Dvořák’s New World Symphony
Sunday, February 5, 2017, 2 pm
Monday, February 6, 2017, 7:30 pm
- minute waltz
- Allegro moderato
- Andante con moto
- Rondo: Vivace
- Yefim Bronfman
“From the New World”
- Adagio—Allegro molto
- Molto vivace
- Allegro con fuoco
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Suzanne Nance on the 4th and 6th, and Robert McBride on the 5th, hosts for the stations of All Classical Portland. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit AllClassical.org to watch the video on demand.
Composer: Born March 16, 1958, Huntingdon, PA.
Work composed: Written for and commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra.
World premiere: Dennis Russell Davies conducted the ACO in the premiere at Carnegie Hall on December 7, 1997.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass drum, bongos, brake drum, castanets, claves, cow bells, crotales, cymbals, flexatone, glockenspiel, maracas, metal cabasa, ratchet, snare drum, tambourine, tom-tom, triangle, vibraphone, wood blocks, xylophone, celesta, piano, harp, and strings.
Estimated duration: 12 minutes
Heralded as “a distinctive voice” by The New York Times, Sebastian Currier’s music has been performed at major venues worldwide by acclaimed artists and orchestras, including Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, and the Kronos Quartet.
In his program notes, Currier writes, “Microsymph is a large-scale, five move ment symphony that has been squeezed into only ten minutes. The result is a frantically paced, restless, quick-changing kaleidoscope of five highly compressed movements which are built from a whirl of diverse materials into an eclectic amalgam of ceaselessly changing sounds, colors, and ideas. [In] the first movement, quickchange… one idea races to the. The minute waltz is as much about the minute as it is about the waltz … there are two layers: one a musical representation of the inner workings of a clock, the other a waltz. Though the adagio is only four minutes long, it seems truly expansive within the context of the other movements … The fourth move ment, nanoscherzo, is composed of layering similar to the minute waltz, and the last movement, kaleidoscope, parodies the idea of a cyclic symphony where themes from previous movements return, here increasing the feeling of compressed time.”
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major
Composer: Born December 16, 1770, Bonn; died March 26, 1827, Vienna.
Work composed: 1805–06. Dedicated to Beethoven’s patron, friend, and pupil, Archduke Rudolph of Austria.
World premiere: First performed in March 1807 at a private concert at the palace of Prince Lobkowitz in Vienna. The public premiere took place on December 22, 1808, as part of an all-Beethoven benefit program at the Theater an der Wien, with the composer at the piano.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: May 16, 2010; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Arnaldo Cohen, piano.
Instrumentation: Solo piano, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Estimated duration: 34 minutes
Imagine settling into your seat in the Theater an der Wien on a cold December night in 1808. You are there for the premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s latest piano concerto, and although you have come to expect the unexpected from Beethoven, you are fairly certain what you will hear: a standard piano concerto format, consisting of three movements with clearly defined key relationships. The soloist will play brilliantly, especially in the cadences, and the concerto will end triumphantly.
When Beethoven takes his seat at the piano, all your preconceptions are shattered. He begins to play. Unaccompanied. At first you wonder if he is simply warming up (the hall is miserably cold), but when the orchestra enters, in a completely unexpected key, you realize you are witnessing something unprecedented: a total reinvention of the piano concerto as a genre.
So begins Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, arguably the most innovative of the five he wrote. With this work, Beethoven challenged himself to re-imagine the piano concerto’s conventions, from harmony to form to the role of the solo ist. “With Beethoven … there is a sense of striving for diverse solutions to each problem,” notes biographer Maynard Solomon. “Each of Beethoven’s works from c. 1802 onward has a strikingly individual character. In a deepening of the trend which began in 1806 with the Fourth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and the Violin Concerto, he now seemed to imbue many of his works with a sense of inner repose that no longer required turbulent responses to grand challenges.”
