LACOMBE LEADS CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA
A program with international flair and sensational style promises a listening treat for music lovers. Ravel’s piano concerto brims with jazzy syncopations and flowing melody; it’s sure to sparkle under the fingers of rising artist Adam Golka. Bartók draws astonishing colors from the orchestra in his best-known work, a fitting vehicle for Lacombe and the NJSO. Lowell Liebermann’s expressive music combines technical command and audience appeal in a piece written specifically for the NJSO.
JACQUES LACOMBE conductor
ADAM GOLKA piano
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
- LIEBERMANN Barcarolles for a Sinking City (World Premiere)
- RAVEL Piano Concerto in G Major
- BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Lowell Liebermann's Barcarolles for a Sinking City is part of the New Jersey Roots Project. Learn More.
On concert Sundays, tickets are available in person beginning 90 minutes before the performance at the concert venue. Tickets are also available online using the buttons above; ticket office staff are not available by phone on Sundays.
A Classical Conversation with NJSO Education & Community Engagement Conductor Jeffrey Grogan and Barcarolles for a Sinking City composer Lowell Liebermann will take place one hour before the performances on November 30 and December 1 (free to ticketholders).
The Princeton series is sponsored by Novo Nordisk.
The December 1 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 here for a PDF of the notes as they appear in the printed program book.
A world premiere by New Jersey-based composer Lowell Liebermann highlights this weekend’s concerts. In combining Liebermann’s work with music by Ravel and Bartók, Music Director Jacques Lacombe is thinking in broad stylistic terms about compositions that are complementary and illuminating.
LIEBERMANN: Barcarolles for a Sinking City (New Jersey Roots Project)
Born: February 22, 1961, in New York, New York
Currently residing in Weehawken, New Jersey
Premiered: These NJSO performances are the world premiere.
Duration: 15 minutes
The music of Lowell Liebermann has been consistently successful with audiences throughout the United States and internationally. An accomplished pianist, Liebermann appeared at Carnegie Hall at age 16 in the premiere of his First Piano Sonata, which subsequently received two prizes. Liebermann went on to study composition with David Diamond and Vincent Persichetti at Juilliard and piano with Jacob Lateiner.
Liebermann is regarded as one of the most prominent so-called “new tonalists”—composers who have embraced traditional tonality and techniques, infusing these tried-and-true methods with individual flair. In Liebermann’s case, the personal element often entails bitonal or polytonal elements to give edge and definition to his harmonies. He has a strong command of form and an excellent sense of orchestral color. These strengths have served him well in both instrumental and vocal music. His contributions to the flute literature have been particularly influential, and his operas The Picture of Dorian Gray (1995) and Miss Lonelyhearts (2006) have earned him respect on the dramatic stage.
He is a prolific composer with more than 120 published works to his credit. Performers who have championed and commissioned his music include the English pianist Stephen Hough, American clarinetist Jon Manasse and Irish flutist Sir James Galway.
The NJSO has a proud history with two of Liebermann’s most acclaimed compositions: his 1992 Flute Concerto and 1996 Piccolo Concerto. The NJSO co-commissioned the Flute Concerto; Galway was the soloist at the St. Louis premiere and the NJSO’s East Coast premiere. Liebermann’s concerto received the National Flute Association’s award for Best Newly Published Flute Work in 1994; it has since been recorded as well by Eugenia Zukerman with Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony.
This is thus the second time the NJSO has commissioned Liebermann’s music. The orchestra is pleased to introduce his new piece as a central part of this year’s New Jersey Roots Project.
The composer has graciously provided the following program note:
Barcarolles for a Sinking City was inspired by the city of Venice, a place that has long held the fascination of artists, writers and composers, and which I have been lucky enough to visit on several occasions. Sadly, it seems that future generations may not be so lucky: in addition to the city’s slow sinking and recently discovered tilting, studies predict that if global warming and the resultant rise of ocean levels are unabated, the entire city (as well as many other coastal cities around the globe) will be under water by 2100.
The late, cryptic piano works of Franz Liszt made a profound impression on me as a young composer, among them two works he entitled La Lugubre Gondola (usually translated as The Funeral Gondola), which were said to be a premonition of Wagner’s death in Venice, his coffin transported through the canals in a black gondola. These late pieces of Liszt acquired even greater significance to me after I spent two summers in Bayreuth under the patronage of Friedelind Wagner, the granddaughter of Wagner and great-granddaughter of Liszt. This movement is a meditation on Wagner, Liszt and Venice and its own evanescence.
