Weill Concert Hall, Green Music Center
Corner of Petaluma Hill Road and Rohnert Park Expressway
1801 East Cotati Ave
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
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Kryzsztof Penderecki (1933- )
Als Jakob erwachte (The Awakening of Jacob) for Orchestra
Krzysztof Penderecki was born in Debica, Poland, on November 23, 1933. He composed The Awakening of Jacob in 1974. The first performance took place for the fiftieth birthday of Prince Rainier III of Monaco on the 25th anniversary of his accession. The premiere took place on August 14, 1974; Stanislaw Skrovaczewski conducted the Orchestre National de I'Opéra de Monte Carlo. The score calls for 3 flutes (first and second doubling piccolo; all three doubling ocarina), three oboes (third doubling English horn; all three doubling ocarina), three clarinets (all three doubling ocarina), three bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon; all three doubling ocarina), five horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, tam-tam, bass drum, strings. Duration is about 9 minutes.
Krzysztof Penderecki burst onto the musical scene in his native Poland in 1959 when he entered the Youth Circle competition of the Association of Polish Composers and won all of the three prizes awarded. Like many young Polish musicians then, Penderecki was fascinated by the power of sound in its most elemental guise, and he used the newly extended vocabulary of sounds to strong expressive purpose. From quite early on he made a strong impression with his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for 53 stringed instruments. In 1962 he again attained wide acclaim with his St. Luke Passion, both because of its advanced musical language and because it was a religious work composed in a country then under the domination of the anti-religious Soviet Union.
The Awakening of Jacob marks the start of Penderecki’s move to the more openly neo-Romantic musical style of his later period. Its impetus is the account in Genesis 28:10-17 describing Jacob’s dream of a ladder extending to heaven with angels going up and down. In the dream he hears the Lord telling him that the land on which he was lying would belong to him and his descendants. When Jacob awoke, he said, “Truly the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Then he was afraid and said, “How fearsome is this place! This is no other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.”
Joseph’s feeling of terror is suggested in the powerful brass chords that open the work, joined eventually by the percussion. Woodwinds and strings bring in sighing gestures that ultimately build to a climax employing a number of ocarinas (an instrument rarely encountered in orchestral music) to produce a unique color. Following the climax, the tension relaxes, though the mood remains darkly mysterious as the sound dies away.
Film buffs may recognize the music from having been used to convey an other-worldly effect in the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, based on a novel by Stephen King.
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 85
Edward Elgar was born at Broadheath, near Worcester, England, on June 2, 1857, and died in Worcester on February 23, 1934; he was knighted on July 5, 1904. He began composing his Cello Concerto, Opus 85, in September 1918 and completed it in August the following year. The work received its world premiere in London on October 26, 1919, with Elgar himself conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Felix Salmond as soloist. In addition to the solo instrument, the score calls for two flutes (the second doubling piccolo ad lib.), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba ad lib., timpani, and strings. Duration is about 30 minutes.
Following the horrors of the World War of 1914-1918, Elgar’s creative impulse exploded in an outpouring of chamber music—string quartet, violin sonata, and piano quintet, capped by his most personal concerto. He had lost friends, and the war news had been bleak for so long. His own health was becoming problematic.
Alice Elgar understood that her husband desperately needed to find some peace and solitude, to recapture his rural boyhood. She located a cottage in Sussex with a studio in the garden and nearby woods suitable for long walks. There is where he began the cello concerto. Elgar noted down the gently lilting Moderato theme of the first movement and played it to a violinist friend, who called it “an infinite tune,” one that “seems to have no beginning and no end.” Elgar noted on the sketch, “very full, sweet, and sonorous.”
