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Program Notes: Simon Trpčeski

Program Notes: Simon Trpčeski

Schubert: 16 German Dances, D. 783 (Op. 33)
So indelibly is the name Johann Strauss embedded in our consciousness as the purveyor of Viennese dance music that we tend to forget such music existed well before the Waltz King appeared on the scene. Not just minor, forgotten figures like Pamer, Faisatenberger and Wilde, but the likes of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Hummel contributed countless minuets, Deutsche Tänze (German dances), marches, contredances, and later écossaises and waltzes, either for large-scale social functions or for intimate parties. Schubert alone composed some four hundred little piano pieces of this nature across his creative life.

A “German dance” is a simple dance of folk character in triple metre; in Schubert’s hand it eventually gave way to the waltz. The sixteen pieces that make up D. 783 (Op. 33) mostly date from 1823 and 1824. These miniature gems – all sixteen take only about ten minutes to play – are, with two exceptions, laid out in the identical format of two eight-bar phrases, each phrase repeated in an AABB pattern. (The second phrase of Nos. 1 and 10 are double length.) Yet Schubert’s imagination never permits a feeling of repetitiveness or routine; each dance contrasts with its neighbors in tonality, articulation, harmonic activity, dynamic level and articulation.

Schubert: Fantasy in C major, D. 760 “Wanderer Fantasy”
Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, composed in late 1822, proved to be the most pianistically difficult and structurally advanced music he ever composed. Nearly everything he wrote for the piano was meant for his own use, but the Wanderer Fantasy was an exception, written for a pupil of Hummel. The subtitle “Wanderer” derives from a song of the same title, written by Schubert in his nineteenth year. The Fantasy’s slow movement incorporates the tune of the “Wanderer” song. The text, by the obscure poet Georg Philipp Schmidt, speaks of Byronic gloom, melancholia, loneliness, the search for happiness, estrangement, and of course, wandering – all subjects dear to the hearts of nineteenth-century Romanticists. Schubert set this text to music in 1816 and it became one of the most popular art songs of the entire nineteenth century. The title “Wanderer” was not assigned by Schubert, who called the work simply Fantasy in C major. It was affixed, as were so many fanciful nineteenth-century subtitles, by enterprising publishers with a view towards sales. In form, it closely paralleled Franz Liszt’s efforts in the direction of an extended, unbroken composition that develops from a germinal melodic cell or “motto,” which passes through various metamorphoses in its
course through the piece.

The work opens with the “motto” – the melodic-rhythmic pattern that pervades the entire composition – a long-short-short pattern on the same pitch. The second theme (E flat major) is in a lyrical vein but retains the rhythmic motto, while the third theme reverses the pattern. The Adagio consists of the “Wanderer” tune in C sharp minor, followed by seven variations, some quite brilliant. The motto rhythm becomes transformed in the third section (corresponding to a scherzo third movement) into a robust triple metre. The song-like Trio passage is derived from the second theme of the first movement. The finale, in addition to its exceptional technical demands, offers a rare instance of fugal writing in Schubert’s music. The fugal subject, too, is based on the motto rhythm.

Bach-Liszt: Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543
If Franz Liszt had done nothing more than transcribe, arrangeor paraphrase other composers’ works, he would still remain a formidable figure in music history. With composers from A to Z (literally, from Allegri to Zichy) he reworked in some fashion hundreds of pieces ranging from three-minute songs to hour-long symphonies. Strangely, he did little with Bach – just seven works, though those seven rank among Bach’s mightiest organ compositions. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor is a composite work of two independent parts later joined together, the Prelude sometime between 1708 and 1717, the Fugue about 1719. The Prelude is in 4/4 metre, the Fugue in 6/8, but both are built from arpeggiated chords and descending chromatic lines. The Prelude is full of flourishes, arabesques, runs, contrapuntal development and passionate intensity, while the four-part fugue is a veritable cathedral in sound. It is not difficult to identify passages where Liszt brings in the all-important pedal line from the original organ score, sometimes reinforcing it in octaves for even greater power and grandeur.

Franz Liszt: Soirées De Vienne, Valses-Caprices d’après Schubert
No one did more to popularize Schubert’s music in the nineteenth century than Franz Liszt. Among his efforts in this direction, he chose a number of Schubert’s waltzes, filtered them through the alembic of his own musical personality and produced a series of nine works he called Soirées de Vienne, or Valse-Caprices, which he published in 1852. Liszt borrowed a total of 35 dances from seven different waltz sets and used anywhere from one to seven waltzes for each Soirée. In No.7 he used three, all from D.783, which we heard in Schubert’s original form prior to intermission. No. 5 uses just two waltzes, yet it is, at about ten minutes in length, one of the longest of the Soirées. The sixth is by far the most popular and the only one in a minor key. It features a sturdy opening theme, echt Viennese lilt and numerous passages of scintillating filigree decorating Schubert’s charming melodic lines.

Pianist Leslie Howard, who has recorded Liszt’s entire output for solo piano, notes that Schubert’s waltzes “contain a wealth of delightful music which, as Liszt perceived from the beginning with his customary astuteness, requires rescuing and assorting with discreet habiliments for public use. Liszt concocted continuous suites from selected dances, often making a better point than Schubert did of the sheer originality of them by the use of contrasting tonality, and from time to time allowing himself the occasional variation, introduction, interlude or coda.”

Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C sharp minor
The original solo piano version of the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, by far the most popular of Liszt’s nineteen rhapsodies, dates from 1847. Since then, almost countless arrangements, rearrangements and disarrangements have appeared for everything from simplified piano reductions to full orchestra, and in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to feature films (100 Men and a Girl). Liszt explained the title as follows: “By using the word ‘rhapsody,’ my intention is to indicate the fantastic-epic nature which I believe this music to possess. Each of these pieces seems to me to resemble part of a series of poems which all express national fervor. … [The rhapsodies] have their origins in the proud and warlike ardor and the profound grief which gypsy music can depict so well.”

