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A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

November 16, 17, 18
Copley Symphony Hall

Christof Perick, conductor
Jeff Thayer, violin

R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20
GOLDMARK: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 28
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68: Pastoral

Guest conductor Christof Perick, a shining star on the European opera circuit, brings his Continental touch to masterworks by Richard Strauss and Ludwig van Beethoven. Concertmaster Jeff Thayer steps to the front of the stage for a welcome revival of a beloved chestnut, Karl Goldmark's Violin Concerto in A minor.


Don Juan, Opus 20


Born June 11, 1864, Munich

Died September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen


            The summer of 1888 found the 24-year-old Strauss at something of an impasse. There was no question of his prodigious talent. Already he was the composer of some magnificent songs, and his First Symphony–completed when he was 20–had been premiered in New York City. But as a composer, he was still searching for an authentic voice. His career as a conductor was also stalled. He had succeeded Hans von Bülow as conductor of the superb Meiningen Orchestra at just the moment that orchestra was being downsized, and he ended up as third conductor of the Munich Court Opera, where he was stuck conducting the operas that did not interest the other conductors (and often did not interest Strauss). In these years Strauss found himself drawn toward descriptive music, particularly to the conception of the “symphonic poem” as that had been shaped by Franz Liszt. Strauss’ own movement in the direction of representational music was tentative: first (1886) came Aus Italien, written in response to an Italian holiday and more travelogue than drama. It was followed by Strauss’ first true symphonic poem, Macbeth, but this proved a failure–even his mentor von Bülow referred to it as a “Macbethian soup from the witches’ kitchen.”

            But his imagination–and his art–caught fire when he took up the Don Juan story. Strauss, however, chose not the legendary figure of Molina, Moliere, Gluck and Mozart, but instead a different Don Juan, one created by the German poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850). Lenau’s Don is a much darker figure, a philosopher who seeks the Ideal Woman through his conquest of individual women, and his fate is to find not the ideal but only disillusion, destruction and self-disgust. Finally confronted by Don Pedro, a relative of one of his conquests, Lenau’s Don Juan recognizes the emptiness of his life, purposely lowers his sword during their duel and takes a fatal thrust through his heart. Strauss had three brief excerpts from Lenau’s Don Juan printed in the published score, and the last of these might serve as an epitaph for his doomed hero: “ . . . suddenly my world became a desert and darkened . . . the fuel is all consumed and the hearth is cold and dark.”

            Liszt’s symphonic poems had been loosely inspired by legends, paintings and plays, but Strauss aimed for a much more exact musical representation (Strauss once bragged that he could set a glass of beer to music), and Don Juan is striking in its instant creation of character, the sheer sweep of its writing and the detail of its incidents. He worked on the score to Don Juan across the summer of 1888 and took it with him that fall when he became the assistant conductor of the Weimar Opera. When the management of the opera learned of this music, they insisted that he give the premiere with the local orchestra. That opera orchestra was modestly-talented, and Strauss–who had hoped for a more “visible” premiere–had doubts about its ability to handle this ferociously-difficult music. It took many, many rehearsals to get the orchestra ready, and in a letter to his parents Strauss caught the spirit of those sessions, telling of a sweaty horn-player who confronted the composer and demanded: “Good God, in what way have we sinned that you have sent us this scourge!” Strauss went on: “We laughed till we cried! Certainly the horns blew without fear of death . . . I was really sorry for the wretched horns and trumpets. They were quite blue in the face, the whole affair was so strenuous.”

            But their work paid off. The premiere on November 11, 1889, was a sensation. Strauss’ name swept across Europe and Don Juan may be said to have launched its young creator’s career. Strauss biographer Michael Kennedy has called this music “the appearance of the real Strauss,” and a succession of increasingly detailed and brilliant tone-poems followed over the next decade. (In passing, it should be noted that the premiere of Don Juan came at a fortuitous moment in music–nine days later, Strauss’ friend Gustav Mahler led the premiere of his own First Symphony in Budapest.)

