The Symphony welcomes virtuosic violinist Alexi Kenney to The Lensic’s stage once more! Showing his incredible technical range, Kenney will perform not only Haydn’s heroic Violin Concerto in C Major but also Dvořák’s Romance in F Minor, a brief work that ranges from delicate to passionate. Also in F minor, Shostakovich’s First Symphony remains witty and fresh to this day, despite the composer’s youth at its completion. Rounding out the performance will be Berlioz’s swashbuckling concert overture Le Corsaire.
|Overture: Le Corsaire, op.21|
|Violin Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob.Vlla:1,
featuring Alexi Kenney, Violin
|Romance for Violin & Orchestra in F Minor, op.11,
featuring Alexi Kenney, Violin
|Symphony No. 1, op.10|
Overture: Le Corsaire, Opus 21
Born December 11, 1803, Cöte-Saint-André, France
Died March 8, 1869, Paris, France
Le Corsaire is one of Berlioz’s most exciting overtures, and its fiery writing and evocative title have convinced many listeners that they can almost see the dashing pirate sweeping down on his prey. The reality, however, is a great deal more complex—it took Berlioz nearly twenty years to write this music, the overture had three different titles over the course of its composition, and finally the music may have nothing at all to do with pirates. But the story behind it is a very interesting one.
In 1831, Berlioz won the Prix de Rome, the ultimate award for young French composers, and this entailed a year’s study in Rome. But he did not want to go. He had fallen in love with a nineteen-year old pianist, Cecelia Moke, and the two were engaged on the eve of his departure. Once in Rome, Berlioz heard nothing at all from Cecelia and then—despairing—learned the worst: she had dumped him and was engaged to someone else. Berlioz immediately left Rome and headed back to Paris, intending (like any good romantic artist) to shoot Cecelia, her mother, her fiancé, and then himself. By the time he arrived in Nice, however, Berlioz had begun to think better of this plan, and he stayed in that city for three weeks, getting over Cecelia and getting a grip on himself. He wandered through orange groves and spent much of his time on the beach, enjoying the waves and sunlight. Those were, he later said, the “three happiest weeks of my life,” and he spent some of that time sketching plans for new compositions.
Among these sketches, made beneath the crumbling tower that looked out over the harbor in Nice, were plans for an overture. But Berlioz let these sketches sit for a long time: he did not return to them until 1844. That year, after he had conducted a monster concert in Paris in which he led 1,000 performers, Berlioz’s health collapsed. He went to Nice to recover, and the trip appears to have reawakened memories of his earlier visit and the music he had drafted there. Now he completed his sketches for the overture and titled it La tour de Nice: “The Tower of Nice.” Berlioz led the premiere in Paris on January 19, 1845, but was dissatisfied with the music and withdrew it. Several years later he revised it and led the premiere of the new version while on tour in London in 1852. At this pointthe overture had a new name, Le corsaire rouge. This was the French translation of the title of James Fennimore Cooper’s The Red Rover, a novel about a mysterious pirate which Cooper had written in France in 1827 (Berlioz, like Schubert, loved Cooper’s novels). When it came time to publish the overture, though, Berlioz shortened his title to Le Corsaire—“The Pirate”—even though its original inspiration seems to have had nothing to do with pirates beyond the fact that it was sketched on the beach at Nice.
None of this, however, should interfere with our enjoyment of thisterrific music (and those who wish to continue to detect pirates in it are of course free to do so). This music starts like a shot: both violin sections together rip out a series of flourishes that should leave everyone in the hall (including the violinists) breathless. Berlioz reins in matters for an Adagio sostenuto in which the violins sing a graceful melody before the opening flourish returns and the music races ahead.
Along the way Berlioz ingeniously incorporates the melody of the Adagio sostenuto at this fast tempo, but the real pleasure of this music lies in its energy, brilliant writing, and high spirits, and all of these help propel the overture to its resounding close.
Violin Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob.VIIa:1
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809, Vienna,
When the 29-year-old Haydn took up his duties at Eisenstadt as vice kapellmeister to the Esterhazy family in 1761, he met another young man who would figure importantly in his career. The Italian violinist Luigi Tomasini—violinist in the Esterhazy orchestra, and he would shortly become its concertmaster. Haydn and Tomasini would remain friends and colleagues for nearly fifty years (Tomasini died in 1808, the year before Haydn): Haydn respected the violinist, he wrote most of his string quartets for Tomasini’s quartet (the first violin parts of those quartets were conceived with Tomasini’s abilities specifically in mind), and he even included solo parts in some of his symphonies for the violinist.
