***************GUEST ARTIST REPLACEMENT***************
Brilliant young pianist Andrew von Oeyen steps in at the last moment to perform with the Santa Rosa Symphony at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on January 12, 13 and 14. He replaces violinist Karen Gomyo who was forced to cancel her appearance due to illness. However, the guest artist will still perform Mendelssohn—the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor.
Carl St. Clair, internationally-distinguished conductor and celebrated music director of the Pacific Symphony for 23 years, takes the podium for an array of well-known and well-loved works, starting with Beethoven's jubilant fanfare. Excerpts from Pines of Rome have been featured in numerous films, proving its popularity and ability to inspire.
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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Ludwig van Beethoven
Overture to Wolfgang von Goethe’s Tragedy, Egmont, Opus 84a
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, probably on December 16, 1770 (his baptismal certificate is dated the 17th) and died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. His Egmont music was commissioned for the Court Theater in Vienna in October 1809 and was completed by the following spring. Most of the music was first performed in Vienna on May 24, 1810; the overture was added on June 15; the first American performance of the overture took place in New York in a concert given by Joseph Herrmann as early as April 2, 1825. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two each of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 9 minutes.
Goethe’s 1788 historical tragedy Egmont dealt with the most illustrious victim of Spanish tyranny in the Netherlands, treacherously seized by the Duke of Alba and executed in Brussels on June 4, 1568. The play, halfway between Goethe’s youthful Sturm und Drang and his mature classicism, was only a middling success. Beethoven’s music, composed for an 1810 Viennese production, that keeps Egmont alive, projecting Egmont to the audience as a far more heroic figure than Goethe made him. Beethoven saw the conflict between Egmont and Alba as the clash between good and evil, between liberty and tyranny; in response, he produced music of great force.
In the drama’s final scene, the imprisoned Egmont, awaiting execution, sees a vision of Freedom, in the likeness of his sweetheart Klärchen, and awakens emboldened to address the audience in heroic closing words, ending, “And to save all that is dearest to you, fall joyously, as I set you an example.” The poet called for music to break in immediately after these last words, to bring down the curtain with a “victory symphony.” Beethoven’s overture is mostly tense and somber, its overall air of suspense foreshadowing the serious issues of the drama to follow. At the very end of the overture, Beethoven suddenly brings in totally new material for his coda—the “victory symphony” that will be heard again in the last scene. This brilliant F-major peroration provides a powerful dramatic lift.
Concerto in E minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 64
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg on February 3, 1809, and died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847. He planned a violin concerto as early as 1838, but it was not until 1844 that he settled down to serious work on it; the finished score is dated September 16, 1844. The first performance took place in Leipzig under Niels Gade’s direction, with Ferdinand David as the soloist. The concerto is scored for solo violin with an orchestra consisting of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets all in pairs, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 26 minutes.
Ferdinand David (1810-1873) was one of the most distinguished German violinists and teachers of his day. When the twenty-seven-year-old Mendelssohn became director of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig in 1836, he had David, just a year his junior, appointed to the position of concertmaster. The relationship between composer and violinist was marked in a letter from Mendelssohn to David on July 30, 1838: “I’d like to write a violin concerto for you next winter; one in E minor sticks in my head, the beginning of which will not leave me in peace.”
But having said as much, Mendelssohn was not able to work seriously on the concerto until July 1844. By mid-September the concerto was finished.
The concerto is quite simply one of the most original and attractive ever written. The originality comes from the new ways Mendelssohn found to solve old formal problems. Ever since Antonio Vivaldi had set his seal on the Baroque concerto, certain features had been common. The traditional concerto built its first movement on a formal pattern alternating statements by the full orchestra (ritornellos) with sections featuring the soloist. This was effective when the ritornello was a short summary of the main idea to anchor the soloist’s free flight. But over a half century, the orchestral ritornello got longer and longer. Instead of waiting perhaps a minute or two to hear the soloist, the audience had to wait five minutes or more. Proportions seemed skewed.
