SAINT LOUIS SYMPHONY PROGRAM NOTES

Concert Program for February 27 and 28, 2004

Gilbert Varga, conductor
Stephen Hough, piano

RACHMANINOFF   
Concerto No. 2 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18
I.   Moderato
II.   Adagio sostenuto
III.   Allegro scherzando
Stephen Hough


Intermission


RIMSKY-KORSAKOV
Scheherazade, Op. 35
I.   The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship (Largo e maestoso -- Allegro non troppo)          
II.   The Tale of Prince Kalender (Lento)
III.   The Young Prince and the Young Princess (Andantino quasi allegretto)         
IV.   The Festival at Baghdad – The Sea – The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surmounted by a
Bronze Warrior (Allegro molto)
David Halen, violin 

Stephen Hough is the Essman Family Foundation Guest Artist.
The concert of Friday, February 27, is underwritten in part by a generous gift from Dr. and Mrs. W.R. Konneker.
The concert of Saturday, February 28, is underwritten in part by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Mark B. Andrews.
The concert of Friday, February 27, is sponsored by American Airlines.
The concert of Saturday, February 28, is sponsored by Steinway.


Profiles 

Gilbert Varga

London-born Gilbert Varga studied violin from the age of four with his father, Tibor Varga, the famous Hungarian violinist. After an accident brought an abrupt halt to a promising solo career, he studied conducting under three very different and distinctive maestros -- Franco Ferrara, Sergiu Celibidache, and Charles Bruck.

            The earlier part of Varga's conducting career concentrated on work with many chamber orchestras throughout Germany and France, including extensive work with the Tibor Varga Chamber Orchestra. From 1980-1985 Varga was Chief Conductor of the Hofer Symphoniker and between 1985-1990 he was Chief Conductor of the Philharmonia Hungarica in Marl.

            Since that time, Varga’s reputation as a symphonic conductor has increased. He was swiftly invited to conduct several prestigious European ensembles, including the Munich Philharmonic, the radio orchestras of Cologne and Frankfurt, and the Gurzenich Orchestra. From 1991-1995 he was Permanent Guest Conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, and from 1997-2000 he was Principal Guest Conductor of the Malmö Symphony.

            North America has also welcomed Varga’s exemplary baton technique. In recent seasons he has conducted the symphony orchestras of Toronto and Indianapolis, the Los Angeles and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras, and has appeared twice at the Aspen Music Festival. In South America, Varga appeared at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in the summer of 1999, returning in May 2000 during a tour of South America with the Euskadi Symphony Orchestra. Further afield, Varga has made successful appearances with Yomiuri Nippon Symphony in Tokyo and the Sydney Symphony.

            In Europe, Varga has worked with most major symphony orchestras, including the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and the Hallé Orchestra. Recent European engagements include the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Orchestre National de Belgique, the RAI Turin, and performances at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival with his own Euskadi Symphony Orchestra.

            Forthcoming engagements include his debut with the orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera and re-invitations to the Minnesota Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony, WDR Cologne, and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. He most recently conducted the Saint Louis Symphony in November 2002.


Stephen Hough
Essman Family Foundation Guest Artist

Stephen Hough has emerged as a unique presence on the international concert scene. From highly acclaimed performances of standard repertoire in recital and with the world’s finest orchestras, to a particular interest in unusual works by pianist-composers of the late nineteenth century, he combines the imagination and pianistic color of the past with the scholarship of the present, illuminating the very essence of the music he plays. In recognition of his achievements and contributions to classical music, Mr. Hough was awarded a 2001 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

            Mr. Hough divides his time between homes in London and New York City. Since winning first prize in the Naumburg International Piano Competition in 1983, he has performed with most of the major American orchestras and numerous European orchestras. Stephen Hough regularly gives recitals in major halls and series all over the world and has been a frequent guest at many international festivals.

            Recent performance highlights include engagements with the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras and the Detroit, National, Atlanta and Indianapolis symphonies; an appearance at Carnegie Hall with the Dallas Symphony; tours throughout the United States with the BBC Scottish Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra; appearances at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center with the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Vladimir Ashkenazy; and recitals in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Vancouver, and Toronto. European appearances include performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; recitals at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Royal Festival Hall in London, and the Louvre in Paris. In addition, he returned to Japan to appear with the NHK Symphony Orchestra and at the Pacific Music Festival.