            Don Juan has one of the most famous beginnings in music. That volcanic opening rush (Strauss stresses that it must be Allegro molto con brio) begins off-the-beat, and from out of that empty beat it streaks upward across three octaves in the first instants.   This fiery flourish leads immediately to Don Juan’s own music, which seems always to be in frantic motion, surging and striving ever higher. In fact, one of the most impressive things about Don Juan is its energy: this music boils over, presses forward, erupts–it seems to be in motion even when it is still. Quick figures from violins and solo oboe suggest an early flirtation, but soon a lush chord for full orchestra (marked tranquillo) introduces the sweeping violin solo that signals the Don’s first real passion. Strauss was particularly adept at writing voluptuous love-music, and this interlude goes on for some time before the Don tries to escape. On the surging music from the very beginning he breaks free and sets off on new adventures. His second passion brings another notable love-scene, this one built on a gorgeous cantilena for solo oboe, but–his conquest made–the Don rushes off on a mighty horn call. An animated scene follows, perhaps a depiction of Lenau’s carnival sequence, but suddenly matters plunge into gloomy near-silence. Fragmentary reminiscences of earlier love-themes reappear as the Don confronts the meaning of his life, and the music, driven once again by Don Juan’s own themes, rushes into the final confrontation with Don Pedro. Their sword-fight is suitably violent, but its climax breaks off in silence as Don Juan abandons the struggle and lowers his sword. Out of the eerie chord that follows, dissonant trumpets mark the thrust of Don Pedro’s blade through Don Juan’s heart, and descending trills lead to the close on grim pizzicato strokes. Don Juan’s quest, once so full of fire, has ended in complete spiritual darkness.


Violin Concerto in A minor, Opus 28


Born May 18, 1830, Keszthely, Hungary

Died January 2, 1915, Vienna


            The music of Karl Goldmark has almost disappeared from concert life early in the twenty-first century. That music was once widely played. Goldmark’s opera The Queen of Sheba was produced around the world, and Toscanini and Bernstein were champions of his Rustic Wedding Symphony. And Goldmark’s Violin Concerto in A minor was once a solid part of the repertory as well: Heifetz recorded its slow movement when he was still a teenager, Milstein and Gimpel left memorable recordings, and more recently Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell and Sarah Chang have recorded it. But today one rarely encounters Goldmark’s Violin Concerto in the concert hall–in fact, the present performances are the first ever by the San Diego Symphony. A revival of this concerto is more than welcome.

            Goldmark was born the son of a cantor in Hungary. The family was huge (twelve children) and poor, and while Goldmark had a few violin lessons as a boy, he was essentially self-taught as a composer. He wanted to compose, but he had to support himself while he learned, so he played violin in theater orchestras, taught himself to play the piano and gave piano lessons, conducted choruses, wrote music criticism and taught (among his students in Vienna was the very young Sibelius). Success was slow, but it came with his Sakuntala Overture and The Queen of Sheba, both full of exotic color and harmonies. Once established in Vienna, Goldmark became a friend of Brahms, but it was a difficult relationship. Goldmark was almost pathologically shy, and Brahms could not resist taunting him with this. Their friendship went through difficult periods, but the two did travel to Italy together in 1878.

            Goldmark composed his Violin Concerto in 1877, and it was first performed by Johann Lauterbach in Nuremburg on October 28, 1878, only two months before the premiere of Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Goldmark’s concerto is a big-scale romantic piece, beautifully written for the violin and full of memorable, singable, (and quite beautiful) tunes. It is, though, quite difficult for the soloist: much of the writing is set very high in the violin’s register, the solo part is full of difficult passagework and complex modulations, and the violinist plays virtually non-stop throughout this lengthy piece.

            The orchestra, though, has the vigorous opening statement of the Allegro moderato, and its dotted rhythms and recurrent drop of a fourth will return in many forms throughout the concerto. When the violin enters, however, the character of the music changes completely. Its gorgeous opening statement is marked cantabile, and Goldmark specifies that the second theme-group should be sehr zart: “very tender.” This is a big movement (over a quarter-hour long), and along the way comes a fugato for the orchestra based on its opening theme and a brief cadenza for the soloist. The movement concludes with a recall of its opening gesture.

            Muted strings introduce the Andante, and the violinist soon enters with a theme that suggests folk-music origins, though apparently it was Goldmark’s own–he titles this movement Air. The opening melody soars gracefully before leading into the G-minor central episode and an almost dreamy conclusion on a return of the opening theme.

            A brief (five-measure) introduction sets an expectant mood at the beginning of the finale, and the violin enters with a dancing main idea derived from the very beginning of the concerto. This movement is somewhat episodic in structure: there is another fugal episode like the one in the first movement, and near the end Goldmark writes out an extremely long and difficult cadenza for his soloist. The orchestra rejoins the violinist for the blistering coda that drives this concerto to its shining conclusion in A major.


Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Opus 68: Pastoral


Born December 16, 1770, Bonn

Died March 26, 1827, Vienna


            After making sketches for several years, Beethoven composed his Sixth Symphony during the summer of 1808, and it was first performed at the Theater an der Wien on December 22 of that year. The Sixth is unique among Beethoven’s symphonies, because it appears to be program music. Beethoven himself gave it the nickname Pastoral and further headed each movement with a descriptive title that seems to tell a “story”: the arrival in the country, impressions beside a brook, a peasants’ dance which is interrupted by a thunderstorm, and a concluding hymn of thanksgiving once the storm has passed. Some have claimed that romantic music begins with the Pastoral Symphonythey see it as a precursor of such examples of musical painting as Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Mendelssohn’s fairyland scenes and Liszt’s tone poems–while others have tried to stage this music, complete with characters, costumes and scenery.

