Oregon Symphony

 

Concert Information

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto

Saturday, March 11, 2017, 7:30 pm
Sunday, March 12, 2017, 7:30 pm
Monday, March 13, 2017, 7:30 pm


Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Harriet Krijgh, cello

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
Cello Concerto in B Minor
  • Allegro
  • Adagio ma non troppo
  • Finale: Allegro moderato
  • Harriet Krijgh


Intermission


KENJI BUNCH
Aspects of an Elephant (World premiere)
(played without pauses)
  • Introduction: Into Darkness
  • Var. I: The Elephant is a Whip
  • Var. II: The Elephant is a Spear
  • Var. III: The Elephant is a Silk Cloth
  • Var. IV: The Elephant is a Tree
  • Var. V: The Elephant is a Snake
  • Var. VI: The Elephant is a Throne
  • The Argument
  • Finale: The Creature Revealed
SAMUEL BARBER
Souvenirs
  • Waltz (The Lobby)
  • Schottische (Third Floor Hallway)
  • Pas de deux (A Corner of the Ballroom)
  • Two-step (Tea in the Palm Court)
  • Hesitation-Tango (A Bedroom Affair)
  • Galop (The Next Afternoon)


This concert will be recorded for future broadcast on All Classical Portland and other national outlets. We ask patrons to be as quiet as possible during the performance.


THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by music director Carlos Kalmar and Robert McBride, host 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.

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104

Vital Stats

Composer: Born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, near Kralupy (now the Czech Republic); died May 1, 1904, Prague.

Work composed: 1894–95 and dedicated to Dvořák’s friend, cellist Hanuš Wihan.

World premiere: Cellist Leo Stern performed the solo, with Dvořák conducting the London Philharmonic Society in London on March 19, 1896.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: May 10, 2010; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Quirine Viersen, cello.

Instrumentation: Solo cello, 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, and strings.

Estimated duration: 40 minutes

“I have … written a cello-concerto, but am sorry to this day I did so, and I never intend to write another,” Antonín Dvořák told one of his composition students. “The cello is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and in chamber music. As a solo instrument it isn’t much good.” Time has proved Dvořák wrong. Today, his cello concerto is considered one of the finest works in the orchestral repertoire, and the standard by which all subsequent cello concertos are measured.

American operetta composer and cellist Victor Herbert, who wrote Babes in Toyland, changed Dvořák’s opinion. After hearing Herbert perform his own cello concerto in March 1894, Dvořák decided to write one of his own. Herbert, then principal cellist for the Metropolitan Opera, recalled “After I had played my [2nd] Cello-Concerto in one of the [New York Philharmonic] Concerts—Dr. Dvořák…threw his arms around me, saying before many members of the orchestra: ‘famos! [splendid] famos! ganz famos!’”

Although the Cello Concerto, like Dvořák’s New World Symphony, was written while Dvořák lived in America, it has no obvious American flavor. Instead of the New World’s extroverted American energy, the Cello Concerto is a deeply personal Slavic work.

Of particular interest is the Adagioma non troppo, in which Dvořák quotes from the song Kéž duch můj sám (“Leave me alone”). Many years earlier, Dvořák had fallen in love with Josefina Cěrmáková, and this song was among her favorites. Josefina did not return his feelings, and Dvořák ultimately married her younger sister Anna. In time, Dvořák grew to love Anna deeply, but his youthful feelings for Josefina never totally disappeared. While Dvořák was writing the Cello Concerto in the fall and winter of 1894–95, he received word that Josefina had fallen gravely ill, and his concern for her took musical shape in the form of this personal quote. The Finale continues Dvořák’s tribute to Josefina, who died in May 1895. Having returned home to Prague by that time, Dvořák revised the ending to include the most famous part of this great work, the coda. Dvořák’s son Otakar wrote, “This impressive ending to the concerto was my father’s tribute to and final departure from his last love.”

Dvořák dedicated the Cello Concerto to cellist Hanuš Wihan, who gave Dvořák technical insight into the cello’s capabilities. Wihan, not content with his advisory role, apparently insisted on so many revisions that Dvořák finally rebelled. In a letter to his publisher, Dvořák wrote: “… I will give you my work only if you promise not to allow anybody to make changes—my friend Wihan not excepted.”

Critics and audiences received the Cello Concerto with enthusiasm. The London Times wrote, “In wealth and beauty of thematic material, as well as in the unusual interest of the development of its first movement, the new Concerto yields to none of the composer’s recent works; all three movements are richly melodious.” Johannes Brahms, also a fan, wrote to his publisher Simrock (who also published Dvořák’s music), “Cellists can be grateful to your Dvořák for bestowing on them such a great and skilful work.” From his deathbed, Brahms continued to praise Dvořák’s Cello Concerto: “Why on earth didn’t I know one could write a cello concerto like this? If I’d only known, I’d have written one long ago!”


KENJI BUNCH
Aspects of an Elephant

Vital Stats

Composer: Born July 27, 1973, Portland, OR.

Work composed: Summer 2016–winter 2017, commissioned by and dedicated to the Oregon Symphony in honor of its 120th season.

