Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

program notes: refracted

Saturday March 24, 2012
Sunday March 25, 2012

Andres Old Keys (commissioned by LACO’s Sound Investment– world premiere)


Mozart/Andres Mozart “Coronation” Concerto re-composition (for piano and orchestra) (West Coast premiere)


Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550


Composer Timothy Andres has spent much of his career exploring many musical influences, from Baroque structural forms to the music of Charles Ives to the chamber works of Brahms. Andres’s all-inclusive attitude towards building a musical style has resulted in interesting, instantly accessible music in many genres. Andres seems to feel a particular kinship to Charles Ives, not only because both grew up in Connecticut and attended Yale, but also because, like Ives, Andres sometimes quotes from pre-existing music in his compositions. Tonight’s program features two pieces from Andres: one is an entirely new work composed as part of LACO’s Sound Investment program, and the other is his re-imagining of Mozart’s last piano concerto. The final piece on the program is Mozart’s Symphony
No. 40.

LACO launches the second decade of Sound Investment, the Orchestra’s unique commissioning group, with a world premiere by Timothy Andres. This is the first time the Brooklyn-based composer and pianist has written a concert piece for himself. Allan Kozinn of The New York Times writes of Andres, “Eclecticism is the lingua franca of young composers now, so it is not surprising that Timothy Andres lists Brahms, Ligeti, Ives and John Adams among his influences, as well as Brian Eno, Sigur Ros and Radiohead…But what comes through most clearly is the inventiveness and originality of Mr. Andres’s own compositional voice.” We are pleased to present the world premiere of such an agile talent with the versatile and virtuoso artists of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Mozart composed the Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major in early 1788, but he did not give it the name “Coronation,” nor was it specifically written for a coronation. However, he did play it more than two years after he composed the piece—a year after its premiere—at the coronation of Leopold II (as Holy Roman Emperor), hence the nickname. It has the traditional three-movement structure of a Classical concerto, but what is unusual is Mozart’s omission of tempo markings for the second and third movements. In the autograph score, the indications of “Larghetto” and “Allegretto” were made in another person’s handwriting. What is more, sections of the soloist’s left-hand part were not written in by Mozart. The first 18 measures of the opening passage for the piano soloist in the first movement, for example, are blank. In the first published edition, which came out in 1794, three years after Mozart’s death, the missing parts were filled in, probably by publisher Johann André. But why did Mozart leave them blank in the first place? Judging from the types of parts he wrote in—the more involved and virtuosic portions—we assume that Mozart left blank the parts that were easiest to improvise on the spot.

Where other people have seen missing notes in Mozart’s “Coronation” Concerto, Timothy Andres saw opportunity. Tonight’s concert features a work that Andres has titled Mozart “Coronation” Concerto re-composition. Andres’ new version features anentirely new left-hand part, not just filler in the blank spots, but a contemporary replacement of what was already there. In addition, Andres composed new cadenzas. A cadenza, a long solo part often improvised in Mozart’s time, is intended for certain specific moments within the concerto. A composer might improvise a cadenza and then later publish one to go with the work (so the amateur player would not have to be a skilled improviser). If a concerto was well-known and admired, another composer might devise and publish his own cadenzas for the work. It was, in fact, such later inventions that helped inspire Andres in this re-composition. As he looked at cadenzas for Mozart concertos written by 20th-century composer and pianist Béla Bartók, Andres noticed that Bartók’s style—harmonies and techniques—seemed to seep into the Classical structure and idiom of the concerto. Rather than being distracting, this mixture seemed to Timothy Andres quite new and wonderful.

Mozart’s original “Coronation” Concerto can be described as “galant,” a style that stressed simplicity, discernible phrases, less polyphony than the Baroque style (galant’s immediate precursor) and melody. Mozart had the uncanny ability to make something that seemed very simple on paper actually quite captivating. The complaint of many who hear the early completion of the concerto is that it’s inoffensive, but not very interesting. In his recomposition, Andres, instead of filling in the left hand with the classical standby Alberti bass (arpeggiated chords in a repetitive pattern), uses what he terms “an extended catalogue of gestures…imitation, counter-melodies, and canonic interplay.” In this way, the left-hand part comes to share in the spectacle of what’s happening in the right hand. The harmonies, in turn, are affected, changing from the simple chords of the Classical period to chords that point to the harmonies of later composers like Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky and Charles Ives. Said Andres, “I approached the piece…as a sprawling playground for pianistic invention and virtuosity, taking cues from the composer-pianist tradition Mozart helped crystallize.”

Mozart’s penultimate symphony, the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, is one of his best known. Composed a few months after the Piano Concerto No. 26, it is one of two symphonies composed by Mozart in minor keys. (The other, Symphony No. 25, is also in G minor.) Mozart was incredibly productive in the summer of 1788. Not only did he complete his 40th symphony, he completed his 39th a month before and his 41st only a couple of weeks later. We don’t have irrefutable proof that Symphony No. 40 was premiered while Mozart was still alive, but we do know of some concerts in 1789 and 1790 that featured an unidentified symphony of Mozart. Even if we don’t know the exact programs of those concerts, it is quite possible Symphony No. 40 premiered at one of them. Mozart scholar Neal Zaslaw points out that Mozart went through the trouble of revising the Symphony at one point, something he probably wouldn’t have done unless he had a definite performance lined up. The Symphony is in four movements and scored for a modest orchestral ensemble. The first movement begins with accompaniment, rather than the theme. The feeling as if we’ve arrived in the middle of a piece in progress is an opening gambit that would be used by later composers. Here, the accompaniment by itself lasts just a couple of beats before the main theme enters with its familiar repeated falling figure. Because this movement is in sonata form (as are the second and last movements), the foreboding first theme soon gives way to a lighter theme in a major key. Sonata form depends on the contrast between the two themes for its dramatic arc. An exploration of these two themes forms the middle section of the music, known as the development, while the end is a restatement of the themes as they first appeared. There is, however, one important difference in the recapitulation: the second theme, which was in a major key at the beginning, is in a minor key when it returns.

The second movement, marked Andante, features a melody that can only be described as “lilting.” It is quite different in character from the opening, but it displays the very best of Mozart’s charm. It includes a melody line that sighs along from instrument to instrument, from the strings up to the clarinet, through the flute, and down into the bassoon. The development section here briefly explores the minor mode, turning the lilting tone more serious. That serious mood is taken up again in the minuet and trio. The rhythmic complexity of the opening theme is part of the tradition of stylization, which took the minuet and trio from the dance floor and placed it firmly in the concert hall.

The final movement is dominated by an easily discernible phrase structure. As in the first and second movements, there are two contrasting main themes. The execution of this movement might be run-of-the-mill if not for Mozart’s inventiveness. At the beginning of the development section, for example, there is a highly chromatic eight-measure phrase that seems to appear out of nowhere, undermining the solidity of the key. This middle section does, in fact, touch on many keys. When the final section begins, we hear the phrases from the opening. Mozart sews up the movement very neatly.

– Christine Gengaro, PhD