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...
Overview,

BRAHMS’ VIOLIN CONCERTO FEAT. KYOKO TAKEZAWA AND
SCHUBERT'S SYMPHONY NO. 5

A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

April 12, 13, 14
Copley Symphony Hall

Jahja Ling, conductor
Kyoko Takezawa, violin

WEBERN: Im Sommerwind
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77

We celebrate April with music from the very heart of the Romantic classical tradition, the Violin Concerto of Johannes Brahms. Japanese sensation Kyoko Takezawa performs this classic work on a Jacobs Masterworks concert conducted by music director Jahja Ling. Franz Schubert’s charmingly youthful and intimate Symphony No. 5 also features on this program, as does Anton Webern's evocative Im Sommerwind.


 

DIALOGUE WITH JAHJA! All Friday April 12 concertgoers are invited to stay after the concert for a Q&A with music director Jahja Ling and violinist Kyoko Takezawa.


Notes,

Im Sommerwind

ANTON WEBERN

Born December 3, 1883, Vienna

Died September 15, 1945, Mittersill

 

            For several generations the Webern family had a summer estate, called Preglhof, in a mountain valley near Klagenfurt at the east end of the Wörthersee in southern Austria. Anton Webern spent his summers there as a child and delighted in climbing through the mountains that surrounded the estate. In the summer of 1904, after two years at the University of Vienna, the 20-year-old composer returned to Preglhof and set to work on an ambitious new piece. He had already written songs, piano pieces and chamber music, but that summer he composed a work for large orchestra, inspired by his pleasure in the sunny valleys and mountains of Carinthia and specifically modeled on the lengthy poem Im Sommerwind (“In the Summer Wind”) by Bruno Wille. Wille (1860-1928), a social philosopher and poet, believed so deeply in the spiritual power of nature that he fled the city to make his home on an isolated lake outside Berlin. His Im Sommerwind tells of the experience of a summer day in the country, of bright sunlight and warm winds, and finally of the pleasure and peace the day brings.

            Webern used Wille’s poem as the framework for his orchestral work, a tone-poem somewhat in the manner of Richard Strauss but more concerned with expressing states of feeling than depicting specific actions. Webern was precise in his subtitle Idyll for Large Orchestra. An idyll is an ancient form of poetry that celebrates pastoral life, and Webern does indeed write for very large orchestra. Im Sommerwind, in fact, requires one of the largest orchestras Webern ever used, including six horns and two harps, though (curiously) it has no trombones or tuba and makes very delicate use of percussion.

            Im Sommerwind is a terrific evocation of a warm summer day in the countryside. It begins very quietly (the marking is triple piano) as Webern slowly unfolds a great D Major chord from the muted strings. The music itself is built on a series of short motifs, usually just a few measures each, that evolve continuously across the twelve-minute span of this music – principal among these are the rising, surging figure first heard in the violins and a dancing idea for solo oboe that Webern marks lustig (“gay, delighted”). Gradually the summer wind begins to blow, and the music eases ahead and becomes more animated. Those who think of Webern as the supremely cerebral and detached manipulator of tone-rows and complex canons should look at his performance markings in this score: the musicians are repeatedly instructed to make their playing "as tender as possible, very soft and tender, with tender expression" and "very peaceful and solemn." Twice this music rises to great climaxes that subside quickly – Webern’s winds blow firmly but never tempestuously. He deploys his forces with precision; sometimes he uses only a handful of solo instruments, but he is also willing to unleash the full resources of his “large orchestra” to create an opulent sonority that can sound very much like Der Rosenkavalier (still seven years in the future). Im Sommerwind concludes peacefully as Webern returns to the same D Major chord that opened this music and instructs the players to let their sound fade into inaudibility.

            Webern finished the draft of this music early in August 1904 and had the orchestration complete six weeks later, on September 16. The young composer could not have known, as he completed this score, that seven days earlier and just a few miles to the west – at his sunny summer residence on the Wörthersee – Gustav Mahler had completed the draft of his Sixth Symphony. That fall, Webern would return to Vienna and begin studying with Arnold Schoenberg, and his subsequent music would take quite a different direction. He remained proud of Im Sommerwind, however, and showed the manuscript to his own students as an example of his early work. But Webern never heard this music. The first performance did not take place until May 25, 1962 – 17 years after the composer’s death – when it was performed by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the first International Webern Festival in Seattle.

