Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

program notes: concerto finale

Saturday May 18, 2013
Sunday May 19, 2013

Clyne Within Her Arms

orchestration: strings

Gonzalez-Pioli The Love of Zero (Bassoon Concerto with Robert Florey’s 1927 short film) US premiere

orchestration: solo bassoon; flute; oboe, clarinet, bassoon; horn; percussion; piano, bass, drums; strings

Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op.62

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

Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107

orchestration: solo cello; 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; horn; timpani; celesta; strings

Tonight’s program features music in the service of drama, one of the oldest uses of music in history. Beethoven wrote only one opera, but expressed his talent for drama in pieces like the Coriolan Overture. Contemporary composers Hugo Gonzalez-Pioli and Anna Clyne — who have both collaborated with filmmakers – represent a more modern approach to drama. Gonzalez-Pioli’s bassoon concerto was composed as the accompanying music to Robert Florey’s 1927 film, The Love of Zero. Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms was inspired by a poem and by love and loss; it is a piece with great depth of feeling that has considerable dramatic potential. Shostakovich’s challenging Cello Concerto No. 1 rounds out the evening. With its frenetic energy and taut interactions between soloist and orchestra, the work emphasizes the composer’s affinity for dramatic music, something he cultivated in his film scores.

Award-winning composer Anna Clyne has been writing music since she was a child. Receiving a formal education from the University of Edinburgh and the Manhattan School of Music, the British-born composer now calls the United States home. Still at the beginning of a promising career, Clyne has received such honors as the 2010 Charles Ives Prize and has served as composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Clyne composed Within Her Arms in 2009 and dedicated the work to her mother. The title comes from a line in a Thich Nhat Hanh poem, an elegy for a lost loved one whose presence can be sensed in nature’s beauty. Although she has worked with electro-acoustic forces, Clyne’s Within Her Arms is a work for string ensemble. The texture of this single-movement work is rich and varied, as Clyne uses the voices of the ensemble in different combinations. The piece begins quietly, with the players sliding between notes, an effect that suggests a rustic or even naïve simplicity. Clyne builds slowly to more dramatic moments that are ultimately ephemeral. Now and then the higher voices drop out to reveal the strong foundation of the bass underneath, like the tide retreating to reveal the sand of the beach. Clyne plays with silence as well, injecting abrupt pauses in unexpected places. The last third of the work is especially passionate, suggesting yearning, perhaps even the tragedy of losing a loved one. The end of the work comes as the voices gradually die away, bringing us full circle, back to the elemental quiet of the beginning.

Born in southern France, Hugo Gonzalez-Pioli showed an early inclination for pairing music and image. His education at the Conservatory of Marseilles and the National Conservatory of Music and Dance of Lyon prepared him for a career of writing music for various projects like feature-length movies, advertisements, animation and short film. Gonzalez-Pioli, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Scoring for Film and Television program, completed the score for Robert Florey’s short film, The Love of Zero in combination with the Lyon Conservatory Orchestra. Florey grew up in Paris, but came to the United States and worked within the studio system at Universal. He directed the Marx Brothers in Cocoanuts in 1929 and Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1932. He continued to direct B movies for the studio, and in the 1950s directed episodes of television series like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Love of Zero is one of Florey’s experimental films, made in 1927 for just $200. The narrative of the film involves Zero, a trombone player (and Salvador Dali look-alike) who falls in love with Beatrix. Unfortunately, Beatrix is called back to Kabul and Zero is parted from his love. The sets and props bring to mind animation, and Florey delights with camera tricks like split screen effects; the film is filled with interesting shadows and tilted angles. Gonzalez-Pioli’s response to these visuals is a bassoon concerto.

Gonzalez-Pioli’s score for the film shows incredible flexibility to suit the dramatic needs of the narrative. The motoric rhythms at the beginning drive the music forward as the love story takes off. When the bassoon solo enters, it plays a serenade that might be seen as the theme for the burgeoning romance. Gonzalez-Pioli asks much of the orchestra, with the score requiring changing meters, changing moods and shifting styles, including a dance-like interlude and references to cool jazz and swing. The strings add to the effects with extended techniques like plucking the strings (pizzicato) or bowing with the wood of the bow (col legno) rather than the hair. Although Gonzalez-Pioli gives ample opportunity to the individual instruments to make a statement, the bassoon emerges as the star of the show. The bassoon solo is challenging, especially in the cadenza-like section, which is accompanied by percussion. The music at all times responds to the film, especially in the melancholy mood that the composer establishes when the lovers are separated. Gonzalez-Pioli goes so far as to mark the last section a funeral march, but sees some ambiguity in the ending. Perhaps someday, the lovers will be reunited.

