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Overview,

MENDELSSOHN’S VIOLIN CONCERTO
A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

January 11, 12, 13
Copley Symphony Hall

Jahja Ling, conductor
Viviane Hagner, violin

ROSSINI: Overture to La gazza ladra
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64
NIELSEN: Symphony No. 5, Op. 50

The first Jacobs Masterworks concert of the New Year features one of the most tuneful and beloved soloist features in the classical repertoire, Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, performed by the rising German violinist star Viviane Hagner. The concert opens with Gioaccino Rossini's effervescent overture to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) and closes with Carl Nielsen's, stunning, percussive 20th century masterwork, his Symphony No. 5.

"...a well balanced, satisfying Masterworks program." - CLICK HERE to read U-T San Diego's review of these performances!

CLICK HERE to read Viviane Hagner's thoughts on Mendelssohn's concerto in U-T San Diego!

These concerts are dedicated to the memory of San Diego Symphony Foundation Board Member Murray Galinson.


 

DIALOGUE WITH JAHJA! All Friday January 11 concertgoers are invited to stay after the concert for a Q&A with music director Jahja Ling and violinist Viviane Hagner.


Notes,

Overture to La gazza ladra

GIOACCHINO ROSSINI

Born February 29, 1792, Pesaro

Died November 13, 1868, Passy

 

            Rossini’s overture to La gazza ladra lives on in the concert hall, even though the opera it introduces has virtually disappeared from opera houses. The opera itself is a rather singular one for Rossini, because it tells a potentially serious rather than a comic tale. Rossini based La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) on a grim French melodrama in which a servant girl is accused of stealing a silver spoon from her master; though the spoon had been taken by a magpie, the girl in the original version is executed. Unwilling to accept this conclusion, Rossini provided a happy ending in which the magpie is discovered with the missing spoon in its bill, and the heroine Ninetta is set free, to general rejoicing. The opera had a triumph at its premiere at La Scala on May 31, 1817.

            The overture to La gazza ladra is also unusual for Rossini because it uses music from the opera itself. Since this is the normal procedure for opera overtures, it should be noted that Rossini's overtures frequently do not contain music from the operas that follow them; sometimes, in fact, Rossini used the same overture for different operas. This overture gets off to a rousing start with an introduction – Maestoso marziale – prefaced by stirring drum rolls: these suggest the return of Ninetta’s lover Gianetto from military service. At the Allegro con brio, the music rushes ahead on the E-minor main theme, full of pulsing triplets; this music comes from the prison scene in Act II when Ninetta is preparing for her execution. A second subject, introduced by the solo oboe, does not reappear in the opera, but from this Rossini creates one of the long, steady crescendos for which he was famous and which here drives the overture to an energetic close.

            La gazza ladra is one of the most brilliant (some would say the loudest) of all Rossini overtures. The overture is distinctive for its bright sonority, created in great part by the ample percussion battery (timpani, military drum, triangle and bass drum) and the piercing sound of the piccolo, heard virtually throughout.

 

 

 

 

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

FELIX MENDELSSOHN

Born February 3, 1809, Hamburg

Died November 4, 1847, Leipzig

 

            “I would like to write you a violin concerto for next winter. One in E minor keeps running through my head, and the opening gives me no peace.” So wrote Mendelssohn in 1838 to his lifelong friend, violinist Ferdinand David, and that opening has given millions of music-lovers no peace ever since, for it is one of the most perfect violin melodies ever written. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto seems so polished, so effortless in its easy flow that this music feels as if it must have appeared in one sustained stroke of Mendelssohn’s pen. Yet this concerto took seven years to write. Normally a fast worker, Mendelssohn worked very carefully on this music, revising, polishing, and consulting with David – his concertmaster at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra – at every step of its composition. He completed the score while on vacation in Soden, near Frankfurt, during the summer of 1844, and David gave the premiere in Leipzig on March 13, 1845. Mendelssohn was sick at that time and could not conduct, so his assistant, the Danish composer Niels Gade, led the first performance.

