Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Program notes: December 4 Masterworks Concert

On Saturday, December 4, the VSO and the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts will co-present the second Masterworks concert installment this season. Grammy-award winning sextet eighth blackbird and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon team up for a performance of Higdon's "On A Wire" for sextet and orchestra. eighth blackbird will perform an intimate concert at the FlynnSpace on Sunday, December 5. Contact FlynnTix for a 20% discount on tickets for both events. This package must be redeemed either in person at the Flynn Box Office or by calling (802) 86-FLYNN. No other discounts apply. Only valid on new ticket purchases, while tickets are available. Single tickets for the Masterworks Series concert on Saturday, December 4, can be purchased through FlynnTix online or by calling (802) 86-FLYNN. Keep reading for the program notes for this concert.

Overture to Euryanthe
Carl Maria von Weber (1726-1826)

“My reception when I appeared in the orchestra to conduct the premiere of Euryanthe was the most enthusiastic that one could imagine,” wrote Weber to his wife the day after the premiere on October 25, 1823. “There was no end to it. At last I gave the signal for beginning. Stillness of death. The Overture was applauded madly, and there was a demand for a repetition, but I went ahead so that the performance might not be too long or drawn out.” After the success of its first season, the opera was doomed, handicapped by its inane libretto. But the spontaneity and imaginativeness of the music have kept the overture in the standard repertoire. Schumann was enchanted by it: “It is a chain of sparkling jewels from beginning to end—all brilliant and flawless.”

With a grandiose flourish, Weber sets the mood of his tragic opera. The brass and woodwinds announce the theme by which the hero proclaims his reliance on God and his beloved Euryanthe. In the development section, the famous ghost music is orchestrated for eight muted solo violins, and this is later combined with the majestic opening melody. The poignant progression from the tragic to the triumphant concludes definitively in a grand coda.

Weber’s works, including Euryanthe, greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany, and anticipated Wagner. Berlioz praised his gift for orchestration in his Treatise on Instrumentation, while Debussy remarked that the sound of the Weber orchestra was obtained through the scrutiny of the soul of each instrument.

On A Wire, Concerto for Sextet and Orchestra
Jennifer Higdon (1962- )

The composer writes: "Composing a concerto for one soloist and orchestra is a bit of a balancing act…so imagine throwing in five more soloists. On A Wire is eighth blackbird’s high-wire act of a concerto. Having already written two chamber works for this group, I am familiar with their ability to do all sorts of cool things on their instruments, from extended techniques, to complex patterns, to exquisitely controlled lyrical lines. I also admire the pure joy that emanates from their playing, no matter the repertoire. Written as a one-movement work, it highlights the group as an ensemble, allows each member to solo, and utilizes some of their unique staging: the players move about and perform beyond their respective primary instruments (the work begins with bowed piano). So imagine six blackbirds, sitting on a wire…." The world premiere of On A Wire took place at Symphony Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 3, 2010, with soloists eighth blackbird, and Robert Spano conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

On A Wire is a co-commission by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Akron Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the West Michigan Symphony, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and the Cabrillo Festival.

Read more about Jennifer Higdon.
Read more about eighth blackbird.

Symphony No. 2 in D Major
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Jean Sibelius was born in the small Finnish town of Tavastehus, the son of a regimental doctor. A sensitive child drawn to the beauty of nature and art, his early pursuits in music on the piano, violin and in composition grew organically out of the desire of a shy child to find a comfortable way to express his inner thoughts and feelings.

Sibelius borrowed a year from his musical career in an attempt to study law, but the muse was too possessive and his parents gave their blessing to his enrollment in the Institute of Music. There he made several close friends, and one of them, Adolf Paul, gave this portrayal of him: "He did not seem to dwell on this earth. His nature was delicate and impressionable; his sensitive imagination found outlet in music at the slightest provocation. His thoughts always strayed, his head was always in the clouds, and he continually expressed such original and bizarre ideas that...in his normal mood he was like the rest of us drunk."

In 1899 Sibelius' studies took him to Berlin and Vienna, and in the latter city he met Brahms whose works at that time dominated the world of symphonic music. Sibelius' reverence for Brahms reveals itself in his early work, but a more powerful and fateful alliance was yet to be made which would make a life-long imprint on his music.

At the end of his formal training in 1891, Sibelius returned to Finland, where he joined a group of idealistic young musicians who called themselves "Young Finns." Strongly patriotic, they were committed to the movement for Finnish liberation from Russian domination. The fact that the Russian government denied freedom of speech and press did not discourage Sibelius, who was most used to speaking through his music: "...for me, music begins where words cease." Rather, this suppression of the usual forms of communication made Sibelius' music a comparative shout for freedom and national unity that stirred the hearts of all Finns.

Comfortably married and settled in a teaching position at the Musical Institute, Sibelius began to create a national Finnish music. He broke most ties with German and Russian romanticism and through extraordinary originality, fervent national identity and a profound love of nature created the completely recognizable and unduplicated genre of Finnish Romanticism. It is characterized by tonal landscapes and orchestrations which give almost visual images of the country, and emotional empathy with its natives.

The Second Symphony was written in 1901, shortly after Finlandia had firmly established him as a national hero. Georg Schneevoigt, a close friend and famous interpreter of Sibelius, ascribed a program to the work: the first movement (Allegretto) represents the quiet pastoral life of the Finns undisturbed by thoughts of oppression. The second movement (Andante, ma rubato) rings with patriotic fervor, but the threat of brutal rule over the people brings with it timidity of the soul. The scherzo of the third movement (Vivacissimo) brings the awakening of national feeling and the desire to organize in defense of rights. A long crescendo leads without pause into the final movement (Allegro moderato) which expresses the hope and comfort in the anticipated coming of a deliverer.

Sibelius composed five more symphonies between the years 1907 and 1924. He was recognized internationally as one of the greatest symphonic composers since Brahms. In 1924, tired of giving concerts and of the discomforts of travel, he retired to Arnola, to compose nothing more than a set of piano pieces in 1929. As though he had concentrated a lifetime of creativity in a few furious years, Sibelius devoted the rest of his life to small-town pleasures and the serenity of seclusion.

Hilary Hatch