Orchestra Roster, About Our Soloists, and Program Notes
for December 8, 2002 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 5
Conductor: Phillip Gaskill
Sunday, December 8, 2002
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church
Brahms: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Brahms: Double Concerto in a minor, Op. 102
Rachel Varga, violin; Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill, cello
Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90
Michelle Des Roches, principal second violin
Uli Speth, concertmaster
Andrew Wise, associate concertmaster
Stephen Salchow, principal
James Mark Pedersen, principal
Bill Nealon, principal
Susan Lowance, piccolo
Lorena De Jesus
Robert Price, contrabassoon
Robert Suttman, bass trombone
Sasha Pritsker, triangle
Naoki Sakagami, bass drum and cymbals
Music Director Phillip Gaskill
Manager Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill
Librarian Phillip Gaskill
Assistant Librarian Roman Nikolaev
|ABOUT OUR SOLOISTS
Rachel Varga, violinist, 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.
Ms. Varga 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, Ms. Varga 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.
Ms. Varga 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.”
Ms. Varga 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.
Ms. Varga has previously soloed with the Musica Bella Orchestra in the Bach Double Concerto, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1, 3, and 4; and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. She will play the Glazunov Violin Concerto with Musica Bella next season.
Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill, violoncellist, is the founder and manager of the Musica Bella Orchestra. She is a graduate of the Tchaikovsky School for Gifted Children in Yerevan, Armenia, where she studied cello with Eghishe Harutyunyan, and of the Yerevan State Conservatory, where she studied cello with Medea Abrahamian and chamber music with Nikolay Pogosov. Immediately after her graduation from the Conservatory, she was appointed to the Armenian State Opera and Ballet Theatre Orchestra, with whom she toured to Moscow.
Since Ms. Harutyunyan-Gaskill began teaching cello at a young age and especially loved working with children, she spent most of her career on the faculty of the Khachaturian Music College and the Tchaikovsky Shool for Gifted Children, both in Yerevan. Many of her students became professional musicians in Armenia and Israel; one is currently a student at Juilliard.
Ms. Harutyunyan-Gaskill was a founding member of the Teachers’ Chamber Orchestra in Yerevan, which served the purpose of encouraging and motivating students to play with the orchestra. This orchestra toured to Moscow, Tbilisi, Riga, Vilnius, Minsk, and Tallinn.
Since moving to America in 1993, Ms. Harutyunyan-Gaskill has continued teaching cello, and, after not playing for a time, now plays chamber and orchestral music with many ensembles. She is the former associate principal cellist of the Doctors’ Orchestra, the Lawyers’ Orchestra, and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in New York.
Her day job is as a graphic designer for West Elm, a division of Williams-Sonoma; she runs Musica Bella (and practices for solos) in her “spare time.”
Ms. Harutyunan-Gaskill appeared as soloist in the Vivaldi Double Concerto in Musica Bella’s inaugural Bach Brandenburg concerts in January 2002. She was asked to play the Brahms Double by Rachel Varga, and was honored to accept. This is her debut in a major concerto with a full orchestra.
Ms. Harutyunyan-Gaskill is playing this concert on a 1903 William E. Hill & Sons cello, thanks to the generosity of the Sayers & Singer violin shop.
Johannes Brahms (b. Hamburg, May 7, 1833; d. Vienna, April 3, 1897) began studying piano at seven and composition at 13. In 1853, on a tour with the violinist Eduard Reményi, he met the violinist Joseph Joachim and the pianist/composer Franz Liszt; through Joachim he met Robert Schumann, who took the younger man (Schumann was 43, Brahms 20) under his wing. Brahms’s artistic kinship with Schumann and his romantic passion for Clara Schumann, who was 14 years older than he, never left him. To say that Brahms’s music was influenced by Schumann’s is an understatement, although Brahms was first and foremost his own man. Schumann’s untimely death only three years later was a tremendous blow to Brahms on both personal and musical levels; he practically gave up composing for a couple of years while he helped Clara take care of her young children.
Brahms had trouble at first finding recognition as a composer, largely because of his outspoken opposition to the aesthetic principles of Liszt and the New German School. He finally won a position, in 1863-4, as director of the Vienna Singakademie. Besides giving concerts of his own music, he made tours throughout northern and central Europe and began teaching the piano. He settled permanently in Vienna in 1868.
He held a brief conductorship, in 1872-73, of the Vienna Gesellschaftskonzerte; but the demands of the job conflicted with his even more intense longing to compose. Both the German Requiem (1869) and the Haydn Variations (1873) were highly acclaimed, bringing Brahms international renown and financial security. In 1881 the conductor Hans von Bülow became a valued colleague and supporter, letting Brahms use Bülow’s fine Meiningen court orchestra to rehearse his new works, notably the fourth symphony (1885). At Bad Ischl, he composed a series of important chamber works. By 1890 he had resolved to stop composing, but nevertheless produced in 1891-94 some of his best instrumental pieces, inspired by the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. Soon after Clara Schumann’s death in 1896, Brahms died from cancer, aged 63. He was buried in Vienna.
