Gerhardt Plays TchaikovskyArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- III Ecstasio
- IV Quasi leggiero
- Montagues and Capulets – The Young Girl Juliet – Madrigal – A Scene – Folk Dance – Minuet – Masks – Romeo with Juliet – The Death of Tybalt – Romeo at the Tomb of Juliet
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Robert McBride, 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.
Composer: Born March 1, 1971, London.
Work composed: Commissioned by the John Feeney Charitable Trust for Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1997.
World premiere: Simon Rattle led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on October 10, 1997.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo, one doubling bass flute), 3 oboes (2 doubling English horn, one doubling bass oboe), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet, one doubling contrabass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets (one doubling piccolo trumpet), 3 trombones, tuba, 5 or 6 timpani, brake drums, 3 or 4 Roto-toms, 5 bongos, 2 bell plates, tuned crotale bells, 4 tubular bells, Chinese cymbals, 2 hi-hats, 3 tins, geophone, 2 water gongs, 2 ratchets, washboard, 11 tuned gongs, 2 snare drums, sandpaper blocks, bag of metal knives & forks, glockenspiel, bass drum, bass drum with pedal, 3 pianos (one grand, one tuned in quarter tones and one upright), celesta, harp and strings.
Estimated duration: 25 minutes
Thomas Adès, considered one of the most exciting, original and important young composers of his time, is at the forefront of a contemporary British music renaissance. Critics have likened him to Beethoven, Mozart, Purcell and Britten, and his work has been performed and recorded by ensembles around the world. In addition to his award-winning music, Adès is also a noted pianist and conductor who divides his time between composing and a demanding concert schedule.
Asyla, the plural of asylum, is Adès' third symphonic work and hints at symphonic form, in both the size of the orchestra and its four-movement structure. The title refers both to institutions (insane asylums) and to places of refuge, as in political asylum.
Adès' music is most distinguished by his wildly creative and innovative orchestrations. "You're living in listed accommodation, writing for orchestra," Adès remarked, "or putting on someone else's clothes and feeling absolutely new yourself." The colors and sonorities he produces create that sense of renewal, the feeling of hearing an orchestra for the first time. In Asyla, Adès achieves this through use of a vast battery of percussion instruments, the majority of which are metallic. Among the more unusual instruments, Adès features a piano tuned a quartertone lower than a regular piano. When struck, these metal instruments create a glittering half-light, like a scrim behind which the action takes place on a stage.
The second movement, which originally bore the title "Vatican," features a solo for bass oboe, accompanied by various tuned percussion. In keeping with the nature of an asylum, the mood here is one of imprisonment, as the soloist's quietly despairing notes bounce off the walls of a vast, echoing cell. A solo horn continues the bass oboe's plaintive call.
Ecstasio captures the dizzying hyper-loud techno-music scene at a London club, as experienced through the haze of drugs (the title suggests the drug Ecstasy). While Adès was copying out the many repetitions in the score for this movement, he started to hyperventilate and briefly admitted himself to a hospital because he thought he was having a heart attack. The insistent pounding of the bass drum and low brasses create the thunderous surround-sound experience of a club, and both percussion and brasses are given free rein.
The final movement begins slowly, with murmurs from the winds and strings. The exhausted, hung-over partier from the third movement awakens, his head filled with the previous night. The quartertone piano is featured in an eerie reverie with high strings. These murmuring comments build into a full-throated cry from the entire orchestra, but the fiery power soon ebbs away, and the piece ends with a flutter of winds, rather unexpectedly.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33
Composer: born May 7, 1840, Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia; died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg
Work composed: December 1876– March 1877. Written for and dedicated to Wilhelm Karl Friedrich Fitzenhagen, principal cellist of the Orchestra of the Imperial Russian Music Society and a colleague of Tchaikovsky's on the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory.
World premiere: Nikolai Rubenstein conducted the Russian Musical Society Orchestra in Moscow, November 30, 1877, with Fitzenhagen performing the solo part.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: November 13, 2003, James DePreist conducting, Mark Kosower, cello.
Instrumentation: solo cello, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings.
Estimated duration: 18 minutes
Just as Wolfgang Amadéus Mozart wrote the charming fantasy opera The Magic Flute as he was dying, the lighthearted Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra are yet another example of a composer producing cheerful, buoyant music while overwhelmed by private anguish. In the winter of 1876, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's opera Vakula the Smith had flopped, and he received word that critic Eduard Hanslick was about to savage his Romeo and Juliet in a scathing review. Tchaikovsky buried his despondency in work and wrote the Variations in a matter of weeks.
