Friday, October 9, 2009

Program notes: October 24 Masterworks Series Opening Night

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra celebrates the opening night if its 75th Anniversary Season Masterworks Series. We're rolling out this celebratory year with a concert that was supposed to happen in March of 2008. If you don't remember the scenario, read about it by clicking here. Since that evening, we have been patiently waiting for a re-programming of this concert, featuring Soovin Kim on violin and VSO principal oboist Nancy Dimock. Jaime Laredo conducts the music of David Ludwig, Sibelius, and Schumann. Read the complete program notes after the jump.

David Ludwig (1972- )

Radiance was written during my time at the Yaddo Artist Colony in Saratoga, NY, in the summer of 2003. That area of the world is alive with glowing, radiant things in the summertime, and these fireflies, stars, long sunsets, and burning campfires became one with the piece and inspired the title. I wanted to capture the warm evening and all of its incandescent surroundings in this short work for oboe and string orchestra.

The piece itself is rather simple, like an extended song or, more appropriately, a nocturne serenade. The oboe opens with its own motive that is then echoed in the strings in a chorale texture. The motive transforms and develops over the course of the work, as the music alternates between chorale writing and a singing aria-like passage with the soloist. The climax is hushed and quiet, like a hazy summer night.

The Richmond Symphony commissioned Radiance, and premiered it in 2003 with oboist Michael Lisicky and Mark Russell Smith conducting. The Vermont Youth Orchestra also performed it at a Carnegie Hall concert in 2005.

--David Ludwig

Nancy Dimock, oboe

Nancy Dimock, principal oboist of the VSO, has been a frequent soloist with the orchestra, performing the Bach Double Concerto with music director Jaime Laredo, the Haydn Symphony Concertante, the Barber Canzonetta and David Ludwig’s Radiance. In addition, she is a member of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva and the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and a former member of the Albany Symphony. She frequently performs as a guest with the Boston Lyric Opera, Portland Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Boston Pops. She has been the principal oboist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and can be heard performing with the HSO on the Grammy-nominated CD, “Rosemary Clooney: The Final Concert.”

Ms. Dimock has been on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and PBS’s Great Performances television broadcast. She has recorded for the Concord, Albany and Chandos labels. She has been singled out for mention in numerous reviews, among them one by Susan Larson from the Boston Globe, who wrote: “The Chameleon Arts Ensemble opened with Joan Tower's lovely 1989 Island Prelude in its wind quintet incarnation. Lush, serene wind chords create an opalescent soundscape over which the oboe, gorgeously played by Nancy Dimock, soars and swoops in increasingly active volutes and trills; the ensemble joins the oboe in a final orgy of birdcalls and trills.”

Ms. Dimock lives in Stoneham, Mass., with her husband Joel and their son Marco.

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in d minor, Op. 47
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Sibelius styled himself a “dreamer and poet of nature…I love the mysterious sounds of the fields and forests, water and mountains.” One is struck by the visual image conjured by the mention of Sibelius’ boyhood habit of perching on a huge rock by a lake to play his violin, a veritable Nordic (violin-playing) Pan. Fierce nationalism and reverence for Finnish history and myth, particularly the epic Kalevala, were also fundamental ingredients in his musical creations.

The breeziness, breadth and freedom of a young man in his prime – this is what is heard in Sibelius’ first two symphonies, bursting with the indestructibility and self-assurance of youth. A distinct transformation takes place in the third symphony, however, and the years of change between the second and third symphonies are precisely those during which Sibelius crafted his only violin concerto, written in 1903, rewritten, and published in 1905. Sibelius suffered from ear disease that threatened him with total deafness. The “Nordic faun” was forced to come down off his rock to face his own mortality, and the ensuing compositions reflected some morbidity, but more importantly, reflected a refinement and conciseness of statement, a control which yielded music of a more individual and personal nature.

