As a school kid growing up in England, my ears were naturally saturated with British music; Vaughan Williams, Britten and Elgar in particular. The Elgar cello concerto stands in its own particular echelon of musical power. Enhanced by the irresistible performances at that time by Jacqueline du Pré, who grew up just a few blocks from my home in the little town of Purley, the piece represents a pivotal moment in the history of England and English music. Written in the agonizing backdrop of the First World War, it conjures with every note an earnest account of living through such a tragic time and a profound need for spiritual healing. It is Elgar at the height of his powers, and it will always be one of the great musical masterpieces.
After I left England, I got the chance to witness du Pré playing trios on several occasions with a young phenomenon named Pinchas Zukerman. In fact it was the 26-year-old Pinchas who, after giving a master class in Brighton, implored my father to send me to New York to study. He promised my father that he would help nurture me and he has fulfilled that promise a hundred fold. There will never be a way to thank him enough, but at least I can share that story with all of you!
As a young child, I vividly remember hearing a recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré that left a bombastic impression on me, just like it did on the rest of the world. Perhaps subconsciously because of the massive shadow that she cast, I didn’t tackle this piece until I turned twenty. Fortunately though, this meant that I took the time to realize that the key to this incredible pillar of the cello repertoire is in treating every note as a totally integral part of the piece’s massive architecture.
When I first performed “the Elgar” (as we cellists call it) in public, I was completely drained – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Only when we as performers give absolutely everything within us to bring the notes to life do we serve the music justice; as my former teacher Yuli Turovsky used to say, “Play every concert as if it’s your last.” Thus I hope that this masterwork’s raw emotion grips you just as profoundly as it first did me.
This is the first time the NAC Orchestra has played Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms.
Zara Nelsova was soloist for the NAC Orchestra’s first performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, presented in 1973 under the direction of Mario Bernardi. The ensemble’s most recent performance of this concerto was given in 2015, with Johannes Moser on the cello and Alexander Shelley on the podium.
In 1980, Mario Bernardi led the NAC Orchestra in their first performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6. In 2016, Nikolaj Znaider was conductor for the Orchestra’s most recent interpretation of this work.
Born in London, March 9, 1980
London-born Anna Clyne is a GRAMMY-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Described as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods” in a New York Times profile and as “dazzlingly inventive” by Time Out New York, Clyne’s work often includes collaborations with cutting-edge choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers and musicians.
Last fall, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Pekka Kuusisto premiered Clyne’s Sound and Fury in Edinburgh. Recent premieres include her Rumi-inspired cello concerto, DANCE, premiered with Inbal Segev at the 2019 Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, led by Cristian Măcelaru; and Snake and Ladder, a work for saxophone and electronics premiered by Jess Gillam at the 2019 Cheltenham Music Festival. In July 2019, Clyne wrote and arranged music from Nico’s Marble Index for The Nico Project, a theatrical work presented by the Manchester International Festival.
Anna Clyne served as Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France and Berkeley Symphony. She currently serves as The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Associate Composer through the 2020–21 season, with a series of works commissioned over three years. Her music is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.
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A work for string ensemble, Within Her Arms was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Esa‑Pekka Salonen in 2009.
The composer says:
Within Her Arms is music for my mother, with all my love.
Earth will keep you tight within her arms dear one—
So that tomorrow you will be transformed into flowers—
This flower smiling quietly in this morning field—
This morning you will weep no more dear one—
For we have gone through too deep a night.
This morning, yes, this morning, I kneel down on the green grass—
And I notice your presence.
Flowers, that speak to me in silence.
The message of love and understanding has indeed come.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.
Born in Broadheath, near Worcester, June 2, 1857
Died in Worcester, February 23, 1934
The Cello Concerto was Elgar’s last important work, completed in the summer of 1919. Elgar was to live for another 15 years, but with the death in 1920 of his wife, who had been such a deep source of both personal and professional aid to the composer, inspiration to create seemed to have left Elgar. Without her he felt dejected, lost, melancholic to an even greater degree than before. Indeed, moods of despair, disillusionment and inferiority had haunted him throughout his life – lack of social status, insecurity about the popularity of his music, and especially the Great War contributed to these moods. Into his Cello Concerto, Elgar poured his most personal utterances and the sense of resignation that affects those in the autumn of their lives. The mournful, poignant tone of the cello seems to emphasize this quality, further heightened by the restraint with which Elgar uses the orchestra in this work.
Though unsuccessful at its premiere, the concerto quickly became a favourite with cellists and audiences alike, and it has remained one of the Elgar’s best-known works. The first performance took place in Queen’s Hall, London, on October 26, 1919 with the composer conducting the London Symphony. Felix Salmond was the soloist. Ten years later, the great English violist, Lionel Tertis (1876–1975), undertook to make a transcription for his instrument (at the time repertoire for solo viola was extremely scant).