The quodlibet (Latin for “what pleases”) is a musical form dating back to the 15th century in which many disparate melodies are juxtaposed. Popular in the Renaissance, the quodlibet combined sacred and secular melodies, often to comical effect due to the resultant incongruity of the words. The form was considered the ultimate test of a composer’s mastery of counterpoint. The most famous quodlibet is without doubt the final variation of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. As a form, the quodlibet is less common in more recent music, although examples can be found in the works of Kurt Weill and David Del Tredici.
My own Barcarolle/Quodlibet was inspired by the (perhaps apocryphal) story of the funeral where musicians were asked to play a <Bach chorale>, but due to miscommunication played instead the <Bacarolle> from The Tales of Hoffmann. Here, the Bach chorale “Alle Menschen müssen sterben” (“All Men Must Die”) is heard in the strings pizzicato, with a tempo indication In slow motion. The alto line of the Bach suggests a phrase from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (“Alle Menschen werden Brüder”), heard in the muted trombone. Before long, the famous tune from Offenbach’s opera is heard, followed by quotations from iconic Barcarolles by Chopin, Mendelssohn and Fauré, as well as two Venetian popular songs and more Beethoven.
An ostinato is a repeated musical figure, and carillon is Italian for “music box.” This movement references the obsolete genre of salon pieces that imitated music boxes: such works by composers like Liadov and Gretchaninov used to be a mainstay of pianists’ encore repertoire. This movement, however, is much darker in conception than those pleasant trifles. Utilizing the full battery of percussion, the carefully notated temporal slowing of the ostinato becomes overwhelmed by a poignant chorale melody before this box is snapped shut.
Barcarolle Oubliée (Forgotten Barcarolle)
Marked limpido (still), the final movement begins with the sound of rain produced by a percussion instrument called (appropriately) a “rain stick.” Halting phrases in the harp coalesce into the accompaniment for a plangent melody heard in the clarinet. The central Adagio of this movement leads to a shattering climax, before the opening phrases return and dissipate into nothingness.
Instrumentation: two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, a large percussion battery and strings.
RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major
Born: March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrenées, France
Died: December 28, 1937, in Paris, France
Composed: Primarily 1929–31
Premiered: January 14, 1932, at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Marguerite Long was the soloist; Ravel conducted the Lamoureux Orchestra.
NJSO premiere: 1971–72 season. Henry Lewis conducted; the soloist was Philippe Entremont.
Duration: 23 minutes
At the outbreak of the First World War, Ravel was forced to set aside a number of active projects as patriotic fervor and military necessity swept the country. According to his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, one of the shelved scores was a rhapsody based on the Basque music of Ravel’s native province. Much of the material from this relatively early abandoned work was later reworked into the Piano Concerto in G Major. By the time Ravel began serious work on his Concerto in 1929, more than a dozen years had elapsed. During the intervening time, of course, the war had ended. The composer had travelled to North America, where exposure to American jazz made an enormous impact on him. Further, he was now thinking in terms of a solo vehicle for himself, and he began furious practice of difficult piano pieces by Chopin and Liszt in order to refine his technique and stimulate his own musical thinking.
While he was at work on the Concerto, he was contacted by an agent of the left-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost an arm during the war and continued a successful career as a pianist despite his amputation. Ravel accepted Wittgenstein’s commission for a left-handed piano concerto. Fascinated by the possibilities of writing for one hand, he became absorbed in writing the Wittgenstein concerto, fulfilling the commission in less than a year. The entire time, he was also working on the G-major concerto. Upon its completion in 1931, he told Michel Calvocoressi:
It was an interesting experience to conceive and realize the two concerti at the same time. The first, which I propose to play myself, is a concerto in the strict sense, written in the spirit of Mozart and Saint-Saëns. I believe that a concerto can be both gay and brilliant without necessarily being profound or aiming at dramatic effect. It has been said that the concerti of some great classical composers, far from being written for the piano, have been written against it. And I think that this criticism is quite justified.
At the beginning I meant to call my work a divertissement, but afterward considered that this was unnecessary, as the name Concerto adequately describe the kind of music it contains. In some ways my Concerto is not unlike my Violin Sonata; it uses certain effects borrowed from jazz, but only in moderation.
Calvocoressi published Ravel’s remarks at the time of the concerto’s publication.
