ZHAO JIPING: Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra [American premiere]
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6, Pastorale
Discovery Open Rehearsal - Saturday, January 11, 2014 - 2pm
Saturday, January 11, 2014 – 8 pm
Sunday, January 12, 2014 – 3 pm
Monday, January 13, 2014 – 8 pm
European Classics, epitomized by Mozart and Beethoven, meet ancient Chinese tradition, embodied in the stunning pipa virtuoso Wu Man. We are proud to present the American premiere of a concerto by her colleague in The Silk Road project, Zhao Jiping, a composer known as “the John Williams of China.” Wu Man, a leading ambassador of Chinese music, was named “Instrumentalist of the Year” at the 2013 Musical America awards. Guest maestro Enrique Arturo Diemecke returns to add his electrifying balance of passion, intellect and technique to this sweeping program.
The pipa has deep frets allowing the player to bend the pitch expressively and Wu Man is a consummate master of its many voices and sounds, covering a wide dynamic range with evocative grace, while using pitch variation with coy expressiveness and plucking, strumming and placing notes with deft brilliance. The work was simple, idiomatic and effective.
-The Sidney Morning Herald, after the world premiere
“One of the rare musicians who has changed the history of the instrument she plays.” (Boston Globe)
“Diemecke conducts with fierceness and authority.” (The New York Times)
Guest Conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke underwritten by Anderson, Zeigler, Disharoon, Gallagher & Gray.
Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra underwritten by the Clarence E. Heller Foundation.
Discovery Open Rehearsal Series sponsored by the Stare Foundation and David Stare of Dry Creek Vineyard.
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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Single Tickets Available July 30, 2013.
Program Notes by Steven Ledbetter
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 15 in G major, K.124
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791. We know exactly when the piece was composed, thanks to Mozart’s own inscription on the manuscript, which, in translation, reads “Symphony by Cavalier Wolfgango Amadeo Mozart, Salzburg, 21 February 1772.” We do not, however, know when it was first performed. The score calls for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings. According to the performance practice of the time, a bassoon would likely have played along on the bass line, and a harpsichord would have played continuo with the bass. DURATION IS ABOUT 16 MINUTES.
Whenever Mozart finished one of his youthful symphonies during Lent, as he did with K.124 in 1772 (Ash Wednesday fell on February 4 that year, and he finished the symphony two and a half weeks later), we may assume as likely, though not definite, that it was to be performed at a Lenten concert. But we have no evidence of when any such concert might have taken place. Alternatively, he might have been looking ahead to the arrival in Salzburg of a new Archbishop, who was to take office on April 29. The Archbishop would be Mozart’s boss, and the composer would naturally have wanted to start off on the right foot with him. Moreover, the Archbishop had a reputation as a more than satisfactory amateur violinist, who liked to play with “his” orchestra—and he did so from a position next to the concertmaster!
Zhao Jiping (1945– )
Concerto No. 2 for Pipa and Orchestra [AMERICAN PREMIERE]
Zhao Jiping was born in Pingliang, Gansu, China, in August 1945. He composed his Concerto No. 2 for Pipa and Orchestra especially for Wu Man, who plays it here in its American premiere. The world premiere was given by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jessica Cottis on October 30, 2013. In addition to the solo pipa, the score calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion, harp, and strings. DURATION IS ABOUT 25 MINUTES.
In recent decades, cultural links between the United States and China have produced a growing body of music that either recreates elements of traditional Chinese musical style on western instruments (most of which have only been introduced into China only about a century ago), or works in which traditional Chinese instruments appear—usually as soloists—in conjunction with instruments designed to play a very different kind of music. Chinese composers who have emigrated to the United States, like Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, and Zhou Long have made this sort of fusion increasingly familiar on this side of the Pacific, just as Zhao Jiping has been doing in China.
