LACOMBE CONDUCTS RACHMANINOFF & RAVEL
Jacques Lacombe’s final concerts as Music Director of the NJSO feature some of his favorite pieces, including Ravel’s gorgeous suite from Daphnis and Chloé and the thrilling Third Piano Concerto of Rachmaninoff. It’s your final chance to laud the marvelous Lacombe. Don’t miss these farewell concerts.
JACQUES LACOMBE conductor
JOYCE YANG piano
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Artist Chat—Sat, June 11, before the concert
Starting one hour before the concert in the Carlton Room (adjacent to the Box Office), chat with composer Chris Rogerson about his piece Night and the City, and learn more about the NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute, where Rogerson was a member of the inaugural class.
Prelude Performance—Sun, June 12, before the concert
Enjoy live music in the lobby, spotlighting young musicians from the Anne Lieberson Ensemble—a string quartet from the NJSO Academy Orchestra, coached by NJSO violist Martin Anderson. Created this season through a gift from her family, the ensemble honors the legacy of a devoted music lover, violinist, teacher and chamber music aficionado.
Jacques Lacombe’s final appearances this weekend are sponsored by Bank of America.
NJSO Accents in Newark are generously sponsored by the Prudential Foundation.
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2015
Music Director Jacques Lacombe says: “These are my farewell concerts as music director, and I wanted to really showcase the orchestra. We’ve presented French music throughout the season, and on this program, we perform two works by one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with Joyce Yang, a wonderful artist, seemed like a great fit for the program.
“I also wanted to pay tribute to one of the things that I’ve done during my tenure with the NJSO—to celebrate New Jersey’s musical culture through the New Jersey Roots Project, which led to into the creation of the NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute in Princeton. I am looking forward to performing Chris Rogerson’s Night in the City again; he is already such a well-accomplished composer, and he knows how to make the orchestra sound good. There’s a very youthful energy in his music, and yet, it has a focus, purpose and a message that clearly carries through the piece.
“This program feels like coming full circle and looking back on what we’ve done together on this journey, celebrating the quality of the orchestra and everything that’s happening in New Jersey.”
ROGERSON: Night and the City
Born: December 6, 1988, in Buffalo, New York
Currently residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Composed: Spring 2010
World premiere: March 28, 2010, in Amherst, New York. Steven Thomas conducted the Amherst Symphony Orchestra.
NJSO premiere: summer 2014, at the first annual NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute; Jacques Lacombe conducted.
Duration: 6 minutes
Chris Rogerson might be a new name to many listeners in the NJSO audience, but take note: you’ll be hearing more of him. Although he is still a doctoral candidate in composition at Princeton University, Rogerson has already had works commissioned and performed by major orchestras in Atlanta, Buffalo, Charlotte, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Spokane. The Attacca, Brentano and JACK string quartets have all played his music. He is currently completing a two-year stint as composer-in-residence for the Amarillo Symphony.
A graduate of the Curtis Institute and the Yale School of Music, Rogerson studied with Martin Bresnick, Jennifer Higdon and Aaron Jay Kernis. Currently represented by Young Concert Artists, Inc., he is the co-founder and artistic director of Kettle Corn Music, a new-music presenting organization in New York City.
Rogerson grew up in a small town in upstate New York. He describes Night and the City as a musical portrait of his first experience living in a major city. His composer’s note explains:
Night and the City was appropriately composed primarily late at night in Philadelphia, where I was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music. The piece reflects the busy energy of such a large city, with people and traffic making noise seemingly without end. The middle section of the work is more tender and soft—perhaps the rare instance when one can imagine falling asleep. There is a sense of grandeur and splendor throughout Night and the City.
His concise concert-opener is a straightforward, energetic ternary form whose outer sections capture the charm and energy of An American in Paris: a high compliment to a young composer. Rogerson demonstrates a solid command of motivic development and orchestration in this attractive piece.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, suspended cymbal, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, crotales, tam tam, crash cymbals, brake drum, harp and strings.
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Born: April 1, 1873, in Oneg, Novgorod district, Russia
Died: March 28, 1943, in Beverly Hills, California
World premiere: November 28, 1909, in New York City. Walter Damrosch conducted the New York Symphony; the composer was the soloist.
NJSO premiere: 1968–69 season. Henry Lewis conducted; Abbey Simon was the soloist.
Duration: 39 minutes
The work grows in impressiveness upon acquaintance and will doubtless take rank among the most interesting piano concertos of recent years, although its great length and extreme difficulties bar it from performance by any but pianists of exceptional powers.
– The New York Herald, January 17, 1910
For more than a century since that review of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto appeared in print, pianists who aspire to perform it have endeavored to master those “exceptional powers.” They are responding to popular demand. Listeners love this piece.