 

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Born January 31, 1797, Vienna

Died November 19, 1828, Vienna

           

            Schubert composed his Fifth Symphony in September and October 1816 under very particular conditions, and those conditions did much to shape how this music sounds. Schubert wrote the symphony for a tiny informal orchestra that played in the homes of a group of music lovers in Vienna. That orchestra had begun as the Schubert family string quartet, to which a few winds and extra string players were added, and the modest scoring of the Fifth reflects this: one flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns and strings. Schubert omits clarinets, trumpets and timpani, and their absence gives the music an unusually gentle character and makes for a very particular sonority, almost chamber-like in its textures. Schubert often sets the two violin sections in octaves (further contributing to the transparency of textures) and writes with great clarity for solo winds. In particular, the glowing, silvery sound of the single flute gives this symphony much of its clear, pure sound, a sonority quite appropriate to a piece of music conceived for performance in a living room rather than a 2200-seat concert hall.

            The intimacy of the Fifth Symphony may come from a further reason as well. Earlier that same year, under the strong influence of Beethoven, Schubert had written his Fourth Symphony, which he gave the somewhat inflated nickname Tragic. But several months later Schubert had come to feel that Beethoven’s style – however right it may have been for Beethoven – was not right for him, and now he turned away sharply from that dramatic manner. Perhaps in the effort to cleanse his palate of that taste, he went back to an earlier style for his model: the spirit of Mozart hovers over this gentle symphony.

            At first glance, Schubert’s Fifth Symphony certainly seems to be of Mozartean proportion and manner: it is built on the outlines of the classical symphony, which are here wed to Schubert’s lyric gift and sometimes to his penchant for unexpected harmonic shifts. A four-bar introduction, full of glowing woodwind sound and scurrying violins, alights gracefully on the buoyant, dancing main idea in the violins, which also have the sprightly second subject. This sonata-form movement, full of youthful energy and bright spirits, proceeds normally until near the end, where the 19-year-old composer is willing to break the rules and start that recapitulation in the “wrong” key of E-flat Major instead of the home key of B-flat. The Andante con moto sings throughout, from its melting opening violin phrase through the broader, chorale-like second subject. Schubert almost certainly turned to Mozart for his model in the minuet: its key-structure and theme-shape come directly from the third movement of Mozart’s great Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Schubert wears these influences lightly, and this movement does not sound nearly so implacable as its predecessor; both composers move to sunny G Major for the trio section. Schubert defies expectations slightly in the finale, offering another sonata-form movement instead of the customary rondo (the model may again have been the Mozart’s Symphony No. 40). Here Schubert offers a series of irresistible tunes, of which the flowing second is a real beauty.

            A teenaged composer could do worse than choosing Mozart as his model, but one of the great pleasures of the Fifth Symphony is that – despite the model – it sounds like Schubert in every bar. The young man who wrote this symphony – and who was still feeling his way with symphonic form – was already a sophisticated composer of lieder. In fact, at exactly the same time he wrote this symphony Schubert composed a series of magnificent songs on texts by Goethe: “Sehnsucht” and the three Harfenspieler songs on texts from Wilhelm Meister. If the Fifth Symphony does not reach the same heights as those songs, its glowing melodies and youthful charm have nevertheless made it the popular favorite among Schubert’s early symphonies.

 

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77

JOHANNES BRAHMS

Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg

Died April 3, 1897, Vienna

 

            Brahms spent the summer of 1878 in Pörtschach on the Wörthersee, not far from the spot where Webern wrote Im Sommerwind, the opening work on this program. He loved this resort town on the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and to a friend he noted how much he felt like writing music there: “So many melodies fly about that one must be careful not to tread on them.” Brahms set out that summer to write something for his friend and colleague of 25 years, the great violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms did not play the violin, and he consulted frequently with Joachim during the composition of this concerto, asking for advice and criticism (some of which he took, some he did not). In its original form, this concerto was in four movements, but Brahms threw out the two middle movements, replacing them with what he called – with characteristic self-deprecation – “a feeble Adagio” (three years later, the deleted scherzo became part of the Second Piano Concerto). Joachim was soloist and Brahms the conductor at the premiere in Leipzig on January 1, 1879.

