Los Angeles Philharmonic
Presentation of the concert
CORIGLIANO, Symphony No. 1
TCHAIKOVSKY, Symphony No. 5
The Los Angeles Philharmonic will be celebrating its centenary in 2018-2019, although the American band hardly seems old at all, especially, now that it’s under the direction of the dazzling Gustavo Dudamel, crowned “musician of the year” by Musical America in December 2012. At the helm of the LA Phil since 2009, he has forged a spectacular reputation, partly through the originality of his programming.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic brings two quintessential, four-movement symphonies to the Maison symphonique de Montréal, written almost exactly a century apart. From one of Russia’s leading symphonists we hear Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, surely among the dozen most popular symphonies in the repertory, composed against a quasi-autobiographical impetus driven by “Fate.” Fate also informs John Corigliano’s First Symphony, written in response to the deaths of friends from AIDS, which was in its crisis stage at the time. It has become the most frequently performed American symphony of the past fifty years.
Born in New York City, February 16, 1938
Now living there
Symphony No. 1
Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance
Chaconne: Giulio’s Song –
John Corigliano enjoys one of the highest profiles of any living composer in the world today. His expressive musical language, coupled with a broad imagination and a flair for tapping into the wellsprings of human response, have brought him innumerable honors and awards. As a single example, in March of 2000, he received an Oscar for his third film score, The Red Violin, which was partly filmed in Montreal.
Aside from The Red Violin, Corigliano is best known for The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), the first new opera in 25 years to be performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and for his Symphony No. 1, written in 1988-1989 in response to the AIDS epidemic. In 1991 it won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award and a Grammy for Best New Composition in its recording by the Chicago Symphony, and in 1997 it became the first major contemporary American work to be performed in China. For the world premiere by the Chicago Symphony, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, on March 15, 1990, the composer prepared an extensive program note, from which excerpts appear in the following paragraphs.
“I have lost many friends and colleagues to the AIDS epidemic, and the cumulative effect of those losses has, naturally, affected me deeply. My First Symphony was generated by feelings of loss, anger and frustration. [In my first Symphony, I wanted] to memorialize in music those I have lost.”
The first movement is in ternary (A-B-A) form. It is “highly-charged and alternates between the tension of anger and the bittersweet nostalgia of remembering.” The central passage is Corigliano’s personal tribute to a pianist-friend lost to AIDS. A piano located in the distance, backstage, is heard “as if in a memory, playing the Leopold Godowsky transcription of Isaac Albéniz’ ‘Tango,’ a favorite piece of my pianist-friend.”
The second movement, “Tarantella,” was written in memory of another pianist-friend. The tarantella, we recall, is a lively Italian dance whose furious, swirling motion is supposed to ward off the madness caused by the bite of the tarantula spider. Corigliano had much earlier (in 1970) dedicated a short piano piece, a “Tarantella,” to his friend. Twenty years later, the composer noted that “the association of madness and my piano piece proved both prophetic and bitterly ironic when my friend, whose wit and intelligence were legendary in the music field, became insane as a result of AIDS dementia. In writing a tarantella movement for this symphony, I tried to picture some of the schizophrenic and hallucinatory images that would have accompanied that madness, as well as the moments of lucidity.”
The third movement recalls the composer’s friendship with a cellist named Giulio; hence, the extensive solos for his instrument here.
The “Epilogue” is played out against a continuous repetition of what Corigliano calls “waves of brass chords. To me, the sound of ocean waves conveys an image of timelessness. I wanted to suggest this in my symphony by creating sonic ‘waves,’ to which purpose I have partially encircled the orchestra with an expanded brass section.” Scraps of the Godowsky “Tango” from the first movement, of the tarantella from the second, and of the two solo cellos from the third wander, wraithlike, through the Epilogue. The symphony closes, as it began, with a sustained A in the strings.
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born in Votkinsk, May 7, 1840
Died in St. Petersburg, November 6, 1893
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Andante – Allegro con anima
Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza
Valse: Allegro moderato
Finale: Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace –
Moderato assai e molto maestoso
The late 1870s were traumatic years for Tchaikovsky. It was then that he became involved with a neurotic young music student named Antonina Milyukova, made the disastrous mistake of marrying her, attempted suicide, entered into that extraordinary epistolary relationship with his benefactress Nadezhda von Meck, struggled with highly-charged fears over his homosexuality, and created his fate-laden Fourth Symphony. The years following were a period of recovery from this stressed existence. It was only in May of 1888 that Tchaikovsky again set out on a symphonic journey. The Fifth Symphony was first performed on November 17 in St. Petersburg.
The motto invariably described as the “Fate” motif is heard in the symphony's opening bars in the somber tones of low clarinets. To an even greater extent than in the Fourth Symphony, this “Fate” motto pervades the work. Twice it abrasively intrudes in the slow movement; it makes a shadowy, menacing appearance near the end of the Waltz; and it serves as the material that introduces and closes the Finale in a mood of exultant joy.
The sonata-form first movement abounds in notable details of orchestration, including the lilting first theme of the Allegro section for clarinet and bassoon in octaves; the horn quartet fanfares, which are at one time or another echoed by every wind instrument of the orchestra, including the tuba; and the murky growls that bring the movement to a close.
The second movement represents Tchaikovsky at the peak of his lyrical and romantic fervor. It also contains one of the great glories of the solo horn repertory – that long, long first theme of infinite yearning and nostalgia. Even more than in the first movement, Tchaikovsky the melodist comes to the fore in both the number and richness of his themes, which take on a wide range of moods from tender consolation to the heights of passion
The emotional peaks scaled in the first two movements are absent in the third, an elegant waltz. Its tune is based on a song Tchaikovsky heard sung by a boy in the streets of Florence. The central Trio section enters the world of Mendelssohnian deftness and elfin enchantment.
There can be little doubt that the Finale portrays triumph over adversity. The “Fate” motto is stated immediately in grand, ceremonial tones, now in the major tonality. Analysts have criticized the “victory” as one too quickly and too easily won to be convincing from the standpoint of musical argument. Perhaps they are right, but that has not prevented countless listeners from responding enthusiastically to the pomp of this now-familiar theme in new colors, and to the thrilling Allegro vivace that follows. Hammering (martellato) strings initiate the main body of the movement, which seldom pauses for breath in its relentless drive to what is surely the most deceptive pause in all music: audiences the world over have erupted into spontaneous applause at the famous silence that precedes the re-entry of the movement’s home key and the final, expansive proclamation of the symphony’s motto, now blazing in E major.
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