Orchestra Roster, Soloist Bio, and Program Notes for
March 13, 2005 Musica Bella Concert
Musica Bella Orchestra Season Series Concert No. 18
Conductor: Phillip Gaskill
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Church of the Blessed Sacrament
GREEN, MENDELSSOHN, and BRAHMS
Edward Green: Overture in G
Mendelssohn: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in e minor, Op. 64
Uli Speth, Violin
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in e minor, Op. 98
Michelle Des Roches,
principal second violin
Catherine Y. Koh
Yolanda Wu, concertmaster
Jeremy Hwang, principal
Jane Ann Lockwood
James Mark Pedersen, principal
Shoji Mizumoto, section leader
Thomas Crane, section leader
Christine Todd, section leader
Phil Fedora, section leader
Mike Ruckstad, bass
Anthony Sanchez, alto
Hitomi Yakata, tenor
Manager Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill
Assistant Manager Thomas Crane
Stage Manager Shoji Mizumoto
Music Director/Conductor Phillip Gaskill
|ABOUT OUR SOLOIST
Uli Speth, a native of Germany, completed his undergraduate work at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and received his Master of Music from the Mannes College of Music. He was a student of Felix Galimir, from whom he received both private lessons and string quartet training. As a soloist, chamber musician and orchestra player, he has performed throughout Europe and recorded for Austrian and Italian radio.
Mr. Speth is first violinist of the Diller-Quaile String Quartet, in residence at the Diller-Quaile School of Music. The group plays concerts throughout the US, has commisioned and premiered new pieces for string quartet, performed live on Vermont Public Radio and KMFA of Austin, TX, and maintains a vital presence in the New York community by offering a series of lecture-performances and giving outreach concerts and demonstrations for children in public schools and daycare centers in the South Bronx, Harlem, and the Lower East Side. Other recent chamber music activities include performances at the Cooperstown Chamber Music Festival, collaborating with such artists as Philip Ying (Ying Quartet) and Timothy Fain (Rosetti Quartet), and concerts with the Cavaliere Quartet of Salzburg, Austria, as well as performances of chamber operas such as Black Water by John Duffy and Penal Colony by Philip Glass.
His performance during a September 11 Memorial was broadcast by NPR in 2003.
Since 1996, Mr. Speth has performed as first violinist of New York City Opera in over 35 productions, and last summer was his fourth season with the Glimmerglass Opera. During the past two seasons, he has also been active as a soloist, performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Bach’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe with Musica Bella; he will perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in Musica Bella’s 2004-2005 season. Aside from his active performing with the New York Virtuosi Chamber Ensemble, he has joined solo recitals of Paul Coletti, Lara St. John, Lars Frandsen, and Richard Savino, among others.
Mr. Speth is on faculty at the Diller-Quaile School of Music, where he founded and led the Amateur Chamber Music Program from 1998 to 2002, a program that is still active today.
He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deborah Hays.
Mr. Speth is a charter member — and the concertmaster — of the Musica Bella Orchestra.
|ABOUT OUR GUEST COMPOSER
Edward Green is a prize-winning composer whose music has been performed by orchestras across the United States as well as in Russia, the Czech Republic, Argentina and England. He received first place in the International Kodaly Composer’s Competition, and in 2004 was awarded a Music Alive! grant jointly sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer. Among his works soon to be released on commercial recording are two concerti: Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (Arizona University Recordings), and Concerto in C for Trumpet and Orchestra (Centaur Recordings). Mr. Green is also Staff Composer for Imagery Films, whose director is Ken Kimmelman, Emmy award-winning filmmaker. Among their collaborations is What Does a Person Deserve? — which was sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Since 1984, Edward Green he has been a professor at Manhattan School of Music, teaching both composition and courses in World Music. He is also on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, and had the honor to study Aesthetic Realism with its founder, the great poet and educator Eli Siegel. Mr. Green is included in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers and is a frequent contributor to scholarly conferences on music, here and overseas. He is invited to speak this summer in Europe on the music of Ellington, Mendelssohn, and Elgar, and on the music criticism of H. R. Haweis.
by Thomas Crane, unless otherwise indicated
Edward Green, Overture in G
This work was premiered in 2002 by the Staten Island Symphony under the baton of Jonathan Strasser, and will be performed today in a revised and extended version. In style and rhythm, and in the shape of its melodies, it is definitely an “American” piece — with more than a hint of Broadway. Alternating passages of lyric quiet and dancing energy, of playful syncopation and deeply stirring melody, this music gradually builds to a powerful, joyous, waltz-like climax — after which it sweetly fades into the gentle distance.
“As a composer,” Edward Green explained, “and simply as a person, I have been deeply affected by what Eli Siegel taught — that happiness for a person, and beauty in art, have something large in common: both are the making one of opposites. I wanted my overture to bring opposites together: to be both thoughtful and enthusiastic, earthy and soaring. And I wanted to use melody to do this. It is a work in which melody is always in the forefront.” —Note by Edward Green
Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto
Although he had been working on the Violin Concerto for over six years—a long time for this prolific composer—a frenetic schedule of concerts and commissions kept Mendelssohn from attending the premiere of what was to become his best-known and best-loved composition. This took place in Leipzig on March 13, 1845 (exactly 160 years ago today), with soloist Ferdinand David and the Gewandhaus Orchestra under the direction of Mendelssohn’s gifted assistant, Danish composer Niels Gade. Young Joseph Joachim took up the work just a short time later, and by the end of the century it was firmly established as one of the four “great” violin concertos (the others being those of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky). The opening theme is certainly familiar to millions who have no idea where it comes from, and in the 1940s a portion of the finale even found its way into the soundtrack of a Porky Pig cartoon!
