Principal Symphony musicians display their artistry in Mozart's charming Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds. Then, the 40th anniversary season concludes with Mahler's monumental Symphony No. 1.
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman included.
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Carl St.Clair, conductor
Benjamin Smolen, flute
Jessica Pearlman Fields, oboe
Rose Corrigan, bassoon
Keith Popejoy, horn
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, please click here.
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Preview Talk with Alan Chapman. (Coming soon!)
Sinfonia Concertante For Four Winds In E-Flat Major
Andantino con variationi
Jessica Pearlman Fields
Symphony No. 1 In D Major (“Titan”)
Feierlich und gemessen
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds
Trying to think of a non-boring way to state timeworn truisms about Mozart’s uncanny way with the sinfonia concertante form and with wind instruments in groups, your intrepid annotator imagined himself at a rock arena: “When I say concertante, you say pleasure! Concertante! Pleasure! Concertante! Pleasure!”
Sheer entertainment is the common element among the forms that the sinfonia concertante can take; the phrase itself is one of those terms, like “fantasia” or “rhapsody,” that can mean whatever the composer wishes, within limits. Nobody composed sinfonias like Mozart, just as no one—to this day—has ever grouped woodwind instruments with such textural eloquence and beauty.
Looking at the instrumentation for this concertante, we might expect it to resemble a baroque concerto grosso, with a group of four solo wind instruments foregrounded in a vigorous musical dialogue with a larger group of strings in the background. But not this time. Mozart composed this sinfonia during his extended professional tour of Paris in 1778, where musical tastes called for something more relaxed, with the solo instruments supported by pure accompaniment in the strings.
Mozart had reason to tailor his work accordingly: at age 22 he was a renowned composer, but he had not achieved the recognition he wanted, and was seeking the kinds of commissions that would enhance his professional reputation. Three years later he would move to Vienna for the same reason.
The ease and simplicity of this sinfonia contrasts with the story of its commission, which has been the subject of intrigue and speculation going back to its inception. Because the original manuscript score was lost, some scholars are unwilling to go beyond identifying the commonly accepted performing edition—mysteriously found in the late 1860s, and not in Mozart’s hand—as “attributed to” Mozart.
Others were certain that Mozart himself identifies it in this famous excerpt from a letter he sent from Paris to his family in Salzburg (regarding a concert producer he felt was trying to swindle him):
LeGros bought my 2 overtures and the sinfonia concertante; he thinks he alone has that music now, but that’s not quite true, for I still have it fresh in my head and shall write it down again as soon as I get home.
Your intrepid annotator suggests that when it comes to this gloriously pleasurable work, we let our own ears do the authenticating. Alternatively, we can rely on the redoubtable Robert Levin, a musicologist and pianist who is one of the foremost living authorities on Mozart, and whose prodigious talent is oddly Mozartean. (It’s said that while he was still in his teens, he memorized every note Amadeus ever wrote.)
Analyzing with clarinetist and scholar Daniel Leeson, Levin’s complex and highly qualified conclusion is that this sinfonia is at least largely Mozart, though the orchestration is still up for grabs.
Sinfonia Concertante for Winds in E Flat Major, K297b Mozart - Juanjo Mena conducting.
Symphony No. 1 in D Major, "Titan"
Today we know Mahler primarily as a symphonist— some would say the pre-eminent symphonist since Beethoven. But during his lifetime, the acceptance that Mahler’s symphonies won from critics and the public was mostly grudging, barely hinting at the appreciation that these masterworks would receive later. His artful song cycles placed him within the lineage of the foremost German-language art-song composers, but somehow did not establish him as a composer of greatness.
As a conductor, on the other hand, Mahler was a giant of his day, with a reputation that made him perhaps the first modern celebrity- conductor. (His ill-fated stint as leader of the New York Philharmonic is one of the tragedies of his life and of American music.) As a conductor of opera, he was a penetrating musical analyst with a tremendous sense of theater. All of these factors helped shape his approach to symphonic composition, which he reserved for his biggest ideas about music and the search for meaning in life, and for transcendence through the sublimity of music.
Often described as monumental, Mahler’s symphonies offer the listener an experience that is not only transcendently beautiful, but that also reflects Mahler’s experience in working through these ideas.
Born in 1860 in Bohemia, Mahler was one of the composers who toiled in the shadow of Beethoven, who had redefined the possibilities of symphonic form with his “Choral” Symphony, the Ninth.
