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May 12 - 15 , 2016

HADELICH PLAYS TCHAIKOVSKY

2015–16 Season

For musical lines that truly soar and endlessly delight, few composers can rival Tchaikovsky, whose Violin Concerto is a pinnacle of the repertoire. 2016 Grammy winner Augustin Hadelich—who wowed NJSO audiences in his 2012 appearance—dispatches the work’s brilliant solo part with effortless panache. Rustic charm infuses every melody of Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 to bring the concert to a joyful close.

JÉRÉMIE RHORER conductor
AUGUSTIN HADELICH violin (pictured)
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

NJSO Accents

Classical Conversation
Enjoy a lively Classical Conversation beginning one hour before the performances on May 13, 14 & 15. Associate Concertmaster Brennan Sweet will talk with guest violinist Augustin Hadelich.

Riffs—Sun, May 15, after the concert
Kathleen Nester and Bart Feller set their flutes aside and entertain you with an engaging song set. 

Sponsors

HBCBSNJ-«_Foundation_ClosedGap_k.jpg   PrudentialLogo.jpg
The May 15 concert is generously sponsored by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
NJSO Accents in Newark are generously sponsored by the Prudential Foundation.

PROGRAM NOTES

BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2015

 
Music Director Jacques Lacombe says: “The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is certainly at the top of [favorites lists] for great violinists. To make a statement with such a well-known piece is not easy, but Augustin Hadelich has a very strong personality, and he’s able to make a piece like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto his own and offer a different perspective.

“Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is like a miniature tone poem—it’s so charming, and it’s a beautiful jewel of the repertoire. Brahms’ First Serenade is one of those pieces that is a bit like an extension of a big chamber ensemble, where musicians have room to really make this piece their own.”
 

MENDELSSOHN: The Hebrides Overture (“Fingal’s Cave”), Op. 26

Felix Mendelssohn
Born: February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany
Died: November 4, 1847, in Leipzig, Germany
Composed: August 1829 to December 1830; revised periodically until 1835.
World premiere: May 14, 1832, in London; Thomas Attwood conducted the London Philharmonic Society.
NJSO premiere: 1931–32 season; Rene Pollain conducted.
Duration: 10 minutes

Johannes Brahms once observed, “I would gladly give all I have written, to have composed something like the Hebrides Overture.” While it is very much to our advantage that no such sacrifice was necessary, Brahms’ assessment of this youthful Mendelssohn overture is certainly deserved. This paean to Scotland’s rough northern beauty is a masterpiece on a level with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony and Violin Concerto. Mendelssohn biographer Heinrich Jacob wrote that the overture “brings the perils of nature straight into the concert hall, and the audience is forced to respond on the sheer physical level.”

Mendelssohn traveled to the British Isles for the first time in 1829, accompanied by his friend Karl Klingemann. Their journey included an August visit to the Hebrides Islands off the northwest coast of Scotland. The rocky beaches and dramatic seas made an enormous impression on the young composer. He sent his family a letter with a few measures of sketched music, declaring that this would help them to understand how deeply the Hebrides had affected him.

Mendelssohn is said to have jotted down that music—the opening B-minor theme—upon first seeing Fingal’s Cave, a remarkable structure hollowed out by the sea on the isle of Staffa. The grotto has a series of columns balanced in symmetry almost as if an architect had designed them. Discovered in 1772, Fingal’s Cave was still a relatively new wonder of the world when Mendelssohn and Klingemann visited it half a century later. The cave lent its name as the overture’s alternate title; in fact, Mendelssohn changed the work’s name on two intervening occasions as he revised it between 1829 and 1835.

The overture is full of surprises, beginning with the swirling power of the opening theme. As music evocative of the sea, The Hebrides was a powerfully influential work whose impact stretched from Wagner (The Flying Dutchman) and Smetana (The Moldau) on to Debussy (La Mer); indeed, the English poet and writer Wilfred Blunt goes so far as to call Mendelssohn’s overture an anticipation of impressionism. The composer’s customary gift for orchestration is superbly in evidence, for example, in the rich sound of the cellos announcing the glorious second theme and in the delicate snippets from the winds in the development section. Mendelssohn reserves a final surprise for the closing measures, when a quiet postscript from clarinet and flute reminds us, through an allusion to the opening theme, that the sea is eternal.

Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani and strings.


TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky
Born: May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Viatka District, Russia
Died: November 6, 1893, in St. Petersburg, Russia
Composed: March and April 1878
World premiere: December 4, 1881, in Vienna. Hans Richter conducted the Vienna Philharmonic; Adolf Brodsky was the soloist.
NJSO premiere: 1943–44 season. Frieder Weissmann conducted; Fredell Lack was the soloist.
Duration: 33 minutes

Passionate love letter

In mid-May 1877, Tchaikovsky received a letter from a young woman named Antonina Milyukova, who declared that she had loved the composer since several years earlier, when she was a student at the Moscow Music Conservatory. Tchaikovsky replied kindly but cautiously, intimating that she had poured her heart out with excessive emotion. Two more letters from Antonina followed within days, making clear that her infatuation was undiminished. In the third letter, she threatened suicide. Tchaikovsky was torn. He was a homosexual man in a society in which homosexuality was illegal. One of his close friends had married early that year, and Tchaikovsky was considering marriage—but to whom? Antonina’s appearance in his life solved that conundrum, but it ultimately presented many more problems.

A hasty and doomed marriage

First, Tchaikovsky called on Antonina in her home. “It seemed to me now as though some force of fate was driving me to this girl,” he wrote to Baroness Nadezhda von Meck, who had just become his patron and pen pal.

My decision [to marry] was supported by the fact that the sole dream of my 82-year-old father and all my relatives is that I should marry. And so, one beautiful evening, I went to my future wife, told her openly that I did not love her but that, whatever befell, I would be a staunch and grateful friend … Having lived 37 years with an innate aversion to marriage, it is very distressing to be drawn through force of circumstances into the position of a bridegroom who, moreover, is not in the least attracted to his bride.

He proposed in May; they married on July 18. Not surprisingly, the marriage was a disaster, and the honeymoon short-lived.

On the verge of nervous collapse, Tchaikovsky took refuge in travel. After several months of wandering, in March 1878 he settled for some months in Clarens, a favorite spot in Switzerland. He had been amusing himself by working daily on a new piano sonata, sometimes breaking from that task to take lighter musical exercise in a solo piano miniature.

Inspiration from a visiting violinist friend

Then from Berlin came a visitor: the Russian violinist Iosif Kotek (1855–85), a good friend. Eager to explore new repertoire, Kotek brought with him to Clarens a stack of piano/violin works. Among them was a reduction of Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Tchaikovsky was quite impressed with the Lalo, writing glowingly to von Meck of it. Biographer David Brown has suggested that the French piece may have directly inspired Tchaikovsky to turn to a major violin work of his own.

At any rate, he clearly wished to take full advantage of Kotek’s violin expertise, and he set aside work on the unfinished piano sonata to pursue a new project. Sketches for a violin concerto were complete by the end of March 1878. Tchaikovsky orchestrated with lightning speed, completing the manuscript on April 11. (Eventually, he redid the slow movement altogether at the joint suggestion of his brother Modest and Kotek. The rejected slow movement was later salvaged as Meditation and incorporated into the Op. 42 pieces for violin and piano.)

More than one scholar has lamented the adverse impact of the marriage and its aftermath on Tchaikovsky’s creativity. Posterity owes a debt to Kotek that he was able to provide the necessary spark in this fallow period. One of Tchaikovsky’s more recent biographers, Alexander Poznansky, has published translations of previously censored letters that the composer wrote to his brothers Anatoly and Modest. Correspondence to Modest during the spring of 1878 makes it clear that Tchaikovsky was attracted to Kotek. Regardless of what may have prompted his feverish pace in composing, in the Violin Concerto Tchaikovsky produced one unequivocal masterpiece from this troubled time of exile.

SIDEBAR: HALTING START TO A BIG HIT

Very few of Tchaikovsky’s major works were premiered outside Russia. Despite Iosif Kotek’s involvement in the formative stages of the piece, he did not perform it. Tchaikovsky intended that the Hungarian virtuoso Leopold Auer, who had served on the faculty at the St. Petersburg Conservatory since 1868, should inaugurate the new concerto. To his chagrin, Auer declined. The piece was not heard until more than two years later. The performers were soloist Adolf Brodsky (the eventual dedicatee) and conductor Hans Richter in Vienna.

Critical reception was oddly divided. In one of the most celebrated miscalculations of his controversial career, the powerful Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick wrote that Tchaikovsky lacked taste and discrimination. He thought the concerto long and pretentious. His only kind words were reserved for the Adagio:

“… with its tender Slavonic sadness, [the Adagio] calmed and charmed us once more, but it breaks off suddenly, only to be followed by a finale that plunges us into the brutal, deplorable merriment of a Russian holiday carousal. We see savages, vulgar faces, hear coarse oaths and smell fusel-oil. Friedrich Fischer, describing lascivious paintings, once said there were pictures ‘one could see stink.’ Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto brings us face to face for the first time with the revolting idea: may there not also be musical compositions which we can hear stink?”

