What better way to kick off Pacific Symphony’s 39th season than by performing the most famous four notes in music history? Here’s what The Orange County Register had to say the last time this titanic symphony was programmed: “The Pacific Symphony dug in as requested, catching her fire. The strings played like linebackers and angels. The woodwinds shone brightly and warmly. Enthusiasm never lagged.”
Enjoy image magnification on our big screens during the concert for a closer look at the artists!
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman included.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, please click here.
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CARL ST.CLAIR • CONDUCTOR
GREER GRIMSLEY • BASS-BARITONE
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Allegro con brio
Andante con moto
I N T E R M I S S I O N
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Don Juan, TrV 156, Op. 20
Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music
from Die Walküre
Catherine Emmi and Cameron Emmi have generously provided sponsorship for the Opening Weekend concerts in honor of Maestro Carl St.Clair
Cropped Photograph of bust statue from death mask by Hagen, of Ludwig van Beethoven. Photograph by W.J. Baker, 1898. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman
Symphony No. 5
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones; timpani; strings
Performance time: 31 minutes
Can you remember when you first heard the words “to be or not to be,” or saw an image of the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile? The thundering opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are like that: iconic. Those four introductory notes are known everywhere. And, conveniently enough, they conform to the rhythm of the phrase “Beethoven’s Fifth.”
According to musicologist Richard E. Rodda, this is “the most famous beginning in all of classical music.” Pounded out once and then repeated a whole step down, this motif really does sound like “fate knocking at the door,” a phrase that has stuck to it ever since Beethoven’s students Anton Schindler and Ferdinand Ries circulated the story.
Rodda, for one, has his doubts about whether this idea really originated with Beethoven. But does it matter? Scholars agree that this symphony is a landmark in music, combining the refinement and formal perfection of the Classical period with the philosophical and emotional urgency of the Romantic age.
Beethoven partisans consider him the colossus who fulfilled the promise of one style while defining the challenges of the next—the father of musical Romanticism. His Symphony No. 5 probably makes the strongest case for this idea. He wrote it from 1804 through 1808, a period that also gave us the Fourth and Sixth symphonies, his Piano Concerto No. 4, the Violin Concerto in D, and three major piano sonatas.
But not many of his comments regarding the Fifth Symphony survive from these productive years; in one note, he says there ”begins in my head the working-out in breadth, height and depth. Since I am aware of what I want, the fundamental idea never leaves me. It mounts, it grows. I see before my mind the picture in its whole extent, as if in a single grasp.”
To some listeners, this supports the idea that Beethoven built his magnificent four-movement work on four fateful notes.
Painting by Wilhelm Fassbender, 1928.
What to Listen For
From the first movement, with its remarkable alternation between exclamation and contemplation, we move to a movement marked andante con moto, built on two themes that Beethoven develops separately; after the tension of the first movement, the second seems spontaneous and almost meandering. But it leads us to a scherzo— fairly common as a third-movement framework in symphonies, but unusually intense in this one.
Soon we realize that the symphony has led us into radiance: rather than ending conventionally, it builds over thundering timpani to resolve in a triumphant finale. It ends in the sun-filled key of C-major, after traversing an unusual route through the symphony's predominant C-minor key.
This symphony quickly took on the reputation of a maverick work that challenged the conventions of symphonic structure. Even so, the opening movement—which opens so unforgettably with its iconic motif, a rhyming pair of four-note bars—is developed in sonata allegro form. But from the beginning it startles us, and we know something different from the usual is happening. Few moments in music have given rise to such controversy and varying interpretations, and the entire movement—indeed, the entire symphony—is based on this aural jolt.
It proceeds in the kind of development that listeners grew accustomed to in the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, taking the theme through a development that modulates through many keys and dynamic patterns to reach its capitulation. It is the novelty of the theme itself that keeps the movement fresh in its sound, with a sense of portentous drama.
In the second movement, marked andante con moto, the tension relaxes with a series of lyrical variations on a theme we first hear in the violas and cellos, underlined by the double-basses.
A second theme brings other orchestral voices into play, clarinets and bassoons, along with the ever-present violin choir. After a variation on the initial theme is introduced, a third theme offers an unexpectedly dynamic interplay between orchestral forces, leading to a resolution that is somehow louder and more emphatic than we might have expected. The stakes have been raised, reminding us of the symphony’s ominous opening.
