Masterworks 3: Soloistic Sensations
Scott Seaton | Conductor
Free pre-concert talk one hour before each performance.
Single Tickets range from $18 to $55 with discounts available for students and seniors.
Be inspired by the soaring melodies in Rimsky-Korsakov’s rhythmically-energized Capriccio Espagnol, then explore Nabucco, one of Verdi’s most famous opera overtures. Along the way, experience Liszt’s popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, originally written for solo piano. This concert also showcases the winners of the Young Artist Auditions, performing concertos for piano and marimba.
VERDI Overture to Nabucco
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Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco premiered in 1842 at the famous La Scala opera house in Milan. It was an instant hit with critics and audiences, and propelled Verdi to his first major operatic success. In the years before Nabucco, life was going well for young 20-year-old Verdi as he worked as conductor of the local choir and orchestra, and married his patron’s daughter, Margherita Barezzi. But tragedy was lurking just around the corner as he and his young wife lost their infant children in 1838 and 39, and then Margherita died suddenly in the summer of 1840. That same year, his second opera, “Un giorno di regno,” was a complete failure that closed after one performance. Needless to say, Verdi was depressed and about to abandon his music vocation, when Bartolomeo Merelli, who managed La Scala, convinced the composer to write another opera. That opera, Nabucco, recounts the slavery and exile of the Jews under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and is best known for the beautiful “Va, pensiero,” (“Go, my thoughts”) that became the unofficial anthem of the Italian independence movement.
Verdi's affinity for sculpting melody is unmatched, and the score is full of memorable tunes. The overture was written almost as an afterthought, and thus draws its themes fully developed from the opera itself. The opening brass chorale represents the steadfast faith of the Hebrews as the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco) of Babylon defeats and enslaves them. The rhythm of the snare drum pushes us. Listen for the iconic melody “Va, pensiero,” a song of longing to see home again, played first by the oboe and flute, and enjoy the special energy of what is known as the "Rossini Crescendo" that grows and grows over a long stretch of time - a popular device of the period. Nabucco is scored for 2 flutes (piccolo), 2 oboes (English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 4 trombones, percussion, 2 harps, and strings.
Ney Rosauro’s Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra was written for his Masters degree in 1986 in Brasília and is dedicated to his son, Marcelo. The work was originally written for marimba and string orchestra and was premiered in the United States the same year with the Manitowoc Symphony Orchestra in Wisconsin under the direction of Manuel Prestamo. Rosauro is recognized as one of the most original and dynamic symphonic percussionists and composers today, and as a composer he has published more than 50 pieces for percussion. He was born in Rio de Janeiro with his musical roots in the nightclubs of Brasilia. The Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra is considered the most popular marimba concerto today, and has been performed by orchestras worldwide. His compositions have been recorded by internationally acclaimed artists such as Evelyn Glennie and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The concerto has four movements following a fast-slow-fast pattern, with a medium tempo third movement inserted before the vigorous finale (omitted in this performance). Brazilian motifs and jazz elements are used throughout the piece composed with strong rhythmic patterns and memorable melodies. The marimba leads the orchestra throughout much of the piece as the soloist explores the modern four-mallet technique. Originally written for Marimba and strings, it is often peeformed solo or with percussion ensemble.
Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in D minor was composed in 1847 and first published as a piano solo in 1851. It met with immediate success, and soon an orchestrated version was created. As the “touring virtuoso” became a popular attraction of the European concert halls in the early Romantic era, Liszt, a gifted pianist with unparalleled technique and handsome looks, became a matinée-idol. “Lisztomania” became an international phenomenon, and as one of Hungary’s most prominent citizens, he also became a champion for Hungarian independence.
Liszt mixed authentic Hungarian tunes with similar melodies of his own making, then put them in the style of the Ramani players he had become familiar with by visiting gypsy encampments. The exotic character comes from a distinctive Phrygian scale that contains two augmented-second intervals. The Rhapsody is in the form of a czárdás, a dance in two parts, one slow and one fast. The opening, called “lassan” (Hungarian for “slow”), sets a melancholy tone although with outbursts of theatrical drama. Then comes the “friska” (“fresh”) bright with its major keys, infectious rhythms, and glittery splashes. The friska begins with the sound of the cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer folk instrument used in Gypsy bands. The harmony bounces between the dominant and tonic while the tempo gradually builds in momentum before the main theme emerges. The energy continues to build, then a moment of calm prevails, recalling the lassan theme. A cadenza ad lib leads to the final blast of energy - a crescendo of prestissimo octaves that brings the climactic end.
