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Overview,

BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH SYMPHONY
A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

May 27, 28, 29
Jahja Ling, conductor
Gil Shaham, violin

BEETHOVEN: Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

San Diego Symphony's historic Centennial Season closes with an all-Beethoven program featuring internationally celebrated violinist Gil Shaham and a performance of Ludwig Van's immortal Fifth Symphony.

Click here to listen to an audio preview from Nuvi Mehta.

Click here for a review of this concert by the Union-Tribune!

Nuvi Mehta was interviewed on Wednesday about this concert by San Diego CityBeat. Click here to listen!  

Gil Shaham's appearance is made possible by Guest Artist Sponsors Raffaella and John Bellanich.

 

Notes,

Overture to Coriolan, Opus 62

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born December 16, 1770, Bonn

Died March 26, 1827, Vienna

 

            Caius Marcius was a Roman general who was given the name Coriolanus after his capture of the Volscian city of Corioli. A haughty man of violently anti-democratic sympathies, Coriolanus insisted–as a condition for the distribution of Sicilian grain to the Roman poor–that the popular tribunate would have to be disbanded, and he was expelled from the city. Infuriated, he joined forces with the Volscians and helped lead their attack on his native city in 491 B.C. Coriolanus was at the gates of Rome and ready to lay it in ruins when emissaries approached to attempt to dissuade him. He angrily turned aside the official representatives, but his fury melted when he was approached by a delegation that included his mother Volumnia, wife Virgilia, and son Marcius. One of the earliest accounts of his life appeared in Plutarch’s Lives, and it was on this source that Shakespeare based his final tragedy, Coriolanus, written in 1608; in this version Coriolanus is slain by the Volscians when he refuses to attack Rome. Beethoven’s overture, however, was inspired not by Shakespeare’s play but by a version written by the composer’s friend, the Austrian dramatist Heinrich von Collin (1771-1811). In Collin’s play, first staged in Vienna in 1802, Coriolanus commits suicide rather than attack Rome.

            Beethoven composed his Coriolan Overture early in 1807, and it was first performed at Prince Lobkowitz’s palace in March 1807 on a program that included the official premieres of the Fourth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto. The overture is in C minor, a key Beethoven reserved for his most violent and dramatic music, and the Coriolan Overture is a spiritual twin to that other great example of Beethoven’s “C-minor mood” at its most furious, the first movement of the Fifth Symphony.

            It does not really matter whether Beethoven’s overture was inspired by Collin or Shakespeare’s play, for this music is not a tone poem that tries to tell the story of Coriolanus in sound–rather, it is abstract music that creates an enraged (and finally tragic) atmosphere. That said, however, it takes little imagination to associate some parts of this overture with specific characters or events. Certainly the searing beginning, with it incisive attacks and huge chords, is our introduction to the dark hero of Collin’s play, and many have been ready to make out the entreaties of Coriolanus’ wife and mother in the flowing second subject.

            The Coriolan Overture is a compressed sonata-form movement, but it has an unusual structure, one that intensifies its explosive atmosphere. The violent chords and attacks at the beginning (C minor with a vengeance) not only rivet attention but instantly establish the music’s fierce mood. The violins’ surging, rising first subject, with its nervous thrusts and tenutos, ratchets up the tension that underlies the entire overture, though the more lyric second subject relaxes those tensions momentarily with its move into E-flat major. Beethoven blurs the line between exposition and development here–we have barely heard this second theme when the music leaps back into C minor and begins to develop the first theme, and in fact the flowing second theme vanishes completely from the development. More surprises await–the recapitulation begins in the unexpected key of F minor, and now the lyric second subject finally reappears, but in the glowing key of C major. The Coriolan Overture reaches its climax at the beginning of the coda: the opening chords return, but–instead of concluding heroically–the music now collapses on fragments of the opening theme. Things seem choked, shattered, and after all its furious energy the overture vanishes on barely audible pizzicato strokes that affirm C minor one final time.

 

Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 61

            In the spring of 1806 Beethoven finally found time for new projects. For the previous three years, his energies had been consumed by two huge works: the Eroica and Fidelio. Now with the opera done (for the moment), the floodgates opened. Working at white heat over the rest of 1806, Beethoven turned out a rush of works: the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Fourth Symphony, the Razumovsky Quartets, and the Thirty-Two Variations in C minor. He also accepted a commission from violinist Franz Clement for a concerto, and–as was his habit with commissions–put off work on the concerto for as long as possible. Clement had scheduled his concert for December 23, 1806, and Beethoven apparently worked on the music until the last possible instant–legend has it that at the premiere Clement sightread some of the concerto from Beethoven’s manuscript.

