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Program Notes

Carlos KalmarYakov Kasman
Tickets from $18
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3
October 2 and 3, 2004 at 7:30 p.m.
October 4, 2004 at 8 p.m.
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Yakov Kasman, piano

CARL NIELSEN Symphony No. 5, Opus 50
Tempo giusto - Adagio non troppo
Allegro - Presto - andante un poco
tranquillo - Allegro
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF Concerto No. 3 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 30
Allegro ma non tanto
Yakov Kasman, piano

Concert Sound Bites

Nielsen's Symphony No. 5 is an overlooked masterpiece. It reflects the insanity and horror of war, as well as its chaotic aftermath, but Nielsen ends the work with an optimistic and celebratory flourish. To represent the terror of war, Nielsen features the snare drum, which plays in an increasingly loud and threatening manner, until it dominates the orchestra. When it returns, Nielsen has the drummer improvise, which suggests the unraveling of both the music and the civilized world.

While Nielsen's Fifth Symphony was an overall reaction to World War I, Martinů wrote his "Memorial to Lidice" in response to a specific act of Nazi atrocity. On a single day in June, 1943, all the men of Lidice, a small town near Prague, were executed. Martinů, who had fled Europe at the outset of World War II, wrote this moving tribute in August that year. At the end of the piece, he quotes the opening measures of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to symbolize freedom and ultimate victory over the Nazi regime.

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor has always stood in the shadows of its predecessor, the perennial favorite Piano Concerto No. 2, which was performed by André Watts and the Oregon Symphony last season. The 1996 film Shine helped bring more widespread attention to the Third, which musicians and critics have long considered the more important of the two works. Its brooding theme and air of melancholy linger long after the last note is heard, and the sparkling virtuosity it demands of the soloist make it a formidable and exciting work, both to hear and to perform.

"Memorial to Lidice" (1943)

First Oregon Symphony performance.

For the first thirteen years of his life, Bohuslav Martinů and his family lived high up in the bell tower of the Church of St. Jacob, in the small town of Polička in eastern Bohemia. His father, a cobbler, augmented the family income as a fire watcher and bell-ringer for church services. Until the age of six, Martinů rarely descended the 200 dark stone stairs to the town below, and his encounters with anyone other than his family were few. Martinů's unusual upbringing left its mark on his music, which often has a detached, isolated quality. He began violin lessons at the age of seven, and showed such promise the whole town raised money to allow him to attend the Prague Conservatory in 1906. A poor student, he was ultimately expelled in 1910 for "incorrigible negligence," but this did not deter him from composition, and he wrote a number of pieces during his stay in Prague.

In the early 1920's Martinů moved to Paris, where he studied with Roussel and broadened his musical knowledge. By the 1930's his reputation was established both in Europe and America, and the depth and quality of his work increased. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Martinů, named as cultural attaché by the Czechoslovak opposition, assisted a large number of Czech artists fleeing to Paris as refugees. His own music was banned by the Nazi regime, and he and his wife eventually abandoned Europe for America. After the war Martinů divided his time between New York and Europe. He died of cancer in Switzerland in 1959.

On June 10, 1943, the entire adult male population of the small town of Lidice in Czechoslovakia was exterminated by the Nazis, as payback for the assassination of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, known as "The Butcher of Prague." Appalled by the news of this wholesale slaughter, Martinů poured his anguish and horror into his "Memorial to Lidice," one of a number of works commissioned by the League of Composers to commemorate the war. It premiered on October 28, 1943 with the New York Philharmonic performing under the direction of Artur Rodzinski, on a program that celebrated the 25 th anniversary of the Czechoslovakian Republic. A critic of the time called "Memorial to Lidice" "not far from its author's best work…it is a chant and prayer, somber but not depressed in mood, aglow with restrained feeling, steady and strong in spirit."