            We do not normally think of Mendelssohn as an innovator, but his Violin Concerto is as remarkable for its originality as for its endless beauty. So over-familiar has this music become that it is easy to miss its many innovations. These begin in the first instant: Mendelssohn does away with the standard orchestral exposition and has the violin enter in the second bar with its famous theme, marked Allegro molto appassionato and played entirely on the violin’s E-string; this soaring idea establishes the movement’s singing yet impassioned character from the very beginning. Other themes follow in turn: a transitional figure for the orchestra, the true second subject and a chorale-like tune first given out by the woodwinds. This concerto offers wonderful violin music: Mendelssohn played the violin himself, and he consulted with David at every point. The result is a concerto that sits gracefully under the violinist’s hand and sounds to its listeners as poised and idiomatic as it actually is. It is also easy to miss how deftly this concerto is scored: Mendelssohn writes for what is essentially the Mozart-Haydn orchestra (pairs of woodwinds, trumpets and horns, plus timpani and strings), and he is able to keep textures transparent and the soloist audible throughout, but he can also make that orchestra ring out with a splendor that Mozart and Haydn never dreamed of. The quiet timpani strokes in the first few seconds, which subtly energize the orchestra’s swirling textures, are just one of many signs of the hand of a master. Another innovation: Mendelssohn sets the cadenza where we do not expect it, at the end of the development rather than just before the coda, and that cadenza – a terrific compilation of trills, harmonics and arpeggios – appears to have been largely the creation of David, who fashioned it from Mendelssohn’s themes. The return of the orchestra is a masterstroke: it is the orchestra that brings back the movement’s main theme as the violinist accompanies the orchestra with dancing arpeggios.

            Mendelssohn hated applause between movements, and he tried to guard against it here by tying the first two movements together with a single bassoon note. (This has not always stopped audiences, however.) The two themes of the Andante might by themselves define the term “romanticism.” There is a sweetness about this music that could – in other hands – turn cloying, but Mendelssohn skirts that danger gracefully. The soloist has the arching and falling opening melody, while the orchestra gives out the darker, more insistent second subject. The writing for violin in this movement, full of double-stopping and fingered octaves, is a great deal more difficult than it sounds.

            Mendelssohn joins the second and third movements with an anticipatory bridge passage that subtly takes its shape from the concerto’s opening theme. Resounding fanfares from the orchestra lead directly to the soloist’s entrance on an effervescent, dancing melody so full of easy grace that we seem suddenly in the fairyland atmosphere of Mendelssohn’s own incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Several other themes appear along the way (Mendelssohn combines some of them in ingenious ways), but it is the sprightly opening melody that dominates as the music seems to fly through the sparkling coda to the violin’s exultant three-octave leap at the very end.

 

Symphony No. 5, Op. 50

CARL NIELSEN

Born June 9, 1865, Norre-Lyndelse

Died October 2, 1931, Copenhagen

 

            Carl Nielsen completed his Fifth Symphony on January 15, 1922, barely in time for the premiere nine days later in Copenhagen. The Fifth is in every way an extraordinary symphony. Its structure is unique, consisting of two huge parts made up of different sections at different tempos. Its harmonic language is complex, progressing through grinding tonal conflicts to clear resolutions in unexpected keys. Nielsen’s handling of the orchestra is brilliant, demanding absolute virtuosity from every player on the stage and rewarding certain unexpected players (the snare-drummer among them) with important solo parts. But perhaps the most distinctive thing about this symphony is that it seems to awaken something very deep in its listeners.

            While the Fifth Symphony is not program music – it does not tell a story – it is nevertheless clearly “about” something. This symphony is based on the idea of conflict and triumph – normal enough, certainly – but here that conflict is so compelling that it has provoked a range of interpretation. Some listeners, taking their cue from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, see Nielsen’s Fifth as the triumph of order over chaos. Others point out that it was written in the stunned aftermath of World War I and that it holds out hope for civilization in the face of annihilation. Still others, following general suggestions from the composer himself, have understood it as something so basic as the contrast between the vegetative and the active state. Even those listeners unwilling to assign specific identities to the forces at work in this music nevertheless sense that it is based on certain fundamental archetypes: violation, conflict and resolution. Nielsen’s Fifth is a kind of touchstone, a mirror in which audiences recognize themselves and to which they respond in quite different ways.