            Beethoven’s orchestral music from the interval between the powerful Eroica and the violent Fifth Symphony relaxed a little, and the Fourth Piano Concerto, Fourth Symphony and Violin Concerto are marked by a serenity absent from those symphonies. The Violin Concerto is one of Beethoven’s most regal works, full of easy majesty and spacious in conception (the first movement alone lasts 24 minutes–his longest symphonic movement). Yet mere length does not explain the majestic character of this music, which unfolds with a sort of relaxed nobility. Part–but not all–of the reason for this lies in the unusually lyric nature of the music. We do not normally think of Beethoven as a melodist, but in this concerto he makes full use of the violin’s lyric capabilities. Another reason lies in the concerto’s generally broad tempos: the first movement is marked Allegro, but Beethoven specifies ma non troppo, and even the finale is relaxed rather than brilliant. In fact, at no point in this concerto does Beethoven set out to dazzle his listeners–there are no passages here designed to leave an audience gasping, nor any that allow the soloist consciously to show off. This is an extremely difficult concerto, but a non-violinist might never know that, for the difficulties of this noblest of violin concertos are purely at the service of the music itself.

            The concerto has a remarkable beginning: Beethoven breaks the silence with five quiet timpani strokes. By itself, this is an extraordinary opening, but those five pulses also perform a variety of roles through the first movement–sometimes they function as accompaniment, sometimes as harsh contrast with the soloist, sometimes as a way of modulating to new keys. The movement is built on two ideas: the dignified chordal melody announced by the woodwinds immediately after the opening timpani strokes and a rising-and-falling second idea, also first stated by the woodwinds (this theme is quietly accompanied by the five-note pulse in the strings). Beethoven delays the appearance of the soloist, and this long movement is based exclusively on the two main themes.

            The Larghetto, in G major, is a theme-and-variation movement. Muted strings present the theme, and the soloist begins to embellish that simple melody, which grows more and more ornate as the movement proceeds. A brief cadenza leads directly into the finale, a rondo based on the sturdy rhythmic idea announced immediately by the violinist. But this is an unusual rondo: its various episodes begin to develop and take on lives of their own (for this reason, the movement is sometimes classified as a sonata-rondo). One of these episodes, in G minor and marked dolce, is exceptionally haunting–Beethoven develops this theme briefly and then it vanishes, never to return. The movement drives to a huge climax, with the violin soaring high above the turbulent orchestra, and the music subsides and comes to its close when Beethoven–almost as an afterthought, it seems–turns the rondo theme into the graceful concluding gesture.

 

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67

            No one can remember the first time he heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphonythis music is so much a part of us that we seem to be born knowing it. The Fifth surrounds us: as background music for chocolate and motor oil commercials, as the symbol for Victory in World War II, as the stuff of jokes. Even children who know nothing about classical music sing its opening four notes on playgrounds. Those four notes are the most famous in classical music, and Beethoven’s Fifth is certainly the most famous symphony ever written.

             Music so white-hot in intensity, so universal in appeal, cries out for interpretation, and over the last two centuries many have been ready to tell us what this symphony “means.”   To some, it is Fate knocking at the door. To one nineteenth-century critic, it told the story of a failed love affair. Others see it as the triumph of reason over chaos and evil. Still others have advanced quite different explanations. But engaging as such interpretations are, they tell us more about the people who make them than about the music itself. The sad truth is that this music is so over-familiar that we have almost stopped listening to it: the opening rings out, and our minds go on automatic pilot for the next thirty minutes–we have lost the capacity to listen to the Fifth purely as music, to comprehend it as the astonishing and original musical achievement that it is.

            Beethoven made the first sketches for his Fifth Symphony in 1804, soon after completing the Eroica, but did not begin work in earnest until after finishing the Fourth in 1806. Most of the composition took place in the summer of 1807, and the score was completed that fall. The first performance took place on December 22, 1808, six days after Beethoven’s 38th birthday.

