≈ 2 hours · With intermission
A warm welcome to tonight’s concert, which, fittingly for Valentine’s Day, is infused with poeticism and romance. Two intertwined solo violins – none other than our extraordinary Yosuke Kawasaki and Jessica Linnebach – open the program in Jocelyn Morlock’s Cobalt, a fluid, touching rendering of the night sky moving into darkness. From this darkness appears Chopin’s lyrical, delicate and personal Piano Concerto No. 2, written at the tender age of 20, while in the throes of a romantic infatuation, brought to longing expression in the exquisite second movement. I am particularly delighted that you will hear this work in the hands of my friend David Fray, as he makes his first visit to the NAC Orchestra. We conclude with Schumann’s Symphony to his ‘Spring of Love.’ It is a work full of both joy and tenderness, and it is one of my very favourites!
Last updated: February 5, 2019
The NAC Institute for Orchestral Studies (IOS) was established under the guidance of former NAC Orchestra Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, and is in its 12th season. During selected main series weeks of the 2018–2019 season, IOS apprentices rehearse and perform with the NAC Orchestra. The IOS is proudly supported by the RBC Emerging Artist Project with additional support by the NAC’s National Youth and Education Trust.
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Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
The NAC Orchestra gave their first performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1969, with Mario Bernardi conducting and Witold Malcuzynski as soloist. Hans Graf was the conductor for the ensemble’s most recent interpretation of this concerto, given in 2010 with Garrick Ohlsson at the piano.
Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 38, “Spring”
Mario Bernardi led the NAC Orchestra in their first interpretation of Schumann’s Spring Symphony in 1977, and Alexander Shelley was conductor when the Orchestra most recently played this work, in 2010.
I. Andante un poco maestoso – Allegro molto vivace
II. Larghetto –
III. Scherzo: Molto vivace –
IV. Allegro animato e grazioso
Robert Schumann’s (1810–1856) First Symphony came to fruition in a burst of productive creativity in 1841, during the first months of his marriage to Clara Wieck. Over four days in late January, he feverishly sketched out the entire work. Within another month, he had orchestrated it. (Even Clara was not prepared for the intensity of her husband’s activity, even though she had long encouraged him to write for orchestra. Unable to practice on the piano while he was composing and feeling overlooked, she admitted in their joint diary, “when a man composes a symphony, one really can’t expect him to concern himself with other things—thus even his wife must accept herself as set aside!”) The premiere took place on March 31 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, with Felix Mendelssohn conducting, and was warmly received by the audience. As was to become his practice, Robert made revisions after the first performances—to the first movement, scherzo, and finale—before the symphony’s publication.
Like many composers after Beethoven, Schumann was concerned with the future direction of the symphony and how to make his own contribution. As a critic reviewing the music of his contemporaries, Robert was aware of the prevailing “Beethovenian” methods of developing musical motifs to generate the “content” for a whole symphony, and of using inter-movement thematic recall to achieve coherence and to convey an emotional or psychological narrative, be that abstract (as in “absolute music”) or explicit (as in “program music”). For better or worse, how effectively composers employed these techniques in their works became a critical benchmark to which they were upheld. As music theorist Scott Burnham has noted, Schumann, in his four symphonies, appears to have carved a singular path that escapes easy classification. His music, and notably his First Symphony, lies “between worlds”: between lyricism and drama, between long-breathed melodies and motivic dynamism, between absolute and program music.
Robert called his first symphony “Spring” after a poem by Adolph Böttger. The text addresses the “spirit of the cloud”, imploring it to leave so spring can be revealed; as the final lines read:
O wende, wende deinen Lauf [Oh turn, turn aside your course]
Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf! [In the valley spring is coming into bloom!]
Struck by these particular words, Schumann generated a musical motto based on the rhythm of the line “O wende, wende deinen lauf”, which is intoned by trumpets and horns at the beginning of the symphony. (He said he wanted it “to sound as if from on high, a call of awakening.”) Thereafter, the first movement proceeds with a vigorous energy that persists throughout. It adheres, for the most part, to formal conventions: two contrasting themes in the exposition, followed by a central section in which the snappy rhythm of the first theme is developed. But just at the start of the recapitulation, when we’d expect to hear the return of the first main theme, we get instead a grand statement of the musical motto by full orchestra, after which there's a pause, then the bustle resumes. At a similar point in the fourth movement, Schumann adds a bird-like flute cadenza, prefaced by a horn call. Such disruptions to expected symphonic processes is one innovative strategy he employed to imbue the form with a poetic sensibility.
Indeed, Robert had originally planned to give descriptive titles to each of the First Symphony’s movements: 1. The beginning of spring 2. Evening 3. Merry playmates 4. Full spring. However, not wanting to make it a work of “program music”, he dropped them, but knowing this now gives us an inkling of the ideas that inspired the piece. The second movement has a warm beauty while the third is a rustic dance of a serious air, with two contrasting trios. In between them is Schumann’s inventive approach to achieving large-scale unity: transitions that feature thematic recall and dramatic foreshadowing. Listen for how the trombone chorale at the slow movement’s conclusion anticipates the main theme of the ensuing scherzo. Near the end of the third movement, there are reminiscences of the scherzo and the first trio, before the music pauses expectantly. Then, a musical scenic change, as if the merry playmates are tiptoeing off the stage, and we arrive at an upward curtain-raising motif to introduce the finale. As the movement progresses with a spirited reveling in orchestral sonority, the motif’s rhythm becomes dominant, eventually joyously striding forward to bring the symphony to a jubilant finish.
Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD