LACOMBE & GLUZMAN
What’s the story? These three works tell tales of love and loss through music. Berlioz’s lighthearted overture was inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Bernstein reached back to Plato’s Symposium—a wine-fueled discussion of love—for his tuneful Serenade, with a luscious role for soloist Gluzman. Fate, symbolized by a foreboding fanfare, is the theme of Tchaikovsky’s turbulent Fourth.
JACQUES LACOMBE conductor
VADIM GLUZMAN violin (pictured)
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Princeton series is sponsored by Novo Nordisk.
The October 27 concert is sponsored by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2013
For Music Director Jacques Lacombe’s perspective on these pieces and the way the program fits together, click for a PDF of the notes that appear in the printed program book.
A recurring theme through the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new season is music by composers who were also conductors. Music Director Jacques Lacombe devotes the first half of this weekend’s program to that concept. The two works in question—Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict Overture and Bernstein’s Serenade for Violin and Orchestra—are further unified in that literature inspired both pieces. The program closes with Tchaikovsky’s powerful, turbulent Fourth Symphony—a hugely popular work that needs little introduction.
BERLIOZ: Beatrice and Benedict Overture
Born: December 11, 1803, in La-Côte-Saint-André, Isère, France
Died: March 8, 1869, in Paris, France
Premiered: August 9, 1862, in Baden-Baden, Germany
First NJSO performance: 1982–83 season; Thomas Michalak conducted.
Duration: 8 minutes
If the names Beatrice and Benedict (aka Benedick) sound familiar, it’s probably because you saw Joss Whedon’s hit film this past spring, which was a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Other listeners may recall Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh playing those roles in Branagh’s more traditional 1993 film.
Even dedicated opera buffs may not have seen Berlioz’s last stage work, Beatrice and Benedict. In spite of the Shakespearean source and a gorgeous score, the opera has not achieved the kind of popularity that it deserves. Its bubbly overture, however, has become a concert favorite. The reasons are similar to those that distinguish other Berlioz overtures such as Roman Carnival, Rob Roy and Le corsaire—all are brilliant orchestral showpieces that exude energy and excitement.
Berlioz became a passionate Shakespearean advocate in 1827, when he saw the Irish actress Harriet Smithson as Ophelia in a Parisian performance of Hamlet. In her next role, as Juliet, she further mesmerized him. Although he did not meet Smithson until 1832, he remained infatuated with her. They married in 1833, by which time her career was in decline. The marriage was not a success; however, his enchantment with the English bard proved more durable. As early as 1833, Berlioz considered a musical adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, but other projects intervened and he set the sketches aside—for three decades.
Upon resuming the Much Ado project in 1860, he crafted his own libretto based on a French translation of the play. Beatrice and Benedict followed his epic Les Troyens by just a couple of years, and it was something of a reaction to that work. By nature, Berlioz was more attuned to tragedy than to comedy. Beatrice and Benedict was an exception. The entire opera, as Berlioz’s biographer Hugh MacDonald has written, has the polish and refinement of an experienced composer. Berlioz implements these qualities with an uncharacteristically light touch. His overture is brimful of good humor, further leavened by the charm of light opera. Many of its details are Italianate, such as the triplets that are a constant textural component, whether as melody or underpinning.
Beatrice and Benedict adheres to a familiar pattern in Berlioz overtures. A brilliant Allegro opens the piece, followed by a more sedate and lyrical Andante. Another brisk Allegro concludes the work. Two melodies adapted from the opera provide the principal thematic material. After a hiccupy start, punctuated by cascading triplets and jaunty dotted rhythms, Berlioz moves to his Andante section. It opens with a fine introductory passage for horns and solo clarinet, before the strings announce one of those long-breathed melodies for which Berlioz is celebrated. Though relatively brief, this interlude establishes the romantic aspects of the opera as a complement to the sharp-tongued comedy of the outer sections. A shimmering tremolando transition anticipates the main body of the Allegro, in which Berlioz develops the opening material at a breathtaking pace.
Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, cornet, three trombones, timpani and strings.
BERNSTEIN: Serenade for Solo Violin, String Orchestra, Harp and Percussion (after Plato’s Symposium)
Born: August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died: October 14, 1990, in New York, New York
Composed: between autumn 1953 and summer 1954
Premiered: September 12, 1954, in Venice. Isaac Stern was the soloist; the composer conducted the Israel Philharmonic.
First NJSO performance: 1999–2000 season; Marco Parisotto conducted soloist Daniel Heifetz.
Duration: 31 minutes
In Plato’s Symposium, a group of Athenians at a drinking party amuse themselves by discussing the merits of love. The participants include Socrates and Aristophanes; their dialogue muses on love’s nature, its power and the yearning and passion it inspires. Bernstein’s 1954 Serenade translates some of Plato’s dramatic retelling into music. The composer’s biographer Peter Gradenwitz likens the work to a solo concerto in the form of a symphonic suite. Bernstein casts the violinist as chief speaker. Unaccompanied violin opens the work, establishing a prominent profile in the opening measures of the middle movements. Not until the finale (Socrates: Alcibiades) do we hear a conventional orchestral exposition preceding the soloist’s entrance, as in most concertos.
Bernstein composed this piece for Isaac Stern, on commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation. He had planned to write a concerto for Stern to introduce at the Venice Festival in September 1954. After reading Plato’s Symposium, he changed his concept of the new piece. Bernstein’s film score for Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront also dates from 1954. In spirit, however, Serenade more closely resembles Bernstein’s First Symphony, “The Age of Anxiety” (1947–49). Like that earlier work, Serenade derives from a literary model, with the solo instrumentalist as protagonist. Both compositions stretch accepted definitions of genre, whether symphony or concerto.
The composer considered this to be one of his best pieces. Isaac Stern was so pleased with the score that he chose to edit it for the publisher G. Schirmer. Critics have praised the Serenade for its unity, coherence and musical logic. The slow movement (IV – Agathon) contains some of the loveliest, most emotionally pregnant music Bernstein ever composed. The finale is a superb fusion of jazz elements with traditional folk dance rhythms—as well as virtuosic writing for percussion.
Instrumentation: harp, percussion (snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, suspended cymbal, chimes, triangle, temple blocks, tambourine, xylophone and glockenspiel), strings and solo violin.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
PETER ILICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Born: May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia
Died: November 6, 1893, in St. Petersburg, Russia
Premiered: February 22, 1878, in Moscow. Nikolai Rubinstein conducted.
First NJSO performance: 1932–33 season; Rene Pollain conducted.
Duration: 44 minutes
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is inextricably entwined with the emotional havoc in his life during the year 1877. That was the year he began his remarkable correspondence with Nadejhda Filaretovna von Meck, the wealthy patron who was to provide both emotional sustenance (via her letters) and financial security to the composer for more than a decade. 1877 was also the year that Antonina Milyukova, a former student of Tchaikovsky’s, wrote to him with declarations of love and threats of suicide, inexplicably prompting him to propose to her, marry her and leave her within a matter of months. Desperate for emotional stability and wrestling with the torment of his homosexuality, Tchaikovsky sought refuge in the country, in his correspondence and in composing.
Though the Fourth Symphony was begun before the abortive marriage, its history cannot be separated from the anguish of those few unfortunate summer months. More and more, Tchaikovsky turned to von Meck for spiritual guidance, as confidant and as muse. The F minor symphony was the first work he dedicated to her, and he called it “our symphony” in his letters to her.
