January 20-21, 2018

 

Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin
        
Korngold, Violin Concerto
         
Beethoven, Symphony No. 2

 

Elissa Lee Koljonen, Violin

Recognized as one of the most celebrated violinists of her generation, Elissa Koljonen initially received international acclaim when she became the first recipient of the prestigious Henryk Szeryng Foundation Award and Silver Medalist of the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition. Her engagements have taken her to some of the world’s most important venues, among them the Vienna Musikverein, Salzburg Mozarteum, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, London’s Barbican Centre, Seoul Arts Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.


Dan Tucker, of the Chicago Tribune, has written, “She displayed boundless technique and musicianship.” As a recitalist, Ms. Koljonen has performed in London, Amsterdam, Salzburg, Seoul, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. Ms. Koljonen is a protégé of the great Aaron Rosand at the Curtis Institute of Music. 

 

Le Tombeau de Couperin
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
In 1914 Maurice Ravel began to develop ideas for a solo piano suite that would be an homage to French composers and their music of the Baroque period (1685-1750). Ravel had a particular interest in a significant composer and keyboardist of the period, François Couperin (1668-1733). Ravel, as well as other French composers of that time, was looking for alternatives to German-influenced musical concepts, which, understandably, were out of favor in 1914 in France, and his interest in the Baroque was an outgrowth of that search. His goal was to recreate the sound and forms of music from Couperin’s time, though the melodies in this suite are Ravel’s. He eventually completed his suite of six movements for piano in 1917.

 

There is a tradition among some artists in France that, rather then expressing one’s emotions openly when a loss has occurred, composing a monument in music or poetry is preferable and more tasteful. With this suite, Ravel commemorated the deaths of six friends killed in World War I.  
 

In 1919, when the Swedish Ballet requested an orchestral version for a dance production, he selected four movements from the suite for orchestration. This resulted in a work that enhanced Ravel’s excellence in composition; one of the most inventive and creative orchestrators in the annals of music, Ravel also produced a superb example of how to effectively orchestrate a piece originally for piano.  It is stunning in its transformation from the keyboard to a world of brilliant orchestral color.
I. Prélude: Vif. Swirling triplets in woodwinds and strings recalls an early 18th- century keyboard allegro.
II. Forlane: Allegretto. The lilting 6/8 meter in this movement shows its relationship to the Baroque jig.
III. Menuet: Allegro moderato. This movement represents Ravel’s gentle interpretation of a familiar dance.
IV. Rigaudon: Assez vif.  A recollection of a lively 17th-century dance brings a suitably bright conclusion.
 
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a child prodigy. As a teenager, he received praise from such notables as Bruno Walter, Mahler, Puccini, Strauss, and Artur Schnabel, to mention a few. He experienced even greater recognition in his twenties, culminating with his opera, Die tote Stadt, performed throughout Europe and then at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1934, he was invited to Hollywood to compose film scores for Warner Brothers, and he was so successful that he moved there permanently in 1938. In 1945, after winning two Oscars (Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood) and two nominations, he decided to return to composing concert music. This resulted in his Violin Concerto, the Symphonic Serenade, and a symphony.

 

The Violin Concerto was composed in 1945 at the urging of Polish virtuoso violinist Bronislaw Huberman. The first performance was in 1947, with Jascha Heifetz as soloist with the St. Louis Symphony. The work is scored for two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contra bassoon, four horns, two trumpets, trombone, kettledrums, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, cymbals, chimes, tam-tam, bass drum, harp, celesta and strings.
 

Korngold’s compositions are cast in late Romantic style with highly communicative melodic and harmonic elements.  The Violin Concerto holds an important place in the repertoire; this is an example of the superb quality of his concert and film work, which is held in the highest regard. This piece abounds in eloquent, beautiful themes, mostly from film scores—exciting virtuosity and a rich, sonorous orchestral role. For film buffs with long musical memories, the two themes in the first movement sonata form are from Another Dawn and Juarez; the slow second movement principal theme is from Anthony Adverse; and the second theme in the final movement rondo is from The Prince and the Pauper.      
 

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)            

Beethoven completed the Symphony No. 2 in October 1802. He had spent the summer in the country village of Heiligenstadt on a doctor’s advice, away from Vienna, seeking a quiet that might give relief to the incessant, increasing roaring in his ears. By October it was apparent to him that there would be no relief, and that he was, incredibly, faced with the total loss of hearing. This tragic situation, occurring at the time of the composition of his Symphony No. 2, is paradoxical, for the work has been described as exhuberant, witty, graceful, with sunny and playful energy—surprising qualities under the circumstances. Some attribute Beethoven’s approach to the piece as proof of his strong will and determination “to seize fate by the throat.”
 

The four movements, although based on the structure and instrumentation of Haydn’s final twelve symphonies, reveal the unmistakable stamp of Beethoven’s creativity and his departure from the deference and gentility of the previous period. The first movement begins with a slow introduction of considerable length, so often found in late Haydn symphonies, but the surprising exaggerations in dynamics and harmony that follow in the brisk themes are pure Beethoven.  Sir Donald Tovey best sums up the lovely second movement with his statement, “To many . . . this movement has brought about the first awakening to a sense of beauty in music.” The third and fourth movements are characterized by continuing surprises, very sudden, which spring forth from the fast, sometimes fiery themes and rhythm.  With this symphony, Beethoven heroically shakes a fist at his sad fate.   
– Richard Wolter



 

 

 

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