In 1888, when he composed most of his Symphony No. 1, other composers were still incorporating the familiar, decorative conventions of the late Romantic era in their symphonies—Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, to name a few. Though Brahms was also haunted by the specter of Beethoven, he worked as an apprentice might with a master’s tools and traditions.
It was Mahler who faced the challenge of revolutionizing the form as Beethoven did, and who used it to express the fullness of meaning he found in the biggest metaphysical questions and the deepest personal experiences we face as human beings.
Mahler was insecure about many things, but had no doubts regarding the importance of his own music. Musicologists marvel that at age 29, the composer expected nothing but success when his First Symphony premiered in Budapest on Nov. 20, 1889. Unlike the symphonists who preceded him, he actually provided his own nickname for this symphony, and though he dropped the “Titan” designation after just a few performances, one glance at the huge roster of instruments shown above will tell you why the name stuck.
What happens when a hugely ambitious and startlingly innovative orchestral work lands with a thud? Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps started a riot; Mahler’s First wasn’t a fiasco, but rather a fizzle, greeted with scattered boos and halfhearted applause.
“Naively, I imagined it would be child’s play for performers and listeners, and would have such immediate appeal that I should be able to live on the profits and go on composing,” he told his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner. By contrast, Brahms, who was in his 40s and a successful composer by the time he completed his first symphony, was tormented by anxiety over its introduction.
What could have caused Mahler to miscalculate the musical public’s readiness for his Symphony No. 1 so grossly? No less than his later symphonies, this symphony incorporates formal innovations, jarring dissonances and cheek-by-jowl juxtapositions of classical and popular musical motifs— elements that might have shocked contemporary listeners, but had lost all sense of novelty and risk for Mahler, whose work habits were obsessive and immersive.
Though he did most of his work on this symphony in the year 1888, when he was 28, he drew upon musical sources dating back to his teens.
Mahler may also have taken confidence from initial reaction to his 1884 song cycle, Songs of a Wayfarer, which was already revered by musical insiders though it had not yet achieved a wider following. Two of the cycle’s songs provide thematic material for the symphony, and the love that inspired it—Mahler’s thwarted affair with the soprano Johanna Richter—was a wellspring for the emotions we hear in the symphony.
As with many of his compositions, Mahler continued to revise and correct his Symphony No. 1 for years after its premiere. He completed the final performing edition in 1906. As the symphony’s first movement takes rise, we hear the legacy of Beethoven: the seemingly random accretion of natural sounds as they gather into music, evoking a beautiful spring morning.
As the tempo hastens, the movement’s key settles into D major and we hear the wayfarer’s walking theme as he seeks consolation over love’s disappointment. Many listeners hear a questing, self-questioning mind at work in Mahlerian movements such as this one, prompted by a wounding experience: as we listen, are we working through the lover’s personal anguish, or are we surrendering to self-pity?
We know the rustic Austrian dances known as Ländler from composers dating back to Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart (who loved to write them). But in Mahler, they are staples in his recurring juxtaposition of the elegant and the vulgar.
In the second movement of this symphony, the example we hear is based on Mahler’s 1880 song “Hans und Grethe.” Some listeners hear suggestions of taking comfort through drinking here—a frequent element in such country dances. But any possible humor or sentimentality is eclipsed in the symphony’s third movement, a funeral march that intensifies the contrast between elegance and vulgarity to a degree that Mahler’s contemporary audiences found disturbing.
Yes, that is the familiar children’s song “Frère Jacques” (known in German as “Brüder Martin”) that we hear in the midst of the grotesquely solemn funeral march. More street music follows—café songs, hints of klezmer and Magyar themes—before Mahler startlingly transports us to an extended lyrical passage that brings the movement to a close.
The symphony ends with one of the most theatrical movements in the symphonic repertory, as the hysteria of a violently dissonant opening evokes what Mahler called “the cry of a wounded heart.” This agony yields to a peaceful, expansive melody borne up by cellos and violins; though the pain of the opening bars returns, it includes trumpet fanfares suggesting the eventual triumph over the pain of lost love.
Eventually we hear a reprise of the morning sounds that opened the symphony and a final interchange between optimism and despair. Mahler’s scoring instructs that the horn players rise to their feet, playing “as if to drown out the entire orchestra” in triumphant resolution.
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.
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 "The Titan"
Bernstein · Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Benjamin Smolen was appointed principal flutist of Pacific Symphony in September 2011, where he occupies the Valerie and Hans Imhof Chair. He has won top prizes at the Haynes International Flute Competition, James Pappoutsakis Memorial Flute Competition, National Flute Association Young Artist Competition and New York Flute Club Young Artist Competition. He has given solo performances in Russia, Japan, Belgium, France and as concerto soloist with Pacific Symphony, Princeton University Orchestra, Charlotte Civic and Youth Orchestras, and Gardner Webb Symphony Orchestra.