Structurally, the rhapsodies are free in form, the overall shaping forces generally defined by areas of contrast and overall gathering momentum. Like many of them, No. 2 begins with a slow introduction leading into an Andante mesto, which features a passionate theme. The second main part is the friska, which begins quietly gradually building in speed, texture and volume. Finally we hear the principal theme of the friska in the major mode – a sort of brilliant cancan-esque dance tune.

 

Program Notes by Robert Markow, 2013

Program Notes: Doric String Quartet

 

Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 20, no. 3

A strong new current of artistic expression swept through central Europe during the late 1760s and early 1770s, known as Sturm und Drang (storm and stress). While not every work was stormy or stressful, the moniker served notice that composers were turning away from the light, gentle, superficially pleasing world of the style galant (courtly style) to infuse their music with greater emotional depth and stronger subjective feelings. Sturm und Drang was evident in the relatively large number of works written in unusual keys (especially in the minor mode).

Another important new aspect of the Op. 20 quartets was the liberation of the cello part from servitude as a mere bass accompaniment, and the full participation of all four instruments as near-equals. It was probably sheer coincidence that an early edition of these quartets used as its frontpiece a drawing of a rising sun (hence, the nickname “Sun” Quartets), but the symbolism, accidental or otherwise, is obvious, signifying both the rise of a new musical style and the ascent of Haydn as a fully mature composer of string quartets. These works bear another nickname as well, Die grossen Quartette, which translates as either the great quartets or the large-scale, fully-formed quartets (in contrast to the slighter works that preceded them). Both designations are apt.

There are additional unusual features to be found in the Quartet Op. 20, No. 3. The division of the fiery main theme of the first movement into seven-bar phrases creates a most irregular pattern. The development section of this movement begins in the same key as the exposition (G minor), another exceptional procedure. The minuet movement continues the tone of tragedy and dark passion, possibly providing the model for Mozart in the analogous movement of his famous G minor symphony some years later. Following a slow movement of exceptional breadth and depth, a spirited sonata-form finale brings the G minor quartet to a close.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String Quartet no. 3 in D major, Op. 34

Millions of movie-goers have thrilled to the brash, swashbuckling themes, the sumptuously scored love music and the grandly heroic evocations of historical pageantry in Korngold’s film scores like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Anthony Adverse, Of Human Bondage, Kings Row, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk and others. But late in life, Korngold returned to composing strictly classical music as he had done back in Vienna before his twelve-year stint in Hollywood. The third string quartet, composed in 1944-1945 while Korngold was living in Hollywood, was the first happy result of this decision. It was also the first concert work in which Korngold incorporated themes from his films, a move he made assuming that his film scores would soon be forgotten. (How wrong he was!). The first performance was given by the Roth Quartet in Los Angeles in 1946. The score is dedicated to Korngold’s friend, the great conductor Bruno Walter, also living in Hollywood at the time.

The first movement is laid out in traditional sonata form, with a flowing, twisting and highly chromatic opening theme followed a minute or two later by a more relaxed, lyrically expressive second theme dripping with nostalgia.

The Scherzo has the character of a grisly, macabre dance as might be enacted by wraiths or gnomes. By way of total contrast, the central Trio passage is warmly romantic, based on a theme from Korngold’s own favorite film score, Between Two Worlds.

Film romance appears in the slow movement as well. The main theme comes from the love music in The Sea Wolf, its gently rocking rhythm suggestive of the motion of ocean waters. Near the end, a descending three-note motif, heard a dozen times, might be heard as the haunting call of a siren.

The Finale is all energy, virtuosity and rambunctious behavior. The second theme comes from Korngold’s final film score, Deception, which was still unreleased at the time he wrote the quartet.

Franz Schubert: String Quartet no. 14 in D minor, D. 810 (Death and the Maiden)

Schubert began his Quartet in D minor in early 1824. The previous year had brought him to the nadir of despair and frustration. Not least of the reasons for his depression was a prolonged stay in the hospital during which he came to the realization that his illness (most certainly syphilis, for which no cure then existed) was probably fatal and that he had not long left to live. The prevailing dark, somber and tragic mood of the D minor quartet reflects this despondent state of mind, and the composer’s gloomy thoughts on life and death, the past and the future. All four movements are in minor tonalities (in itself highly unusual), and there are just two extended passages where the music moves into the major mode (the fourth variation of the second movement and the Trio of the third).

The quartet takes its nickname, Death and the Maiden, from a song of the same title Schubert had set seven years earlier to a poem by Matthias Claudius. Schubert borrowed the song’s opening passage, slightly modified, to serve as the basis of a set of variations for the second movement. This passage represents the slow tread of Death as it approaches the girl. Curiously enough, Schubert’s score makes no mention of any subtitle; “the Death and the Maiden quartet” is an appellation assigned by later generations. The work was first performed in public in Vienna on February 1, 1826 at the residence of Josef Barth.

The work opens with music of great visceral impact, a full, chordal figure hurled forth with vehemence by the entire ensemble. The embedded triplet figure is destined to play a major role throughout the entire quartet.

The theme Schubert uses to construct the variations of the second movement is eminently suited to its purpose. Each of the five ensuing variations explores some aspect of this simple G minor subject, adding new layers of meaning, figuration and expressivity.

The Scherzo also derives from borrowed material, this time a re-working of one of Schubert’s German Dances from D. 790. Like the first movement, the music is bold in its gestures and often strikingly agitated.