            The Fifth Symphony can be brutal, violent music (the Stockholm premiere in 1924 sent much of the audience running for the exits), but it also has moments of great beauty, and the way these opposites are fused across the symphony’s two huge parts is one of the most distinctive things about this music. The Fifth Symphony seems to begin in the middle of nowhere. Out of silence comes a quiet oscillation from the violas, a sound that will go on and on and on (obstinacy is very much a part of this music). Above this lonely sound, pairs of winds wander aimlessly until a semblance of order arrives on a broad melody from muted violins. Soon comes the first of many “violations” in this music: the percussion swaggers in to panic the music into a lengthy sequence of disarray, and at the center of this is the snare drum’s insistent tattoo – it is the simplest of figures, but it will take on a nightmarish quality as the movement proceeds.

            Tensions subside briefly, and the music proceeds without pause into a new section, an Adagio in which the violas sing a long melody marked molto espressivo that soon expands to the violins. Nielsen’s structure here is unusual: there is no break, but the Adagio takes us into a completely different world, heartfelt and consoling after the troubling uncertainty of the first part. And suddenly this too is violated as the snare drum returns with a vengeance. In the score, Nielsen instructs the drummer to play “as if at all costs he wants to stop the progress of the orchestra.” Orchestra and drummer proceed to fight it out, the music rises to a strident climax, and finally settles on a quiet string chord that recalls the lonely sound of the very beginning. The ending of the movement is just as original as the rest of it. Strings hold that quiet G-major chord while two solo instruments – snare drum and clarinet, both instructed to sound as if they are “far in the distance” – recall one final time the two forces that have clashed in the first part.

            The long first part may have ended in neutrality, but the second explodes to life in a sustained burst of furious energy – this opening Allegro is manically alive, throwing off sparks as it drives ahead. If the first part of this symphony fell into two distinct parts, the second half falls into several distinctly-characterized episodes at different tempos. The opening sequence gives way to a very fast fugue, introduced by the strings but soon pulling the entire orchestra into its vortex. This fugue also rides along a shaft of manic energy (there is some wicked writing for strings in this symphony), and gradually the fugue dissipates its energy and moves (again without pause) into a slower section marked Andante poco tranquillo. This is quickly revealed to be another fugue, though this one is slow and intense (in his study of the Fifth Symphony, David Fanning describes these two episodes as the “mad” fugue and the “sane” fugue, a description that makes each fugue an archetype of its own). Nielsen has derived the subject of this second fugue from the powerful opening of the second part, and now he reprises that Allegro in its original form and drives the Fifth Symphony to its triumphant conclusion in the “heroic” key of E-flat major.

            Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony takes us on a dramatic journey, one full of fundamental human experiences: order, violation, conflict, triumph. Musically, the Fifth Symphony is almost the polar opposite of Ives’ The Unanswered Question, but in both works audiences instinctively sense the underlying philosophical issues being played out and respond to them. Can we articulate what the Fifth Symphony is “about”? Can we say with certainty that it is a response to World War I or that depicts the collision of certain psychic states? No, and Nielsen would have discouraged our trying to answer those questions. What finally matters is the music itself. The Fifth Symphony–with its demonic snare drum, savage conflicts and tremendous writing for orchestra–takes us on a dazzling symphonic journey, and at the end it sends us out of a hall that is still ringing with the sound of its triumphant final measures.

-Program notes by Eric Bromberger

 

WHY THIS PROGRAM?

For music director Jahja Ling, “La Gazza Ladra is a wonderful overture, but it’s especially appropriate to open this concert that also ends with important, even novel percussion, even more dramatic than the drums used in the overture.” Continuing, the maestro points out, “The Nielsen is a very special piece. He broke tradition by using a percussion instrument as a lead instrument, and that reflects what Rossini did in our overture today, even though Nielsen went much further, using the drum to express the meaning of this warlike music. Then, the solo clarinet provides meaningful consolation. Nielsen is also recognizable due to his unique harmonization. I was transformed by Bernstein’s recording of this piece in the 1950s.” Insofar as the Mendelssohn concerto is concerned, Jahja Ling waxes enthusiastic about a piece that is so much different than the Nielsen. “The opening is so very romantic, with such exposed passages for the solo violin, while the finale is so bouncy, in the composer’s favorite scherzando mode.” He points out that the concerto has not been played here for too long a time, and that our soloist, Vivian Hagner, wanted to play it, too.

