Elgar’s Symphony No. 1Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Andante, Nobilmente e semplice—Allegro
- Allegro molto
This concert will be recorded for future broadcast on All Classical Portland.
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will feature Music Director Carlos Kalmar, violinist Augustin Hadelich, and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical Portland. 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.
Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21
Composer: Born February 3, 1809, Hamburg; died November 4, 1847, Leipzig.
Work composed: 1826.
World premiere: Mendelssohn’s first version of the Overture was a two-piano arrangement for himself and his sister Fanny, which they premiered at their home in Berlin on November 19, 1826, for their piano teacher, Ignaz Moscheles. After that performance, Mendelssohn scored the work for orchestra and conducted the first performance of the orchestral version himself the following February in the city of Stettin.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: November 28, 2004; Mei-Ann Chen, conductor.
Instrumentation: 2 ﬂutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, tuba, timpani, and strings.
Estimated duration: 11 minutes
In July 1826, Felix Mendelssohn began composing what would become one of his most enduring works. Immediately upon its completion, the Overture to A Midsum-mer Night’s Dream established the 17-yearold Mendelssohn as a composer of depth and maturity.
Young Felix and his family were ardent fans of Shakespeare, whose works had been translated into German in 1790. Mendelssohn’s grandfather Moses had read the plays in English and had attempted some translations of his own, including bits from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Felix and his sister, the equally talented Fanny, immediately took to the fanciful play and put on a series of home performances, with each child playing many roles. In a letter to their sister Rebecka some years after the Overture was composed, Fanny wrote, “Yesterday we were thinking about how the Midsummer Night’s Dream has always been such an inseparable part of our household, how we read all the different roles at various ages, from Peaseblossom to Hermia and Helena … We have really grown up together with the Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Felix, in particular, has made it his own.”
Perhaps Mendelssohn’s long acquaintance with the play sped his pen, or his formidable musical ability facilitated and shortened the process of setting his ideas down on paper; either way, Mendelssohn put the finishing touches on the Overture just a month after he began it. More than a simple introduction, Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream serves as the perfect musical description of Shakespeare’s play, which was Mendelssohn’s intention. He thought of the work as a kind of mini-tone poem, rather than a musical prologue to the play itself. In just 12 minutes, Mendelssohn captures the airy magic that imbues the story: the opening chords representing the enchanted forest, the lissome, iridescent violin passages evoking fairies ﬂuttering here and there, the alternately affectionate and turbulent encounters among the four lovers, the dismaying bray of Bottom after he is transformed into a donkey. It is a stunning achievement for a composer of any age.
While he was at work on the Overture, Mendelssohn played violin in an orchestra that performed the overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Oberon. In a letter to his father and sister, Mendelssohn sketched out several of its themes, all musical representations of ideas from the opera’s libretto. This experience suggested to Mendelssohn that he intertwine recurring motifs into his own Overture that would, in his words, “weave like delicate threads throughout the whole.”
Violin Concerto, “Concentric Paths”
Composer: Born March 1, 1971, London.Work composed: 2005. Commissioned by the Berliner Festspiele and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
World premiere: Adès led the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, with soloist Anthony Marwood, at the Berliner Festspiele, on September 4, 2005, at the Kammermusiksaal in Berlin.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: Solo violin, 2 ﬂutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, cowbell, cymbals, güiros (metal and wood), low wood drum, metal can, metal block, snare drum, 3 low drums of different pitches, tam-tam, woodblock, and strings.
Estimated duration: 20 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, Henry Purcell, and Benjamin Britten, and his work has been performed and recorded by ensembles around the world. In addition to his awardwinning compositions, Adès is also an accomplished pianist and conductor who divides his time between composing and a demanding concert schedule.
