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A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

March 1, 2, 3
Copley Symphony Hall

Jahja Ling, conductor
Karen Gomyo, violin

MUSSORGSKY/ARR. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: “Introduction” (Dawn on the Moscow River) from Khovantschina
SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60

A cornucopia of Slavic delight! This Jacobs Masterworks concert opens with the familiar Russian team of Modest Mussorgsky and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov setting a mood with the peaceful Dawn on the Moscow River from Mussorgsky's Khovantschina. Karen Gomyo will ignite Symphony Hall with Dmitri Shostakovich's dark, thrilling Violin Concerto No. 1, and the rarely heard Sixth Symphony of Antonín Dvořák returns after a 20 year hiatus to delight San Diego Symphony audiences.


DIALOGUE WITH JAHJA! All Saturday March 2 concertgoers are invited to stay after the concert for a Q&A with music director Jahja Ling and violinist Karen Gomyo.


"Introduction" (Dawn on the Moscow River) from Khovantschina (orch. Rimsky-Korsakov)


Born March 21, 1839, Karevo

Died March 28, 1881, St. Petersburg


            In 1872, just as he was completing Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky became interested in a new idea for an opera. This one would address a vast topic – the creation of modern Russia in the intrigues surrounding the accession of Peter the Great at the end of the seventeenth century – and Mussorgsky would never get it done. He worked on Khovantschina on and off through the 1870s, but the manuscript was unfinished when he died in a fit of alcoholic epilepsy a week after his 42nd birthday. Mussorgsky had composed most of the opera in piano score, and in the years after his death, Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated it and composed several missing scenes himself. Subsequent performing versions by Ravel and Stravinsky (1913) and Shostakovich (1960) have attempted to “correct” what has been seen as Rimsky-Korsakov’s excessive “tidying-up” of Mussorgsky’s raw idiom, and today the work is performed in different versions, some with quite different endings.

            One part that is not in doubt, however, is the opera’s beginning. Late in the summer of 1874, shortly after completing Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky composed an "Introduction" for the opera, which he subtitled Dawn on the Moscow River. This brief curtain-raiser, which depicts the sun coming up over the Kremlin, is in variation form. Following a series of introductory arabesques, Mussorgsky announces his main theme, a gentle, Slavic-sounding tune in E Major. That melody simply repeats, and each time it is slightly different–its shape is different, it is in a new key, it is colored differently. The effect of these variations is very much like Claude Monet’s many paintings of the facade of the Rouen Cathedral: at different times of day and in different light, the same structure can appear quite different. So it is with Mussorgsky’s theme, whose evolving variations depict the spires and walls of the Kremlin in gradually changing light. This "Introduction" makes a very peaceful beginning to what will be a violent opera, and it comes to a delicate close.

            Like so much of Khovantschina, the "Introduction" exists in various orchestrations. It is heard at these concerts in the familiar Rimsky-Korsakov version, which introduced the opera at its premiere on February 21, 1886, five years after its composer’s death.


Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99


Born September 25, 1906, St. Petersburg

Died August 9, 1975, Moscow


            During the summer of 1947, in the icy political atmosphere that followed military victory in World War II, Dmitri Shostakovich began what seemed an entirely “safe” composition. For years he had been an admirer of violinist David Oistrakh, and that summer – in the village of Kellomäki on the Gulf of Finland – he began a violin concerto for his friend. He sketched the first movement that July and completed it in November after returning to his teaching position in Moscow. The second movement, a scherzo, came quickly and was done by the first week in December, while the third movement, a passacaglia, was completed in January 1948. But as Shostakovich continued to work on the concerto, the political and artistic climate around him turned deadly. This was the period of the crackdown on Soviet artists led by Stalin’s ideological pointman, Andrei Zhdanov. At the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Composers in February 1948, Shostakovich – along with Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Miaskovsky, and others – were attacked for their “formalistic distortions and anti-democratic tendencies” and for writing “confused, neuropathological combinations which transform music into cacophony,” music that “dwells too much on the dark and fearful aspects of reality.” Forced to read a humiliating apology and to promise to mend his ways, Shostakovich quickly learned that the government’s demand for conformity took more menacing forms: he was dismissed from his teaching positions, his music was effectively banned, and there is evidence that the Shostakovich family subsisted during this period on the savings of their housekeeper.

