I fondly remember a post-concert conversation over a glass of wine with my friend, tonight’s soloist Miloš Karadaglić, as we mused on the idea of commissioning the extraordinary Howard Shore to write a guitar concerto for us and the NAC Orchestra. Having not the slightest idea whether the suggestion would inspire this great composer, we simply reached out and asked. Nothing ventured, nothing gained…
And here we are! What a thrill to be giving the world premiere performances of this new concerto in Ottawa this week. A winner of three Academy Awards, three Golden Globes and four GRAMMY® Awards, Howard is a true Canadian legend and I am honoured and proud that we can be the first to share in his latest creation.
Howard Shore is a gentleman and a true master. I have for many years been fascinated by his insanely imaginative soundtracks and classical compositions. I still find it hard to believe that he wrote a piece for me... I am indeed the luckiest “plucker” in the world!
The work is magical, just like the enchanted forest Howard wanted to paint with his unique musical brushstrokes. The first time I heard the piece, I was moved by the honest simplicity of its harmonies, idiomatic writing and incredibly programmatic nature that makes you instantly dream up so many colours and sceneries in your head. I have been struck by how masterfully, through the texture of the sound he creates, amongst so many shades of musical colour, he discretely interweaves a net of various echoes from my own homeland. Montenegro and its dark forests have been an inspiration to Howard and myself from the beginning. I have been counting the days until this wonderful dream we share becomes reality.
This is the first time the NAC Orchestra has performed Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s Overture in C major.
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This is the world premiere of Canadian composer Howard Shore’s The Forest, a concerto commissioned by Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra, written for classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić.
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In 1982, Günther Herbig was on the podium for the NAC Orchestra’s first performance of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. Their most recent performance took place in 2015 under the direction of Pinchas Zukerman.
Born in Hamburg, November 14, 1805
Died in Berlin, May 17, 1847
Like her younger brother Felix, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel was a highly accomplished pianist and a fine composer as well. If her skill as a composer was not quite on the level of Felix’s, Fanny was still one of the foremost female composers of the nineteenth century; but being a woman, her talents and abilities were not acknowledged on the same scale as her male counterparts. Even her own brother discouraged her from publishing her compositions on the grounds that this was not a suitable occupation for a nice young lady.
At the age of seventeen she fell in love with a painter named Wilhelm Hensel, but much like Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck, parental disapproval kept them apart and made marriage difficult. Only six years after they fell in love did they marry, and that was when Hensel became curator of a huge art collection. The marriage was a happy one, but Fanny died young, succumbing to a massive stroke at the age of 41. Felix was so distraught that his own death followed six months later, due certainly in part to grief over the death of his beloved sister.
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s output was considerable, consisting mostly of songs, piano pieces and chamber music. The overture on tonight’s program is her sole purely orchestral composition (there also exist some choral and vocal works with orchestra). It was written probably sometime between 1830 and 1832, and published only in 1994 by Furore-Edition in Kassel, Germany.
The ten-minute Overture conforms closely to most other works of its kind by Schubert, Weber, Schumann, or Felix Mendelssohn. It opens with a slow introduction (“not so much starting as awakening,” as one commentator put it). This leads into the Allegro di molto main section, laid out in standard sonata form with two principal themes (the first energetic, the second flowing and songlike, both presented by violins), a development section, recapitulation, and majestic coda.
— Program notes by Robert Markow
Born in Toronto, October 18, 1946
Now living in New York City
Howard Shore writes his music from his place in the forest where he lives surrounded by nature. His music is influenced by this environment. Here, The Forest refers to the importance of developing and maintaining a relationship with the natural world. “I live in a place where I am encompassed by things that grow and bloom and fade. It is everchanging. It is always striving for equilibrium and harmony. I find this interconnectedness and interdependency inspiring,” Shore said. “These are ideas I carry with me and are often the source from which I express my musical ideas. Enjoy the beauty of the solo guitar, the orchestra and the virtuosity of Miloš and Maestro Shelley’s artistry.”
Shore’s latest concert work, commissioned by the NAC Orchestra’s Music Director Alexander Shelley and receiving its world premiere this week, is a concerto for guitarist Miloš Karadaglić. “At turns elegiac, wistful, tuneful and virtuosic, it is a fabulous work in the tradition of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez,” comments Shelley.
The 21-minute work is in three movements, which may be separated by pauses at the maestro’s discretion. Asked if his concerto bears stylistic similarity to his famous film scores, Shore replied, “No, but I’ve incorporated a few surprises, including at one point an allusion to Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, so beloved by many.”