The final movement is almost manic in its unflagging momentum and urgency. Again the triplet figure pervades the music, and is found as an element in each of the three themes. The music reaches almost unbearable levels of intensity, culminating in a veritable whirlwind of notes that brings the quartet to a sensational close.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Benjamin Grosvenor

Program Notes: Benjamin Grosvenor

J. S. Bach: Five transcriptions
Benjamin Grosvenor opens his program with a series of piano transcriptions, a genre that was wildly popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then went out of fashion, and is now making something of a comeback. Transcription – the transferal from one medium to another – is as old as music itself. Many of our greatest composers – Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and a host of others – practiced it. “The beauty of the transcription,” writes critic Andrew Farach-Colton (Gramophone, July 2010), “is that (at its best) it opens two windows simultaneously: one onto the world of the composer and another onto the world of the transcriber.”

Today we hear five examples of transcriptions from Bach, an inveterate transcriber himself. In fact, the last of these, the instrumental “Sinfonia” from Cantata no. 29, is itself already a transcription Bach had made from the Prelude to his E-major solo violin partita (no. 3, BWV 1006). On today’s program it is fittingly preceded by another of Saint-Saëns’ many transcriptions, the reposeful, gently flowing Largo movement from the C major solo violin sonata (no. 3, BWV 1005). From another Bach cantata (No. 22, Ertödt’ uns durch dein Güte) we hear the final movement, which Walter Rummel transcribed precisely from the original – a continuously flowing line in the violins punctuated by five phrases of the chorale text sung by four-part chorus. “Bach-Siloti” is a hyphenation well known to pianists. Alexander Siloti (1863-1945) was a Russian-born pianist, composer and teacher and one of Liszt’s last students. He created over two hundred piano transcriptions, one of the most famous being the Prelude we hear today. However, its provenance is in doubt; Johann Tobias Krebs is often cited as the most probable author. The program begins with one of the numerous Bach transcriptions by the great German pianist Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991).

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata no. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7
Beethoven began writing piano sonatas in earnest in 1793 (the three so-called “Electoral” Sonatas are juvenilia, written by a thirteen-year-old), shortly after the move from Bonn to his adopted city of Vienna. The first three sonatas were published as a group (Op. 2), but for his next work in the genre, written in 1796-1797, Beethoven had this “Grande Sonate,” as he called it, published under its own opus number. The designation is appropriate, for it is the longest (slightly over half an hour) of all Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas save the Hammerklavier.

Spaciousness of design and an almost symphonic aura also contribute to the justification for calling this a “Grand Sonata.” Orchestrally conceived touches abound, right from the opening measures where the steadily repeated E flats in the bass would almost surely go to violas or cellos. Wide leaps, frequent use of resounding six- and even seven-note chords, smoothly gliding octaves in the right hand alone and lightning-fast scale passages all suggest the resources of a symphony orchestra. As pianist Anton Kuerti notes, “The richness and diversity of material, the dovetailing of lines, the antiphonal responses and the sumptuousness of design … all reinforce this impression.”

The first movement opens with a surge of energy that persists until the final chord. Beethoven’s characteristic gestures, such as startling contrasts of loud and soft, pregnant pauses, and strong attacks on weak beats, are found in abundance. The coda is announced with another typically Beethovenian gesture: the sudden, almost violent wrenching of the tonality into new territory by means of a simple harmonic sideslip.

The word “grand” turns up again in association with the slow movement specifically, whose performance direction is con gran espressione – with deep expression. With its aura of profound reverence, hymn-like writing, long silences that speak as eloquently as sound, a dynamic range from pianissimo to fortissimo, and a duration of about ten minutes, this movement encompasses a small world by itself. Formally it is a simple ABA structure, with the contrasting central episode in the warm key of A flat major. Again there is a coda of significant length.

The third movement combines features of the courtly minuet and the more playful scherzo. Beethoven called it neither, allowing a simple Allegro to serve as its title. The constant overlapping and dovetailing of voices imply the interplay of orchestral instruments. Pianist Charles Rosen calls the contrasting Trio, written in the rare key of E flat minor, “an atmospheric exercise in tone color, with the melody hidden in an arpeggiated motion of triplets.”

The light-hearted, gracious tone of the finale, a sonata-rondo design (ABA-C-ABA), gives way to a fiery central episode in C minor pervaded with rushing thirty-second notes in perpetual motion. In a surprise move, Beethoven ends this “grand” sonata not with an imposing flourish but with a quiet bow.

Alexander Scriabin: Mazurkas, Op. 3, and Valse, Op. 38
The life of Alexander Scriabin was one of the strangest in the history of music. He started out by writing graceful, sensuous, quasi-Chopinesque little piano pieces and ended up totally, even maniacally, absorbed in mysticism and the occult. As with Chopin, most of Scriabin’s music is for solo piano (the balance is for orchestra). Also like Chopin, there are nocturnes, preludes, mazurkas, etudes, impromptus, waltzes and sonatas. The ten mazurkas of Op. 3 date from 1888-1889 when Scriabin was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory and very much under the influence of Chopin, though one could never mistake the Scriabinesque harmonic palette for Chopin’s. All are in ternary (ABA) form, each has a character of its own, which might range from gently wistful to exuberantly joyous, and all exhibit the characteristic rhythmic impulses of the mazurka.

Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin poetically describes the Waltz Op. 38 of 1903 (one of the few Scriabin wrote in this form) as “a fugacious memory of a distant past. … This piece is a magic box. Opened slowly, the intensifying, blinding light emitting from inside sets the universe ablaze just to vanish again at the end, leaving but a luscious trace.”

