Vadim Gluzman, violin & creative partner
Joshua Roman, cello & composer
David Danzmayr, conductor
The Jon Mac Anderson Program Notes underwritten by Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur, LLP
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960): Last Round
Instrumentation: Scored for string orchestra
Duration: 14 minutes
Born in Argentina to a physician father and pianist mother, Osvaldo Golijov and his family emigrated to Romania; subsequently Osvaldo moved, first to Israel and shortly thereafter to America, where he worked with George Crumb, among this country’s most experimental and important composers. Currently a resident of Massachusetts, Golijov’s reputation has blossomed, and he has become one of today’s most in-demand composers.
ProMusica audiences are no strangers to the music of Astor Piazzolla and in Golijov’s Last Round, the spirit of the late Argentine tango master is, in the words of Golijov, given the chance “to fight one more time.” The title is taken from a short story about boxing by Julio Cortázar but in Golijov’s hands becomes a work about an “idealized bandoneón” [Piazzolla’s accordion-like instrument]. “There are two movements: the first represents the act of a violent compression of the instrument and the second a final, seemingly endless opening sigh (it is actually a fantasy over the refrain of the song ‘My Beloved Buenos Aires,’ composed by the legendary Carlos Gardel in the 1930s). But Last Round is also a sublimated tango dance. Two quartets confront each other, separated by the focal bass, with violins and violas standing up as in the traditional tango orchestras. The bows fly in the air as inverted legs in crisscrossed choreography, always attracting and repelling each other, always in danger of clashing, always avoiding it with the immutability that can only be acquired by transforming hot passion into pure pattern.”
From Golijov’s description we can fairly sense the composer’s passionately energetic style. Indeed, a favorite composer among string players, he finds new, exciting, inventive, and wholly unique—albeit always idiomatic—ways of treating and combining the instruments. The first movement is a study of increasing tension and changings tempos. Following a brief introduction, characterized by its driving bass line, the orchestra pulls back to a much more restrained pace, as Golijov introduces a series of ostinato gestures throughout the group, some highly rhythmic, others propelled by a rapid crescendo. These gestures gradually increase in speed, to the point where the score becomes pure energy. Without warning the tempo collapses, as if Golijov’s boxers are pulled back to their respective corners to begin their dance again. Eventually at the height of their energy the players sync up, and the movement concludes with the sound of folk music on steroids before literally sinking away. The second movement begins attacca (immediately), a tango-influenced elegy entitled “Muertes del ángel,” that richly evokes the nuevo tango style of Piazzolla. Like his musical muse, Golijov’s score is imbued with lush melody, dark, mysterious hues and smoldering passion of another time and place.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 64
Instrumentation: violin soloist, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and horns, timpani, and strings
Duration: 26 minutes
What would prove to be Felix Mendelssohn’s final significant orchestral work was conceived in the year 1838, while the composer was also at the helm of one of Europe’s most prestigious musical institutions, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Given the extent of Mendelssohn’s tireless musical activities, which included composing in nearly every genre, traveling as a soloist and conductor, founding the Leipzig Conservatory, and championing lesser-known composers, among them J.S. Bach, Schubert, and Schumann, he would have had a strong feel for the violin concerto landscape. Such repertoire included concerti by Beethoven, Ludwig Spohr (who knew Beethoven and mentored the young Mendelssohn) and especially the contributions of violin virtuoso Giovanni Battista Viotti, who arguably exerted the greatest influence on violin playing during the first quarter of the 19th century. Nor did Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto mark his first experience writing a violin concerto. His earlier attempts, however, remained unpublished, several of which were products of a thirteen-year-old prodigy, one of the few composers whose early works could compare with those of the young Mozart. Thus, by the time the supremely accomplished twenty-nine-year-old found the inspiration for his latest offering, he was in full command of a compositional technique that placed him among the greatest of living composers and was as well-acquainted as any living musician with all matters musical.
After pitching the idea for a concerto to his long-time friend and Leipzig concertmaster, Ferdinand David, Mendelssohn chipped away for the next six years, during which time he consistently consulted with the violinist about technical issues (it speaks to Mendelssohn’s character that although he played and understood the instrument perfectly, he still desired the input of a highly valued colleague). For whatever reason the concerto required so much time to complete, the finished product was well worth the wait. It received its premiere in 1845 and was immediately recognized as an invaluable contribution to the violin concerto repertoire (those works of Spohr and Viotti, on the other hand, have long since vanished from the concert stage).