Brahms was a much more inventive composer than he is often given credit for. While he didn’t develop whole new kinds of music, as would Schoenberg, or as had Beethoven, he did advance the art in many ways. He pushed rhythm past its previous boundaries (mostly in very subtle ways, such as the displacement of the stressed beat away from the first beat of the measure); he used hitherto unheard harmonies; and he stretched the existing limitations of musical form. He was in most ways a died-in-the wool Romantic; yet he revived many features of older music: just for an example, the hemiola (taking two measures of three-four, for example, and putting the stressed notes on one, three, and two, making the two measures, in effect, into one measure of three-two), which hadn’t been used much since Bach’s time, forms a major part of Brahms’s music.
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Brahms wrote the Academic Festival Overture in 1880 (he was 47 years old) as a gift to the University of Breslau after the university presented him with an honorary Ph.D. It consists of renderings of many traditional university students’ songs of the period. It is said that the University was miffed at receiving “only” an overture, that they sort of expected a symphony in return for the Ph.D.; we disagree and think they should have been well satisfied with this work. At any rate, its premiere was given at the university in January 1881, with Brahms conducting.
This is the only orchestral piece that Brahms deliberately wrote to be “popular,” and it uses the largest orchestra he ever employed: in addition to the usual double woodwinds plus four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings, the score of this piece calls for piccolo, contrabassoon and tuba, a third trumpet, and three more percussion instruments (triangle, cymbals, bass drum). All these additions were very rare for him.
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The Double Concerto has an interesting story. Brahms, ever self-critical, didn’t think he could write a satisfactory cello concerto, and so he never did — until this concerto for violin and cello, the last thing he ever wrote for orchestra. The story is that at least part of his reason for including the solo violin part was as a peace offering to his old friend the violinist Joseph Joachim, from whom he had been estranged after Joachim felt that Brahms had sided with Joachim’s ex-wife in their recent divorce proceedings. And Brahms had yet another soul to soothe: he had long promised a cello concerto to his old friend the cellist Robert Hausmann, and this piece was his way of finally doing that. Evidently the reconciliation tactics worked, as Joachim and Hausmann were the soloists at the debut of the concerto on October 18, 1887.
It is a true concerto grosso in the baroque style, mixing interplay between the soloists and orchestra much more than the typical Romantic concerto does. There are two cadenzas, and they come at the very beginning: first the solo cello, after a four-measure orchestral introduction; then after another four-bar orchestral interlude comes the second cadenza, which begins with the solo violin but soon adds the cello, making it a joint cadenza. The main theme of the first movement, which is stated in the four-bar introduction, features a two-against-three rhythm, which is not the same thing as a hemiola (described above), but is somewhat related, and a very common thing in Brahms’s music.
The second movement is one of the most beautiful in all music. It begins — after two introductory statements of the main motif by the winds — with the orchestral strings playing in unison with the soloists. The motif just mentioned (a rising fourth) is repeated several times throughout the movement, usually in the brass but also on two occasions by the soloists themselves.
The third movement is a brisk rondo, with the main theme alternating between the solo cello and violin and various winds.
This concerto is a very lyrical work that is a favorite of soloists and audiences alike.
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Brahms wrote his Third Symphony in the summer of 1883, at the age of 50. Its premiere was on December 2, 1883, with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. It was an immediate success; indeed, it became so popular that Brahms, not only self-critical but also self-effacing, called it “the unfortunately over-famous symphony.”
This symphony is marked by three major characteristics. The first is somewhat unusual for Romantic music up to that time, but soon became a major component of Mahler’s music (Mahler began his first symphony the next year): tonal — that is, major/minor — ambiguity. For instance, the very first chord of the symphony is F major; it is followed immediately by an f-minor chord, which in turn is immediately followed by F major again.
The second is more common in the Romantic period, though still not an everyday occurrence. It’s called cyclicism or cyclic recurrence: the use of thematic material in more than one movement. The three most prominent examples of cyclicism in this symphony are the re-use of the main theme of the first movement at the end of the last movement; the re-use (from the second movement) of the gentle repeated chords that alternate between strings and winds, again used in the last movement; and the second theme of the second movement (the one with the triplets) again being re-used in the last movement.
The third is that this symphony, in somewhat unusual fashion, ends very quietly. Various commentators have described it as Brahms’s “most moving and poetic ending,” “Brahms bidding us farewell [not from life, just from this symphony!] in gentle, retrospective terms,” and “one of the most beautiful and overwhelming in all music.”