            Stunned but alert to the dangers before him, the composer responded in two ways. 

The public Shostakovich wrote the music demanded by Stalin’s government – film scores and patriotic cantatas like Song of the Forests and The Sun Shines over Our Motherland. The private Shostakovich wrote the music he wanted to, but these scores went into his desk, waiting for a safer day. Among the latter was the manuscript for the violin concerto for Oistrakh. Years later, Shostakovich took pleasure in showing friends where he was in the composition of the finale of this concerto when he heard of the Congress’ denunciation of him – it was in the middle of a run of sixteenth-notes, and he pointed out that the music before and after that news was exactly the same.

            The death of Stalin in 1953 seemed to promise a more liberal artistic atmosphere in Russia, but Shostakovich held the concerto back for two more years. It was finally premiered, by Oistrakh and the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeni Mravinsky, on October 29, 1955, eight years after its composition. The concerto had a popular success, though Soviet critics – still fearful of saying the wrong thing in that uncertain atmosphere – were non-committal. Oistrakh, however, loved the concerto and played it with American orchestras on his first tour of this country later that fall.

            From the perspective of a half-century later, it seems extraordinary that this music could have been considered dangerous, either to its audience or its composer. In many respects, the most remarkable feature of this concerto is how old-fashioned it is. It is a big virtuoso piece, conceived with the talents of a specific performer in mind and offering that soloist a cadenza so spectacular that it almost becomes a separate movement in itself. The Concerto in A minor has become so much a feature of our musical lives (there are currently twenty different recorded versions available) that the fact that Shostakovich had to keep it hidden for so many years speaks volumes about the political and artistic climate in Russia during Stalin’s paranoid final decline.

            We need not know any of its history, however, to feel the greatness of this music. The concerto has some unusual features. It has two dark slow movements, both of them almost night-music movements (one of them in fact is called Nocturne), and these alternate with two bright, fast movements, both of which have titles that imply a degree of play: Scherzo and Burlesque. The scoring is also unusual – Shostakovich does without trumpets and trombones, but his use of xylophone, harp and celesta gives this concerto a distinct, sometimes eerie, sound.

            The opening Nocturne truly is night-music. The lower strings’ rocking opening supplies the shape of the movement’s main theme, and the solo violin ruminates on this shape as it rises above their somber sound. The music builds to a climax marked appassionato; then Shostakovich mutes the violin, and the music turns subdued and dark. Much of the writing for the solo violin is very high here, and eventually the violin comes swirling down out of the dark moonlight. Some aggressive doublestopping leads to the wonderful close, where the muted violin climbs to the top of its range, its high E shimmering above the icy suspension of the orchestra’s final chord.

            By contrast, the Scherzo is all hard edges, dancing and skittering along its 3/8 meter. While there are episodes on other themes, it is the strident energy of the opening that drives this movement to its unrelenting close.

            With horn fanfares ringing above them, lower strings stamp out the ground bass of the Passacaglia theme, which stretches out over seventeen measures, then begins to repeat quietly. A woodwind choir sings a somber variation before the solo violin enters, soaring above the ominous tread of the passacaglia subject far below. Its plaintive opening melody gives way to more impassioned material, and at the climax the violin stamps out the passacaglia ground in fortissimo doublestops. Gradually this falls away, the orchestra drops out, and – as a bridge between the third and fourth movements – Shostakovich offers his soloist a tremendous cadenza.

This begins simply (the marking is “quiet but majestic”) as the violin explores bits of the passacaglia ground, but gradually it gathers speed and accelerates straight into the concluding Burlesque. Shostakovich had originally composed a beginning in which the soloist himself announced the movement’s opening theme, but Oistrakh – coming off that treacherous cadenza – begged for some relief at this point: “Dmitri Dmitryevich, please consider letting the orchestra take over the first eight bars in the Finale so as to give me a break, then at least I can wipe the sweat off my brow!” Realizing that he had a point, the composer quickly re-wrote the beginning to give the soloist twenty seconds to wipe his brow.

            The title Burlesque implies a mocking or joking character, and this movement is at times almost sneering. The stinging sound of the xylophone colors its jaunty main idea, and this finale, in the general shape of a rondo, does not relax its pace for an instant. At the close, the violin rushes from the bottom of its range to the very top as the music hurtles to its brusque final chords.