            Beethoven would have been astonished. He had no use for program music or musical portraiture, which he considered cheap trickery. His Sixth Symphony is in classical symphonic forms throughout; even its “extra” movement, the famous thunderstorm, can be understood as a brief transition between the scherzo and the rondo-finale. While this symphony refers to something outside the music itself, Beethoven wanted it understood as “an expression of feelings rather than painting.” The Sixth may lack the stark drama and tension of such predecessors as the Eroica or the Fifth, but it depends on the same use of sonata form for its musical argument. It finally aims for the same feeling of transcendence those earlier works achieved, even if–as Joseph Kerman has wryly noted–all that is being transcended here is the weather.

            Beethoven liked to get out of Vienna during the stifling summer months and would take rooms in a rural village, where he could combine composing with long walks through the fields and woods. A journal entry from 1815, seven years after the Pastoral, suggests his feelings about these walks: “The Almighty in the woods! I am happy, blessed in the forests.” This symphony seems similarly blessed. Its first movement (“Awakening of Cheerful Feelings upon Arrival in the Country”) is built on two completely relaxed themes; these do not offer the contrast that lies at the heart of sonata form, but instead create two complementary “Cheerful impressions.” One of the other unusual features of this movement is Beethoven’s use of the second measure of the opening theme in so many ways: as theme, as accompaniment, as motor rhythm. This simple falling figure saturates the movement, and over its ostinato-like repetitions Beethoven works some wonderful harmonic progressions, all aimed at preserving this movement’s sense of calm.

            The second movement (“Scene by the Brook”) is also in a sonata form built on two themes. The title “Scene” may imply dramatic action, but there is none here. Over murmuring lower strings, with their suggestion of bubbling water, the two themes sing gracefully. The movement concludes with three brief bird calls, which Beethoven names specifically in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe) and cuckoo (clarinet).                                                      

            Despite the composer’s protests to the contrary, the third and fourth movements do offer pictorial representations in sound. The scherzo (“Merry Gathering of Country Folk”) is a portrait of a rural festival; its vigorous trio echoes the heavy stamping of a peasant dance. Beethoven offers a da capo repeat of both scherzo and trio, yet just as the scherzo is about to resume it suddenly veers off in a new direction. Tremulous strings and distant murmurings lead to the wonderful storm, which remains–nearly two centuries after its composition–the best musical depiction ever

of a thunderstorm, with great crashes of thunder in the timpani and lightning flashing downward in the violins (one desperately literal-minded early critic complained that this was the only storm he had ever heard of where the thunder came before the lightning).

            Gradually the storm moves off, and the music proceeds directly into the last movement, where solo clarinet and horn outline the tentative call of a shepherd’s pipe in the aftermath of the storm. Beethoven then magically transforms this call into his serene main theme, given out by the violins. If ever there has been music that deserved to be called radiant, it is this singing theme, which unfolds like a rainbow spread across the still-glistening heavens. The finale is a moderately-paced rondo (Beethoven’s marking is Allegretto). Along the way appear secondary themes that once again complement rather than conflict with the mood of the rondo theme, and at the end a muted French horn sings this noble melody one last time.

            The petulant young Debussy, an enemy of all things German, once sneered that one could learn more about nature from watching the sun rise than from listening to the Pastoral Symphony. This is strange criticism from the man who would go on to write La Mer, which sets out to do exactly the same thing as the Pastoral: to evoke the emotions generated by nature rather than trying to depict that same nature literally. Beethoven did not set out to teach or to show his audience anything. Rather, he wrote a symphony in classical form, which he wanted understood as music: “It is left to the listener to discover the situations for himself . . . Anyone with a notion of country life can imagine the composer’s intentions without the help of titles or headings.”

-Program notes by Eric Bromberger



Christof Perick recently retired following his tenth season as music director of the Charlotte, North Carolina Symphony.   He had left there for a summer season of considerable guest conducting in Europe when he and I got together via e-mail. His geniality was easily expressed and received even via the digital mechanism. “Of course, I am happy to help you with information. Your question regarding the choice of repertoire has an easy answer. I suggested Strauss, since the Bavarian composer is one of my favorites and is often on my programs. My other request was for Beethoven, and the Pastoral has been the only Beethoven symphony that has not been performed recently by the SDSO. Both of these works surround another central European masterwork, the Goldmark Concerto, and I am pleased to be able to conduct this work with your concertmaster.” Concluding, the conductor noted, “I am especially looking forward to be back with the San Diego Symphony! By the way, my history of making music with this wonderful group is more than twenty years old.”

