November 18-19, 2017


Sibelius, Finlandia

Lajtha, Sinfonietta No. 2   

Dvořák, Cello Concerto

Nicholas Canellakis, Cello

Hailed by the The New Yorker as a “superb young soloist,” Nicholas Canellakis has become one of the most sought-after and innovative cellists of his generation, captivating audiences throughout the United States and abroad. The New York Times praised his playing as “impassioned” and “soulful,” with “the audience seduced by Mr. Canellakis’s rich, alluring tone.”

Mr. Canellakis is an artist of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, with which he performs regularly in Alice Tully Hall and on tour. A winner of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two international auditions, Mr. Canellakis has also been selected to be in residence at Carnegie Hall as a member of Ensemble ACJW, with which he has performed in Weill and Zankel Halls while working for the enhancement of music education throughout New York City.

Program Notes

Finlandia, Op. 26
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Jean Sibelius is revered as Finland’s eminent composer. That reputation developed as a result of a strong nationalistic musical style and the acknowledgment of his impact on symphonic composition.  His most well-known piece, the tone poem Finlandia, was composed in 1899.  In Finland, this was a time of growing struggle for independence from Russian dominance, and Finlandia became a musical symbol of patriotism. 

Sibelius did not use folk material in his themes, even though many of them seem to have evolved from heroic, ancient Finnish epics such as the Kalevala.  He wrote that the melodies in Finlandia came to him from “pure inspiration.”  Those melodies, coupled with their settings in inspirational passages played by brilliant brass, flashing tympani, and warm strings and woodwinds, evoke images of the craggy, forested icy homeland and the devotion of its people. The piece served as a rallying cry for Finnish independence, and it also raised worldwide awareness about the country and its struggles. 

Sibelius’s style of composing is that of the late Romantic, and it remained so to the end of his composing days, in 1929. In setting Finlandia as a tone poem, which is an orchestral work in one movement characterized by descriptive, programmatic music, the Romantic Sibelius found the perfect form for his call to patriotic Finns.

Finlandia begins with a slow introductory section that establishes passages for the brass section as a major element in the work. Percussion, cymbals and triangle come to the fore in the ensuing brisk march that follows. The work’s middle section offers a contrasting slow tempo infused with the welcome warmth of strings and woodwinds, and this leads to the return of the march and an awe-inspiring conclusion.  

Sinfonietta No. 2 for String Orchestra, Op. 62
László Lajtha (1892-1956)

At age 18, Hungarian composer, folk music expert and writer László Lajtha, raised in a musical family, enrolled in the Budapest Academy of Music to study music, and also the Budapest University to study law. He soon joined with Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály to travel throughout their country, Hungary, to collect and study folk songs. The three composers each became widely recognized as experts in folk musicology. However, as composers, both Bartók and Kodály rose to become known internationally, and their works, such as Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Háry János Suite, from his opera, are performed in concerts worldwide today. Lajtha’s compositions were, and are, certainly well known and appreciated in Hungary, but did not reach the same recognition beyond the country’s borders.  He did compose nine symphonies, an opera, a cello concerto, ten string quartets, three ballets and another Sinfonietta, No. 1.

A true polymath, Lajtha had an incredible variety of interests and notable intelligence. He was deeply influenced by early composers such as Palestrina and Monteverdi, and then Bach, Handel, Mozart and Haydn. He had a great respect for Bartók, an early influence, followed by Debussy, a result of much time spent in Paris.

Predominant characteristics heard in his music include long melodic lines, rhythmic variety, tonal harmony and rich orchestral color, all contributing to the appealing quality in this work.

The Sinfonietta No. 2 has three movements, fast, slow and fast, titled Très vif: Lent et calme and Prestissimo.    

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, B Minor, Op. 104
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)            

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák completed almost all of the B-minor Cello Concerto in 1894 while living on East 17th Street in Manhattan. The great Bohemian was on a three-year leave (1892-1895) from his post at the Prague Conservatory, living in New York and leading the National Conservatory. During this period, he also enjoyed a summer vacation in 1893 at the Czech settlement in Spillville, Iowa. In all, this was a very productive time for him, resulting in the Symphony No. 9, “New World” (1893), as well as significant chamber works.  Dvořák conducted the premiere performance of his Cello Concerto with soloist Leo Stern in London on March 19, 1896, at the Royal Philharmonic Society.  

Two men inspired Dvořák to compose the cello concerto. The first, friend and fellow chamber musician Hans Wihan, had made several requests for a piece.  The composer was wary of the cello’s high register, which he felt was thin and nasal. He was finally convinced to proceed after hearing Victor Herbert perform his own Cello Concerto No. 2 with the New York Philharmonic in 1894. This remarkable man, whom we know as composer of the operettas Naughty Marietta and Babes in Toyland, was a virtuoso cello soloist and also the principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Dvořák realized he was mistaken about the cello after hearing Herbert’s elegant and beautiful performance of his warm, melodious music.   

The B Minor Concerto, Dvořák’s final major orchestral work, is set in the usual three movements, all of which are overflowing with many of his masterful, gifted melodies. This composer, beginning in early childhood, was taken by the ubiquitous musicality and expression he experienced in his Bohemian homeland, a place he dearly loved. Professional and amateur musicians were practically in every home. The saying went, “No Czech ever asked another Czech where he or she learned to fiddle: didn’t they all have fathers?” The result was a composer who ranks with Franz Schubert’s lyricism, and has given us a wealth of the most pure, remarkably touching, emotional music in existence. The composer himself wrote to a friend that when hearing the first movement’s second theme, his whole being was moved.   

The first movement features a complete exposition of its two themes by orchestra, with the soloist waiting patiently.  The first somber B minor theme, heard first in low clarinets, eventually grows to a grand tutti passage. A quiet and masterful transition ushers in the yearning D major second theme, scored for solo French horn with a soft orchestral accompaniment, in a stroke of absolute genius. Finally, the solo cello appears with a commanding entrance, proceeding with its own treatment of the melodies. A short development section deals with the primary melody, and this is followed by a recapitulation that reverses the two themes.  We now hear that exquisite second theme recalled, but in a different, fortissimo setting. Noble fanfares bring the movement to a fitting end.    

Two more sublime melodies are presented in the Adagio. The first, played by woodwinds, then solo cello, offers complete tranquility and repose. A surprisingly forceful orchestral passage leads to the second, played by the soloist, with increased intensity. It is based on a song Dvořák composed for Josephina Cermáková, with whom he had fallen deeply in love some thirty years earlier. It became her favorite, but his love was unrequited, and Dvořák eventually married her sister (similar to Mozart’s experience with Aloysia Weber and her sister Constanze Weber).     

The final movement is a rather bright rondo, reflecting Dvořák’s happy anticipation of returning to his beloved homeland. The concluding coda, however, was added in a revision made shortly after his return, where he heard the devastating news of Josephina’s death. The original victorious ending was replaced with poignant quotes from the first and second movements, including Josephina’s song. A searingly intense crescendo leads to a stormy ending.
                                                                                                                                         – Richard Wolter

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