Mar 13 - 16 , 2014

THE FIREBIRD

2013-14 Season

Grammy-winning violinist Hilary Hahn, one of the world’s most sought-after artists, plays Brahms’ formidable concerto with winning panache. The tale of the magical Firebird spurred some of Stravinsky’s most enchanting and picturesque music. Esa-Pekka Salonen casts a spell with the kaleidoscopic orchestral colors of Giro.

Watch a YouTube video of Hilary Hahn describing her upcoming album, “In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores.”

YAN PASCAL TORTELIER conductor
HILARY HAHN violin (pictured)
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

#OrchestraYou
On Saturday, March 15, you can play with players from the NJSO right in the lobby of NJPAC! Dust off your double bass, tune up your trombone and join the fun—all audience members are invited to participate, but registration is required by March 7. More information.

NJSO Food Drive
Non-perishable food donations will be collected at the March 13, 15 and 16 concerts to benefit The Community FoodBank of New Jersey. More information.

Classical Conversations with NJSO President & CEO James Roe and guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier begin one hour before the concert on March 14, 15 and 16 (free to ticketholders).

Sponsors

NovoNordisk-EDP-logo.jpg   HorizonFoundation-EDP.jpg
The Princeton series is sponsored by Novo Nordisk.
The March 13 concert is sponsored by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

PROGRAM NOTES

BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2014

 

For Music Director Jacques Lacombe’s perspective on these pieces and the way the program fits together, click here for a PDF of the notes as they appear in the printed program book.

Introduction

Turns and twists characterize both Salonen’s music (the opening orchestral showpiece Giro) and the rich flavor of this weekend’s concerts. Guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier is a Frenchman who works extensively in the United Kingdom; he shows both his adventuresome spirit and eclectic interests with these selections from Finland, Russia (via France and the United States) and Germany (via Austria). Brahms’ Violin Concerto features the brilliant young American violinist Hilary Hahn, known for her virtuosity and her ability to expand listeners’ horizons.

SALONEN: Giro

Esa-Pekka Salonen
Born: June 30, 1958, in Helsinki, Finland
Composed: 1981–82; revised 1997
Premiered: November 27, 1981, by the Tampere Philharmonic in Finland (original version); June 29, 1997, by the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra in Finland (revised version).
NJSO premiere: These are the first NJSO performances.
Duration: 10 minutes

Yes, this Esa-Pekka Salonen is the same dashing, photogenic Finn who was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 until 2008, when he passed the baton to Gustavo Dudamel. During his 16-year tenure in Los Angeles, Salonen became one of the hottest conductors on the planet, achieving a dynamic global presence as a composer almost simultaneously. We might surmise that he has more opportunity, because he has been at the helm of a major orchestra. But is he just being self-indulgent?

It turns out that Salonen, a former horn player, has been composing since his teenage years as a student at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. He relinquished his music directorship in order to devote himself more to composition.

Salonen has a long history with new music. In 1977, he founded the avant-garde Ears Open Society with other musicians who are now leaders in Finnish music, including composers Jouni Kaipainen, Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho. Salonen then studied composition with Einojuhani Rautavaara, widely regarded as Finland’s most prominent living composer.

Through the 1970s, Salonen’s interest in conducting increased. His first major appointment was with the Swedish Royal Symphony Orchestra in 1985. Salonen appeared as a regular guest in Oslo and London before assuming the post in Los Angeles. In 2008, he became principal conductor and artistic adviser of the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra.

Salonen has been an adventuresome and aggressive proponent of living composers, commissioning and performing a wide array of new music. Not surprisingly, his own music embraces a broad range of styles and techniques. His compositions are appearing with increasing frequency on orchestral concerts in Europe, the United States and worldwide. Major retrospectives of Salonen’s music have taken place in Helsinki (2003), Stockholm (2004) and Paris (2011). His violin concerto, first performed by Leila Josefowicz and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, won the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2012. This program is the first time the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has performed Salonen’s music.

The composer’s note traces the genesis of the work, with considerable detail about his revisions:

Giro (Italian for “round” or “turn”) is a result of a very long process. The first version of the piece was written in 1982 for my debut concert with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland. The title refers to a harmonic model I used, in which seven chords turn around their middle point, producing constantly shifting, yet almost impressionistically luminous harmony.

 

I was not satisfied with the piece after the first performance—the orchestral textures were too complicated and fussy, and the form was unclear, lacking a coherent shape and a point of culmination. [At the time] I did not know how to solve these problems, and withdrew the score.

