Program Notes for January 27, 2017
PROGRAM NOTES: 27 January 2017
Overture to La Clemenza di Tito
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, has suffered by comparison with the other great and enduring operas he wrote at the end of his life in 1786-91: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and The Magic Flute. Clemenza was judged harshly by his contemporaries and has been seldom performed until recently, when it was revived to much acclaim by the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2012. Mozart wrote it on commission that required him to produce an opera seria, an 18th century form requiring “emotional upheavals, tragic conflicts, scenes of triumph and disaster, insanity, murders, and suicides” throughout.1 The plot concerns the Roman Emperor Titus (Tito); his chosen bride, Vitelllia; and his close friend, Sesto. Vitellia and Sesto are caught up in an unsuccessful assassination plot against Tito, who eventually forgives both of them out of the goodness of his heart. (Clemenza = mercy, clemency.) In contrast to Mozart’s most popular operas, the story line is contrived, awkward, convoluted, and generally “over the top.” However, the music is nonetheless Mozartean, as we hear especially in the overture, which sparkles with energy and wit.
1Webster’s New World Dictionary of Music, 1998.
Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C Major, Opus 56
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Beethoven worked on the Triple Concerto (so-called because of having three solo instruments) during 1803-1804. It was not published, however, until 1807. The first drafts appear on the last pages of the “Eroica” sketchbook and are continued in the large “Eroica” sketchbook. The concerto is dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, but Beethoven’s later “right-hand man,” Anton Felix Schindler, claimed that this “Concertino,” as he called it, was intended for the Archduke Rudolph, the violinist Karl August Suiler, and the cellist Anton Kraft. Schindler also tells us that the first performance of the concerto took place in May 1808 in the Augarten (a Viennese public park). The audience's reception was frosty; again, according to Schindler, the unnamed artists who performed it (and thus indirectly also Beethoven) “earned no applause at all, for they had taken the affair too lightly.” Schindler goes on: “[T]he concerto remained undisturbed until 1830.”
When, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Hugo Riemann revised the third edition of Thayer’s five-volume biography of Beethoven, he identified the Triple Concerto as a descendant of the sinfonia concertante, widely cultivated between 1770 and 1790, in which one or more instruments from the orchestra are treated in solo fashion. Even without considering the fact that the piano was never thrust into the foreground at that time, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto seems to find a more natural home among the new concertante literature in Chamber music style of the early nineteenth century, where in addition to the principal instrument––in our case the piano––the other instruments are all given rewarding solos to perform.
(Dr. Haag served at El Camino College for 40 years as a professor of music, Dean of Community Services, impresario of Marsee Auditorium, and Foundation Executive Director. After his retirement, he was elected to the ECC Board of Trustees and was its President at his death. He also served on the board of the Beach Cities Symphony Association and wrote its program notes for many years. These notes were written for a Beach Cities Symphony performance on November 10, 2000.)
Symphony No. 3 in C Major, Opus 52
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Sibelius is one of the few 20th-century composers to have become a legend within his own lifetime. I recall as a child hearing Finlandia played on a Standard School Broadcast honoring the composer on his 90th birthday. As a youth himself, while displaying an affinity for music, Sibelius was hardly a prodigy. He didn't start formal piano lessons until he was nine, although it was the violin that fired his enthusiasm. He became obsessed with the idea of becoming a world-class virtuoso. His failure to do so struck a big emotional blow (although he got as far as an audition with the Vienna Philharmonic). He received a thorough training in composition, but what really set him on the road as a composer was the Berlin première of his conductor-composer friend Robert Kajanu’s Aino Symphony. The nationalistic young Finn's immediate response was to write a massive five-movement symphonic poem entitled Kullervo, composed in 1892, the year he married Aino Jarnefelt. This was swiftly followed by En Saga, the Karelia Suite, a series of four orchestral Legends (including The Swan of Tuonela), and Finlandia. Between 1899 and 1926, Sibelius composed seven symphonies which balance his Classicist roots with late Romanticism. His last major work was the orchestral tone-poem Tapiola, which points towards the possibility of a new period of creative mastery. However, after 1925, with over 30 years of his life remaining, Sibelius virtually stopped composing.
