Orchestra Roster and Program Notes for
May 2, 2004 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 13
Conductor: Phillip Gaskill
Sunday, May 2, 2004
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
MENDELSSOHN, BRUCH, and MAHLER
Mendelssohn: Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) Overture, Op. 26
Bruch: Concerto No. 1 in g minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 26
Steven Zynszajn, violin
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G
Devin Dukes, soprano
Michelle Des Roches,
principal second violin
Catherine Y. Koh
Jean Park, acting
So Young Park
Uli Speth, permanent
Yolanda Wu, permanent
Joy Fellows, principal
Dale Dyer, principal
James Mark Pedersen
Toshio Mara, principal
Shoji Mizumoto, principal
Thomas Crane, principal
Christine Todd, principal
Phil Fedora, principal
Jo Ann Lamolino
Jenny L. Ruzow,
Robert Sacks, principal
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
Steven Zynszajn, violin, was born in Chicago where he started playing the violin at the age of five. Shortly thereafter, he moved to France where he won the Prix d’ Honneur of the Leopold Bellan competition at the age of twelve. The following year, he was the youngest student to be admitted to the Paris National Conservatoire.
He received his Artists’ Diploma from the Juilliard School, where he was a scholarship student of Dorothy DeLay and followed chamber music classes with Felix Galimir and Rohan DeSilva.
He has played at major venues as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States, including Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Merkin Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and with the Aspen Festival’s Young Artists Orchestra performing works by Wieniawsky and Sinding. He recently performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonia in a program of Gershwin songs.
Steven has appeared throughout Western Europe, performing in France, Belgium, Spain, and Switzerland. He has played as a recitalist at the festivals of Annecy and Colmar and at the Unesco Auditorium and the Auditorium des Halles in Paris. He was an invited guest of the Singer-Polignac foundaton at a special gala concert celebrating the centennial of the birth of Nadia Boulanger. His concerto appearances include Mozart’s Concerto in A with the Levallois Orchestra and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Saint-Flour festival.
Steven’s radio and television broadcasts include WNYC in New York and Radio Classique in France, and he has been featured on the Television show “Good Morning America” on ABC. He recently collaborated in a month-long run of the off-Broadway play Two performing excerpts from the Beethoven Violin Concerto. He also performed in recitals at the Harbor Theater and the Juilliard Concert Series at Maiden Lane.
He is currently on the music faculty at the Marymount School and the Lycee Francais de New York. In addition, he is the founder and president of La Belle Musique Inc., a music entertainment and concert agency. He regularly performs as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the New York area.
Devin Dukes, soprano, is pleased to be performing with Musica Bella this season. As a soloist, she has most notably performed Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with Manhattan Virtuosi and Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 in San Francisco and Sonoma County. Devin attended the Eastman School of Music and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. While living in San Francisco, she performed with both the West Bay Opera in Palo Alto and Pocket Opera in San Francisco. In New York City, she has performed with Opera Nova in leading roles as well as with Amato Opera in many lead roles including Musetta in La Boheme, the title role in Massenet’s Manon, Yum Yum in The Mikado, and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. When not in New York City, Devin happily spends her time with her husband and dogs in Portland, Maine. This is her debut performance with Musica Bella.
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born in Hamburg in 1809 to a distinguished family. His grandfather was the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His father Abraham, a prominent banker, was part of a branch of the Mendelssohn clan that converted to Lutheranism and added the suffix Bartholdy to the family name.
Trained in piano at first by their mother, Felix and his older sister Fanny both showed signs of prodigal talent as performers and composers. Being talented children of privilege, like Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart fifty years before, they spent their youth studying composition and touring around Europe performing before such luminaries as Goethe. By age fifteen, Mendelssohn had written his Opus 1 piano quartet, thirteen string symphonies, and his first symphony for full orchestra, and had made his conducting debut. By twenty years of age, he wrote the Octet for Strings and the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was around this time that Mendelssohn the conductor did the Western art music world its greatest favor: his 1829 performance of Bach’s forgotten St. Matthew Passion sparked a renewed popular interest in the master that has not waned to this day. This was the beginning of a lifelong connection between Bach and Mendelssohn. In 1835, Mendelssohn was appointed conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, the city in which Bach had been Cantor of St. Thomas’s church from 1723 until his death in 1750, and in which he wrote the B Minor Mass, the St. Matthew Passion, and the Goldberg Variations. Although he would move from appointment to appointment, Mendelssohn maintained his connection with Leipzig, founding its conservatory in 1843. It was there that he died in 1847, aged 38, leaving behind a significant catalogue of works, including three operas, five full symphonies, four oratorios, and a wide range of chamber music and keyboard works.
