April 14-15, 2018

 

Berlioz, Les Franc-Juges Overture
        
Hoffer, Violin Concerto
        
Beethoven, Romance  No. 2

Rachmaninoff, Symphonic Dances

 

Elmar Oliveira, Violin

Violinist Elmar Oliveira, whose remarkable combination of impeccable artistry and old-world elegance sets him apart as one of our most celebrated living artists, remains the first and only American violinist to win the Gold Medal at Moscow’s prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition. He is also the first violinist to receive the coveted Avery Fisher Prize as well as First Prize at the Naumburg International Competition.

Mr. Oliveira performs with major orchestras and at concert venues throughout the world. His diverse recorded repertoire of concert favorites, along with a number of contemporary pieces, spans several labels. Worth noting is the recent release on the Artek label of Bernard Hoffer’s Violin Concerto, which Mr. Oliveira has chosen to perform on this program.

 

PROGRAM NOTES

Overture to Les Franc-Juges (The Secret Court), Op. 3
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Writing in his autobiography Mémoires (1870), Hector Berlioz said, “The prevailing characteristics of my music are passionate expression, intense ardour, rhythmical animation, and unexpected turns.” He was a composer who was greatly concerned with dramatic, expressive elements of music. Opera was a major concern in his forty years of composing, but strangely, he completed only four operas in all that time. This overture was intended for an opera that was never completed.

His music, containing all the aforementioned qualities, is a good example of why Berlioz was, and is even now, regarded as one of the greatest Romantic composers of programmatic music coupled with brilliant, imaginative orchestration. His influence on two programmatic geniuses following him, Liszt and Wagner, was immeasurable, especially in the areas of instrumental sonorities and textures, increased numbers and varieties of instruments in the orchestra, and the use of their unique tonal qualities to portray specific occurrences and personalities. Of course, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830) immediately comes to mind.The piece begins with a slow introduction which is followed by a faster tempo with music reflecting the tyranny and intrigue of a medieval court.

Violin Concerto
Bernard Hoffer(1934 -)

Swiss-born composer Bernard Hoffer’s compositions include a wide variety of works. His violin concerto, written for violinist Elmar Oliveira, has recently been released on a recording by Artek, which includes concertos for violin, piano and English horn. His title music for the original MacNeil/Lehrer Nightly News on PBS was heard for some years. The opening measures can still be heard on the present-day PBS News Hour. He has also explored a totally different area, scoring music for popular cartoon series, such as “Thunder Cats.”

Hoffer’s Violin Concerto consists of three movements. The first, Dialogue, is a powerful, dramatic statement emphasized by a recurring motif consisting of short groupings of staccato notes set in various contrasting instrumental colors. Further along, the soloist has virtuosic opportunities with a cadenza-like section, shared with the motif. The second movement, Aria, begins with a unique pairing of violin accompanied by harp in a beautiful legato section. Solo oboe assumes the harpist’s role, followed by woodwinds, then strings playing trémolo, adding drama and a platform for a sudden return of the often heard, unifying motif. Solo violin and harp then return to their quiet, lovely roles. The final movement, Finale: Rondo-Scherzo, is full of action with dramatic punctuation and colorful orchestration. New melodic material is heard, with technical display and a repeated underlying figure that bring the concerto to an exciting close.

Romance No. 2 “Adagio cantabile” in F major, Op. 50
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)        

Beethoven composed two Romances for violin and orchestra. They are listed by musicologists in the following probable order: F major no. 2, c. 1798, and the G major no.1, c. 1800. The composer was active as a violist at the time, and he performed for four years in the court orchestra of his patron, Count Waldstein, before moving on to Vienna in 1792. Interestingly, his towering Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 61 was not completed and performed until 1806.  

The Oxford Dictionary of Music describes a Romance as a piece that implies a specially personal or tender quality. It is a work consisting of one movement of quiet, beautiful music.

Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Sergei Rachmaninoff started intensive musical training in Moscow at age 12 when he was taken into Nikolai Zverev’s exclusive, demanding piano class, where the day consisted of 16 hours of piano lessons, practice and academics. Two years later, he was enrolled in the Moscow Conservatory and, equipped with a brilliant mind, huge talent and absolute pitch, graduated with prizes and honors, focusing on piano, composition and conducting. Soon he composed his Symphony No. 1, an occasion that nearly ruined his future as a composer. A combination of problems in the composition of the piece and inept rehearsals and performance by the allegedly inebriated conductor, Glazunov, resulted in a disastrous reception
by musicians and critics. A severe depression settled upon him, and it took three years and psychiatric sessions with hypnosis before he was able to resume composing, although he did conduct and perform with great success during this time. Once again on track, he gained recognition in the three areas: concertizing, conducting and composing.

In 1917, Rachmaninoff realized that he could not exist in Russia’s post-revolution society, and he left Russia, never to return. He and his family eventually took up residence in the United States in 1918, where, except for a few years in Europe, they remained. He died of cancer in 1943 in Beverly Hills. As a piano virtuoso, Rachmaninoff practically stood alone at the very pinnacle of pianism in the first half of the 20th century. His astonishing technique made him one of the few capable of playing his piano compositions. As a conductor, he was well enough regarded to be offered conductorships of the Boston and Cincinnati orchestras when word spread that he had left Russia. He declined both in order to compose and perform. His compositions, such as the Symphony No. 2, the three piano concertos, and numerous piano pieces, have gained permanent places in the classical music repertoire.

The Symphonic Dances, a three-movement orchestral work completed in 1940, was his final symphonic composition. Some elements of the piece, dating as far back as 1915, were originally intended as the basis for a ballet, a project that was never realized. Rachmaninoff dedicated his newly conceived Symphonic Dances to his “favorite,” the Philadelphia Orchestra, which had it premiered with Eugene Ormandy conducting in January, 1941. The piece contains all his well-known characteristics: rich, traditional harmony and melody; imaginative orchestration; powerful climactic points; broad, sweeping gestures; and use of the minor mode for a dark, melancholy sound. In an interview, he would not discuss the piece, saying, “A composer always has his own ideas of his works, but I do not believe he should ever reveal them. Each listener should find his own meaning in music.”

The first movement opens with a vigorous, assertive melody in woodwinds built on a descending minor triad —important to note, for it is heard in varying settings throughout the movement—accompanied by a strong repeating figure in strings. A beautifully contrasted middle section features solo alto saxophone playing a lovely, plaintive minor-mode song. After a return to the strong opening theme, strings play a stately, moving melody, followed by an engaging, delicate ending. The second movement features a waltz punctuated with pungent muted brass chords. Solo violin and oboe appear in the middle section among various treatments, and a return of the opening music with a faster segment rounds out the charming movement.

A dramatic, slow introduction leads to the brisk Allegro vivace, where bright splashes of orchestral color and excitement abound. Sighing, resigned descending pairs of notes lead to the slow section and a full, lush melody accompanied by an exquisite swirling figure in flutes and harps. Brightness returns with all sections participating in virtuosic playing in a gradual crescendo to a brass statement of incredible power. Quotes from the old plainsong Dies irae and full orchestral strength end the dances.
                                                                          – Richard Wolter

 

 

 

 

Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m.

Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center
Pre-Concert Lectures with Assistant Conductor Joshua Bavaro Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.