            It is no surprise that Shostakovich kept this music hidden during Stalin’s repressive final years. There is nothing tragic about this concerto, nor is there anything ideologically dangerous about it beyond the fact that it is simply a very serious piece of music. That alone may have been enough to make it dangerous in those uncertain years. Beautifully written for one of the great violinists, the concerto makes a brilliant impact in live performance, especially in its glittering final movement. But long after the brilliance of the finale has ended, it is the haunting power of the slow movements – the somber Nocturne and the heartfelt Passacaglia – that stays to haunt the memory.


Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60


Born September 8, 1841, Muhlhausen, Bohemia

Died May 1, 1904, Prague


            In November 1879 Hans Richter led the Vienna Philharmonic in a performance of Dvořák’s Third Slavonic Rhapsody. Dvořák, who was sitting with his friend Brahms at that concert, reported that the applause was so strong that he was called to the stage, and on the spot Richter asked him for a new symphony. Dvořák wrote that symphony, which we know today as his Sixth, the following summer. He retreated to his summer home at Vysoká, and there – in the quiet forests and fields of the Czech countryside – he set to work on August 27, 1880. Dvořák was a fast worker: he had the symphony done by October 15; Richter was enthusiastic about it, and Dvořák hoped that it would be performed that fall. But at this point awkward problems arose. The Vienna Philharmonic was a very conservative organization, and some of its members objected to playing works by Dvořák – a foreign composer – in successive seasons. Richter tried to keep this a secret from the composer, explaining the delay as the result of illnesses within his own family, and finally Dvořák gave up and asked permission to have the symphony premiered somewhere else. Adolf Čech led the Czech Philharmonic in the first performance on March 25, 1881 (coincidentally, the day Béla Bartók was born), and the audience was so enthusiastic that the symphony’s third movement had to be repeated on the spot. The Sixth was quickly performed throughout Europe. Theodore Thomas led the American premiere in New York in 1883, and Dvořák himself conducted it in London and St. Petersburg. Despite the awkwardnesses surrounding the premiere, Dvořák remained grateful to Richter and dedicated the symphony to him (and it should be noted that Richter himself eventually did conduct the Sixth Symphony).

            Despite its successful launch, however, the Sixth Symphony has not held the stage in the way that Dvořák’s final symphonies have. Those three symphonies – the dramatic Seventh, the lyrical Eighth, and the epic New World – have become regular features of our concert life, but the Sixth Symphony has so slipped into the shade that performances today are rare. This is unfortunate, because this is an attractive piece of music, full of Dvořák’s characteristic virtues – attractive themes, rhythmic energy and a flair for the dramatic.

            The Sixth has a very unassuming beginning, however. Over quietly-pulsing chords comes a gentle theme that has reminded many of the beginning of Brahms’ Second Symphony, also in D Major. Quickly comes another surprise: that gentle opening theme rises up, takes on strength and suddenly shows that it has some dramatic bite. Dvořák sets this off with the oboe’s almost delicate second idea, and these will be the materials for this extended sonata-form movement. The movement is not as extended as it might be: Dvořák had originally written in a repeat of the entire opening section, but when he was preparing his manuscript for publication, he made clear that he did not want this repeat to be taken, noting in the manuscript: “Once and for all, without repetition.” The long development leads to a powerful coda and grand climax stamped out by trumpets and horns.

            The subdued opening of the Adagio is deceiving, for this movement will erupt in great explosions of sound across its long span. Dvořák sets these off with some of his loveliest writing – this is a movement of extremes, from whispering lyricism to powerful outbursts. The third movement, the one that had to be repeated at the premiere, has always been the most popular in the symphony. Dvořák calls it a Furiant, an old Czech dance built on constantly-shifting meters, but as countless commentators have pointed out, Dvořák does not shift meters in this movement – the entire movement is in 3/4. He does, however, arrange his phrasing so that the stress often does not fall on the downbeat, and so this music feels fresh and full of rhythmic surprises – it is fast (Dvořák’s marking is Presto) and exhilarating to hear. The central episode, which slows down a little, features the silvery sound of the piccolo before accelerating back into the opening section.

