Mentor and Protégé
Saturday, October 7, 2017 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)
Seattle Chamber Singers
Brad Cawyer, conductor
Amanda Opuszynski, soprano
Robert Schumann (1810 –1856)
Missa Sacra, Op. 147
— intermission —
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
About the Concert
Our season-opening concert recalls an event that indelibly influenced the course of classical music: young Johannes Brahms meeting Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853. Robert Schumann had produced more than a third of his published works during the previous three years, including a Mass in C minor (never performed in complete form until after the composer’s death). When Brahms appeared on the Schumanns’ doorstep shortly thereafter, Robert Schumann anointed him as “the chosen one.” Thirty years later, the protégé had become a master, composing his third symphony while looking out across the same Rhine that both inspired and afflicted his beloved mentor.
About the Conductor
Brad Everett Cawyer is emerging as a passionate and solid conductor following extensive training in Europe. Deep-founded musicianship is evident in his clear and engaging style, and his affable approach to working with orchestras inspires an atmosphere uplifting to performers and audience alike.
In addition to his tenure as music director of the Mesquite Symphony Orchestra in Texas, Mr. Cawyer has continued his collaborations with ensembles throughout the United States. The 2016 –2017 season saw Mr. Cawyer return to the podium for Dallas’ Avant Chamber Ballet as the company brought back to the stage its commission of Chase Dobson’s Alice in Wonderland. He also worked with Voices of Change, the southwest’s premiere contemporary music ensemble, conducting music of Augusta Read Thomas. In the spring of 2016, he made his performance debut in the Pacific Northwest, leading subscription concerts for Rainier Symphony. In recent seasons Mr. Cawyer was assistant conductor to Rossen Milanov for the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and Symphony in C, and to Hans Graf for the Houston Symphony Orchestra’s semi-staged production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. He began conducting in Asia in 2013, making his debut there with the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Mongolia.
A native of Dallas, Mr. Cawyer conducts opera and orchestra, premiering new works for ensemble and for chamber orchestra, collaborating with composers of many cultures. In 2010, he created the Contemporary East & West International Music Festival in St. Petersburg to foster transnational collaboration in that multicultural city. His debut at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic led to an invitation to be the conductor for the St. Petersburg–based new-music ensemble Soundways. Before moving to Russia, Mr. Cawyer established the Texas A&M University orchestra, directing the ensemble for three seasons.
Mr. Cawyer holds diplomas from the St. Petersburg State “Rimksy-Korsakov” Conservatory (studying under Alexander Alexeev) and from Texas A&M University, completing post-graduate work at the University of Houston. He has conducted orchestras throughout North America, Europe and Asia in workshops and masterclasses with Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falletta, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Jorma Panula and Helmut Rilling.
About the Soloist
Soprano Amanda Opuszynski, hailed for her “luscious,” “powerful” voice and “dazzling technical facility,” returned to Seattle Opera during the 2016–2017 season as the Dew Fairy/Sandman in Hänsel und Gretel and Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, and made her Arizona Opera debut as Bess Erne in the world-premiere production of Riders of the Purple Sage. Notable past engagements include Frasquita in Carmen (Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, Atlanta Opera, Pacific Symphony), Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos (Seattle Opera, Virginia Opera), Musetta in La bohème (South Dakota Symphony), Micaëla in Carmen (St. Petersburg Opera), Johanna in Sweeney Todd (Virginia Opera), Oscar in Un ballo in maschera (Boston Youth Symphony) and Nannetta in Falstaff (Virginia Opera). Ms. Opuszynski has enjoyed apprenticeships with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Festival and the Wolf Trap Opera Studio. She is the winner of a prestigious Career Development Award from the Sullivan Foundation and Santa Fe Opera’s Lilian Caroff Meyer Award, and is a two-time regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Learn more: amandaopuszynski.com, @SopranoAmanda
“Where Brahms is patient and wary,” conductor Simon Rattle has noted, “Schumann is impatient and completely open and candid.” Johannes Brahms first met Robert Schumann in October 1853 while on a walking tour of Germany. The violinist Joseph Joachim had encouraged Brahms to seek out Schumann in Düsseldorf, where the older composer was employed as director of the orchestra and chorus.