Frédéric Chopin: Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44
Nowhere in Chopin’s output do the national pride, dignified grandeur and defiant power of Poland find greater expression than in the polonaises. The polonaise originated in the late sixteenth century as a stately processional dance in triple metre. It was the polonaise that served as processional music for the lords and ladies to parade past the newly enthroned King of Poland in 1574 (Henry III of Anjou).  Pianist Garrick Ohlsson calls the F sharp minor polonaise Op. 44 of 1841 “tragic, compulsive and complex.” Chopin himself referred to it as “a fantasy in the form of a polonaise.” Embedded in this polonaise – the longest by far of any Chopin polonaise excepting the unique Polonaise-Fantaisie Op. 61 – is another dance form entirely, a mazurka. Preceding this is a long passage featuring an incessant rhythmic pattern reminiscent of drum rolls, and virtually devoid of melody. Framing the entire structure is thematic material that few will deny is some of the grandest Chopin ever conceived. The music’s epic scale and tragic tone, the powerful sonority drawn from the piano, and the striking contrast between the majestic polonaise and the gentle mazurka contained therein (the critic James Huneker called it “a flower between two abysses”) all contribute to making this one of Chopin’s grandest creations.

J. Strauss II: Blue Danube arranged by A. Schulz-Evler
or Arabesques On Themes from Johann Strauss’s Waltz “On The Beautiful Blue Danube”, Op. 12

NOTE: Title taken directly from the title page as first published in Vienna, c. 1900, translated from German into English

More than any other kind of music, it is the waltz that conjures up visions of Vienna as a kind of romantic never-never land. Of all the composers who contributed to the rich heritage of Vienna’s dance music, it is Johann Strauss II, the “Waltz King,” who reigns supreme. Leading the list of his many waltzes is the immortal On the Beautiful Blue Danube, (The Blue Danube, for short). Originally written in 1867 as a choral piece for the Vienna Men’s Choral Association, the words were soon discarded in favor of a purely instrumental version, the form in which it is most familiar today.

Naturally, anything so popular has been subjected to countless arrangements. One of these, created in or about 1900, is for solo piano by the Polish pianist and composer Adolf (or Andrei or Andrej) Schulz-Evler (1852-1905). The rather cumbersome title, Arabesques on Themes from the Waltz “On the Beautiful Blue Danube,” is nevertheless an accurate description, for indeed, what Schulz-Evler has done is essentially to follow the same sequence of themes from Strauss’s original (in itself, in fact, a whole string of waltzes), while copiously adorning the music with arabesques, filigree and other decorative touches. The result is a tour de force that captivates with its charm and dazzles with its outlandish virtuosity, sweeping listeners into the music’s magical orbit and sending them home radiantly happy.

In an article devoted to “The Return of the Piano Transcription” some years ago (Classical Pulse!, June/July 1994), Philip Kennicott had these words to offer about Schulz-Evler’s contribution: “Strauss’s familiar waltz themes are decadently encrusted with a staggering amount of frippery and frills. The piece lurches from one insane technical hurtle to another. One wants to shout both ‘Stop this madness!’ and ‘More! More!’ at the same time. And underneath it all there is an elegance, a coy gracefulness; one marvels that any human being would train himself so thoroughly as to be able to accomplish this kind of playing.”

 

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Ning Feng

Program Notes: Ning Feng

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin sonata no. 1 in D major, Op. 12, no. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his first violin sonatas, a set of three (Op. 12) in 1797-98. Six more sonatas appeared by early 1803, and one more in 1812. Although we refer to these ten works as “violin sonatas,” in the original scores the music is invariably identified as being “for the harpsichord or fortepiano and a violin” (rather than the other way around). Such was the case with most eighteenth-century works of this type, but hardly true with Beethoven, where we can see in even the first sonata the nearly equal partnership of the two instruments. Graceful themes, transparent textures and traditional accompaniment figures are found in abundance. Yet mingling with these attributes we also find a robustness and a boldly independent spirit straining to burst the bonds of classical restraint and moderation. This sonata-form movement combines a number of musical ideas in an atmosphere of brilliance and strength. The slow central movement is an orthodox theme and variations set in A major. Four variations, including one (the third) in the minor mode with extremes of dynamic contrast, are built from the sweetly tender theme. The finale is a rondo, written in a lively, playful style, and it incorporates several examples of the rough humour for which Beethoven later became renowned.

Edward Elgar: Violin sonata in E minor, Op. 82
Elgar’s father, in addition to owning a music shop, tuned pianos and played the organ at church, so it was almost inevitable that young Edward would learn these instruments. But the violin was the instrument he truly loved. He played it in many amateur orchestras, and for a time planned on a solo career. Hence, it is not surprising to find a rather large number of works for violin from his early years as a composer. His first published piece was a Romance for violin and orchestra. Opus numbers 3, 4, 9, 12, 15, 17, 22 and 24 are also for violin with either piano or orchestral accompaniment. His Violin concerto (Op. 61) is one of the most significant of the twentieth century. Yet, unaccountably, the Violin sonata is neglected in almost inverse proportion to the fame of the concerto. This sonata, Elgar’s last work for violin, written in 1918, is a 25-minute masterpiece imbued with the spontaneous lyricism of Schubert and the passionate warmth of Brahms.

Elgar himself left this concise description of his sonata: “The first movement is bold and vigorous, then a fantastic, curious movement with a very expressive middle section; a melody for the violin they say it is as good or better than anything I have done in the expressive way … the last movement is very broad and soothing, like the last movement of the Second Symphony.”

Manuel de Falla: Suite Populaires Espagnole
Manuel de Falla regarded the promotion of Spanish music as his mission in life, and his Siete canciónes populaires españoles (Seven Spanish Folkongs) are just one of the many manifestations of this purpose. The texts are anonymous, but the tunes have been traced to actual popular songs from all over Spain. Written in 1914-1915 for voice and piano, the songs were first heard in Madrid sung by Luisa Vela with the composer at the piano on January 14, 1915. They were later orchestrated by the composer’s friend Ernesto Halffter in 1938-1945 and by Luciano Berio in 1978. Additionally there exist arrangements for violin (by the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski in 1924), for viola, and for cello, in each case with the string instrument replacing voice. In this form, the songs are sometimes known as the Suite populaire espagnole (minus the second song, “Seguidilla murciana”).