            During the 2003-04 season, Stephen Hough makes his debut with the New York Philharmonic and returns to the Cleveland Orchestra as well as the Baltimore, Montreal and Utah symphonies and the Mostly Mozart and Aspen Music Festivals. He also appears in recital at Carnegie Hall, Spivey Hall in Atlanta, the Concertgebouw and London’s Royal Festival Hall. He most recently performed with the Saint Louis Symphony in April 1994.


PROGRAM NOTES 

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Concerto No. 2 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18 

Rachmaninoff was born in Semyonovo, near Novgorod, Russia, on April 1, 1873; he died in  Beverly Hills, California, on March 28, 1943. The first performance of his Second Piano Concerto took place in Moscow on November 9, 1909. The composer was the soloist, and Alexander Siloti conducted the Moscow Philharmonic Society Orchestra. Ossip Gabrilowitsch first played the Rachmaninoff with the Saint Louis Symphony, with Max Zach conducting, in March 1915. Garrick Ohlsson most recently played the concerto with the SLSO in September 2000 with Hans Vonk conducting. Leonard Slatkin conducted the Orchestra and soloist Abbey Simon in a recording of the work in 1975 under the Vox label.

            Rachmaninoff scored this work for solo piano and an orchestra of double woodwinds (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons), four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and percussion, and strings. Approximate performance time: 36 minutes. 

            Few musical careers started so hopefully or stalled so suddenly as that of Sergei Rachmaninoff. An extraordinary prodigy, Rachmaninoff entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at age nine and wrote his first orchestral composition when he was fourteen. The years that followed saw him progress quickly and steadily in his creative endeavors. By the time he was twenty, Rachmaninoff had completed a piano concerto; an opera, Aleko, which was triumphantly produced at the Bolshoi Theater; several tone poems and chamber pieces; and a number of keyboard works, including the famous Prelude in C‑sharp minor. The stage seemed set for a lifetime of rich musical accomplishment.

            Perhaps the brilliance of Rachmaninoff’s early career made the effect of his first public failure the devastating event it proved to be. In 1897, his First Symphony, with which the composer hoped to establish himself as a major figure, was performed in St. Petersburg. The reception of this work was disastrous. César Cui, a respected composer and critic, likened it to the product of “a con­servatory in Hell.” Other commentators were not much kinder.

            Rachmaninoff was crushed. He retreated from the capital, staying with friends and relatives in the country, but was unable to overcome his depression or resume composing. Eventually he managed to secure a conducting post and performed some piano recitals, but despite his promise to produce a new piano concerto for a concert tour of England, he composed nothing during the next three years and became so despondent that his friends worried for his health. Finally, in 1900, Rachmaninoff was persuaded to visit Nicolai Dahl, a doctor specializing in treatment by hypnosis. In his memoirs, the composer recalled the treatment this way: “Day after day I heard the same hypnotic formula while I lay half asleep in Dahl’s armchair: ‘You will begin to write your concerto. You will work with great ease. The music will be excellent.’ Incredible as it may sound, this cure really helped me.”

            Dahl’s work must be counted the greatest psychiatric success in the history of music. In a short time, Rachmaninoff was again composing, completing his long‑delayed Second Piano Concerto. This work was enthusiastically received when the composer first performed it in Moscow in 1901, and he dedicated it gratefully to Dr. Dahl. Although the Second Piano Concerto was only the first of a steady stream of works the quite fully cured Rachmaninoff brought forth in the early years of this century, it has proved the most popular. With the exception of only the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor, it became the most frequently performed of Rachmaninoff’s compositions and the principal agent of his fame during his lifetime. The composer’s passing had little impact on the work’s success, and it remains a perennial favorite of both pianists and audiences a century after it was written.

            The enduring popularity of this composition is no mystery, for it embodies Russian Romanticism at its most opulent. It is a supremely melodious work, so much so that several of its themes have been used for popular songs. (The concerto itself has served as the soundtrack to several motion pictures.) The first of Rachmaninoff’s captivating melodies is heard in the strings following a brief introduction of pensive chords in the piano. It is marked by a uniquely Russian soulfulness that is contrasted and comple­mented by the romantic tenderness of the second theme, set forth by the soloist. Both these melodies are varied and transformed during the impassioned first movement.

            The ensuing Adagio opens on a note of almost religious tranquility, after which the piano provides a delicate accompaniment to the dream‑like melody of the flute and clarinet. Toward the end of the movement there is a flurry of keyboard activity, culminating in a brief cadenza for the soloist, but the music soon returns to the gentle reverie of the opening.

