Turning Points

Sunday, February 8, 2015 • 3:00 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor
Marie Leou, violin

Program

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)
Slavonic Dance in C Major, Op. 46, No. 1
Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2
Slavonic Dance in G Minor, Op. 46, No. 8

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)/arr. Rudolf Barshai
Chamber Symphony in C Minor, Op. 110a

—intermission—

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 [first movement]

Arvo Pärt (*1935)
Fratres

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201

About the Concert

Life can change in an instant: an experience, a vision, a job, a chance meeting or a great first date. Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances launched his career. After observing the devastation of firebombing in Dresden, Shostakovich worked for three straight days and emerged—covered in sweat—with his eighth string quartet, later adapted for string orchestra. Arvo Pärt, another victim of Stalin’s totalitarianism, hit rock bottom and lost his will to compose after his music was banned—Fratres represents his musical and emotional reinvention. Mozart’s Symphony No. 29, written at age 18, marked a turning point in his compositional voice. What moments have changed the direction of your life?

About the Soloist

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Violinist Marie Leou, winner of the 2014–2015 OSSCS Concerto Competition, began her violin studies with Jan Coleman and is currently a student of Simon James and Hiro David. She has previously performed as soloist with the Bayshore Symphony, Eastside Symphony and Seattle Festival Orchestra, played in quartets through the Academy of Music Northwest and Chamber Music Mania camps, and has served as concertmaster of the Everett Youth Symphony. In addition to violin, Marie has studied piano with Tien-Yin Chen since age four. She received honorable mention in piano at the 2013 SCMTA concerto competition and placed first at the 2012 Anna Rollins Johnson Scholarship Competition. Currently a ninth grader at Interlake High School in Bellevue, she also enjoys reading, chess, traveling with her family and playing tennis.

Program Notes

Antonín Dvořák
Three Slavonic Dances

Dvořák was born September 8, 1841, in the Bohemian town of Nelahozeves (near Prague), and died on May 1, 1904, in Prague. He composed his first set of eight Slavonic Dances for piano four-hands over a six-week period between March and May of 1878, and began orchestrating them simultaneously. During the summer of 1886, Dvořák produced a second set of eight dances, orchestrating them later that year. The orchestral versions use pairs of woodwinds (plus piccolo), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum and strings.

Trained as an organist, Antonín Dvořák played viola in Prague’s Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra during the 1860s, supplementing his income by giving piano lessons. Although his Op. 1 dates from 1861, his music apparently received no public performances until a decade later, when he quit the orchestra to devote more time to composing. While his music began to achieve some measure of success in Prague, he remained in need of two things: money and wider recognition of his talents.

In 1874, Dvořák applied for the Austrian State Stipendium, a composition prize awarded by a jury consisting of composer Johannes Brahms, music critic Eduard Hanslick and Johann Herbeck, director of the Imperial Opera. Brahms in particular was overwhelmingly impressed by the 15 works Dvořák submitted, which included a song cycle, various overtures and two symphonies. Dvořák received the 1874 stipend, and further awards in 1876 and 1877, when Hanslick wrote to him that “it would be advantageous for your things to become known beyond your narrow Czech fatherland, which in any case does not do much for you.”

Seeking to help in this regard, Brahms passed along a selection of Dvořák’s music to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock, writing: “For several years I have enjoyed works sent in by Antonín Dvořák … of Prague. This year he has sent works … that seem to me very pretty … . Play them through and you will like them as much as I do. Dvořák has written all manner of things: operas (Czech), symphonies, quartets, piano pieces. In any case, he is a very talented man. Moreover, he is poor! I ask you to think about it!”

Simrock published Dvořák’s Op. 20 Moravian Duets, then commissioned some four-hand–piano pieces modeled after Brahms’ successful Hungarian Dances. These Op. 46 Slavonic Dances proved so popular that they launched Dvořák’s worldwide fame and prompted Simrock to request a second set, to which Dvořák reluctantly agreed (needlessly fearing he would not be able to duplicate his success).

Brahms had employed actual Hungarian melodies in his dances, but Dvořák crafted original tunes while employing a variety of Slavic dance forms, including the furiant (a vigorous Bohemian dance often marked by shifting accents, heard in the two Op. 46 pieces performed this afternoon) and the dumka (derived from a Ukrainian dance form marked by slower tempos and shifting moods, as heard in Op. 72, No. 2).

Dmitri Shostakovich
Chamber Symphony in C Minor, Op. 110a

Shostakovich was born September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. He composed this string quartet, later transcribed for string orchestra by Rudolf Barhsai with the composer’s approval, in July 1960.

During the summer of 1960, Shostakovich traveled to Germany to score the film Five Days—Five Nights, set against a backdrop of the February 1945 firebombing of Dresden. He instead produced—in three days’ time—his eighth string quartet, writing to friend Isaak Glikman: “[T]ry as I might I was unable to compose the film music, even in rough. And instead I wrote a quartet that’s of no use to anybody.” Shostakovich officially dedicated the work to “the memory of the victims of fascism and war,” but privately his letter to Glikman revealed: “I’ve been thinking that when I die, it’s hardly likely that anybody will ever write a work dedicated to my memory. So I have decided to write one myself. The dedication could be printed on the cover: ‘Dedicated to the memory of the composer of this quartet.’ ” The quartet may well have been a musical suicide note.