The Hebrides Overture, also known as Fingal’s Cave, was written in 1830. Mendelssohn was in Italy at the time, reflecting on his recent holiday to the British Isles, one of ten such trips he would make in his life. This particular holiday took him to the Highlands of Scotland and the concentric half-circle chains of islands off its coast known as the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Also inspired by this trip, and composed around the same time, was his Third Symphony, the “Scottish” (his Fourth, the “Italian,” was written in Düsseldorf, following the above-mentioned stay in Italy; thus, the Scottish was written in Italy, the Italian in Germany). Although Mendelssohn uses a Classical era-size orchestra (winds in pairs, no trombones or auxiliary percussion) and a Classical sonata-allegro form, he does blatantly use the Romantic notion of programmatic writing to evoke a situation or feeling: in this case, a short ferry ride from the mainland to the Hebrides, in which the fickle weather and choppy currents of the North Atlantic often make for an interesting ride.
From the beginning, we encounter a sense of movement. The theme that is first presented by the bassoon, violas, and cellos and assumed shortly thereafter by the violins represents the rise and fall of the sea swells. Static harmony for several bars is interrupted by unstable harmony, evoking the sensation of calm between swells. The development, announced by wind fanfares, informs us that change is on the way. As keys shift rapidly, the sense of stability becomes progressively weaker: the skies are darkening; a crescendo roll on the timpani indicates a storm rapidly approaching. The light raindrops, brought to us by the pianissimo imitative writing between the winds and strings, increase in intensity into a violent storm before at last coming to an abruptly calm end which, as anyone who’s ever spent time in the British Isles can attest to, is not such an unusual thing. The compressed recapitulation returns us to the original thematic material, and the extensive coda presents great large waves that subside toward the end, represented by the lone clarinet, as the ship makes its way into port, the turbulent journey behind us.
|¶ ¶ ¶ ¶
Although Max Bruch composed a wide range of works in his 82 years, from opera and oratorio to symphony and chamber music, and had much success both as a composer and a conductor, it is three works for soloist and orchestra for which he is best remembered: Kol Nidrei, the Scottish Fantasy, and today’s work, the Violin Concerto No. 1 in g minor.
Written in 1868, this first of Bruch’s three violin concerti bears the inscription “Dedicated in Friendship to Joseph Joachim,” who was among the great violinists of the 19th century and the man to whom Brahms also dedicated his violin concerto. Modeled after Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, Bruch’s is also a three-movement work whose first and second movements are linked, without interruption, by an orchestral interlude.
The first movement opens with a soft timpani roll and a brief statement from the winds before an immediate cadenza in g minor from the solo violin. Another statement from the winds with string accompaniment brings another brief cadenza with the same material, this time in E-flat major. A final statement of the introductory material by the entire orchestra brings us to the main body of the movement, back in g minor. The first theme is full of double- and triple-stops and quick movement up and down the range of the violin. A brief transition by the orchestra brings us to the second theme, much more mellow and lyrical, before we return to the first time, now in the relative major key of B-flat. Several sets of chromatic scales follow, obscuring the key before the peak of the movement is reached in a sequence of diminished-seventh arpeggios. A long orchestral interlude is reached which brings us back to the introductory material, in which the solo violin again presents brief, but this time more elaborate, cadenzas. The last cadenza’s ascending scale takes us to a transition into the second movement. This movement is based primarily on a single theme, as it is essentially a three-part form (ABA) that hovers around the key of E-flat. The solo voice is quite melodic. Though at times imitative, the accompaniment is often static, with the exception of the arpeggiation in the violas and second violins. The finale, a rondo like so many concerto finali, begins rather ambiguously still in the E-flat major of the prior movement. A fragmented motive occasionally arises from the first violins. Its restatement becomes more and more frequent, transitioning from key to key until the solo voice announces the arrival at G Major, the parallel major of the concerto’s key, another example of Mendelssohn’s influence on the piece. Like the first movement, the primary theme is virtuosic in its design and is contrasted by a broader, more lyric second theme. Being a rondo, however, it always returns to the first theme. The tone of this final movement always remains upbeat, cycling through closely related keys such as C Major and D Major before accelerating into its brisk coda.