The concerto is in four movements, each distinctive, each with its own hallmarks of Elgar’s inimitable style. The first opens with an Adagio, beginning with a sombre but striking passage for the soloist alone and stretching across all four strings of the instrument simultaneously. Violas pick up the theme and weave it into a quietly flowing line. “In its world-weary way,” writes Michael Kennedy, “it is the music of autumn smoke and falling leaves.” Woodwinds initiate the second theme, somewhat brighter in mood.
The second movement follows after the briefest of pauses, and is notable for the alternation of its light, scherzo-like passages of quicksilver writing and deft orchestration with a heavier, jaunty theme. Donald Francis Tovey called the movement “impish.”
The next movement stands in greatest possible contrast. Though only 60 bars in length, this Adagio is one of Elgar’s most sublime pages. To quote Kennedy again, it is “a lament for thoughts that lie too deep for tears, perfectly suited to the cello at its most songfully sustained, and ending with a dominant cadence, as if the tonic key was too positive.”
The Finale is cast in rondo form, with its swaggering, self-assured principal theme alternating with contrasting episodes. In a gesture of nostalgia, Elgar brings back the solo cello’s theme of broken chords that opened the concerto, but a strong, final recurrence of the rondo theme sweeps away the memory of things past with a grand flourish.
– Program note by Robert Markow
Born in Mühlhausen, Bohemia (today Nelahozeves, Czech Republic), September 8, 1841
Died in Prague, May 1, 1904
Dvořák was by no means the first Czech composer to write symphonies, but he remains the most important. Like Beethoven, Spohr and Schubert before him, he left a canon of nine. Also like Beethoven, his Sixth bears a special affinity with nature, not in a specifically programmatic sense (there are no subtitles), but in spirit and mood. Additionally, many listeners find points of reference with respect to Brahms’s Second Symphony, which Dvořák had heard and immediately loved shortly before beginning work on his Sixth. The D-major tonality, the themes of similar character and profile, the prevailing pastoral feeling, the sheer radiance and joyous enthusiasm that illumine the scores, the dance-like third movements, and the parallel construction of their first movements (same metre, same brief excursion to E minor shortly after the opening) all suggest the influence of the German master who remained a devoted friend of Dvořák’s until after his death in 1897.
The impulse to write this symphony originated in Dvořák’s close friendship with the conductor Hans Richter. After Richter’s great success in conducting the Viennese premiere of Dvořák’s Third Slavonic Rhapsody, the conductor asked Dvořák to write a symphony for him to premiere. Dvořák produced the score in remarkably short order. The sketches required a month and the full score just a month more; by October 1880, the symphony was ready. The first performance did not go to Richter, however. Due to politicking in the orchestral world, Adolf Čech led the premiere in Prague on March 25, 1881. The American premiere followed less than two years later, with Theodore Thomas leading the Philharmonic Society at the Academy of Music in New York. The symphony was published by Simrock (also Brahms’s publisher) as No. 1, and for many years it bore this number until the complete cycle of nine was published and the numbering was reordered.
The Sixth Symphony was written at the height of Dvořák’s “Slavonic” period, which included the first set of Slavonic Dances, the three Rhapsodies, and the Czech Suite. The music draws its inspiration from the Slavonic land and people to which the composer felt so closely attached. No actual folk tunes are quoted, but the rhythms, the spirit, melodic shapes, blend of major and minor tonalities, metrical irregularities, and details of scoring all contribute to a typically Czech sound and atmosphere. The formative influences of the Czech land and people are expressed in Otakar Šourek’s comments on the first two movements:
“The first movement… would seem to open up before us the sunny Czech countryside in which everything is blossoming, singing, fragrant and full of happy, contented fulfillment. The lyric and expressive melodiousness of the themes, the rhythmic vitality, the purity and gaiety of the harmonic colouring, the bustling animation of the imitation and the lively alternations of mood, from the softest whisperings to the most splendid dynamic climaxes, all vibrate in the full daylight of Czech life and feeling.
“The second movement has the quality of a softly yearning nocturne and of an ardently passionate intermezzo. Its mood evokes the poetic magic of a warm summer night and perhaps the dialogue of two simple souls sharing with each other the sweet bliss of mutual passion which fills their hearts with happy ecstasy, while, from a distance, the muted sound of village music falls upon their ears.”
The third movement could almost have been drawn from one of the sets of Slavonic Dances. It is a furiant, a whirling, fiery national dance with a characteristic rhythmic pattern of changing beats (two beats three times, then three beats twice). The Trio section suggests the slower sousedská, another national dance, in which the piccolo is used for the only time in the symphony to gently humorous rustic effect.
The Finale boasts no fewer than four distinct themes, all incorporated into a well-proportioned sonata design of considerable breadth. Unlike many finale movements in 19th-century symphonies, momentum never flags. The music’s high spirits and exuberant rhythmic energy carry the symphony steadily toward a glorious conclusion.
– Program note by Robert Markow