Artists and Repertoire

Rafael Payare, conductor
Guy Braunstein, violin

Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
W.A. Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, “Jupiter”


Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is music that poured from its composer’s heart like a pure mountain stream – beautiful, harmonized melodies and lively rhythms. Internationally-acclaimed violinist Guy Braunstein performs this beloved classic. Music Director Rafael Payare caps off the evening leading the Orchestra in Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony with its astonishing firework-display of melody that weaves together a sonorous web of sound.

Insights from our Creative Consultant

Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)

The great American sewing-machine heiress Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, was one of the richest women in the world and certainly one of the greatest patrons of the arts in the late 19th and early 20th century. She was especially important for her support of a whole wealth of composers from Chabrier, Fauré and Debussy, through Manuel de Falla and Igor Stravinsky, to Poulenc and Kurt Weill. Her salon in her extremely grand house in Paris – constructed and decorated in the strangest mixture of retro and modern  was the scene of many gatherings and concerts, not only featuring the first performances of important new pieces she had commissioned, but some of the first performances in modern times of what is now called "early music." In her splendid concert-room, guests could hear music from the 16th century onwards, including operas by Lully and Rameau, and a complete cycle of Bach cantatas. Most of this music was completely new to the listeners. And all sorts of unfamiliar early instruments featured too, including harpsichords, lutes and recorders. And in the intermissions, concert-goers could inspect the Princesse’s astounding collection of art-works.

Among those in the audience, and sometimes on the piano, was a young composer called Maurice Ravel. One day, at the Princesse’s invitation, he wrote for her a short piano piece which he called "Pavane for a dead Infanta." The pavane was stately dance four or five hundred years ago. And an Infanta was a princess – not a "princesse" by marriage, like Winnaretta, but a daughter of the King and Queen of Spain, as depicted in the world-famous painting by Velásquez, Las Meninas.

In tribute to his patron’s aristocratic status, and to her fascination with the music and culture of centuries ago, Ravel wrote this little "Pavane" as a kind of re-imagining of the early music he’d first heard in Polignac’s house, complete with a beautiful old-fashioned melody and the plucking sound of a harpsichord in the background. At first, he said that he chose the title ‘just for the sound of the words’, but in later years he admitted he might have been inspired to think of an Infanta by the paintings of Velásquez.

By that time, Ravel had long-since beautifully orchestrated this short piano piece and the Pavane for a Dead Princess had become a much-loved feature of modern symphonic programs.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

In the summer 1877, Tchaikovsky took a disastrous decision: to quell rumors about his sexuality, and to please (as he thought) members of his family, he suddenly married one of his students, Antonina Miliukova, "a woman with whom I am not in the least in love." The resulting catastrophe – the immediate failure of this marriage – led to the destruction of Antonina’s life (she spent her last 20 years in an asylum for the mentally ill), and to what nowadays would be called a "breakdown" on the part of the composer. Encouraged by his family, Tchaikovsky fled to Europe to recover his own mental balance.

It is not a pretty story, and does not reflect well on Tchaikovsky.

But where most of us, were we to suffer an upheaval of such a kind, might find it impossible to work, Tchaikovsky compensated for this misery by producing, in astonishingly quick succession, a series of his greatest works. Is it possible that he needed tremendous tension in order to be able to write?

First, the year before his marriage came his ballet, Swan Lake. Then, in the very year of the disaster, his greatest opera Eugene Onegin (the plot of which eerily reflects the dreadful story of his marriage) and one of his most popular orchestral works, his Fourth Symphony.

By this time, he was in Europe, wandering from place to place. He finished the symphony in a hotel on the waterfront in Venice, and then, in the New Year of 1878, moved to join friends in a beautiful resort on Lake Geneva in Switzerland (strangely enough, just along the lake from where, a few years later, Stravinsky would compose The Rite of Spring).

A favorite pupil of his, Josef Kotek, soon joined the party in Switzerland, to Tchaikovsky’s great delight. Kotek was a leading violinist, and had brought a packet of new violin pieces for Tchaikovsky and he to play through in the evenings after dinner. One of the pieces Kotek brought was the delightfully tuneful Symphonie espagnole by the French composer Eduoard Lalo. Tchaikovsky loved this music – “It has a lot of freshness, lightness, spicy rhythms and beautiful and well harmonized melodies…”  and immediately declared he would write a Violin Concerto in the same style, “thinking more about musical beauty than observing established traditions like the Germans do…”. Here he was taking a dig at Brahms, whose music he did not like, and who (Tchaikovsky couldn't know this) was actually writing HIS violin concerto at almost the same time!

