JOSHUA BELL PLAYS AND CONDUCTS THE OSM
Maison symphonique de Montréal
Joshua Bell, violin and conductor
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The Club des jeunes ambassadeurs de l’OSM invite you to the foyer Parterre for a cocktail after the 15th February concert. Chat with OSM musicians and music lovers such as yourself. A free drink coupon is offered!
Overture – concerto – symphony: this is the standard, traditional format for many an orchestral program. But none of the works we hear tonight is “standard” in its conception and/or layout. All are by Germans and span a period of barely more than half a century, from Beethoven’s symphony of 1813 to Bruch’s concerto of 1866. Each has special and unique elements that set it apart from other works in the genre: twenty-year-old Mendelssohn’s superb depiction of a natural phenomenon set in a classical mode; Bruch’s striking departure from traditional form for a concerto; and Beethoven’s almost manic obsession with rhythmic patterns rather than melodic shapes to propel his symphony.
Born in Hamburg, February 3, 1809 – Died in Leipzig, November 4, 1847
Scotland especially appealed to Mendelssohn’s romantic sensibility and penchant for picturesque landscapes as musical stimuli. He wrote rapturously of the waterfalls, valleys, wildflowers, forests and craggy rocks: “Everything looks so stern and robust, half enveloped in haze or smoke or fog.” In early August of 1829, Mendelssohn and his traveling companion Karl Klingemann (a young German diplomat and poet) reached the western coast and took a boat to the Hebrides, a group of about five hundred rugged, picturesque islands where Gaelic is widely spoken and the people still live much as they have for hundreds of years, tending cattle and sheep, weaving Harris tweed, and raising crops such as barley, oats and potatoes. Best known of the islands is Skye, but it was Staffa that left the deepest impression on young Mendelssohn, for here was located the spectacular cavern named after the folk hero Fingal.
The vast cave, open to the sea, measures 69 by 13 meters and rises to a height of 20 meters. The sea forms the floor; along the walls stand towering pillars of basalt lava, inspiring Klingemann to describe the scene as resembling “the interior of an immense organ. It lies there alone, black, echoing, and entirely purposeless ̶ the grey waste of the sea in and around it.” Mendelssohn put his own impression into tone instead, noting down a twenty-one-measure passage that became the opening of his overture and perfectly captures the air of hushed mystery, dark mists and the restless sea. Two main musical ideas are developed within the context of a sonata-form movement: the “lapping wave” motif that opens the work, and a long-breathed, rising melody for the lower strings and woodwinds.
Born in Cologne, January 6, 1838 – Died in Friedenau, near Berlin, October 2, 1920
Max Bruch is remembered by concertgoers today on the strength of just two or three works: Kol Nidre for cello and orchestra, the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, and of course, the First Violin Concerto in G minor. We of the twenty-first century have largely forgotten that Bruch was highly regarded in his day, especially for secular choral music. His career as a composer embraced more than seven decades, from his earliest orchestral work at the age of eleven to the songs and choral music written just before he died at 82.
Bruch began working on his First Violin Concerto in 1857 but put it aside for nine years. It was taken up again and completed in 1866. Otto von Königslow performed the work on April 24, with the composer conducting. But Bruch was not satisfied with the concerto; after some revisions, he submitted it to the famous violinist Joseph Joachim for comment. Joachim suggested numerous changes, but rejected the composer’s opinion that, because of the free-form first movement, it would be better entitled a fantasy than a concerto. Joachim wrote: “The designation ‘concerto’ is completely apt. Indeed, the second and third movements are too fully and symmetrically developed for a fantasy. The separate sections of the work cohere in a lovely relationship, and yet ̶ and this is the most important thing ̶ there is adequate contrast. Moreover, Spohr entitled his Gesangszene a concerto!” The final version was first heard in Bremen in January, 1868. Nearly forty years later, Joachim still ranked the concerto as one of the four greatest of the nineteenth century, alongside those of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms, noting that Bruch’s was “the richest, the most seductive.”