“El paño moruno” (The Moorish cloth) is set to a pulsating Moorish rhythm from the southeastern province of Murcia. The words to the song deplore the stain on the lovely cloth that will cause its selling price to plummet.

In “Asturiana” a weeping woman seeks consolation under a pine tree, which itself breaks into tears out of compassion. The melody comes from Asturias, in Spain’s far north.

From Aragon, another northern province, comes a “Jota” in rapid triple meter, about two lovers in a clandestine relationship.

“Nana” is a lullaby from the southernmost province of Andalusia, whose songs have a decidedly oriental cast.

“Canción” (song) is another love song, this one about eyes with traitorous qualities.

“Polo” is a wailing lament from Andalusia over the heartache of unrequited love. The fiery flamenco idiom will be familiar to those who know de Falla’s famous ballet score The Three-Cornered Hat.

Igor Stravinsky: Duo Concertante for violin and piano
The Duo Concertant is Stravinsky’s only original work for violin and piano, composed in 1931 and 1932 as one component of a program for the composer and the violinist Samuel Dushkin to play on European concert tours. The first performance was given in Berlin on October 28, 1932. (A 1933 performance with these artists can be heard on YouTube.) George Balanchine choreographed it in 1972.

The titles of the five movements suggest inspiration from the pastoral poets of antiquity, and Stravinsky himself claimed that “the spirit and form” of the Duo Concertant were determined by his love of this poetry. However, as ever with this composer’s comments, one must be wary of taking them too literally. In fact, with the exception of the “Gigue,” there is little to connect the titles with the character of the music. Abram Loft, first violinist of the Fine Arts Quartet for many years, suggests that “the Duo Concertante will show to best effect as an oasis of coolness and reserve, surrounded in concert …by works of more outspokenly ‘Romantic’ quality.”

Franz Waxman: Carmen Fantasie
Ever since the premiere of Bizet’s Carmen in 1875, composers from A to Z have been creating fantasies, variations, paraphrases and transcriptions based on this opera, probably the most popular ever written. Among the best known works of this type for violin and orchestra (or piano) is the Carmen Fantasie by Franz Waxman, a composer best remembered for his 144 Hollywood film scores (Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Sunset Boulevard, Rear Window, Peyton Place, etc.). Waxman wrote his Carmen Fantasie for Jascha Heifetz in 1946. He also used this music as part of his film score for Humoresque.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Milos Karadaglic

 

Program Notes: Miloš Karadaglić

Bach: Suite in C minor, BWV 997, for lute

In most catalogues of the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), one learns that the composer wrote four suites for the lute, all dating from widely separated time periods, plus miscellaneous other pieces. However, recent scholarship has determined that in fact Bach did not actually write any music for the solo lute. Clive Titmuss, writing in Classical Guitar Canada last year, states that “the apocryphal lute works lie well within the confines of Bach’s established keyboard style,” and that they were probably written for various keyboard instruments, including something called the lute-harpsichord. (The G-minor Suite is an arrangement of the Fifth Suite for Solo Cello by way of a keyboard version.) Titmuss suggests that an unnamed German musicologist probably initiated the misconception sometime after Bach’s death, no qualified lute player challenged him, and the notion stuck. According to Titmuss, the so-called Lute Suites “are not technically possible on the lute without fundamental changes to the text,” a viewpoint essentially upheld by one of the outstanding lutenists of our time, Hopkinson Smith, in the introduction to his published edition of the suites.

None of this should detract in the least from our enjoyment of the music as played on guitar, in which form it is commonly heard today. The Suite BWV 997, composed in the late 1730s, comprises only two of the four dance movements that normally made up the core of a Bach suite (the stately Sarabande and the lively concluding Gigue; absent are the Allemande and Courante). The opening Preludio is also a familiar feature, but the following Fuga is most unusual to be found in a suite. The concluding Double is an elaborately ornamented variation of the preceding Gigue.

Villa-Lobos: Four pieces for guitar

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was Brazil’s first composer of international stature and, along with Argentina’s Alberto Ginastera, one of the two greatest purely classical figures to emerge from South America. His life was also one of the most fascinating, exotic and colorful of any composer. Remarkable, scarcely credible tales abound, such as how he introduced the gramophone to isolated jungle tribes and how he barely escaped being cooked for dinner by cannibals. Among Villa-Lobos’ many accomplishments, he was an accomplished guitarist and was one of the first composers outside of Spain to write a substantial body of music for the guitar. This includes the twelve Estudios (Etudes), six Prelúdios (the sixth is lost) and the Suite populaire brésilienne (the French title reflects the composer’s seven-year sojourn in Paris), from which we hear the third movement, Valsa-choro.

The Etudes were written in the late 1920s for the great guitarist Andrés Segovia, who commented that they represent “enormous importance for the development of the performing technique of both hands [and] the lasting esthetic value of concert pieces.”

Nos. 11 and 12 form a satisfying pair, the former reflective and introspective, the latter imbued with fiery, motoric energy. The Preludes, also written for Segovia, evoke various aspects of Brazilian life. The melancholic first is subtitled “Homage to the Brazilian ‘country boy’.” A crucial element to Villa-Lobos’ musical makeup was the chorões – bands of bohemian street musicians in Rio de Janeiro whose free, rhapsodic, improvisational style of music-making suited Villa-Lobos’ personality perfectly. This influence is heard in the short Valsa-choro.

Guitar Music from South America

Miloš Karadaglić’s recital continues with works by four guitarist-composers born in South America. Jorge Morel (b. 1931) and Jorge Cardoso (b. 1949) both come from Argentina but now live respectively in New York City and Paris. Both are renowned as performers, pedagogues and composers. Morel is also known for his innovative approach to composing for the guitar. The multi-talented Cardosa (he also holds a degree in medicine) has composed over four hundred works and has made nearly as many transcriptions and arrangements of folk-inspired music of South American lands as well as of Renaissance figures and composers of the Spanish Baroque. More than 150 guitarists have recorded his music. From each of these Argentine composers we hear a folk-inspired dance number.

