Nadja Salerno-SonnenbergArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Presto e ritmica
- Primavera (Spring)
- Verano (Summer)
- Invierno (Winter)
- Otoño (Autumn)
- Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
- Adagio – Allegro moderato – Poco adagio
- Allegro moderato – Presto – Allegro moderato – Presto – Allegro moderato – Maestoso – Allegro – Più allegro – Molto allegro – Pesante
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by conductor Mei-Ann Chen and John Pitman, host for the stations of All Classical FM. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit the web site allclassical.org to watch the video on demand.
Symphony No. 2, "Short Symphony"
Composer: born Nov. 14, 1900, Brooklyn, NY; died Dec. 2, 1990, North Tarrytown, NY.
Work composed: 1931-33. Dedicated to Copland's friend and colleague, composer Carlos Chávez.
World premiere: Carlos Chávez led the Orquesta Sinfónica de México in Mexico City on November 23, 1934.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes (one doubling alto flute), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, piano and strings.
Estimated duration: 16 minutes
Aaron Copland described his Symphony No. 2 as having a "preoccupation with complex rhythms, combined with clear textures." Lest the idea of "complex rhythms" scare off listeners, remember that the Short Symphony precedes Appalachian Spring, whose "complex rhythms" have delighted audiences since 1942. Much of the bouncy, angular rhythmic intricacy in the Short Symphony foreshadows Appalachian Spring, and will be familiar to concertgoers. It is far more likely that the rhythmic challenges in the Short Symphony make the musicians performing it more anxious than the audience listening to it. Since its composition, the Short Symphony has remained a formidable challenge, even to the best players.
Indeed, the Short Symphony proved so daunting that both Serge Koussevitzky and Leopold Stokowski balked at premiering the work in America. When Copland asked Koussevitzky if the Short Symphony was too difficult, Koussevitzky reportedly replied, "Non, ce n'est pas trop difficile, c'est impossible!" Desperate to get the work performed in the United States, Copland arranged it for clarinet sextet in 1937, but it was not premiered in the United States in its orchestral version until 1944, under the baton of Leopold Stokowski and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
The symphony opens with a bouncing, freewheeling conversation, or maybe an athletic contest, among the woodwinds, piano and low strings. Throughout the outer movements of the Short Symphony, short staccato phrases are tossed to and fro, like shuttlecocks in a game of badminton. The Espressivo lives up to its name, with rich, seductive melodies in the strings and winds that unfold with slow sensuousness. In the Presto, Copland returns to the frenzied activity of the opening movement, combining dance rhythms with flashes of orchestral colors tossed off in the blink of an eye.
Cuatro estaciones porteñas de Buenos Aires
(The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires)
Composer: born March 11, 1921, Mar del Plata, Argentina; died July 5, 1992, Buenos Aires.
Work composed: Piazzolla originally composed the Cuatro estaciones porteñas de Buenos Aires for Melenita de oro, a play by his countryman, Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz. The movements were written individually, between
1965-1970, and Piazzolla did not originally intend them to be performed as a single work. The original version of Cuatro estanciones is scored for Piazzolla's quintet, which consisted of violin, electric guitar, piano, bass and bandóneon (a large button accordion). Leonid Desyatnikov created the version for solo violin and string orchestra heard here in 1999, for violinist Gidon Kremer.
World premiere: Piazzolla and his quintet played the Cuatro estaciones for the first time at the Teatro Regina in Buenos Aires, on May 19, 1970.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: solo violin and strings.
Estimated duration: 30 minutes
"For me, tango was always for the ear rather than the feet."
– Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla is inextricably linked with tango. He took a dance from the back rooms of Argentinean brothels and blurred the lines between popular and "art" music to such an extent that, in the case of his music, such categories no longer apply.
In the mid-1950s, Piazzolla went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, one of the 20th century's greatest composition teachers. She was unimpressed with the scores he showed her and, after insisting he play her some of his own tangos, she declared, "Astor, this is beautiful. I like it a lot. Here is the true Piazzolla – do not ever leave him." Piazzolla later called this "the great revelation of my musical life," and followed Boulanger's advice, taking the raw passion and fire of tango, with its powerful rhythms and edgy melodies, and making them an essential part of the classical repertoire. However, his music retains its popular appeal, as demonstrated by world champion Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi, who wowed figure skating fans last season when he skated to Piazzolla's Invierno in international competition.
The version of the Cuatro estaciones porteñas de Buenos Aires heard on tonight's program was created in 1999 by Russian composer/arranger Leonid Desyatnikov, at the request of violinist Gidon Kremer. Desyatnikov not only arranged Cuatro estaciones, but also inserted quotes from Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons into Piazzolla's music.
"In my opinion Desyatnikov did for this piece exactly what Piazzolla did for the tango: expanded it to a symphonic level," said violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in a recent interview. "I think that Piazzolla would love the arrangement, the vibrancy and excitement of it. I also think however, that because of his ego, he would have hated the Vivaldi quotes in this arrangement, but they are absolutely spectacular."
