holyrood: savagery & inspiration

Murder of Rizzio by John Opie

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

On March 9, 1566, the Palace of Holyroodhouse bore witness to a gruesome murder.

At the time, the castle was home to Mary Queen of Scots, the reigning monarch of Scotland. Queen Mary was relatively new to the country, having moved from France in 1561 following the death of her husband, King Francis II. Because of this, she was unprepared for Scotland’s volatile political climate and the ruthless plotting of those who wished to wrest power from her. Even her own royal entourage was not without its schemers, including David Rizzio, Queen Mary’s private secretary.

It was well-known that Rizzio was close to the queen (perhaps too close) and friendly to bribes. She regularly took his advice to heart, and at his suggestion, she married Lord Darnley in 1565. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a horrible match. Darnley constantly pushed for more power and spent most of his evenings at local bars and brothels with disreputable friends. As Queen Mary turned to her inner circle for comfort and support, suspicion began to grow about the nature of her relationship with Rizzio.

When she announced her pregnancy a few months after the marriage, many questioned who the actual father of her child was. Darnley was enraged by rumors of her infidelity, so much so that on the evening of March 9, 1566, he gathered a group of armed nobles for an attack. They burst into Queen Mary’s chambers, held a gun to her pregnant belly, dragged Rizzio from the room and stabbed him 56 times.

When Mendelssohn visited Scotland in 1829, he visited the Holyroodhouse Palace. After touring the grounds, he reflected:

We went, in the deep twilight, to the Palace of Holyrood, where Queen Mary lived and loved. There’s a little room to be seen there, with a winding staircase leading up to it. This the murderers ascended, and finding Rizzio, drew him out. Three chambers away is a small corner where they killed him. Everything around is broken and moldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today…the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.

johann peter salomon: the man who brought haydn to london

Johann Peter Salomon

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

Joseph Haydn is beyond famous. Despite living centuries ago, his music is still played and studied around the world, and his compositional style has changed the shape of music forever. However, history has overlooked the man who helped launch Haydn to his legendary status: Johann Peter Salomon.

Born and raised in Bonn, Beethoven’s hometown, Salomon was a jack of all musical trades. He was a noted violin virtuoso, composer, arranger, orchestra director and concert entrepreneur. Deeply involved in London’s music scene in the late 18th century, Salomon was doing quite well scouting and bringing talent to perform for the city’s nobility. At the same time, Haydn was reaching international prominence as the Esterhazy Court’s brilliant composer.

Naturally, Salomon wanted to lure Haydn to London. He sent a well-known music publisher, John Bland, to purchase scores from the composer in an attempt to convince him to visit the city. Bland’s trip failed. Haydn was extremely happy working for his “beloved prince” and had no interest in selling music to the publisher. Nevertheless, fate was on Salomon’s side: shortly after Bland’s visit, Haydn’s patron Prince Nikolaus died. The Esterhazy House was succeeded by Prince Anton, who promptly fired the entirety of the court’s musicians and sent Haydn into retirement. This freed up the composer to travel and compose as he pleased. In 1791, thanks to Salomon’s persistence, he finally agreed to make the journey.

Ultimately, Haydn’s visits to London helped propel him even further into fame. He rubbed elbows with England’s elite and he met many prominent and up-and-coming composers, such as a young Beethoven. Salomon capitalized on the visit by appearing often as the principal violinist for the premieres of Haydn’s London pieces and by securing the rights to arrange and perform any and all of the works Haydn produced during his visits.

Haydn would go on to establish himself as one of music’s greatest composers, while Salomon would help found the London Philharmonic Society. Despite being a prominent musician and entrepreneur in his own right, Salomon’s achievements are often overshadowed by his associations with composers such as Haydn and Beethoven. His gravestone mentions only one of his many accomplishments: “He brought Haydn to England in 1791 and 1794.”

four things that make this weekend’s concert GREAT!

1. “The Great”

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert

Schubert’s acclaimed Ninth Symphony, “The Great,” is a complex, daring work completed just one year after Beethoven’s Ninth. Young Schubert’s ambitious composition has been called “one of the wildest rhythmical rides in symphonic literature” by The Guardian. Even so, the piece wasn’t performed until after his death!

 

2. The New

Christopher Cerrone

Christopher Cerrone

This weekend also includes the world premiere of Will There Be Singing, composed by 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone. Commissioned by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the piece explores the practice of remaining hopeful in dark times. The piece continues LACO’s commitment to commissioning new music, a process you can participate in by joining Sound Investment.

 

3. The Master

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s skill as a classical composer goes without saying, but let’s go ahead and say it: he is a master. Whether it’s a symphony, an opera, a concerto or just a little night music, if it’s Mozart, it’s going to be brilliant. Piano Concerto No 27 is no exception. Completed the year Mozart died, it’s a fitting (if morbidly so) piece for the end of the season.

