FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

A CONCERT OF ACADEMIC CELEBRATION

September 27, 2019

McAllen Performing Arts Center

PROGRAM NOTES

Gioachino Rossini

Born February 29, 1792, Pesaro: Died November 13, 1868, Passy

Overture to The Barber of Seville 

 

Rossini traveled to Naples for the Carnival season of 1816, where he was commissioned to write new operas for both the Teatro Valle and the Teatro Valle’s rival, the Teatro Argentina. The opera for the Teatro Argentina came later in the season, so the choice of libretto was left to the discretion of the management while Rossini was occupied with his production at the Teatro Valle. They chose a libretto derived from Beaumarchais’s play The Barber of Seville that detailed the many humorous exploits of the comedic barber Figaro.The Barber of Seville was a popular play, and Rossini was not the first composer to write an opera based on its story. Giovanni Paisiello’s version from 1782 was still performed regularly, so Rossini called his opera by a different title for a few months until after Paisiello’s death in the summer of 1816.

Rossini had few musical luxuries at the Teatro Argentina, causing numerous problems at the premiere of The Baber of Seville on February 20, 1816. Many singers and musicians were of mediocre quality and rehearsal time was woefully short, meaning that everyone was grossly underprepared for opening night. One singer fell through an open trapdoor, and a stray cat kept sneaking onto the stage, defying every attempt to evict him from the theater. Booing and hissing from the audience was rampant, coming primarily from hecklers paid by a rival theater to make noise during the performance (a common tactic in those days) and from loyal fans of Paisiello who were angry that Rossini would dare to write an opera on the same topic as their musical hero. Once the fervor died down, later performances were more successful and the opera progressively grew in popularity until becoming the beloved standard of the opera repertoire it is today.

Rossini composed overtures whenever he had a break between operas and would grab one from his stash if he needed it, meaning that the musical content of the overture often had no relation to the music of the opera. The overture to The Barber of Seville was recycled from the opera Aureliano in Palmira from1813, but the bubbling wit and effervescent charm of the music are still perfectly suited to the comedic spirit of The Barber of Seville.

 

 

Dmitri Shostakovich

Born September 12 or 25, 1906, St. Petersburg: Died August 9, 1975, Moscow

Concerto No.2 in F Major for piano and orchestra, Opus 102

 

The death of Stalin in early 1953 brought an end to the severe oppression of artists in the Soviet Union. They enjoyed freedoms of thought and expression that they had not experienced in many years, and Shostakovich, one of the composers treated most cruelly by Stalin’s regime, was able to compose with relative freedom. In 1957, Shostakovich announced plans to write a new symphony celebrating the Russian Revolution of 1905 that would make use of revolutionary songs to bolster the spirits of the Russian people. The symphony progressed slowly, partially because Shostakovich took frequent breaks to work on other pieces such as the Second Piano Concerto. 

The Second Piano Concerto was composed for Shostakovich’s musically talented son Maxim as a gift for his nineteenth birthday as well as to celebrate his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory, both of which happened to fall on the same day, May 10, 1957. It was first performed at the commencement concert and held instant appeal for audience members because of its carefree mood and youthful spirit. Though many of Shostakovich's works contained subtle political messages, the Second Piano Concerto is completely free of hidden political agendas and celebrates the youthful vitality of Shostakovich’s son. The work is joyful, with witty tongue-in-cheek gestures that poke fun at the piano etudes and exercises Maxim would have been required to practice as a student. The first movement is a jolly romp that suggests the scales, octaves, and arpeggios that Maxim would have practiced for his weekly lessons. The sublimely lyrical second movement is like a nostalgic song and exemplifies Shostakovich at his most expressive and tender. The third movement races through an excited opening to the biggest joke of the piece, an extended virtuoso passage mimicking the famous Hanon finger exercises that every pianist is forced to play in their formative years. The premiere of the Second Piano Concerto marked Maxim’s first concert appearance as a piano soloist with a live orchestra. Today, Maxim is recognized as one of the most important interpreters, performers, and conductors of his father's works and has championed many of his father's lesser-known pieces to wide acclaim.

