Orchestra Roster and Program Notes for
February 29, 2004 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 12
Conductors: Khachaturyan and Brahms: Phillip Gaskill
Bloch: Harry J. Marenstein
Sunday, February 29, 2004
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
BLOCH, KHACHATURYAN, and BRAHMS
Bloch: Suite Hébraïque
Stephen Salchow, viola
Khachaturyan: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Jean Park, violin
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in c minor, Op. 68
Michelle Des Roches,
principal second violin
Harry J. Marenstein
Uli Speth, concertmaster
James Mark Pedersen, principal
Anne Mette Iversen
Shoji Mizumoto, principal
Phil Fedora, principal
Jo Ann Lamolino
Ben Griffin, bass
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 SOLOISTS
Jean Park, violin, hails originally from Boston, where she performed extensively in numerous venues as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestra member. Her principal teachers include Bo Youp Hwang and Amnon Levy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While in high school, she won a number of local youth concerto competitions, performing Beethoven, Khachaturian, and Bruch No. 2 violin concertos. She was also concertmaster of the Greater Boston Youth Symphony and Boston University Tanglewood Institute Orchestras. In college, she studied chamber music with Robert Merfeld and toured Brazil in the summer of 2000 as a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. Having graduated from Harvard in June 2001 with an A.B. magna cum laude in economics, she now works as a high yield bond analyst at Goldman Sachs Asset Management and enjoys playing chamber music in her spare time.
Stephen Salchow, viola, divides his time between his shop in mid-town Manhattan as a bowmaker, and his other career as a performing violist. He was a student at the Mannes College of Music and studied viola with Maureen Gallagher, Rosemary Glyde, and Steven Tenenbom. Prior to that, he studied violin with William Kroll and Carol Amado. He has participated in many chamber music recitals and has appeared in concerts in Europe and North America, and was once featured on the 6:00 news here in New York City. He served as principal violist of the Riverside Orchestra for six years and, since May 2002, has played viola with the Musica Bella Orchestra. He was one of the viola soloists in J. S. Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto number 6 at the New York Viola Society concert on the Barge in May 2002. He works as a bowmaker with his father William and nephew Isaac, the world-famous Salchow bowmaking dynasty.
|Though a prolific composer of many styles and genres of music, Swiss-born American Ernest Bloch is best remembered as a creator of Jewish-themed music, most notably, Schelomo, Sacred Service, Baal Shem, and today’s work, Suite Hébraïque.|
The Suite Hébraïque is a late work, having been composed for viola (or violin) solo and piano in 1951 and arranged for orchestral accompaniment in 1953. It was premiered in 1953 by violist Milton Preves with the Chicago Symphony.
The suite is laid out in three short movements. Though there are no melodies or motives that can be labeled as distinctively Jewish, there are certain elements that can be interpreted as Semitic, especially Eastern-influenced scales. The first movement, titled “Rapsodie,” is very much like an operatic recitative, replete with meter changes, key changes, fluctuations in tempo, and cadenzas. Interpreted in more ethnic terms, the solo viola functions as cantor during liturgical services, elaborating and ornamenting melodies. The orchestra plays the part of congregation, at times chanting in harmony with the cantor, at other times answering responsively. In the second movement, “Processional,” the soloist presents modal melodies over pizzicato string and harp accompaniment. There is no real development of the themes, giving this procession a circular feeling, and is consistent with Judaism’s focus on recurrence and the cycle of life, from the weekly routine of Sabbath prayers to the observance of annual holidays. “Affirmation” is the self-descriptive last movement. An upbeat, major-key theme is presented by the orchestra, which is soon taken up by the solo viola. Throughout the movement there is almost consistent imitative dialogue between the solo voice and the cello section. The form is ABAB with the repetition of AB separated by a brief accompanied cadenza. The closing moment of the piece is brief and simple: it is without pyrotechnics for either soloist or orchestra, a prime example of Bloch’s focus on quiet dignity and substance without pomp or affectation.