Indeed, when a work is so familiar and so central to the repertoire, it is difficult to grasp how fresh and exciting it must have sounded to Rachmaninoff’s first audiences. He introduced the concerto in late November 1909, performing with the New York Symphony under the baton of Walter Damrosch. In New York, a brand new piece by a famous European composer-pianist was a major event. For the January performance that The New York Herald reviewed, the celebrity factor was even greater. This time, not only was Rachmaninoff the soloist, but Gustav Mahler was on the podium.
Summer vacation: a working holiday
As it happens, the premiere was a big event for the composer, too. He had weighed the prospect of an American tour for some time. Rachmaninoff had reservations about such a long and taxing journey; however, his solo pieces and Second Piano Concerto enjoyed immense popularity in the United States, therefore such a trip would be highly lucrative. As plans for the tour coalesced, it became apparent that he would require a new piece for piano and orchestra to showcase on the American concerts. He worked on the new concerto during summer 1909, while on holiday at Ivanovka, a country estate belonging to his wife’s family, completing the manuscript on September 23. Three weeks later, he was en route to the United States, with manuscript and parts in his luggage. There was no time to engrave printed music.
How to top a known winner?
The challenge that Rachmaninoff faced was to match the quality and appeal of his popular Second Piano Concerto in original and compelling music. He knew that the new work would be compared to the earlier one. His solution was to take a different approach in thematic treatment. In the Second Concerto, after the dramatic solo piano chords of the opening, the orchestra declaims the first theme forte, while the piano surges in tandem with Schumannesque arpeggios.
Rachmaninoff altered his tactic for the Third Concerto. The soloist states the theme straightaway in open octaves, preceded only by two bars of a subdued orchestral accompaniment. The dynamic level is quiet and the texture spare. Rachmaninoff’s melody is deceptively simple, moving primarily in stepwise motion or in small intervals. The theme is also unusually long, which makes it linger in our ears. Motives from it will recur throughout the entire concerto, providing subtle thematic unity.
When the orchestra takes up the theme, the soloist embarks on a series of exploratory variations, leading to a second theme that has all the warmth and lyricism we associate with Rachmaninoff. He develops this material with a profusion of brilliant writing for piano. While the keyboard technique is indebted to Liszt, Rachmaninoff’s style is distinctive. He demands quick shifts of hand position, rapid repeated notes, the ability to play with delicacy and lightness as well as with power—and plenty of enormous chords. In places, the piano practically explodes with activity.
After the furor subsides, Rachmaninoff proceeds to his solo cadenza. He actually composed two cadenzas for this concerto. Only their closing measures are the same. The first is shorter—possibly, he wrote it in order to accommodate the time restrictions of 78 rpm records—and emphasizes complex passagework. The second, a massive 75 bars, requires both strength and stamina for extensive chordal playing. Both cadenzas are wonderful musically and pianistically. Some pianists believe that the briefer version expresses a more succinct and musically sensitive aspect of Rachmaninoff’s keyboard personality. Others prefer the thunderous drama of the 75-bar version. Yang plays the longer cadenza.
The slow movement, which Rachmaninoff called Intermezzo, consists of a theme and four variations. Oboe introduces the melody; the orchestra establishes an elegiac atmosphere. The piano joins in with extravagant harmonic wanderings. The music feels improvisatory, yet at every turn there are hints and fragments of that opening theme from the first movement. Occasional outbursts from the piano precipitate mood changes and enhance the narrative flow. It proceeds without pause to the finale, a dance-like, energetic movement in the Russian tradition—and a bravura tour de force.
From the standpoint of compositional technique, the Third Concerto represents an enormous leap forward for Rachmaninoff. The flow and continuity are superb. He writes with more immediacy and variety to his rhythms. The cyclic references among the three movements allow his ideas to blossom. Orchestral moments are rich and abundant. The virtuoso display aspect of the solo part has eclipsed Rachmaninoff’s symphonic approach to concerto form. His writing for winds and brass is far more imaginative than in the earlier concertos.
The power and bravura of the piano part rarely fail to prompt audiences to their feet at the conclusion of this concerto. Its splendor and genius lie just as much in the delicate, whimsical moments and the infinite variety of Rachmaninoff’s decorative passages.
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, cymbals, bass drum, strings and solo piano.
RAVEL: La Valse
Born: March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrenées, France
Died: December 28, 1937, in Paris, France
Composed: December 1919–March 1920
World premiere: December 12, 1920, in Paris. Camille Chevillard conducted the Lamoureux Orchestra.
NJSO premiere: 1974–75 season; Jessie Levine conducted.
