THE TSO PLAYS BRAHMS FOURTH
|Sunday, May 8, 2016 - 2:30 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
Beethoven, Egmont, op. 84, Overture (approx. 9 min)
Brahms, Symphony no. 4 in E minor, op. 98 (approx. 39 min)
Adams, Scheherazade.2 – Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra (approx. 40 min)
To the delight of OSM audiences, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s presents its rendition of Symphony no. 4 by Brahms and Scheherazade.2 by John Adams, the dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra created in 2015 by the New York Philharmonic and its dedicatee Leila Josefowicz.
“I am delighted to welcome Leila Josefowicz to be the soloist in an amazing new work by our good friend John Adams. John’s Dramatic Symphony for violin and orchestra has a familiar title, but the only thing it shares with Rimsky-Korsakov’s telling of the tale of Scheherazade is that the central figure is a strong woman, who survives in an environment hostile to women. It is a powerful work, and, although the composer asserts that it is not political, there are clear echoes in it of the world women must cope with in the 21st century. Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, on the other hand, is openly political, a celebration of the life and heroism of a Dutch nobleman who stood against the rising tide of religious oppression in 16th-century Holland. Brahms’s Fourth Symphony is, by contrast, completely without an underlying story. Brahms was always deeply influenced by the purely abstract structures of the Classical and Baroque eras. The use of traditional forms links this work with this musical past, but the language is distinctly Brahms’s own.”
– Peter Oundjian, TSO Music Director
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Born in Bonn, December 16, 1770 – Died in Vienna, March 26, 1827
Egmont, op. 84, Overture
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the celebrated author of Faust, completed his play Egmont in 1788. He specified that it be accompanied by music, and even indicated precisely where he wished it to be heard. Several composers took up the challenge prior to Beethoven, but none succeeded. In 1809, the directors of Vienna’s Burgtheater shrewdly approached Beethoven to provide music for a revival of Egmont. He accepted the offer eagerly, Goethe being one of his favourite writers.
His score contains nine pieces, including an overture. Uncharacteristically, he refused payment, presumably out of reverence for Goethe. The author experienced the play with Beethoven’s music for the first time in 1814. He expressed enthusiastic approval, especially for the final scene. “Beethoven has followed my intentions with admirable genius,” he said.
The play is set in Brussels during the 16th century, when the Netherlands lay under Spanish occupation. The local resistance leader, Count Egmont, is imprisoned and condemned to death. His grief-stricken wife takes her own life. The night before Egmont’s execution, she appears to him in a dream, transformed into the goddess of freedom. She foretells that his death will inspire his countrymen first to rebellion, then to the re-establishment of their liberty. Heartened by this vision, Egmont is able to face his execution with dignity. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture transcends its specific inspiration to make a stirring, uplifting statement on human affairs.
Born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833 – Died in Vienna, April 3, 1897
Symphony no. 4 in E minor, op. 98
Brahms completed his Fourth Symphony, in the summer of 1885, only after an unusually long gestation bred of insecurity. Though just 51 when he began it, he worried that his creative powers were declining, and feared he could not surpass his popular and acclaimed Third Symphony. He approached the performance and publication of the Fourth with dread, but the première, which he conducted in Meiningen, on October 25, was a triumph, as were subsequent performances.
Though reputedly an “academic” composer, Brahms was a progressive musical thinker, and his ability to unify a composition through the perpetual metamorphosis of germinal motifs anticipated much modern music of a formalist orientation. The music of the Fourth is highly concentrated and densely developed; even some of Brahms’s supporters found it too abstract, too cerebral. Yet, it is searching and dramatic, too, at once lofty and deeply personal, more austere than sensuous. From its elegiac opening theme, the first movement is mostly somber and melancholy, occasionally darkly mysterious, though Brahms tames the music’s passion by casting it in a rigorous, clearly articulated Classical sonata form.
The slow movement is a leisurely and moving pastorale, with an antique flavour, though rent from time to time by clangorous eruptions; the principal melodies are all deeply expressive and scored in rich, autumnal colours. The third movement is a bright, swift, noisy march with an often militaristic sound and a Dionysian energy that is rare in Brahms, though the secondary themes are quiet, gracious, and dance-like.
The grim finale is set in one of the strictest and most archaic musical forms: the chaconne – a set of variations based not on a melody but on a ground bass. (Brahms borrowed his ground bass from a Bach cantata.) The movement is an exhaustive catalogue of variation techniques, a testimony to Brahms’s extraordinary craftsmanship and imagination, and the 30 variations fall into three large groups. Unlike most minor-key symphonies, the Fourth does not close in the major: Brahms rejects the beloved Romantic archetype of turmoil leading to triumph and, at the end, only intensifies the tone of tragedy with which he had begun.
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, February, 15, 1947
Scheherazade.2 – Dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra
John Adams writes: “The impetus for the piece was an exhibition at the Institut du monde arabe in Paris detailing the history of the “Arabian Nights” and of Scheherazade and how this story has evolved over the centuries. The casual brutality toward women that lies at the base of many of these tales prodded me to think about the many images of women oppressed or abused or violated that we see today in the news on a daily basis. In the old tale Scheherazade is the lucky one who, through her endless inventiveness, is able to save her life. But there is not much to celebrate here when one thinks that she is spared simply because of her cleverness and ability to keep on entertaining her warped, murderous husband.”
“Thinking about what a Scheherazade in our own time might be brought to mind some famous examples of women under threat for their lives, for example the “woman in the blue bra” in Tahrir Square, dragged through the streets, severely beaten, humiliated, and physically exposed by enraged, violent men. Or the young Iranian student, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot to death while attending a peaceful protest in Teheran. Or women routinely attacked and even executed by religious fanatics in any number of countries – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, wherever. The modern images that come to mind certainly aren’t exclusive to the Middle East – we see examples, if not quite so graphic nonetheless profoundly disturbing, from everywhere in the world including in our own country and even on our own college campuses.”
“So I was suddenly struck by the idea of a “dramatic symphony” in which the principal character role is taken by the solo violin – and she would be Scheherazade. While not having an actual story line or plot, the symphony follows a set of provocative images: a beautiful young woman with grit and personal power; a pursuit by “true believers”; a love scene (who knows... perhaps her lover is also a woman?); a scene in which she is tried by a court of religious zealots (“Scheherazade and the Men with Beards”), during which the men argue doctrine among themselves and rage and shout at her only to have her calmly respond to their accusations; and a final “escape, flight and sanctuary”, which must be the archetypal dream of any woman importuned by a man or men.”
“I composed the piece specifically for Leila Josefowicz who has been my friend and champion of my music (and many other composers) for nearly 15 years. Together we’ve performed my violin concerto and my concerto for amplified violin, The Dharma at Big Sur, many times. This work is a true collaboration and reflects a creative dialogue that went back and forth for well over a year and that I expect will continue long after the first performance. I find Leila a perfect embodiment of that kind of empowered strength and energy that a modern Scheherazade would possess.”
Beethoven: Don Anderson; Brahms: Kevin Bazzana © Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Adams: program note by the composer (www.earbox.com)
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