Here are a few examples of this Rhapsody in popular culture - and you have probably heard most of them. The first media appearance was by Mickey Mouse in the “Opry House” (1929), and later in Disney's “Farmyard Symphony.” Warner Brothers featured Bugs Bunny playing the solo piano version, and Hanna-Barbera's “The Cat Concerto,” with Tom and Jerry won an Academy Award with it in 1946. And, who can forget Woody Woodpecker’s performance in “Convict Concerto,” in which he tries to tune a piano while dodging bank robber's bullets? We find it was popular in film as well, for example, in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and in the movies of the Marx Brothers. In 1949, Music! Music! Music! became a number one hit – after having literally taken the second theme from the friska. A section of the Rhapsody also appeared that year in The Inspector General with Danny Kaye. Closer to our era, we heard it on Sesame Street in 1979, as Victor Borge played it on The Muppet Show; and later it was used in the song "The Curious Cantata" sung by Big Bird and the cast. Disney would again use it “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and Warner Brothers in “Tiny Toon Adventures.” The final scenes of the 1982 cult film documentary The Atomic Café featured the Rhapsody and it was even heard on The Simpsons. Though the music has been rendered somewhat cliché from its many media associations, that dramatic vibe and brilliant energy allow it to convincingly speak for itself. Enjoy this timeless music!
Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 jolted early 20th-century audiences at its 1912 premiere in Moscow with himself as the soloist. The reaction from audience and critics was resoundingly negative. Critics of the day called it "musical mud," and “the work of a madman.” But something that evocative must be worthwhile, and the outcry at the premiere brought Prokofiev a lot of attention as a rebel and Modernist. In 1914. he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory concerto competition and performed his own Piano Concerto No. 1. Some of the judges were irked by his bravado, but others prevailed, and ultimately, he won the competition at which he received a grand piano and enough fame to push him into the celebrated echelons of performers and composers for the rest of his career.
Uncharacteristic of traditional concerto form, Concerto No. 1 is played in a single movement, instead of the typical three movements. The melodic and harmonic material content is unorthodox, but it is the rhythm that grabs the listener with its aggressive characteristic. The emphasis on rhythm rather than melody becomes very percussive - an effect that is both intense and dramatic. Prokofiev regarded this concerto as his first mature composition. Prokofiev described the Concerto as a sonata-allegro form, with an Andante inserted before the development, a Scherzo as the development, and a final cadenza introducing the recapitulation. The orchestra calls for: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.
Rimsky-Korsakov composed Capriccio Espagnol in 1887, and the first performance occurred that the same year with the St. Petersburg Opera Orchestra. The Capriccio was originally intended for solo violin, but in the final version, he doles out the fireworks to whole orchestra instead [piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes (+ English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings]. At the age of 12, Rimsky-Korsakov left his aristocratic Russian family to attend the naval college in St. Petersburg. In 1862, while on an around-the-world trip on a clipper ship, he managed to write his first symphony – and “the rest is history.” He relied on instinct and experiment rather than formal training, and his novel approach to composition led him to eventually become the recognized leader in Russian music circles. As the major teacher of Igor Stravinsky, his influence would extend far into the 20th century. Capriccio is not only full of instrumental effects, but its spirited Spanish, gypsy and folk-tune flavor melodies are enchanting as one tune emerges and then bows to another and cadenzas pop in around every corner- it is a soloistic delight all the way to the end. He had a particular flare for orchestration, and the composer wrote in his diary, “my plan… was to glitter with dazzling orchestral color!” Although the work has been disparagingly described as “more coloristic than musical” (Stravinsky), what makes it so ahead of its time, is that the instrumental timbres function as a primary structure, as important as the pitches and rhythms – a new idea in Western music of the era.
Capriccio is in five movements played without pause, divided into two parts of the first three and the latter two movements respectively. The first movement, Alborada, begins with the full orchestra and ends with quiet arpeggios in the solo violin. Traditional Spanish alboradas are “morning songs” in duple meter meant to begin at sunrise to celebrate a feast or a Saint’s day, usually performed on bagpipes and drum. Listen for the simulated drone of pipes and hand-drum rhythms under the clarinet and violin solos. The second movement, Variazioni, begins with a melody introduced by a horn quartet, followed by variations by other instruments and sections of the orchestra. Five variations conclude with rapid chromatics from a solo flute. The third movement, Alborada, is nearly identical to the first movement, although in a different key and with different instrumentation, the clarinet supplants the violin for the ending. The fourth movement, Scena e canto gitano ("Scene and Gypsy song") opens with five cadenzas— first by the horns and trumpets, then violin, flute, clarinet, and harp. The gypsy song that follows is combined with fragments from the cadenzas into aA dance in triple time leading into the final movement. The fifth and final movement, Fandango asturiano, is also an energetic dance from northern Spain. The piece ends with an even more rousing statement of the alborada theme. Sections of the orchestra take turns leading the sensual dance before finishing in a climactic swirl of energy.
-program notes by Theodore Bell