—Harry J. Marenstein
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“It is first of all a feast of music. There is something Rubensean in the splendor of his life-enjoying melody and the luxury of orchestral soundings. Not only splendor, but also abundance and generosity: clusters of melody and ornaments! You feel like tasting prodigally free music, pleased with its abundance. Khachaturian’s art calls: ‘Let it be light and let it be joy!’” [B. Asafiev]
Aram Khachaturian was born in Kodzhori, a suburb of Tiflis (now Tbilisi), on June 6, 1903, in the Armenian family of a bookbinder. He wrote later: “Old Tiflis is a city of sounds, a city of music. It took a stroll along the streets and lanes away from the center, to plunge into the musical atmosphere which was created by all the various sources.”
It is also important that, at the time, there was a division of the RMC (Russian Musical Society) in Tiflis, as well as a musical school and an Italian Opera Theatre. Tiflis, the cultural center of the Caucasus, was visited by many famous international cultural representatives, including Fyodor Chaliapin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Konstantin Igumnov. Many famous musicians, who played an important role in the formation of Georgian and Armenian composer schools, lived in Tiflis. All of this constituted the basis for the early musical impressions of Khachaturian. The original multi-national “alloy” of the sound was an integral part of his acoustical experience. Years later, this very “alloy” became the basis of Khachaturian’s music, so that it was never limited by the frames of nationality, and was always appealing to a wide range of audiences. It is worth mentioning that Khachaturian was always devoid of any national musical dogma. He had a profound respect and a live interest in the music of various nations. Internationalism is part of the creative work of Khachaturian.
Despite some early demonstrated musical abilities, Khachaturian became acquainted with music literacy for the first time at the age of 19 in 1922, when, while studying biology at Moscow State University, he enrolled in a cello class at Gnesin Music School.
Khachaturian’s most famous compositions include three symphonies; violin, cello, and piano concertos; music for ballets (the best-known being Gayaneh and Spartacus), many dramas (such as Masquerade), and many films; works for wind band, for chorus, and for solo instruments; and chamber music.
The violin concerto, written for David Oistrakh in 1940 (and premiered by Oistrakh the same year), is one of the most virtuosic in the repertoire. Like all his music, it stresses a driving rhythm, many meter changes, and singing melodies, all in the tradition of his native folk music of Armenia. As Khachaturian said, “being an Armenian, I cannot help writing Armenian music.” One particular aspect of Armenian music is worthy of special note and helps explain the colorful nature of so much of Khachaturian’s music; to the Armenian peasant and folk musician, certain seventh chords are concords while the normal major or minor triad is a discord.
The first movement of this concerto is largely lyrical in nature, with the solo clarinet playing a very prominent part, including at the beginning of the cadenza. (The cadenza Ms. Park plays today is by Oistrakh.) The second movement is almost improvisatory in character. The third movement is totally characterized by its driving, pounding rhythms—although it does also re-use one of the main lyric melodies from the first movement. The second and third movements continue the use of the solo clarinet playing melodies that are fully in the character of Armenian folk music and its instruments.
We intended to perform this concerto in 2003 to celebrate Khachaturian’s centenary (UNESCO proclaimed 2003 The Year of Khachaturian), but, due to scheduling difficulties, we missed by two months. We hope you’ll kindly ignore this “inaccuracy” and celebrate Khachaturian’s 100th birthday with us on this occasion.
—Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill and Phillip Gaskill
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“You don't know what it means to the likes of us when we hear his footsteps behind us.” The speaker was Johannes Brahms. The man whose footsteps he was referring to was Beethoven. Though dead for nearly fifty years, Beethoven was still the most beloved composer in Vienna, and the man whose compositions were still the standard by which all other composers’ works were judged.
Brahms felt so burdened by the weight of Beethoven’s legacy that he would be forty-three years old and already a well-established composer before he would complete and publish his First Symphony, Op. 68, in 1876, a piece he began sketching in the early 1860’s. What could cause such a delay in a composer as prolific as Brahms was? The influence of Beethoven was felt no more strongly than in the symphony, a form that Beethoven expanded, modernized and completely restructured from its strict 18th century format. Brahms considered himself a classical composer, a disciple of the Beethoven ethos, and eschewed the more Romantic inclinations of contemporaries like Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Although Brahms, over the years, had published a number of orchestral works on a symphonic scale (Serenades I & II, the “Haydn” Variations, and Ein deutsches Requiem, for example), “His” footsteps resonated so loudly that it took Brahms more than a decade to conquer his apprehension and publish a work with the title “Symphony.” The premieres of the symphony, first in Karlsruhe, followed by Vienna, received enough critical acclaim that Brahms soon felt confident enough to compose his remaining three symphonies in the relatively short span of nine years. The legacy of these works places Brahms alongside Beethoven as one of the great symphonists, rather than in his shadow.
