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Overview,

TCHAIKOVSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO FEAT. JOSHUA BELL AND
BEETHOVEN EROICA SYMPHONY

A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

May 24, 25, 26
Copley Symphony Hall

Jahja Ling, conductor
Joshua Bell, violin

SMETANA: Overture to The Bartered Bride
TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55: Eroica

It's a Jacobs Masterworks season finale to remember as violinist Joshua Bell performs one of his signature favorites, the ever-popular Violin Concerto of Piotr Tchaikovsky. Maestro Jahja Ling opens the concert with Bedrich Smetana's Czech classic, the Overture to his opera The Bartered Bride. The season ends on the feverishly triumphant note of Ludwig van Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.

"Joshua Bell makes old sound new..." - CLICK HERE to read U-T San Diego's concert review!

CLICK HERE to read U-T San Diego's recent Sunday Arts section cover story about Joshua Bell.

A recent Wall St. Journal article answers the burning question: What's in Joshua Bell's Bag?


Notes,

Overture to The Bartered Bride

BEDŘICH SMETANA

Born March 2, 1824, Litomyšl

Died May 12, 1884, Prague

 

            Smetana’s The Bartered Bride has always been considered the great “Czech” opera, and for many reasons. Smetana was a devout Czech nationalist who used such forms as the polka and the furiant in the opera; the story has a Czech setting and is full of Czech characters, costumes and customs; and it was one of the first operas with a libretto in Czech. Smetana began work in 1863, and The Bartered Bride was originally produced in 1866. The opera, however, went through several revisions before it reached its fourth (and final) form in September 1870. It is a love story set in a Czech village, and – like most operas – its plot is quite complex. The Bartered Bride tells of the young lovers Marenka and Jenik, but the course of their love does not run smooth. Marenka’s parents want her to marry a rich husband, and they bring in a marriage broker to find such a match. As part of the complex negotiations, Jenik appears to sell his “rights” to Marenka and nearly destroys his chances, but at the end he is able to contrive things so that all the confusions are sorted out and he and Marenka can be married. The Czech title of the opera – Prodaná Nevěsta – actually translates into English as “The Sold Bride” (which is exactly what Jenik does), but that title sounds so flat that the more euphonious – and alliterative – Bartered Bride has become the accepted English translation. The opera was a success from its first performance, but it did not make it to the United States until 43 years later: Gustav Mahler led the first American production (in German) at the Metropolitan Opera on February 19, 1909.

            While the opera is rarely performed in the United States, its overture has become a favorite in the concert hall. Smetana marks it Vivacissimo (“Very fast”): it begins like a rocket and never lets up over its six-minute span – even its brief lyric episodes seem to be rushing ahead breathlessly. The overture opens with a great flourish, full of characteristic syncopations, and then races into a blistering fugato for the strings. All this energy builds to a great climactic theme whose accents fall on the third rather than the first beat of each measure, and that rhythm will saturate the overture. Smetana brings back his various themes – the opening flourish, the fugato, the climactic them – as the overture proceeds, and finally this music races without any let-up right through its exciting close.

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY

Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk

Died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg

 

            Tchaikovsky wrote his Violin Concerto in Switzerland during the spring of 1878, sketching it in eleven days and then completing the scoring in two weeks. Without asking permission, he dedicated it to the famous Russian violinist Leopold Auer, who was concertmaster of the Imperial Orchestra and who would later teach Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist and Milstein. Tchaikovsky promptly ran into a bad surprise. Auer refused to perform the concerto, expressing doubts about some aspects of the music and reportedly calling it “unplayable.” The concerto had to wait three years before Adolph Brodsky gave the premiere in Vienna on December 4, 1881.

            That premiere was the occasion of one of the most infamous reviews in the history of music. Eduard Hanslick savaged the concerto, saying that it “brings to us for the first time the horrid idea that there may be music that stinks to the ear.” He went on: “The violin is no longer played. It is yanked about. It is torn asunder. It is beaten black and blue...The Adagio, with its tender national melody, almost conciliates, almost wins us. But it breaks off abruptly to make way for a Finale that puts us in the midst of the brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian kermess. We see wild and vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell bad brandy.”

