Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Program notes: October 23 Masterworks Opening Night

Our 2010/2011 Masterworks Series opens this weekend with Jaime Laredo leading the VSO and Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein. Read the program notes now and free yourself up to socialize before the concert! If you don't have a ticket yet, act now. We have less than 50 tickets left. Buy tickets here. Keep reading for more information about the program, which includes a symphony by Spanish composer Arriaga, one of Beethoven's Leonore Overtures, and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Leonore Overture No. 3 in C Major, Op. 72
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

It was characteristic of Beethoven that he wrote four overtures for the opera he always wished to have called Leonore and which always has been called Fidelio. The first he rejected as too modest in scope; the second as too difficult technically. The third was such a powerful work that it tended to dwarf the opera, so he wrote a fourth, which is the one that generally precedes Fidelio today. (It is called the Fidelio Overture.) Leonore Overture No. 3 outlines the so-called “rescue opera” plot: when Leonore’s husband, Florestan, is imprisoned for political reasons, Leonore disguises herself as a boy and risks her life to save him. Trumpet calls announce Florestan’s liberation, and the music of his earlier lament expands into a final triumphant paean to freedom—which of course celebrates something greater than the deliverance of one individual victim of injustice.

Symphony in D
Juan Crisostomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (1806-1826)

An interesting instance of someone whose name was almost longer than his life! Arriaga, who was born in Bilbao, Spain, died in Paris at the age of nineteen, of a lung ailment, or perhaps exhaustion. He has been nicknamed the “Spanish Mozart,” because, like Mozart, he was a child prodigy who died tragically young. Arriaga studied violin, counterpoint, and harmony at the Paris Conservatory, and was so precocious that he was asked to be a teaching assistant during his short tenure there.

Arriaga’s understandably small oeuvre includes an opera, Los esclavos felices (“The Happy Slaves”), of which unfortunately only the overture survives, three wonderful string quartets, an octet, a few pieces of church music, and some miscellaneous instrumental compositions--in addition to the work we will hear this evening.

The Symphony in D uses the keys of D Major and d minor so equally as not to be technically in either key. (Is this the only example of that in the literature?!) Grove’s Dictionary of Music calls Arriaga’s music “elegant, accomplished, and notable for its harmonic warmth.” There is little that is characteristically Spanish-sounding in his writing; rather, it is an example of the type of western European music that bridged the gap between the late classical music of Mozart’s time and the early Romanticism of Beethoven. A public theater in Bilbao is named in his honor.

Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb minor, Op. 23
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

On February 2, 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote to his patroness, Madam Von Meck: “In December, 1874, I had written a pianoforte concerto. As I am not a pianist, I thought it necessary to ask a virtuoso what was technically unplayable in the work. I needed the advice of a severe critic who at the same time was kindly disposed towards me…. Nicholas Rubinstein was the best pianist in Moscow, and also a most excellent musician, so I determined to ask him to hear it.

“I played through the first movement. Not a criticism, not a word. You know how foolish you feel, if you invite one to partake of a meal provided by your own hands, and the friend eats and is silent! At least say something, scold me good-naturedly, but for God’s sake speak! Rubinstein said nothing. I did not need any judgment on the artistic form of my work, there was a question only about mechanical details. This silence of Rubinstein said much. It said to me at once: ‘Dear friend, how can I talk about details when I dislike your composition as a whole?’ But I kept my temper and played the concerto through. Again silence.

“ ‘Well?’ I said, and stood up. There burst forth from Rubinstein’s mouth a mighty torrent of words. He spoke quietly at first; then he waxed hot, and at last he resembled Zeus hurling thunderbolts. It appeared that my concerto was utterly worthless, absolutely unplayable, passages were so commonplace and awkward that they could not be improved; the piece as a whole was bad, trivial, vulgar. I had stolen this from that one and that from this one; so only two or three pages were good for anything, while the others should be radically rewritten…. I cannot reproduce for you the main thing: the tone in which he said all this. An impartial bystander would necessarily have believed that I was a stupid, ignorant, conceited note-scratcher, who was so impudent as to show his scribble to a celebrated man.”

Obviously Tchaikovsky was of a temperament strong enough to fight off the viciousness of Rubinstein’s attack. He re-dedicated the work to Hans von Bülow, who accepted the honor in a letter which describes the work as “original, noble, and powerful.” Von Bülow premiered the concerto in Boston in 1875 to a tumultuous reception from audience and critics alike.

The introduction, possibly the most arresting in the concerto literature, leads into the Allegro con spirito. The main body of the movement begins with a rushing phrase that Tchaikovsky told his patrons he had heard a blind beggar sing at a fair. The second movement (Andante simplice) features a solo flute melody and a delicate scherzo-like middle section. It closes with a return to the same simple passage with which it began. The finale, Allegro con fuoco, has the brilliant characteristics of a wild Cossack dance. A magnificently lyrical contrasting theme, announced by violins in octaves, builds to a breathtaking climax.

Alon Goldstein, piano

“…an irresistible powerhouse performance”

The New York Times

Alon Goldstein is one of the most sensitive artists of his generation, admired for his musical intelligence and dynamic personality. Alon’s artistic vision and innovative programming have made him a favorite with audiences and critics alike throughout the United States, Europe, and Israel.

He made his orchestral debut at the age of 18 with the Israeli Philharmonic under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta, and in April of 2008 made a triumphant return with Maestro Herbert Blomstedt. In recent seasons, Alon has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco, St. Louis, Houston, Vancouver, Kansas City and North Carolina Symphonies, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and orchestras on tour in Paris, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria.

His 2010-2011 season includes his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski playing Mendelssohn Concerto No. 1, a return to the IRIS Orchestra for a Saint Saëns Concerto No. 2 with Michael Stern and Tchaikovksy Concerto No. 1 with Jaime Laredo and the Vermont Symphony. Goldstein can be heard in recital and chamber music concerts in St Paul, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beijing, Guatamala City, Kent (UK) and Paris among others.