Mendelssohn was, by nature, no revolutionary. While he imbued his scores with the uniquely personal gifts of inspired melody, stirring harmonies and an unsurpassed sense of orchestration, he was largely pouring new wine into bottles produced during the Classical era. But with his concerto, Mendelssohn actually offers up some new ideas with respect to formal outlines. Among the most unusual gambits occurs at the very beginning, where the violinist jumps in immediately rather than being preceded by an expansive orchestral instruction. Rather than provide the opportunity to allow the soloist room to create or even improvise a cadenza (soloist alone), Mendelssohn chose to write out his cadenza in full (featuring extended ricochet string crossings). This passage also serves as a bridge to the recapitulation, though tradition held that the cadenza be placed toward the end of the first movement. And finally, all three movements are played without pause, with the bassoon serving to connect the first and second movements.
Innovations aside, it is on account of its expressive qualities, excitement, and exquisite craftsmanship that Mendelssohn’s concerto has remained a favorite of violinists and audiences alike. A year before his death, the celebrated 19th century violinist Joseph Joachim, who played for Mendelssohn at his entrance to the Leipzig Conservatory and for whom Brahms wrote his own concerto, summed up what Mendelssohn’s concerto meant to his instrument’s repertoire. Having acknowledged that the greatest of all was Beethoven’s, the seriousness of that of Brahms and Bruch’s being the most seductive, the violinist’s violinist admitted that “the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.”
FROM THE COMPOSER:
Josh Roman (b. 1983): Confluence
Instrumentation:Scored for solo violin and solo cello, pairs of flutes, oboes (double English horn), clarinets (double bass clarinet), bassoons, horns, harp, timpani and percussion, and strings
Duration: 15 minutes
Cellist-composer Josh Roman composed this double concerto during the 2019-2020 season and the completed composition was slated for its premiere here in the Southern Theatre in April of 2020. I spoke with Josh twice while he was in the process of composing the concerto and we at ProMusica thought it would be an interesting for you, our audience, to “eavesdrop” on the compositional process:
Marc: Hi Josh! Good to hear your voice again! Today is January 8, 2020…how far along are you presently and what can you tell us about it?
Josh: It’s a single movement, though it will have clear sections and will last about 16 minutes. I am trying to plan how it all fits together but I don’t want to force it into a specific structure and I actually already have far more material than will end up going into the piece. There’s a lyrical section in the middle, for instance, but some of what I hear is not quite what I’m looking for for this piece, so it may get used somewhere else. And just yesterday I found the sound I’m looking for in one of the sections—it’s a balance between looking for things and letting things evolve, but yesterday it all became much clearer…
Marc: How about the work’s inspiration—what are you trying to communicate to your listeners?
Josh: If you remember my earlier concerto, it was very thematically driven and largely about how relationships end and what one might learn from that. The central movement was a fight like one would have in a relationship. Now that I also have a violinist as a soloist, I wanted to create a true partnership so I’m looking at the two instruments and asking myself, “What are the strong characters of each, how do they learn to learn to work together, and what’s both beautiful and challenging about what they do?” Musically I’m letting that guide the piece.
Marc: And the title?
Josh: At this stage I don’t have a title and I’m trying not to get caught up in any extra-musical meaning. I think of it as a double concerto but as a genre that seems a little too grand, given its overall size. Who knows? As the deadline draws closer, some of these things may change so let’s talk again in a few weeks and I can share how things have developed.
Marc: Hello again, Josh! So it’s nearly a month later [Feb 3, 2020]—where do things stand with “our” new piece?
Josh: Well, I have reached the double bar but the revision process began as soon as my first draft was complete so I’m now refining various layers of the piece.
Marc: Have you had any epiphanies or setbacks?
Josh: As a matter of fact, I had found what I thought was an attractive theme but the longer I obsessed over it, the more I came convinced I didn’t write it. After a few weeks I figured it out….it wasn’t an exact quotation but it had strong similarities with one of the most popular TV show themes from the last ten years! I was absolutely horrified and had to go back and discard most of the elements that made it similar. So that was a minor setback. I also came to realize that some sections were simply too complicated for what I was trying to communicate…I was simply trying to do too much. So I let go of a lot of conflict between the soloists and have created something simpler and more harmonious or concordant.
Marc: Well, I’m glad you discovered your TV theme before you got sued for plagiarism! And when will you meet up with Vadim?
Josh: Next month, by which time I’ll have a complete piano score. At this point the whole piece is basically finished, though in this last stretch there is a possibility that small things may still be tweaked. Presently it exists as a partially orchestrated score, with some passages more fully orchestrated and others simply notated as clusters of harmonies or percussion rhythms in the margins and so on.
