Presented by Audi

Pouliot & Tchaïkovsky's Violin Concerto

& Shelley conducts Scheherazade

2024-02-07 20:00 2024-02-08 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Pouliot & Tchaïkovsky's Violin Concerto

https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/33672

In-person event

The paranoid and cruel sultan Shahryar has a bad habit of marrying then murdering a different bride every night—until a beautiful and well-read woman named Scheherazade tricks the obsessive ruler and saves her own life by enchanting him with stories that last 1001 nights.  Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade captures the passion of the Middle Eastern tale One Thousand and One Nights by weaving a musical tapestry that includes characters like...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
February 7 - 8, 2024

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

Our programs have gone digital.

Scan the QR code at the venue's entrance to read the program notes before the show begins.

Last updated: January 29, 2024

Program

GITY RAZAZ Methuselah (In Chains of Time)* (12 min) 

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (34 min)

I. Allegro moderato
II. Canzonetta: Andante
III. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo

Blake Pouliot, violin

INTERMISSION

NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade, Op. 35 (47 min)

I. Largo e maestoso – Allegro non troppo (The Sea and Sindbad’s Ship)
II. Lento – Andantino – Allegro molto – Vivace scherzando – Allegro molto ed animato (The Kalendar Prince)
III. Andantino quasi allegretto (The Young Prince and the Princess)
IV. Allegro molto – Vivo – Allegro non troppo maestoso – Tempo come I (Festival at Baghdad; The Sea; The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock; Conclusion)

* Methuselah (In Chains of Time) was commissioned by the League of American Orchestras with the generous support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Wednesday’s concert is the Canadian premiere.

Repertoire

GITY RAZAZ

Methuselah (In Chains of Time)

Hailed by The New York Times as “ravishing and engulfing” and named a 2022 “Rising Star” by BBC Music Magazine, Iranian American composer Gity Razaz (b. 1986) writes music that ranges from concert solo pieces to large symphonic works. Her music has been commissioned and/or performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Seattle Symphony, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, National Sawdust, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, former cellist of the Kronos Quartet Jeffrey Zeigler, cellist Inbal Segev, and the violinist Jennifer Koh, among many others. Her compositions have earned numerous national and international awards, including the Andrew Imbrie Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019.

Tonight, the NAC Orchestra performs the Canadian premiere of her newest orchestral work, Methuselah (In Chains of Time), from 2023, which was commissioned by the League of American Orchestras with the generous support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. As Razaz explains, the piece takes its name and inspiration from “a 4,854-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine tree growing high in the White Mountains of Inyo County in eastern California. I came across a picture of this magnificent tree in a Buddhist magazine and was immediately struck by the awe-inspiring shape of the trunk, braided around its core, and twisting upwards from the bone-dry surface of the rock-covered ground. There is hardly any surrounding vegetation, and the extreme climate—Methuselah is located around 10,000 feet above sea level—makes the tree’s longevity a true rarity.”

“The piece begins with a descending gesture, in the lowest range of the orchestra, depicting the roots of Methuselah,” Razaz describes. “I imagine that deep under the rocky surface of the ground there must be many far-reaching roots, perhaps just as gnarled and twisted as the trunk and branches above. And from there, the consistent upward journey of the piece begins. The ensuing passages are developed from an ascending motive, which lead to a lyrical line in the solo violin. The melody lives on in the high register of the instrument, representing the precious persistence of life beneath the rock-hard, twisted bark of the tree. The piece ends with the melody dissolving in tutti chords across the orchestra.”

Razaz notes that “As I was composing the piece, I was constantly thinking about the remarkable endurance of life, a single-minded, unapologetic force whose sole purpose is to perpetuate survival in spite of all the odds. I could not help seeing parallels in various aspects of our world: the persistence of hope, the striving for advancement, and the fight for justice and betterment. Such ideals essentially sprout from the same impulse, embedded in our DNA, to thrive.”

Biography and program note provided by the composer

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35

I. Allegro moderato
II. Canzonetta: Andante
III. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo

While his homosexuality was known to close friends and family members, Tchaikovsky’s (1840–1893) concern about flouting societal convention alongside his burgeoning fame as a composer led him to marry Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova in July 1877. Not surprisingly, it was a disastrous decision—within two months, they were separated. His marriage debacle became a turning point: in 1878, Tchaikovsky left his position at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and was able to pursue composition full time due to a regular allowance given to him by Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow and admirer of the composer. (Their association, conducted solely by correspondence, lasted for 14 years.) The Violin Concerto in D major was the first work he conceived and completed following his crisis.