It was only natural that Haydn should write violin concertos for Tomasini, and the most famous of these is the Concerto in C Major (several others have been lost). When Haydn wrote this concerto, sometime between 1761 and 1765, he had written only a handful of symphonies, and he was still to some extent feeling his way with the symphony and concerto as those forms were then evolving. Haydn would go on to write over a hundred symphonies, a magnificent cycle that helped define both the symphony and classical form, but he did not feel drawn in a similar way to the concerto, with its complex double exposition and emphasis on virtuosity. Most of his concertos dates from his early years with the Esterhazy family and were written for members of their orchestra.
The Concerto in C Major is a transitional work. Its roots are in the baroque concerto, but it also shows early elements of sonata form. Longest and most complex of the movements is the opening Allegro moderato. Bach would have recognized the ritornello structure of this movement, but he would have been surprised by its wealth of thematic material. The orchestra’s vigorous ritornello launches the concerto, and the solo violin soon enters on the same material, now double-stopped. As the movement proceeds, the solo part grows more difficult, new material appears, and the ritornello itself undergoes some development, reappearing at one point in C minor. Haydn leaves room for a cadenza near the end but did not write one out, leaving it to Tomasini (who had studied composition with Haydn) to create one of his own. The real glory of this concerto lies in its central Adagio. Haydn moves to F major here and “frames” the actual movement with unrelated material—a brief introductory gesture from the orchestra leads to the true beginning of the movement. This is glorious music. As the string orchestra accompanies with steady pizzicatos, solo violin arches high overhead with music of poise, grace and soaring beauty—this is a world of clarity and order all its own. Haydn leaves room for another cadenza, and then the orchestra supplies the second part of the frame to close the movement out.
The brief finale is a fast rondo (its marking is Presto) that dances along its short metric unit: 3/8. Tomasini must have been an impressive violinist—Haydn demands fast passagework, wide skips, and difficult string-crossings along the path to the spirited close.
Romance in F Minor, Opus 11
Born September 8, 1841, Muhlhausen, Bohemia
Died May 1, 1904, Prague, Czech Republic
The Romance in F Minor began life as the slow movement of Dvořák’s String Quartet in F Minor, Opus 9, which he completed in October 1873. Recognizing the particular appeal of this movement, Dvořák arranged part of it for violin and piano in 1877, then made a version for violin and orchestra. The title “romance” suggests a mood rather than a particular form, and this gentle, wistful music simply repeats its lovely themes. These grow more florid and impassioned as the music proceeds, but they never become agitated; throughout, the Romance breathes an air of relaxed lyricism.
The quiet introduction actually presents the opening idea, and soon the violin enters to take up this theme and to present several more of its own. These quiet themes become more ornate as they are decorated with long runs, trills, and soaring restatements high on the violin’s E-string. Dvořák’s early reputation was as a specifically “Czech” composer, and the Romance suggests this heritage, particularly in the rocking accompaniment and the occasional hint of gypsy fiddling. At the close, a series of runs lead to one final trill before the violin rises high to conclude on a sustained, shimmering A.
Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Opus 10
Born September 25, 1906, St. Petersburg, Russia
Died August 9, 1975,Moscow, Russia
In the fall of 1924 a music student sat down at his desk in frosty St. Petersburg to complete a graduation requirement: he had to write a symphony. Dmitri Shostakovich—thin, needle-sharp, and nervous (at eighteen, he was already a chain-smoker)—got the first two movements done by December and the third in January 1925. Then he stopped. A friend lay dying, and the teenaged composer had to force himself to complete the finale in April. He pressed on to finish the orchestration on July 1, satisfying the assignment.
But what he had written was not just an academic exercise. Premiered in St. Petersburg on May 1, 1926, Shostakovich’s First Symphony went around the world like a shot. Bruno Walter led it in Berlin the following year, Stokowski conducted the American premiere in 1928, and even Arturo Toscanini—no particular friend of new music—introduced it to New York Philharmonic audiences in 1931. Almost overnight, an unknown Russian music student had become a household word—and for good reason. Unlike the other “student” symphony—to make it into the repertory—the Bizet-Shostakovich’s First is a mature work of art by a composer with a distinct voice and in command of all the resources to bring that voice to life.
