ProMusica’s Creative Partner, violinist Vadim Gluzman, opens the season with a program by the great Viennese masters — Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler. Pēteris Vasks’ Musica serena adds the shimmering sounds of our strings, offering harmony for the modern world.
BEETHOVEN/arr. Mahler – String Quartet No. 11, “Serioso”
MOZART – Violin Concerto No. 4
VASKS – Musica serena
MOZART – Symphony No. 25
ProMusica opens its new season with the composer with whom we closed the last— Beethoven—as we present one of his most dramatic string quartets in a version for strings by Gustav Mahler. We also feature two works by Mozart, his charming and youthful Fourth Violin Concerto, featuring our creative partner, Vadim Gluzman, and the dramatic Symphony No. 25. One more gem for strings makes the concert complete—the deeply moving Musica serena by the Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”
Instrumentation: transcribed for string orchestra by Gustav Mahler
Premiere: Vienna Philharmonic, January 15, 1899
Duration: 22 minutes
The year 1810 was not a particularly productive one for Ludwig van Beethoven, though he was very active musically, seeing to publications of his finished scores. The reason(s) for this slack in composition is not entirely clear. It may be related to the rejection of a marriage proposal to Therese Malfatti, to whom he presented his now famous Für Elise piano piece, no doubt with a stab to his heart. The year did witness, however, the completed incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont, premiered that June, and the String Quartet Op. 95 (though it should be noted that historians have cast doubts about the date, as the quartet is written on manuscript paper inconsistent with that period).
Given the serious nature of nearly everything Beethoven composed, the name “Serioso” may seem a bit curious. It is, however, the only “nickname” Beethoven personally bestowed to any of his string quartets and beyond referring to the third movement—marked Allegro assai vivace ma serioso—the title is certainly fitting. Beethoven himself understood the challenges of his score and wrote that it was intended for “a small circle of connoisseurs” and was “never to be performed in public.” And while it is closer in date to the three magisterial “Razumovsky” Quartets of the so-called “middle period,” the essence of the F minor has far more in common with the challenging “late” quartets, still more than a decade into the future.
We sense just how “serious” this music is from the explosive opening unison statement, an intimidating, violent outburst that is followed by large violin leaps and a series of extreme dynamics, all fingerprints of a mature Beethoven who is grappling with intense musical and emotional issues. This is not to say that everything is set out with maximum power…to the contrary, Beethoven soon follows this with intensely passionate phrases. In short, Beethoven has reached a point in his style where characters change on a dime, allowing for maximum expression within the smallest amount of time. Indeed, the quartet as a whole, despite the punch it packs, is the shortest he ever wrote, coming in at just around twenty minutes.
The sonata-form first movement is followed by what at first appears a relaxed and simple Allegretto, which opens with a gentle descending cello scale and a poignant melody in the violins. Soon enough, however, we find ourselves swimming in darker, unsettling waters, due to abrupt changes of key and austere contrapuntal writing. Might such rawness have had anything to do with Beethoven’s recently failed attempt at love? Another descending cello scale and the mysterious middle portion is but a memory. Rather than bring the movement to a full conclusion, Beethoven inserts a fermata (temporary hold) before plunging into the Allegro assai vivace ma serioso, whose initial restless quality—driven forward by its short-short-long rhythmic motive—recalls the explosiveness of the first movement. This gives way to a second section offering much-needed contrast of absolute restraint and beauty. The movement takes the form of a number of Beethoven’s mature scherzos, that is, A-B-A-B-A+ coda, but we should keep the “Serioso” nature in mind. The clipped coda seems to say all we need to know.
Beethoven’s finale opens mysteriously with an expressive Larghetto introduction whose clipped gestures seem to cry out with anguish, again Beethoven at his most intense. The Allegretto agitato that follows has something of the thrust common to the music of Egmont from earlier in the year, including driving inner voices and an impassioned second theme. Pay attention to the sforzando accents Beethoven applies to weak beats, creating an unsettling atmosphere. For reasons not entirely clear, the composer concluded the work with a rather lighthearted, almost Italianate coda. Certainly, given the emotional breadth of the rest of the score, the conclusion has drawn its share of criticism, including Vincent D’Indy’s assessment that “one might imagine some light Rossinian finale had strayed into this atmosphere of sustained beauty, and we think that no interpretation could palliate this error of a genius.”