Tchaikovsky was often plagued by insecurity when he composed, thus causing him to labour for months on a work, but the Violin Concerto came to him quickly and easily. In March 1878, while staying at a hotel in Clarens, near Lake Geneva, he was visited by the violinist Iosif Kotek, a close friend and a former student of his. Kotek showed Tchaikovsky several new works for violin, including Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, which the composer admired. Almost immediately, Tchaikovsky was inspired to write his own violin concerto and in 11 days, he had drafted it in its entirety. He soon replaced the original second movement with a new one (on the advice of his brother Modest and Kotek, who played through the concerto as the composer wrote it), and after another nine days, the concerto was finished and fully orchestrated.

The route to the work’s premiere, however, was more convoluted. Tchaikovsky had dedicated it to Leopold Auer, the acclaimed virtuoso and professor of violin at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, hoping that Auer would give the first performance. Auer declined—as the composer remembered, “he never wanted to master the difficulties of this concerto and deemed it awkward to play”—but apparently also blocked other violinists’ attempts, including Kotek’s, to perform it. Eventually, in December 1881, the concerto’s premiere was given by the young violinist Adolf Brodsky with the Vienna Philharmonic. Reactions to the work were hostile and the Viennese press panned it with colourful insults—the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote, “It gives us, for the first time, the hideous notion that there can be music which stinks to the ear.” Over time, the concerto gained acceptance through various violinists championing it, including Auer who created and played his own edition of it. Today, it continues to be frequently performed in the concert hall. 

Like most 19th-century concertos, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is a vehicle for virtuoso display, though it’s full of memorable melodies which are inventively varied and transformed as the movements progress. There’s a feeling of playful discovery in the unfolding of the first movement, the themes of which Tchaikovsky remarked in a letter to Meck “were not forced”, and that in fact, “generally speaking the plan of this movement came into my head at once, poured forth on its own, spontaneously.” Within an otherwise standard structure, there are some unusual features. For one, the conventional orchestral exposition has been replaced by a short introductory lead-up to the solo violin’s entrance, itself a winding cadenza, after which it introduces the graceful main melody. Only after progressing through the themes and pyrotechnics of the solo exposition does the orchestra play its first extended episode. Tchaikovsky also inserted the soloist’s main cadenza in the middle of the movement (like Felix Mendelssohn did in his), just before the return of the main melody (played by flute) in the recapitulation, rather than near the end. The violin thus continues with the orchestra into the coda, where together, they rush headlong to a thrilling conclusion.

A canzonetta of tender melancholy follows. After woodwinds intone a sombre chorale, muted solo violin presents a lamenting theme in G minor, accompanied by muted strings. Later, the mode brightens to major, and the violin sings a melody tinged with warm nostalgia, as if recalling a happy memory. But the lament returns, the sadness a little weightier now, with poignant countermelodies in the clarinet and flute. It ends unresolved, as the wind chorale returns and muted strings play a series of turning motives on questioning harmonies…

Suddenly, the entire orchestra bursts in with a sped-up version of the motive which evolves into an introductory passage. Solo violin enters similarly, and toys with the motive briefly in a short cadenza that mirrors the one at the opening of the first movement. At last, it starts the dance with a merry tune that races upwards and skips back down. After continuing with quicksilver runs and leaps, the dance is brought to a halt by drone chords in the cellos, over which the violin introduces a robust theme. It gradually speeds up, suggesting a return to the merry tune might be coming, but instead, we encounter a plaintive melody of contrite tenderness, played by the oboe. The violin picks up the song and muses for a moment on its phrases, but then finds its way back to the merry dance. Thereafter, the three themes are recapped with greater virtuosic and lyrical intensity. Following the final return of the merry tune, a great orchestral crescendo culminates in an exuberant back-and-forth between soloist and orchestra that brings the concerto to an exhilarating finish.