Sometimes called the “Fate” symphony, the work earned its nickname from Tchaikovsky’s own description. In one of his letters to von Meck, he sketched a program, identifying the opening brass fanfare as “Fate … the sword of Damocles that hangs over our head,” and describing the main theme as “feelings of depression and hopelessness.” The second theme group he calls “dream world … escape from reality.” How appallingly real all this must have seemed to him upon realizing the magnitude of the mistake he had made in marrying Antonina! A third theme combines musical elements from the other two, and allows Tchaikovsky to develop his material into a colossal and emotionally intense opening movement.
The slow movement features a mournful oboe solo, one of that instrument’s outstanding moments in the symphonic literature. The composer wrote:
This is that melancholy feeling that comes in the evening when, weary from your labor, you are sitting alone, you take a book—but it falls from your hand. There comes a whole host of memories. It is both sad that so much is now past and gone, yet pleasant to recall your youth. You both regret the past, yet do not wish to begin your life again. Life has wearied you. It is pleasant to rest and look around.
On a more practical musical level, the Andantino in moda di canzone allows the tension of the first movement to abate, but it does not obliterate its impact. The passionate climax is a reminder of the tumult at the beginning of the symphony.
In many ways, the most successful and individual movement is the scherzo, which features the orchestra section by section: first strings in a virtuoso pizzicato display, then woodwinds in lyric contrast, then boisterous brass. After each section has its turn, the three are brilliantly interwoven to conclude the movement in anticipation of the brilliant finale. Tchaikovsky was comparatively neutral on any program for this movement, calling its individual sections “capricious arabesques … elusive images which rush past in the imagination when you have drunk a little wine and experience the first stage of intoxication.”
The finale explodes with a brilliant, festive flourish in F major, immediately declaring a positive resolution to all the uncertainty, anguish and doom of the symphony’s first half. We do not reach that satisfactory conclusion without additional struggle, however. The “fate” motive from the first movement recurs, a significant storm cloud on the horizon. Presently, Tchaikovsky recalls passages from the second and third movements as well, intermingling them with the adapted strains of a Russian folk song. The quotations from the first three movements make the symphony a cyclic structure. Despite references to the “fate” motive, Tchaikovsky succeeds in erasing the clouds in a fiery, exciting conclusion. Scholars and musicians are still debating the extent to which the Fourth Symphony is an emotional autobiography for its composer. What is indisputable is the electric effect that Tchaikovsky’s music still has on audiences, 135 years after it was first performed.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs plus piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum and strings.
JACQUES LACOMBE, CONDUCTOR
For Jacques Lacombe's bio, click here.
VADIM GLUZMAN, VIOLIN
Vadim Gluzman’s extraordinary artistry both sustains the great violinistic tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries and enlivens it with the dynamism of today. The Israeli violinist has appeared worldwide with major orchestras such as the London, Israel, Czech and Munich Philharmonics; London, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, Atlanta, Vancouver and NHK Symphonies; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Leipzig Gewandhaus. Last season, he made his debut at the BBC Proms in London.
Festival appearances include Verbier, Ravinia, Lockenhaus, Pablo Casals, Colmar, Jerusalem and Ireland’s West Cork Chamber Music Festival; Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe—his wife and long-standing recital partner—founded the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook, Illinois. This season, he becomes Creative Partner and Principal Guest Artist with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio.
Gluzman has premiered contemporary works by Giya Kancheli, Peteris Vasks, Lera Auerbach and Sofia Gubaidulina. He gave the UK premieres of Michael Daugherty’s Fire and Blood concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and of Balys Dvarionas’ Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Gluzman’s latest CD, featuring the world premiere recording of Lera Auerbach’s par.ti.ta, was named a Gramophone magazine Editor’s Choice. Accolades for his extensive discography with BIS Records include Diapason d’Or of the Year, Choc de Classica and Disc of the Month (ClassicFM, Strad and BBC Music Magazine).
Born in 1973 in the former Soviet Union, Gluzman began studying the violin at age 7 and later studied at The Juilliard School. In 1994, he received the Henryk Szeryng Foundation Career Award. He plays the 1690 “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivari, on extended loan to him through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.