Mission: to seek and share inspiration

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One City One Symphony


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Program Notes


FRI OCT 7, 8 pm • SAT OCT 8, 8 pm 

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor • TRULS MØRK cellist 

EMILY COOLEY (1990)

Abound (World Premiere)

Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 

SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)

Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64

• Allegretto
• Moderato
• Cadenza
• Allegro con moto

INTERMISSION

TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893) 

Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, Pathétique

• Adagio. Allegro non troppo
• Allegro con grazia
• Allegro molto vivace
• Finale: Adagio lamentoso


Abound (WORLD PREMIERE)

Born: January 22, 1990, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Work composed: 2017

Premiere: These performances are the work’s world premiere

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cabasa, claves, ratchet, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tom-tom, harp, strings

Duration: approx. 10 minutes

Emily Cooley earned degrees from Yale University and the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and an artist diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon; her other teachers include David Ludwig, Stephen Hartke, Donald Crockett, Andrew Norman, Kathryn Alexander and John K. Boyle. Cooley has received commissions and performances from the Louisville Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Berkeley Symphony, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, JACK Quartet, Fifth House Ensemble and Music from Copland House, and held fellowships at the Norfolk New Music Workshop, Wellesley Composers Conference and Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival; she is also is a founding member and publicity director for Kettle Corn New Music, which produces a year-round series of concerts in New York City. She has received awards and recognition from the American Composers Orchestra, Tribeca New Music, ASCAP, Renée B. Fisher Foundation, Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, LA Phil National Composers Intensive, and PARMA Recordings; in 2015, Emily Cooley was awarded a prestigious Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In a remarkable sharing of her talents and social awareness, Emily Cooley recently participated in a series of weekly workshops at Pennsylvania’s maximum-security Graterford Prison to guide inmates in creating and performing original songs about their experiences, which they performed at Philadelphia’s Painted Bride Art Center in June 2017.

Emily Cooley wrote of Abound for its premiere at these concerts, “When I think about systems of power and the harm they enact on people in our world, I often reflect (and have heard many others say) that the best way to resist is simply to go on being; to become, to blossom, in spite of whatever forces try to hold back that ownership of the self. Initially I thought the title of this piece would be ‘Yield,’ as in, ‘to harvest, to reap the benefits of growth.’ But then I remembered the other connotations of yield: ‘to relinquish, to withdraw.’ And so I eventually came to the title Abound because I like the idea of abundance, of thriving and taking up space—as a counter to those forces that are harmful and limiting. My piece begins with a murky passage in the low strings and gradually grows towards a musical representation of flourishing abundance.”

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda

 

Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 107

Born: September 25, 1906, Saint Petersburg | Died: August 9, 1975, Moscow

Work composed: Summer of 1959 for Mstislav Rostropovich

Premiere: October 4, 1959, Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist; Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad State Philharmonic Orchestra

Instrumentation: solo cello, 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (incl. contrabassoon), horn, timpani, celeste, strings

CSO notable performances: Five previous subscription weekends | Premiere: April 1982, Erich Bergel conducting, Yo-Yo Ma, cellist | Most recent: December 2015, Karina Canellakis conducting, Alisa Weilerstein, cellist | The CSO, with cellist Han-Na Chang, performed this work at Carnegie Hall and on tour in Germany in January/February 2001, Jesús López-Cobos conducting.

Duration: approx. 30 minutes

Shostakovich’s three visits to the United States took place under very different circumstances. The first, in 1949, came a year after the infamous purge in which the Stalin regime condemned the composer and five of his colleagues for adhering to “anti-Soviet practices in their music, which is marked by formalist perversions, dissonance, contempt for melody and the use of chaotic and neuropathic discords — all of which are alien to the artistic tastes of the Soviet people.” The music was dismissed as representative of decadent bourgeois culture. Shostakovich was forced to resign his professorship and to apologize publicly for his compositions. He was understandably perplexed the following year when Stalin personally telephoned him to ask him to represent Russia at the Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace in New York.