Mendelssohn took the radical step of dispensing with the tutti ritornello entirely, fusing the opening statement of orchestra and soloist into a single exposition. This was part of his design from the very beginning. Even the earliest sketch of the first movement shows the two measures of orchestral “curtain” before the soloist introduces the principal theme.
The other problem of concerto form that Mendelssohn attacked in a new way is that of the cadenza. Normally, just before the end of the movement, the orchestra pauses on a chord that signals the soloist to take off alone. Theoretically only two chords are necessary after this point (though in practice there is usually a bit more). Yet everything comes to a standstill while we admire the sheer virtuosity of the soloist, despite the fact that the cadenza might be outrageously out of style with the rest of the piece.
The problem is not perhaps so serious when the composer himself provides the cadenza, because it is then at least in an appropriate style. But the absurdity of coming right up to the end of the movement and suddenly putting everything on hold is unchanged. Mendelssohn’s solution is logical and utterly unique. He writes his own cadenza for the first movement, but instead of making it an afterthought, he places it in the heart of the movement, allowing the soloist the chance to complete the development and inaugurate the recapitulation!
Finally, Mendelssohn linked all the movements together without a break, something that had never before happened in a formal concerto. Yet we can’t imagine the Liszt concertos and many others without this change.
The smooth discourse of the first movement, the way Mendelssohn picks up short motives from the principal theme to punctuate extensions, requires no highlighting. But it is worth pointing out one of the loveliest touches of orchestration at the arrival of the second theme, which is in the relative major key of G. Just before the new key is reached, the solo violin soars up to high C and then floats gently downward to its very lowest note, on the open G-string, as the clarinets and flutes sing the tranquil new melody. Mendelssohn’s lovely touch here is to use the solo instrument—and a violin at that, which is usually a high voice—to supply the bass note, the sustained G, under the first phrase; it is an inversion of our normal expectations, and it works beautifully.
When the first movement comes to its vigorous conclusion, the first bassoon continues to hold its note into what would normally be silence. The intention here is to forestall intrusive applause after the first movement; Mendelssohn gradually came to believe that the various movements of a large work should be performed with as little pause as possible between them, and this was one way to do it. A few measures of modulation lead naturally to C major and the lyrical second movement, the character of which darkens only with the appearance of trumpets and timpani, seconded by string tremolos, in the middle section. Once again at the end of the movement there is only the briefest possible break; then the soloist and orchestral strings play a brief transition that allows a return to the key of E (this time in the major mode) for the lively finale, one of those brilliantly light and fleet-footed examples of “fairy music” that Mendelssohn made so uniquely his own.
Le carnival romain (Roman Carnival) overture caractéristique for Orchestra, Opus 9
Hector Berlioz was born in La Côte-St.-André, Isère, on December 11, 1803, and died in Paris on March 8, 1869. He composed the Roman Carnival Overture in the fall of 1843, basing it on music from his opera Benvenuto Cellini. In this form it received its premiere in Paris, under the composer’s baton, on February 3, 1844. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two cornets, three trombones, timpani, two tambourines, cymbals, triangle, and strings. Duration is 8 minutes.
Berlioz conceived this piece as an afterthought to his opera Benvenuto Cellini, a fictionalized treatment of the life of the famous Renaissance sculptor, which reaches its climax in the casting of his great bronze “Perseus.” The opera had been performed in 1838, without much success, owing to the politics of French musical life. In this, Berlioz was perpetually an outsider; no matter how hard he worked; he was simply too witty, too honest, and too talented to make his way easily in a world of backstabbing and self-promotion by entrenched musical figures (though he himself was no mean self-promoter). The opera had been seriously hampered in performance by poor conducting from François-Antoine Habeneck, who was hostile to the work. The catastrophic experience of Benvenuto Cellini had a sobering effect on Berlioz, and he never forgot the humiliation of that opening night.
The experience convinced Berlioz that every composer owed it to himself to become a conductor, too, so he could have some control over the treatment given his new pieces. He took his own advice to become active as a conductor and wrote a series of effective concert pieces for use on his tours. To that end, he returned to the second-act finale of Benvenuto Cellini which takes place in Rome during the unbuttoned pre-Lenten period known as carnival time and drew upon it for “The Roman Carnival,” described as a “characteristic overture.” It became one of Berlioz’s most popular compositions.