            The stark opening of the Allegro con brio, both very simple and charged with volcanic fury, provides the musical content for the entire movement. That (seemingly) simple figure saturates the first movement, giving it extraordinary unity. Those four notes shape the main theme, generate the rhythms, and pulse insistently in the background–they even become the horn fanfare that announces the second theme. One of the most impressive features of this movement is how short it is: of Beethoven’s symphonies, only the Haydnesque First has a shorter first movement. The power unleashed at the beginning is unrelenting, and this movement hammers to a close with the issues it raises still unresolved.

            The Andante con moto contrasts two themes. Violas and cellos sing the broad opening melody in A-flat major; Beethoven reportedly made eleven different versions of this theme before he got the one he wanted. The second subject, in heroic C major, blazes out in the brass, and Beethoven simply alternates these two themes, varying each as the movement proceeds. The third movement returns to the C-minor urgency of the beginning. It seems at first to be in scherzo-and-trio form, with lower strings introducing the sinuous opening idea. But horns quickly sound the symphony’s opening motto, and the movement never quite regains its equilibrium: the trio, with lumbering fugal entries in the strings, subtly incorporates the opening rhythm as well.   At just the point where one anticipates a return to the scherzo comes one of the most famous–and original–moments in music.

            Instead of going back, Beethoven pushes ahead. Bits of the scherzo flit quietly over an ominous pedal, and suddenly the final movement–a triumphant march in C major–bursts to life: this dramatic moment has invariably been compared to sunlight breaking through dark clouds. Beethoven’s scoring here reminds us of something easy to overlook–his concern with instrumental color. The march theme is announced by a full orchestra that includes three trombones (their first use in a symphony), and Beethoven employs a piccolo and contrabassoon to good effect here as well. Near the middle of this movement, Beethoven brings back some of the scherzo, which briefly–and darkly–slows progress before the triumphant march bursts out again to drive the symphony to its close. The coda itself is extremely long, and the final cadence–extended almost beyond reason–is overpowering.

            No matter how familiar this symphony is, no matter how overlain it has become with extra-musical associations, the music remains extraordinary. Heard for itself, free of the cultural baggage it has acquired over the years, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is as original and powerful and furious today as it was when it burst upon an unsuspecting audience on a cold winter night in Vienna two centuries ago.

-Program notes by Eric Bromberger

 

 

WHY THIS PROGRAM? In Jahja Ling’s opinion, these are the perfect pieces to play as the finale of our centennial season: “All three of these Beethoven works celebrate the triumph over terribly threatening odds. The Coriolan Overture is a very dramatic portrayal of oppression and near defeat, with an ending that signifies how hard it is to triumph over those odds. The great (some say greatest) Violin Concerto is, for successful violinists, a proper vehicle to demonstrate their ability to triumph as soloists in a very difficult piece, not only technically but also as interpreters of the meaningful and moving music. This concerto is written quite transparently, with enormous sensitivity as well as virtuosity exposed. We are especially fortunate to have Gil Shaham here to demonstrate this.

            “The Beethoven Fifth Symphony, in turn, can be seen as a musical portrait of the life of the wonderful orchestra whose centennial we are still celebrating today. Beethoven’s motto, “da-da-da-DAH,” is thought by many to symbolize fate, and fate is certainly no stranger to the San Diego Symphony. Its history is, like this symphony, a frequent struggle against a fate no one wanted. But then, the Beethoven finale in absolutely gloriously triumphant C-major can salute us for where we are today, and what we have overcome and achieved. It salutes the orchestra, but also the citizens of San Diego, who fought alongside the musicians over the years to avoid the finality of that undeserved fate. It points the way to a musical future that certainly looks bright for all of us here. Let us celebrate every year together!”

            Beethoven’s major works have, of course, been stalwarts of the SDSO programs since the days of the original, pre-World War I orchestra.   All three of today’s pieces were played under the direction of Roscoe Buren Schryock before that war caused the orchestra to disband for several years. Aside from being played by the reorganized orchestra under Nino Marcelli, they were also featured on the programs of the short-lived 1950’s San Diego Philharmonic under the direction of Leslie Hodge. Most recently, the Coriolan Overture was conducted here by Jahja Ling during the Symphony’s Spring 2010 Beethoven Festival. The Violin Concerto was last performed on these concerts by Leila Josefowicz under the direction of Jahja Ling in the season 2006-07 finale concert, and Jahja Ling led the most recent performance of the Fifth Symphony in the season 2004-05 finale concert.

–Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist

Artists,

Gil Shaham is one of the foremost violinists of our time.  Combining flawless technique with inimitable warmth and a generosity of spirit, he is sought-after throughout the world for concerto appearances with leading orchestras and conductors and for recital and ensemble appearances on the great concert stages and at the most prestigious festivals.

In the 2010-11 season, Shaham continues his long-term exploration of “Violin Concertos of the 1930s”, which comprises performances and recordings. In concert, he plays the Walton concerto with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Zurich’s Tonhalle-Orchester, and Milwaukee Symphony; Prokofiev’s Second with the National Symphony in Washington, DC and Orchestre de Paris; Bartók’s Second with St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Orchestra and Sinfonieorchester Berlin; and the Barber and Hartmann concertos with the Toronto and Chicago Symphonies respectively.  The first recording of the “Concertos of the 1930s” project will be released this season on Shaham’s own label, Canary Classics. The CD features Stravinsky’s concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Barber concerto with the New York Philharmonic, and Berg’s concerto with the Dresden Staatskapelle – all with David Robertson conducting. 

In other 10-11 performances, Gil Shaham joins Emmanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma for Beethoven’s "Triple" Concerto with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic in a historic concert celebrating the 120th anniversary of Carnegie Hall; he plays Mozart’s Fifth “Turkish” Concerto with Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony; and he performs the Mendelssohn concerto with Jansons and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.  Upcoming highlights also include the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s season-opening concert; all-Bach solo recitals in St. Petersburg, Genoa, and Baltimore; and violin and piano repertoire with his sister, Orli Shaham, at New York’s 92nd Street Y, featuring the world premiere of a new work by Avner Dorman.

Last season, Gil Shaham launched the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project with 35 performances, including appearances with the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, Bavarian Radio Symphony and London Symphony Orchestra.  His solo Bach recitals included performances in Waterloo, ON and London, Istanbul, Milan, Prague and Cologne, and he played Mozart, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky on a West Coast tour with the St. Louis Symphony.  Works by Haydn and Mendelssohn that he performed on tour in Korea, China, and Taiwan with the New York-based ensemble Sejong were captured on disc; this and his other most recent CD, an album of Sarasate: Virtuoso Violin Works that also features his wife, violinist Adele Anthony, and pianist Akira Eguchi, were issued on Canary Classics during the 2009-2010 season.

It is Mr. Shaham’s good fortune to enjoy musical collaborations with family members, including Adele Anthony, Orli Shaham and his brother-in-law, conductor David Robertson.  On two occasions – first in 2007 and then again in 2009 – the violinist has succeeded in fulfilling his dream of bringing together family, friends and colleagues for chamber music; both tours of Brahms programs culminated in a series of three concerts at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.

Shaham has more than two dozen concerto and solo CDs to his name, including bestsellers that have appeared on record charts in the US and abroad.  These recordings have earned prestigious awards, including multiple Grammys®, a Grand Prix du Disque, Diapason d’Or, and Gramophone Editor’s Choice.  His recent recordings are produced on the Canary Classics label, which he founded in 2004; they comprise Elgar’s Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman; The Butterfly Lovers concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Singapore Symphony; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A with Yefim Bronfman and cellist Truls Mork; The Prokofiev Album and Mozart in Paris, both with Orli Shaham; and The Fauré Album with Akira Eguchi and cellist Brinton Smith.

Gil Shaham was born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1971.  He moved with his parents to Israel where he began violin studies with Samuel Bernstein of the Rubin Academy of Music at the age of seven, receiving annual scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation.  In 1981, while studying with Haim Taub in Jerusalem, he made debuts with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic.  That same year he began his studies with Dorothy DeLay and Jens Ellerman at Aspen.  In 1982, after taking first prize in Israel’s Claremont Competition, he became a scholarship student at Juilliard, where he worked with DeLay and Hyo Kang.  He also studied at Columbia University.

Mr. Shaham was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1990 and in 2008 he received the coveted Avery Fisher Award.  He plays the 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius.  He lives in New York City with his wife, violinist Adele Anthony, and their two children.

Watch & Listen,

Violinist Gil Shaham discusses performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto on the upcoming May 27-29 Centennial Season Finale concerts of the San Diego Symphony:

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