Violin Concerto in D Major

Violin Concerto in D Major

Brahms composed his violin concerto in the last half 1878, close on the heels of his second symphony. He worked on it closely with the Hungarian violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim (in fact, Joachim also wrote the cadenza most often heard in contemporary performances).

While originally conceived in four movements, this concerto has three — an opening Allego non troppo, a middle movement Adagio, and the final Allegro giocoso. It is practically symphonic in scope, with alternating passages by the orchestra and soloist designed to fully explore the rich thematic material.

The first movement opens with a lengthy orchestral exposition which contains most of the thematic material used by both the soloist and orchestra — a calm rising and falling triad (faintly reminiscent of the second symphony); an intense rising chromatic passage played in unison; a mysterious and soft descending three-note pattern; and an agitated and jagged dotted-note passage setting up the first entrance of the solo violin. The violin picks up on these themes and expands them, both in fiery passagework and lush melodies. The lengthy cadenza is a masterwork by Joachim, a tour-de-force of virtuosity and melody.

The second movement Adagio begins with a hushed wind choir, featuring a notable oboe solo, which is echoed by the solo violin. After an impassioned development, the opening theme returns with a violin obbligato on top of the original wind theme. The last movement is a gypsy-like rondo, ending with the theme restated as a march.

Symphony No. 31 in D Major

Symphony No. 31 in D Major

After an early career as a child prodigy, the 22-year old Mozart traveled to Paris in 1778 seeking his musical fortune. While his job search was ultimately unsuccessful, he did compose a number of works that have come down to us, particularly his splendid 31st Symphony, the “Paris.”

This work was commissioned by the Concert Spirituel, the foremost performing organization in Paris, founded in 1725, during the reign of Louis XV. This was a great opportunity for the young composer. It gave him the chance to write a work for the largest orchestral forces he had encountered to date — a full complement of winds (including clarinets), brass, timpani and strings. Mozart was very much aware of the contemporary French taste in music and wrote his new symphony to meet the expectations of his audience.

It has just three movements (Allegro assai, Andante, Allegro); unlike German works, it did not include a minuet. Most striking, he incorporated the Parisian taste of starting a symphony with a “coup d’archet,” a rising passage played in unison by the entire orchestra. Not only did he start the symphony with it — he made it a recurring theme in the first movement! He also used this technique in the opening of the last movement.

Of note, Mozart composed two versions of the Andante middle movement. We are performing the version which is presumed to be the final one — a lyrical rondo-like movement in 6/8 time.

Piano Concerto No. 2 in Bb Major

Piano Concerto No. 2 in Bb Major

The premiere of the concerto was given in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with Brahms as soloist, and was an immediate success. He proceeded to perform the piece in many cities across Europe.

Here’s a favorite rendition of the second-movement scherzo.

Bridges

Bridges

Image of Victoria Bond

Victoria Bond


A five-movement suite for orchestra.

“Bridges” for orchestra was originally composed in 2006 as a chamber work for two clarinets, erhu, and pipa with influences drawn from the folk music of China and America. The orchestral version was commissioned by Nan Washburn and the Michigan Philharmonic and premiered in 2014.

This suite is organized around five actual bridges: Railroad Trestle Bridge in Galax, Virginia; Stone Bridge Over a Reflecting Pool in Suzhou, China; Golden Gate Bridge; Brooklyn Bridge; and Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge.

Railroad Trestle uses the motoric rhythm of a train and the sound of a fiddle and banjo playing country music. Stone Bridge is based on a traditional Chinese song called Moli Hua or Jasmine Flower. Golden Gate Bridge recalls the folk music of the 1960’s and 70’s in California, particularly a song by Joan Baez. Brooklyn Bridge brings together a second meaning of the word “bridge” in that it refers to the “B” or “bridge”section of a be-bop standard, Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. Mackinac Bridge is based on an American folk song, “The Water is Wide.”


 

 

Symphony No. 5 in F Major

Symphony No. 5 in F Major

A sunny, exciting and powerful masterpiece, this symphony is dedicated to the great Hans von Bülow in gratitude for that conductor’s championing of Dvořák’s orchestral works. Dvořák composed this symphony in just six weeks in 1875, at a fairly early stage in his musical life.

He had just applied for and received an Austrian Empire state grant; members of the judging committee awarding him the grant included his later mentor Johannes Brahms and the famed music critic Eduard Hanslick. Energized by the recognition, Dvořák embarked on a frenzy of composition, including a number of well-known chamber works as well as this symphony.

