Orchestra Roster, About Our Soloist, and Program Notes
for October 19, 2003 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 8
Conductors: Glinka: Harry J. Marenstein
Glazunov and Mahler: Phillip Gaskill
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
GLINKA, GLAZUNOV, and MAHLER
Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture
Glazunov: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 58
Rachel Varga, violin
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D
Hubert Chen, associate concertmaster
Michelle Des Roches, principal second violin
Harry J. Marenstein
So Young Park
Uli Speth, concertmaster
Whitney La Grange, principal
Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill, principal
Anne Mette Iversen
Ian Riggs, principal
Jenny L. Ruzow
Joe Barati, bass
Mike Fahie, tenor
Ron Hay, alto
Manager Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill
Assistant Manager Thomas Crane
Stage Manager Shoji Mizumoto
Associate Music Director/Associate Conductor Harry J. Marenstein
Music Director/Conductor Phillip Gaskill
|ABOUT OUR SOLOIST
Rachel Varga, the daughter of concert violinists Ruben Varga and Norma Jones Varga, began her musical studies at the age of three with her parents. She first performed in public at the age of four. At the age of eight, she made her recital debut at Central Synagogue in New York in a joint recital with her father. At the age of ten, she made her concerto debut with the North Jersey Symphony Orchestra, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. She quickly followed this with performances of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, Saint-Saëns’s Havanaise and Introduction and Rondo Cappricioso, and the Paganini First Violin Concerto. In 1983, she made her debut at Carnegie Hall, again playing the Mendelssohn Concerto.
She was a winner of the 1987 Artists International Competition, and made her recital debut the following season at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall. Since then, she has become one of the top competition prize winners from her country, receiving awards from many competitions including the Palm Beach International Invitational Competition, the Vianna da Motta International Competition, the Szigeti International Competition in Hungary, and the Washington International Competition.
In 1993, after a national search, she was selected by a distinguished panel of judges to become the first woman and the youngest violinist to receive the prestigious Montgomery Symphony Orchestra Fellowship Award. She served as the resident soloist and concertmaster of the Montgomery Symphony for the next two years, during which she continued to concertize internationally and was also awarded the Waldo Mayo Award for an Outstanding Young Violinist. In 1995, she won the First Prize and the Audience Prize in the XXII International Competition of Musical Performance in Viña del Mar, Chile. Her subsequent performance of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy at the International Music Festival in Frutillar, Chile received rave reviews.
She has played concerts and recitals in the United States, Europe, Japan, the Caribbean, and Latin America, with such orchestras as the Zagreb Symphony, La Orquesta Filarmonica de Jalisco, the Budapest Radio Symphony, La Orquesta Sinfonica de Chile, La Orquesta Sinfonica Del Estado De Mexico, La Orquesta Filarmonica de Bogota, and La Sinfonica Nacional de Puerto Rico. Her repertoire currently includes about thirty concertos and several complete recital programs. Her expressive performances and beautiful tone have inspired comparisons to such artists as Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, and Midori. The Strad calls her “a powerful player” who gives an “impassioned performance.”
She holds the degree of Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music. Always interested in teaching and developing young talent, she has taught several international master classes, and currently works with approximately forty young students on a regular basis, teaching violin and chamber music. She is a recipient of two Superior Teaching Awards from Queens College in New York.
Rachel has previously soloed with the Musica Bella Orchestra in the Bach Double Violin Concerto; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1, 3, and 4; Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3; and the Brahms Double Concerto. She is a charter member of Musica Bella.
Mikhail Glinka, born in the Smolensk region of the Russian Empire in 1804, is credited with being the father of Russian music. His works, written in a time when Western European ideals were dominant in all aspects of aesthetic life, were the first effort to create a style of composition that was nationalistic and distinctly Russian. His influence reached out over two generations, resulting first in the so-called “Mighty Handful” of Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin, and followed by Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky.
The son of an aristocratic family, Glinka took the Man of Leisure’s opportunity to travel the entire continent of Europe, where he was able to meet or study with such important musicians of the time as Bellini, Donizetti, and Mendelssohn. After informally studying theory in Berlin, he began work on his first opera, A Life for the Tsar, a well-known folk tale about a peasant who sacrifices his life to save the Tsar’s, becoming a national hero in the process. It was not only the first Russian opera to portray the life of commoners, it was also the first work of its kind to prominently feature native folk songs. Its 1836 premiere was a tremendous success, sparking a wave of Nationalistic composition.