Beethoven’s self-confidence reveals itself in surprisingly intimate writing, par ticularly for the piano. The Allegro moderato begins softly, and Beethoven maintains the calm, resolute quality of the solo part throughout most of the Andante as well; there is none of the bold, brash “Look at me!” quality of the Third and Fifth symphonies. The Andante slides into the Rondo without pause, blurring the usually clearly delineated three-movement structure. Expectations are further confounded when the Rondo begins with the orchestra, rather than the soloist, and in the “wrong” key besides. Eventually, Beethoven gives us a bravura, energetic finale.
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World”
Composer: Born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, near Kralupy in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic); died May 1, 1904, Prague.
Work composed: 1892–1893 in New York City.
World premiere: Anton Seidl led the New York Philharmonic on December 16, 1893, at Carnegie Hall.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: November 21, 2011; Carlos Kalmar, conductor.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, and strings.
Estimated duration: 40 minutesAntonín Dvořák began work on his Ninth Symphony in December 1892, shortly after his arrival in America, and completed it in May 1893. He had come to the United States at the invitation of Jeanette Thurber, president of the National Conservatory of Music, who had asked Dvořák to head the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Although Dvořák was initially reluctant to leave Vysoká, his country home, not to mention his friends and his country, the $15,000 salary Mrs. Thurber offered him was too tempting to pass up (Dvořák’s six children were all under 13 at the time; providing for his family was the main reason he accepted Thurber’s offer). For her part, Thurber hoped Dvořák’s international reputation would shine much-needed luster on her school.
During his three-year sojourn in New York, Dvořák spent his off hours exploring the city, watching trains and large ships arrive and depart, feeding pigeons in Central Park, and meeting all kinds of people. He also accompanied Mrs. Thurber around town, taking in, among other outings, a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She was keenly interested in creating a uniquely “American” musical sound and style, and hoped that Dvořák would oblige her. She suggested that Dvořák “write a symphony embodying his experiences and feelings in America.” Late in 1892, Dvořák wrote to a friend back home, “The Americans expect great things of me. I am to show them the way into the Promised Land, the realm of a new, independent art, in short a national style of music! … This will certainly be a great and lofty task, and I hope that with God’s help I shall succeed in it. I have plenty of encouragement to do so.” Dvořák’s ultimate response to Thurber’s request was no mere parlor piece or small chamber work, but a symphony as expansive and energetic as America itself. From the moment of its premiere, the New World Symphony became Dvořák’s most popular work and one of the most performed symphonies by any composer.
Although Dvořák was exposed to a great deal of American folk music, including Native American melodies and Negro spirituals, he did not quote any of them verbatim while writing the Ninth Symphony. Dvořák explained, “The influence of America can be readily felt by anyone with ‘a nose.’” That is, hints of the uniquely American flavor of this music are discernable throughout. Dvořák makes use of the syncopated rhythms, repeated patterns, and scales common to much of America’s indigenous music. However, the Ninth Symphony is not a patchwork of previously existing materials, and Dvořák used no direct quotes in any part of the work, including the famous largo, which was later given the title Goin’ Home, with accompanying text by one of Dvořák’s composition students in New York. All the significant melodies in the Ninth Symphony are Dvořák’s own. “I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of Indian music, and using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestral color,” Dvořák explained. As for the title, “From the New World,” Dvořák intended it as an aural picture postcard to be mailed back to friends and family in Europe and meant simply “Impressions and Greetings from the New World.”
At the premiere, the audience applauded every movement with great enthusiasm, especially the Largo, which they cheered without pause until Dvořák rose from his seat and took a bow. A critic writing for The New York Evening Post spoke for most when he wrote, “Anyone who heard it could not deny that it is the greatest symphonic work ever composed in this country … A masterwork has been added to the symphonic literature.”
Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a writer and musician based in the Portland area. She provides notes for several organizations, including the Oregon Symphony, Portland Piano International and the Oregon Bach Festival, among others, and has also contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today,” (now heard on American Public Media). Ms. Schwartz also co-hosts the Portland Jewish Hour, heard Sundays at 10 am on KBOO 90.7 fm. classicalmusicprogramnotes.com.
Beethoven–Piano Concerto No. 4
Yefim Bronfman, piano
David Zinman–Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich
Arte Nova 640100
Dvořák–Symphony No. 9
István Kertész–London Symphony Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi–Cleveland