            Hanslick’s review has become one of the best examples of critical Wretched Excess: the insensitive destruction of a work that would go on to become one of the best-loved concertos in the repertory. But for all his blindness, Hanslick did recognize one important feature of this music–its essential “Russian-ness.” Tchaikovsky freely – and proudly – admitted his inspiration in this concerto: “My melodies and harmonies of folk-song character come from the fact that I grew up in the country, and in my earliest childhood was impressed by the indescribable beauty of the characteristic features of Russian folk music; also from this, that I love passionately the Russian character in all its expression; in short, I am a Russian in the fullest meaning of the word.”

            The orchestra’s introduction makes for a gracious – and very brief – opening to the concerto, for the solo violin quickly enters with a flourish and then settles into the lyric opening theme, which had been prefigured in the orchestra’s introduction. A second theme is equally melodic – Tchaikovsky marks it con molt’espressione – but the development of these themes places extraordinary demands on the soloist, who must solve complicated problems with string-crossing, multiple-stops and harmonics. Auer was wrong: this concerto is not unplayable, but it is extremely difficult (and to be fair, Auer later admitted his error and performed the concerto). Tchaikovsky himself wrote the brilliant cadenza, which makes a gentle return to the movement’s opening theme; a full recapitulation leads to the dramatic close.

            Tchaikovsky marks the second movement Canzonetta (“Little Song”) and mutes solo violin and orchestral strings throughout this movement, which feels like an interlude from one of his ballets. It leads without pause to the explosive opening of the finale, marked Allegro vivacissimo, a rondo built on two themes of distinctly Russian heritage. These are the themes that reminded Hanslick of a drunken Russian brawl, but to more sympathetic ears they evoke a fiery, exciting Russian spirit. Once again, the solo violin is given music of extraordinary difficulty. The very ending, with the violin soaring brilliantly above the hurtling orchestra, is one of the most exciting moments in this – or in any – violin concerto.

 

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55: Eroica

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born December 16, 1770, Bonn

Died March 26, 1827, Vienna

 

            In May 1803, Beethoven moved to the village of Oberdöbling, a few miles north of Vienna. At age 32, he had just come through a devastating experience – the realization that he was going deaf had driven him to the verge of suicide – but now he resumed work, and life. To his friend Wenzel Krumpholz, Beethoven confided, “I am only a little satisfied with my previous works. From today on, I will take a new path.” At Oberdöbling over the next six months, Beethoven sketched a massive new symphony, his third.

            Everyone knows the story of how Beethoven had intended to dedicate the symphony to Napoleon, whose reforms in France had seemed to signal a new age of egalitarian justice. But when the news reached Beethoven in May 1804 that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor, the composer ripped the title page off the score of the symphony and blotted out Napoleon’s name, angrily crying, “Is he then, too, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition. He will exalt himself above all others, become a tyrant!” (This sounds like one of those stories too good to be true, but it is quite true: that title page–with Napoleon’s name obliterated–has survived.) Countless historians have used this episode to demonstrate Beethoven’s democratic sympathies, though there is evidence that just a few months later Beethoven intended to restore the symphony’s dedication to Napoleon, and late in life he spoke of Napoleon with grudging admiration. When the symphony was published in 1806, though, the title page bore only the cryptic inscription: “Sinfonia eroica – dedicated to the memory of a great man.”

            The new symphony was given several private performances before the public premiere on April 7, 1805. Early audiences were dumbfounded. Wrote one reviewer: “This long composition, extremely difficult of performance, is in reality a tremendously expanded, daring and wild fantasia. It lacks nothing in the way of startling and beautiful passages, in which the energetic and talented composer must be recognized; but often it loses itself in lawlessness...The reviewer belongs to Herr Beethoven’s sincerest admirers, but in this composition he must confess that he finds too much that is glaring and bizarre, which hinders greatly one’s grasp of the whole, and a sense of unity is almost completely lost.” Legend has it that at the end of the first movement, one outraged member of the audience screamed out, “I’ll give another kreutzer [a small coin] if the thing will but stop!” It is easy now to smile at such reactions, but those honest sentiments reflect the confusion of listeners in the presence of a genuinely revolutionary work of art.