"Memorial to Lidice" is written in one movement with three short sections. It opens with a stark C minor chord over which is layered a C-sharp minor chord. This dual tonality creates a stark, anguished sound, a musical evocation of grief and outrage. Martinů alternates full orchestral passages, dominated by brasses, with less dense phrases played by the strings, in chorale style. As the second section progresses, the mood of the piece lifts a little, injecting a ray of hope in the overall dark musical landscape. In the third section, the horns quote the "fate knocks at the door" motif heard in the opening measures of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. During the Second World War, the B.B.C. used this opening motif in its broadcasts, and it became a kind of musical shorthand for freedom from Nazi repression. After the homage to Beethoven, "Memorial to Lidice" ends calmly on a shimmering C major chord.

Symphony No. 5, Op. 50 (1921-22)

Most recently performed by the Oregon Symphony in November 1996.

In the music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen it is possible to discover a number of musical gems, hidden away under the work of more familiar luminaries. However, Nielsen's renown has continued to grow some seventy years after his death. Although Nielsen's music was quite well-known in Europe during his lifetime, it was rarely played abroad until after World War II; since then his work has continued to make new fans around the world. He wrote in a variety of genres, but it is his six symphonies that have made the greatest and most lasting mark on the musical canon.

Nielsen grew up in a small village on the island of Fyn, one of twelve children. He began studying violin and piano as a boy and joined the Royal Danish Army Band at age fourteen. When he was nineteen he entered the Copenhagen Conservatory as a violinist and pianist. In 1889 he became a member of the Royal Orchestra and for many years afterwards supported himself with his playing and conducting the Royal Theater and the Music Society Orchestra, among other ensembles. Throughout his years of playing he produced a large portfolio of compositions, ranging from chamber music to opera, symphonies and songs.

Nielsen's Symphony No. 5, completed nine years before his death in 1931, is generally regarded as his finest. It was first performed in 1922 by the Danish State Radio Orchestra, under the baton of Mogens Woeldike. It was not until 1951 that it premiered in the United States, with Erik Tuxen conducting the National Symphony. This work compresses the usual four movement symphonic structure into two large movements, each with several sub-divisions. Although this symphony bears no title, unlike several other Nielsen works ("The Inextinguishable," "The Four Temperaments," etc.), the dramatic conflict portrayed in its two movements is unmistakable. In the first movement, the orchestra sits on a pedal point D while the strings repeat the minor third A-C over and over again and again in an obsessive manner. A snare drum heralds the outbreak of World War I with specifically notated drum rolls which get louder and louder over fifty-seven measures before subsiding. When the snare drum returns, Nielsen's score indicates that the player is to improvise over the orchestra. The wild and discordant first section, especially the menacing snare drum, which almost drowns out the rest of the orchestra, evokes the specter of war descending upon Europe. Even the calm Adagio that follows cannot completely wipe out the memory of chaos and terror. The opening theme returns, along with the snare drum playing its demonic rolls in an increasingly ominous manner before it finally fades away.

The second movement's agitated but less threatening mood suggests the confusion and disorder that follow in the aftermath of war. The first Allegro begins in B major, a distantly related key to the first movement's F and G, but quickly moves through a succession of keys in a hurried, breathless manner. The repetition of minor third intervals continues throughout this movement as well. The frenzied Presto section gives way to a calmer and more deliberate theme in the penultimate Andante un poco tranquillo, which also recalls some of the music from the epilogue of the first movement. In the final Allegro, bits and pieces of the opening Allegro return, before the whole work concludes with a triumphant life-affirming finale.

Piano Concerto No. 3 in D, Op. 30 (1909)

Most recently performed by the Oregon Symphony in September 1999.

Rachmaninoff pursued three careers as a composer, pianist and conductor, and was successful at all of them. However, he found balancing the priorities of these three disciplines to be quite challenging; due to time constraints and his hectic schedule he was often forced to take time away from the podium in order to write. Rachmaninoff began working on the Third Piano Concerto in the summer of 1908 at his family's estate at Oneg. He rushed to complete it in time for his first tour of North America, in the fall of 1909. On the voyage to America Rachmaninoff had no access to a piano, so he took along a cardboard keyboard to practice and memorize the demanding solo part.

