Violinist Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky with the Oregon Symphony

Program Listing

Saturday, February 17, 2024, 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, February 18, 2024, 2 PM
MONDAY, February 19, 2024, 7:30 PM

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David Danzmayr, Conductor
Gil Shaham, Violin

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35
Allegro moderato
Canzonetta: Andante
Finale: Allegro vivacissimo
Gil Shaham
Anton Bruckner
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major “Romantic” (1878/80 Version)
Bewegt, nicht zu schnell
Andante – Andante quasi allegretto
Scherzo: Bewegt
Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell


This program is being recorded for broadcast on All Classical Radio.

The broadcast will air on April 4, 2024 on 89.9 fm in Portland, and worldwide at

Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature Principal Trumpet Jeffrey Work and Warren Black, host of All Classical Radio.


Program Notes

Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major “Romantic”

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35

Work composed: March 17, 1878-April 11, 1878; first edition dedicated to Leopold Auer (Tchaikovsky dedicated the second edition to Adolf Brodsky).
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance:
Paul Ghun Kim led the Oregon Symphony and soloist Simone Lamsma on April 23–25, 2016, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Estimated duration:
34 minutes

Today, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s concertos, particularly his Piano Concerto No. 1 and his Violin Concerto, are perennial audience favorites and essential works in the piano and violin repertoires. In 1875, when Tchaikovsky completed the first Piano Concerto, he got a very different reaction: his friend and mentor Nicolai Rubinstein dismissed it as “vulgar” and “unplayable.” Similar events recurred four years later, when Tchaikovsky presented Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer with his newly-written violin concerto and Auer called it “impossible” and refused to perform it. Fortunately, Auer later changed his mind about the Violin Concerto. Thanks in large part to Auer’s advocacy, today Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto holds an undisputed place as one of the most popular and most frequently performed violin concertos. From the soloist’s first entrance with the exuberant main theme, this concerto embodies Tchaikovsky’s sound: an abundance of gorgeously singable melodies; heroic moments; and dramatic flourishes, such as the sudden transition from the gentle Canzonetta to the animated “vivacissimo” Finale.

In the spring of 1878, Tchaikovsky and a young gifted violinist, Iosif Kotek, went on holiday to Clarens, a small Swiss village near Montreux. During their three-week stay, Tchaikovsky composed the Violin Concerto, relying on Kotek’s insights into the solo part. Tchaikovsky wanted to dedicate the concerto to Kotek, but told his publisher, “In order to avoid gossip of various kinds, I shall probably decide to dedicate it to Auer.” It was Tchaikovsky’s hope that Kotek would premiere the concerto, but Kotek expressed reservations about his own abilities and regretfully declined.

Tchaikovsky’s “concerto curse” continued when the influential music critic Eduard Hanslick vilified both music and composer.

After describing Tchaikovsky as having no “discrimination or taste,” Hanslick wrote, “For a while it [the Violin Concerto] moves soberly, musically, and not without spirit. But soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and asserts itself to the end of closing the first movement ... Friedrich Visser once observed, speaking of obscene pictures, that they stink to the eye. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear.” This scathing review wounded Tchaikovsky deeply; according to biographer David Brown, “to the end of his days Tchaikovsky could recite Hanslick’s diatribe by heart.”

Many new works are initially vilified, but over time became widely popular and even beloved. It is hard to imagine what aspects of the concerto upset Hanslick, as the music abounds with graceful melodies and plenty of virtuoso pyrotechnics for the soloist. The Violin Concerto survived Hanslick’s harsh assessment; today it is considered one of the shining jewels of the violin repertoire.


Anton Bruckner

Symphony No.4 in E-flat major, “Romantic”

Work composed:First version completed in 1874 but rejected by the Vienna Philharmonic. Over the next five years, Bruckner made substantial revisions.
Most recent OregonSymphony performance: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski led the Oregon Symphony on April 1–3, 2000, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings
Estimated duration: 65 minutes

Anton Bruckner was deeply insecure, highly sensitive to criticism, and full of self-doubt. Rarely satisfied with his music, even after publication, Bruckner’s incessant tinkering produced multiple versions of his symphonies, particularly the Fourth, which Bruckner subtitled “Romantic.”

Bruckner finished the original version of the Fourth Symphony in 1874. When the Vienna Philharmonic rehearsed it the following year, they refused to perform it, claiming only the first movement was worth playing. Despite his disappointment, Bruckner took the criticism to heart. Over the next five years, he refashioned the Fourth Symphony, replacing the third movement and rewriting the finale twice. Bruckner made still further revisions to the Fourth Symphony in the mid-late 1880s. To further complicate matters, two of Bruckner’s students also made changes to the Fourth Symphony, (some without Bruckner’s consent), which were included in the 1889 published version.

To the cosmopolitan Viennese, Bruckner presented as a north Austrian country bumpkin with unsophisticated manners. Bruckner’s naïveté also worked against him. Although he had no interest in getting involved in the great musical war that raged in Vienna between Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms and their followers, Bruckner expressed admiration for Wagner’s music and incorporated aspects of Wagnerian style into his own works, which inadvertently made him a target for the anti-Wagnerites, including the acid-tongued critic Eduard Hanslick. When the Fourth Symphony premiered in 1881, Hanslick wrote, “This paper has already reported on the extraordinary success of a new symphony by A. Bruckner. We can only add today that, on account of the respectable and sympathetic personality of the composer, we are very happy at the success of a work which we fail to understand.” Hanslick’s words notwithstanding, the audience warmed to Bruckner’s music, calling him to the stage for bows after each movement.

The symphony opens with a solo horn intoning softly over tremolo strings.

Woodwinds echo and maintain the hushed atmosphere over harmonically unstable passages. A five-note ascending melody, first heard in the violins and flutes, emerges. This scrap of melody fuses duple and triple meters (of the five quarter notes, the first two are in duple meter and the last three are grouped together as a triplet), and became so identified with Bruckner that today it is known as the “Bruckner rhythm.” This rhythm, more than a specific melody, defines the first movement. The strings present a discrete counter-theme, while Bruckner spends the bulk of the first movement delving into the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic possibilities of these two melodies. The horns reiterate their hunting call as the movement ends.

The Andante’s cello melody is both funereal and majestic, and the cellos are accompanied by the soft, persistent footfalls of the violins. (Later, when the violas take over the cello melody, the marching of the funeral cortège is heard in pizzicato strings). An expansive string chorus reiterates the solemnity of this melody. Harmonically, Bruckner begins in a somber C minor; as the movement progresses, however, Bruckner ranges far and wide, through a series of tender harmonies that suggest the mourners’ happy recollections of the deceased, or perhaps religious musings on the departed soul. The movement ends with the brass’ triumphant restatement of the original theme.

Horns announce the Scherzo with a bold fanfare, signaling the start of a hunting expedition. The heroic brass fanfares and the “Bruckner rhythm” sound several times as the hunters pursue their quarry. In his manuscript for the first edition of the score, Bruckner marked the trio’s quieter interlude, with its leisurely melody for winds, as “Dance tune at mealtime on the hunt.”

The exuberance of the Scherzo is subsumed in the tense introduction to the Finale. This ominous theme uses the “Bruckner rhythm” to propel itself forward like an engulfing wave. As the wave subsides, another mournful C minor melody recalls the Scherzo. Bruckner’s harmonies slide without pause in and out of major and minor keys, which continually changes both mood and pace. In the Finale, the most varied of the four movements, takes us on a circuitous, rambling – but never random – journey, replete with abrupt transitions. The brilliant final coda states Bruckner’s underlying belief in the validity of his musical vision.