            There had never been a symphony like this, and Beethoven’s “new directions” are evident from the first instant. The music explodes to life with two whip-cracks in E-flat Major, followed immediately by the main ideas in the cellos. This slightly-swung theme is simply built on the notes of an E-flat Major chord, but the theme settles on a “wrong” note – C# – and the resulting harmonic complications will be resolved only after much violence. Another striking feature of this movement is Beethoven's choice of 3/4 instead of the duple meter customary in symphonic first movements; 3/4, the minuet meter, had been thought essentially lightweight, unworthy of serious music. Beethoven destroys that notion instantly – this is not simply serious music, it is music of the greatest violence and uncertainty. In it, what Beethoven’s biographer Maynard Solomon has called “hostile energy” is admitted for the first time into what had been the polite world of the classical symphony. This huge movement (longer by itself than some complete Haydn and Mozart symphonies) introduces a variety of themes and develops them with a furious energy. It is no accident that the development is the longest section of this movement. The energy pent up in those themes is unleashed here, and the development – much of it fugal in structure – is full of grand gestures, stinging dissonances and tremendous forward thrust. The lengthy recapitulation (in which the music continues to develop) drives to a powerful coda: the main theme repeats four times, growing more powerful on each appearance, and finally it is shouted out in triumph. This truly is a “heroic” movement – it raises serious issues, and in music of unparalleled drama and scope it resolves them.

            The second movement brings another surprise – it is a funeral march, something else entirely new in symphonic music. Beethoven moves to dark C minor as violins announce the grieving main idea over growling basses, and the movement makes its somber way on the tread of this dark theme. The C Major central interlude sounds almost bright by comparison – the hero’s memory is ennobled here – but when the opening material and tonality return Beethoven ratchets up tensions by treating his material fugally. At the end, the march theme disintegrates in front of us, and the movement ends on muttering fragments of that theme.

            Out of this silence, the propulsive scherzo springs to life, then explodes. For all its revolutionary features, the Eroica employs what was essentially the Mozart-Haydn orchestra: pairs of winds, plus timpani and strings. Beethoven makes only one change – he adds a third horn, which is now featured prominently in the trio section’s hunting-horn calls. But that one change, seemingly small by itself, is yet another signal of the originality of this symphony: the virtuosity of the writing for horns, the sweep of their brassy sonority – all these are new in music.

            The finale is a theme-and-variation movement, a form originally intended to show off the imagination of the composer and the skill of the performer. Here Beethoven transforms this old form into a grand conclusion worthy of a heroic symphony. After an opening flourish, he presents not the theme but the bass line of that theme, played by pizzicato strings, and offers several variations on this line before the melodic theme itself is heard in the woodwinds, now accompanied by the same pizzicato line. This tune had special appeal for Beethoven, and he had already used it in three other works, including his ballet Prometheus. Was Beethoven thinking of Prometheus – stealer of fire and champion of mankind – when he used this theme for the climactic movement of this utterly original symphony? He puts the theme through a series of dazzling variations, including complex fugal treatment, before reaching a moment of poise on a stately slow variation for woodwinds. The music pauses expectantly, and then a powerful Presto coda hurls the Eroica to its close.

            The Eroica may have stunned its first audiences, but audiences today run the greater risk of forgetting how revolutionary this music is. What seemed “lawlessness” to early audiences must now be seen as an extraordinary leap to an entirely new conception of what music might be. Freed from the restraint of courtly good manners, Beethoven found in the symphony the means to express the most serious and important of human emotions. It is no surprise the composers over the next century would make full use of this freedom. Nor is it a surprise to learn that late in life – at a time when he had written eight symphonies – Beethoven named the Eroica as his own favorite among his symphonies.

-          Program notes by Eric Bromberger

 

WHY THIS PROGRAM?