We also hear music by composers from two of South America’s smaller nations, the Uruguayan-born Isasís Sávio (1900-1977) and the Paraguayan-born Agustín Pío Barrios (1885-1944). Sávio spent most of his career in São Paulo and became a Brazilian citizen, teaching in the big cities (a number of his students went on to international fame) and performing in the country’s smallest towns and villages. His music is heavily influenced by Brazilian folkore. Batucada is the traditional samba music played by large percussion groups in Brazil’s carnival parades. Barrios was the most important composer to come out of Paraguay and one of the finest guitarists of the early twentieth century. In addition to a large catalogue of over three hundred pieces, Barrios is also credited with being the first classical guitarist ever to record. Around 1930 he took to appearing in concert dressed in traditional Guarani costume and assumed the persona of Nitsuga Mangoré. (“Nitsuga” is Agustín spelled backwards; Mangoré was an early-sixteenth-century chief of the Timbués people.) Although he lived mostly in the twentieth century, Barrios’ music is essentially romantic in spirit. John Duarte, one of England’s leading guitarist specialists, described Sueño en la floresta (Dream in the Magic Garden) as “a spellbinding exercise in tremolo, utterly idiomatic to the guitar.”

Domeniconi: Koyunbaba, Op. 19

Much like Villa-Lobos’ music, that of Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947) can be seen as a synthesis of two cultures. The Italian-born guitarist and composer studied at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro and later in Berlin, where he taught at the conservatory for twenty years and where he now lives. As a composer, he has written more than twenty concertos for one, two, three or four guitars. His love affair with the people and culture of Turkey has resulted in numerous compositions inspired by that land, including his most famous composition, the four-movement suite Koyunbaba (1985). The title may be translated either as “sheep-father,” (shepherd), or “spirit of the sheep.” It is also the name of a thirteenth-century mystic who lived in the southwestern region of the country, a region of vast landscapes and striking, contrasting features. “Each of the four movements,” writes John Duarte, “develops a separate mood in the hypnotic fashion of eastern music and on a time-scale that reflects the unhurried life of both shepherd and mystic, using a wide range of the guitar’s available devices and textures.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

The Story of Miloš Karadaglić

 

An in-depth, personal account on Miloš Karadaglić – spanning his journey from an eight year old learning guitar in Montenegro to how he has become “the hottest property in classical music today.” (West Australian)

If you were asked to name classical music’s most legendary guitar players, you’d probably come up with Andres Segovia, Julian Bream and John Williams. Miloš Karadaglić, born in 1983, who is already being hailed by fans and critics for his brilliant technique and transcendent musicality, may well be on his way to joining them. With two recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, he aims to start bringing a new sense of excitement, and new waves of listeners, to the classical guitar.

“My motto is: there are no problems, only challenges!” declared the young musician from Montenegro, a small country on the Adriatic Sea which once formed part of Yugoslavia.

Coming from a homeland with no real classical guitar tradition and a population of only 600,000, the challenges faced by Miloš if he was to climb the international guitar-playing ladder were daunting. At least he comes from a family of music lovers, even though none of his relatives are musicians (both his parents are economists, and his younger brother is currently studying for a Masters’ degree in economics in Madrid).

Before he first wrapped his fingers round a guitar, he had already displayed a natural aptitude for singing.

“Music was very much loved in my family, by my parents and my grandmother,” he recalls. “They really encouraged me to sing because the voice is something that comes most naturally. Then when I was eight I said ‘I really want to learn properly and go to a music school’, and there was only one place, which was the music school in Podgorica.”

Miloš comfortably passed the audition, but then came the problem of what instrument he should study. He picked the guitar because it proved to be the most practical choice.

“I liked the piano very much but my parents said it was too expensive to have one. Then I liked the violin too, but they said ‘oh, that would be really painful for us!’”

Guitar-wise, the first, and unlikely, object of his desire was an ancient instrument which his father had once been given by his older brother.

“It was a really ugly old black guitar which had been forgotten about and was sitting on top of the cupboard in my parents’ bedroom,” he recalls. “It had missing strings, it was all dusty and it was terrible. I said ‘can you give me that, I just want to feel it.’ I vividly remember this scene, the moment when I picked it up for the first time and pretended to be a rock star. I said ‘this is what I want to play’.”

But he didn’t play it in a rock ’n ’roll style. Miloš studied strictly classical guitar from day one, according to the program laid down by the state music school.

“It was still kind of Communist then, so there were no private teachers. If you were talented you went to the music school and had sol-fa teaching for the voice, and worked on the instrument you had chosen. This was for six years.”

The early Nineties weren’t the best of times for the Balkans. Although Montenegro didn’t suffer the kind of horrors that were visited on Bosnia or Kosovo, it didn’t escape unscathed.

“War was happening all around,” says Miloš. “Montenegro was a part of Yugoslavia and politically it wanted to stay in Yugoslavia, so it was dragged into the conflict. It was the scariest time. I remember the father of some children I played with was killed in the war, so it affected everybody indirectly. I was lucky to have the most unbelievable parents. All the shops were empty and everything was so depressing, but with the little they had they tried to make my brother and myself feel like princes.”

For Miloš and his family, music provided reassurance and escape: “I remember once there was a power cut and we were trying to keep warm. My mum said ‘why don’t you bring your guitar and play something for us?’ It was like the music kept us going.”

Meanwhile, Miloš’s playing was developing at a stunning speed. He had never been afraid to perform in public, and as his skills improved he was quick to display them in front of audiences. He had begun making appearances in major concert halls by the time he was 14.