Schumann had taken up that post three years earlier, moving from Dresden with his wife, Clara (a composer herself, as well as a pianist of international renown), and their many children. Initially the Düsseldorfers welcomed the Schumanns, but Robert’s inexperience as a conductor led to discord with the choir (who rebelled at his programming of the Bach Passions) and eventually the orchestra (who felt he played too much of his own music). Fortunately, Robert began to earn enough from the publication of his compositions to supplement his part-time conducting salary (although the money Clara made as a performer also supported their family). Robert would produce fully a third of his mature works during his few years in Düsseldorf, including his immensely popular Symphony No. 3, known as the “Rhenish” and inspired by the river that flowed through the city.
By the time Brahms arrived at Robert and Clara’s doorstep, Robert had been suffering for some time from an onslaught of physical ailments brought about by the final stages of syphilis, a disease that had lain dormant since he had become infected in 1831. Robert reacted enthusiastically to Brahms’ compositions, returning to music criticism to author an article in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (a journal he had founded in Leipzig some two decades earlier) that praised the young composer as someone “fated to give expression to the times in the highest and most ideal manner.”
Robert’s physical condition continued to deteriorate and the syphilis began to affect his brain, causing him (during his more lucid moments) to fear that he might harm Clara. On February 27, 1854, clad in a robe and slippers, he walked through a rainstorm to a toll bridge spanning the Rhine and plunged into the frigid waters. Some nearby fishermen quickly hauled him out of the river and returned him home. He would spend the remaining two-plus years of his life in an asylum at Endenich, near Bonn, forbidden to see Clara until his final days (although Brahms, Joachim and others would visit him). Meanwhile, Brahms helped Clara run the Schumann household, in the process falling in love with her — but eventually opted to devote himself to his career rather than marriage. The two would remain close friends until Clara’s death four decades later (just a year before Brahms succumbed to liver cancer).
Missa sacra in C minor, Op. 147
Robert Alexander Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony, on June 8, 1810, and died near Bonn on July 29, 1856. He sketched this mass over a two-week span during late February 1852, completing the orchestration on March 30 of that year. Schumann conducted the first two movements in Düsseldorf on March 3, 1853, adding the Offertorium on March 23. Franz Wüllner conducted the first complete performance at Aachen in July 1861. In addition to chorus and soloists, the work calls for pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.
In modern parlance, Robert Schumann might be labeled a “binge-composer.” In 1840, the year he married 20-year-old Clara Wieck, he composed 140 songs. He turned to the orchestra in 1841, producing two symphonies, and in 1842 concentrated on chamber music.
Schumann, who described himself as “religious without religion,” never held a post that required him to write liturgical music. Prior to his move to Düsseldorff in 1850, he had composed several works involving chorus, but only two brief pieces that used religious texts. Around this time he contemplated a Stabat Mater, a German Requiem and an oratorio about Martin Luther, writing: “It remains the utmost aim for an artist to devote his energies to sacred music.”
The Schumanns’ move from Lutheran Saxony to the Catholic Rhineland may have helped spur Robert’s creation, during the first months of 1852, of a five-movement setting of the Latin mass, quickly followed by a Requiem. Only the Kyrie and Gloria from the Missa sacra received performances during his lifetime, in March 1853. Shortly thereafter, in order to submit the Mass to a competition in London, Schumann arranged the orchestral accompaniment for organ and added an offertory (“Tota pulchra es”) for solo soprano.