Smolen’s performances have been featured on NPR (Performance Today and From the Top), WGBH-Boston, WDAV-Charlotte, French National Radio, and the Naxos and Mode record labels. Additionally, he can be heard on the soundtracks for movies such as Monsters University, Planes, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Night at the Museum and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He recently released his debut album, Bach to Beaser, with guitarist Jerome Mouffe. Smolen studied at Princeton University, the Moscow Conservatory, the New England Conservatory and the University of Michigan. His primary teachers include Paula Robison, Michael Parloff and Aleksandr Golyshev. He is a William S. Haynes Artist and performs on a handmade, custom-crafted Haynes 14-karat gold flute.
Jessica Pearlman Fields
Jessica Pearlman Fields currently holds the position of principal oboe for Pacific Symphony. Fields moved to Southern California after completing her Master of Music degree in 2009 at The Juilliard School as a student of Elaine Douvas, Nathan Hughes and Pedro Diaz, all of the Metropolitan Opera. While in New York, she performed and toured with some of the city’s most esteemed ensembles, including the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. She was a member of the Verbier (Switzerland) Festival Orchestra from 2007-09, participating in two international tours led by Charles Dutoit and Ludovic Morlot and working in the summer under such conductors as Valery Gergiev and Kurt Masur. As a soloist, Fields was featured with the San Jose Chamber Symphony, a performance MetroActive described as “extraordinary … [she] dazzled through the overlapping melodies and 32nd-note runs of a bravura show-off piece by Antonino Pasculli …[a] barrage of acclamation followed her tour de force …”
Other solo appearances include the Mozart oboe concerto with the Pacific Chamber Symphony and Colorado College Summer Music Festival and the Bach Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin with the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, where she also served as principal oboe during the 2005-06 season. An avid chamber musician, Fields has performed with Orli Shaham on Pacific Symphony’s prestigious Café Ludwig Chamber Music series and tours regularly with her innovative New York-based chamber group “Shuffle Concert.”
Fields hails from Half Moon Bay, Calif., where she studied oboe and violin and performed in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and with her local community orchestra. Her continued study of music and science brought her to Oberlin College and Conservatory, where she earned a Bachelor of Music under the tutelage of the late James Caldwell as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience, as a pre-med student.
Rose Corrigan started playing bassoon to escape from the flute section of her high school band. It was an act of rebellion, and perhaps a way to sit closer to boys. After her first lesson she brought the bassoon home, hoping to shock her parents with her act of bravery and independence, only to discover that her mother had played it herself in high school. This undermined her act of rebellion; however, she was already passionate about the instrument, loving its variety of tone color, richness and lyricism. Its tessitura was closer to that of her voice, and she discovered that she was drawn to the supporting role it often plays in the repertoire.
Currently, Corrigan is principal bassoonist of Pacific Symphony, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Pasadena Symphony, and a former member of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra. Corrigan is a graduate of the University of Southern California where she studied with Michael O’Donovan, a teacher whose pedagogy included exposure to great cinema, literature and restaurants. She returned to the university as an adjunct professor, teaching bassoon from 1993 until 2011.
Corrigan has played bassoon and contrabassoon on the soundtracks of over 500 motion pictures, working with composers such as Michael Giacchino, Patrick Doyle, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Powell, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, Michel Legrand, Michael Kamen and William Ross. A few of the films that include her playing are Ice Age, Life of Pi, Bolt, Despicable Me, Dances with Wolves, A River Runs Through It, Aladdin, The Lion King, Cars, Enchanted, WALL-E and Pirates of the Caribbean. Her bassoon solos are prominent in March of the Penguins, one of the only movies to list a bassoonist in its closing credits. She has also performed on hundreds of records for stars like Paul McCartney, Tony Williams, Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole.
Principal horn player Keith Popejoy has been with Pacific Symphony since 2004. Popejoy is also a long-time resident of San Diego, having attended San Diego State University 1983-85. After graduating, Popejoy served as first call substitute horn for the San Diego Opera and San Diego Symphony from 1985 to 1994. In 1997, he played principal horn with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, followed by two years as principal horn with the San Antonio Symphony. Concurrent with this, Popejoy became third horn with the San Diego Opera and assistant principal horn with San Diego Symphony from 1994-2008. During the summer, Popejoy can be found back down in San Diego, performing in La Jolla’s Summerfest.