A march‑like introduction in the orchestra and glistening figuration in the piano precede the statement of the first theme of the finale, an energetic subject in the spirit of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo. But Rachmaninoff has saved his trump card, a sensuous melody that soon is stated by the orchestra. This theme, which in the 1940s became familiar to millions as the hit song “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” returns after an extensive development of the first subject to bring the concerto to an ecstatic close.
 

Nicolai Rimsky‑Korsakov
Scheherazade
, Op. 35 

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was born in Tikhvin, near the Russian city of Novgorod, on March 18, 1844; he died at Lyubensk on June 21, 1908. Rimsky-Korsakov himself conducted the first performance of his tone poem Scheherazade, which took place in St. Petersburg on October 28, 1888. Max Zach conducted the Saint Louis Symphony debut of Scheherazede in March 1910. The most recent SLSO performance of the work was conducted by Hans Vonk in September 2000.

            The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, and strings. Approximate performance time: 47 minutes. 

                        The Sultan Shakriar, convinced of the falsehood and infidelity of all women, had                            sworn an oath to put to death each of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana                         Scheherazade saved her life by arousing his interest in the wonderful tales she told for                         a thousand and one nights. She spun miraculous stories, borrowing verses from the                         poets and words from folk songs, fairy‑tales, and accounts of strange adventures.                           Driven by curiosity, the Sultan postponed her execution from day to day and finally                         abandoned his wicked plan.  

            The rich compendium of folk tales known as the Tales of Arabian Nights is one of the great collective art works of Islamic culture, and one of the world’s literary treasures. For centuries, the anonymous stories that comprise this anthology circulated individually throughout the Middle East before being brought together in a single volume. The work was introduced to Europe in the early 1700s but was not widely known until the nineteenth century, when a number of translations, most notably the unexpurgated one by the English explorer and linguist Richard Francis Burton, appeared in print.

            The Tales of Arabian Nights has inspired a number of composers. Ravel and Szymanowski are just two of the more prominent musicians who based scores on this subject, but the most famous musical treatment of the Sultana and her marvelous stories is the symphonic suite Scheherazade by the Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky‑Korsakov.

            The idea of basing an orchestral work on various episodes from the Tales of Arabian Nights came to Rimsky‑Korsakov early in 1888. Significantly, he had recently been engaged as conductor of the Russian Symphony Concerts, an important series of orchestral programs in St. Petersburg, and his close contact with the orchestra must have prompted at least some of the colorful instrumentation for which his Scheherazade is justly famous. The composer made sketches for the work in June of that year and finished the full score by autumn.

            The work’s four movements approximate the traditional outline of a symphony, with an opening Allegro prefaced by an introduction in moderate tempo; a slow second movement followed by a third in the spirit of a scherzo; and an energetic finale. Although Rimsky‑Korsakov had certain scenes from the tales in mind as he wrote the suite, the music does not present a linear narrative of any of the stories. As the composer explained in his autobiography:                       

                        The program I had been guided by in composing Scheherazade consisted of separate,                         unconnected episodes from the Tales of Arabian Nights scattered through all four                         movements of my suite: the sea and Sinbad’s ship, the fantastic narrative of Prince                         Kalender, the Prince and Princess, the Baghdad festival, the ship dashing itself against                         the rock . . . yet presenting, as it were, a kaleidoscope of fairy‑tale images. 

            Indeed, he was so dismayed by the insistence of early listeners to try to identify each passage with a specific character or event in the tales that he deleted all written references to these from the final version of his score (though he retained the evocative preface, quoted at the top of this note). In explaining his deletions of programmatic clues from the score, the composer stated: 

                        My aversion to seeking too definite a program in my composition led me subsequently                         to do away with even those hints of it that had lain in the headings of each movement.                         . . . In composing Scheherazade I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s                         fancy on the path that my own fancy had traveled and to leave more minute and                            particular conceptions to the will and mood of each. All I had desired was that the                         hearer . . . should carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an Oriental                              narrative of some numerous and varied fairy‑tale wonders. 

            In other words, it is a general impression of the mood and tenor of the Arabian tales that the composer hoped to convey in this music, along with occasional suggestions of certain narrative details experienced as “a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images.” Rimsky‑Korsakov did admit one detail: the sinuous melody of the solo violin heard in each of the four movements “delineates Scheherazade herself as telling her wondrous tales to her stern Sultan.”             Nevertheless, the composition can be enjoyed as much for its purely musical qualities -- its vivid melodic ideas and brilliant orchestration -- as for its evocation of oriental mystery and exotic tales.

 Program notes © 2004 by Paul Schiavo