Sibelius began to show increasing respect for conventional forms, and despite its modern character, the violin concerto belongs to the romantic tradition of the 19th century. The rhapsodic mood of the first movement (Allegro moderato) is set in the melodic sweep of the first theme, spread out over thirty bars in a chant by the solo violin over a somber background of muted and divisi violins, soon echoed by the woodwinds. A second, more lyrical subject is introduced by the dark sound of the celli and bassoons, later taken up by the soloist. These themes grow and develop, providing a background for virtuoso display which always remains an organic part of the whole.

The second movement (Adagio di molto) starts with a poignant phrase in thirds for the woodwinds, and the violin begins a theme of tender melancholy. The movement moves towards a great climax with the violin providing decorative figurations over an orchestral treatment of the theme, suddenly dying away.

The final movement (Allegro ma non tanto) is a strongly rhythmic rondo often perceived as a “Danse Macabre,” but interpreted by the English conductor and program annotator Donald Tovey as a “polonaise for polar bears.” Violins and celli introduce a second theme, and the solo violin displays a seemingly endless variety of violinistic fireworks against the darker, more earthbound colors of the orchestral winds and strings.

Soovin Kim, violin

American violinist Soovin Kim is an exciting young player who has built on the early successes of his prize-winning years to emerge as a mature artist equally gifted in concerto, recital, and chamber music repertoire. Mr. Kim began the 2008-2009 season touring Europe with pianist Mitsuko Uchida performing Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps to rave reviews. Highlighted among his concerto appearances will be his Russian debut performing the Sibelius concerto with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ignat Solzhenitsyn, coupled with a special recital performance at the American Embassy. The opening of the season also saw the release of Mr. Kim’s new recording on Azica Records of Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano, and string quartet and Fauré’s Sonata in A Major, op.13. This has been followed by concerto, chamber music, and recital performances in some of the world’s most prominent venues – Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Lincoln Center, Royce Hall, Herbst Theatre, and Strathmore Hall among them. Soovin Kim’s Chausson and Fauré recording with Azica Records was a collaboration with pianist Jeremy Denk and the Jupiter String Quartet.

Mr. Kim’s recording of Niccolò Paganini's demanding 24 Caprices for solo violin was released in February 2006, rose to Billboard’s Classical Chart, and was named Classic FM magazine’s Instrumental Disc of the Month. Mr. Kim also recorded Schubert’s cello quintet with Janos Starker and Arensky’s cello quartet with Lynn Harrell, both released by Delos International, and duo works by Schubert, Bartok, and Strauss with Jeremy Denk for Koch/Discover. Mr. Kim is recognized for his commitment to fresh interpretations of standard repertoire.

In recent seasons he has played the Mendelssohn concerto with the Kitchener-Waterloo (Canada), Cincinnati Chamber, and National Philharmonic orchestras; Mozart with the Baltimore and Nashville symphonies; Sibelius with the Moscow and Vermont symphonies; Brahms with the Annapolis symphony and the Seoul Philharmonic; and Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and other ensembles without conductor. Mr. Kim and Mr. Denk have performed the Brahms sonatas in Seoul and Rome, and the Charles Ives sonatas in Philadelphia and at Bard College. Mr. Kim has also given recitals of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas in New York, Philadelphia, Seoul, and at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Along with his love of the classic works, Soovin Kim is passionate about commissioning new works. Mr. Kim is the first violinist of the Johannes Quartet which is touring this season with the venerable Guarneri Quartet performing newly-commissioned works by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Derek Bermel, and William Bolcom. Mr. Kim’s Korea-based piano quartet, M.I.K., recorded four commissioned works by Korean composers for its first album for Stomp/EMI. He also arranged for and performed the premiere of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s string trio in 2007.

Soovin Kim won first prize at the Paganini International Competition when he was only 20 years old. He was later named the recipient of the Henryk Szeryng Career Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. Subsequently he went on to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Stuttgart Radio Symphony, Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra. He has given solo recitals at Weill Hall in New York, Terrace Theater in Washington D.C., Ravinia, Tokyo’s Casals Hall, and the Seoul Arts Center. Mr. Kim devotes a considerable amount of time to teaching at Stony Brook University and is also on the faculty of Bard College. He is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied with Jaime Laredo and Victor Danchenko, and he also studied with David Cerone and Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Mr. Kim maintains a close relationship with the Marlboro Festival and regularly spends summers there. Soovin Kim plays on the 1709 “ex-Kempner” Stradivarius which is on loan to him.

Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 97
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann was perhaps the quintessential Romantic composer. His work is marked by lyricism, literary or other extra-musical inspiration, and a extreme self-expression. Often his pieces had personal associations – memories, feelings, specific events – of which biographers get only glimpses from the notes in his manuscripts. In his short and often tumultuous life (most of his last three years were spent in an insane asylum) he produced an incredibly diverse body of work – symphonies, songs, chamber music, piano music, choral music – usually working extremely fast during bouts of inspiration. His wife was Clara Wieck Schumann, one of the most famous piano virtuosi of the century, and the Schumanns were good friends with Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt, and Berlioz.

For much of his career, Schumann was better known as a music critic than a composer. As a youngster, he was just as interested in poetry and literature as he was in music, and he wrote prolifically throughout his life: articles, journals, diaries (including a joint “marriage diary” with Clara), letters, etc. He founded the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and was its owner and editor from 1835 to 1844. In a sincere effort to represent a dialectic way of thinking, he created various characters from whose points of view he would write, in criticism and in private correspondence. Florestan, Eusebius, and Meister Raro represented for him the ability to hold and embrace simultaneously conflicting viewpoints, to respect the value of both instinctive emotion and calculated thought and always listen to the voice of moderation to balance the two.

During the first parts of his compositional career, Schumann tended to explore particular genres for long periods of time, writing mostly piano music in the 1830s, songs and song cycles in 1840, symphonic works in 1841, and chamber music in 1842. His third symphony, however, was composed in November and December of 1850, the last of his four published symphonies (the fourth was initially written in 1841 and revised for publication in 1851). Its common subtitle “Rhenish” was not Schumann’s, but he would likely have approved. He had just accepted the position of Municipal Music Director in the capital of the Rhine Province, Düsseldorf, and was inspired by the good-natured outlook of the people in his new home to write a symphony that would have popular appeal, one which “here and there reflects a bit of local color.” He succeeded admirably: the first performance (under his direction on February 6, 1851) was greeted with enthusiastic cheers.

The spirit of the third symphony is uplifting throughout, with themes that rise in pitch and masterful motivic development that generates consistent forward momentum. Its form is unusual, stretching the typical four-movement Romantic symphony to five. The first and last movements, marked lebhaft (lively), are traditional outer movements in their rousing characters. The second and third are less conventional in that they contrast less than the typical symphonic scherzo and adagio movements; they might even be considered more intermezzo-style pieces than full symphonic movements.

Any emotional weight that might be wanting, however, is more than made up for in the remarkable fourth movement. Originally subtitled “In the character of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,” the additional slow movement was reported to have been inserted into the standard form in order to commemorate the elevation of Archbishop Johannes von Geissel to the rank of Cardinal at the spectacular Cologne Cathedral. The consensus of Schumann scholarship agrees, however, that the sight of the cathedral itself was the composer’s inspiration. The Cologne Cathedral was one of the largest buildings in the world at the time. Originally begun in 1248, its construction continued on and off for literally centuries; renewed civic interest and advances in construction techniques in the nineteenth century had enabled a recommencement of the work in 1842. Upon completion in 1880, the cathedral was the tallest structure in the world until the erection of the Washington Monument, in 1884, and then the Eiffel Tower. Construction was ongoing during Schumann’s visit in 1850, and the highly emotional artist was clearly awestruck. The music he wrote as a tonal portrait is unique in the orchestral literature, notable for the intensity of its overlapping counterpoint and the solemnity and grandeur of orchestral color, incorporating trombones for the first time in the piece for the traditional sound of ecclesiastical music. The rising theme of the movement, like the cathedral itself, literally reaches for the heavens, celebrating the efforts of mankind to come ever closer to God.

--Gabriel Langfur