Nicolai Sokoloff programmed Rossini’s bubbly overture to La gazza ladra during the summer season of 1941, the last until the end of the war. Since then, there have been presentations in ten subsequent post-war seasons, most recently under Murry Sidlin’s direction in the 1991-92 season. The ever-popular Mendelssohn Violin Concerto was programmed by Buren Schryock in the 1917 season for the original San Diego Symphony. Helen Babson was the soloist. Nino Marcelli also programmed it during his tenure in the late 1920s and 30s. In 1936, a performance was broadcast nationwide by CBS, with Enzo Pascarini as soloist, as part of the exhibition season. The contemporary SDSO, with Robert Gerle as soloist, played this concerto in the summer season of 1952, its first post-war season, with Fabien Sevitzky on the podium. Corey Cerovsek was the 15th violin soloist since then to have played the concerto here, in the season 2008-09, under Philip Mann’s direction. The Nielsen Fifth Symphony was introduced here under Robert Emile in the 1968-69 season. Its most recent hearing at these concerts was during the 1983-84 season, under guest conductor Paavo Berglund.

-Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist

Artists,

Born in Munich, violinist Viviane Hagner has won exceptional praise for her highly intelligent musicality and passionate artistry. Ms. Hagner performs with "poise and magnificent assurance" (The Times/London) and "an almost hauntingly masterful display of technique and artistry" (Washington Post). As a musician of tremendous depth and integrity, Ms. Hagner has championed new works by Unsuk Chin and Simon Holt, while breathing new life into a diverse and vast range of repertoire. Bringing her own unique sensibility to performances, she has proven herself an artist of incredible agility on the stages of the greatest concert halls in the world. Her engagements and re-engagements continue to highlight her demand as orchestral soloist, recitalist and chamber music collaborator.

Since making her international debut at the age of 12 – and a year later participating in the legendary joint concert of the Israel and Berlin Philharmonics, conducted by Zubin Mehta – Viviane Hagner has become known for her substantial and beautiful sound as well as her thoughtful interpretations. She has appeared with the world's great orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Pittsburgh Symphony, Munich Philharmonic and Philharmonia, in partnership with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Ricardo Chailly, Pinchas Zukerman, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Christoph Eschenbach, Kent Nagano and David Zinman. Recent concert highlights include her debut with the Cleveland Orchestra, appearances with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as a North American tour and Carnegie Hall appearance with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

This season’s engagements include performances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Konzerthausorchester Berlin and the MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, as well as repeat performances of Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto with Philharmonia Orchestra at the Edinburgh International Festival and Beethovenfest, Bonn; on tour she visits Korea with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and Spain with the Munich Chamber Orchestra alongside Marie-Elisabeth Hecker and Martin Helmchen. Ms. Hagner will perform recitals in New York, Tokyo and Philadelphia.

A committed chamber musician, Viviane Hagner has been a featured artist at renowned American and international festivals such as Schleswig-Holstein, Salzburg Easter Festival, Marlboro, Ravinia, Santa Fe and Mostly Mozart; and has appeared at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, Barcelona's Palau de la Musica, Berlin Konzerthaus, Köln Philharmonie, London's Wigmore and Queen Elizabeth Halls and New York's 92nd Street Y series.

As well as bringing insight and virtuosity to the core concerto repertoire, Viviane Hagner is an ardent advocate of new, neglected and undiscovered music. Composers whose work she champions include Sofia Gubaidulina, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Witold Lutoslawski. In 2002 she gave the world premiere of Unsuk Chin's Violin Concerto with the Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin and Kent Nagano, later playing the work in the United States – an event which prompted The San Francisco Chronicle to rave her performance was "vibrant, warm-toned and jaw-droppingly precise [and] may well be unimprovable." After her 2006 premiere of Simon Holt's new Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Jonathan Nott, The Sunday Times critic remarked she "caught the music's soul."

The Hyperion label has issued her performances of the Vieuxtemps Violin Concerti 4 and 5, and the Canadian company Analekta has recently released her recording of Unsuk Chin's Violin Concerto with Kent Nagano and the Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal. Her first solo recording on the Altara label features works by Bartók, Hartmann and Bach.

Viviane Hagner plays the Sasserno Stradivarius built in 1717, generously loaned to her by the Nippon Music Foundation. Ms. Hagner was a 2000 winner of the Young Concert Artists International auditions and in 2004 was awarded the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award.

Watch & Listen,

 

Violinist Viviane Hagner discusses Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, to be performed on these concerts.

MENDELSSOHN'S CONCERTO (MW)
January 11 - January 13, 2013
COPLEY SYMPHONY HALL

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