In retrospect, this symphony’s success should have been no surprise. This is fun music, alive with a fizzing energy that can be cheeky one second, lyric the next. And at 18, Shostakovich already had an instinctive grasp on symphonic form, that unteachable ability to make basic ideas evolve into full-scale musical structures (even Schoenberg—no admirer of Shostakovich’s music—conceded that the young composer had “the breath of the symphonist”). Also apparent from this youthful start is Shostakovich’s assured command of he orchestra—this symphony just plain sounds good, with imaginative solos for winds and strings, unusual groupings of instruments, and a dynamic range that extends from the delicate to the ear-splitting. An original voice rings out from the first instant, where a muted trumpet sets the piquant tone, and this Allegretto introduction presents theme-shapes that will evolve across the span of the symphony. At the Allegro non troppo the clarinet spins out the saucy main idea (this symphony has a terrific part for solo clarinet), and the second subject arrives as a limpid, off-the-beat little waltz for solo flute—the ballerina from Stravinsky’s Petrushka was clearly dancing in young Shostakovich’s memory as he wrote this. After all its energy, this sonata-form movement vanishes in a wisp of sound.
The brusque start of the second movement—a scherzo marked Allegro—turns into a blistering dance for ricochet violins, and off the movement flies, enlivened by the sound of the piano, which had been silent until now. The central episode is introduced by a pair of flutes, whose wistful little duet gives way to a lugubriously-slow return of the opening. This is a wonderful moment: slowly the music eases ahead, then takes off, and Shostakovich deftly combines his main themes as the music races at white heat to a sudden stop. Three fierce piano chords crack through that silence, and the music disintegrates before us. Writing to a friend just after completing these two movements, Shostakovich caught their character perfectly: “In general, I am satisfied with the symphony. Not bad. Asymphony like any other, although it really ought to be called a symphony-grotesque.” And this points toward a curious feature of the First Symphony—it falls into two distinctly different halves. The grotesquerie of the first two movements gives way to a much darker tone in the final two. Solo oboe sings the angular, grieving main melody of the Lento, a subtle evolution of the first movement’s main theme, but in the course of this movement an entirely new idea begins to intrude: a six-note motto is stamped out by the trumpets and then repeated across the remainder of the movement. The Lento fades away on faint echoes of the motto, and without pause a snare drum rushes us into the anguished beginning of the finale. This movement will be full of surprises, pitching between madcap energy one moment, dark chamber music the next, and it seems to race to a thunderous cadence. But this is a false ending. Out of that silence, the timpani stamps out the six-note motto (now inverted), and slowly this motto nudges the music ahead—gently at first, then faster, and then in a rush to the emphatic close.
Shostakovich died exactly fifty years after he completed his Symphony No. 1 during the summer of 1925, and over that half-century he would compose fourteen more symphonies. He would have one of the most difficult careers ever endured by an artist, a life tormented by suffocating political repression, foreign invasion, and personal tragedy. Written before these catastrophes, the First Symphony reminds us that the essence of Shostakovich’s mature musical language—a sardonic wit, a Mahler-like fusion of the tragic and the commonplace, and an assured handling of the orchestra—were all present in this dazzling music by an eighteen-year-old.
—Notes by Eric Bromberger
The recipient of a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, violinist Alexi Kenney has been praised by the The New York Times for “immediately drawing listeners in with his beautifully phrased and delicate playing.” His win at the 2013 CAG Victor Elmaleh Competition at the age of nineteen led to a critically acclaimed debut recital at Carnegie Weill Hall. Read more…
Maestro Guillermo Figueroa leads us into our thirty-fourth year of bringing great music to Santa Fe in his first full season as Principal Conductor for The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. One of the most versatile and respected musical artists of his generation—renowned as conductor, violinist, violist, and concertmaster—Guillermo Figueroa also serves as the Music Director of the Music in the Mountains Festival in Colorado, Music Director of the Lynn Philharmonia in Florida, and founder of the highly acclaimed Figueroa Music and Arts Project in Albuquerque. In previous years, he was also the Music Director of both the New Mexico Symphony and the Puerto Rico Symphony. With this last orchestra, he performed to critical acclaim at Carnegie Hall in 2003, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2004, and Spain in 2005. Learn more
One week after Alexi Kenney performs with the full Symphony Orchestra on October 15, he takes center stage for a very special performance with critically acclaimed pianist Renana Gutman. Learn more!
This October, Avery Fisher Career Grant–winning violinist Alexi Kenney returns to The Lensic for this season’s first concert recital. His selections range from the long-beloved E Major Partita by Bach—a technical showstopper for solo violin—to rarer works like Crumb’s Four Nocturnes, a delicate and birdlike meditation, featuring the subtle integration of many of Crumb’s inspired extended techniques, like having the soloist tap the violin as a percussive element. Kenney’s program also features more traditionally emotive works: Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major sets one of the composer’s most romantic art songs for solo violin and piano.