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD

NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV

Scheherazade, Op. 35

I. Largo e maestoso – Allegro non troppo (The Sea and Sindbad’s Ship)
II. Lento – Andantino – Allegro molto – Vivace scherzando – Allegro molto ed animato (The Kalendar Prince)
III. Andantino quasi allegretto (The Young Prince and the Princess)
IV. Allegro molto – Vivo – Allegro non troppo maestoso – Tempo come I (Festival at Baghdad; The Sea; The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock; Conclusion)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) was a Russian composer who is best known internationally nowadays for three orchestral works: Capriccio espagnol, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, and Scheherazade. All written between 1887 and 1888, they exemplify an artistic direction taken during the late 19th century that was reacting against the influence of Western European composers on Russian music. In 1860, Rimsky-Korsakov joined a circle of predominantly amateur composers (he himself had a parallel career as a naval officer) called the Moguchaia kucha (The Mighty Handful), who sought to create a distinctly “Russian” music. They emphasized incorporating Russian folk idioms, including traditional melodies, harmonies, and folk-art topics, as well as aspects of Orientalism into their works. They also took up the concept of program music—compositions based on extramusical topics and narratives—over the formalist approach using Austro-German structures and techniques.

Scheherazade from 1888 is a symphonic suite based on several stories that Rimsky-Korsakov selected and adapted from The Arabian Nights, a collection of tales “from the East” that had been translated and published by Antoine Galland in the early 18th century. Though he used them as inspiration to compose the suite, Rimsky-Korsakov initially gave the movements abstract titles; only later did he define them explicitly, at the advice of others, but they remain unpublished in the score. As he explained:

My aversion for seeking too definite a program in my composition led me subsequently (in the new edition) to do away with even those hints of it which had lain in the headings of each movement, like The Sea; Sindbad’s Ship; the Kalendar’s Narrative; and so forth. In composing Scheherazada I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had travelled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each.

Rimsky-Korsakov further noted that one should “carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders.” For the orchestra, Scheherazade is a splendid showcase for its musicians, many of whom are given lavish solos to bring this fantastical realm to musical life.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade uses eastern methods of form and structure, as musicologist Nasser Al-Taee has pointed out, “where cyclicism, repetition, and symbolism play an important role in establishing various layers of the story.” The outer layer is that of the drama of Scheherazade and her husband, Sultan Shahriyar. As the story goes, since discovering that his first wife was unfaithful to him, Shahriyar took up the gruesome practice of sleeping with virgins and then murdering them the next morning, thinking it will protect him from further infidelity. Hoping to break him of his ghastly habit and prolong her own life, his new wife Scheherazade seeks to placate him with her talent for artful narration, through regaling and seducing him with tales. By way of introduction, at the opening of the piece, you’ll hear two contrasting themes that represent the characters of Sultan Shahriyar and Scheherazade, respectively: firstly, a stern theme forcefully intoned in unison by clarinets, bassoons, trombones, and tuba; then, a delicate, improvisatory passage for solo violin, accompanied by the harp. Listen for how these themes return throughout the piece, as Scheherazade responds to her demanding husband with various stories, which form the inner layer of this work.

After the introduction, Scheherazade, using the Sultan’s theme, begins to tell the tale of Sindbad, a sailor who embarks on a series of adventures. Overtop arpeggios that evoke the swelling of the sea’s waves, the theme undergoes many variations, as if each one is the telling of another one of Sindbad’s escapades. Partway through, Scheherazade disrupts the story’s progress with a filigree variation of her melody that then triggers a magnificent blossoming of orchestral sonority and volume. After it peaks, the mood becomes tranquil, and solo cello muses on fragments of the Sultan’s theme, now more questioning and curious than with the threat of force. Scheherazade answers with her filigree melody, generating a build to another mighty climax. Suddenly, it becomes tranquil again, and the Sultan’s theme, now seemingly soothed, is passed from flute to clarinet to strings, after which the movement ends quietly. 

Scheherazade next introduces the tale of a prince, who, to seek out wisdom, disguises himself as a wandering Kalendar dervish, as portrayed by a plaintive tune for solo bassoon over a double-bass drone. Oboe, strings, and woodwinds take up the melody in turn, each time with a gradual increase in tempo in the characteristic style of the Sufis’ whirling dance. The dance winds down…then, an outburst from the depths; fierce fanfares, a variant of the Sultan’s theme, sound in the brass, while the strings shudder as if terrified. A solo clarinet cadenza interrupts the whirling dance melody, but the Sultanic fanfares resume, and the music becomes a strange, comic march. After solo bassoon takes up the clarinet’s cadenza, the tune becomes a vigorous dance in the strings. Later, harp glissandos instigate an abrupt change of atmosphere to an otherworldly one, with solo flute, horn, violin, and muted horn playing wistful fragments of the dance tune. A final reminiscence from solo cello activates an orchestral crescendo that accelerates to the finish.