The composer’s assessment is thought-provoking and certainly helpful in listening. But this is music that makes friends easily. Listeners will have little trouble in pinpointing the Gershwin-like flair with which Ravel assimilated jazz harmony and syncopation. They will love how Ravel merges these elements with unexpected touches like the solos for harp, French horn and trumpet. Similarly, they will be enraptured by the simplicity and elegance of the slow-movement waltz, which draws on the understated, proto-minimalist lyricism of Erik Satie. Marguerite Long, the pianist who eventually played the first performances of this Concerto, later recalled:
It is a difficult work especially in respect of the second movement where one has no respite. I told Ravel one day how anxious I was, after all the fantasy and brilliant orchestration of the first part, to be able to maintain the cantabile of the melody on the piano alone during such a long slow flowing phrase … “That flowing phrase!” Ravel cried. “How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!”
The slow movement features the entire wind section, and affords glorious moments for flute and, later, English horn. Ravel’s finale opens with a snare drumroll, heralding a rambunctious, good-humored romp that challenges both pianistic technique and ensemble. Opening declarations from a saucy clarinet and slide trombones add piquancy to the whirlwind music. Later, a dazzling bassoon solo contributes its low-register impetus to the headlong rush.
The score specifies 32 strings. Clearly, Ravel had a smaller chamber orchestra in mind. In the spirit of more intimate forces, he wrote characteristically and well for each player in his modestly sized but colorful orchestra.
Instrumentation: flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, two bassoons, two horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani, bass drum, suspended cymbal, snare drum, triangle, tam tam, wood block, whip, harp, strings and solo piano.
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116, BB 123
Born: March 25, 1881, in Nagy Szent Miklós, Transylvania
Died: September 26, 1945, in New York, New York
Composed: 1942–43; revised 1945
Premiered: December 1, 1944, in Boston. Serge Koussevitzky conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
NJSO premiere: 1964–65 season. Kenneth Schermerhorn conducted.
Duration: 36 minutes
Bartók’s 1943 Concerto for Orchestra is not a traditional concerto featuring one soloist. Rather, it celebrates the entire symphonic ensemble, allowing virtually every instrument its moment in the spotlight. This concerto became the quintessential orchestral showpiece of the 20th century, and it remains a work with which symphony orchestras cut their teeth and prove their mettle. It is both the symphony that Bartók never composed and the ultimate concerto grosso for our time. In addition, the Concerto for Orchestra, like many of Bartók’s late works, is written in a more accessible language than his earlier music. Its roots lie in the peasant folk music of Hungary.
As the political situation deteriorated in Hungary during the 1930s, Bartók contemplated leaving, but he stayed because of his mother, with whom he was very close. He was appalled by the rise of pro-Fascist forces. Matters worsened when Hungary allied herself with Nazi Germany in 1938. Even after the war started, Bartók lingered in Budapest until his mother died in December 1939. With that last emotional tie broken, a grieving Bartók made plans to emigrate. He left Hungary in April 1940, accompanied by his wife, Ditta, and their son, Peter, headed for a new life in America.
Expatriate in a strange country
The strangeness of this foreign land was daunting to Bartók. His English was not strong. The noise of New York City, where he initially settled, proved irksome and disturbing. Plagued by exhaustion, overwork and emotional stress, his health worsened. By spring 1942, he was quite ill with the leukemia that would claim his life three years later, and he was struggling financially.
A welcome commission
Given the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Bartók expressed doubt to friends as to whether he would compose again. He was, however, a vastly imaginative and energetic musician in spirit, even when his physical energy began to fail. When conductor Serge Koussevitzky visited him in May 1943 to request a new piece for the Boston Symphony, Bartók threw himself into the new commission, which took shape rapidly that summer.
Perhaps because it was his first large composition in a while, ideas poured out of him. He was certainly inspired to write with superb orchestral players in mind, knowing that Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony would play the first performance. The concerto’s five movements distinguish it from a traditional four-movement symphony, although there are some clear parallels in the overall structure. The five movement organization is one that Bartók adopted frequently in his mature works. Generally, in such compositions, a weightier central (third) movement serves as a fulcrum to balancing outer movements, with the second and fourth somehow connected, and the first and last bearing some relationship to one another, as well as forming a frame for the whole. Music theorists call this method of organization an “arch form,” and the structure has become strongly associated with Bartók.