            Brahms’ Violin Concerto is extraordinarily difficult for the soloist, and in a famous jibe it has been called “a concerto against the violin rather than for it” (this remark has been attributed variously to Sarasate, Lalo, Hellmesberger, and others – we will probably never know for sure who said it). But this music is not impossible, and in fact Brahms’ Violin Concerto is quite playable. It requires a tremendous violinist, one with the ability to make huge leaps and land with dead-center accuracy, to project the violin’s sound over a large orchestra, and to have hands big enough to play the tenths that Brahms frequently calls for. Yet this is not a showy or a flashy piece. Violin and orchestra are beautifully integrated here, with the melodic line flowing seamlessly between them and the soloist’s skills always at the service of the music, rather than the reverse.

            Many have felt a similarity – musical and spiritual – between Brahms’ Violin Concerto and his Second Symphony, also composed at Pörtschach and premiered only a few months before he began work on the concerto. Both are large-scale (about forty minutes in length), both are in D Major, and both are lyric and spacious works. Brahms stays close to classical tradition in the first movement of the concerto, where a long orchestral exposition introduces the themes before the entrance of the violinist. The very beginning, with its arching and falling main subject, is distinctive for the way Brahms manages to disguise the meter: it is in 3/4, yet the stresses of the opening phrases obscure the downbeats. Solo oboe introduces the second theme (which will be extended in many ways), and the full string section stamps out the third. This last bears a close relation to the opening of Bach’s Chaconne for unaccompanied violin, a work Brahms very much admired (he had made a piano arrangement of the Chaconne two years before he wrote the Violin Concerto). Only when these themes have been fully presented does the solo violin enter with its dazzling two-octave run up the scale, followed by a series of blistering string-crossings. This is a big, dramatic movement, and it can make a huge sound, but the score itself is littered with Brahms’ performance instructions, and these make clear what he believed the true character of this music to be: dolce, espressivo, tranquillo and lusingando (a term that does not translate easily from the Italian, but means generally coaxing or charming). Much of the writing for violin is graceful and lyric, and in particular Brahms’ transformation of the second subject into a slow waltz is a moment of pure magic. This concerto has all the thrust and fire and excitement a concerto should have, but despite its fearsome reputation, this is also a very violinistic concerto (even its notorious tenths are made easier by Brahms’ often making one of those notes an open string).

            Perhaps as a nod to Joachim, Brahms did not write out a cadenza for the first movement (he wrote all the cadenzas for his other three concertos); Joachim produced a splendid cadenza, and others have been drawn to write their own. One of the other magic moments in this movement comes with the return of the orchestra at the end of the cadenza: over quiet accompaniment, the violinist lays out once again the movement’s opening theme and then takes it very high on long sustained notes as the orchestra sings far below. Gradually the music descends from these Olympian heights, gathers momentum and strength, and hurtles to the resounding D Major chord that closes the movement.

            The Adagio, in F Major, is anything but “feeble.” The entire opening statement is given to the wind choir, and it is the solo oboe rather than the solo violin that announces the main idea of the movement – when the violinist enters, it is with music that is already a variation of the oboe’s noble song. The center section, which moves to F-sharp minor, grows much more impassioned, with the violin burning its way high above the orchestra before the return of the poised opening material and a graceful close.

            The last movement is the expected rondo, which Brahms marks Allegro giocoso (“fast and happy”), but he also specifies ma non troppo vivace: “not too fast.” Many have remarked on the Hungarian flavor of this movement, and some have seen this as another nod toward Joachim, who was Hungarian. In fact, Brahms loved Hungarian music (which means – more exactly – gypsy music), and he hardly needed an excuse to compose in that style. This is a difficult movement for the soloist, full of extended passages in octaves and great leaps across the range of the violin, but there are some wonderfully lyric interludes along the way. A great cascade of runs from the violinist introduces the coda, where Brahms subtly recasts the 2/4 rondo tune so that it seems to be in 6/8. This gathers strength, and all appears set for the expected closing fireworks, but in the last measures Brahms springs one final surprise, winding the music down so that it seems almost to have lost its way before three great chords ring out to proclaim the true close.

-          Program notes by Eric Bromberger

WHY THIS PROGRAM?