“This Smetana overture is one of the most virtuosic pieces ever written for orchestra, but it is so much fun for both players and audience,” was Jahja Ling’s opening comment about this final program of the season. “What a way to open a concert and make people happy that they came. As for the Eroica, that piece served to explode symphonic composition from its first, repeated gunshot chords that eliminated an expected, classically formal introduction. It stands as a pillar of the repertory and is a great barometer to test the maturity of any orchestra or conductor. For the conclusion of this season we are demonstrating the San Diego Symphony’s maturity as well as its technical expertise.”

            Our conductor reminisced, “When Josh Bell was 17, and played with a major orchestra for the first time, I conducted. That was in San Francisco, and his performance was so sensational that he was immediately offered a Decca-London recording contract. We go back a long way and have performed together many times. With him coming here to close the season for soloists, and to play the Tchaikovsky, it’s like old home week…”

Smetana’s boisterous overture to The Bartered Bride was first played by the SDSO under the direction of Earl Bernard Murray during the 1963-64 season. Yoav Talmi led the most recent performance during the 1989-90 season. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is possibly the most popular of all violin concertos. One suspects all prominent violinists keep it in their repertoire to bring it out when extra flash is needed. But despite the flash, as our music director describes it, “It is a beautiful, sometimes even haunting work, especially in the middle movement. No wonder it is such a favorite.” It was first played at these concerts in the summer of 1941 when Nicolai Sokoloff conducted Naoum Blinder as the soloist. At the time, Blinder was the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony. Fourteen soloists later, Jahja Ling led Sergey Khachatryan during the 2010-11 season in the most recent performance of the concerto in San Diego. Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was introduced to San Diego Symphony audiences by Robert Shaw, who conducted it in the summer of 1954. The most recent of its fifteen performances at these concerts was guest conducted by Peter Oundjian during the 2001-02 season.

-          Melvin G. Goldzband, Symphony Archivist

 

Artists,

Often referred to as the "poet of the violin," Joshua Bell is one of the world's most celebrated violinists. He continues to enchant audiences with his breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty and charismatic stage presence. His restless curiosity, passion, universal appeal and multi-faceted musical interests have earned him the rare title of "classical music superstar." Bell's most recent challenge is his appointment as the new Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the first person and first American to hold this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958. The ensemble's first 15-concert tour to the United States garnered rave reviews, and as one orchestra member blogged in Gramophone, "the audience reaction all tour has been nothing short of rock concert enthusiasm." Their first recording under Bell's leadership as Music Director/conductor is the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies of Beethoven (just released by Sony Classical February 2013) with plans to eventually perform and record all the Beethoven symphonies.

Equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and orchestra leader, Bell's 2012 summer appearances included the premiere of a new concerto for violin and double bass by Edgar Meyer performed by Bell and Meyer at Tanglewood, Aspen and the Hollywood Bowl. In addition Bell appeared at the Festival del Sole, Ravinia, Verbier, Salzburg, Saratoga and Mostly Mozart festivals. He kicked off the San Francisco Symphony's fall season followed by performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston, Seattle, Omaha, Cincinnati and Detroit Symphonies. Fall highlights included a tour of South Africa, a European tour with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and a European recital tour with Sam Haywood.

In 2013 Bell will tour the United States with the Cleveland Orchestra and Europe with the New York Philharmonic; there will also be performances with the Tucson, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Nashville Symphony Orchestras.