The third movement evokes the love story of the young prince and the princess. Violins first sing a heartfelt melody, perhaps the princess expressing tender feelings towards her lover, to which the prince responds with mutual affection (the song repeated by the cellos). In between, rhapsodic flights for clarinet, and later, flute, add sensuous “Oriental” flair to lush orchestral sonorities. In the central section, the melody becomes a charming dance, tinged with the musical timbres of “the East”—the glinting and shimmering sounds of triangle, tambourine, and cymbals. After the violins return with the main melody, now richly embellished, Scheherazade herself enters the story, with solo violin playing her theme. It’s then combined with the love theme of the movement, becoming ever more voluptuous—perhaps she is reminding the Sultan of when they first fell in love—before closing with contented warmth.

Shahriyar’s motto returns, now fierce and fast, at the beginning of the finale, shocking us out of the earlier reverie. Scheherazade tries to soothe him, calmly at first, but after a second extended outburst of fury, her theme is restated more forcefully, given weight by triple-stopped chords. An energetic episode ensues, with flutes introducing a mesmerizing tune that builds in volume as violins join in, then the woodwinds, and finally evolving to rapid-fire fanfares in the brass. Soon, elements from the other movements/stories are thrown into the mix—the theme of the Kalendar prince, the lilting dance of the young prince and the princess (a fragment of which turns into brass calls), and motives associated with Sindbad (a rhythmic variation of the Sultan’s theme). Eventually, the chaotic merriment of the Baghdad Festival culminates in a resplendent return of the theme from The Sea intoned by trombones and tuba, and the climactic crashing of Sindbad’s ship. The drama subsides and Scheherazade concludes the story. At last, Shahriyar is mollified, with his theme appearing very softly in the cellos and double basses, after which Scheherazade’s violin, climbing to ethereal heights, draws the suite to a serene conclusion.

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD

Artists

  • dscf9130-curtis-perry-2-cropped
    Conductor Alexander Shelley
  • pouliot-main-2022claurenhurt-02-cropped
    Violin Blake Pouliot
  • gity-razaz-by-ronald-andrew-schvartzman-e1646935336421-750x512-cropped
    Composer Gity Razaz
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra
  • Stage Manager Tobi Hunt McCoy

Credits

NAC Orchestra

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Marjolaine Lambert
Emily Westell
Manuela Milani
Zhengdong Liang
*Jeffrey Dyrda
*Martine Dubé
*Oleg Chelpanov
*Erica Miller
*Allene Chomyn
*Renée London

Second Violins
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Emily Kruspe
Frédéric Moisan
Carissa Klopoushak
Winston Webber
Leah Roseman
Mark Friedman
Edvard Skerjanc
**Karoly Sziladi
*Jessy Kim
*Elspeth Durward
*Heather Schnarr

Violas
Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Tovin Allers
David Thies-Thompson
Paul Casey
*Mary-Kathryn Stevens
*Judith Davenport
*Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh
Ryan Vis

Cellos
Rachel Mercer (principal)
**Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Marc-André Riberdy
Leah Wyber
Timothy McCoy
*Karen Kang
*Desiree Abbey
*Rebecca Morton
*Sonya Matoussova
Vinci Chen

Double Basses
Max Cardilli (assistant principal)
Vincent Gendron
Marjolaine Fournier
*Paul Mach
*Ian Whitman
*Talia Hatcher

Flutes
Joanna G’froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin
*Christian Paquette

Oboes
Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen
*Marat Mulyukov

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Clarinets
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
*Shauna Barker

Bassoons
Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau
*Nicolas Richard

Horns
*Rebekah Daley (guest principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Lawrence Vine
Lauren Anker
Louis-Pierre Bergeron
*Micajah Sturgess

Trumpets
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
*Stéphane Beaulac
*Taz Eddy

Trombones
*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Colin Traquair

Bass Trombone
Zachary Bond

Tuba
Chris Lee (principal)

Timpani
*Andrei Malashenko (guest principal)

Percussion
Jonathan Wade
*Andrew Johnson
*Kris Maddigan
*Robert Slapcoff
*Tim Francom

Harp
*Angela Schwarzkopf

Piano
*Olga Gross

Principal Librarian
Nancy Elbeck

Assistant Librarian
Corey Rempel

Personnel Manager
Meiko Lydall

Orchestra Personnel Coordinator
Laurie Shannon

*Additional musicians
Apprentices of the NAC-uOttawa Institute for Orchestral Studies
**On leave