 

4. The End of an Era

Kahane photo Ken Hively
This is Jeffrey Kahane’s final concert as music director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. With an illustrious 20-year tenure, he has been a transformative figure in the Los Angeles arts community and a talented conductor and pianist. Don’t miss this memorable farewell to the much-loved Jeffrey Kahane (or the free after-party celebrating him!

We hope you’ll join us for this final concert of our 2016-17 season! Learn more about the event and purchase tickets at laco.org/attend/kahane-plays-mozart!

LACO Lens: The Orchestral Experience

LACO Lens is a series of articles celebrating all things LACO in preparation for our 50th Anniversary! Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes guides to make the most of your experience.

So, you want to hear some classical music, eh?

Perhaps you’re a student seeking to be humbled by the masters or an aging Bach buff who’s never seen his work performed live. Perhaps your friend is dragging you or you’re trying to impress a hot date. Maybe you just want a nice night out.

Whatever brings you to LACO’s Orchestral Series, you’re probably wondering the same thing we all do when we embark on a new adventure: “What the heck is this experience going to be like?”

The answers may surprise you.

It’s not as formal as you think

photo Jamie Pham

photo Jamie Pham

At my first LACO concert, I expected everyone to be wearing black tie. I pictured floor-grazing dresses, pearls strung gracefully around long necks, fingers adorned with diamonds larger than golf balls, men with monocles bedecked in top hat and coattails. Clearly, my idea of formalwear is firmly situated in the 20th century.

But, unlike my Breakfast at Tiffany’s fantasy, the reality is that you can wear pretty much anything you want to a concert hall. In fact, jeans (the pinnacle of casual attire) seem to be a LACO patron’s garment of choice.

LACO legend has it that one of our corporate sponsors used to bring a gaggle of girlfriends dressed to the nines (nine-inch heels, that is) in clubbing attire. If you’re thinking tube dresses and sparkles, you’ve thought right. And why not? Music is all about expression, so express yourself!

Just remember, the sand shack rule still applies, with a LACO twist: no shirt, no shoes, no symphony.

It’s still a social event

photo Madeline Routon

photo Madeline Routon

The lights dim. A hush bathes the hall in silence. The shiver of violins begins, giving way to a swell of feeling as other instruments join in. You turn to your friend and whisper, “Wow, this is really great!” The music crashes to a cacophonous halt, everyone turns to look at you with disdain, and you’re so embarrassed that you can never show your face again. For shame.

If this is the kind of nightmare scenario you picture when you think “classical music concert,” you’re not alone! But as much as pop culture wants to make classical seem serious and scary, the stakes just aren’t that high.

Sure, there is a time and place for talking, and during the performance isn’t it, but that doesn’t mean that a LACO concert isn’t a great time for socializing!

The lobby is a lively hotspot. Laugh and be merry! Grab some wine, pick up a button or brochure, chat up the group of people next to you. Maybe someone out there loves that obscure Locatelli concerto as much as you do!

Musicians are people too

photo Jamie Pham

photo Jamie Pham

Growing up in LA, I’ve had to realize that celebrities aren’t the “untouchables” that they are made out to be. I’ve quite literally bumped into Danny Masterson (Steven Hyde from That ’70s Show) at Ralphs, and nearly ran face-first into Ryan Gosling while he was filming a scene from La La Land. It happens more often than you’d think.

At LACO, that barrier between artist and audience is intentionally lowered. After all, we pride ourselves on making great music personal!

Musicians are known to emerge from their dark dens backstage to grab a snack, say hi to friends and family, and pick up a much-needed glass of wine. Never hesitate to say hello or pay them a compliment! Who wouldn’t want to get some props for a difficult solo they just nailed?

You can also come an hour before curtain for our pre-concert lectures, where you can sit as close to the stage as you want and get up close and personal with the evening’s artists and composers.

No one will yell at you if you clap at the wrong time

photo Jamie Pham

photo Jamie Pham

I promise.

The question we get most often from patrons is “When do I clap?”

I’ll be honest, I’m not a musician, let alone a classically trained one, and I still don’t know the reasoning behind the classical music clapping rule. I picked it up by blindly following what everyone else was doing, much in the same way that I know which side of the plate a fork goes on but have no idea why.

I’ll let you in on the general rule: with classical music, you clap after pieces, not movements. Take a Beethoven symphony, for example. Perhaps it has four movements, or parts, each with a brief pause after them that signals the move to the next. DON’T CLAP HERE.