In 1807, Beethoven was inspired to write music for an 1804 play by Heinrich von Collin. The subject of the play was the Roman general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a man who also inspired one of Shakespeare’s plays. Coriolanus guides his troops to victory over the Volscians. Upon his triumphant return, he is asked to become a consul, a proposal he rejects because it requires pleasing the plebeians for their support. Exiled, he joins up with the Volscians and leads them back to the gates of Rome for vengeance. Coriolanus’ family, Particularly his mother, pleads with him to stop his assault.

In the Coriolan Overture, Beethoven outlines the main themes of this dramatic story as part of a sonata form. In sonata form, it is customary to have two contrasting themes that are developed and recapped. The piece begins with dramatic chords separated by pauses, followed by the first theme, a determined motif in a minor key. This theme seems to represent Coriolanus’ desire for war with Rome after his exile. The composer provides contrast with a softer theme in the major mode that musically represents the influence of Coriolanus’ mother, Volumina, who urges him not to follow through on his challenge. She wins him over in the end, as Coriolanus decides not to invade. His troops, however, view this as a betrayal. The first theme returns, but in a new form, this time without the war-like aggression, and more like a sad commentary. As he would do with the titular hero’s death in the Egmont Overture a few years later, Beethoven turns to silence to represent loss and death. Indeed, dramatic pauses are an important aspect of the Overture. The loud C-minor chords that begin the piece become just an echo at the end, three quiet pizzicato C’s fading into nothing.

Although there is no specific narrative story connected to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, it is nevertheless a very dramatic work and one that is incredibly challenging for the soloist. Shostakovich mentioned being inspired by another notoriously difficult work for cello, Sergei Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante. Renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich performed the premiere in October 1959 with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Yevgeny Mravinsky. All accounts say that Rostropovich learned the difficult part — and played it from memory — in just four days.

Shostakovich divided the work into two sections. The first section consists of the first movement, while the second contains movements two, three and four, played without pause. Shostakovich begins the first movement with his DSCH motif, a four-note motif (D, E-flat, C, B) that represented the composer’s initials (as in D. Schostakowisch, a German rendering of his name). Shostakovich uses the four notes in varying permutations. Four-note motifs of this kind appear in other composers’ work, notably Robert Schumann’s (his was ASCH). Shostakovich used his DSCH motif in at least half a dozen pieces, including his Tenth Symphony and his First Violin Concerto. The motif appears in all of the movements of the Cello Concerto except the second.

The Allegretto that opens the Concerto begins with the cello stating the march-like theme. The conversation between the cello and orchestra is tense and tight, with interjections from different instruments, notably the French horn and the timpani. The frenetic nature of this movement hardly ever takes a break. The French horn—the only brass instrument in the ensemble—emerges as an authoritative voice, stating themes when the cello explores divergent material. The second part of the Concerto begins with the second movement, marked Moderato, and here it is the horn that states the melancholy theme first. The cello picks up where the horn leaves off, conversing with the strings and the clarinet at different points during this pensive section. Tension builds to a cacophonous climax, and then the original theme returns. The texture becomes diaphanous as the cello plays delicate harmonics, while a celesta adds its shimmering voice to the conversation. A very soft roll on the timpani provides a transition into the next section.

A cadenza is usually a shorter section within a larger movement, but here it is its own movement. This is the heart of the Concerto, with the soloist referring to motifs from the previous two movements and hinting at what is to come. It is a tour de force for the soloist. The finale, Allegro con moto, is fast-moving and dramatic. It is not difficult to see Shostakovich’s skill as a film composer coming to the fore here. An ironic quote from Stalin’s favorite song “Suliko,” points to the sometimes-rocky relationship the composer had with Soviet authority. The French horn provides an authoritative restatement of the four-note motif from the first movement, but all of the voices engage in this final push to the end. A feverish rush punctuated by timpani hits gives the ending a sense of finality.
–Christine Gengaro, PhD

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