The violin makes its appearance at once, stating the famous theme over a gentle accompaniment. Dispensing with the classic orchestral introduction was not unheard of, but still unusual. The key moves to the relative major, G, and the woodwinds state the secondary theme over a drone on the soloist’s lowest string. The development proceeds to a cadenza and thence to the recapitulation (again reversing the more traditional order), and the movement concludes with a presto coda; but as the last chord dies away, a soft B-natural is heard sustained in the solo bassoon. The tonality pivots on this note, the dominant of E, which becomes the leading tone of C major. The singing melody of the Andante echoes Mendelssohn’s well-known Songs Without Words, and the movement's A-B-A scheme is more typical of many piano pieces than part of a large-scale orchestral work: the contrasting “B” theme, in the minor, has a distinctly pensive quality. The energetic finale follows “sonata” form, with primary and secondary themes but with a twist: the development section introduces a broad third melody, which is then played simultaneously with the principal theme in a delightful counterpoint.
Brahms: Symphony No. 4
“Writing a symphony’s no longer a casual matter,” Brahms remarked by way of explaining why he kept the musical world waiting so long for his first one. His comment well captures the discipline and criticism he imposed on himself throughout his career. After an early symphonic attempt quickly metamorphosed into the First Piano Concerto, Brahms—all too conscious of the great ghost of Beethoven looking over his shoulder—determined to bide his time until he was quite ready.
Though the First Symphony met with immediate acclaim (one critic dubbed it “the Tenth”), the composer was not tempted to retread old ground—each of his four symphonies is an entirely distinct statement, and Brahms felt that the Fourth would be particularly unusual. He began work on it during the summer of 1884, and completed it the following summer. The first performance took place at Meiningen on October 17, 1885 under the composer’s direction, and many others quickly followed. Brahms took such a personal interest in the performances that he insisted on conducting many of them himself. Hans von Bülow, the conductor of the Meiningen orchestra, who had prepared the orchestra for the premiere, took this as a sign that the composer lacked confidence in him, and the two old friends had a brief falling-out. But praise was immediate and widespread. Although certain features of the work puzzled some listeners, all agreed that it represented the summit of Brahms’s symphonic achievement—a judgment which has held up to this day—and many wondered what he could produce to surpass it. In a wildly enthusiastic letter, Edvard Grieg in 1896 urged Brahms to come to Norway, where, he added, “the treasure—your Fifth Symphony—lies hidden!” But in fact Brahms produced only one further orchestral work, the Double Concerto for violin and cello, and there is no evidence that he was contemplating another symphony. In the end, the Fourth served as his elegy. In March of 1897, already fatally ill, he attended a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Richter, at which the audience broke into wild applause after each movement. As Brahms weakly acknowledged the plaudits from his box, many in the house wept, sensing that they would not see him again. A month later he was dead.
The quiet, deceptively simple opening theme is built on a motif of just two notes, moving in thirds, sixths and octaves. Although the movement follows the traditional “sonata” form, Brahms—in a technique typical since his earliest works—surrounds his principal and secondary themes with several other well-defined melodies, all of which recur during the development. At the end of the movement, with the orchestra’s full forces at work, the opening theme recurs in close canon (i.e., one group echoes the other one beat later). Unison horns announce the main theme of the second movement, also centered on E-natural but cast in the ancient Phrygian mode rather than major or minor (the Phrygian mode is the scale played on the white keys of the piano beginning on E). Led by the solo clarinet, the movement proceeds with a gentle solemnity that made young Richard Strauss think of “a funeral procession quietly crossing a moonlit height.” The third movement, jolly and boisterous with a distinctly “rustic” character, is the only real scherzo in any of the Brahms symphonies, recalling the lusty scherzos of Beethoven. For the finale, Brahms turns to an antique form, the chaconne or passacaglia, which consists of a continuous series of variations on a short cantus firmus or “basic melody.” This format was widely used in the baroque period—Bach's two most famous examples are for solo violin and solo organ respectively, and a further illustration is Johann Pachelbel’s popular Canon for strings—but lay fallow for well over a century until Brahms employed it in the finale of his Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn. In the Fourth Symphony, the eight notes of the cantus with their underlying harmony are proclaimed by the winds and timpani, and then reworked in thirty-one variants of amazing ingenuity. As in the first movement, several other melodies make their appearance, but all are conceived within the governing eight-bar framework. The most abstracted versions of the theme appear in a slower middle section in E major, first in an ornamented flute solo and then in a solemn chorale in the trombones that recalls the aequali of the Renaissance. After more variations in the original tempo, the theme becomes a vivacious and dramatic coda marked by startling cross-rhythms.