Piazzolla and Desyatnikov give the audience plenty of aural tidbits to savor. In each movement, Desyatnikov's quotes from Vivaldi are clearly distinct from Piazzolla's music. Some of the Vivaldi insertions are tongue-in-cheek, as in Verano (Summer), when Desyatnikov includes a short, airy reference to Vivaldi's Winter, reminding listeners that seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. Salerno-Sonnenberg's favorite parts to play are "the slow, extremely sexy and personal sections within each movement. [They're] like a passionate whisper."
Within the style of tango music are several string techniques not usually heard in classical music: wailing glissandos, sharp pizzicatos that threaten to break strings, bouncing harmonics and, in particular, a harsh, scratchy, distinctly "un-pretty" manner of bowing, sometimes using the wood, rather than the hair, of the bow. "I always have to teach the musicians how to execute that," notes Salerno-Sonnenberg.
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, "Organ Symphony"
Composer: born Oct. 9, 1835, Paris; died December. 16, 1921, Algiers.
Work composed: The London Philhar-monic Society commissioned Saint-Saëns' third and final symphony in 1886. In the published score, Saint-Saëns dedicated his Symphony No. 3, "Á la mémoire de Franz Liszt," who died two months after its premiere.
World premiere: Saint-Saëns led the London Philharmonic on May 19, 1886.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: October 2003; James DePreist, conductor.
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubl-ing piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, organ, piano (four hands) and strings.
Estimated duration: 34 minutes
Camille Saint-Saëns' Third Symphony, one of his most popular compositions, pays homage to Franz Liszt in more than its dedication. In Liszt, Saint-Saëns found inspiration for a new direction for French music, which in the 19th century had swerved so far away from the course of innovation that even Hector Berlioz's music was viewed by many as the irrelevant product of a musical crank.
When the London Philharmonic Society commissioned a symphony from Saint-Saëns in 1886, the composer was interested, but Saint-Saëns was also aware of the massive project he was undertaking. In a letter to his publisher Durand, Saint-Saëns wrote, "You ask for the symphony: you don't know what you ask. It will be terrifying … there will be much in the way of experiment in this terrible thing …" Despite his concerns, Saint-Saëns never wavered from his original conception of this symphony as an extraordinary work, and with the addition of both piano and organ to the large orchestra, as well as the innovative structure of the work, his "experiment" became clear.
Liszt's influence is perhaps most clearly felt in the construction of the symphony, which distills the usual four movements down to two, each with its own two sections. When listening to the Symphony No. 3, however, one gets the impression less of a symphony than of a tone poem, Liszt's most lasting contribution to orchestral music. The Romantic arc of the music, the unifying presence of the opening movement's agitated, rustling violin theme, which recurs throughout the symphony, and the grand apotheosis of the organ finale, all suggest a symphonic narrative, a linear journey full of emotion and atmosphere.
The second movement, whose doom-laden prophecies are sounded by strings and timpani, attracts particular notice. After this initial statement, Saint-Saëns observes, "there enters a fantastic spirit that is frankly disclosed in the Presto. Here arpeggios and scales, swift as lightning, on the piano, are accompanied by the syncopated rhythm of the orchestra … there is a struggle for mastery [between a fugal melody for low brasses and basses and the "fantastic spirit" theme], and this struggle ends in the defeat of the restless, diabolical element." All turmoil is settled by the pomp and majesty of the organ, which announces itself with a monumental C major chord. Saint-Saëns unleashes the full power of his contrapuntal inventiveness in this final section, in which each part of the orchestra, from strings to winds to brasses, gets its chance to shine.
Although critics were unsure what to make of the Symphony No. 3, audiences responded with enthusiasm. After Saint-Saëns first con-ducted the symphony in Paris, his colleague Charles Gounod declared, "There goes the French Beethoven!" a reference to Saint-Saëns' standing as France's pre-eminent composer, rather than to Saint-Saëns' particular compositional abilities. Saint- Saëns himself might have agreed; his reported assess-ment of himself as "first among composers of the second rank," suggests as much. Whether it had any bearing on his evaluation of his own compositional legacy, Saint-Saëns' third symphony was also his last. He later explained, "With it I have given all I could give. What I did I could not achieve again."
© 2012 Elizabeth Schwartz
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Copland - Symphony No. 2
Aaron Copland-London Symphony Orchestra
Sony Classical 47232 OR
Marin Alsop-Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Piazzolla/Desyatnikov - The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg: Violin
New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg Music 8
Saint-Saëns - Symphony No. 3
Charles Munch-Boston Symphony Orchestra
RCA Victor Living Stereo 61387 OR
James DePreist-Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
These selected recordings are available at Classical Millennium, located at 3144 E. Burnside in Portland.