SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No.5
Discovery Open Rehearsal - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - 2pm
Saturday, October 5, 2013 – 8 pm
Sunday, October 6, 2013 – 3 pm
Monday, October 7, 2013 – 8 pm
A reviewer once described Maestro Ferrandis as “a youthful, energetic presence who conducted like a man taking his first hot rod out for a spin.” John Adams’ exuberant fanfare Short Ride in a Fast Machine literally fills that bill! Violinist Tedi Papavrami takes the stage for his second appearance here to interpret a challenging Shostakovich concerto. Then follows Shostakovich’s Fifth, a symphony that combines elements of satire and grandeur with the tribulations of both the composer and the Russian people.
Don festive dress and join us for the celebratory opening weekend of our second performance season at the Green Music Center. A joyful trumpet fanfare will call our patrons into the concert hall, and complimentary sparkling wine will be served after the performance. Come raise a glass and toast the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 86th year of music-making.
Performances sponsored by Henry and Eileen Trione
Bruno Ferrandis underwritten by Henry and Eileen Trione
Guest Artist Tedi Papavrami underwritten by Deborah Eid.
“Papavrami mesmerized the audience with some of the most fiendishly difficult violin music on the planet."
(Today’s Zamen, Istanbul)
PROGRAM NOTES by Steven Ledbetter
John Adams (1947- )
Short Ride in a Fast Machine (fanfare) for Orchestra
John Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on February 15, 1947; he lives in Berkeley, California. Adams composed Short Ride in a Fast Machine for the opening of the first Great Woods Festival in Mansfield, Massachusetts; it was performed there on June 13, 1986, by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. The score calls for two flutes and two piccolos, two oboes and English horn, four clarinets, three bassoons, and contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, two synthesizers, timpani, high wood block, snare drum, crotales, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, pedal bass drum, large bass drum, sizzle cymbal, tambourine, large tam-tam, medium wood block, triangle, xylophone, and strings. Duration is about 4 minutes.
Short Ride in a Fast Machine is an apt title for the frenetic, four-minute piece that John Adams composed to open the first Great Woods Festival in Massachusetts in 1986. (The more formal subtitle, “Fanfare for Great Woods,” describes better the character and function of the score, but is not nearly so evocative). The steady, penetrating thunk of a wood block marking fast quarter-notes is the mainspring of Short Ride. The beat begins unaccompanied in the wood block, soon to be joined by four trumpets marking the quarter-note, and other instruments (including synthesizers) subdividing the beat. The subdivisions overlap in shifting irregular patterns of brilliant sound, against which the wood block continues its single-minded beat. The overlapping of other parts creates the effect of irregular and changing rhythms, but this is the “trompel’oreille” effect of the various processes going on simultaneously. The resplendent sonorities are perfectly calculated for outdoor performance. As for his striking title, Adams has remarked: “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?”
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Concerto No. 1 in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 77
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg on September 25, 1906, and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. The Violin Concerto No. 1 was composed (as Opus 77) in 1947–48, but political difficulties deferred the premiere. Only after some revision, it seems, and renumbering as Opus 99, was the work performed, on October 29, 1955, with the Leningrad Philharmonic under the direction of Yevgeny Mravinsky; the soloist was the concerto’s dedicatee David Oistrakh. In addition to the solo violin, the score calls for two flutes and piccolo (doubling third flute), two oboes and English horn (doubling third oboe), two clarinets and bass clarinet (doubling third clarinet), two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, tuba, timpani, tam-tam, xylophone, celesta, two harps, and strings. Duration is about 39 minutes.
After producing his first symphony at the age of nineteen, Shostakovich was widely recognized as the most brilliant talent to appear in Soviet Russia. But his career was repeatedly sidetracked by the particular demands of the Soviet state for music that was accessible to the masses, avoided “decadent” western trends, and—wherever possible—glorified Russia and the Soviet political system.
The worst time came shortly after World War II, when a party resolution of 1948 condemned most of the prominent Russian composers—particularly Shostakovich—for “formalistic distortions and antidemocratic tendencies alien to the Soviet people,” though, ironically, he was at precisely that time frequently chosen to represent Russian music in the west, since he was, along with Prokofiev, the most prominent of current Russian composers.
The denunciation of 1948 forced certain concessions on Shostakovich. For one thing, he gave up writing symphonies entirely until after Stalin’s death in 1953. He concentrated instead on the composition of film scores and vocal music. Many of the films were tales of Russian heroism in the recently ended war, and bore titles like Encounter at the Elbe and The Fall of Berlin. The scores were so tuneful, in fact, that they contributed a number of popular songs to the Russian repertory.