Although composed in 1875, it was only premiered in 1879 and published considerably later (1888), with a high opus number chosen by his music publisher. That said, this masterful symphony bears all of Dvořák’s hallmarks — rich lyricism, lush melodies, masterful development. The opening Allegro ma non troppo opens with a cheerful pastoral clarinet theme, taken up by winds and strings in turn; it is complemented by an introspective second theme introduced by the violins and oboe.

The slow second movement is soulful with a hint of melancholy, with sudden powerful outbursts from massed strings, winds and brass.

The lively third movement follows with almost no break. At first keeping the same mood of the slow movement, it transitions abruptly to a cheerful folk-like tune, with a lilting trio. The dramatic last movement opens with a powerful eruption from the lower strings, picked up in turn by winds and brass. Its harmonic tension is most unusual. It open in the key of A minor, and stays there for over 50 measures until the main theme makes its emphatic appearance in the main key of F major. A soaring second theme is introduced by the clarinet and second violin; both themes are developed extensively. The first movement theme reappears at the end, first in the high winds and horn, then stirringly in the trombone, before the symphony draws to its triumphant close.

Incidental Music to Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge

Incidental Music to Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge

Purcell is considered one of England’s greatest native-born composers, flourishing during the Restoration period which followed the accession of King Charles II. Prodigiously talented, he composed hundreds of works, including anthems, hymns, songs, operas, odes, theater music and instrumental works. Purcell composed his incidental music to the play “Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge” in 1695, shortly before his untimely death at the age of 36. Music played an important part in Restoration theater. It marked a play’s opening and closing, scene and mood changes, and highlighted different aspects of the action. For this revenge tragedy, Purcell wrote nine separate instrumental sections — a declamatory overture and many different varieties of dance music. Of all of these, the second movement Rondeau is the most celebrated; it was used by Benjamin Britten as his theme for “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

Konzertstück for 4 Horns

Konzertstück for 4 Horns

Schumann composed this masterpiece for four French horns and orchestra in 1849, one of his most productive musical years. Rarely performed because of its unusual instrumentation and difficulty, the Konzertstück is rich in inventiveness and lyricism. While titled a “concertpiece,” it is essentially a concerto for four horn soloists.

There are three interlinked movements, played without a break. The initial “Lebhaft” opens with two strong orchestra chords, immediately followed by rising horn arpeggios heralding the main theme. The slow “Romanze” movement features a tender theme in the oboes, solo ‘cello and violas, picked up in turn by the horns; a flowing chorale movement appears in the middle of the movement. The lively last movement is full of horn figurations. It features brisk dialogue between the orchestra and soloists, and a short chorale interlude based on the middle movement, before drawing to a bravura ending.

Symphony No. 3 in F Major

Symphony No. 3 in F Major

The work was written in the summer of 1883 at Wiesbaden, nearly six years after he completed his Second Symphony. In the interim Brahms had written some of his greatest works, including the Violin Concerto, two overtures (Tragic Overture and Academic Festival Overture), and the Second Piano Concerto (which will be heard at our Fall, 2016 concert). (Wikipedia)

Cello Concerto in B Minor

Cello Concerto in B Minor

This is Dvořák’s last concerto, largely written in 1894-5 during his time in New York. Dvorak had come to the United States in 1892 in response to an invitation to become the head of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, and stayed here until 1895. Dvorak composed a number of his best-know works during his American interlude, including his 9th (“New World”) Symphony, the “American” String Quartet (Op. 96), and the ‘cello concerto. He was not initially inclined to write a concerto featuring the ‘cello; he changed his mind after attending a concert in New York of a ‘cello concerto by Victor Herbert, which inspired him to write his own.

The first movement opens with a quiet statement of the theme in the woodwinds, gradually rising to a boisterous rendition by the full orchestra. The wistful second theme is introduced by the horn. Both themes are featured in the solo ‘cello, the first theme now reappearing as a heraldic restatement. There is a constant interweaving and interplay of soloist and orchestra, punctuated by solo pyrotechnics that grow out of the thematic material. A number of “grandioso” passages by the orchestra also feature the first theme in heroic fashion.

The introspective second movement begins softly with clarinets; the lyrical melody is picked up in turn by the soloist. The middle of the movement is based on a theme from a Czech song (“Leave me Alone”), written as an homage to his beloved sister-inlaw Josefina, who was in failing health. A solo cadenza is accompanied by flute and other woodwinds; a hushed passage featuring ‘cello harmonics brings the movement to a close.

The third movement is based on a robust theme introduced by the winds, then picked up by the soloist and orchestra in turn. The end of the movement also features another section of the song “Leave me Alone,” this time in the solo violin accompanying the ‘cello. The movement gradually winds down into a sighing whisper; a short rousing conclusion brings the concerto to a triumphant close.