 

Edward Elgar

June 2, 1857, Broadheath: February 23, 1934, Worcester

Pomp and Circumstance March in D major, Opus 39, No. 1

 

England at the end of the Victorian era had proven itself to be a formidable military power, fueling a sense of romanticism for war that prompted many composers to write pieces glorifying military pageantry. Edward Elgar was no exception to these feelings of nationalist pride, saying that he was “appalled at the lack of interesting and spirited march music” and that he planned to write a set of six pieces that would be “in every way adapted for marching purposes, while not sacrificing any of the qualities required for performance in the concert room.” He wrote two marches in 1901 and was especially delighted with March No.1, describing its now-famous melody as a “once in a lifetime tune.” Dora Penny–a close friend of the Elgar family and the model for the Dorabella movement of the Enigma Variations–visited the Elgars in May of 1901 and reported that the composer called her into his music studio while boasting merrily, “I’ve got a tune that will knock’em – knock’em flat!” He proceeded to play the March No. 1 for her. 

Both the First and Second Marches had their premieres on October 19, 1901, with the Liverpool Orchestra Society conducted by Alfred Edward Rodewald. Elgar attended the performance and was elated that the pieces were a hit with the audience. March No. 1 was heard at the London Promenade Concerts just two days later and resulted in a stunning triumph. Conductor Henry Wood recalled at the end of the march that “the people simply rose and yelled. I had to play it again – with the same result. In fact, they refused to let me get on with the programme…Merely to restore order I played the march a third time.” 

The tradition of playing the Trio section of March No. 1 for American graduation ceremonies was born on June 28, 1905, at Yale University. Yale music professor Samuel Stanford had arranged for Elgar to receive an honorary doctorate degree at the regular year-end commencement ceremony, during which the orchestra played excerpts from his oratorio The Light of Lifeand used the Trio from March No. 1 to accompany the graduates and officials as they marched out after the ceremony was complete. The stately mood of the piece proved ideal for formal commencement events, and schools around the country soon adopted the piece for the graduation ceremony we know so well today.

 

 

Franz Liszt

Born October 22, 1811, Raiding: Died July 31, 1886, Bayreuth

Les Préludes d’après Lamartine, S.97

 

Les Préludes premiered in February of 1854 in Weimar with Liszt conducting the Weimar Court Orchestra. It is the third of the composer’s thirteen symphonic poems. The title of the piece, and its philosophical intent, was based loosely on an ode written by the influential poet Alphonse de Lamartine and published in his Nouvelles méditations poétiques of 1823. Liszt created the piece by combining movements from his abandoned cantata The Four Elements to make a musically unified whole comprising an uninterrupted sequence of musical sections portraying a question, love, a storm, a pastoral scene, and a victorious battle.The various sections of Les Préludes are united by a single theme that represents the power of fate and mankind’s ability to go beyond the inevitable through art. Throughout the work, Liszt transforms the theme continually to convey many subtle shades of expression. The music may be impassioned, foreboding, loving, heroic, or one of many other moods, but always demonstrates Liszt’s belief that mankind’s inescapable path toward death can be transcended by the power of music. 

The composer provided the following written program when the piece was published in 1856: "What else is life but a series of Préludes to that unknown hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death? Love is the enchanted dawn of all existence; but what fate is there whose first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, whose fine illusions are not dissipated by some mortal blast, consuming its altar as though by a stroke of lightning? And what cruelly wounded soul, issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavor to solace its memories in the calm serenity of rural life? Nevertheless, man does not resign himself for long to the enjoyment of that beneficent warmth which he first enjoyed in Nature's bosom, and when the 'trumpet sounds the alarm' he takes up his perilous post, no matter what struggle calls him to its ranks, that he may recover in combat the full consciousness of himself and the entire possession of his powers." 

 

  • Program notes by Heike Hoffer

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