Marc: And how about the work’s structure?
Josh: Overall it is built of three parts: I think of the middle section, the heart of the work, as a pool of rejuvenation, something very peaceful; the concerto opens with an energetic spinning out of an idea that literally lands in this beautiful contemplative middle portion or pool; and the dancelike third section borrows from the playful opening and then builds up steam to an exciting finish. So overall it’s very organic. I’m still playing with how to integrate the almost impressionistic accompaniment of the opening with the melody that floats over it but I’m very happy with where the piece is and am confident it will be beautiful and expressive.
Marc: Josh, I think I speak for the entire orchestra when I say we are excited to collaborate with you again. Thanks for spending time sharing your thoughts, good luck with your final revisions and we’ll see you on stage!
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Symphony No. 94 in G Major
Instrumentation: Scored for pairs of oboes, flutes, bassoons, trumpets and horns, strings, and timpani
Duration: 23 minutes
For the better part of thirty years Haydn was in the employ of the wealthy Esterházy family, Hungarian nobles who built a Versailles-styled palace in rural Hungary, not far from the Austrian border. Here Haydn earned his bread and butter as a musical servant (and wore the livery to prove it) and remained at his employer’s beck and call for decades. With the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790, Haydn was finally released from much of his contractual obligations and granted liberty to travel freely for the first time since coming aboard. His first stop was London, where he was lured by the city’s exciting musical life and specifically the chance to appear in person. Haydn’s music had already captivated English audiences but now he was invited to take an active part in public concert life, a culture almost entirely at odds with the restricted life among the nobility to which he had been tethered back in Hungary and Austria.
The second of the so-called “London” Symphonies, the G major, better known as the “Surprise Symphony”, was a product of 1791 and received its premiere at the Hannover Rooms in March of 1792, with the composer directing the orchestra from the keyboard. The English had come to love everything about Haydn’s music—its tunefulness, its joy and particularly its unexpected twists and turns. The music of the era was always accessible—there was little in the way of “progressive” music with which today’s audiences are familiar—but it also tended to fall into formally expected molds, exemplified by its four-movement structure. Haydn, of course, observed, or rather, helped establish what has since become regarded as the “Classical style” but he was always looking for ways to catch his listeners off guard. Sometimes this took the form of unpredictable key changes or musical quotations. In the case of the G major Symphony, he hoped to outdo the competition, a rival concert society whose performances had begun a week before. If he was beloved before his trickery, Haydn endeared himself even more with the effect of his latest gambit.
The G major is constructed of the expected four movements and like a number of Haydn’s significant works, opens with a slow introduction. This gives way to a noble Vivace assai in 6/8 time, lending it the feeling of a quick dance, and if one was to compare it with one of his earlier symphonies from his days at the Hungarian court, the individuality of the various instrumental groups, his masterful if fleeting counterpoint and powers of invention would be thrown into high relief. The 2/4 Andante, a theme and variations (among the composer’s favorite forms), opens with a rather rigid-sounding theme, but Haydn’s pianissimo and pizzicato (plucked) repeat of the theme is calculated for maximum effect, for only by setting up his listener’s expectations can he fully exploit them. This he does with an explosive G major (dominant) chord, hence “The Surprise.” Now the Londoners were on guard, so Haydn did his best to keep the musical surprises coming throughout the four variations that followed, whether by way of dynamics or unexpected harmonic shifts. Haydn marked his Menuetto: Allegro, another surprise, albeit one of a more subtle—though historically far more important—nature. Traditional third movements moved at a slow, regal pace, but here Haydn ups the ante for the first time, its quicker tempo lending the movement the flair of a country dance. This change would be absorbed by none other than Haydn’s student Beethoven in his own symphonies to follow.
The finale, marked Allegro molto, is a propulsive hybrid of sonata and rondo (another of the composer’s favorites), allowing for both a sophisticated blueprint and a verbatim return of the opening, which even the least musically literate in his audience could track. Haydn’s liberal use of the timpani was no doubt among the many features of his latest offering that delighted his listeners, though nowhere was their appreciation more evident than that found in the earlier Andante. As Haydn himself was to proudly note, “The first Allegro of my symphony had already met with countless Bravos, but the enthusiasm reached its highest peak at the Andante with the Drum Stroke. Encore! Encore! sounded in every throat!” Though no longer novel, Haydn’s 200-year-old symphony of surprises continues to capture our attention.
(C) Marc Moskovitz