GRIEG: Piano Concerto
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2
Discovery Open Rehearsal - Saturday, February 15, 2014 - 2pm
Saturday, February 15, 2014 – 8 pm
Sunday, February 16, 2014 – 3 pm
Monday, February 17, 2014 – 8 pm
We are proud to present the American premiere of Resurgence by 34-year-old, multiple award-winning Norwegian composer Ørjan Matre. Back for an encore performance, the exceptional pianist Philippe Bianconi interprets Grieg’s concerto, with its dramatic opening cadenza and sweeping final chords. The third Scandinavian composer on this program, Jean Sibelius, has given us a symphony infused with the striking terrain of deep-walled fjords and the processes of nature in the cold, clean air of Finland.
Sponsored by Freeman Lexus - Toyota
Philippe Bianconi underwritten by Elizabeth Witchey-Ryer in memory of her mother Esther Browning
“Gorgeous piano playing! Bianconi is capable of covering a great range of emotions without losing his clarity and brilliance.”
(Le Figaro, France)
Weill Concert Hall, Green Music Center
Corner of Petaluma Hill Road and Rohnert Park Expressway
1801 East Cotati Ave
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Program Notes by Steven Ledbetter
Ørjan Matre (1979– )
Resurgence for Orchestra
Ørjan Matre was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1979. He composed Resurgence in 2011. It was premiered by the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Rolf Gupta, on January 12, 2012. This is the American premiere. The score calls for three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets and bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, three percussionists, each of whom plays a large tam-tam of different size and several other instruments, and strings. DURATION IS ABOUT 10 MINUTES.
Ørjan Matre studied with Bjørn Kruse, Lasse Thoresen, Olav Anton Thommessen and Henrik Hellstenius at the Norwegian Academy of Music and began to establish himself as a new voice in Norwegian music from a very early date. By 2003, when he was just 24, he had created a piece inspired by The Simpsons television show, alluding to Homer’s attempt to be a conceptual artist (Attempted Birdhouse). In 2006, a CD entitled Lights Out was released. It was made up of music that Matre had produced with several fellow students, performed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Rolf Gupta (to whom Resurgence is dedicated). Matre’s Handel Mixtapes begins with compositions by Handel, which “gradually erode away” until they become assimilated by the composers own music, a kind of post-modern collage.
For Resurgence, Matre calls for a very specific placement of the instruments in the orchestra, which already notifies listeners that a significant aspect of the work will be the location of sound in space. The strings are to remain onstage in their normal position. Brass instruments are offstage (basically behind the strings but at a distance, creating a kind of muting effect), while two of the three percussionists are onstage behind the strings, to their right and left. The remaining instruments—the woodwinds—are spread in a particular way around the audience. In a plan designed for the hall where the piece was first performed, half of the woodwinds are in the first balcony, right and left, and the remainder are similarly placed in the second balcony. Recognizing that not all concert halls are architecturally alike, the composer notes “If no balconies are available, the musicians should still be placed on the right/ left side of the audience, with the upper balcony musicians placed farthest from the stage.”
With this arrangement, the work begins with sounds reaching the audience from the front of the hall—the first two percussion parts, the strings, and the brass backstage. Each group of instruments begins with long-held sustained tones, only gradually developing a rhythmically active life. It is a few minutes into the piece before a sound arrives from some other point than the front, and then it is a subtle roll on the bass drum played by the third percussionist in the rear—but only for a very short time. It is a few minutes later, when the first violins are playing rapid arpeggios, that the woodwinds around the sides of the hall enter, with long-sustained tones. As the work continues, each of the groups begins to become more active, playing off against the others, as the sounds come from different parts of the hall more and more actively. After an energetic climax in which all the instrumental groups take part, the action moves in the other direction, gradually returning to the long-sustained sonorities of the beginning, increasing moments of silence in one group or another, until the sound fades entirely into the primordial stillness.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 16
Edvard Grieg was born on June 15, 1843, in Bergen, Norway, and died there on September 4, 1907. He composed his only piano concerto in 1868 and revised it regularly up to the last year of his life. The composer first dedicated the score to Rikard Nordraak, a Norwegian composer whom he had met in 1864. The second edition of the concerto was dedicated to Edmund Neupert, a compatriot who was soloist at the first performance of the piece in Copenhagen in 1869. In addition to the solo piano, the score calls for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings. DURATION IS ABOUT 30 MINUTES.
The familiar and popular concerto was one of the most important steps on Grieg’s path toward the creation of a national Norwegian music. After completing his studies in Leipzig, Grieg settled in Copenhagen and met Rikard Nordraak, an idealistic Norwegian composer just one year his senior, whose premature death at the age of twenty-four left a lasting impression. Soon after, Edvard and Nina Grieg and their infant daughter spent the pleasant summer of 1868 in a cottage at Solleroc, Denmark, where a creative outburst resulted in the Opus 16 concerto, his finest largescale accomplishment.
The following winter, while feeling trapped in the indifference and philistinism of Christiana (now Oslo), Grieg received a warm unsolicited letter from Franz Liszt who expressed his delight at Grieg’s first violin sonata. This letter opened doors that had up to then been firmly shut; not long after, Grieg received a travel grant, allowing him to accept Liszt’s invitation to visit. The Griegs caught up with Liszt in Rome in February 1870. There, during one of their visits, Liszt played at sight from the manuscript score the entire concerto—both orchestral and solo parts—with growing enthusiasm. Just before the end, when the full orchestra thunders out an unexpected G-natural instead of the expected G-sharp, Liszt jumped up and shouted, “Splendid! That’s the real thing!”
