Friday, May 08, 2015

Humboldt Symphony: Program Notes

Piano Concerto #10 for Two Pianos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Daniela Mineva performs
Mozart concerto
"Although the music that Mozart wrote for more than one pianist was usually designed for himself and the company of a wealthy patron or a star pupil, it was probably inevitable that he would compose a concerto expressly to perform with his sister. The Double Concerto in E-flat major, written in the late 1770s, was conceived for the famous sibling act that was now grown up and had long ago stopped going on the road. It is one of his most engaging concertos. Throughout the work, Mozart delights in the almost operatic interplay of the two instruments, not to mention the wondrous racket of racing scales, rumbling Alberti bass lines, and clangorous trills—all in duplicate. The piece, however, is no mere stunt. It is a work of maturity, significance, and—particularly in the glorious slow movement—truly personal expression, but the sheer joy of sociability—of sharing music and friendship across two keyboards—is never absent."
--Phillip Huscher, Program Notes for the Chicago Symphony

Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvořák

Dr. Anna Binneweg conducts
Dvorak symphony
"Dvořák does have a gift that neither of his symphonic predecessors had in the same way, which is that he could compose a seemingly unending torrent of indelible melodies, and he could cast them in crystal-clear orchestration. What's more, in the Eighth Symphony he found a way simultaneously to serve his melodic over-endowment while also creating a kind of symphonic discourse that was definitively his own."
--Tom Service, "50 Greatest Symphonies" series, the Guardian 

"Something remarkable happened in the history of music during the 19th century: composers of symphonic music increasingly turned away from happy or cheerful feelings in favor of dramatic or even tragic ones. Instead of the light and unclouded tone found in many major works by Haydn or Mozart, Romantic composers predominantly used darker colors...

 There were two great exceptions to this general trend: Mendelssohn in the first half of the century, and Dvorák in the second half. Both had the unusual gift of writing radiantly happy music in an era where such an approach was often taken for either conservatism or naïveté. It was neither: it was merely a sign of a different artistic personality...

 Dvorák's Eighth opens with an expressive melody in G minor that prepares the entrance of another theme, a playful idea in G major first given to the solo flute. A dynamic sonata exposition soon gets underway. Dvorák "overshoots the mark" as he bypasses the expected secondary key, D major, in favor of a more remote but even brighter-sounding B major. The development section works up quite a storm, but it subsides when the playful main theme returns, now played by the English horn instead of the flute (two octaves lower than before). The recapitulation ends with a short but very energetic coda.

 The second movement ("Adagio") begins with a simple string melody in darker tonal regions (E-flat major/C minor) that soon reaches bright C major where it remains. The main theme spawns various episodes, in turn lyrical and passionate. After a powerful climax, the movement ends in a tender pianissimo.

 The third movement ("Allegretto grazioso") is neither a minuet nor a scherzo but an "intermezzo" like the third movements of Brahms's First and Second Symphonies. Its first tune is a sweet and languid waltz; its second, functioning as a "trio," sounds more like a Bohemian folk dance. After the return of the waltz, Dvorák surprises us by a very fast ("Molto vivace") Coda, in which commentators have recognized a theme from one of Dvorák's earlier operas. But this Coda consists of exactly the same notes as the lilting "trio" melody, only in a faster tempo, with stronger accents, and in duple instead of triple meter...

 Dvorák's handling of form is indebted to Beethoven and Brahms, but he filled out the form with melodies of an unmistakably Czech flavor and a joviality few composers at the time possessed... The music is always cheerful and optimistic, yet it doesn't lack grandeur."

'Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle -- they always call to the dance!' (Conductor Rafael Kubelik during a rehearsal of the trumpet fanfare opening the last movement of Dvorák's Eighth Symphony.)"
  --Peter Laki, Kennedy Center Program Notes

Songs of Eternity by Mark Del Porto

Paul Cummings conducts
Del Porto work
"This piece is so new there isn't much information about it but certainly you would say it is neo-Romantic, of the style of the late 19th century.  So think in terms of Bruckner or Mahler, or in the early 20th century, Strauss and Sibelius.  It's strongly neo-Romantic in its sweeping, epic proportions.

It's only about ten minutes long but it has real epic dimensions to it.  It calls upon the entire symphony, often playing in extreme ranges, at the very top of the potential of all instruments.  It's got a lot of rises and falls, peaks and valleys and swells.  It doesn't follow any traditional form but it's a very well constructed piece.

This piece won the 2013 composition award from the College Orchestra Directors Association, so it's being played all over the country now.  I met Mark Del Porto at a CODA conference in 2014 and he was thrilled.  Getting a premiere is great, but composers are much more excited by the second, third, fourth performances of their work."
--from an interview with Paul Cummings, who conducts the Humboldt Symphony in this work.

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