Upon hearing the first complete performance in 1861, Clara wrote to Brahms: “You can’t imagine how beautiful it sounds. Certain lines in the Sanctus have such a wonderful effect that cold shivers run down your spine.” In his analysis of the work, Thomas Seedoff makes note of “imitatory voiceleading at the opening of the Kyrie,” the “fugue technique, sometimes very free, e.g. at the end of the Credo” and the “Baroque origins” of the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” passage. At the final “Amen,” the “mood of jubilation breaks through the spiritual gravity that Schumann adopts in the Missa sacra as a point of reference, but not as a law to be obeyed without exception.”
Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Brahms was born in Hamburg on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897. He wrote this symphony largely during the summer of 1883 at Wiesbaden. Hans Richter conducted the premiere with the Vienna Philharmonic on December 2 of that year. The score calls for pairs of woodwinds (plus contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.
The praise from Robert Schumann that vaulted Brahms to fame at an early age brought with it a heavy burden. Working in the shadow of Beethoven, Brahms would not unveil a first symphony until age 43, having already composed two serenades, the German Requiem and a piano concerto that helped lay the groundwork for his monumental Symphony No. 1 in C minor. Then the floodgates opened: a year later came a second symphony, followed by a violin concerto, two overtures and a second piano concerto.
Brahms typically devoted his summers to the composition of major works, as was the case in 1883 when he rented a studio in Wiesbaden (to be near Hermine Spies, a 26-year-old singer with whom the 50-year-old composer had become infatuated). Elements of a symphony may have been percolating in his mind (and sketches) for some time, but he produced the bulk of the music at his summertime residence overlooking the Rhine. From its debut, audiences greeted the work — the shortest and most compact of Brahms’ four symphonies — with enthusiasm, while critics praised it as a masterful achievement by a composer at the height of his powers. In February 1884, Clara (to whom Brahms had sent a two-piano score) wrote: “What a work! What a poem! What a harmonious mood pervades the whole! All the movements seem to be of one piece, one beat of the heart, each one a jewel! From start to finish one is wrapped about with the mysterious charm of the woods and forests.”
The symphony opens with three massive chords underpinned by the notes F–A–F, shorthand for Brahms’ motto frei aber froh (“free but happy,” an answer to his friend Joachim’s frei aber einsam, “free but lonely”). But the second chord features an A♭ rather than an A♮, immediately calling into question the work’s F-major tonality. The movement’s principal theme comes from a transitional passage in Robert Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony, which Brahms sets in 6/4 (rather than Schumann’s more standard 3/4 meter), its rhythms shifting between 2 + 2 + 2 and 3 + 3 patterns (with ever more complex metrical playfulness to come). Clara “was charmed straight away by the gleams of dawning day, as if the rays of the sun were shining through the trees. Everything springs to life, everything breathes good cheer, it is really exquisite!”
In typical Brahms fashion, the C-major Andante is slower, but not a true slow movement. Clara described it as “a pure idyll; I can see the worshippers kneeling about the little forest shrine, I hear the babbling brook and the buzz of the insects. There is such a fluttering and a humming all around that one feels oneself snatched up into the joyous web of Nature.” Likewise, the third movement is not a scherzo, as one might expect, but a Poco allegretto launched by the cello section singing a yearning C-minor theme. Clara called it “a pearl, but it is a grey one dipped in a tear of woe, and at the end the modulation is quite wonderful.
“How gloriously the last movement follows,” she continued, “with its passionate upward surge! But one’s beating heart is soon calmed down again for the final transfiguration which begins with such beauty in the development that words fail me!” The finale begins sotto voce in F minor and recapitulates a secondary theme from the Andante movement as Brahms works his way through various keys, heading toward an inevitable F-major conclusion. But at that moment, in place of a traditional loud-and-fast coda, Brahms relaxes the tempo and brings the work to a quiet conclusion as the principal theme from the first movement returns amid shimmering strings that remind some listeners of the “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried by Richard Wagner, who had died the previous February.
— Jeff Eldridge