 

Fifteen years later, when Anssi Karttunen, then the Artistic Director of the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, asked me to write an opener for my concert at the Orchestra’s summer festival, I had the idea of looking at Giro from a new angle, with fifteen years’ worth of experience as a conductor and a composer.

 

I simplified the complicated rhythmical structures, optimized the instrumental writing and, perhaps most important, reinterpreted the harmony in an almost tonal way.

 

With the help of a computer analysis program, I created imaginary fundamental bass notes, which would interpret each chord I previously used within the context of the harmonic series. In other words, every chord got a tonal function. This method allowed me to use the full sonority of the symphony orchestra.

 

I also composed an entirely new section towards the end of the piece, and rearranged the previously existing formal units. The result is a short symphonic poem along the lines of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun or Sibelius’ The Oceanides. The form is now clear, and the orchestration totally functional. I also managed to preserve some of the original Giro’s elusive character, which I still find very attractive.

– Esa-Pekka Salonen

Giro is a color piece, exploring unusual combinations of sounds and taking advantage of timbres like the piccolo, harp, piano and marimba to add dimension and nuance to his writing. Both in the opening salvo from brass and percussion and in the ensuing string passage, contrary motion—one group inching upward while another descends—recurs as a unifier. The effect is a sense of weight grappling with weightlessness.

Salonen achieves this apparent sonic oxymoron via long sustained notes that support arabesque-like figures in winds and brass. Numerous cameo solos for principal players hover and glisten, points of light amid the dense texture of full orchestra. At the climax, his post-impressionist score bursts forth in a clangor of bells like a Sunday morning feast day, in a city with multiple churches. And then all is silence: the sound dissipates into the mystery of thin air.

Instrumentation: two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes (second doubling English horn), two clarinets (second doubling bass clarinet), two bassoons (second doubling contrabassoon), two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, marimba, tam tam, tubular bells, vibraphone, harp, piano and strings. 

 

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77

Johannes Brahms
Born: May 7, 1833, in Hamburg, Germany
Died: April 3, 1897, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: 1878
Premiered: January 1, 1879, in Leipzig; Joseph Joachim was the soloist, and the composer conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
NJSO premiere: 1927–28 season; Philip James conducted with soloist Sylvia Lent.
Duration: 39 minutes

Beethoven and Brahms each composed one Violin Concerto; both are in D major. The parallels between the two works are extensive. The key is a logical and frequent choice for a violin concerto because the tonality lies very favorably for the instrument. More to the point is a shared atmosphere in the Brahms and Beethoven works: dignified, self-confident, supremely commanding and fully aware of their own power. Both concertos are gentle without lacking in power, more introspective than showy—at once marked with the individuality of each composer’s language, yet different from the more dramatic and forceful music each had composed.

Brahms, of course, modeled his concerto on Beethoven’s. He was the acknowledged successor to Beethoven in the realm of the symphony. It was logical for him to look to the earlier violin concerto when considering one of his own. The overall impression both works leave is symphonic rather than virtuosic, and unfailingly majestic.

Brahms composed his concerto during the summer of 1878, one year after his sunny Second Symphony. These two works share even more in common. Both were written in the beautiful Carinthian town of Pörtschach-am-Wörthersee in the Austrian Alps. (Brahms spent three summers there. The Symphony No. 2, Op. 73, was his major achievement for 1877. He concentrated on the Violin Concerto in 1878; the radiant G-major Violin Sonata, Op. 78, was the harvest of summer 1879.) Both the symphony and the concerto are in D major, and each has spacious first movements in triple meter. Most important is that the two compositions enjoy a benign spirit sometimes elusive in Brahms’ music. One would not, of course, wish to have that spirit as an unrelieved constant, but it is comforting to know that this side of his personality existed, and that he could plumb musical depths with a contented smile on his face.

His friend Joseph Joachim, one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century, had hoped for a concerto from Brahms for a long while. Brahms sent the first movement solo part to him in Salzburg on August 22, 1878, with a report that the work would comprise four movements. Joachim was delighted, replying within days:

To me it’s a great, genuine joy that you’re writing a violin concerto (in four movements, no less!). I have immediately looked through what you sent, and here and there you’ll find a note and a comment regarding changes—without a score, of course, it can’t really be relished. Most of it is manageable, some of it even very original, violinistically. But whether it can all be played comfortably in a hot concert-hall I cannot say, before I’ve played it straight through. Any chance that one might get together for a couple of days?