Clap when the entire piece is done. You’ll know it’s over when the conductor, soloist and/or concertmaster (read: the folks front and center) stand up and turn to face the audience. If you’re still confused, just clap when everyone else claps. Or don’t clap at all. Live your life.

If you do clap after a movement, though, don’t worry – no one will say anything. We’ll all just judge you silently from our seats. (Kidding!)

So, there you have it. Classical music doesn’t have to be so scary! We’re not all judgmental watchmen ready to hiss a fit over the purity of our art. Musicians and staff all work hard because we want you to have a good time! Enjoy yourself, listen to some great music, perhaps have a personal experience with a new friend. This evening is for you, so fear not. Take advantage of it!

tuning in: order & disorder in beethoven’s “archduke”

Beethoven

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe is constantly trending towards disorder. Strangely, this rule of physics seems to apply to music as well. Looking at almost any style of composition, we can see a distinct pattern in which strict formalism leads to looser and looser (i.e., more chaotic) forms and eventually to the establishment of entirely new forms or styles. From the transformation of shuffles into bebop to the evolution of Bach’s structured sounds into Glass’ cacophonous pieces, the definition of music is constantly diversifying.

Mozart and Haydn established piano trios as a genre in the mid-1700s. While they continued to fine-tune the form throughout their lives, Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” is the first true expansion of the style. Prior to Beethoven’s work, most traditional piano trios were glorified solos in which the violin and cello acted as accompaniment and occasionally doubled the piano’s melody. This is because these pieces were written for fortepiano, the modern piano’s predecessor.

The fortepiano, which had a much smaller octave and dynamic range, gave way to the modern piano in the early 1800s as composers began to push the tight musical boundaries set by prior composers. When he composed the “Archduke Trio,” Beethoven utilized the newly extended versatility of the instrument. As a result, the trio can almost be considered a quartet, with the left and right hands of the piano contributing unique lines to the music. Further, he expanded the traditional three-movement form to a four-movement format mirroring a quartet. Throughout the piece, Beethoven experimented with the relationship between each of the “four” instruments to create a variety of textures and moods. Since the premiere of this piece, composers have continued to expand on Beethoven’s ideas, pushing the limits and definitions of piano trios and propelling music further into entropy.

5 reasons to be joyful about LACO’s april concert!

1. The Chorale

Los Angeles Master Chorale photo Steve Cohn

Los Angeles Master Chorale photo Steve Cohn

The Los Angeles Master Chorale has been providing quality performances in the area for over half a century. Under the leadership of Grant Gershon, the Grammy-nominated group has been praised around the world for setting the standard for choral music.

 

2. The Soloists

Mueller photo Nick Amonson; Appleby photo Frances Marshall; Guzman photo; Hopkins photo Paul Sirochman

Mueller photo Nick Amonson; Appleby photo Frances Marshall; Guzman photo; Hopkins photo Paul Sirochman

Kathryn Mueller is a Grammy nominee, giving acclaimed performances all over the country. Paul Appleby and Suzanna Guzman have both appeared on the Metropolitan Opera Stage. Justin Hopkins returns to LACO after his much-admired performance in Lost in the Stars. All four are world-class artists.

 

3. The Conductor

Kahane photo Ken Hively

Jeffrey Kahane, retiring from LACO after 20 years as music director, is unparalleled in the music world. For this concert, his final Discover concert in his tenure, he will take the audience on a musical journey through the historical and modern significance of the piece.

 

4. The Piece

Beethoven via creative commons

Beethoven via creative commons

Beethoven’s Ninth is the final symphony written by the classical master. It was revolutionary when it premiered and has only grown in reputation. What better way to spend a weekend in April?

 

5. The Orchestra

Kahane and Orchestra photo Ken Hively

Kahane and Orchestra photo Ken Hively

Declared “America’s finest chamber orchestra” by Public Radio International, LACO has been hailed all over the world for its quality interpretations of new and classical pieces. Beethoven’s 9th marks the penultimate concert in the 2016-17 season, and of all the reasons to be joyful, the players are central to my smile.

 

We hope you’ll join us! Learn more about the event and purchase tickets at laco.org/attend/Beethoven-9!

newbie blog: shiver and bloom!

Cooke, Sasha - credit Dario Acosta 02

Sunday evening was the world premiere of Sound Investment composer Julia Adolphe’s “Shiver and Bloom,” a beautiful piece for twenty instruments including the harp. The opening violins, with intricate solos by the harp, flute and clarinet winding through them, delivered the “Shiver” quite well. The “Bloom,” on the other hand, wasn’t as heartfelt. The music was interesting and beautiful, but the seed of “Shiver” never quite blossomed into a “Bloom,” leaving behind something to be desired. Perhaps a second listen will garner a better understanding.