But already at the time of the party denunciation, Shostakovich had completed his first violin concerto, labeled then Opus 77, for the great Soviet violinist David Oistrakh. But the score, he judged, was not attuned to the temper of the times. It was too abstract, not sufficiently affirmative in style. So he withheld the work for a number of years and finally let it come to performance in only 1955 (two years after Stalin’s death), at which time he listed it as Opus 99. Shostakovich apparently revised the concerto somewhat, though he himself made contradictory claims about this, preferring the earlier opus number in 1965, but by 1973 claiming that it was a work of the later period. Still later he returned to his preference for the original numbering. Since no manuscript of the early version is known, it is impossible to judge to what degree the piece was actually reworked.
Only after his Tenth Symphony had been accepted by the Soviet Composers’ Union did Shostakovich bring out the Violin Concerto, one of his most original works. Yet the work was at first threatened with oblivion: none of the leaders of the Composers’ Union dared to make any significant comments about it, and until they did no critic was willing to accept the responsibility of saying anything favorable. Finally, in July 1956, Oistrakh himself stepped into the breach with a daring article in Sovyetskaya Muzyka (Soviet Music) attacking the strange silence that greeted the new work. Having accepted the dedication of the score and lived with it long enough to learn to prepare a magnificent performance (which he twice recorded), Oistrakh was fully committed to the piece, and the fact that he published his views in the leading musical journal lent considerable weight to his opinion.
Shostakovich’s orchestration completely omits the heavier brass instruments, and is thus unusually transparent, highlighting the soloist at every turn. Often the soloist is playing in ensembles of chamber-music size. The four movements are arranged in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern, unusual for concertos, with characteristic titles (Nocturne, Scherzo, Passacaglia, and Burlesque) giving a clear idea of the character of each. Oistrakh felt that “Burlesque” was not quite right for the finale, in which he found the mood of a brightly-colored Russian folk festival—though he may have made this statement as a way of getting the Composers’ Union to agree that the work was truly Russian.
Throughout the concerto the soloist is required to play virtually without pause (often in double stops) and must carry the entire burden of responsibility in the lengthy and very difficult cadenza—substantial enough almost to be regarded as a separate movement in its own right—linking the third and fourth movements. The work is a tribute to the technique, expressive skill, and sheer concentration of the great violinist for whom it was written.
The opening Nocturne avoids all the traditional first-movement clichés of violin concertos. It is moderately slow, contemplative, and delicate in its scoring. The stately tread of the strings in the dotted rhythms of the opening bars reappears at several points throughout the movement, offset by the graceful lyric flow of running eighth notes soon introduced in the bassoon and picked up by other instruments. No rhetorical outbursts intrude on the pensive course of the movement.
The Scherzo is a sparkling dance movement in which the soloist plays almost throughout with chamber-sized groupings of woodwind instruments. Near the end of the 3/8 section that comprises the main part of the movement, Shostakovich introduces a melodic figure played fortissimo in octaves on the solo violin consisting of the notes D-sharp, E, C-sharp, B. This is the same figure—transposed up a half step—that appears throughout the Tenth Symphony spelled to indicate the composer’s initials (D. SCH. = D, E-flat, C, B-natural in German notation). The full orchestra plays a roughhewn 2/4 middle section that Boris Schwarz likens to a Jewish folk dance (a natural enough connection, since Shostakovich wrote the concerto at the same time that he was composing his set of Jewish Folk Poetry as an expression of his hatred of the anti-Semitic programs of the government). As this vigorous section dies away, the opening 3/8 material returns, though it now builds beyond chamber size to close the movement with the full orchestra, following a brief recollection of the middle section.
The somber formality of the passacaglia, built on a stately repeating bass pattern, was one of Shostakovich’s favorite techniques. In the concerto, the third movement presents the bass line fortissimo in cellos and double basses, while the horns play a countermelody in octaves. The theme moves to tuba and bassoon for a second statement, piano, under woodwind chords before the violin enters with a melody of keening lamentation to accompany the third statement in the strings. As the repeated passacaglia statements continue, the violin moves to newer, more flowing counterpoints, while the English horn and bassoon take up the keening melody. Further repetitions take the soloist into the higher reaches and then back down again for a triplet accompaniment. At the climactic statement the soloist presents the passacaglia theme, fortissimo, in octaves above the strings. At the end of a gradual decrescendo, the violin reiterates the opening countermelody of the horns. This proves to be the starting point of the extended and difficult cadenza, which finally issues in the finale.
