Orchestra Roster, About Our Soloist, and Program Notes
for November 30, 2003 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 9
Conductors: Rossini and Beethoven: Phillip Gaskill
Tchaikovsky: Harry J. Marenstein
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
ROSSINI, BEETHOVEN, and TCHAIKOVSKY
Rossini: Semiramide Overture
Beethoven: Concerto No. 4 for Piano and Orchestra in G, Op. 58
Alice Levinson, piano
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 68
Michelle Des Roches,
principal second violin
Jean Park, acting
So Young Park
Uli Speth, concert-
master (on leave)
Dale Dyer, principal
in Rossini & Beethoven
Phillip Gaskill, principal
James Mark Pedersen
Jenny L. Ruzow
Ron Hay, alto
Julie Kalu, bass
Carson Keeble, tenor
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
Pianist Alice Levinson has played recitals in Gershwin Hall, Carnegie Recital Hall, and Town Hall, among others. She has been the summer concert artist in residence at the Chaits Hotel, Solway Hotel, Sachs Lodge, and Sunny Oaks Hotel. She has been a concerto soloist with the Boro Park YMHA Orchestra and the Brooklyn College Symphony Orchestra. She has been the accompanist for Howard Cohen, flutist, at Carnegie Recital Hall; Richard Rubin, horn player, for his Mannes Masters recital; the Brooklyn College Chorus; and the International String Teachers Workshops with world-famous cellists George Neikrug and Janos Starker. She has been the pianist with the Brooklyn Trio since 1976. She is also active in folk dance and drama.
|Gioacchino Rossini was the undisputed King of Italian opera during the first half of the 19th Century. One of the developers of Bel Canto vocal writing, his surprisingly short career was also amazingly prolific. Highlights include Il Signor Bruschino, L’Italiana in Algeri, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Guillaume Tell. He completed his first opera in 1810, at the age of 18. Only 19 years later, having completed and produced more than three dozen operas in every major opera theater from Paris to Venice to Vienna, Rossini retired from opera composition entirely. Though he would live nearly forty more years, Rossini’s output was sparse and almost exclusively comprised liturgical music, most notably his Stabat Mater of 1842.
Semiramide, based on a story by Voltaire, was premiered in Venice’s La Fenice Theater on February 3, 1823. It tells the very complicated story of murder, conspiracy, and intrigue in Queen Semiramide’s bid for power in ancient Babylon. In spite of the opera’s film noir plot, the overture is typical of many of Rossini’s overtures for which he is so famous: up-tempo, bright, and cheery. A brisk introduction of a three-note motive moves on to a slow, lyrical section for the horns before the quick three-note motive returns. All of this is introductory material for the main theme, first heard in the violins. In the second theme, material from the introduction is incorporated as accompaniment. The orchestra at La Fenice surely must have been a skilled one to tackle the challenging solo passages in this overture, particularly those written for the piccolo and clarinet. Of course, no Rossini overture would be complete without several “Rossini crescendos” in which a long development from soft to loud is built not only by increasing volume, but also by adding instruments one by one until the entire orchestra is playing at full volume. The overture to Semiramide is no exception.
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In 1792, the 22-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven set off from his hometown of Bonn, Germany for the center of the Classical Era’s cultural and political life, Vienna, to study composition with Haydn. Within two years, Beethoven established himself as one of the most sought-after piano virtuosi in Vienna. By 1800, the year of the debut of his First Symphony (Op. 21), Beethoven was known throughout the city as an envelope-pushing maverick, both as a composer and as a personality.
This fourth of his five piano concerti is dedicated to Archduke Rudolph and had its first performance in 1807 at the palace of his patron Prince Lobkowitz. By this time in his life, Beethoven was well into what is often referred to as his “Middle Period.” Beginning from about 1803, his music is characterized by expansion of traditional Classical form, as found in the Third Symphony (“Eroica”) or the “Appasionata” sonata, heroic and/or mythological themes (Creatures of Prometheus, Fidelio), and an overall sense of drama. Many scholars attribute these characteristics to Beethoven’s increasing (and by this time profound) deafness and the resolution he made to himself in order deal with it. In 1802, realizing that his hearing was disappearing, Beethoven, never a stable personality, was suffering a severe crisis. He retired to the town of Heiligenstadt, outside of Vienna, to rest and come to grips with his condition. It was there that he drew up his Last Will and Testament, now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, in the form of a letter to his two brothers. It is dated October 6, 1802. In it, Beethoven explains the reasons for his moodiness and asocial behavior and expresses his dismay at his fate. But what at first appears to be farewell or even suicide letter transforms into an affirmation of life. As the letter progresses, Beethoven writes, “. . . it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it next to my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life with suicide.” Later he writes, “If [death] comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities, it will still come too early for me despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later.” Beethoven clearly sees himself as the Classical Tragic Hero who must persevere through adversity. It is this resolve that is quite evident throughout much of Beethoven’s Middle Period output.