There is a famous quotation by Gustav Mahler that says, "A symphony must be like the world; it must embrace everything." Mahler came up with that creed after a conversation with Sibelius, who told Mahler what he preferred in a symphony was "a severity of form" and an inner connection among the motifs, and simply that "Music begins where the possibilities of language end." In other words, Sibelius didn't care what the music said about the world; he wanted it to make sense as music. Symphony No. 3, written about the same time as the discussion, embraces this “severity of form.” It reduces four to three movements, maintaining a rather classical orchestration. When audiences first heard it in 1907, they apparently didn't take too well to it, preferring his incidental music for Belshazzar's Feast that appeared on the same program. It is a matter of musical taste whether the listener prefers the approach of Sibelius or of Mahler to symphonies. The two vie for the title of the final titanic Romantic symphonist; the clean, sparse style of Sibelius wins my vote.
PROGRAM BIOGRAPHIES: 27 January 2017
Music Director and Conductor
Maestro Brisk has been the Music Director of the Beach Cities Symphony since the fall of 1994. Up to this point, he has conducted 86 concerts with the orchestra. That has included music from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, embracing compositions by many living composers. The living composers and various soloists who have appeared with the orchestra are Southern California residents. There are so many talented musicians here, he feels there is no need to look further afield.
Maestro Brisk is also active as a composer, recently writing pieces for small ensembles. Last March his Fantasy for 13 Flutes and 6 Flute Players was premièred by the ensemble Pipe Dream Flutes & Friends. On November 20, his Concerto for Trombone and Strings (previously performed by the BCS) will be performed by the Topanga Symphony. And on March 31, 2017, his latest composition, Percussion Quintet, will receive its first performance at Moorpark College in Thousand Oaks.
As for family, his son, Philip, is spending this academic year in Lausanne, Switzerland, on sabbatical. Philip’s wife, Marilyn, is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Neufchatel, only two hours away by train. Their son, Philip Anderson, is attending first grade in public school, in French. Maestro Brisk’s wife, Cathy, continues researching, studying, and writing about ancient Greek coins.
The college-age members of the MC2 Trio knew each other for several years before forming the group (Leonard and Erick are brothers). Their talents were brought together through the Junior Chamber Musicians program. Each an accomplished soloist, they have won top prizes at major competitions locally, nationally, and internationally. Coming together has made them a mesmerizing combination. They have already captured many prestigious prizes, including their recent first prize at the Music Teachers National Association Chamber Competition.
Isabella Ma, age 19, is a second-year student at Mannes New School for Music in New York, where she is majoring in Piano Performance. As a student of Anli Lin Tong since the age of nine, Isabella has won major awards in many competitions. At age 14, she appeared with the Beach Cities Symphony, performing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. She has also been featured as a soloist with the Bellflower Symphony Orchestra, the Brentwood-West LA Symphony Orchestra, the Palos Verdes Regional Symphony Orchestra, the Palos Verdes Peninsula High School Symphonic Orchestra, and the Young Musicians Foundation Symphony Orchestra.
Leonard Chong, age 18, made his solo debut at the age of 10 and has since performed as guest soloist with the Palos Verdes Regional Orchestra, the Bellflower Symphony Orchestra, Beach Cities Symphony Orchestra, Culver City Symphony Orchestra, Brentwood Symphony Orchestra, the Antelope Valley Orchestra, at the Montecito Summer Festival, and in the LACMA Sundays Live Radio Concert Series. He is now studying at the USC Thornton School of Music.
Erick Chong, age 20, made his solo orchestra debut at age 11 and is the recipient of many honorable and first prize music competition awards. He has played for many distinguished artists, including Nathaniel Rosen, all of whom praised him for his virtuosity, sensitive musicality, and maturity. He studied most recently with Marek Szpakiewicz at Azusa Pacific University and is currently a student at the University of Southern California.
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