The Variations, a nod to the refined classicism of Mozart, are scored for an 18th–century–sized orchestra and originally consisted of an introduction, theme, eight variations and a coda. The music captures the essence of rococo, a popular style of architecture in early 18th–century Paris. The theme and its variations reveal a gentle humor, elegant construction and delicate sensibility. Tchaikovsky had a strong affinity for Mozart's music (he wrote several orchestral suites in the style of Mozart), but was less familiar with the technical capabilities of the cello. It was perhaps this combination of Tchaikovsky's insecurity and his desire for perfection that prompted him to ask his colleague, cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, to make suggestions about the solo writing of the Variations. Fitzenhagen's "suggestions" were in fact major revisions; he essentially rewrote most of the solo passages and reorganized the rest of Tchaikovsky's music, deleting the final variation and cutting 35 measures out of the concluding coda. When Tchaikovsky was asked if he planned to restore the Variations to his own original conception, after they had been published with Fitzenhagen's changes, he snapped, "Oh, the hell with it! Let it stay the way it is." We can take this grudging comment as Tchaikovsky's tacit approval of Fitzenhagen's changes; he later asked Fitzenhagen for his opinion of another solo cello/orchestra work, the Pezzo capriccioso, which Principal Cellist Nancy Ives performed with the Oregon Symphony on the final classical concert of the 2010-11 season.
Ives appreciates Fitzenhagen's insider approach to the solo writing. "The episodic nature of the theme and variations form makes it both more and less difficult: more various, thereby hitting on a huge range of a cellist's abilities, but also easier to digest and easier to pace, because so much of the pacing is built in," she explains. "The style is fun to play. It's faux Rococo, so we can be as Romantic in approach to the sound as we'd like while still getting to be light and graceful. Moments of sentimentality or melodrama never become cloying because there's always a new variation around the corner."
After a brief, airy introduction, the solo cello introduces the theme upon which all the variations are constructed. In keeping with its Classical nature, the theme consists of well-balanced phrases paired as a statement and a response. The first variation features the cello's elaboration, with graceful melodic arabesques, of the original theme. A rhapsodic variation in the somewhat distant key of C major follows, which the solo cello delivers in the manner of an operatic aria. Another notable variation follows a solo coda, and the cello dips into a reflective, introverted interlude in D minor. The last variation bursts forth in a brilliant shower of color and quicksilver technique from both soloist and orchestra.
Suites from Romeo and Juliet
Composer: born April 23, 1891, Sontsovka, Bakhmutsk region, Yekat-erinoslav district, Ukraine; died March 5, 1953, Moscow.
Work composed: originally commis-sioned by the Kirov Ballet in 1934; Prokofiev completed it for the Moscow Ballet in 1935-6.
World premiere: The first suite premiered in Moscow on November 24, 1936, and the second had its first performance in Leningrad on April 15, 1937.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: October 30, 1984, James DePreist conducting.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, tenor saxophone, 4 horns, cornet, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bamboo wind chimes, bass drum, bells, cymbals, maracas, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, xylophone, celeste, piano harp and strings.
Estimated duration: 37 minutes
Sergei Prokofiev's musical version of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers is some of the most evocative music associated with the story of Romeo and Juliet, but the music was originally mired in controversy. Commissioned by the Kirov Ballet in 1934, it was later rejected as "undanceable." Eventually the Moscow Ballet contracted with Prokofiev to finish the ballet.
Prokofiev's original storyline, which dared to script a happy ending in which Romeo finds Juliet alive, also provoked controversy. Prokofiev justified this shocking reversal with the very practical explanation that dead characters cannot dance, but pressure from critics and ballet administrators, as well as the observation that Prokofiev's music was essentially tragic in nature, persuaded the composer to use Shakespeare's ending. Prokofiev's original orchestration also caused problems for the dancers, who complained they were unable to hear it from the stage. Although Prokofiev grumbled to the dancers that "you want drums, not music!" he eventually complied with their request for a fuller sound.
Since Prokofiev had such trouble getting Romeo and Juliet to the stage, he decided to arrange two orchestral suites of music from the ballet, each with seven movements. In 1938 Prokofiev himself conducted both suites in a number of cities while on tour in Europe and the United States. Today conductors commonly fashion their own selection of excerpts as Carlos Kalmar has done for these performances.
Of his music, Prokofiev said, "I have taken special pains to achieve a simplicity which will, I hope, reach the hearts of all listeners." The episodic nature of the music quickly captures the essence of characters and storylines: the ominous foreboding of the Dance of the Knights, the lilting delicacy of Juliet's minuet, the lyricism of the balcony scene and the heartbreaking intensity of the strings during Romeo and Juliet's fateful goodbye scene.
© 2012 Elizabeth Schwartz
Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a Portland-based free-lance writer, researcher and musician. In addition annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony and other ensembles, she has also contributed to NPR’s Performance Today (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also co-hosts The Portland Yiddish Hour, heard at 10 a.m. Sundays on KBOO 90.7 FM. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Ades – Asyla
Simon Rattle – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
EMI Classics 90326
Tchaikovsky – Variations on a Rococo Theme
Mstislav Rostropovich – Cello
Herbert von Karajan – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon Originals 447413 OR
Zuill Bailey – Cello
Martin West – San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
Prokofiev – Suite from Romeo and Juliet
Andre Previn – London Symphony Orchestra
EMI Classics 67701 OR
Lorin Maazel – Cleveland Orchestra
These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.