Two years later Glinka began work on setting yet another well-known national folk story in Russlan and Ludmilla, adapted from Alexander Pushkin’s 1820 poem. Ludmilla, daughter of the Prince of Kiev, is kidnapped by the dwarf wizard Chernomor. Promising her hand in marriage to the one who finds her, Russlan and three rivals go in search of her. With the aid of a hermit wizard and even a disembodied head (!), Russlan finds Ludmilla, cuts off Chernomor’s beard (his source of power), and returns to Kiev with Ludmilla, defeating a marauding army in the process, and marries Ludmilla, to live, of course, happily ever after.
Simple in its harmonic language and formal structure, the Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla begins with introductory material of one long note and two short notes, followed by ascending and descending scale patterns before presenting the upbeat, rousing first theme. The theme becomes fragmented, played in canonic entrances by solo wind instruments before being interrupted by the timpani. This leads into the lyrical, melodic second theme before progressing to the transitional middle section, whose source material originates with the introduction, before a recapitulation brings us back to the first and second themes before culminating in the even faster and more bombastic coda.
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Where we started with the father of Russian composition, we now move on to one of his “progeny.” Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was born in St. Petersburg in 1865. His musical talent was recognized early, and by the age of fifteen he was studying with Rimsky-Korsakov. Within two years, his first symphony was premiered, with Balakirev on the podium. Travels to Western Europe in the mid-1880’s inspired a synthesis of contemporary composers like Tchaikovsky and Borodin and the Germanic school of composition, dominant on the rest of the continent. The latter became such a prevalent influence that Glazunov would soon be thought of more as a Russian composer of music than a composer of Russian music.
Though for a time the premier composer in Russia (he was head of the Conservatory and conductor of the St. Petersburg Symphony), political turmoil during the early portion of the 20th Century compelled Glazunov to vacate his positions. Sent to Vienna as an emissary by the communist government in 1928, Glazunov decided to remain in the West, settling in Paris in 1932, where he died four years later.
The violin concerto, dedicated to the great violinist Leopold Auer, was written in 1905, the year that Glazunov was appointed to the head of the Conservatory. Glazunov ostensibly eschewed the traditional three-movement (fast or moderate, slow, fast-rondo) concerto layout by publishing it as one movement. However, most of the apparent departures from tradition in this work are merely cosmetic. When investigating its harmony and structure, this concerto is as much a product of tradition as any work of its time.
The piece is introduced by one measure of triplets in the clarinets and bassoon before the solo violin presents the long, mellifluous theme. The ambiguous accompanying harmonies, rapidly shifting keys, and tempo changes, are all standard operating procedure for late 19th Century German Romanticism, as exemplified in the previous generation by Wagner and Liszt. It is soon interrupted by a slower second theme in a new key, which rather quickly leads to more rapid virtuosic playing from both the soloist and the orchestra before taking us to the andante section. Glazunov presents a variation on the first theme in the keys of D-flat and A Major, both considered in Romantic harmony practices to be related keys to the home key of a minor. Eventually, an orchestral interlude re-introduces the original tempo, complete with both first and second themes, this time in c-sharp minor. More virtuosic writing for the solo violin brings us to transitional material leading to the cadenza, in which the soloist can show off her technical prowess. Looking backwards, there are two predominant ways in which one can structure what we’ve heard so far: either a ternary (i.e., A-B-A) structure of fast-slow-fast, or a two-part sonata-like structure with an exposition (first theme, second theme), development (slow portion, variation on first theme), recapitulation (back to fast, replaying of the first and second themes), concluding with a coda (transitional material to cadenza). Either way, Glazunov, in the context of Romantic composition, has chosen to embrace very traditional structures.
Moving onward from the cadenza, the conventional format of the concerto becomes patently obvious with the finale, a standard up-tempo Rondo with variations in 6/8 time with strict 4-bar phrases. It goes through a succession of “bright” or “happy” keys, from E Major to D, to C, before arriving at its destination of A. The orchestral accompaniment becomes more varied, incorporating cymbals, triangle, and glockenspiel as the writing for the solo violin becomes more and more challenging and ornate with each phrase. The solo violin and orchestra exchange phrases, each one getting shorter and shorter until the two come together for the climactic close of the work
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Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia on July 7, 1860 in the small town of Iglau, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now a region of the Czech Republic. Considered German by the local Czech population and a Jew by his fellow German-speaking members of the Empire, Mahler always considered himself to be an outsider. The rich variety of cultures in the area exposed Mahler to a great diversity of traditional ethnic music, from Czech to Hungarian to Gypsy, which would pervade his composition for his entire life.
Chief among these influences is vocal music, and it is no coincidence that through his many periods of symphonic writing, Mahler concurrently composed large-scale vocal music. Most notable are his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th symphonies, written at the same time as, and borrowing heavily from, his orchestral song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn, along with his later Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth), which is actually a symphony itself (but that’s another story for another time). Although his first symphony does not utilize voice in the instrumentation as in the above-mentioned works, it is directly influenced by and linked to song, both from folk sources and his own works.
