Orchestra Roster, About Our Soloist, and Program Notes
for March 23, 2003 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 6
Conductor: Phillip Gaskill
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
Dvorak: Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Dvorak: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 53
Jeffrey Parry, violin
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88
Michelle Des Roches, principal second violin
Uli Speth, concertmaster
Andrew Wise, associate concertmaster
Ken Clark, principal
James Mark Pedersen, principal
Anne Mette Iversen
Bill Nealon, principal
Lorena De Jesus
Robert Suttman, bass trombone
Wayne Steele, tambourine
Manager Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill
Music Director/Conductor Phillip Gaskill
Associate Music Director/Associate Conductor Dr. Robert Radmer
|ABOUT OUR SOLOIST
Jeffrey Parry earned a master’s degree in music from Wichita State University and a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Utah, as well as law degrees from Columbia University and New York University. He has also studied chamber music with the Cleveland Quartet and the Muir Quartet. He performed as a soloist with the Utah Symphony under Joseph Silverstein and played first violin in the Wichita Symphony and the Ballet West Orchestra. He has recently been a member of both the 13th Street Trio and the Gramercy Quartet in New York, but has even more recently moved to Washington, D.C., from where he commuted in order to play the Dvorak Violin Concerto with the Musica Bella Orchestra. He is shown here as he appeared in Musica Bella’s debut concerts in January 2002; he is equally at home on the violin and viola, and was our principal violist at that time.
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) was born in the small, culturally backward Czech farming community of Nelahozeves. His father was a butcher and innkeeper who performed on the zither for his guests and later professionally. Antonin began his violin studies at the age of six, and soon was performing in church and with a village band. He was sent by his family at the age of twelve to live in the town of Zlonice where he continued his training on the violin, began the study of piano and organ, and commenced his formal lessons in music theory. At 15 he enrolled at another school to continue his organ and theory study, and at 16 he moved to the capital city to study at the Prague Organ School. At that time his name begins to appear as a violist in professional orchestras performing music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Spohr, Schumann, Raff, and Wagner. After graduation at the age of 18 he joined a popular local dance band as a violist, and when in 1862 that group became the nucleus of the newly formed National Theater Orchestra, he was appointed its principal violist.
Although success and fame were still far in the future, his career as a musician was launched. He began to compose seriously, and during the period 1865-71 he completed a concerto for cello with piano accompaniment, four string quartets, a string quintet, two symphonies, and an opera. He announced publicly in 1871 that he was a composer, and though he continued supporting himself by giving piano lessons, he produced quartets numbered 5-7, two completely different versions of the same opera, his Third Symphony, the String Serenade, and other works. In 1877 he came to the attention of Brahms, who enthusiastically wrote of Dvorak to the music publisher Simrock.
Simrock took the advice of Brahms and commissioned the now 36-year-old Dvorak to write a set of slavonic dances for the very popular medium of piano four-hands. When these were published in 1878 the reception by the Czech public was remarkable, and the dances became instantly “wildly popular.” A quote from the period describes the “assault on the sheet music shops,” which brought Dvorak fame “in the course of a day.” The music of Dvorak began to be played in international concert halls, and within a year he had been commissioned to write the Eighth String Quartet, the Sixth Symphony, and the Violin Concerto (Op. 53). His life began to take on the trappings of success: international invitations to conduct his own music, honorary doctorates from universities all over Europe, and financial security.
Dvorak’s career continued to flourish. His music was performed throughout Europe and America, and he was in demand as a conductor of his own works. As a result of his ability to draw classical inspiration from folk and native sources, he was invited to become the director of the newly founded National Conservatory of Music in America (in New York). He accepted the position primarily upon the strength of the generous salary (twenty-five times his stipend in Prague!), arriving in New York in September of 1891. He vacationed at his home in Bohemia in the summer of 1892, but the summer of 1893 he spent in Spillville, Iowa, amongst the Czech community there. He left the American Conservatory and returned to Prague in 1895, publishing the 9th Symphony (“From the New World”) in that year. After he produced the Cello Concerto (the well-known one, not the first one with piano accompaniment), two more quartets, and several orchestra works, the last years of his life were devoted exclusively to the composition of three nationalistic operas, saying that the medium was the “most advantageous for the Czech nation.”
The music of Dvorak is “marked by its variety, complexity, and versatility.” Dvorak was never embarrassed to be seen as following in the footsteps of other composers, and this freed him to draw inspiration from a wide variety of masters, styles, and idioms. He built on the models of Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn; later he was influenced by Liszt, Wagner, and (later still) Brahms. He borrowed the folk elements of Smetana and Janacek, and studied folksong collections of ethnographers. Folk elements that have been identified in his music include: pentatonic melodies, the sharpened 4th scale degree in the minor keys, and strongly syncopated rhythms with elements from dances such as the polka, mazurka, sousedska, furiant, and dumka. In 1883 Dvorak bought a small house in the country to which he retreated from the city each summer to compose, and where he continued to develop his compositional style. There, “I am a poet a well as a musician.” Works continued to flow from his pen, as, “cut off from all the world,” he could “enjoy the beauties of God’s nature.” In 1891, influenced by his pastoral surroundings, Dvorak composed the trilogy of concert overtures entitled Nature, Life, and Love, which encompassed the three individual works In Nature’s Realm, Othello, and our opening work today, Carnival. He left notes in the manuscript indicating a general program for the three works, and in Carnival he wished to depict “a man seized into the joyous vortex of life.” He uses a powerful, syncopated opening tune coupled with swirling transitional material to convey that joyous energy and he contrasts this with a more contemplative middle section.
The Violin Concerto in a minor (Op. 53) was a product of the period of Dvorak’s first fame, and was a commission from the violinist Josef Joachim. It was written in consultation with Joachim, and features the violin in a succession of themes which are tightly inter-woven between soloist and orchestra. The concerto form usually presents the soloist and orchestra in a virtuosic competition, but Dvorak presents them in this work as equal partners from beginning to end of the work. They even share sections of the same phrases, giving the effect of a duet rather than a duel. The first movement connects without pause to the second, and the third movement “draws on both dance and song, the outer sections having the character of a furiant, while the central section is in the nature of a dumka.”
The Eighth Symphony in G Major, written in 1889, was also a product of Dvorak’s “pastoral” period. Dvorak used for the first time in a large-scale work the “poetic element” of his country home, and he attempted to re-create the natural happiness that he found there. Influences of the countryside and its folk music abound, flavored with imitations of natural sounds, birdcalls, fanfares, a bit of a funeral march, and a church chorale.
Although Dvorak followed the traditional four-movement symphonic format of Fast-Slow-Dance-Fast, he injected several innovations and nuances into this familiar formula. Most striking is the presentation (in the “major key” first movement) of the dramatic and soulful minor mode opening tune. He resisted the temptation to bring this theme back altered to conform to the major key; instead he insistently left it in the minor mode, even presenting it at the climax of the movement in unison trumpets as if declaring to all that tragedy remains among joy. This mixing of modal effects is echoed in the third movement, where historically composers usually placed a less-profound piece based upon a dance form. Instead, Dvorak inserted a slow Czech waltz in the minor mode, balancing the weight of the symphony’s optimistic outer movements with a note of sadness. The final movement is a set of variations that begin with a bit of musical humor: what appears to be simply an opening trumpet fanfare is not merely an introduction but the bare bones outline of the main theme. After it is expanded and developed, Dvorak, true to himself, gives us a section in the minor mode for balance, although he finishes with a flourish in the expected major key for a satisfying conclusion.
Notes by Robert Radmer