The first performance of the Third Piano Concerto took place on November 28, 1909 with Rachmaninoff at the piano, under the direction of Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. Six weeks later, Rachmaninoff performed it again with Gustav Mahler and the New York Philharmonic, an experience he treasured. Rachmaninoff remembered, "[Mahler] touched my composer's heart straight away by devoting himself to my Concerto until the accompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to the point of perfection…according to Mahler, every detail of the score was important—an attitude which is unfortunately rare amongst conductors." The two composer-conductors began a brief but intense friendship, which was cut short by Mahler's death the following year.

The tour moved on to Boston, where Rachmaninoff made such a magnificent impression that he was asked to assume the post of Music Director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, an offer he turned down. Despite his success, Rachmaninoff heartily disliked being in America. In a letter to his cousin he wrote, "In this accursed country you're surrounded by nothing but Americans and their 'business,' 'business' they are forever doing, clutching you from all sides and driving you on. Everyone is nice and kind to me, but I am horribly bored by the whole thing, and I feel that my character has been quite ruined here." Lonely and homesick, he returned to Russia in early February, 1910.

The Third Piano concerto was generally well-received, although some complained about its length (around 40 minutes). A critic noted, "The work grows in impressiveness upon acquaintance and will doubtless take rank among the most interesting piano concertos of recent years, although its great length and extreme difficulties bar it from performances by any but pianists of exceptional technical powers." Indeed, although the Third Piano Concerto was dedicated to the pianist Josef Hofman, whom Rachmaninoff regarded as the greatest pianist of his generation, Hofman never performed the Third Concerto. Some have suggested his hands were too small to manage the large intervals comfortably. The extraordinary technical and musical demands placed on the pianist by the Third Concerto rank it as among the most challenging works of that genre. The soloist is performing almost constantly throughout the work, and must combine stunning virtuosity with a refined ability to blend with and accompany the orchestra.

"A composer's music should express the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books which have influenced him, the pictures he loves...My music is the product of my temperament, and so it is Russian music," Rachmaninoff declared. When he discussed the origins of his Third Concerto, he denied any specific influences. "It is borrowed neither from folk song forms nor from church services. It simply 'wrote itself,'" he stated. "If I had any plan in composing this theme, I was thinking only of sound. I wanted to 'sing' the melody on the piano, as a singer would sing it—and to find a suitable orchestral accompaniment, or rather one that would not muffle this singing." Nonetheless, the influence of traditional chant of the Russian Orthodox church is evident in Rachmaninoff's opening theme of the Third Concerto, with its narrow range and stepwise motion. The melody winds through the first movement and returns at the end of it. This theme returns in the second movement, with the rhythm altered but the essential melody intact. The final two movements are played without pause, as Rachmaninoff transitions from a somewhat introspective, at times melancholy mood of the Intermezzo to unleash ferocious pianistic virtuosity in the final triumphant Finale: Alla breve.

Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a music teacher and freelance writer based in the Portland area. She holds a bachelor's in music from the University of California and a master's in music from Boston University. For several years her work was featured in Sforzando magazine and she has also appeared as an occasional commentator on NPR's "Performance Today."

Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons

NIELSEN - Symphony # 5
Herbert Blomstedt-San Francisco Symphony
Decca Double 460988
Osmo Vanska-BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
BIS 1289

MARTINŮ - Memorial to Lidice
Jiri Belohlavek-Czech Philharmonic
Chandos 9138

RACHMANINOFF - Piano Concerto # 3
Martha Argerich-Piano
Riccardo Chailly-RSO Berlin
Philips 446673
Vladimir Ashkenazy-Piano
Anatole Fistoulari-London Symphony
Decca Legends 466375
Vladimir Horowitz-Piano
Fritz Reiner-Chicago Symphony
RCA Victor Gold Seal 7754

These selected recordings are available at Classical Millennium, located at 3144 E. Burnside in Portland.

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