“It was all happening extremely fast and there was a great sense of achievement. I was thrown into concerts and given ridiculously hard pieces to play, but I coped and I always loved it. As soon as I could play a piece I had to play it in front of a thousand people. I think all these experiences in my childhood not only made me a happy person, but also left me equipped for whatever is happening right now. Without the audience I am not complete. The audience makes me come alive.”

During the war years, the Montenegrins felt isolated from the outside world and weren’t able to travel beyond their own borders. But at last the hostilities ceased, and the restrictions eased. In 1996, Miloš was invited to play a concert in Paris, and his trip there remains one of his most special and magical memories.

“I just played a small concert in Paris, but it was my first chance to get out of my country and see the happy Western world,” he says, lighting up at the recollection. “I remember my mother and myself walking around the streets of Paris, and suddenly we were in the Champs Elysées. It was just before Christmas and the whole city was lit up. I was just drawn to the shops and their windows. I thought ‘my God, this is how life should be, in full colour.’”

It was in Paris too that Miloš bought his first serious guitar, a Jose Ramirez instrument would that help him take his playing to the next level. “My parents gave all their savings so I could buy that guitar,” he says. “It’s another reason why I see Paris as such a magical place.”

Another turning point came when he travelled to Italy to meet the classical guitarist David Russell, who was giving masterclasses. The ambitious Miloš wanted to measure himself against one of the guitar’s top practitioners.

“There was a big international competition going on at the same time,” he remembers, “and all these older students were watching this kid playing so fast and so clean, and I thought ‘hmm, they’re looking at me!’ I started to feel important. Then I played for David Russell, and he said I was very good and should keep working.”

When Miloš asked where the best place was in the world to study classical guitar, Russell promptly advised him to go to London and aim to enroll at the Royal Academy of Music, as Russell himself had done.

The advice struck home. Miloš made the fateful decision that he would specialize in music for his next two years at secondary school.

“It’s a huge choice to make when you’re 14, but that’s how the system works. Everyone was saying ‘he must do music’, but on the other hand I was also a good student in science and the humanities. But I decided to dedicate my life to music.”

Determined to get himself to London and the RAM, Miloš applied himself single-mindedly to improving his technique and building up his repertoire, winning every available competition in Yugoslavia and taking additional lessons in Belgrade. He had gone as far as he could go in his homeland.

“I decided I would send my material to London. I chose five of my best pieces and recorded a tape of them, and sent it to the Royal Academy. After two months I hadn’t heard anything. My mother said ‘you’re only 16, you can try again next year’, but I refused to accept it.”

Plucking up his courage, he telephoned the Academy, and asked what had happened to his application: “The lady said ‘wait a minute’, and then she came back and said ‘it’s wonderful news! Didn’t you get our letter? You’ve been accepted, the head of studies Michael Lewin will teach you, and you will have a scholarship of such-and-such amount of money. See you in September, bye!’”

So, just turned 17, Miloš found himself starting a new life in a strange city. His father accompanied him to London, and was there to give his son a shoulder to cry on when the enormity of what he was about to embark upon briefly overwhelmed him. Fortunately, his teacher, Professor Michael Lewin, understood what he was going through.

“He was the nicest person,” says Miloš, “and he said ‘if I didn’t know that you are more than good enough to do this, I wouldn’t have done this to you and your family because I know what it means. We’ll take it one step at a time and you will achieve everything’. For me, from then on, everything was fine.”

Despite his undoubted gifts, Miloš quickly discovered that he didn’t know everything about the classical guitar after all. His teachers in Montenegro hadn’t been true guitar specialists, and various imperfections had crept into his technique.

“Michael Lewin gave me a little study by Fernando Sor, and the Sor studies were pieces I had digested in my first year of guitar playing. Then we had the lesson, and I realized that actually I could not do everything that he asked me to. I had to start again and listen and work. Often Michael had to slowly adjust my hand positions, while still preserving the spirit of the music. For the next four years at the Academy I worked and practiced – so many levels, so many different concerts, deadlines and preparations. It was very intense and I didn’t do anything apart from practicing and sleeping.”

Eventually, Miloš graduated with First Class honours in June 2004. Then he continued his studies with a two-year Masters’ degree in Performance, in which he achieved a Distinction. Following that, he became the first guitarist ever to be made a Meaker Junior Fellow of the RAM, which gave him a further two years’ breathing space to study and perform.

Emerging into the world of professional musicianship, he notched up prestigious appearances at the Lucerne Festival, the Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room. He had also brought his prize-winning ways to London, collecting the Ivor Mairants Award in 2002 and the Julian Bream Prize (awarded by Bream himself) in 2005. He was also the first guitarist to win the Prince of Wales’ Prince’s Prize.

When planning for his debut disc for Deutsche Grammophon (Mediterraneo), Miloš prepared himself with typical thoroughness. Rather than merely assembling a batch of popular guitar pieces, he devised a theme for the album which reflects his own history and experiences. He is, as he points out, from the Mediterranean region, but for him that doesn’t just mean he should play guitar music from Spain.

“The guitar was brought to Spain by the Moors, and has a huge Arabic influence,” he explains. “My part of the world and the eastern Mediterranean were heavily under the influence of the Ottoman empire for 500 years, so there is a clear connection between the eastern and western Mediterranean. I am exactly in the middle of them, and I want to present that on [the] recording.”

Therefore, the material ranges from Granados, Albeniz and Tarrega (“to represent the Moorish Spain”) to pieces by the Greek composer Theodorakis, some Turkish music, and new arrangements of Montenegrin folk songs. For good measure, “we have a Boccherini fandango which will even use castanets.” Mediterraneo was released in 2011 and topped the charts throughout the year all over the world. Miloš’s recently released his sophomore album Latino, where his inspiration moves from the Mediterranean to the sultry sounds and passion of Latin America.

