Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

Saturday April 20, 2013
Sunday April 21, 2013

Handel Concerto Grosso in A major, Op. 6, No. 11*

orchestration: strings; continuo

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major

orchestration: solo piano; flute, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

Norman Music in Circles III (world premiere)

orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani/percussion; piano; strings

Ginastera Variaciones concertantes

orchestration: 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon; 2 horns, trumpet, trombone; timpani; harp; strings

Tonight’s concert shows various forms of concerto writing, from a High Baroque masterpiece of Handel, through Mozart’s quintessential Classical interpretation, into the 20th century and beyond. Andrew Norman’s commission for Sound Investment receives its world premiere this evening, while Ginastera’s captivating Variaciones concertantes provides a fitting conclusion to tonight’s exploration of the concertante principle — few or one versus many—that defines the concerto genre.

In 1739, Handel assembled a set of a dozen concertos into his Opus 6, including the 11th concerto from that group, tonight’s Concerto Grosso in A major. Called the “Twelve Grand Concertos,“they were published in London as part of a subscription series. For all of these concertos except the seventh, the group of soloists, or concertino, consists of two violins and a cello, which are accompanied by a small string orchestra with basso continuo. Handel produced these concertos in a concentrated amount of time, and was able to do so because he reworked some of his own material—as well as the work of some other composers—into some movements of the new concertos. The majority of the music, however, was newly composed.

Around this time, Handel’s Italian operas began losing favor with English audiences, forcing him to seek a different outlet for his vocal writing. He turned to the oratorio, which at its heart is an unstaged, uncostumed opera featuring religious themes. Movements from the “Twelve Grand Concertos” were often played in the intervals between parts of his oratorios. The concerto on tonight’s program is a reworked version of Handel’s Organ Concerto in A major, which had been played in London before, but was at this time still unpublished.

There are five movements in the Concerto, alternating slow and fast tempos. The first two movements actually create, by their juxtaposition, a French overture. The French overture is a two-part piece that features a stately and regal opening—here the first movement—followed by an imitative Allegro section (Handel ’s second movement). These two exceedingly charming movements give way to another short, stately section. The centerpiece of the Concerto is the Andante fourth movement, which provides perhaps the clearest division of soloistic material from that of the accompanying orchestra, which is called the ripieno. Handel finishes out the Concerto with a lively and enthusiastic Allegro that mimics the da capo aria form Handel favored in his operas and oratorios. It is essentially an ABA form, the second A returning with

Mozart composed his Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major in December of 1785. The scoring for this Concerto is unique in that it marks the first time Mozart used clarinets in the orchestra of a piano concerto. In addition to a pair of clarinets, Mozart wrote for a flute, pairs of bassoons, horns and trumpets, and of course, solo piano. Strings and timpani round out the scoring. Mozart composed the piece with the customary three-movement structure, fast-slow-fast. In this work, perhaps because of the inclusion of new woodwind instruments, Mozart seems especially concerned with issues of color and timbre. The first movement opens with a fanfare, but continues with themes that show off Mozart’s brilliant gift for melody. The interaction between soloist and orchestra is, as in all of Mozart’s works, delicate and never combative. Like Handel’s Concerto, an Andante movement, this time a theme and variations, forms the centerpiece of the Mozart work. The theme in C minor is song-like, almost an instrumental aria, and Mozart’s successive variations draw upon rhythmic and coloristic differences. The transformations were so striking to the audience at the piece’s premiere that they demanded an encore, something exceedingly unusual for a middle movement. The finale is in rondo form, which allows Mozart to return again and again to a theme. There is a great deal of energy and momentum in this movement, so it is startling when Mozart interrupts the forward motion for a lovely slow minuet. The main theme returns, and the movement works its way to the end, with another final commentary from the soloist before the
work wraps up with a bravura finish.

Andrew Norman, a contemporary composer who became LACO’s composer-in-residence this season, also received LACO’s 2013 Sound Investment commission. Norman, whose work The Great Swiftness was heard on LACO’s opening concert this season, has composed something truly unique and tonight we hear the world premiere. “I want to show off what the members of LACO can do as well as explore the expressive boundaries between control and chaos, choice and chance, the individual and the collective music making body we call the orchestra,” said Norman. “Music in Circles III is all about gradual transformation — from one sound into another, from one instrument to another, from one kind of music to another. Over the course of 10 minutes, the piece moves on a multi-layered journey from stillness to frenzy and back again, from the most intimate, isolated sounds that an orchestra can make to the most expansive and communal. Along the way it features every single one of the phenomenal LACO players in a moment of solo playing, showing the orchestra to be both a collection of different, unique voices and a powerful, collective whole.

Though his background was Spanish and Italian, Alberto Ginastera was born in Argentina. Receiving his education both in Buenos Aires and in the United States, Ginastera’s musical influences were varied, including the tangos of Argentina and the American style he encountered while studying with Aaron Copland in the 1940s. Like many composers, his output can be separated into three chronological and stylistic categories. In the period Ginastera called his Objective Nationalism phase (the 1930s through 1948), his use of Argentine folk elements was concrete and uncomplicated. The next period, Subjective Nationalism, lasted from 1948 to 1958, and here Ginastera began to integrate folk elements in a more obscure fashion, a trend that continued in his final period, Neo-expressionism (1958–1983).

Variaciones concertantes was composed in 1953, in the midst of a tumultuous time for Ginastera. Difficulties with Perón’s leadership led to his resignation as the head of the Music Conservatory of the National University of La Plata. Regardless of the troubles he was having with the government, Ginastera’s appreciation for the music of his homeland never waned. Rather than explicitly stating folk materials as he had done earlier in his career, Ginastera instead strove to create an atmosphere that suggests his homeland. In Variaciones concertantes, one of the most striking musical effects is the harmony of the open-string guitar, represented by the harp. This opening idea forms the basic thematic material for the work. Eleven variations follow the initial statement, and in each variation, one instrument is singled out. Ginastera bases the musical material of the variation on the idiomatic qualities of that instrument. Embellishments appear throughout each variation, including motoric tapping notes and jazz-inspired flourishes. The last variation, an appropriation of the Malambo, a gaucho dance, is colorful and energetic, a suitable end to our tour through Ginastera’s Argentina.
–Christine Gengaro, PhD

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