The last movement gives itself up totally to a rhythmic energy and brilliant color that is the closest thing in the concerto to traditional virtuosic tricks; it brings the work to an effective and satisfying close
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Opus 47
Dmitri Dmitriyevitch Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg (called Leningrad for most of the composer’s lifetime) on September 25, 1906 and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. He composed the Fifth Symphony in 1937; it was first performed that November 21 by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets and E-flat clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, bells, xylophone, two harps, piano, celesta, and strings. Duration is about 44 minutes.
The Fifth has long been the best-known and most frequently performed of Shostakovich’s fifteen symphonies, for both musical and extra-musical reasons. It fits neatly into the historical symphonic tradition, and, with its four movements progressing from a minor-key opening of considerable expressive force to the assertive major-key close, it clearly deserves to be called a “Fifth Symphony,” a unique genre single-handedly created by Beethoven and enlarged by Tchaikovsky and Mahler.
It also played an important role in a troubled period of the composer’s life. After a long string of successes from the premiere of his First Symphony when he was only nineteen, Shostakovich’s music had suddenly run afoul of the notoriously unmusical Stalin. His opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk had been an enormous success from its premiere in January 1934. But Stalin saw it two years later and the work was suddenly attacked in Pravda—unsigned and therefore all the more potent because of the implication that it came from Stalin himself.
Suddenly everything Shostakovich wrote was treated with suspicion. The former golden boy of Soviet music could never guess when Stalin might mark him as another in a long line of artists and intellectuals to be exterminated. He withdrew his Fourth Symphony from rehearsals (it was not performed for a quarter century).
One might expect the effects of these cumulative denunciations to have been total withdrawal from creative work, but, surprisingly, the opposite seems to have been the case. Less than four months after withdrawing the Fourth, Shostakovich began work on his Fifth Symphony, completing it in just three months. He might have been expected to compose a patriotic cantata or some other form of inflated pseudo-artistic rhetoric, but he chose to work once again in the purely abstract medium of the symphony. But he presented it with a spin designed to ward off political controversy:
The theme of my Fifth Symphony is the making of a man. I saw a man with all his experiences in the center of the composition, which is lyrical in form from beginning to end. In the finale the tragically tense impulses of the earlier movements are resolved in optimism and joy of living.
The key words here are the description of the musical style as “lyrical” and the final resolution in “optimism and joy of living.” Both of these elements were essential to the officially sanctioned Soviet view of music. His apologia worked.
The first movement is built on a series of assertive motives introduced in the opening musical paragraph. Shostakovich moves to a new key where the strings, with some punctuation from the harp, introduce the second theme, its long-held notes in the violins soaring and then dropping in large leaps over a rhythmic accompaniment consisting of a quarter-note and two eighths. These motives are fused in an Allegro that becomes more hectic and turns into a grotesque march. The strings and woodwinds reintroduce the opening canonic idea against a massive restatement of the lyrical second them in the brasses to build the climactic tension. The recapitulation consists of a long winding-down of energy, a kind of unrolling of the tensions built up in the exposition, closing with all of the principal ideas summarized in a few bars stated in the original Moderato tempo.
The second movement, a lumbering scherzo, is more lighthearted and less overtly satirical than some of Shostakovich’s other movements of this type, but it is neatly made, with its heavy 3/4 pulse occasionally interrupted by 4/4—just often enough to throw the heavy dance character of the movement a little off-center.
The subdued Largo grows out of broad, meditative ideas that become more and more intense, even distraught. These are balanced with a more static but very bright passage for flutes and harp. The somber richness of the texture derives in part from the fact that the strings are subdivided here into eight parts—three sections of violins, two each of violas and cellos, and double basses.
The last movement has aroused the greatest controversy. At the premiere, the composer referred to an expression of “optimism and joy of living.” But to many listeners the “cheerful” D-major ending seems unmotivated. The ending, to be sure, is in D major (although that happens only very late in the finale). Since the composer’s death, the idea has developed (possibly through hints that he left) that he intended to refer to a famous passage in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov in which soldiers beat a group of peasants so that they will produce a scene of phony rejoicing to “encourage” Boris to agree to be the Tsar. Evidently Shostakovich trusted musically perceptive listeners to catch the irony, while Party apparatchiks could be appeased by his official pronouncements in words.
Shostakovich has been widely regarded as a great and expressive composer of music reflecting the doubts and the terrors of our century. Perhaps the key to understanding the finale of the Fifth is the realization that even at its most assertive, Shostakovich’s music remains, at its core, deeply ambivalent.
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)