Rach 3 & Boléro
Opening Night! The brilliant Olga Kern returns to Orange County with the “Mount Everest” of piano concertos, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. And be amazed by the artistry of solo Pacific Symphony musicians as they sweep you away with Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and Ravel's intoxicating "Boléro." The concert opens with "Shooting Stars" by Frank Ticheli, originally commissioned for Pacific Symphony's 25th anniversary and now extended in celebration of the orchestra's 40th anniversary.
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman included!
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The 2018–19 season piano soloists are generously sponsored by The Michelle F. Rohé Distinguished Piano Fund.
Saturday’s concert will be recorded for later broadcast on 91.5 KUSC.
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Carl St.Clair, conductor
Olga Kern, piano
PIANO CONCERTO NO. 3 IN D MINOR, OP. 30
Allegro ma non tanto
SINFONIA CONCERTANTE, K. 364, FOR VIOLIN, VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA
Video presentation created by Jeffery Sells.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, in 1910s, aged ~30
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman
The internationally recognized American composer Frank Ticheli was composer‑in‑residence with Pacific Symphony from 1991 through 1998. Born in 1958 in Monroe, La., he received his doctoral and master’s degrees in composition from the University of Michigan. His orchestral works have received considerable recognition in the U.S. and Europe with performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Dallas Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, the radio orchestras of Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Saarbrücken and Austria, and the orchestras of Austin, Bridgeport, Charlotte, Colorado, Haddonfield, Harrisburg, Hong Kong, Jacksonville, Lansing, Long Island, Louisville, Lubbock, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland, Richmond, San Antonio, San Jose, Wichita Falls and others.
“Shooting Stars” is the first movement of Ticheli’s Symphony No. 2, which he ingeniously composed so that all the movements are also stand‑alone works. In it, we hear his unusually democratic way with an orchestra: never one to subordinate other instrumental sections to the strings, Ticheli achieves a wide range of textural effects with woodwinds, brass and percussion.
Ticheli is frequently inspired by visual experience, especially architecture—notably the work of “starchitect” Frank Gehry. His music seems to shine and iridesce like one of Frank Gehry’s gleaming titanium structures, with distinctive phrases and gestures that glide among each other in layers without crisp attacks or endpoints.
We hear this effect throughout “Shooting Stars.” Ticheli’s way with texture and color has made him one of the most frequently programmed composers of compositions without strings, including concert band music for schools and virtuoso ensembles, and many of his catalog entries exist in separate arrangements for full orchestra and band.
---2016 All State Wind Ensemble, NJ, 02/20/2016 at NJPAC, Newark.
Video 5 minutes
Sergei Rachmaninoff, 19 years old; 1892
PIANO CONCERTO NO. 3
“Rocky 3” asks much of a pianist: power, speed, the ability to spin out a deeply sculpted legato line—and sometimes all three at once.
Not surprisingly, his third concerto is associated with some of the greatest pianists of the early 20th century. Its dedicatee was the revered Josef Hoffmann, though he never played it. Eleven years later it would help launch the career of an astounding newcomer named Vladimir Horowitz, who chose it for his graduation recital at the Kiev Conservatory and was soloist in the premiere recording.
Such distinguished lineage can make us forget that Rachmaninoff himself was a great pianist—perhaps one of the greatest ever.
The composer felt that his third concerto was more “comfortable” to perform than his second, but now—more than a century later—the sheer virtuosity required in the third casts a longer shadow among pianists. Could Rachmaninoff really have found these demands so manageable?
Medical detectives suspect that Rachmaninoff’s huge, flexible hands were a sign of Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that may well have blessed his piano technique while it crippled his cardiovascular health; the Concerto No. 3, composed in 1909 for his first major performances in America, was a spectacular showcase for his particular gifts.
Touring with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Rachmaninoff was both soloist and conductor in Chicago and Philadelphia; in New York he played the concerto with the New York Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Walter Damrosch, and with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Gustav Mahler.
A quintessential late‑Romantic composer, Rachmaninoff knew the value of opening a concerto with a ravishing melody. In this case, he develops the initial theme with unusual simplicity—a lyrical melody that transitions to a march—that hardly suggests the thunder and lightning to come. The second movement, marked intermezzo, is introspective in character, building gradually from quiet nostalgia to dramatic fortissimos that showcase the soloist’s power.
In a work that is both a sprint and a marathon, this movement provides the few moments of respite for the soloist. Grace and speed are on order for the third movement, which builds toward a powerful climax by weaving together contrasting materials—accented march rhythms alternating with flowing, lyrical phrases. The movement reprises melodic materials from the concerto’s opening, concluding with a coda of thrilling power.