Jahja Ling described Im Sommerwind as a "beautiful, romantic, transparent piece, not like the characteristically dissonant, twelve-tone Second Viennese School. It is an extraordinarily orchestrated gem. With the Schubert Fifth Symphony following it, I needed something that would not overcome that lovely delicate, melodic, almost conversational piece. They should really work well together as distinctive echoes of Vienna. It’s been far too long since we have played the Schubert. It’s pure inspiration – beauty and simplicity, just like many of his wonderful songs. And the Brahms, to me, is the grandest of all violin concertos. The opening just swallows you up, and the finale leaves you dancing.”

Anton Webern’s lovely, rhapsodic Im Sommerwind is being heard at these concerts for the second time, Jahja Ling having led it here during the 2007-08 season. Zoltan Rozsnyai conducted the Schubert Fifth Symphony during the 1968-69 season, its first presentation here. It has not been programmed here since season 1993-94, when it was conducted by Yoav Talmi. The great Brahms Violin Concerto was introduced to San Diego Symphony audiences by Isaac Stern, when he played it during the 1957 season under Robert Shaw’s direction. Gil Shaham (the fourteenth violin soloist for this concerto here) played it most recently locally under Jahja Ling’s baton during the 2007-08 season.

- Dr. Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist

Artists,

As the embodiment of musicality, violinist Kyoko Takezawa electrifies audiences with a richness of playing, a virtuosic confidence of feeling and a fiery intensity that establishes her as one of today's foremost violinists.  Ms. Takezawa's interpretive insight and indisputable talent have made her a sought-after soloist with many of the world's leading orchestras.

Ms. Takezawa has performed as soloist with such prominent ensembles as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, Cleveland, Baltimore, Saint Louis, Houston, Toronto, Dallas, Montreal, Detroit and Cincinnati. Abroad, she has been heard with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the London Symphony, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the NHK Symphony and the New Japan Philharmonic. She has collaborated with many distinguished conductors, including Seiji Ozawa, Sir Colin Davis, Michael Tilson Thomas, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, Leonard Slatkin, Charles Dutoit, Marek Janowski and Sir Andrew Davis. She has performed at major venues around the world, notably Carnegie Hall in New York; the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; London's BBC Proms; Musikverain in Vienna and Suntory Hall in Tokyo.

In past seasons, Ms. Takezawa performed in North America with the St. Louis, Tucson and Jacksonville, Charlotte, Toronto and Seattle Symphonies. She also performed with the China Philharmonic, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Japan Philharmonic, Singapore, Guangzhou, Nagoya and Osaka Symphonies in Asia, Denmark's Aarhus Symphony, France's Orchestre National de Lille, and Manchester's Halle Orchestra. She also appeared as the feature soloist on the Hamburg NDR Symphony tour of Japan.

Ms. Takezawa's chamber music performances have drawn high praise, and as co-director of the Suntory Festival Soloists of Suntory Hall in Tokyo, she has collaborated with the late Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Joseph Suk, Pinchas Zukerman and many other distinguished artists. A prolific recording artist, Ms. Takezawa can be heard on BMG's RCA Victor Red Seal label. Her most recent recording is a performance of the Violin Concerto, Op. 14, by Samuel Barber with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Her other recordings include the Elgar Violin Concerto with Sir Colin Davis and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Bartók with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony; and the Mendelssohn Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 with Klaus Peter Flor and the Bamberg Symphony.

Ms. Takezawa began violin studies at the age of three, and at seven she toured the United States, Canada and Switzerland as a member of the Suzuki Method Association. In 1982 she placed first in the 51st Annual Japan Music Competition, and at 17 she entered the Aspen Music School to study with Dorothy DeLay, with whom Ms. Takezawa continued to study at The Juilliard School until graduating in 1989. In 1986 she was awarded the Gold Medal at the Second Quadrennial International Violin Competition in Indianapolis, and most recently she received the prestigious Idemitsu Award for outstanding musicianship. Ms. Takezawa, who has been performing on the Antonio Stradivarius "Campocselice" (1710) on loan to her from the Nippon Music Foundation, most recently has been given  the Guarneri del Gesu "Wieniawski" (1742), on  loan  to her  provided  by the Stradivarius Society in Chicago.

BRAHMS' VIOLIN CONCERTO (MW)
April 12 - April 14, 2013
COPLEY SYMPHONY HALL

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  • Overview
  • Notes
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