When Mahler completed the first version of this symphony in 1888 (at the age of 28, having started it at about 23; the photo here was taken in approximately the same year he completed the symphony), he presented it as a five-movement “Symphonic Poem” in two parts, which chronicles the life of an Odysseus-type hero, published as follows:
Part I. From the days of youth: flowers, fruit, and thorns
1. Spring and no end. Nature awakes.
2. Blumine (Flower chapter)
3. Full Sail
Part II. Commedia umana.
4. Shipwrecked (funeral march).
5. Dall’inferno al Paradiso
Mahler himself conducted the premiere in Budapest in 1889 to mixed reviews. Known always for his tinkering with his works, a second version was played in 1894, now with the programmatic title Titan, after the six-volume Jean Paul Richter novel of the same name (1800-1803). Sometime between 1894 and 1896, Mahler’s work was renamed as a Symphony, its program was withdrawn, the “Blumine” movement dropped, and the two-part structure reworked into the more traditional Germanic four-movement structure, finally published in 1899.
The first movement opens ambiguously with the note A (the fifth, or dominant, of the symphony’s key of D) being played in seven octaves by the strings. Woodwinds enter with a descending fourth motive, which is transformed by the clarinet into a cuckoo call, fulfilling Mahler’s specification “Wie ein Naturlaut” (As in Nature’s Sounds). This cuckoo motive is then, a short while later, expanded by the cellos to become the main theme of the movement. This melody is from the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), which Mahler composed around the same time as the first version of this symphony. The particular song is “Ging heut’ morgen übers feld” (This morning I walked through the fields). This, however, is not mere self-quotation, or borrowing of a theme; the concept of journey in the original program makes the use of this song programmatic in and of itself. Even without an actual vocal part being included, this can be considered a vocal symphony. The descending fourth motive, for Mahler a symbol of Nature, remains prevalent, from the hunting call in the horns that begins the development to the energetic timpani line that closes the movement.
The cello/contrabass introduction in the second movement of the symphony presents again the descending fourth motive in the form of a Ländler, the German folk version of the Minuet, a more stately and aristocratic dance than what we hear here from Mahler. Here he reveals his country roots and the musical influences of his youth. Once again, Mahler links nature and folk elements with the open interval of a fourth. A slower, gentler trio section, followed by a return to the first theme, gives this movement the traditional A-B-A form often found in the Minuet and Scherzo movements heard throughout two hundred years of German symphonic composition.
The third movement opens with the timpani softly presenting the descending perfect fourth motive in a slow march. A single contrabass begins the familiar children’s folk song, Frére Jacques, played, as is traditional, in canon, or round, form. But it quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary rendition of the song; the melody is being played in the minor mode, rather than the major. This is not a representation of children happily at play; rather, it is a morose funeral march, perhaps originally conceived as the funeral of the Hero himself (although, later, Mahler will say that the first movement of his Second Symphony represents the funeral of the Hero of the First). The somber march quickly transforms into a sarcastic parody, a macabre dance, accompanied by trumpets, bass drum, and cymbal. Anyone who followed the popular revival of the traditional European Klezmer music in the late 1990s should instantly recognize this genre as something they might hear Andy Statman or The Klezmatics perform. Mahler has created an amalgam of all of his childhood influences from his culturally diverse upbringing. The fourth movement follows without pause.
At its outset, the fourth movement is not obviously related to rest of the symphony in the integrated way that the previous three movements are. It is not until the first interlude that Mahler makes obvious the cyclic nature of this movement. The chromatic sequence in the cellos, originally presented in the introduction of the first movement, appears as the clarinets play the original descending fourth sequence. All of this is presented against fragments of the primary theme of the third movement. More first-movement material, the hunting fanfare (based, of course, on the interval of a fourth), first played by the clarinets in the symphony’s introduction, is integrated before continuing with the material originally presented in this movement. The references to the first movement become more frequent as the movement progresses. The descending fourth sequence that follows the climactic fanfare is an unmistakable reference to the first movement. Mahler then reprises the introduction to the first movement before a new, lamenting theme is played by the cellos.
A hint at a recapitulation quickly turns into significant material from the first movement complete with more trumpet fanfares. It reaches its peak with the return to the home key of D Major as Mahler combines the heroic fanfares from each outer movement. The final motive — labeled “Triumphal” by Mahler in what is, if anything, an understatement and played by the entire and augmented horn section while standing — carries us through the coda over the pedal note D, once again providing us with the perfect fourth idea that pervades the symphony. The cycle is complete; the Hero — not dead, after all — returns in triumph.
—Notes by Harry J. Marenstein