Adès tends to avoid lengthy written descriptions or explanations of his music, but one can glean some insight into Adès’ musical concerns from the title of his violin concerto, “Concentric Paths,” and the names of its three movements: Rings, Paths, and Rounds. Circular structures and recurring rhythmic and melodic fragments cycle in and out of all three movements. The motion of the music in Rings suggests a spiraling, kaleidoscopic mandala; the solo violin, which traverses the whole of the violin’s range, particularly the upper registers, weaves in and out of the ever-rotating circle. In Paths, Adès borrows the Baroque chaconne format to continue exploring circular evolutions. The chaconne establishes a recurring harmonic structure—a series of chords or notes—over which different melodic and rhythmic variations can be layered. Paths suggests multiple meanings—philosophical, spiritual, metaphorical, musical, historical—and Adès’ powerfully emotional statements, particularly the soloist’s anguished, poignant lines, work effectively on all these levels. Rounds dispels the gravity of the preceding movement with lighthearted, almost jaunty rhythms, offbeat accents, and a solo part that alternately sings and spirals through the orchestra.Radio host, author, and music critic Tom Service, a longtime champion of Adès’ music, writes, “Adès talks about hearing the ‘magnetism’ in each note … every one of which becomes, under his composer’s microscope, a seething mass of musical possibilities. For Adès, this way of hearing is an absolute, a golden thread he follows in each piece he writes. The results,
though, are the opposite of predictable or pre-planned. To hear what I'm talking about, listen to Violin Concerto: “Concentric Paths,” which he composed in 2005. In just 20 minutes, this three-movement piece does something magical. The way it swirls ethereally in the first movement, exerts a tragic and vice-like grip in the chaconnelike second part, and finally propels you into the uninhibited ﬂight of the finale is like being spun into an infinite space.”
Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, Op. 55
Composer: Born June 2, 1857, Broadheath, near Worcester; died February 23, 1934, Worcester.
Work composed: November 1907–September 25, 1908. Dedicated to “Hans Richter, Mus. Doc., True Artist and True Friend.”
World premiere: Richter led the Hallé Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, on December 3, 1908.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: April 7, 2003; Tadaaki Otaka, conductor.
Instrumentation: 3 ﬂutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, soprano snare drum, 2 harps, and strings.
Estimated duration: 52 minutes
“There is no programme beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future.”
—Edward Elgar, on his first symphony
If Edward Elgar had been asked to name the greatest living composer of his time, he would likely have replied, “Richard Strauss.” Elgar had great admiration for Strauss’ colorful orchestrations and his masterful ability to present compelling narratives through music (for his part, Strauss praised Elgar as “the first English progressive”).
At the same time, Elgar himself favored the “absolute music” embodied in the symphony, but by the early 20th century, many considered symphonies passé. Like every composer born after Beethoven, Elgar approached the idea of writing a symphony with some trepidation; could he create a work that could stand on its own, alongside the towering symphonic legacies of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler?
Despite his concerns, Elgar determined to try. In 1905, while lecturing at Birmingham University, Elgar declared, “It seems to me that because the greatest genius of our days, Richard Strauss, recognizes the symphonic-poem as a fit vehicle for his splendid achievements, some writers are inclined to be positive that the symphony is dead … but when the looked-for genius comes, it may be absolutely revived.” Elgar may or may not have had himself in mind when he mentioned the “looked-for genius” (such a statement seems at odds with the English national penchant for humility and self-deprecation), but there is no doubt the idea of a symphony had been gestating within him for some time.
In the winter of 1907, Elgar, his wife Alice, and their daughter Carice traveled to Rome; while there he began working on the first movement of Op. 55. Upon his return to England, Elgar completed the remaining movements. When conductor Hans Richter led the first performance, the audience was so moved by the third movement Adagio that they broke with Richter’s strict protocol of enforcing silence between movements. Richter invited Elgar to the stage to acknowledge the audience’s cheers before continuing with the final movement.
Elgar opens the symphony with a noble, expansive theme of heroic proportions; it returns at the end of the fourth movement. Unlike the straightforward statement of this grand theme, Elgar introduces subsequent melodic ideas more indirectly by giving them first to the players at the back of a string section. “I have employed the last desks of the strings to get a soft diffused sound: the listener need not be bothered to know where it comes from—the effect is of course different from that obtained from the first desk soli,” Elgar explained.
Elgar’s first symphony fulfilled the hopes of all who heard it, including its creator. Richter declared it “the greatest symphony of modern times,” while the Daily Mail, under the heading “The Musical Event of the Year,” wrote, “It is quite plain that here we have perhaps the finest masterpiece of its type that ever came from the pen of an English composer.” Within a year of its premiere, Op. 55 had been performed approximately 100 times in concert halls around the world.
Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a free-lance writer and musician based in Portland. In addition to annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony, The Britt Festival and other ensembles, she has contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today,” (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also writes about performing arts and culture for Oregon Jewish Life Magazine and other publications. www.classicalmusicprogramnotes.com
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Mendelssohn–Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream
Claudio Abbado–London Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 423104 OR
Seiji Ozawa–Boston Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 439897
Adès–Violin Concerto Augustin Hadelich, Violin
Hannu Lintu–Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Elgar–Symphony No. 1
Sir John Barbirolli–Philharmonia Orchestra
5-Warner Classics 95444 OR
Sir Richard Hickox–BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Chandos SACD 5049
These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.