinnitus was probably the cause of the constant ringing in his ears. He also experienced acute anxiety and worried about being poisoned by metal objects. By the 1850s, Schumann began to hear voices, heavenly choirs in his head, and sometimes he had demonic visions that frightened him. In fear that he might harm the members of his family, Schumann attempted suicide in 1854. He was rescued, but asked to be put in an asylum, where he remained for the last two years of his life.

The love story doesn’t end with Robert Schumann’s death, however. Clara remained devoted to her husband’s work and his memory. Clara spent the rest of her career playing Robert’s music, popularizing it. She was also named the editor of Robert’s complete works for the publisher Breitkopf and Härtel. She outlived her husband by 40 years, but remained unmarried for all that time. Robert paid tribute to this love and devotion while he was alive, and you can hear one such tribute in the Second Symphony. In the final movement of the Symphony, there is a reference to the last song in Beethoven’s song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte.”

In addition to love notes from Robert Schumann to Clara, LACO’s upcoming concert also features Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major and the world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s commission for Sound Investment, Evidence. It’s going to be a wonderful evening that celebrates the quintessential Romantic in Robert Schumann, the perfect Classicist in Mozart, and something entirely new that’s never before been heard by the public. Schumann would have approved heartily of the Sound Investment commission, because it encourages composers to write new music. No doubt composer Matthew Aucoin (who will appear also as guest conductor) would have found a great champion in Robert Schumann.

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prokofiev classical program notes

Tonight’s concert is book-ended by two symphonies in D major. Although their composition dates are separated by more than a century, these two works have an interesting connection. Twentieth- century composer Sergei Prokofiev claimed that his “Classical” Symphony is what Haydn might have written had he lived another 100 years. Any fan of Haydn knows that he would have appreciated the humor and the craftsmanship of Prokofiev’s work, but you can
judge the composer’s statement for yourself when you hear Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony and Haydn’s “The Clock” Symphony on the same evening. The program also features the Los Angeles premiere of Mason Bates’s Cello Concerto. Joshua Roman, the cellist for whom the concerto was written, performs this extraordinary piece with the Orchestra.

Sergei Prokofiev spent his formative years as a young student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. This was a time of considerable political turmoil in Russia. At the tender age of 17, he played his first compositions in public, and his music was perceived as avant-garde and difficult to understand, an opinion that suited the proud Prokofiev just fine. He was more than willing to trade on the image of himself as something of a musical renegade. The premieres of his First and Second piano concertos also caused a scandal in his homeland because of the bold, virtuosic writing, and dissonances some critics deemed disturbing. His reputation as a progressive composer was sealed.

It is interesting, then, that one of his most famous works is a piece that looks back to the older style of Haydn, known by the nickname “Classical.” Prokofiev wrote the Symphony No. 1 in D major in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. The composer toured quite extensively during that year, in part to escape the turmoil and tumult in Russia. It was also a creatively productive period for him, as he composed and premiered many works on his tour.

In the time between Prokofiev’s graduation from the Conservatory and the premiere of the “Classical” Symphony, the composer had traveled to London and met many of the musical figures that were shaping modern music in Europe. The idea of using 20th-century harmonies and resources in the service of a classical form, like the symphony, was one that many composers would explore in the early part of the 20th century and beyond. Although we would call this “Neo-classicism,” Prokofiev did not see the “Classical” Symphony as part of a neo-classical trend in his style. For him, it was an isolated experiment, and he disliked fellow Russian Igor Stravinsky’s preoccupation with neo-classicism, famously calling it, “Bach on the wrong notes.”

The “Classical” Symphony is an extremely interesting work that meshes the tradition of clarity and formality with the renegade spirit of Prokofiev’s early works. Classicism was attractive to the unsentimental Prokofiev because it eschewed the overwrought emotionality of Romanticism. There are Haydn-esque qualities in the “Classical” Symphony, like the sudden changes in volume we experience in works like “The Surprise” and “The Clock” symphonies. There is also reference to the classical practice of alternating opposites: loud and soft, high and low, gravity and levity. Furthermore, there is a 20th-century sensibility in Prokofiev’s harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness. This experiment, juxtaposing 20th-century style with the traditional four-movement formality of the classical symphony, allows for moments of parody and humor.