The Piano Concerto No. 4 is a combination of the contained structural approach of the 18th Century portion of the Classical Era with some of the loosening of the reins that would pervade throughout the 19th Century. Rather than have the orchestra present the opening theme, Beethoven instead has the solo piano, unaccompanied, play the theme, which is then responded to by the strings. It is at this point that the orchestra takes over, reasserting the Classical tradition in which the orchestra plays what is effectively a long introduction that introduces all of the melodic themes that will be elaborated upon by the soloist. The second movement, in the key of e minor, is scored for string accompaniment only. It is characterized by the contrasting dialogue between the solo piano’s fluid, cantabile chords, and the orchestra’s short, punctuated rhythms. At a mere seventy-two measures, it is really more of an intermezzo, a transition between the first and last movements. The finale, taken attacca from the second movement, is a spirited rondo, so typical of concerti of this era. Beethoven, ever aware of color and balance, takes a page out of Baroque tradition at times by having a solo ’cello as the accompaniment. Listen carefully to the second theme in the orchestra: it is Beethoven’s adaptation of his own Choral Fantasy, which would later evolve into the “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony. The piano as a virtuoso instrument is highlighted here with scalar passages for both the right and left hands while syncopated entrances from the winds and strings peek out from the accompaniment. Its rousing finish is set up by 8 measures of triplets at pianissimo followed by a rapid and dramatic 4 measure crescendo to fortissimo, closing with piano and orchestra together with three short chords.
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||Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s works are best known as a prime example of late Romantic composition. His lush melodies, broad sweeping phrases, passionate emotional writing, and ability to combine traditional Western idioms with an innate Russian sensibility have kept his music in the concert hall for more than a hundred years, as annual performances of The Nutcracker demonstrate. Yet there is much more to Tchaikovsky’s music than just the roller-coaster emotional ride and the tunes you can whistle as you leave the hall. Rhythm, complex texture and orchestration, and, at times, brilliant phrase and formal elaboration all play an essential role in Tchaikovsky’s best works. The Fifth Symphony in e minor, one of his most successfully integrated works, is certainly an example of all of these qualities.
The first movement begins with the clarinets playing an andante melody in unison. The introduction to the first theme, whose dotted rhythm provides the impetus for the entire movement, is at first played by the winds, then the strings. The crescendo builds to canonic entrances of the theme. A sudden shift in tune takes us to a transition, before giving way to the more melodic, but no less driven, second theme. The second theme becomes more frenzied before arriving at the closing group, once again returning to the first theme rhythm. The development is a combination of material from the transition and the first theme, both of which are written in canon, before a solo bassoon takes us to the recapitulation. Always interested in symmetry and balance, Tchaikovsky repeats much of the material, all the way down to the orchestration, only a whole tone higher, before bringing us to a coda that repeats the beginning portion of the first theme, breaking it down into smaller bits while reducing the orchestration and creating a diminuendo.
The theme of the second movement, first played by the solo horn, is one of Tchaikovsky’s best known, with the second theme not far behind. The entire movement is a double theme and variation, in which the accompaniments, rather than the themes, are varied. Tchaikovsky achieves this by making each set of accompaniments more thickly textured and rhythmically complicated, first with triplets, then sixteenth notes. The effect of two, then four, against three, combined with the aria-like rubato indications throughout, gives the movement a sense of urgency. Added into this formula are two instances of the theme from the introduction, which begins to give the listener a sense of continuity that continues through the piece.
The third movement uses the Minuet-Trio form often found in an inner movement in the traditional Classical layout. It is only how Tchaikovsky treats the material within the form that is interesting. Whereas many composers choose either a waltz/minuet or a scherzo for the character of the movement, Tchaikovsky chooses both, first with a lyrical waltz in the A section, followed by a scherzo in the trio, concluding with a return to the A section that combines both elements. The coda returns us again to the symphony’s introductory theme, played by clarinet and bassoon.
The finale brings us back yet again to the introductory material, in E Major this time, presented in an almost regal fashion before a crescendo by the timpani returns us to e minor as we encounter a ferocious, percussive attack in the strings. Several themes are presented, including a dialogue between the oboe and ’cellos, with pizzicato accompaniment, followed by overlapping melodies between the violins and ’cellos, and supported by an unceasing motion of eighth notes in the horns and trumpets. As in every prior movement, the texture and rhythmic structure provide a sense of perpetual motion forward. The main theme of the symphony makes several returns throughout the movement. Abrupt changes in tempo only further create a sense of continuous motion and urgency. The theme, now played in its fastest tempo yet, brings us to pause on a cadence in dominant key of B, before the theme is once again presented in E Major, even more majestically than before. A sudden shift back to the fast tempo leads us to the first theme of the first movement in a triumphal return, bringing the symphony full circle to its conclusion.
—Notes by Harry J. Marenstein