In the third movement, built on a scherzo and a trio, we return to the symphony’s opening key of C minor. This movement leads without interruption to the fourth movement, which unites the elements that followed the first movement with the themes of the movements that came later.
Having transitioned to C major, the symphony closes with an unusually long sequence of C major chords—40 by some counts. (It depends upon where you start counting, which is a matter of some controversy among musicologists—as is everything else about this symphony.) But there is no dispute that to Beethoven and his predecessors, the key of C major represented light and order.
An especially familiar example comes in the Genesis section of Haydn's oratorio The Creation; Haydn was a teacher of Beethoven's.
Some musicologists cite Beethoven’s high regard for the composer Luigi Cherubini, who ended many compositions in this way, as a possible influence; others believe it’s simply needed as the most emphatic and unmistakable way to confirm the immensity of the dramatic journey that Beethoven has taken us through, or as a kind of release valve for the tension that has built up in it.
This is the interpretation of the esteemed musicologists Friedrich Kerst and Henry Krehbiel in translating Beethoven’s own comment on the finale: “Many assert that every minor piece must end in the minor. But I say no! … Joy follows sorrow, sunshine—rain.” As he does so often, Beethoven has taken us from darkness to light.
---Symphony No. 5 in C minor "Fate", Op. 67, 1808. | Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel. Live from the Philharmonie, Paris, 2015.
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, harp; strings
Performance time: 17 minutes
Strauss' long life in music has divided and conquered his modern-day listeners. In the concert hall, we thrill to his opulently sensual tone poems; in the opera house, he is revered as the foremost 20th-century composer of German-language opera and art song.
He was a master of vocal music whose iridescent harmonies and perfumed orchestrations—with more dots per page than there's sand on a beach—brought late Romanticism into early Modernism. But there is more to discover about Strauss, as the 2017 premiere of the ballet Whipped Cream here in Costa Mesa reminded us. This brilliant production adapted his long-neglected 1924 ballet Schlagobers, for which he surprisingly looked back to Tchaikovsky a decade after Stravinsky's revolutionary Rite of Spring. He composed Don Juan about 35 years earlier, when he was still in his mid-20s.
Both scores demonstrate his gift for colorful narrative that lets us picture episodic action without spelling it out in words, an irresistible quality of all his tone poems.
Strauss' keyboard and orchestral works were extravagantly complex and chromatic, extending late-Romantic harmonies beyond previous limits. But he had to demonstrate more than just flash in Vienna, where classical music composition was a revered profession. He husbanded his career with acumen and patience, intent upon achieving the stature of a great man of music even as the Viennese fretted that the era of greats such as Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert might be gone forever—indeed, that classical music was near a dead end, its harmonies exhausted and atonality waiting in the wings.
Play bill for the opening event of todays Vienna State Opera, announcing the opening performance Don Juan on May 25, 1869.
In the 1880s and the 1890s, the period when Strauss composed Don Juan, the finicky Viennese felt he was not yet fulfilling his promise of greatness. But he produced many of his great tone poems during this period, extending his mastery of orchestral color and post-Wagnerian harmonics. When he began work on Don Juan, he was only 24.
What to Listen for
A sense of narrative is present in all of Strauss' tone poems. Each creates its own formal coherence with a strong opening statement and an episodic structure that invites us to visualize action without getting too specific about it.
He published Don Juan with a long excerpt from the version by Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau that is frequently cited as the source for Strauss' treatment—especially the onrushing flourish of its opening, which gleams with the blare of four horns. Their sweeping gesture seems to correspond to Lenau's swashbuckling "Out and away to new conquests, as long as the pulse continues to beat." It's a sentiment befitting a young composer, especially Strauss, whose later tone poems were sometimes explicitly autobiographical and who was not shy about depicting himself as a romantic hero.
Of course, we also hear tender love themes suggestive of the more intimate passages in Lenau's poetic version. But we must also remember that Strauss revered Mozart and was no less mindful of his fellow-Austrian's Don Giovanni. Without that opera, no one— not Lenau, not Strauss, not today's listeners—might know about the character invented by the Spanish monk and playwright Tirso de Molina, who lived three centuries earlier.
In Mozart's designation of Don Giovanni as a dramma giocoso, sublimely balancing the jocundity of comedy and the seriousness of drama, he provided Strauss with an ideal model for the exploits of his Don.
Strauss' works sound traditional to us now, but were once criticized with a wide range of complaints.
The severe critic Eduard Hanslick covered the premiere of Don Juan and famously attacked it for its virtues, including "the creation of sound effects beyond which it is impossible to go. Color is everything, musical thought nothing…"
It seems likely he would also have objected to talking pictures and CGI.
---Herbert von Karajan Osaka, Japan 1984
Selections from Die Walküre
Richard Wagner (1813 –1883)
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, D clarinet, 2 bassoons; 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, harp; strings
Performance time: 18 minutes
Wagner’s impact was transformative not just in opera or in classical music, but throughout the arts. Not even Beethoven had so great an impact on our conception of art; it is said that modern painters might not paint as they do today had Wagner not composed as he did yesterday.
Both a great composer and a rebellious aesthetic philosopher, Wagner published his revolutionary ideas about artistic and musical expression in impassioned essays long before his operas themselves began to sound revolutionary. It was not until he embarked on composing Tristan und Isolde and his huge operatic tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen, that these ideas fully took root in his music.
Die Walküre is the second of the four operas in Wagner's Ring cycle, but that does not mean that its composition came early in the cycle's conception, and certainly not in Wagner's career. As with some other sweeping and intricate stories—mystery novels, for example— Wagner began work on the Ring knowing how things would turn out, and began crafting it from the narrative's endpoint.
The character of Wotan, whom we meet in this opera, is one of the most important recurring figures in the cycle, in whose name we recognize Zeus, Jupiter and especially Odin, Thor's father in Norse mythology. The Valkyrie of the title is Wotan's favorite daughter, Brünnhilde.
As the father-figure among the gods of Valhalla, the role of Odin poses extreme demands that can be summed up in one word: heroism. His portrayer must command our emotions with both the power of his deep baritone voice and authority of his stage presence. The Ring cycle ends with the literal destruction of the world and the creation of a new natural order, but for many, the drama's most emotionally intense moments are more intimate: Wotan's heartbroken punishment of Brünnhilde, rendering her mortal with the words "leb wohl"—live well.
Work on the Ring occupied a large part of Wagner's life. He was in his 40s when he worked on its libretto; by the time of Die Walküre's premiere in Munich, he was 63. He would have preferred waiting until the rest of the cycle was completed for a comprehensive premiere at his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, but could not refuse the will of his most important patron, "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Sieglinde (Therese Vogl) offers Siegmund (Heinrich Vogl) a horn of mead from Act I of the 1870 production of Wagner's Die Walküre.
What to Listen For
The magnificence of Wagner’s music is well-suited to immense thematic materials, but brief prose summaries are not. Still, even a scant description can provide a starting point.
"The Ride of the Valkyries" is probably the most famous motif not just in Die Walküre, but in the entire Ring. While this is thrilling music, other excerpts better illustrate the Wagner that stunned the world with complex harmonies that seem to progress without origin or resolution, suspended in time as they reflect deep emotions, almost as if they are coming from deep within us, rather than from the orchestra pit.
Of all great classical composers, Wagner is the household name whose music we rarely get to hear outside the opera house.
“It’s difficult to excerpt Wagner,” the soprano Deborah Voigt, an acclaimed Brünnhilde noted in conversation with Pacific Symphony. For one thing, the operas are constructed with a continuous musical flow, rather than as a series of discrete arias and orchestral passages.
Then there’s the matter of sheer scale: in addition to their length, these operas require a big stage and a huge orchestra—sometimes upward of 100 players or even more. That’s beyond the scope of most ensembles, though it has helped shape the modern orchestral sound everywhere. The term “Wagner orchestra” is synonymous with the big sound that Wagner brought to fruition.
Endless scholarship has been devoted to the meaning and interplay of Wagner’s motifs (Leitmotiven), but he did not expect us to track them as we listen. We sense their meaning and feel their impact more deeply through rapt listening than we could through conscious analysis. In expressing the deepest emotions of mythic characters such as Wotan, they express universally human emotions in a sonic world that is ecstatic and flowing, nullifying the external sense of time with its own timeless pulse.