One of the words more commonly associated with Brahms’s style of composition is organic. In the context of music, this means that the entirety or, at the very least, major portions of a work evolve naturally from very basic source material introduced early on in the work. In the case of the First Symphony, the entire piece revolves around not a melody or a chord progression, but a simple two-voice motive, in which the voices move in contrary (i.e., divergent) motion to one another. This is presented at the very outset of the piece, with the winds and violas descending and the remaining strings ascending over a pedal tone provided by the timpani, contrabassoon, and double bass. This motive carries over into the opening bars of the Allegro section, which very much like the symphonic works of Beethoven, isn’t driven so much by a distinctive melody as it is by rhythm and short yet recognizable fragments of the motive. The movement adheres to traditional classical sonata allegro form, with exposition, development, recapitulation (though sort of an abrupt one, a technique that Brahms would use in his fourth symphony as well), and a coda, in a slower tempo, evoking the introduction and providing a semblance of symmetry.
The second movement represents one of Brahms’s more romantic moments, with long melodic solos for oboe, clarinet, horn, and concertmaster. Here the motive is presented several measures into the movement, taking on a transitional role by connecting phrases to one another and obscuring the tonic key of E Major. In this movement, we also hear the core of Brahms’s approach to rhythm: the syncopation of two against three, in this case, the eighth note solo melody over the accompaniment of triplets in the strings.
The highest note we hear at the end of the second movement is a g-sharp in the solo violin, representing the third of the final E Major chord (e, g-sharp, b). This is important because as the third movement opens, g-sharp is enharmonically respelled as a-flat, the key of the new movement. As Brahms seems to have intended this movement to function as an intermezzo, or interlude, the respelling of g-sharp to a-flat provides for a smooth transition, linking the two movements. Though this movement is not a minuet, scherzo, or Ländler, as many inner symphonic movements tend to be, it does contain a trio section, incorporating a key change to B (whose relative minor is g-sharp, another enharmonic respelling), and a switch from 2/4 time to 6/8. A return to the A section now includes the triplets of the trio, another example of Brahms’s tendency to interweave duple and triple rhythmic values. It is this syncopation that winds down the coda of the movement.
By the time we reach the finale, there is a sense of inevitability about what we hear. It seems as though Brahms could open this movement with nothing other than the descending motive from the first movement. Using little more than material from the opening bars, high drama pervades through the introduction of the movement, from the accelerating pizzicato in the strings to the descending chromatic figures traded between the first and second violins, culminating with an aggressive attack by the timpani. This suddenly mellows as the horn enters, announcing a shift from c-minor to C Major. The flute repeats the melody before the presentation of the famous chorale theme. The melody is again picked up by the horn, this time answered by another horn. The entire wind section joins in, accompanied by shimmering chords in the strings. The main body of the movement, a vague sonata form, is ushered in by the well-known melody presented by the strings (causing the work to be dubbed at its premiere by the conductor Hans von Bülow, not unflatteringly, as “Beethoven’s Tenth”). After being repeated by the winds, the pace is picked up as this and material from the introduction, especially the horn melody heard earlier, are developed and transformed through counterpoint and variation, before a transition from the second theme brings us back to the string melody, in essence a recapitulation. This time, through use of various contrapuntal devices, Brahms presents a more extensive, evolved development, which reaches its peak in the entire orchestra playing in syncopation. This leads to a restatement of the second theme, this time with closing material, through a quickening of the pace, into the coda. Two notes from the theme, c and b, are all that are needed to push the coda along to a grand restatement of the chorale first heard in the introduction, before drawing to the final triumphant statement in C Major.
—Harry J. Marenstein