Summing up his feelings about the future, Miloš says:

“There isn’t a more accessible or more beautiful instrument than the guitar. The guitar repertoire is wonderful and there is a lot of it. It needs to be brought out of its niche and to have a renaissance. This is my mission!”

 

 

source: www.milosguitar.com

 


Miloš Karadaglić plays in recital for the VRS on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at the Vancouver Playhouse at 3:00pm

Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online or by phone at 604-602-0363


 

Program Notes: A letter from Anthony Roth Costanzo

 

Program Notes: A letter from Anthony Roth Costanzo

As I enter my 20th year of professional performance, I have been reflecting on the most resonant musical moments throughout my development as a singer. From my beginning as a Broadway baby to my now daily dances with Handel, I have realized that there is a lot of music in between those two poles which has shaped me. This program is a collection of personal parcels, each one having a distinct and meaningful place in my trajectory.

As an eager 16 year old planning my first-ever recital, I was immediately taken by the beauty and depth of Henri Duparc’s songs and was simultaneously fascinated by his systematic destruction of his entire oeuvre, apart from a small handful of remaining works. I have chosen to start this recital with the same three songs that began my first recital as a budding countertenor.

Before I could even fathom the idea of vocal recital, at 13, I was asked to do my first role in opera: Miles in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. After years of musical theater, I found the challenge and the emotional complexity of Britten’s work exhilarating. As I entered into Britten’s universe, I discovered classical music’s ability to plumb the depths of human experience with uncanny expression, and it was this discovery that sent me down the road to becoming a classical singer. Britten not only holds a special place in my artistic journey, but also in the history of countertenors as he is the first composer ever to have written an operatic role specifically for countertenor as opposed to castrato — that of Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His transcriptions of old English folk songs showcase his agility in wafting between subtly ironic, flat out silly, and poignant.

One thing I’ve learned about being half southern Italian and half Hungarian-Jewish is that while I may know how to eat well, I have a lot of guilt with which to contend. Luckily, both of my parents are psychologists, so I was able to focus mainly on the food. I realized recently that apart from the occasional chicken paprikash, the only connection to my Hungarian heritage I can remember is a miniature bust of Liszt that made its way onto the dresser in my childhood bedroom. When I learned about Liszt’s lore in college, his emotionally virtuosic playing and its palpable effects, I was intrigued. Since then I’ve been trying to put together a group of his songs that felt natural to me as a performer, and it wasn’t until now that I concocted this felicitous combination of his German settings. Connected, but not entirely the same as this Hungarian sense of romanticism, is the characteristically Italian state of impetuosity. Though none of the three Italian arias I am presenting was actually written by an Italian, they were all written for and performed by Italian castrati. These physically altered superstars of their era gave the art of opera wings, and along the way generated a body of work which never ceases to entrance me. Both Mozart and Handel offer endless opportunities to dig into characters with harmonic shifts, textual delineation and of course ornamentation carefully cooked-up by the singers themselves. These three arias represent the foundation of my work as a singer: executing the highest of technical demands while simultaneously rendering emotional arcs tangible.

At six years old I was no good at reading sheet music. My unusually creative piano teacher, Pei-Fen Liu, thought that perhaps instead of trying to play the notes, I’d have an easier time taking my fingers out of the equation. So I began to sing, and though I’m not sure my sight-reading improved, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed singing. After humming notes and singing solfège scales, Pei-Fen decided it was time for the next step. She pulled out a book of Gershwin songs, and away we went. I became so enthusiastic about Gershwin that I used to sit in my room and listen to any recordings I could find. When I discovered Ella Fitzgerald, I wanted so badly to understand how she wove her magic that I remember spending hours trying to copy down each syllable of scat that she added to the tunes she was singing. By the time I was eight, I told my parents that I was ready to give this a go in public. Wonderfully supportive as they were, they helped me to find an audition at a community theater. Filled with anticipation, and a joy of music, I walked into the audition room with a Gershwin tune prepared. Little did I know that I was about to embark upon a life of music and a craft which challenges and moves me every day. As I opened my mouth to sing the first few bars of “Summertime” that day, I couldn’t have imagined that it would close a recital like this one with the VRS.

-Anthony Roth Costanzo

Stephen Says (Wednesday November 21)

Stephen Says: “Insanity and insomnia, the brightness of a nighttime city, the mysticism and the magic.” (Program notes on Stephen’s original composition Piano sonata no. 2 (notturno luminoso), which he will play this Sunday at the Chan Centre.)

Read the Stephen Hough’s full blog for the Telegraph here

 


English pianist Stephen Hough is a true Renaissance man; he is a critically acclaimed musician, composer, journalist, painter and blogger! As we approach Stephen’s November 25th concert at the Chan Centre, join the VRS in our blog series Stephen Says providing you with excerpts and links to Stephen Hough’s blog on The Telegraph.

Stephen Says (Monday November 19)

Stephen Says: Ballet: life and breath and sheer exultation.

Read the Stephen Hough’s full blog for the Telegraph here

 


English pianist Stephen Hough is a true Renaissance man; he is a critically acclaimed musician, composer, journalist, painter and blogger! As we approach Stephen’s November 25th concert at the Chan Centre, join the VRS in our blog series Stephen Says providing you with excerpts and links to Stephen Hough’s blog on The Telegraph.

Stephen Says (Friday November 16)

Stephen Says: “My ear trembles at the sound of a beautiful chord. It’s precisely the bending of meaning and familiarity which excites me – in words and in music.”

Read the Stephen Hough’s full blog for the Telegraph here

 


English pianist Stephen Hough is a true Renaissance man; he is a critically acclaimed musician, composer, journalist, painter and blogger! As we approach Stephen’s November 25th concert at the Chan Centre, join the VRS in our blog series Stephen Says providing you with excerpts and links to Stephen Hough’s blog on The Telegraph.

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