The composer had no choice but to go. He felt uncomfortable in a strange land, thrust into the limelight yet constantly watched by the Soviets. Most difficult for this intensely private man was having to play the scherzo from his Fifth Symphony on the piano before an audience of 30,000 in Madison Square Garden. Also, Shostakovich feared that Stalin intended to show him to the world as a healthy celebrity and then have him quietly murdered upon his return. He was particularly worried when his scheduled concert tour of American cities was unexpectedly cut short by an order to return to Moscow.

Shostakovich had always distrusted the West. Nothing happened during his 1949 visit to change his mind. His second visit, a decade later, took place under somewhat less tense circumstances. After Stalin’s death in 1953, an official “thaw” began, under which the music of Shostakovich and other previously condemned composers was gradually restored to official favor. When Khrushchev came to power in 1956, Stalin’s crimes were made public. In 1958 the new leader issued a Party resolution, stating that Stalin’s artistic judgements had been “subjective.” The derogatory “formalist” label was officially lifted from the Soviet composers, and their earlier music was once again performed.

Soon after the Khrushchev thaw, a group of American composers was invited to visit the Soviet Union. A few months later, Shostakovich and several other Russian musicians spent a month in the United States. Although the composer still felt uneasy in the West and still knew that every move he made was watched, he was able to visit different parts of the country and hear a lot of American music as well as several pieces of his own, including the First Cello Concerto.

The group traveled to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Louisville, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia Orchestra accompanied Mstislav Rostropovich in the American premiere of the Cello Concerto. In each city the Russians met prominent leaders of artistic, social and political groups. Sometimes the visiting composers were asked to compare musical life in the USA and U.S.S.R. Their answer struck several observers as well-rehearsed propaganda. The visitors denied that a political event, such as the end of the Stalin regime, could have any affect on what music was performed. They claimed that musical criticism, even when emanating from government officials, always serves to educate the public and help guide listeners’ tastes. They felt that composers have an obligation to correct artistic errors pointed out by critics. The Russian composers praised the high quality of performances in America. They condemned atonal and experimental music as inimical to the spirit of the people. And so it went, city after city: cautious meetings between musicians representing two very different cultures with two very different political systems. Always the Russians were willing to answer questions, and always the answers seemed to come directly from Moscow.

Reporter Walter Arlen described the visiting Shostakovich as “highly nervous, a chain smoker with darting eyes and fidgeting hands, ill at ease and seemingly anxious most of the time.” The composer certainly had reason to be anxious. He hated being in the spotlight and he hated being a political pawn, yet there he was for an entire month in a foreign country he did not understand, meeting celebrities, having his every word reported in newspapers, and knowing all along that everything he said had to be exactly what the Party wanted. His surveillance was not as tight as it had been during his previous visit, but he knew he was being observed. The performances he heard of his music, particularly the triumphantly received First Cello Concerto, must have been his only opportunity to feel like himself.

Upon returning to Russia, Shostakovich wrote an article about his trip. He praised American musicians, appreciated the warm response his music had received, and thanked Americans for their interest in the Soviet Union. He did criticize American universities for allowing composition students to write whatever they wished rather than insisting that young composers respect tradition and audience tastes: “‘Freedom of choice’ transforms into freedom to reject the serious creation society requires, to reject art with a content that would express the inner world of the human being.”

We now know, thanks in part to the posthumous publication of the composer’s controversial memoirs, that he was secretly very much in favor of artistic freedom of expression. We also know that several propagandistic articles that appeared under Shostakovich’s name were written by others and not even seen by the composer prior to publication. We can only wonder what his true impressions of the United States were in 1959.

The composer’s last visit took place in 1973. He wanted one final chance to learn more about this country, and he took the opportunity to travel to Northwestern University to accept an honorary doctorate. His health was bad and the trip was exhausting, but his family wanted him to go because they had hopes that American doctors might produce miraculous cures for ailments the Russian doctors had pronounced hopeless. After two days in a Washington hospital, the composer began his return trip; the American doctors were as pessimistic as the Russians. Two years later the composer was dead.