Bartók’s concerto is filled with wondrous and exciting musical moments. A few warrant singling out, especially for live performance. The second movement, Giuoco delle coppie, means “Game of the Pairs.” Bartók introduces the winds two by two, as if they were marching onto Noah’s Ark. Emphasizing the difference in their respective timbres, he writes for the bassoons in parallel sixths, the oboes in thirds, the clarinets in sevenths, the flutes in fifths and the muted trumpets in major seconds; after an intervening brass chorale, the restatement expands to triple woodwinds. In each case, the melody is idiomatic to the character of the instrument, as if to express its personality. The movement is like a microcosmic guide to the orchestra. The side drum opens and concludes this remarkable “game,” ushering the parade of duets.
Sarcastic swipe at Shostakovich
Careful listeners may recognize that the musical material in the central Elegia grows out of the slow introduction to the first movement. In Intermezzo interrotto (“Interrupted Intermezzo”), the interruption consists of a vulgar quotation from Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. Bartók found the Russian composer’s theme absurd, and his ridicule of it in this movement is one of music’s more raucous snipes at another composer. Bartók closes his concerto with an energetic opening fanfare, including one of his elaborate fugues as the centerpiece of the brilliant finale.
CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA
The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music defines a concerto thus:
Since the late 18th century, a composition for orchestra and a solo instrument … An essential feature of such works is the contrast between passages dominated by the soloist (usually requiring some display of virtuosity) and passages (called tutti) for the orchestra alone.
What then, is a concerto for orchestra, if not a contradiction in terms, since there is no soloist?
Later in the same entry, the dictionary elaborates:
Some 20th-century composers (Hindemith, Piston, Bartók, Barber and others) have written pieces under titles like “concerto for orchestra.” These often draw on elements of the baroque concerto, including the use of a group of soloists.
In the case of Bartók’s 1943 Concerto for Orchestra, the “group of soloists” amounts to the entire ensemble. The result is a celebration of that giant composite instrument, the orchestra.
Bartók was not the only important 20th-century composer to explore the capabilities of the large symphonic ensemble through this new genre. In addition to those listed in the dictionary article quoted above, other composers of significant Concertos for Orchestra included Witold Lutosławski, Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter and Rodion Schchedrin. More recently, many prominent Americans have turned their hands to it, including Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Rouse, Steven Stucky (whose Second Concerto for Orchestra won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005) and Joan Tower. The genre has evolved into a significant alternative to the traditional multi-movement symphony as a vessel for musical ideas.
Instrumentation: three flutes, piccolo, three oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, two harps, timpani, side drum, bass drum, tam-tam, cymbals, triangle and strings.
JACQUES LACOMBE, CONDUCTOR
For Jacques Lacombe's bio, click here.
ADAM GOLKA, PIANO
Pianist Adam Golka, 26, has won widespread critical and popular acclaim with his “brilliant technique and real emotional depth” (The Washington Post). The Texas native has garnered international prizes including the 2008 Gilmore Young Artist Award, first prize in the 2003 China Shanghai International Piano Competition and the 2009 Max I. Allen Classical Fellowship Award of the American Pianists Association.
Golka has appeared as a soloist with the Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Phoenix, San Diego, Fort Worth, Pensacola, Knoxville, Albany, Grand Rapids and BBC Scottish Symphonies; Shanghai and Warsaw Philharmonics; Orchestre Poitou-Charentes; National Arts Centre Orchestra and Grand Teton and Colorado Music Festival orchestras.
2013–14 season engagements include a recital at Ravinia, solo and chamber music concerts at Bargemusic in Brooklyn and returns to the Fort Worth and Ann Arbor Symphonies. Highlights of last season include recitals in Wroclaw, Poland, and performances with the Szymanowski Quartet at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
He has appeared at the Marlboro, Caramoor, Mostly Mozart, Ravinia, Newport Music and Gilmore Keyboard Festivals; Music@Menlo and New York City International Keyboard Festival at Mannes. He has played solo and chamber music concerts at the Concertgebouw’s Kleine Zaal, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Lincoln Center, Musashino Civic Cultural Hall in Tokyo, Nakanoshima Hall in Osaka and Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Golka has appeared in the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall with the New York Youth Symphony and has toured with the Ravinia Steans Institute.
Golka has premiered solo works written for him by Richard Danielpour and Michael Brown; he is an avid chamber musician and lieder partner. He has studied with Anna Golka, Dariusz Pawlas of Rice University and José Feghali of Texas Christian University. He received an Artist’s Diploma from the Peabody Institute, studying with Leon Fleisher.