I was excited to hear the Mezzo-Soprano, Sasha Cooke. There is a certain richness to the tones of Mezzos that I particularly enjoy. She sang selections from Mahler, Mozart and Handel; I personally preferred the Mozart and the Handel. In the Mahler piece, Cooke’s powerful voice seem to exist on top of the musical accompaniment, which felt somewhat isolated, whereas there was more of a partnership when her voice interchanged with the accompaniment in the Mozart piece. In the work by Handel, Cooke’s emotional range was on full display. She has a truly beautiful voice, but what truly impressed me was her stage presence.  T’was a wonderful presentation, by a masterful artist.

After intermission (or “halftime,” as my husband calls it) we were treated to Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, played by a very dapper Jon Kimura Parker. I like his style. I am a fan of piano concertos, so I enjoyed this very much. There were no revelations, but it was a fine presentation, executed beautifully by the Orchestra and the pianist. As always, Kahane provided his audience with a bit of explanatory context to his presentations, which I am certain I will dearly miss when he retires. Once again, the people who snuck out to beat the parking lot jam during the final applause missed dessert! There was a pleasant surprise saved for the encore, with Kahane and Parker playing the four-handed Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 6. They played it with humor, gusto and relaxed abandon, the perfect cherry on top of another great night of music by this wonderful Orchestra.

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.

newbie blog: haydn in london

Think, feel, take a deep breath, listen and enjoy – I felt like that was what Sunday’s program, Haydn in London, was designed to achieve, and they accomplished just that.

The evening started with Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre (1958), a string piece dedicated to the memory of Béla Bartók. The one-movement piece walked us through the Prologue, Metamorphoses, Apogeum and Epilogue. The emotional center of the piece is the Apogeum, a distressing outcry of grief and loss. Hearing it, I can only imagine it expresses the long suffering of a composer and a country that endured despite the pain. The music had a deeply emotional impact on me.

This piece also represented a turning point in his career. In his words, “it is a beginning of a new period and a result of my long experience. I tried to create a range of means that would become my own. And it is the first word – though obviously not the last one – spoken in what is a new language for me.” I was amazed by the comment, as the piece seems so fully developed and mature despite it being his “first words.” I guess this is a testament to Lutosławski’s mastery as a composer. I was also very moved and impressed by the near-flawless performance of the Orchestra.

The second piece of the evening was John Adams’ The Wound Dresser. Adams sets Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name over an orchestration reminiscent of the battlefield: unrelenting, endless and spectral. The poem is sung with expertise by baritone Brian Mulligan. Mulligan’s voice is rich and powerful, like dark roast coffee and chocolate. He breathes emotion into Whitman’s explicit yet unembellished description of the aftermath of battle. He brings the compassion and pain in the piece to the forefront. Each and every element of this piece, the music, the poetry and the voice, were wonderful. However, I felt the whole fell short of its parts. The vocalized poetry never really intertwined or incorporated with the music. The two ran parallel to each another, but never quite married. This kept me from becoming fully engaged with the piece, though not from appreciating the excellence of the performers.

Then, we took a breath.

After intermission, we were treated with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 – and hat a pleasure it was! It was scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, a keyboard instrument (fortepiano originally) and strings. Though somewhat less famous than the “London Symphonies” (such as the Surprise, Military, Clock or Drumroll), it takes a back seat to none in terms of quality and ingenuity. Also, did I recognize a bit of “God Save the King” in there? Shout out to the soloists, they were just lovely, including a charming, pastoral trio in which the solo doubles the violins’ melody. The Finale remained unpredictable throughout. There was a particularly delicious moment at the very end, an eleven-measure solo bit for keyboard, which was just delightful (especially the turquoise harpsichord on which it was played)! I understand that Haydn wrote it for himself as an aural equivalent of a painter’s signature in the corner of a canvas.

Lastly, we heard Rossini’s overture from his opera, The Italian Girl in Algiers, a lovely, lively confection full of energy and novelty. You have to admit the man had faultless comic timing! The piece opened with the same gag that Haydn used in his “Surprise” Symphony: lull the audience with a quiet, unassuming opening, then hit them right between the eyes (ears?) with the whole Orchestra. HELLO! There wasn’t a dull moment in the entire piece.

One final note: one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Jeffrey Kahane is the context that he gives when he speaks about what the Orchestra is going to perform for us. As a novice fan of orchestral music, it enhances my listening experience greatly and stimulates my interest to learn more. I really appreciated that Carlos Kalmar, the guest conductor for the evening, did that as well. His thoughts and comments were illuminating, charming and educational. I hope that whoever follows in Kahane’s footsteps will also recognize the value of these expository moments, as I feel it can only solidify and broaden the audience for this wonderful orchestra.

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