World premiere. Instrumentation: Piccolo (doubling alto flute), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon,
4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, 5 aluminum mixing bowls, bass drum, chimes, crotales, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, marimba, 5 roto toms, slapstick, stones, vibraphone, triangle, piano, harp, and strings.

Estimated duration: 18 minutes

Portland native composer/performer Kenji Bunch has been hailed by The New York Times as “A composer to watch.” Bunch’s music, which combines vernacular American influences with techniques from his classical training as a violist, blends wit, exuberance, lyricism, unpredictable stylistic infusions, and exquisite craftsmanship to create a new American musical vocabulary.

Bunch’s compositions have been performed by over 50 orchestras, and in top venues on six continents. He is currently the artistic director of Fear No Music, one of Portland’s premier new music ensembles, and teaches both theory and composition at Portland State University and Reed College.

In his notes for Aspects of an Elephant, Bunch writes, “I drew inspiration from the timeless parable of the so-called Blind Men and the Elephant, of which various versions have appeared throughout Asia and Europe since the 13th century. I especially liked the version in Rumi’s epic collection of sacred Islamic texts, The Masnavi. In this retelling, the men are not blind, but in a dark room with an elephant they can’t see; each man holds a small candle, which casts a faint light. They touch the mysterious beast in order to describe it to each other; naturally, they each come up with a very distinct impression of the elephant. For example, the man touching the tusk declares, ‘The elephant is a spear!’ while the man feeling a leg is convinced the elephant is a large tree. A heated argument ensues; each man believes his concept of the elephant is correct, and can’t imagine any other version being remotely accurate. There are six musical variations representing the different descriptions of the elephant. In each variation I feature small groups of solo instruments.

“This conflict escalates almost to the point of violence until the men realize the combined light of their individual candles has now revealed the true nature of the elephant, and that they were all partially correct in their assessments.

“I find this story engaging for a number of reasons. Without going into detail, its relevance to today’s deeply divided political climate is fairly obvious. Musically, it also seems to lend itself particularly well to the many different colors of the orchestra— which I feel is a compelling metaphor for a collection of diverse elements uniting to achieve a larger beauty. In addition to the different instrument families, I also feature some exotic percussion instruments, including five nested aluminum mixing bowls pitched low to high, of the kind you have in your kitchen. It sounds kind of like an Indonesian gamelan.

Aspects is, if not officially a ‘Concerto for Orchestra,’ certainly a celebration of the orchestra, and particularly the musicians of the Oregon Symphony, to whom this work is dedicated.”


SAMUEL BARBER
Souvenirs

Vital Stats

Composer: Born March 9, 1910, West Chester, PA; died January 23, 1981, New York City.

Work composed: 1952, originally for four-hand piano. Orchestrated for Lincoln Kirstein’s City Center Ballet (now the New York City Ballet).

World Premiere: The ballet Souvenirs premiered on November 15, 1955.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: February 19, 2008; Carlos Kalmar, conductor.

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, piano, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, harp, and strings.

Estimated duration: 17 minutes

Samuel Barber spent a lot of time in bars. In the early 1950s, Barber and his friend, pianist Charles Turner, liked to frequent the bar at the Blue Angel Club in New York City. Barber and Turner particularly enjoyed the clever arrangements of Broadway tunes and popular songs performed by the bar’s piano duo. In response to Turner’s request for similar music from Barber, Barber composed Souvenirs, a six-movement suite for four-hand piano.

In 1952, Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of City Center Ballet (now the New York City Ballet), asked Barber to orchestrate Souvenirs for a new ballet by George Balanchine. In a letter to his uncle, Barber wrote, “I … have just finished a ballet score for Balanchine (the best choreographer) which gave me great pleasure to compose. Very light. A waltz, schottische, galoppe, tango, pas-de-deux, and two-step. Think of that coming out of your serious-minded West Chester Presbyterian nephew.”

Barber had a nostalgic fondness for the Plaza Hotel; his mother had taken him to tea there as a child. In his own program notes, Barber wrote, “One might imagine a divertissement in a setting of the Palm Court of the Hotel Plaza in New York, the year about 1914, epoch of the first tangos; ‘Souvenirs’— remembered with affection, not with irony or tongue in cheek, but in amused tenderness.” Each of Souvenirs’ six dances was popular during the early 1900s, and Barber sets each dance in a different room or area of the Plaza. The Waltz takes place in the Plaza’s opulent lobby, where its music reflects the refinement of its surroundings, while the rambunctious Schottische bounces down the hallways of the third floor with a hopping melody in the strings and winds. The Plaza’s ballroom provides the intimate setting for the Pas de deux, with its erotically charged flute solo. All of the Palm Court’s hustle and bustle is captured in the witty Two-Step. Barber labeled the Hesitation-Tango“a bedroom affair,” and its atmospheric melody, a sinuous oboe/clarinet duet, evokes a forbidden tryst. The final Galop takes place the following afternoon. The melody, shared among various solo instruments, rushes forward in whirl of activity.

© 2017 Elizabeth Schwartz

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.

Recommended recordings

Dvořák–Cello Concerto
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Herbert von Karajan–Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon Originals 447413

Alisa Weilerstein, cello
Jiří Bělohlávek–Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Decca 001976502

Barber–Souvenirs
Marin Alsop–Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Naxos 8559044

 

 

 


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