            The finale is another movement that has reminded many of Brahms’ Second Symphony. In fact, Dvořák appears almost to have “lifted” the opening of this movement from the finale of Brahms’ symphony: both begin quietly with themes of similar shape, and both soon explode with energy. But there are worse models than Brahms’ Second, and there is enough authentic Dvořák here to satisfy any listener. Particularly exciting is the very ending, where racing strings propel this symphony to its conclusion on a series of D Major chords that should ring throughout the hall.

-          Program notes by Eric Bromberger


WHY THIS PROGRAM? Our music director Jahja Ling described the Mussorgsky overture as, “a very Russian, miniature tone poem, with a melody like an Orthodox chant.” In contrast, he pointed out, “The Shostakovich Violin Concerto is sometimes referred to as a marathon concerto, with a big, exhaustive cadenza in the next to last movement almost immediately followed by the extraordinary finale. The expression written into the first movement is one of a kind, and the virtuosity demanded of the orchestra is nearly as great as for the soloist, especially in the second movement.”

            Our conductor described the Dvořák Sixth as, “The composer’s Pastorale Symphony. The first movement is a nature painting, and the second is a Czech folk song. The furiant third movement may be Dvořák’s finest scherzo, and the last movement is like an all-embracing hymn…” Jahja Ling’s love of Dvořák’s music has been expressed often here.

Dawn on the Moscow River, the "Introduction" from Mussorgsky’s Khovantschina, has never before been programmed at these concerts, but the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 was performed here during the 2007-08 season, with Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg as soloist, under Jahja Ling’s baton. The Dvořák Symphony No. 6 in D Major was introduced to these concerts by guest conductor Charles Groves during the 1980-81 season. The last of its four hearings here was during the 1991-92 season, when guest conductor Janzug Khakhidze conducted.

-          Dr. Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist



Born in Tokyo, violinist Karen Gomyo grew up in Montreal and New York. Recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2008, she has been hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance and intensity,” and described by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “captivating, honest and soulful, fueled by abundant talent but not a vain display of technique.” The Toronto Globe and Mail has praised her performances as “deeply serious, temperamental and just plain gorgeous…always with a clear sense of the music’s rhythmic pulse and sonic perspectives.”

Gomyo’s engagements as soloist have included those with the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, San Francisco, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Tokyo Symphonies, Hong Kong Philharmonic and the National Symphony of Washington D.C. In Europe she has performed with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Bergen Philharmonic, Norwegian Opera Orchestra, Norköpping Symphony and Den Haag Residentie Orkest, among others. She has worked with such conductors as Leonard Slatkin, Neeme Järvi, Andrew Litton, David Robertson, David Zinman, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Andrey Boreyko, Hans Graf, Louis Langrée, James Gaffigan, Pinchas Zukerman, Vasily Petrenko, Kirill Karabits, Robin Ticciati, Pietari Inkinen and Jakub Hrůša.

2012-13 highlights include concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and with the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, Montreal, Phoenix, Atlanta, Colorado, San Diego, Toronto, Detroit, Vancouver, Milan, São Paulo and Sydney. She also performs several recitals in the U.S. and Europe.

In recital and chamber music, Gomyo has performed in festivals in the U.S. (Aspen, Ravinia, Caramoor, Mostly Mozart), Austria, Germany, France, Norway, Ukraine, Holland, Spain, Italy, Japan, and Canada, collaborating with such artists as Heinrich Schiff,  Lynn Harrell, Alisa Weilerstein, Christian Poltéra, Donald Weilerstein, Isabelle van Keulen, Antoine Tamestit, Kathryn Stott and Anton Kuerti.

Karen Gomyo is deeply interested in the Nuevo Tango music of Astor Piazzolla, and in March 2012, along with Piazzolla cohorts Pablo Ziegler (piano), Hector del Curto (bandoneon), Claudio Ragazzi (electric guitar) and Pedro Giraudo (double bass), plus classical pianist Alessio Bax, she toured a unique program featuring the music of Piazzolla and the classical composers who influenced him.

In 2008 Gomyo performed at the First Symposium for the Victims of Terrorism held at the headquarters of United Nations in New York, and in 2009 was the guest soloist for the New York Philharmonic’s Memorial Day concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Karen Gomyo plays on a Stradivarius violin that was bought for her exclusive use by a private sponsor.

Watch & Listen,

Karen Gomyo performs Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1:

March 1 - March 3, 2013

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