Joshua Bell currently records exclusively for Sony Classical, and since his first LP recording at age 18 on the Decca Label he has recorded more than 40 CDs. Sony releases include French Impressions with pianist Jeremy Denk, featuring sonatas by Saint-Säens, Ravel and Franck, At Home With Friends, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, The Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as The Red Violin Concerto, The Essential Joshua Bell, Voice of the Violin, and Romance of the Violin which Billboard named the 2004 Classical CD of the Year (also naming Bell the Classical Artist of the Year). Bell received critical acclaim for his concerto recordings of Sibelius and Goldmark, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and the Grammy® Award-winning Nicholas Maw concerto. His Grammy®-nominated Gershwin Fantasy premiered a new work for violin and orchestra based on themes from Porgy and Bess. Its success led to a Grammy®-nominated Bernstein recording that included the premiere of the West Side Story Suite as well as the composer's Serenade. Bell appeared on the Grammy®-nominated crossover recording Short Trip Home with composer and double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, as well as a recording with Meyer of the Bottesini Gran Duo Concertante. Bell also collaborated with Wynton Marsalis on the Grammy® Award-winning spoken word children's album Listen to the Storyteller and Bela Flecks' Grammy® Award-winning recording Perpetual Motion. Highlights of the Sony Classical film soundtracks on which Bell has performed include The Red Violin, which won the Oscar® for Best Original Score, the Classical Brit-nominated Ladies in Lavender and the films Iris and Defiance.

Always seeking opportunities to increase the violin repertoire, Bell has premiered new works by composers Nicholas Maw, John Corigliano, Aaron Jay Kernis, Edgar Meyer, Behzad Ranjbaran and Jay Greenberg. Mr. Bell also performs and has recorded his own cadenzas to many of the major violin concertos.

Bell has been embraced by a wide television audience with appearances ranging from The Tonight Show, Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose and CBS Sunday Morning to Sesame Street and Entertainment Tonight. In 2010 Bell starred in his fifth Live from Lincoln Center Presents broadcast titled Joshua Bell with Friends @ The Penthouse. Other PBS shows include Great Performances – Joshua Bell: West Side Story Suite from Central Park, a Memorial Day Concert performed on the lawn of the United States Capitol and A&E’s Biography. He has twice performed on the Grammy® Awards telecast, performing music from Short Trip Home and West Side Story Suite. He was one of the first classical artists to have a music video air on VH1, and he has been the subject of a BBC Omnibus documentary. Bell has appeared in publications ranging from Strad and Gramophone to The New York Times, People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue, USA Today, The Wall St. Journal, GQ, Vogue and Readers’ Digest among many. In 2007 Bell performed incognito in a Washington, DC subway station for a Washington Post story by Gene Weingarten examining art and context. The story earned Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize and sparked an international firestorm of discussion which continues to this day.

Growing up with his two sisters in Bloomington, Indiana, Bell indulged in many passions outside of music, becoming an avid computer game player and a competitive athlete. He placed fourth in a national tennis tournament at age 10 and still keeps his racquet close by. At age four he received his first violin after his parents, both mental health professionals, noticed him plucking tunes with rubber bands he had stretched around the handles of his dresser drawers. By 12 he was serious about the instrument, thanks in large part to the inspiration of renowned violinist and pedagogue Josef Gingold, who had become his beloved teacher and mentor. Two years later, Bell came to national attention in his highly acclaimed debut with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His Carnegie Hall debut, an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a notable recording contract soon followed, further confirming his presence in the musical world.

In 1989 Bell received an Artist Diploma in Violin Performance from Indiana University where he currently serves as a senior lecturer at the Jacobs School of Music. His alma mater honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award; he has been named an “Indiana Living Legend” and is the recipient of the Indiana Governor’s Arts Award.

In 2011 Bell received the Paul Newman Award from Arts Horizons and the Huberman Award from Moment Magazine. Bell was named “Instrumentalist of the Year, 2010” by Musical America and that same year received the Humanitarian Award from Seton Hall University. In 2009 he was honored by Education Through Music, and he received the Academy of Achievement Award in 2008 for exceptional accomplishment in the arts. In 2007 he was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize and recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2005.

Bell serves on the artist committee of the Kennedy Center Honors and is on the Board of Directors of the New York Philharmonic. He has performed before President Obama at Ford’s Theatre and at the White House and recently returned to the Capital to perform for Vice President Biden and President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping.

Bell performs on the 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin and uses a late 18th century French bow by Francois Tourte.

 

JOSHUA BELL (MW)
May 24 - May 26, 2013
COPLEY SYMPHONY HALL

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