The first movement, marked “Prelude,” does not follow the standard sonata-allegro form. Nevertheless, its dark undercurrent of passion and drama serves to maintain interest. A brief cadenza precedes the orchestral transition to the second movement, the emotional heart of the concerto. Here we find three distinct themes, some of the loveliest and most lyrical in the violin repertory. A vigorous, energetic orchestral passage introduces the third movement. The soloist enters with a full statement of the gypsy-like theme, played with virtuosic flair across all four strings of the instrument. It has been suggested that Brahms had this movement in mind when he composed the finale of his own violin concerto. A more expansive and lyrical second theme alternates with the first, and the movement builds to an exciting, brilliant conclusion.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Born in Bonn, December 16 (or 17), 1770 – Died in Vienna, March 26, 1827
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony received its premiere at a gala benefit concert for wounded soldiers on December 8, 1813 in the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. This was the same concert at which Beethoven’s patriotic effusion Wellington’s Victory (or the “Battle” Symphony) was introduced, amidst wild excitement and special effects (cannonades, mechanical trumpets, etc.). The symphony was considered merely a “companion piece” to the real showstopper, Wellington’s Victory, yet in spite of the circusy atmosphere, the symphony was well received.
The introduction to the first movement is the longest such passage Beethoven, or anyone else up to that time, had ever written for a symphony, amounting almost to a whole movement in itself, and lasting a third of the movement’s length of approximately twelve minutes. In addition to having its own pair of themes, the introduction defines the harmonic regions that will have reverberations throughout the rest of the symphony. The tonic key of A major is emphatically established in the opening “call to attention”; excursions then follow to C major (the lyrical oboe theme that arrives after the succession of rising scales in the strings) and F major (the lyrical theme later in the flute). So important to the symphony’s grand structural design are these three keys that Robert Simpson has deemed them “more like dimensions than keys.”
The transition to the movement’s main Vivace section is scarcely less imaginative and extraordinary, consisting as it does of 61 repetitions of the same note (E) to varied rhythms; these eventually settle into the rhythmic pattern that pervades the entire Vivace. From here Beethoven propels us through a sonata-form movement of enormous energy, bold harmonic changes, startling alternation of loud and soft, and obsessive rhythmic activity.
The second movement (Allegretto) is hardly a “slow” one, but it is more restrained and soothing than the frenetic first movement. Again, an underlying rhythmic pattern pervades. The virtually melody-less principal subject in A minor is heard in constantly changing orchestral garb. There is also a lyrical episode of surpassing beauty in A major (woodwinds) and a stormy fugato built from the principal theme.
The third movement, like that of the Fourth Symphony, is a double scherzo and trio. The slower trio section, with its accordion-like swells and strange low growls from the second horn, is believed by some to have been based on an old Austrian pilgrims’ hymn. Following the customary scherzo-trio-scherzo format, the trio is presented complete a second time, and then again the complete scherzo. With characteristic humor, Beethoven threatens to present the trio still a third time (“What, again?” is the expected reaction from the listener), but suddenly he dismisses it with five brusque chords from the full orchestra, and we are ready for the next movement.
The whirlwind finale, like the previous movements, is built from a single rhythmic cell. The Dionysian energy that infuses this movement has caused many listeners, in the words of musicologist Klaus G. Roy, to “come away from a hearing of this symphony in a state of being punch-drunk. Yet it is intoxication without a hangover, a dope-like exhilaration without decadence.”
© Robert Markow
Traduit de l’anglais par / Translated from English by Francine Moreau
Violin and conductor
With a career spanning more than 30 years as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and conductor, Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of our time. An exclusive Sony Classical artist, Bell has recorded more than 40 CDs garnering Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone, and Echo Klassik awards, and is a recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize. As Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields since 2011, he is the first in this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958. Bell’s newest album, For the Love of Brahms, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, cellist Steven Isserlis, and pianist Jeremy Denk was released in September 2016.
A member of former President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Bell participated in the U.S. inaugural cultural mission to Cuba, and is involved in Turnaround Arts for the same Committee, led by Michelle Obama.
His 2016-2017 season includes appearances with the Atlanta Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Symphony Orchestras of San Francisco, Seattle, Montreal, and Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. He performs with the Vienna Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, and Czech Philharmonic, and embarks on international tours throughout Europe and Asia with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony, and Orchestre de Paris. He makes recital appearances throughout North America, including the Lincoln Centre with Alessio Bax, and in a West Coast tour with Sam Haywood.
Bell serves as 2016–2017 Artist-in-Residence with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. He explores the depths of artistic possibilities by examining synergies between music, dance, the culinary arts, literature, education, and technology.
Joshua Bell performs on the 1713 “ Huberman” Stradivarius violin.
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