The essential difference that composers wishing to develop both Chinese traditional musical styles with American and European styles is that western music has been built on a foundation of major/minor harmony for over 300 years. Emphasis and contrast in western music comes through an intensification of the harmony. Chinese music, on the other hand, has been largely conceived as melodic, with little or no use of simultaneities between different instruments, and never with harmony as a driving force to shape a piece. Elaboration instead tends to involve rich, virtuosic melodic decoration or slight bendings of the pitch—characteristics for which Chinese instruments like the pipa were designed.
Zhao Jiping is one of the most prominent of modern day Chinese composers, especially in the realm of film music, in which he has been honored at the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, among others. His best known film scores include Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine. Both he and Wu Man are participants in the Silk Road Project, created by Yo Yo Ma, to investigate the interaction of musical styles along the historic trade route between China and Europe for many centuries.
Regarding his new Concerto No. 2 for Pipa and Orchestra, Zhao Jiping writes:
“It’s been very exciting to be writing a concerto for the pipa virtuoso Wu Man, whom I have known and admired for many years. She is an amazing artist who has accumulated a wealth of playing experience, and has a unique perspective on the interpretation of music, particularly on the integration of eastern sounds with western ensembles. I see the piece not so much as a traditional concerto, but more an exploration of poetic expression of thoughts and emotions, able to stimulate many levels of the audience’s imagination.
" The orchestra and Wu Man are the canvas and I have the privilege to paint the picture. I am delighted that a number of orchestras will be playing this concerto during its premiere season. A few years ago, I was fortunate to hear a concert of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which is the lead commissioner, and was immediately struck by the virtuosity of the musicians. With that sound in my mind, my goal is to create a pipa concerto with a strong Chinese flavor combined with global musical language sense. I am confident that this powerful collaboration will touch a new light!”
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) Symphony No. 6 in F major, Opus 68, Pastorale
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, probably on December 16, 1770 (he was baptized the following day), and died in Vienna on March 16, 1827. Beethoven did most of his work on the Sixth Symphony during the fall of 1807 and the early part of 1808 (a few sketches go back as far as 1803); he had sold the work to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel by September 1808. The Sixth Symphony was first performed—along with the Fifth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Choral Fantasy, and several movements of the Mass in C, Opus 86, all in their premiere performances as well—on December 22, 1808, at the TheateranderWien in Vienna. The symphony is scored for two flutes and piccolo, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and trombones, plus timpani and strings. DURATION IS ABOUT 39 MINUTES.
The delight that Beethoven took in the world of nature is attested by countless stories from many periods of his life. When in Vienna he never failed to take his daily walk around the ramparts, and during his summers spent outside of town he would be outdoors most of the day. The notion of treating the natural world in music occurred to him as early as 1803, when he wrote down in one of his sketchbooks a musical fragment in 12/8 time (the same meter used for the “Scene at the Brook”) with a note: “Murmur of the brook.” Other musical ideas later to end up in the Sixth Symphony appear in his sketchbooks sporadically in 1804 and during the winter of 1806–07.
One thing that aroused discussion of the new symphony—a debate lasting for decades—was the fact that Beethoven provided each movement of the work with a program, or literary guide to its meaning. His titles are really only brief images, just enough to suggest a setting:
I. Awakening of happy feelings upon reaching the countryside.
II. Scene at the brook.
III. Cheerful gathering of the country folk.
V. Shepherd’s song. Happy, grateful feelings after the storm.
Many romantic composers and critics saw in this program a justification for the most abstruse kinds of storytelling in symphonic writing, but the program is certainly not necessary for understanding the music. Still, there have been some unlikely, even bizarre, attempts to illustrate the symphony, which go from an 1829 production in London with six actors and a ballet company up to the detailed Disney scenario in Fantasia, replete with amorous centaurs, cupids, and a mighty Zeus throwing thunderbolts until he is tired and then curling up for a nap under a convenient cloud.