For this concert showpiece, Berlioz begins with a brief outburst of the main saltarello theme at a devil-may-care speed, followed by an exquisite slow, lyrical melody in the English horn (drawn from the duet between Cellini and Teresa in the opera’s first act). The third time through, we hear it in tight canonic imitation. Once into the Allegro, the material comes almost literally from the Act II finale of Cellini for nearly two-hundred measures. The brief fugato that comprises the development keeps the galloping saltarello rhythm constantly present while the lyric melody recurs in sustained notes. The climactic moment involves the combination of all these elements—saltarello, canon, lyric passages, and tricky phrase elisions—to make a wonderfully invigorating close that leaves the listener, as well as the performers, breathless with its non-stop, headlong rush.
I pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome), Symphonic Poem for Orchestra
Respighi composed The Pines of Rome in 1923-24. It was premiered on December 14, 1924, in the Augusteo concert hall in Rome under the direction of Bernardino Molinari. The score calls for a large orchestra consisting of three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, four trombones, timpani, triangle, two small cymbals, tambourine, ratchet, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, harp, bells, celesta, harp, piano, organ, offstage trumpet, six flugelhorns or tenor tubas, and strings. In addition, Respighi specified a phonograph with a recording of a nightingale’s song. Duration is about 23 minutes.
Rome, the “eternal city,” has been described as a palimpsest, a term used for old manuscripts in which the writing has been rubbed away so that the parchment could be reused. Even a casual stroll around Rome reveals fragments of buildings from many different periods, going back to classical antiquity, embedded within modern structures. It is possible to eat a fine dinner in a modern restaurant in the basement of the ancient Theater of Marcellus, or to climb the Campidoglio and observe, within the space of a hundred feet, objects that evoke Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the city, Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, Rienzi, “last of the tribunes,” the poet Petrarch, the artist Michelangelo, and the dictator Mussolini.
Ottorino Respighi’s three most famous scores all suggest these diverse images of the city, celebrating the fountains (1914-16), the pines (1923-24) and the festival of Rome (1928). Though Respighi also wrote eight operas, two ballets, nearly a dozen other orchestral works, and some exquisite vocal music, he is remembered by the average concertgoer solely for his three Roman suites.
Respighi studied in Russia with Rimsky-Korsakov (whose influence on his brilliant treatment of the orchestra is evident). He was far and away the most successful Italian composer of his generation. His music is at its best when he can evoke an air of childlike wonder, of delight in visual impressions translated into music, as he does in The Pines of Rome.
The four movements of the suite mostly evoke the kind of activity that goes on (or went on) in their vicinity of the pines. The first and third movements are modern scenes, the second and fourth are historical.
I. The Pines of the Villa Borghese. The Villa Borghese is today an enormous park open to the public, though formerly belonging to the powerful Borghese family, which dominated Roman life up to and including the Papacy. Respighi evokes the energy of swarming children playing in the modern park through constant activity and noise, almost nonstop trills or tremolos, and bits of childish song.
II. Pine-trees near a catacomb. The mood suddenly changes to utter stillness. The catacombs were used by early Christians as safe places to meet for worship during the period that their sect was outlawed. Respighi builds up the picture out of little fragments intended to suggest liturgical chanting.
III. The Pines of the Janiculum. The Janiculum (Gianicolo in modern Italian) is a large hill in the Trastevere section of Rome, near the Vatican, offering a magnificent view of the city’s historic center across the Tiber, and it was the site of numerous historic events including some of the fiercest fighting between Garibaldi and the Papal forces during the lengthy struggle to unify the country. Respighi, however, offers a nocturnal scene drenched in moonlight. Soft shimmering sounds against long phrases in the solo woodwinds captures the summer night. At the end of the movement, Respighi introduces the most unusual instrument in his orchestra: the phonograph (or today, a digital recording) of a nightingale’s song.