MCGEGAN CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN & MENDELSSOHN
NICHOLAS MCGEGAN conductor (pictured)
ROBERT LEVIN piano
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Nicholas McGegan charms from the podium, conducting music that is his forté, while Robert Levin brings a scholar’s authority and a performer’s passion to the keyboard.
HANDEL Suite No. 2 in D Major from Water Music
Rousing and festive; premiered on a barge on the river Thames, it was written as a present for King George I.
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 1
This breathtaking, audacious concerto is challenging for players and rewarding for listeners.
A stunning feat of improvisation, Levin channels Ludwig on the spot from themes submitted by audience members.
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 5, “Reformation”
Celestial harmonies resound through this grand and exciting work, right up to the roof-raising final chords.
Classical Conversation—Fri, Apr 20 at 7 pm and Sat, Apr 21 at 7 pm
Enjoy a lively Classical Conversation beginning one hour before the performance. Learn more about the music from NJSO musicians, guest artists and other engaging insiders.
#OrchestraYou—Fri, Apr 20, after the concert
Find your flute, tune up your trombone or dust off your double bass and join forces with NJSO musicians in the Fifth annual edition of this NJSO classic. Advance registration required by Apr 13. More info and registration.
Riffs—Sun, Apr 22, after the concert
You know JoAnna Farrer as a gifted NJSO violinst. Now meet her alter ego—Irish fiddler!
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2018
HANDEL: Suite No. 2 in D Major from Water Music, HWV 349
George Frideric Handel
Born: February 23, 1685, in Halle, Germany
Died: April 14, 1759, in London, England
World Premiere: July 17, 1717, in London, aboard the royal barge.
NJSO Premiere: 1958–59 season; Mathys Abas conducted.
Duration: 12 minutes
When England’s Queen Anne died in 1714, she was succeeded by her German cousin, the Elector of Hanover. By coincidence, England’s new King George I had been Handel’s previous employer. Handel found himself in a sticky diplomatic situation, for he was four years into an extended leave of absence from responsibilities to the Elector in Germany. Essentially, he had been playing hooky from work, and now his boss was moving to his new city! A good deal of myth and legend has sprung up around the history of the three Water Music suites that Handel composed, ostensibly to placate King George and regain royal approval, but we do know certain facts.
One of the monarch’s nobles, Baron Kielmansegge, arranged for an evening party on the Thames to take place on July 17, 1717. Handel was commissioned to write music for the occasion. The royal barge was to proceed from Whitehall to Chelsea, where the King and his companions would enjoy a late supper. During the early hours of the morning, they would travel back to the palace.
Several contemporary account confirm that the musicians—numbering 50 players!—accompanied the royal party. Of the three original groups of movements, the first is believed to have been intended for the outbound journey on the King’s barge. The two other suites were planned to entertain the monarch and his guests during dinner and the return journey. According to Friedrich Bonet, the Prussian Resident in London: “His Majesty approved of it so greatly that he caused it to be repeated three times in all, although each performance lasted an hour—namely twice before and once after supper. The [weather] was all that could be desired for the festivity, the number of barges and above all of boats filled with people desirous of hearing was beyond counting.”
Since royal blessing immediately conferred favor and, by extension, popularity, Handel’s Water Music promptly became the rage of London. Eager to capitalize on this success, the composer and his publishers compiled three suites of movements grouped in like keys. The second suite features three dances preceded by a lively opening Allegro, with an affecting slow movement between the Minuet and the closing Bourée.
Handel’s emphasis on horns and oboes reflects the strength of the royal orchestra in the winds. Also, for outdoor performance it was essential to use instruments whose sound would carry well. How wonderful this joyous music must have sounded in the open air on the water!
Instrumentation: two oboes, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, continuo and strings.
BEETHOVEN: Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born: December 16 1770, in Bonn, Germany
Died: March 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: 1795; revised 1800
World Premiere: December 18, 1795, in Vienna; the composer was the soloist.
NJSO Premiere: 1948–49 season. Ania Dorfman was the soloist; Samuel Antek conducted.
Duration: 36 minutes
When Beethoven moved from Bonn to Vienna late in 1792, he quickly established himself as a gifted piano virtuoso. Gaining recognition as a composer took a little longer—but not much. By the mid-1790s, the young firebrand had acquired several wealthy patrons and had an enthusiastic following in the imperial capital. He was his own best advertisement for his music. A piano concerto was an essential vehicle for self-promotion. The C-major work was not Beethoven’s first concerto, though it was the first to be published. Beethoven played it frequently at this stage of his career.
He expanded significantly on the Mozartean concerto model. The first movement unfolds over about 17 minutes. The length results in part from Beethoven’s elaborate solo cadenza, but also because of the symphonic treatment of the whole. Despite its unusual duration, the Allegro con brio feels compact. The characteristic reworking of motivic ideas mingles with some surprisingly singable melodies.
The slow movement is an eloquent cantilena in A-flat major, whose rich ornamentation and tranquil spirit anticipate the “Emperor” Concerto. Beethoven’s lovely clarinet solo contributes an intimate, chamber-music-like dialogue. The bubbly finale is among his wittiest movements. Even its subsidiary themes exude rhythmic vitality, fully realizing the scherzando instruction of Beethoven’s subtitle.
Instrumentation: flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, strings and solo piano.
MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 5 in D Major, “Reformation,” Op. 107
Born: February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany
Died: November 4, 1847, in Leipzig, Germany
Composed: 1830; revised 1832
World Premiere: May 12, 1830, in Augsburg.
NJSO Premiere: 1947–48 season; Samuel Antek conducted.
Duration: 27 minutes
We often hear Mendelssohn compared to Mozart because of his youthful precocity. A work like the “Reformation” Symphony persuades us that the analogy is valid. The Symphony is numbered fifth only because it was published posthumously. It dates from the winter of 1829–30, when Mendelssohn was only 20. For him to have composed such a polished, unified and powerful composition at such an age is impressive indeed.
The “Reformation” Symphony takes its name from the circumstances of its commission. Mendelssohn intended the work to commemorate the tercentenary of the Augsburg Conference, which in 1530 set forth the doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Young Felix was struck by the image of Luther translating the Bible into German while hiding in the Wartburg Castle. The symphony is permeated with Protestant themes, including one by Luther himself.
Originally, the symphony was to have been premiered by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. Rehearsals there did not go well, however, and the French players disliked the piece. Ultimately they rejected it, complaining that it was too learned and lacked melodies. Mendelssohn took the rejection hard, and retained bad feelings about the symphony. Some years later he wrote to his friend Julius Rietz that the first movement was “a fat bristly animal” and that he’d “rather burn it than any other of my pieces.”
Such self-flagellation seems incredible today, especially when we consider how firmly the “Reformation” Symphony has become entrenched in the repertoire. Mendelssohn’s use of the so-called “Dresden Amen” (familiar to many listeners as the motive of the Grail in Wagner’s Parsifal) in the first movement and Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” in the finale anchor the symphony in tradition. His addition of irresistible original melodies such as the lively theme of the scherzo enrich the thematic treasury within this work. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, for the “Reformation” is a tightly unified, cyclic work that brings back earlier themes in the finale, resolving the issues of religious strife implied at the beginning.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, two horns, three trombones, two trumpets, timpani and strings. The last movement adds contrabassoon and serpent.