|¶ ¶ ¶ ¶
As one listens to the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, one finds common motivic ideas that serve as a thread from one work to the next. The most obvious bond exists between the Second, Third, and Fourth symphonies. All have vocal movements whose texts come from the collection of poetry known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), and are therefore grouped together and known as Mahler’s “Wunderhorn” Symphonies. Mahler, on the other hand, grouped his First Symphony in D (performed by Musica Bella earlier this season) with the following three, preferring to think of them as a “tetralogy” unified in design and content. While the Second and Third symphonies are connected by their large-scale structure, use of choral forces, and text that tends to make mythological allusions, the outer symphonies of these four share a bond in their more-contained structure and musical language. More importantly, they share a common programmatic element: the concept of movement from Earthly to heavenly life, and it is this concept of progression, journey, and vindication through death that links the two works.
The Fourth Symphony has its origins in a Wunderhorn song, Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life). This song was composed in 1892, presenting a child’s view of heaven and its delights. Its original placement was as the finale of the Third Symphony, but at six movements already (and, at roughly 100 minutes, the longest of all his symphonies), Mahler felt that another movement would definitely make it too long. Instead, in 1898, he planned a symphonic Humoresque built around the song, incorporating several songs about Earthly life and eternity, leading up to Das himmlische Leben as its finale. The size of the piece quickly grew to that of a full symphony. By 1900, only Das himmlische Leben remained with three preceding instrumental movements derived from it.
For a piece written by a typically Romantic composer at the turn of the 20th century, the first and third movements of this Fourth Symphony, from a harmonic point of view, are rather simplistic, relying on diatonic (i.e., close to the home key) relationships. This stripped-down harmonic approach, coupled with the sleighbells at the opening of the work, are an effort by the composer to create a folk-like atmosphere and an impression of the innocent world of the Child. The thematic structure is a bit more intricate. During the first main part of the first movement, we are introduced to no fewer than three major themes, all contrasting one another, almost as though we were wandering from one part of a playground to another and one group’s song merged into another’s. The middle section takes on an entirely different character; it is much more disorienting, transforming themes through a variety of keys, and much more rhythmically unsettled — a frenzy of play, or perhaps even an unsettling dream. After a sudden pause, we find ourselves back to the original material, in the order we first heard it. The level of activity diminishes: the children make their way home little by little, until the stragglers put on a burst of speed at the very end.
The second movement, a scherzo, has the quality of a danse macabre, and was originally conceived by Mahler as a Totentanz, a dance of death. The scratchy scordatura (alternately tuned, all four strings one step higher than normal) solo violin is intended to provide a carnival-esque folk element, in this case inspiring disturbance rather than entertainment. Is this the feverish dream of a child, or a promise of things to come? The interlude is perhaps the most important element in this movement and leads us toward the latter belief. From this nightmarish Totentanz emerges the concept of journey, Ging heut’ Morgens über’s Feld (This Morning I Walked Through the Fields) directly from Mahler’s First Symphony and his Wayfarer songs. This is no ordinary journey, but instead is the beginning of passage from the world of the living. The scherzo is the struggle to let go of the Earthly domain, the interlude a glimpse of the World of the Beyond.
The third movement spends much of its time in a peaceful setting. It is the beginning of the process of letting go. The bombastic fanfare is significant both thematically and musically: it represents the joy of release from mortality, expressed by the entire orchestra playing at full volume. The fanfare is in E Major, even though the movement has been primarily in G, the key of the symphony. This has an important bearing on the rest of the work, as will be discussed below.
The last movement of the Fourth Symphony is serene, idyllic, and completely accepting of its fate as the genesis of the work. The solo voice sings of the perfection of Heaven’s delights as seen through the Child’s eyes, and how incomparable such pleasures are to anything on Earth. The sleighbells return with material from the symphony’s introduction, providing the most obvious cyclic reference. Mahler eventually brings the movement to the “Heavenly” key of E Major, the ultimate goal, which was briefly presented earlier. This movement of keys from beginning (G Major) to end (E Major) has come to be known as Progressive Tonality; this symphony is one of its classic examples. The harp and basses complete the journey with several dying-away low E’s. The objective is the peace of Heaven. We have now reached it.
—Notes by Harry J. Marenstein
Click here for the text to the last movement of the Mahler 4th Symphony.