The version for string orchestra heard tonight was one of three quartets Gustav Mahler transcribed during his early years as head of the Vienna Philharmonic. Whereas many in Beethoven’s day were unable to comprehend his late style, by the time Mahler came to town decades later, the Viennese had embraced Beethoven as their own and Mahler’s tampering with the master’s music nearly brought the roof down on the performance. As it so happened, other than adding a bass part here and there and, of course, enlarging the forces, Mahler remained faithful to Beethoven’s score, but the 1899 premiere was met by so much booing that Mahler evidently sent several musicians into the hall to quiet the rabble-rousers. Mahler never programmed his transcription again.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218
Instrumentation: two oboes, two horns and strings
Premiere: unknown but likely shortly after its composition
Duration: 26 minutes
Mozart’s fascination with the violin started early, perhaps even before he was aware, a result of his father Leopold being a violin teacher and performer in Salzburg. The fact that Leopold also wrote a highly successful treatise about how to play the instrument literally put at Wolfgang’s fingertips as much information about how to play the instrument as a budding violinist could want. The rest he would learn on the road, when his father took him on tours and where he encountered both the Italian musical style and a host of violin performers, among them the fifteen-year-old prodigy Giovanni Battista Viotti. Yet despite his natural abilities on the instrument, which his father affirmed, Mozart was more strongly drawn to the piano. As he himself admitted, “When performing is necessary, I decidedly prefer the piano and I probably always shall.” Leopold believed a greater career was to be built as a violinist but what child follows their parents’ advice? In the end, Mozart wrote five violin concertos, all products of a single year, 1775, when the composer was nineteen, while his love for the keyboard is evidenced by the twenty-seven concertos he wrote for that instrument.
Mozart composed all his violin and piano concertos with the intent of playing them himself and in most cases he did. The solo part for the premiere of the Fourth Concerto, however, may have been lent to Giovan Brunetti, another violinist in the Salzburg court orchestra whom Mozart must have held in high esteem. Indeed, with the understanding that Brunetti had better fiddle chops, Mozart may have upped the technical ante in his concerto. Whatever the case, he later altered his opinion; when Brunetti quit his post, Mozart referred to the violinist as “that coarse and dirty Brunetti who is a disgrace to his master, to himself and to the whole orchestra,” making one wonder if Mozart came to regret having once “lent” the Italian his music.
In many ways the Fourth Concerto is cut from the same cloth as the other four—all of them precede Mozart’s more mature works and as such demonstrate just how much Mozart learned from his tours to Italy and France. Cast in three movements, the concerto offers few surprises. Nevertheless, he already shows a great deal of sensitivity in establishing a balance between his forces and demonstrating genuine melodic flair. A few noteworthy details: following the military character of the orchestral introduction of the Allegro, listen for Mozart’s exploitation of his soloist’s string crossings—might this have been a nod to Brunetti’s technique? The second movement, marked Andante cantabile, is in the style of a pastoral whose singing lines, in the words of musicologist Alfred Einstein, are “like an imitation of an aria…in an opera buffa.” The finale is crafted in the style of a French Rondeau, a work of elegance and grace that banks back and forth between the grazioso (gracious) opening—the third iteration of which gives way to an interlude of sounds Mozart must have experienced in the Austrian countryside—and a more energetic, contrasting Allegro. Rather than playing a triumphant hand in the closing measures, Mozart instead opts for charm and grace, an apt demonstration that the nineteen-year-old already had the courage of his convictions.
Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946): Musica serena
Instrumentation: string orchestra
Premiere: Finland, November 2015
Duration: 11 minutes
Born April 1946 in Aizpute, Latvia to a Baptist pastor, Pēteris Vasks began studying double bass and composition locally before moving on to larger schools in Riga and Vilnius. He eventually pursued an orchestral career as a member of various Latvian orchestras before turning his attention to teaching and composing, thereby gaining an international reputation. With time, Vasks developed a highly unique yet accessible musical idiom that is both folk-like and mystical, with perhaps a sense of spiritualism deprived from his upbringing.
ProMusica audiences will remember the composer’s powerful Distant Light performed with Vadim Gluzman in 2018. Tonight, the strings of the orchestra bring you the composer’s hauntingly beautiful Musica Serena, a single-movement, eleven-minute work composed in 2015 to honor the 70th birthday of Vasks’ long-standing friend, Finnish conductor Juha Kanga. Constructed in arch form, the Andante cantabile opens with pianissimo violin harmonics that gradually melt into an achingly beautiful theme accompanied by string writing at its lushest. Gradually the music builds in intensity and volume, achieving fortissimo at the work’s center, now marked Maestoso, with the legato (sustained) character of Vasks’ string writing remaining forever constant. Having achieved the utmost intensity, the music then subsides, turning back to the calm from whence it began. Shimmering tremolos give way to the crystal harmonics of the outset as the music fades away.