Duration: 12 minutes
La Valse began life as a ballet score for the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, who approached Ravel in 1919 about a new work. Seven years previously, Ravel had collaborated quite successfully with Diaghilev on Daphnis et Chloé, which is often called his greatest composition. This time, the composer had greater latitude in his choice of subject, and took advantage of the opportunity to return to an idea that had captured his fancy as early as 1906. That year he had written to his friend, critic Jean Marnold: “It is not subtle—what I am undertaking at the moment. It is a Grande Valse, a sort of hommage to the memory of the Great Strauss, not Richard, the other—Johann. You know my intense sympathy for this admirable rhythm and that I hold la joie de vivre as expressed by the dance in far higher esteem than as by the Franckist puritanism.”
He called the new work Wien (“Vienna”) and never progressed beyond sketches. The project lay dormant until it was rejuvenated by Diaghilev’s formal commission in 1920.
Ironically, Diaghilev rejected the score when he received Ravel’s manuscript, citing prohibitive production expense. The incident caused a rift between the two men that was never mended; they met again only once before Diaghilev’s death in 1929. Ravel was able to secure an orchestral premiere in December 1920, and the work has enjoyed great popularity since as an instrumental piece.
Several of Ravel’s earlier compositions reflect his fascination with waltzes. Among the more intriguing ones are a piano piece from 1913 entitled “A la manière de Borodin,” which mixes Russian style with the Viennese dance, and the ever-popular Schubertian Valses nobles et sentimentales (1912; versions for piano solo and for orchestra).
Subtitled “choreographic poem,” La Valse consists of 12 minutes of whirling rhythms and dynamics viewed through a kaleidoscope of orchestral colors. A note in the score describes the scenario: “Clouds whirl about. Occasionally they part to allow a glimpse of waltzing couples. As they gradually lift, one can discern a gigantic hall, filled by a crowd of dancers in motion. The stage gradually brightens. The glow of the chandeliers breaks out fortissimo.”
Essentially an elongated giant crescendo, La Valse is dynamically related to Boléro, though its tension builds in an altogether different fashion. Ravel thought of it as a “fatefully inescapable whirlpool,” an essentially tragic work whose frenetic mania is cut off by death.
Instrumentation: three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, Basque tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, castanets, tam-tam, tambourine, crotales, two harps and strings.
RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2
World premiere: June 8, 1912, at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris; Pierre Monteux conducted.
NJSO premiere: 1942–43 season; Frieder Weissmann conducted.
Duration: 18 minutes
In classical legend, Daphnis was a Sicilian shepherd, the byproduct of a liaison between Mercury and a comely nymph. Pan, the god of shepherds and their flocks (and another of Mercury’s sons), taught Daphnis to play flute. Having developed that talent, he went on to invented bucolic poetry. As adapted for the scenario to Ravel’s ballet, Daphnis and Chloé, the story has Daphnis separated from his sweetheart by pirates. Pan reunites them in memory of his own lost love, Syrinx, because Chloé bears a strong resemblance to her.
The ballet was the sole successful collaboration between the legendary impresario Serge Diaghilev and Ravel. Their association was stormy and crisis ridden, proving a major thorn in the side of the young French composer for several years. He worked on the score off and on from 1909 to 1912. The premiere took place in Paris in June 1912, during the French season of Diaghilev’s Ballets russes. During this fecund period when Ravel produced, with apparent ease, major works such as Rapsodie espagnole and the one-act opera L’heure espagnole (both of which were instrumental in placing him firmly at the forefront of French composition), he struggled with Daphnis and Chloé. The ballet was highly problematic for him, yet the paradox is that the resultant musical work is widely considered to be his greatest symphonic composition. While it is regularly revived as a staged dance production, it is also extremely popular as a concert piece and has yielded two orchestral suites that are even more frequently performed.
The reason for their popularity will be eminently clear in the Second Suite, which is essentially the music of the ballet’s final scene. Its three principal sections are performed without pause. It opens with the shimmering music of the dawn, a sensual hymn to the rising sun punctuated by the radiant chirping of birds. The lovers Daphnis and Chloé are reunited, and Daphnis learns that Pan has been responsible for saving Chloé. The two of them mime Pan’s courtship of Syrinx, then celebrate their reunion and pending marriage in a tumultuous Bacchanale.
Listening to this music, we are reminded that Ravel is admired as much for his genius at orchestration as he is for his original compositions. His version of Pictures at an Exhibition is vastly better known than Mussorgsky’s original for solo piano because of its superb and incisive instrumentation. Daphnis is Ravel’s masterpiece, combining exquisite music with astonishing mastery in the orchestra. Details assault us in a riot of sound color: rich viola themes, evocative flute solos that tell their own sultry story, harp glissandi, glistening strings in divided sections, intimate woodwind commentary that sounds like the very stuff of foliage rustling in the breeze. All of it adds up to a captivating score, lush in its sounds and tremendously exciting as it builds to a frenzied climax.
Instrumentation: two flutes, piccolo, alto flute, two oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and a large percussion battery—including tam-tam, triangle, tambourine, snare drum, antique cymbals (crotales), castanets, cymbals and bass drum—celeste, glockenspiel, two harps and strings.