KEYNOTE. The First Cello Concerto is one of Shostakovich’s more serious and introspective works, although it is not lacking in the rhythmic vitality that characterizes his popular earlier music. The solo instrument opens the piece with a four-note figure that is destined to pervade the first movement. This brief motive contains intervals, rhythms and mood suggestive of the entire concerto. Throughout the first theme, which grows out of this figure, the cello arches gradually upward into its penetrating high register and then gradually back down. The second theme, with its incessant rhythms underlying a song-like line, also unfolds along a grand arch upward and then downward.

The second movement begins with smoothly lyrical material quite foreign to the world of the first movement. The cello enters with a beautifully broad melody. A second theme continues this mood of subdued lyricism for a while, but eventually the music grows to a climax. The solo horn provides the transition to the marvelous coda, an ethereal passage in which the cello plays in high, pure harmonics to the accompaniment of muted violins, celesta and low strings — a magical close to one of Shostakovich’s most personal statements.

The third movement follows without pause. It is an extended cadenza for cello alone. Shostakovich has here, as in the First Violin Concerto, elevated the cadenza from its usual position of virtuosic parenthesis to a place of structural importance. It moves gradually from the lyricism of the slow movement through increasing virtuosity to reminiscences of the first movement.

The finale is a robust rondo, with an impetuous first theme and a dance-like second idea. Hints of the first movement’s first theme become gradually more overt, until the actual melody is quoted. A fiery passage of great bravura closes the work. 

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, Pathétique

Born: May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia Died: November 6, 1893, Saint Petersburg

Work composed: 1893

Premiere: October 28, 1894 in Saint Petersburg, conducted by the composer

Instrumentation3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (incl. bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals a2, tam-tam, strings

CSO notable performances: 42 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1899, Frank Van der Stucken conducting | Most recent: May 2012, Long Yu conducting | The work was first performed at the 1896 May Festival, Theodore Thomas conducting the Theodore Thomas Orchestra; Max Rudolf led the Orchestra in a recording of the work, in January 1969.

Durationapprox. 46 minutes

Tchaikovsky died in 1893, at the age of only 53. His death was long attributed to the accidental drinking of a glass of unboiled water during a cholera outbreak, but that theory has been questioned in recent years with the alternate explanation that he was forced to take his own life because of a homosexual liaison with the underage son of a noble family. Though the manner of Tchaikovsky’s death is incidental to the place of his Sixth Symphony in music history, the fact of it is not.

Tchaikovsky conducted his B Minor Symphony for the first time only a week before his death. It was given a cool reception by musicians and public, and his frustration was multiplied when discussion of the work was avoided by the guests at a dinner party following the concert. Three days later, however, his mood seemed brighter and he told a friend that he was not yet ready to be snatched off by death, “that snubbed-nose horror. I feel that I shall live a long time.” He was wrong. The evidence of the manner of his death is not conclusive, but what is certain is the overwhelming grief and sense of loss felt by music lovers in Russia and abroad as the news of his passing spread. Memorial concerts were planned. One of the first was in St. Petersburg on November 18th, only 12 days after he died. Eduard Napravnik conducted the Sixth Symphony on that occasion, and it was a resounding success. The “Pathétique” was wafted by the winds of sorrow across the musical world, and became—and remains—one of the most popular symphonies ever written, the quintessential expression of tragedy in music.

In examining the Sixth Symphony, whether as performer or listener, care must be taken not to allow pathos to descend into bathos. It is virtually certain that Tchaikovsky was not anticipating his own death in this work. For most of 1893, his health and spirits were good, he was enjoying an international success unprecedented for a Russian composer, and work on the new symphony was going well. He wrote to his nephew Vladimir Davidov in February that he was composing “with such ardor that in less than four days I have completed the first movement, while the remainder is clearly outlined in my head.” Tchaikovsky was pleased with the finished work. “I give you my word of honor that never in my life have I been so contented, so proud, so happy, in the knowledge that I have written a good piece,” he told his publisher, Jurgenson, as soon as he had finished the score in August. The somber message of the music seems, therefore, not to have been a reflection of the moods and events of Tchaikovsky’s last months.