He composed the concerto for Felix Salmond, the cellist of the British String Quartet, which had recently premiered his String Quartet and Piano Quintet. Ironically the premiere of the concerto—the last major premiere of his life, when he was regarded as the greatest English composer of his age—was undercut by insufficient rehearsal, the same problem that had ruined the premiere of his greatest masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. Elgar conducted his own work, but Albert Coates, took most of the rehearsal time for the rest of the program. Like Gerontius, the Cello Concerto had a disastrous premiere. The audience was more polite this time, if only out of deference to Elgar’s reputation. Some critics recognized that the work was seriously underrehearsed.
Still, even an exemplary performance would probably have left the first audience at a loss; the Cello Concerto is about as far from a brilliant virtuoso showpiece as it is possible to go. It fit the new times. The Great War had finally put an end to notions of chivalry and military glory. Individual sorrows superseded nationalistic glories, and Elgar realized that the old order had passed away. The introspective element dominates, giving the work an autumnal quality.
The concerto begins with a poignant recitative moving downward in a mood of elegiac lassitude. The violas enter with the “infinite tune,” which seems to have started somewhere in the distance before we are able to hear it. Eventually the full orchestra presents it in the manner noted on Elgar’s sketch: “very full, sweet, and sonorous.” This movement’s middle section begins in 12/8 with a dialogue between the clarinets and bassoons on the one hand and the solo cello on the other. It is brighter than the first theme, moving to the major mode, but retaining the same lazy, rocking character. The opening material returns and dies away over a low‑held E in the cellos and basses.
The second movement refers briefly with a pizzicato reference in the solo cello to the opening of the first movement; the soloist then tentatively investigates a figure with many repeated notes. This eventually launches into a fast movement in G major built up on the repeated‑note theme laid out in a free sonata form with one of Elgar’s impetuous, warmhearted lyrical phrases as the contrasting idea.
The slow movement is a long elegiac song in a single breath, set in B-flat major, as far from the concerto’s home key of E minor as it is possible to get. After a pause it leads into the introduction of the finale.
The orchestra hints at the main theme to come and prepares for a recitative, rather like the one that opened the concerto. Once the orchestra reenters in the Allegro tempo, the finale is underway, laid out as a free rondo. The second subject includes a precipitous downward rush. This is by far the longest and most elaborately developed movement in the concerto. Towards the end the lighthearted vigor with which the finale began is replaced by a surprising pathos in a new, slow theme colored by complex chromatic harmonies. The cello sings a passionate new theme, one of Elgar’s great emotional outpourings. It flows directly into a brief reminiscence of the slow movement and a reminder of the concerto’s very beginning before the orchestra concludes the work with an abrupt final statement.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a valedictory to an age—and the farewell of a great composer. Elgar planned major new works (including an opera and a third symphony), but Alice’s death on April 7, 1920, left him utterly devastated. Her complete confidence in his creative genius had, time and again, given him the strength to overcome doubt and depression. In the fifteen years after her death, he never completed another substantial work. It is well known that Elgar wrote on his score of The Dream of Gerontius, “This is the best of me.” Although he didn’t say it in so many words, Michael Kennedy suggests that the pathos of the Cello Concerto tells us, “This is the last of me.”
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Opus 74, Pathétique
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko‑Votkinsk, Vyatka province, Russia, on May 7, 1840, and died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. He composed the Sixth Symphony between February 16 and August 31, 1893. The first performance took place in St. Petersburg on October 28 of that year (just a week before the composer’s death). The symphony is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tam‑tam, and strings. Duration is about 46 minutes.
At the beginning of the 1890s, Tchaikovsky, at fifty, feared that he was written out. But a trip to western Europe in December 1892 brought a warm reunion with his old French governess, whom he had not seen for over forty years. The two days he spent with her, reading over many letters from his mother and his brothers and sisters, not to mention some of his earliest musical and literary work, carried him off into a deep nostalgia.
This visit to his childhood may have generated the program for the work he began on the way home. By mid-February 1893 he wrote that his new symphony would have a program, but he left only hints, saying that it is “completely saturated with myself.” On March 24 he completed the sketch and noted his satisfaction at the bottom of the page: “O Lord, I thank Thee! Completed preliminary sketch well!!!” By the time he finished it he was enthusiastic: “I definitely find it my very best, and in particular the most sincere of all my compositions. I love it as I have never loved any of my musical children.”