They did indeed get together, and Joachim played a significant role in the evolution of the solo part. He also made substantive recommendations about the orchestration, recommending a reduction in forces or a thinning of texture in key places that allowed the violin to deliver its argument with more authority. Joachim wrote a cadenza that remains the one most frequently performed. Both men benefitted from their collaboration on this concerto.

Brahms continued to work on the score throughout the autumn, eventually abandoning sketches for the two central movements in favor of a single adagio that he described—a bit coyly—as “feeble.” He sent Joachim the final score on December 12. Remarkably, Joachim played the premiere barely three weeks later, on New Year’s Day 1879, in the Leipzig Gewandhaus. We know the size of the orchestra both from contemporary reports about the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and, more particularly, from a letter written by Heinrich von Herzogenberg specifying the number of string parts that had been copied for the first performance: enough to accommodate 10 first violins, 10 seconds, six violas, six cellos and three double basses. It is a startlingly modest complement, especially given the larger orchestras that we hear in most modern performances.


MUSICIANS’ CORNER
The principal themes of all three movements in the Brahms Violin Concerto are clearly built on triads, giving the work a strength of motivic unity that reminds the listener once again of the Beethovenian model. Brahms opens with a broad orchestral exposition, taking an unusual amount of time to introduce his thematic material and build up to the soloist’s entrance. Dramatic and cadenza-like, the violin’s opening statement is the more noteworthy for being in minor mode. Brahms’ mastery is evident in the way he asserts the violin’s parity with the orchestra. Throughout the powerful first movement, he reduces the ensemble to just strings, or even partial strings to highlight a judicious contribution from the woodwinds. Without compromising the integrity of the orchestra’s material or the inherent drama of the music, the soloist is able to hold his or her own, with majesty and dignity.

Brahms’ placement of his lovely slow movement in the pastoral key of F major further underscores the generally sunny disposition of this work, so obviously reflective of a peaceful summer and comparatively happy time in the composer’s life. The oboe theme at the beginning of the Adagio is one of the instrument’s finest moments in the Brahms canon. A wind chorus supports it, recalling lovely moments in Brahms’ early Serenades, but actually building upon scoring ideas in his own subtle first-movement orchestration. One of the Adagio’s strokes of genius is that Brahms has his soloist depart from the theme after only three notes, tracing its own embroidery in many different fashions. Ivor Keys calls it “variation by elongation.” At the end, pizzicato triplets outlining arpeggios hint at the underpinning of the last movement.

Joachim’s Austro-Hungarian roots surface in the finale, which is flavored with a tinge of gypsy rhythms and harmonies. Brahms was returning a compliment from the violinist, who had written his own Concerto in the Hungarian Manner, Op. 11, in 1861 and dedicated it to Brahms. Double stops abound in the main theme, which—like a true Viennese waltz—requires a certain amount of élan to deliver with just the right hesitation and plunge in its rhythm. Brahms has written earthy music, a joyous dance for the people, cleverly enclosed within a rondo structure. His coda, a brisk final statement of the main idea, switches neatly to 6/8 meter and accelerates to poco più presto, introducing a jocose hunting horn aspect to the concerto’s final moments.


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

 

STRAVINSKY: The Firebird Suite (1945)

Igor Stravinsky
Born: June 17, 1882, in Oranienbaum, near St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: April 6, 1971, in New York, New York
Composed: 1909–10; revised 1911, 1919 and 1945
Premiered: (1945 version) November 27, 1949, New York City Ballet production based on the Third Suite, with choreography by George Balanchine.
NJSO premiere: (1945 version) 2007–08 season; Hans Graf conducted.
Duration: 29 minutes

The Firebird is adapted from a Russian fairytale in which a handsome prince is drawn into an enchanted garden and palace by the exotic bird of the title, who is a sort of good fairy. The prince falls in love with a beautiful captive princess, but must break the spell of the evil ogre Kastchei (who presides over the palace) before he may claim his bride. Stravinsky drew heavily on the Tchaikovskyan models, which were essentially derived from French principles. He took great care to bind the music closely to the action on stage. If one listens carefully, even the suite follows the chronological events and essential outline of the story.

The Firebird was premiered by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris in 1910. The new ballet was an instant success, placing Stravinsky on the musical map virtually overnight. The following year, Stravinsky derived a suite from the ballet, concluding with Kastchei’s “Infernal Dance.” This first suite consists basically of five movements, whose music was taken directly from the ballet score publisher’s plates. Stravinsky re-orchestrated the suite in 1919 for a somewhat smaller orchestra, using the Finale of the complete ballet for his conclusion, which expanded the music from 21 to approximately 26 minutes. Finally, he produced a third version in 1945, similar to the 1919 version but incorporating some additional music [see A Wealth of Firebirds below]. That is the version we hear at these performances.