The music of the “Pathétique” is a distillation of the strong residual strain of melancholy in Tchaikovsky’s personality rather than a mirror of his daily feelings and thoughts. Though he admitted there was a program for the Symphony, he refused to reveal it. “Let him guess it who can,” he told Vladimir Davidov. A cryptic note discovered years later among his sketches suggests that the first movement was “all impulsive passion; the second, love; the third, disappointments; the fourth, death—the result of collapse.” It is not clear, however, whether this précis applied to the finished version of the work, or was merely a preliminary, perhaps never even realized, plan. That Tchaikovsky at one point considered the title “Tragic” for the score gives sufficient indication of its prevailing emotional content.

The title “Pathétique” was suggested to Tchaikovsky by his elder brother, Modeste. In his biography of Piotr, Modeste recalled that they were sitting around a tea table one evening after the premiere, and the composer was unable to settle on an appropriate designation for the work before sending it to the publisher. The sobriquet “Pathétique” popped into Modeste’s mind, and Tchaikovsky pounced on it immediately: “Splendid, Modi, bravo. ‘Pathétique’ it shall be.” This title has always been applied to the Symphony, though the original Russian word carries a meaning closer to “passionate” or “emotional” than to the English “pathetic.”

The Symphony opens with a slow introduction dominated by the sepulchral intonation of the bassoon, whose melody, in a faster tempo, becomes the impetuous first theme of the exposition. Additional instruments are drawn into the symphonic argument until the brasses arrive to crown the movement’s first climax. The tension subsides into silence before the yearning second theme appears, “like a recollection of happiness in time of pain,” according to American musicologist Edward Downes. The tempestuous development section, intricate, brilliant and the most masterful thematic manipulation in Tchaikovsky’s output, is launched by a mighty blast from the full orchestra. The recapitulation is more condensed, vibrantly scored and intense in emotion than the exposition. The major tonality achieved with the second theme is maintained until the hymnal end of the movement.

Tchaikovsky referred to the second movement as a scherzo, though its 5/4 meter gives it more the feeling of a waltz with a limp. This music’s rhythmic novelty must have been remarkable in 1893, and the distinguished Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick even suggested that it should be changed to 6/8 to avoid annoyance to performers and listeners. Charles O’Connell, however, saw the irregular meter as essential to the movement’s effect, “as if its gaiety were constantly under constraint; directed, not by careless joy, but by a determination to be joyful.”

The third movement is a boisterous march whose brilliant surface may conceal a deeper meaning. Tchaikovsky’s biographer John Warrack wrote, “On the face of it, this is a sprightly march; yet it is barren, constructed out of bleak intervals, and for all the merriness of its manner, essentially empty, with a coldness at its heart.”

The tragedy of the finale is apparent immediately at the outset in its somber contrast to the whirling explosion of sound that ends the third movement. A profound emptiness pervades the finale, which maintains its slow tempo and mood of despair throughout. Banished completely are the joy and affirmation of the traditional symphonic finale, here replaced by a new emotional and structural concept that opened important expressive possibilities for 20th-century composers. Olin Downes dubbed this movement “a dirge,” and, just as there is no certainty about what happens to the soul when the funeral procession ends, so Tchaikovsky here leaves the question of existence forever hanging, unanswered, embodied in the mysterious, dying close of the Symphony.

Wrote former Boston Symphony Orchestra program annotator Philip Hale, “The somber eloquence of the ‘Pathétique,’ its pages of recollected joy fled forever, its wild gaiety quenched by the thought of the inevitable end, its mighty lamentations—these are overwhelming and shake the soul.”

Dr. Richard E. Rodda