The Goldmark Violin Concerto has never before been played at San Diego Symphony concerts. By contrast, since Zoltan Rozsnyai introduced Don Juan into the SDSO repertoire, it has been programmed ten times, most recently during the 2009-10 season, when Philip Mann conducted. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was first programmed by the SDSO when Earl Bernard Murray introduced it during the 1961-62 season. It has been played seven times since then, most recently when Jahja Ling led it during the 2007-08 season.

- Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist



Christof Perick was Music Director of Germany’s Nuremberg Philharmonic and Opera from 2006 through 2011 and Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony from 2001 through 2010.  He completed his post as Principal Guest Conductor of the Dresden Semper Opera at the close of the 2002-03 season.  Other former positions include Music Director posts with the Niedersaechsisches Staatsorchester and Staatsoper in Hannover, Germany from 1993-96; the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1992-95; the Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe, Germany from 1977-86; and the State Orchestra and Opera Saarbrucken, Germany from 1974-77.

In recent seasons, Mr. Perick’s engagements have included productions with the Dresden Semper Oper and the Hamburg Staatsoper, and engagements in North America with the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Washington’s National Symphony and the Symphonies of Boston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle, Milwaukee, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Montreal and Toronto; summer festivals that include the Mostly Mozart Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center and the Grant Park Music Festival of Chicago.  He conducted the first ever United States tour of the Bundesjugendorchester, Germany’s leading national Youth Orchestra.

At New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Christof Perick has conducted productions that include Fidelio, Tannhauser, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Hansel und Gretel and Die Meistersinger.  He has also led productions including Der fliegende Holländer and Parsifal with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; and he conducted the San Francisco Opera in a production of Der fliegende Holländer.  Mr. Perick also conducted the Los Angeles Music Center productions of Cosi fan tutte and Ariadne auf Naxos and the San Diego Opera’s productions of Fidelio, The Magic Flute and recently (to fine reviews) Der Rosenkavalier.

Abroad, recent new productions at Dresden include Puccini’s Il trittico, Weber’s Freischütz, Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau, Salome and Capriccio, Wagner’s Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde and Beethoven’s Fidelio; a Ring Cycle at Hannover, and concerts with the Orchestre National de France and the Orchestre National de Lyon.

Future engagements include returns to the Charlotte Symphony plus debuts at the Cincinnati Opera (Der Rosenkavalier) and Britten’s War Requiem at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam.

Violinist Jeff Thayer holds the Deborah Pate and John Forrest Concertmaster Chair of the San Diego Symphony. He is also concertmaster and faculty member of the Music Academy of the West (Santa Barbara). Mr. Thayer is also one of the founding members of the chamber music ensemble, Camera Lucida, which performs throughout the year in the Conrad Prebys Music Center on the UC San Diego campus. Previous positions include assistant concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, associate concertmaster of the North Carolina Symphony, and concertmaster of the Canton (OH) Symphony Orchestra.  He is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division.  His teachers include William Preucil, Donald Weilerstein Zvi Zeitlin, and Dorothy DeLay. 

A native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Mr. Thayer began violin lessons with his mother at the age of three.  At fourteen, he went to study at the Conservatorio Superior in Cordoba, Spain.  He has appeared as soloist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Jupiter Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, the Canton Symphony Orchestra, the Pierre Monteux School Festival Orchestra, the Spartanburg Philharmonic, the Cleveland Institute of Music Symphony Orchestra, The Music Academy of the West Festival Orchestra, the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, the Nittany Valley Symphony Orchestra and the Conservatory Orchestra of Cordoba, among others.  He attended Keshet Eilon (Israel), Ernen Musikdorf (Switzerland), Music Academy of the West, Aspen, New York String Orchestra Seminar, the Quartet Program, and as the 1992 Pennsylvania Governor Scholar, Interlochen Arts Camp.  Other festivals include the Mainly Mozart Festival (San Diego), Festival der Zukunft and the Tibor Varga Festival (Switzerland). 

Mr. Thayer’s awards include the Stephen Hahn/Lillybelle Foundation Award in Violin from the Music Academy of the West, the Starling Foundation Award, the George Eastman Scholarship and the Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music.  Mr. Thayer was a laureate of the Wieniawski Violin Competition (2001) as well as winner of various competitions, including the Tuesday Musical Club Scholarship Auditions in Akron, OH (2000), the Cleveland Institute of Music Concerto Competition (1999), the Fort Collins Symphony Young Artist Competition (1999), the American String Teacher’s Association Competition in Pennsylvania and Delaware (1997), the Gladys Comstock Summer Scholarship Competition (1993), the Ithaca College Solo Competition and the Phyllis Triolo Competition (1992). 

Through the generosity of Joan and Irwin Jacobs and the Jacobs' Family Trust, the "Sir Bagshawe" Stradivarius dated 1708, is on loan to the San Diego Symphony for use by its concertmaster, Jeff Thayer.

November 16 - November 18, 2012

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