Award-winning composer Mason Bates curates a style that boasts elements of narrative forms, jazz harmonies, innovative techniques for traditional instruments and rhythmic influences from electronic music. He is an advocate of new music and of bringing new work to unique performance spaces. His symphonic music often meshes with electronic sounds, revealing new possibilities of electronic sound sources in the composition of art music. Bates composed the Cello Concerto, which was commissioned by Seattle Symphony Orchestra, LACO and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, for Joshua Roman. The work has a three movement structure, with the typical fast-slow-fast paradigm, while thoroughly exploring an imaginative soundspace. Bates, who often relies on narrative structures or ideas in his music, put such things aside in favor of a work that would focus more on the instruments involved, particularly the cello. The first movement features cello, in the words of the composer, “singing a plaintive melody.” The sound of the orchestra provides harmonic and rhythmic support. The second movement forms the emotional centerpiece of the Concerto, with a focus on lyricism. Sections of the Concerto found inspiration from a musical idea suggested by Roman, something Bates calls the “ping-pong ricochet.” It is a rhythmic gesture featuring a bouncing that grows faster, like a ping-pong ball bouncing on the ground. The final movement begins in a lively mood and progresses to a display of astounding virtuosity. The orchestra supports the impressive work of the soloist with a full complement of percussion instruments, requiring three players. Bates takes a few opportunities to surprise us, such as the use of a guitar pick instead of a bow, emulating a “punk rock bassist.” Bates characterizes the three movements of his work as “dreamy-lyrical-rhythmic.”

For the 30 years that Haydn worked for the Esterhazy family, he did not travel much, except as part of the Prince’s entourage. Although his music was known outside of his patron’s family, he did not have much occasion to bring his music to an international audience. The death of Prince Nikolaus of Esterháza in 1790 caused something of a rebirth for Haydn. The new Prince was not a great connoisseur of music, and he dissolved the family’s musical organization, which ultimately gave Haydn his freedom.

German impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who was living and working in London, proposed that Haydn visit the city. Salomon would arrange for special concerts of the composer’s music. Haydn made two visits to London (1791–92 and 1794–95), and for each, he composed six symphonies. The 12 symphonies are often referred to as the “London” Symphonies. Having a reputation for sophistication and for being quintessential examples of the Classical style, they are among the most popular and most often played of Haydn’s works. Tonight we present the ninth of this dozen, Symphony No. 101 in D major, “The Clock.” Like its predecessor, “The Surprise,” Symphony No. 101 gets its nickname from a musical gesture in the second movement. In this case, it is the “tick tock” first heard in the low woodwinds and pizzicato strings.

The work begins with a slow introduction in a minor key, an opening gambit that Haydn used to build anticipation. This strategy creates an incredibly effective contrast, as from this mysterious haze emerges a major-key Presto, bringing with it a new driving clarity. The colors of the orchestra are rich and full, including brass and drums. This movement is so lively and enthusiastic, one might be forgiven for mistaking it for a rousing finale. The second movement begins with that telltale “tick tock.” The main theme provides contrast with a charming melody, and often long-held notes, rising above the rhythmic accompaniment. Haydn—always one to delight in surprises—offers contrast in the form of a stormy section in G minor. Equilibrium returns with the tick tock, now in a high register, almost bird-like in its character. The rhythmic pulse moves to different sections in the orchestra, revealing great variety in scoring choices, dynamic interjections and bursting energy.

The third movement exhibits a ceremonial character full of pomp and circumstance, aided by the brass and timpani. The Trio displays a pastoral charm that seemingly keeps being interrupted by fortissimo outbursts by the orchestra. The final movement begins with a brisk theme in a major key. Again, there is a stormy minor-key interruption, invigorating an already energetic movement, followed by a stunning double fugue that brings this spirited Symphony to a breathless finish.