The concerto was popular from the start, indeed, it has been mistreated, especially in the popular operetta, Song of Norway (very loosely based on Grieg’s life), yet retains its freshness. Clearly inspired by Schumann’s essay in the same medium and key, its piano part is of Lisztian brilliance, blended with Grieg’s own harmonic originality, influenced by his studies of Norwegian folk song. The opening splash of piano, a sequence of a descending second followed by a descending third, is a characteristic Norwegian melodic gesture. It also clearly reflects the entrance of the piano at the very beginning of Schumann’s famous concerto. For the rest, the first movement is loaded with attractive themes, some obviously derived from one another, others strongly contrasting, a melodic richness that has played a powerful role in generating the concerto’s appeal. The animato section of the first movement includes figurations of the type used by folk-fiddlers. The lyric song of the second movement is harmonized in the style of some of Grieg’s later folk song settings. The finale consists of dance rhythms reminiscent of the halling and springdans.
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 43
Jean Sibelius was born in Hameenlinna (then known by the Swedish name Tavastehus), Finland, on December 8, 1865, and died at Jarvenpaa, near Helsinki, on September 20, 1957. Sibelius completed the Second Symphony early in 1902 and conducted the first performance on March 8 that year at Helsinki. The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings. DURATION IS ABOUT 43 MINUTES.
It comes as a surprise to learn that a composer renowned as a nationalistic hero in his homeland was not a native speaker of the language. Sibelius was born to a Swedish-speaking family in a small town in south central Finland and only began to speak some Finnish from the age of eight. He entered a Finnish-language school at eleven, but not until he was a young man did he feel completely at home in the language.
At first, Sibelius aimed at a career as a professional virtuoso. But in 1885, after an abortive attempt at legal studies, he pursued composition with Martin Wegelius in Helsinki, then continuing in Berlin, where he heard the newest music, including Strauss’s Don Juan at its premiere. He was usually in debt, apparently unable to avoid financial extravagance in the German capital, and already drinking heavily, a habit that remained with him. After his return to Finland in 1891 he composed the choral symphony Kullervo, which was so successful at its premiere in April 1892 that he was immediately established as a leading figure in Finnish music, a position that was never seriously challenged thereafter.
In the next seven years he composed scores for dramatic production, a failed operatic attempt, and—most important—a group of purely orchestral scores, En saga and the four symphonic poems about Lemminkäinen, a character from the Finnish national epic Kalevala. These culminated in his first symphony, composed evidently in part as a musical response to Tchaikovsky’s Path.tique Symphony. Sibelius’s most famous single work—the one now known by the title Finlandia—and the first of the symphonies that reveals the true nature of his art, the Second, both saw the light of day during a period of great patriotic fervor in Finland, when many of the composer’s compatriots sought to create a nation that was both culturally and politically independent of Tsarist Russia.
An admirer, one Axel Carpelan, a neurotic hypochondriac who loved Sibelius’s music, had suggested Finlandia as a good title for a work, and also proposed that Sibelius compose (among other things) a symphony, which would be the Second, a violin concerto, and a string quartet. Best of all, he found two Swedish patrons who agreed to put up a sum of money sufficient to allow Sibelius to spend some time during the winter of 1900-1901 in Italy, where he worked steadily, producing some small pieces. While passing through Germany, he met Richard Strauss, who formed an extremely favorable opinion of the young Finn: “Sibelius is the only Scandinavian composer who has real depth,” he wrote in his diary.
When the new symphony was finally finished, Sibelius conducted four successive performances in Helsinki on March 8, 10, 14, and 16, 1901, with a sold-out auditorium for each performance. His friend Kajanus wrote an enthusiastic essay in which he interpreted the symphony as a political statement, with the Andante expressing “the most broken-hearted protest against all the injustice that threatens at the present time,” while the scherzo “gives a picture of frenetic preparation,” and the finale moves to a “triumphant conclusion intended to rouse in the listener a picture of lighter and confident prospects for the future.” These ideas were surely the writer’s own; Sibelius himself never authorized them, nor spoke of a political content in the work, though under the circumstances, it is quite likely that many of his countrymen responded to it in much the same way Kajanus did.
The Second Symphony is expansive and spacious. What makes it characteristic of the mature Sibelius is the way it grows from small musical motives, as short as a few notes, or a characteristic chord progression, into a vast architectural structure, and does so with a kind of fluidity, as if the symphony is congealing out of the northern mists. Still, while “mist” might be a suitable metaphor for some of the later Sibelius symphonies, No. 2 begins in a sunny D major with figures that are more evocative of the forests (especially in the rich echo by the four horns of a little figure first presented by the woodwinds. It has a feeling of expansive openness, partly generated by the spacious time signatures that Sibelius often uses (the symphony opens in 6/4; 12/4 in the slow section at the center of the scherzo; 3/2 for the finale). Although Sibelius’s music could hardly sound more different, at least one writer has produced an entire book hailing him as the true successor of Beethoven in shaping his magnificent musical edifices through the development of a handful of purely abstract musical ideas—with results that seem far too expressive to be abstract.
Sibelius arranges this four-movement symphony to fall into two parts. The bright mellowness of the opening movement is shadowed by the minor-key second movement, which unfolds some of the same musical ideas. Sibelius directly links the last two movements. The furious, mysterious, driven scherzo pauses for the oboe’s contrasting, sustained melody, and this eventually broadens the ending of the movement into an anticipation of the triumphant finale, building it out of what might have seemed the ashes of the dark parts of the scherzo to the brilliant and heroic close.
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)