The work opens with the composer’s musical signature: four pitches (D–E♭–C–B♮) derived from the German transliteration of his name (Dimitri Schostakowitch) and the German names for E♭ (“Es”) and B♮ (“H”). This DSCH motive, which previously appeared in his second violin concerto and tenth symphony, pervades the quartet. The first movement—of five, all played without pause—quotes a number of Shostakovich compositions, including the first and fifth symphonies. The second movement, a violent scherzo in G♯ minor, employs in its trio section a melody from Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2. The tempo slows a bit for the G-minor third movement, largely a sardonic waltz that uses a theme from the first cello concerto. The fourth movement, in C♯ minor, features a recurring—and frightening—three-note rhythm that the composer’s son, Maxim, called “knocks on the door by the KGB,” as well as the revolutionary song “Tormented by Grievous Bondage” and an aria from Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The C-minor finale revisits material from the end of the opening movement.

Prior to the premiere, Shostakovich arranged a private reading at his home. Violinist Rostislav Dubinsky recalled: “We finished the quartet and looked at Shostakovich. His head was hanging low, his face hidden in his hands. We waited. He didn’t stir. We got up, quietly put our instruments away, and stole out of the room.”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

Tchaikovsky was born May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia, and died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. He composed this concerto during March 1878 at Clarens, Switzerland, completing the orchestration on April 11 of that year. Violinist Adolf Brodsky premiered it, with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, on December 4, 1881. The accompaniment requires pairs of woodwinds, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.

In July 1877, Tchaikovsky hastily married “a woman with whom I am not the least in love,” an ill-fated union that drove the composer to a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt. During his recovery, he traveled with his brother Modest to a resort on the shores of Lake Geneva, where one of Tchaikovsky’s composition students, a talented young violinist named Yosif Kotek, paid them a visit. Kotek may have inspired—at least in part— the composer to begin work on a violin concerto, which he sketched over the course of a mere 11 days, orchestrating it almost as quickly. “From the day I began to write it, [a] favorable mood has not left me. In such a spiritual state composition loses all aspect of work—it is a continuous delight.”

When Leopold Auer, the concerto’s original dedicatee, deemed it “unplayable” and “too revolutionary,” Tchaikovsky worried about “the effect of casting this unfortunate child of my imagination into hopeless oblivion,” until violinist Adolf Brodsky expressed interest in the work, taking nearly two years to master the challenging solo part.

Many of the critics who witnessed its Vienna premiere despised the concerto, chief among them Eduard Hanslick, who found it “long and pretentious,” reporting that the work “brought us face to face with the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear.” Nevertheless, an anonymous review in the Wiener Abendpost came much closer to predicting how this concerto would become universally embraced by audiences around the world, praising “[t]he first movement with its splendid, healthy themes,” and asserting that the work “would claim an outstanding place among contemporary compositions.”

Arvo Pärt
Fratres

Arvo Pärt was born September 11, 1935, in Paide, Estonia. He composed Fratres in 1977 for string quintet plus wind quintet, later rearranging and rescoring it for various other ensembles. This version for string orchestra and percussion (claves and bass drum) dates from 1991.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s early output included neoclassical piano music and works influenced by Prokofiev and Shostakovich. During the 1960s he embraced serialism, collage and other avant-garde techniques, while at the same time immersing himself in the music of Bach. This culminated in his 1968 Credo, a work that displeased Soviet authorities for its overt religiosity as much as for its cutting-edge musical style. Pärt subsequently fell into a years-long period of “creative silence,” during which he produced few compositions, instead devoting himself to the study of Medieval and Renaissance music, including Gregorian chant.

By 1976, Pärt had developed a new style he dubbed “tintinnabulation” and the following year composed Fratres (meaning “brothers,” perhaps as a reference to the monks who might sing Gregorian chant) utilizing this technique. “Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers—in my life, my music, my work,” the composer wrote in 1984. “In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises—and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. Here, I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements—with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201

Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756, and died on December 5, 1791, in Vienna. He started calling himself “Wolfgango Amadeo” around 1770 and “Wolfgang Amadè” in 1777. This symphony, dating from April 1774, calls for string orchestra plus pairs of oboes and horns.

Although Mozart’s final symphony (the so-called “Jupiter”) is listed as No. 41, he composed nearly 70 such works between the age of eight (!) and his death at age 35. And while the traditional numbering scheme omits many early entries in this genre, it also includes at least two symphonies now known to be the work of other composers (Carl Friedrich Abel and Michael Haydn).

Few of Mozart’s youthful symphonies—charming as they may be—have found a place in the standard repertoire. The earliest two such works date from the months following a trip to Vienna Mozart and his father took in the summer of 1773: the Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, composed in October of that year, and the Symphony No. 29 in A Major, completed the following April. While ostensibly undertaken to visit Anton Mesmer (the inventor of “mesmerism” and a Mozart family friend), the journey was likely an unsuccessful job-hunting venture. The two months Mozart spent in Vienna, however, did expose him to a wealth of new music—much of it by Franz Joseph Haydn, including a new batch of string quartets and some Sturm und Drang symphonies, which undoubtedly influenced the two symphonies Mozart would compose on his return to Salzburg.

The first movement of K. 201—unlike all but one of its predecessors, another A-major symphony—opens quietly; the initial descending-octave figure recurs throughout this movement (including its contrapuntal coda), as well as in the first theme of the finale. In the slow movement, Mozart employs muted violins (perhaps another Haydn influence), while dotted rhythms dominate the minuet. Although the first three movements may exhibit the influence of Joseph Haydn, the 6/8 finale closely resembles the closing movement of a 1771 symphony (also in A major) by Salzburg resident Michael Haydn—Joseph’s younger brother, and a friend and colleague of Mozart.

Jeff Eldridge