Much more important for an understanding of Beethoven’s view than the headings of the movements is the note that Beethoven had printed in the program of the first performance: “Pastoral Symphony, more an expression of feeling than painting.” Clearly this symphony provided yet again what all of his symphonies had offered: subjective moods and impressions captured in harmony, melody, color, and the structured passage of time. Beethoven’s sketchbooks reveal that he was working on his Fifth and Sixth symphonies at the same time; they were finished virtually together, given consecutive opus numbers (67 and 68), and premiered on the same concert. Yet, no two symphonies are less likely to be confused, even by the most casual listener—the Fifth, with its demonic energy, tense harmonies, and powerful dramatic climaxes on the one hand, and the Sixth, with its smiling and sunny air of relaxation and joy on the other.
The Fifth deals in harmonic tensions—dissonant diminished seventh and augmented-sixth chords that color the mood almost throughout. The harmonic character of the Sixth Symphony is altogether more relaxed. Beethoven builds his extensive musical plan on the very simplest harmonies, on the chords that harmony students learn in the first few days of study—tonic, dominant, and subdominant. The symphony revels in major triads from the very beginning, and the diminished seventh chord is withheld until the thunderstorm of the fourth movement. As in the Fifth Symphony, the melodic material of the first movement is derived from the very beginning of the work, but in the Sixth, the thematic motives that arise from the opening measures of the Pastoral Symphony—there are at least four of them—are relaxed, genial, apparently in no hurry to get anywhere. Our course through the first movement is perfectly balanced with slow swings from tonic to dominant and back, or lengthy phrases reiterating a single chord, then jumping to another chord for more repetition.
One idea that does not appear at the very beginning but grows in importance throughout is a little figure of repeated notes in triplets first heard as punctuation in clarinets and bassoons. As the movement progresses, that triplet rhythm insinuates itself more and more into the musical fabric until, by the beginning of the recapitulation, it is running along in counterpoint to the themes heard at the outset, and just before the close of the movement, the solo clarinet takes off on triplet arpeggios in what is virtually a cadenza.
The richly-scored second movement opens with two muted solo cellos providing a background murmur along with second violins and violas, while the first violins and woodwinds embellish the melodic flow with a rich array of turns and trills. Even if Beethoven had never provided a title for the movement, no listener familiar with the traditions of western music would fail to recognize its bucolic leisure. Beethoven’s sense of architectural balance remains engaged. Even the one explicitly “programmatic” passage—the song of nightingale, quail, and cuckoo labeled as such in the flute, oboe, and clarinet just before the end of the movement—fits perfectly well as a purely musical passage.
Only twice in Beethoven’s symphonic output did he link the movements of a symphony so that they would be performed without a break. Significantly, this happened in the two sibling symphonies, the Fifth and the Sixth. In the Fifth, the scherzo joins the finale by a long tense passage getting louder and louder and demanding resolution in the bright C major of the closing movement. In the Pastoral Symphony, the level of tension is not nearly so high, and the linking passage has grown to a full movement itself. The scherzo, a real dance movement in F major, is interrupted just at its last chord by a dramatic Allegro in F minor. The violence of that extended passage gradually dies down and returns to the major mode for the final passage of rustic simplicity, a release from the tension of the Allegro whether or not one thinks of it as “grateful feelings after the storm.” In both symphonies, then, the transition moves from darkness and tension to the light of a major key finale. Beethoven demonstrated that he could achieve this effect in opposing ways: in the Fifth, with a massive crescendo to a powerful fortissimo point of arrival; in the Sixth, by a steady decrescendo from the height of the “storm” to the tranquility of the clear weather that follows.
Berlioz spoke of Beethoven’s orchestration here with the greatest admiration, and he helped himself to such devices as the thick, “stormy” sound of the opening. As the storm ends, a ranz des vaches (Swiss herdsman’s song) introduces the final major key movement and the “hymn of thanksgiving.” The tune that Beethoven borrowed for this spot unmistakably identifies the setting in a world of pastoral simplicity.
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)