Like Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa in an earlier age, Shore has composed concert music as well as music for film. The gorgeous and subtle effects Shore draws from his percussion section may bring to mind the late Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu, whose career successfully combined the worlds of concert and film music.
The film The Song of Names, directed by François Girard and featuring Shore’s score and the violin virtuoso Ray Chen, will premiere in the fall.
* NAC commission, world premiere May 1, 2019
— Program notes by Howard Shore
Born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833
Died in Vienna, April 3, 1897
For Johannes Brahms, the symphony was the very apogee of orchestral music. So great was the shadow cast over the nineteenth century by the mantle of Beethoven’s symphonies that Brahms spent nearly 20 years on his first work in this genre. No other major symphonist had waited so long before offering his first symphony. By the age of 43, when Brahms finally brought forth his C-minor Symphony, Beethoven had written all but one of his nine; Schumann had written all four of his; Mendelssohn, Schubert and Mozart were already in their graves; and Haydn was up to No. 60 or so. But on the other hand, aside from Berlioz, Schumann, Sibelius and Mahler, it is difficult to think of another composer whose first symphony is equal in stature to Brahms’s. After the first Viennese performance of Brahms’s symphony, the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote that “seldom, if ever, has the entire musical world awaited a composer’s first symphony with such tense anticipation.”
Brahms’s cautious, humble, highly self-critical approach to composition is well-known, but twenty years to bring forth a single symphony? His first attempt to write such a work took place in 1853 at the age of 20; this material became diverted into the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. At about the same time, he made sketches for another symphonic movement which eventually, in 1862, were turned into the first movement Allegro of the symphony. More years passed. Spurred perhaps by the success of his Haydn Variations in 1874, Brahms wrote the remaining movements, and added the slow introduction to the opening Allegro.
Right up to performance time, Brahms continued to revise. The inner movements, for example, were shortened to offset the length and weight of the outer ones. For the world premiere on November 4, 1876, Brahms deliberately chose a modest setting – “a little town that has a good friend, a good conductor and a good orchestra.” The “little town” was Karlsruhe; the “good friend” and “good conductor” was Otto Dessoff, conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1860–1875. The premiere and subsequent performances led by Brahms met with moderate success, but the symphony had a long hard struggle, right into the twentieth century, to gain public acceptance. It was considered too dense, turgid, dissonant, ungrateful to the ears, generally too formidable, lacking in melody and too generously endowed with counterpoint. Nevertheless, the symphony had its champions too, including the conductor Hans von Bülow, who dubbed it “The Tenth” (the obvious reference was to Beethoven), and who possibly coined the expression “The Three Bs of Music” (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms).
The difficult time this work had on its road to success might be seen as a reflection of its musical outline – from opening struggle to concluding triumph. The first mighty bars of the slow introduction (the only Brahms symphony to open thus) herald a work of enormous scope, power and impact. Over a steady, thundering tread in the timpani and basses, two simultaneous lines work their way forward: one upwards (violins and cellos) and one downwards (woodwinds, horns, violas) – in a gesture that seems almost to be tearing apart the musical fabric. Despite its fifteen-minute length, the entire movement is tightly-knit; all thematic, and even transitional material of the Allegro is found in the slow introduction, almost as if this passage had provided the movement’s molecular building blocks.
The “demonic passion, wild energy, harsh defiance, and hard, cold, stony grandeur” Walter Niemann finds in the first movement gives way to a more relaxed, resigned, though still noble second movement. Here we find some of Brahms’s most exquisite solo writing, which includes a serenely lyrical theme for the oboe, followed a bit later by a plaintive narrative for the same instrument, and, towards the end of the movement, the same lyrical theme for oboe, horn and violin together in three different registers.
The third movement is a gracious Allegretto rather than a robust scherzo like Beethoven would have written. The mood is intimate, the emotions relaxed, the orchestral colours painted in pastels – all welcome qualities in anticipation of the tremendous emotional struggle about to be unleashed in the finale.
In the fourth movement, as in the first, we again find an elaborate slow introduction presaging all thematic material to follow. If the first movement was grand, the last is grander still – the crown of the whole symphony. The wildly shifting moods (shades of the introduction to the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth) are dispelled by a glowing horn solo in C major, followed by a chorale theme in the trombones (hitherto unused in the symphony!). The noble, march-like theme of the Allegro has often been compared to that of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” tune. The epic drama that follows culminates in a return of the trombone chorale now blared forth by the full orchestra. The symphony concludes in grandiose majesty. Glorious C major has triumphed over tragic C minor.
— Program notes by Robert Markow