---Van Cliburn 2001 - Olga Kern - Rachmaninov No. 3
Video 42 minutes.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART:
SINFONIA CONCERTANTE FOR VIOLIN AND VIOLA
The sinphonia concertante provided a transition between the Baroque concerto grosso form and the concertos of the Classical and Romantic eras. It foregrounds a group of solo instruments against the background of a larger ensemble, as the concerto grosso does. But it reduces the number of movements, typically to three—as in the more modern concerto—and moves from contrasting dance tempos to musical subjects that are more closely related in their development.
The breadth of Mozart’s ability suited almost any form, but pairing solo violin and viola in this way must have been especially congenial to him. We sometimes forget that Mozart was one of the finest violinists and violists of his era; musicologists tell us he actually preferred the richer, deeper voice of the viola, an instrument that is sometimes described as having an “inferiority complex” with respect to the violin.
Mozart composed this work in 1779, when he was 23 and was on a professional tour that included Paris and Mannheim.
Very little documentary evidence survives about its origins, but that lack in itself tells us something crucial: the sinfonia was not composed on commission. Mozart had only to meet his own standards, rather than a patron’s. Given the timing, it seems likely that this sinfonia concertante was inspired in part by examples of the form he had encountered while traveling, though it surpasses anything he could have heard.
Despite his dismay over professional conditions in Salzburg, he may have framed the composition intending to play the viola part with his colleague Antonio Brunetti, concertmaster of the court orchestra at Salzburg, on violin.
There is no “second fiddle” in this work; as solo instruments, the violin and viola have absolute parity, trading lines of melody and accompaniment like twins with a secret understanding. But the voice of the viola can be said to dominate the overall sound. The prevailing color, which aficionados sometimes call “tinta,” has the viola’s winy richness.
Charles Rosen, an admired analyst of Classical style, has noted that the sinfonia’s “very first chord … gives the characteristic sound which is like the sonority of the viola translated into the language of the full orchestra.” Mozart accomplishes this in part by dividing the orchestra’s viola section into two parts for added harmonic richness, again giving them parity with the violins. This was an unusual step in Mozart’s day, and remains so for a chamber‑size orchestra.
Another aspect of Mozart’s craft in the sinfonia is now left up to the interpreter. It is the practice of scordatura: although the work is in E‑flat, he notated the viola parts in D so they would tune a half‑step higher, creating a more brilliant sound.
With today’s options in instruments, strings and playing technique, the desired effect can be achieved in either tuning.
---Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Zubin Mehta - Mozart Sinfonia Concertante - Part 1
Video 27 minutes
This one‑movement work, by far Ravel’s most popular, combines predilection and experimentation on his part. He liked using dance to embody his musical ideas, and had already composed performance ballets including Daphnis and Chloé, concert dances such as La Valse, and suites based on antique dance forms such as Le tombeau de Couperin.
But as an innovator, he was fearless, and wondered if it would be possible to compose a work that had “no form, properly speaking, no development, no or almost no modulation.”
About three years after its premiere he told a newspaper interviewer, “It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from, or anything more than, it actually does achieve.
Before its first performance, I issued a warning to the effect that what I had written was a piece lasting 17 minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral tissue without music—of one very long, gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, and practically no invention except the plan and the manner of execution.” Generations of less successful composers, perhaps including some envious ones, have made a joke of agreeing with him.
For all his protestations, or perhaps despite them, it seems unlikely that Ravel could have suspected just how successful Boléro would become—and how much controversy it would engender. Since its inception, Boléro has remained in the standard orchestral repertoire, often attended by conflict over its tempo and dynamics.
Ravel’s own comments and his role in the musical preparations for the premiere performance make it clear that he wanted the tempo to remain rigid and unvarying throughout Boléro’s performance, with only a steady, closely controlled crescendo and a tempo that would clock in at a performance time of about 17 minutes.
It didn’t take long for a clash of wills to arise over these strictures. The most famous of these was occasioned by Arturo Toscanini in Paris when he led a performance of Boléro that lasted about 13 minutes—a tempo he knew was faster than Ravel wanted.
According to one account, when Ravel complained, Toscanini said, “When I play it at your tempo, it is not effective,” to which Ravel retorted, “Then do not play it.”
Other accounts of their exchange were even harsher.
Today, our ears are more attuned to the sound of Boléro, and rigidly controlled elements of pace and volume make us all the more sensitive to the subtlety of its melodic detail.
Most especially, its predictability makes its surprises all the more potent: the astonishing mastery of orchestral color revealed in Ravel’s instrumentation. In Boléro, virtually every member of the extended orchestral family is revealed in a solo passage.
---Maurice Ravel Bolero London Symphony Orchestra Valery Gergiev
Video 16 minutes.
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.
Learn about tonight's soloists here.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, please click here.