The excerpt of Die Walküre that we hear this evening comes at the end of the opera. Wotan’s favorite daughter Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie of the title, has disobeyed him by assisting Siegmund in a fight (in which he is nevertheless killed).
As punishment for this disobedience, Wotan turns Brünnhilde into a mortal and sentences her to sleep atop a mountain until she becomes the wife of the first man who finds her. Before she is put to sleep, though, Brünnhilde persuades Wotan to surround her with a ring of fire so that only a hero may rescue her (which happens in the next opera in the cycle, Siegfried).
First, Wotan sings his moving farewell to Brünnhilde, beginning with the words, “Farewell you wonderful child! You, my heart’s holiest pride!”
Then he calls upon Loge the god of fire to encircle her with flames, marvelously captured in Wagner’s flickering “Magic Fire Music,” one of the most famous orchestral highlights in the entire Ring cycle.
---Wagner - Bryn Terfel Magic Fire Music (Die Walkure 2011)
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.
Meet The Guest Artist
Internationally recognized as an outstanding singing actor and one of the most prominent Wagnerian singers of our day, Greer Grimsley continues his reign as a leading interpreter of the god Wotan. He sang the eminent role for the Metropolitan Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in Robert Lepage’s landmark production, directly followed by Stephen Wadsworth’s production for Seattle Opera, his third complete Cycle for the company in the last decade.
His interpretation of Wotan has also brought him to multiple esteemed international opera houses; some highlights of this include his portrayal of the role in the entirety of Der Ring des Nibelungen with Deutsche Oper Berlin; Teatro Comunale di Bologna; Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and the Nikikai Opera Foundation in Tokyo.
His treatments of some of Wagner’s other greatest characters earned him critical acclaim both domestically and internationally. Including the title role of The Flying Dutchman with Seattle Opera and Ravinia Festival, under the baton of Maestro James Conlon in his final performance with the company; Telramund in Lohengrin with the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Danish Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Seattle Opera; Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde with Prague National Theatre, Royal Danish Opera, the Ópera de Bellas Artes in Mexico, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Seattle Opera; and Amfortas in Parsifal with the Metropolitan Opera.
This season, Grimsley will reprise the role of Wotan in Das Rheingold with Minnesota Opera and in Die Walküre with New National Theatre Tokyo, where he will later return for Siegfried; Don Pizarro in Fidelio and Jokanaan in Salome with the Metropolitan Opera; and the title role of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd with New Orleans Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. Future engagements through 2018 include returns to Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, San Francisco Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.
Grimsley has enjoyed quite a fruitful career in highly esteemed opera houses around the world. Some highlights of his previous international engagements include Scarpia in Tosca in Germany with Deutsche Oper Berlin and Oper der Stadt Köln, in Oslo with Den Norske Opera, with the Stadttheatre Basel in Switzerland and in Japan at the Hyogo Performing Arts Center; Don Pizarro in Fidelio with The Scottish Opera and Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Portugal; the title role of Don Giovanni with the Stadttheatre Basel in Switzerland; New Israeli Opera as the Villains in Les Contes d’Hoffmann; Royal Danish Opera as Mandryka in Arabella; Ópera de Caracas in Venezuela as Amonsaro in Aïda; and the role of Mephistopheles in Faust in Oviedo, Spain.
Grimsley first came to international attention as Escamillo in the Peter Brook production of La Tragédie de Carmen, which he has sung in in over 15 productions around the world, including his Italian debuts at the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto and the Teatro Comunale di Bologna.
An active concert artist, some favorite concert engagements include Verdi’s Requiem with the Atlanta Symphony at Carnegie Hall; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Seattle Symphony and San Antonio Symphony; the High Priest in Samson et Dalila with Washington Concert Opera and Atlanta Symphony; Scarpia in Tosca with Deborah Voigt and the Minnesota Orchestra; and Don Pizarro in Fidelio with the Saint Louis Symphony and in his New York Philharmonic début with conductor Kurt Masur at the inaugural season of the Lincoln Center Festival.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, please click here.