The Sixth Symphony was the last work Tchaikovsky would complete. The premiere on October 28 went well, but the audience was puzzled by the whole—not least by its quiet, somber ending. Five days later Tchaikovsky failed to appear for breakfast, complaining of indigestion during the night. He refused to see a doctor but that evening his brother Modest sent for medical help anyway. For several days Tchaikovsky lingered on, generally in severe pain. He died at three o’clock in the morning on November 6.
In recent years Tchaikovsky’s sudden death was attributed to an enforced suicide over the fear that a homosexual relationship might be revealed—a fantasy that for a time drove out the long-accepted view that he drank a glass of unboiled water during a cholera epidemic and died of the disease. But he was one of the most famous Russians in the world at the time, and his illness and death were documented, almost hour by hour. Most recent scholarship puts accounts of enforced suicide in the same category as UFO abductions.
Nonetheless the speculation was fired in part by the extraordinary expressive richness of the Sixth Symphony, and especially by its finale. In the Fourth and Fifth symphonies he had already offered two views of man’s response to Fate, struggling through to some kind of victory. In the Sixth Symphony, Fate leads only to despair. A note found among his papers is probably an early draft for a program, though he kept it to himself:
The ultimate essence of the plan of symphony is LIFE. First part—all impulsive passion, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short. (Finale DEATH—result of collapse.) Second part love; third disappointments; fourth ends dying away (also short).
The symphony’s title came the day after the first performance, when brother Modest suggested Pathétique. Tchaikovsky seized at once. Today the title gives a misimpression in English, where “pathetic” has become a debased slang word, almost totally losing its original sense of “passionate” or “emotional,” with a hint of its original Greek sense of “suffering.” The symphony is, without a doubt, the most successful evocation of Tchaikovsky’s deepest emotions, sublimated into music of great power.
The slow introduction begins in the “wrong” key, but works its way around to B minor at the beginning of the Allegro non troppo. Its climax is a splendid preparation for one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest tunes, a falling and soaring melody built to a rich climax, then dies away with a lingering afterthought in the clarinet. An unexpected orchestral crash begins the tense development section, which builds a wonderful sense of energy as the opening thematic material returns in a distant key and only gradually works round again to the tonic. The romantic melody, now in the tonic B major, is especially passionate.
The second movement is simply a scherzo and trio, but it has a wrinkle of its own. Tchaikovsky was one of the great composers of the orchestral waltz; here he chose to write a waltz that happens to be in 5/4 time! The conservative Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick claimed, “This disagreeable meter upsets both listener and player.” Yet the rhythmic twist creates an extraordinary grace.
The third movement is a brilliant march, beginning with rushing busy triplets alternating with a crisp march melody that bursts out into a climactic full orchestral version, a momentary triumph. So triumphant is its close that audiences are sometimes fooled into applauding, thinking the work is over. (It is possible that Tchaikovsky intended to fool us in this way.)
The triumph comes to a sudden end with the beginning of the “Adagio lamentoso.” The first theme is divided between the two violin parts in such a way that neither first nor second violin part alone makes sense, but when played together they result in a simple, expressive, descending melody. The second theme, a more flowing Andante, builds to a great orchestral climax exceeded only by the climax of the opening material that follows. This dies away and a single stroke of the tam-tam, followed by a soft and sustained, dark passage for trombones and tuba, brings in the “dying fall” of the ending, the second theme descending into the lowest depths of cellos and basses.
Tchaikovsky’s farewell vision is a somber one, but it is worth remembering that his art, and especially the Pathétique Symphony, was a means of self-transcendence. It has sometimes been assumed in the past that Tchaikovsky chose to revel in his misery; but in the Sixth Symphony, at least, he confronted it, recreated it in sound, and put it firmly behind him.