The 1945 version differs from its predecessors in length and structure. At about 30 minutes, it is the longest of the three suites, and it retains more of the original ballet’s music than the others. (Ironically, it took Stravinsky longer to complete the 1945 suite than it did to write the ballet in 1909–10!) Rather than separating individual sections as discrete movements, Stravinsky binds them together with musical “connective tissue” that he called pantomimes. These are newly-composed transitions between the more familiar sections of music. Mixed with other excerpts not included in the earlier suites, they lend an abstract element to the score, more akin to chamber music than turn-of-the-century orchestral extravagance. They draw the listener into a more intimate world.

In addition to the transitional pantomimes, the most striking difference listeners will note is in the finale. The majestic brass chords are separated, almost staccato, completely altering the auditory impact of this famous passage. One hears the familiar music with fresh, startled ears.


A WEALTH OF FIREBIRDS
The Firebird was Stravinsky’s first ballet, the first of his great collaborations with the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the first of the trio of ballets before World War I that established him as a composer of international stature. It is also a work that exists in a bewildering array of versions. The original ballet score dates from 1909, the original suite from 1911. There is also a 1919 version of the suite, and this weekend we hear the 1945 version. Why so many different options?

The answer, surprisingly, is as much commercial as artistic. In December 1945, Russian-born Stravinsky changed his citizenship for the second time and became a U.S. citizen. He also changed his publisher to the British house of Boosey & Hawkes. At this point, just after the war, Stravinsky’s music, particularly the early ballets, was well-known and widely performed in the western world. He was not, however, receiving royalty payments for these performances. Recognizing that American citizenship gave him copyright protection, he was eager to revise and reissue many of his early works so that he could give these updated versions the composer’s imprimatur. Firebird was then, and remains today, Stravinsky’s most popular composition. It was high on his priority list for revision, and the changes he wrought were more substantial than with some of his other compositions.

Stravinsky’s secondary purpose in issuing revised versions of so many early works was greater accessibility. His early ballets required enormous orchestras. In the new versions, he reduced the size of the ensemble, thus making performance a viable option for somewhat smaller orchestras. The desire to bring maturity and a more discerning self-critical eye to youthful compositions affected his process. Of course he had some new musical ideas too, given the vantage point of more than three decades of intervening experience. The 1945 version we hear at these performances is closest to the music of the 1919 suite, with the addition of five new sections called pantomimes.


Instrumentation: two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, side drum, tambourine, triangle, xylophone, piano, harp and strings.

 

Artist Bios

YAN PASCAL TORTELIER, conductor

YAN PASCAL TORTELIER enjoys a distinguished career as a guest conductor with the world’s most prestigious orchestras. He began his musical career as a violinist and, at 14, won first prize for violin at the Paris Conservatoire and made his debut as a soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Following general musical studies with Nadia Boulanger, Tortelier studied conducting with Franco Ferrara at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.

He was principal conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra from 2009–11 and is currently the orchestra’s guest conductor of honor. He is also principal guest conductor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and conductor emeritus of the BBC Philharmonic. He has held positions with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Ulster Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Recent highlights have included debuts with the Iceland and Stavanger symphony orchestras and return visits to the BBC Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Francisco, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Baltimore symphony orchestras. Tortelier has enjoyed a long association with Chandos Records, resulting in an extensive catalogue of recordings.

HILARY HAHN, violin

In the two decades since her professional debut, violinist HILARY HAHN has followed her passion for adventurous programming, delving into core repertoire, contemporary music and less familiar classic compositions with equal commitment and bringing virtuosity, expansive interpretations and daring repertoire to diverse global audiences.

This season, she joins the Camerata Salzburg, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on tour, and she makes guest appearances with such ensembles as the Los Angeles and Berlin philharmonics and the Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Jersey and New World symphony orchestras. The 2013–14 season sees the release of Hahn’s long-awaited album “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” with pianist Cory Smythe.

Hahn studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Jascha Brodsky and completed her university requirements at age 16, by which time she had already made solo debuts with the Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras and New York Philharmonic. She has released 14 albums on the Deutsche Grammophon and Sony labels, including two Grammy Award winners. Hahn is an avid writer and interviewer, posting articles on her website, www.hilaryhahn.com.