Tchaikovsky was deeply hurt by Hanslick’s words. They scarred his memory, and he is said to have been able to cite that biting attack by heart for the rest of his life.

Even Hanslick’s critical diatribe could not stem the success of this ebullient, heartfelt concerto, which has become one of the most popular works in the entire literature.


About the music

The Violin Concerto’s themes flow so organically from one into the next that it becomes difficult to pinpoint their boundaries. Tchaikovsky benefitted from his collaboration with Kotek, producing music that is “user-friendly” for both soloist and listener. That is not to say the concerto is without its difficulties! Despite its largely lyrical cast, the first movement is crowned by an extremely challenging cadenza that fairly prickles with an array of technical problems.

The mood relaxes for the Canzonetta, as Italianate in flavor as its title implies. Simple, heart-on-the-sleeve music, it is generally considered an expression of Tchaikovsky’s longing for his homeland. A splendid transition leads to the rondo-finale, the most Russian of all three movements. Strongly linked to the peasant music of Tchaikovsky’s native land, it has a powerful Cossack dance influence. As a finale it has everything: unforgettable melody, drama, tenderness and flashy brilliance.

Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, solo violin and strings.


BRAHMS: Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11

Johannes Brahms
Born: May 7, 1833, in Hamburg, Germany
Died: April 3, 1897, in Vienna, Austria
Composed 1857–58
World premiere: March 3, 1860, in Hanover
NJSO premiere: 1990–91 season; Hugh Wolff conducted.
Duration: 49 minutes

Brahms waited a long time to issue his first symphony. He started work on it when he was barely out of his teens, but struggled with the piece for two decades before he was sufficiently satisfied. Along the way, he published other major works that were key steps toward his mastery of the symphonic idiom. Best known among these works are the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a. Brahms worked on the concerto from 1854–58, publishing it in 1861; it actually incorporated some material initially intended for a symphony. The so-called “Haydn” Variations (1873, published 1874) are generally regarded as the principal stepping-stone that gave Brahms the orchestral confidence to complete his long-gestating First Symphony in 1876.

Equally important in the evolution of Brahms’ orchestral mastery are the two early serenades, Op. 11 and Op. 16. While their titles and six-movement length distanced them from the idea of a symphony, both serenades provided Brahms with important opportunities to explore unusual timbral combinations and experiment with the distinctive colors of the woodwind family. In that respect, they contributed significantly to his stylistic development.

The First Serenade began life as a nonet for flute, two clarinets, horn, bassoon and string quartet. No oboe appeared in that early version, and Brahms retained the emphasis on clarinets when he expanded the score. He next arranged it for chamber orchestra, then added trumpets (but not trombones) and timpani for the full-orchestra version. It shares the key of D major with the Second Symphony, certainly the most pastoral of Brahms’ four symphonies. Although the symphony, Op. 73, is a much later work, there is a commonality of relaxed spirit that is surely not entirely coincidental; it is especially noticeable in the slow movements to each work. Like the later symphony, this D major serenade is filled with simple, innocent melodies.

At six movements and nearly 50 minutes, the Serenade is a hefty work, approaching symphonic dimensions. With two Scherzo/Trios and one pair of Minuets, however, it retains strong links to entertainment music. The dance-like character allies Op. 11 to 18th-century models. Brahms was paying tribute to Baroque suites and Mozart’s lighter Serenades, Cassations and Divertimenti. Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20—a piece Brahms knew well—also falls into this category. The serenade’s fifth-movement Scherzo salutes several of Beethoven’s works, including the septet, the first two symphonies, and the “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano. The careful listener will also detect references to some well-known choral formulas in Handel’s Messiah.

Yet the serenade is unmistakably Brahms, and it could hardly be called derivative. Biographer Bernard Jacobson singles it out as a “compendium of the essential Brahms.” He cites the frequent canonic imitation, particularly in the opening Allegro molto, rhythmic innovation and Brahms’ inimitable gift for texture. Oddly, the serenade was poorly received at its Hanover premiere in 1860, and it took a while to make friends. As another Brahms biographer, Malcolm McDonald, has observed: “What his contemporaries found tedious and labored, modern audiences are finally discovering to be rich and leisurely.”

Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.