Tchaikovsky finished a rough sketch of the first movement in just a few days, and when he and Kotek played it through to their friends in the hotel there was warm approval. Then Tchaikovsky wrote a slow movement (apparently, at a single sitting) and the wild last movement in "gypsy" style. This time their friends had reservations: the finale was terrific, but the slow movement didn’t feel quite right. Tchaikovsky was irritated but said he would try and write another, which he did in only a very few days.

This is music that poured from its composer’s heart like one of the mountain streams rushing down the Swiss mountains all around the hotel where Tchaikovsky and his friends were staying. And while its earliest performances were not very successful – that often happens – this concerto is now a favorite with soloists and audiences all over the world.

W.A. Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, “Jupiter”

In the summer of 1788, just 90 years before Tchaikovsky finished his violin concerto, Mozart wrote three symphonies, one after another in a matter of weeks. Each one is a masterpiece.

What’s surprising about this is that while Mozart wrote many symphonies over his boyhood and youth, he wrote only a very few as an adult, apparently because there was not a great demand in Vienna for such pieces. And no one knows exactly why he suddenly decided to write three of them.

One possible explanation is that he was preparing to put on a series of fund-raising concerts around that time and may have intended these pieces as center-points of these performances. But what’s curious is there is no evidence these concerts ever took place, and it seems very possible they were cancelled. In which case, Mozart probably never ever heard a live performance of two out of these three last symphonies – the 39th Symphony in E-flat Major and this program's Symphony No. 41 in C Major  in his lifetime. (There’s some thought he may have heard the 40th Symphony in G minor at a Christmas gala concert conducted by his arch-rival Antonio Salieri.)

It was only after Mozart’s early death in 1791 that these symphonies began to be regularly performed. The 41st Symphony, was even given a nickname, "Jupiter," apparently by someone in London, England, after a performance there. Presumably whoever did this was impressed by the grandness of this symphony’s opening chords and imagined the operatic entrance of the ancient Roman god of that name.

Mozart himself probably never had any such thought, but what is true is that like many of his greatest orchestral works, including symphonies and concertos, this symphony is deeply operatic… which is to say it is theatrical music, dramatic music.

Mozart was an operatic composer to his core, and his experience in writing for the theatre was second to none in his time. This group of three symphonies was written not long after the triumphant success of Don Giovanni, and a year after them he was to compose the outrageously effervescent comedy Così fan tutte (That’s what all women do!). It was in the opera theatre that Mozart honed and shaped the deepest elements of his language.

And so, the first movement of the "Jupiter" Symphony has the character of an expanded overture, with its thrilling and intense opening, and the beautiful second theme sounds like the yearning melodies he wrote for his greatest operatic heroines, like the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. The second movement, were it to have a voice in, is an aria, like one of those moments in Mozart’s opera when a character, alone on stage, confesses their most intimate feelings.

Perhaps the most famous part of this symphony, and often cited as one of this composer’s supreme achievements, is the finale. A principal reason for this is the movement’s astonishing firework-display of the art of counterpoint (weaving different voices together at the same time – a truly operatic concept). Bach is often cited as the greatest master of this art in Western musical history (Bach himself called counterpoint "the art of combination"), but Mozart was no less of a master than Bach, and indeed learned a huge part of his skills from studying Bach’s music.

But there’s another aspect to this finale as well, and that is its closeness to the great operatic finales of this composer’s comic operas, especially Figaro and Don Giovanni: those marvelous outpourings of tension and joy at the end of an act or at the end of an evening, when all the characters come together to declare or resolve at last their differences and their problems, their varied voices being woven together in a thrilling web of sound. No wonder, for such moments, in his operas and here in this symphony, that Mozart called on his deepest musical skills as well as his deepest, Shakespearean human sympathies for his different "characters" as expressed in their vocal or instrumental lines.

– San Diego Symphony Creative Consultant GERARD MCBURNEY

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Time 7:30 p.m.
Venue California Center for the Arts, Escondido
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Here is a recent "socially distanced" performance of the Pavane by the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

A fine modern performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto by Julia Fischer and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

One way to perform the "Jupiter" Symphony is with the energy and clarity of the great masters of the Early Music style, Trevor Pinnock with The English Concert.

California Center for the Arts, Escondido