Mozart: Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183
Instrumentation: two oboes, two bassoons, four horns and strings
Duration: 24 minutes
During the late 18th century German lands witnessed a period of artistic turmoil and unrest, brilliantly captured in the 1776 play Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) by dramatist and novelist Friedrich von Klinger, which ultimately presented the movement with its name. Goethe and Schiller were also swept up into the current, which often pitted the individual against the larger society and out of which the idea of the ‘artist as hero’ eventually emerged. Composers too were attracted to the emotional turbulence Sturm und Drang had to offer, whose characteristics they captured sonically with dramatic syncopations, pulsing rhythms, dark keys and unexpected shifts of character.
All of these qualities are present at the start of Mozart’s turbulent Symphony No. 25, a work whose intensity and unrest set the tone for Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus. Although unsubstantiated, legend has it that Mozart dashed off his “little” G minor Symphony—the “little” contrasting with his larger, later Symphony No. 40 in the same brooding key—in a matter of two days, coming right on the heels of his Symphony 24. As opposed to many of the composer’s works, however, nothing is known of the circumstances that brought this work about, save that it is the product of a seventeen-year-old composer still living in his native Salzburg. What is clear, however, is that Mozart was very attuned to European trends. Haydn, with whom Mozart was to develop a strong relationship, had also tried his hand with the nervous energy of the Sturm und Drang and in fact, Mozart may have found inspiration in Haydn’s own Symphony No. 39 of the same key.
Mozart’s G minor is constructed along the by now typical four-movement symphonic plan. The first movement Allegro (sonata-form) opens with the agitated syncopations mentioned above, imbuing it with an undercurrent of intensity even present in the arching oboe melody that soon soars miraculously above everything else. The far gentler character of the Andante features the use of mutes, giving this slow movement an added sheen (its conclusion possesses one of Mozart’s most humorous endings). The Menuetto again plunges us into the haunting world of G minor. All that is left of the once-aristocratic dance is to be found in the central “trio” section; the guillotine would finish off the rest in a matter of years. The syncopated nervousness of the first movement returns in the dramatic Allegro finale, though here such rhythms are embedded more deeply into the texture than constructed of them. Listen for the unexpected shifts of key in the development, another clue to the work’s Sturm und Drang origins. Mozart’s no-nonsense ending brings this youthful yet emotionally charged score to a swift, unapologetic conclusion.
(C) Marc Moskovitz
Universally recognized among today’s top performing artists, Vadim Gluzman brings to life the glorious violinistic tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries. Gluzman’s wide repertoire embraces new music and his performances are heard around the world through live broadcasts and a striking catalogue of award-winning recordings exclusively for the BIS label.
The Israeli violinist appears regularly with major orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, London Symphony, Orchestre de Paris, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Royal Concertgebouw. He collaborates with leading conductors including Riccardo Chailly, Christoph von Dohnányi, Tugan Sokhiev, Sir Andrew Davis, Neeme Järvi, Michael Tilson Thomas, Semyon Bychkov, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Paavo Järvi, and Hannu Lintu. Festival appearances include performances at Lockenhaus, Ravinia, Tanglewood, Verbier, and the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Chicago, founded by Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, his wife and recital partner.
Highlights of his 2019-20 season include performances with Orchestre de Paris under Tugan Sokhiev and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, concerts with the BBC Philharmonic, Detroit and Houston Symphony Orchestras, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Lucerne Symphony, Dresden Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Weimar, and Orchestre National de Lyon. He will lead the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio, where he serves as Creative Partner and Principal Guest Artist.
This season Gluzman gives the world premieres of a new violin concerto by Erkki-Sven Tüür with the HR Frankfurt Radio Symphony under Andris Poga, Joshua Roman’s Double Concerto with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, conducted by David Danzmayr, Moritz Eggert’s “Mir mit Dir” at the Kronberg Academy Festival, as well as UK premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Triple Concerto with BBC Philharmonic under Omer Meir Wellber. He has given live and recorded premieres of other works by Sofia Gubaidulina, as well as Giya Kancheli, Elena Firsova, Pēteris Vasks, Michael Daugherty, and most recently Lera Auerbach.
Accolades for his extensive discography include the Diapason d’Or of the Year, Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice, Classica magazine’s Choc de Classica award, and Disc of the Month by The Strad, BBC Music Magazine, ClassicFM, and others.
Distinguished Artist in Residence at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Gluzman performs on the legendary 1690 ‘ex-Leopold Auer’ Stradivari on extended loan to him through the generosity of the Stradivari Society of Chicago.