Sound of Charlotte Blog

NOTES OF BRAHMS AND SHOSTAKOVICH

Two pieces are on the program for this weekend. Read more to learn about these selections!

JOHANNES BRAHMS Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra

The first performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto took place at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany, on January 1, 1879, with Joseph Joachim as soloist and the composer conducting.
The first performance of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on April 10, 1947 with J. Albert Fracht conducting at Armory Auditorium. The thirteenth and most recent performance took place on February 2 & 3, 2007 with Christof Perick conducting at the Belk Theater of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Brahms created the Violin Concerto for his dear friend, the Austro-Hungarian virtuoso violinist, composer and conductor, Joseph Joachim.  On December 12, just a few weeks before the anticipated New Year's Day premiere, Brahms wrote to Joachim: "I send you the part herewith and agree to your alterations. The orchestral parts will be ready for Jan. 1st in case you play it in Leipzig. If so, I will meet you in Berlin a few days before..." Despite the minimal amount of remaining preparation time, Joachim agreed to give the premiere as scheduled. He also composed the first-movement cadenza that, to this day, remains the preferred version among soloists.

The world premiere, conducted by Brahms, was far from an unqualified triumph. Perhaps the audience was confused by the unusual prominence of the orchestra, which traditionally played a decidedly subservient role in violin concertos. Brahms's unconventional approach prompted conductor Joseph Hellmesberger to dub the work a concerto "not for, but against the violin." Violinist Bronislaw Huberman took a somewhat different view, stating that the Brahms Concerto was "for violin against orchestra--and the violin wins!"

In time, Brahms' D-Major has secured its place as one of the greatest violin concertos, a veritable Mt.Everest of technical and interpretive challenges. As with many of Brahms's finest works, it is also a brilliant and immensely satisfying synthesis of Classical form and Romantic passion.

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5
The first performance of the Fifth Symphony took place in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) on November 21, 1937, with Evgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.
The first performances of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on October 16 & 17, 1968 with Jacques Brourman conducting at Ovens Auditorium and in Gastonia, NC. The sixth and most recent performance set took place on February 8 & 9, 2008 with Stefan Sanderling conducting at the Belk Theater of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

On January 22, 1934, the first performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk took place in Leningrad. Lady Macbeth, a work Shostakovich described as a "tragedy-satire," lampoons the decadence of capitalism as personified by the kulaks--comparatively wealthy peasants who resisted Soviet collectivization. Joseph Stalin, the tyrannical Secretary General of the Communist party, walked out of the theater before the conclusion of a performance of Lady Macbeth. Shortly thereafter, an article appeared in the official Communist newspaper, Pravda, entitled "Muddle Instead of Music." Although the author of the article was not identified, it appears certain it was either written by Stalin, or penned under his direction and approval. The author dismissed Lady Macbeth as a "stream of deliberately discordant sounds...Lady Macbeth enjoys great success with the bourgeois audience abroad."

Shostakovich withdrew his Fourth Symphony, a work he feared might inspire the same negative government reaction as Lady Macbeth. In the spring of 1937, Shostakovich turned his attentions to the Fifth Symphony. A seemingly penitent Shostakovich offered the following subtitle for the work: "A Soviet Artist's Practical Creative Reply to Just Criticism."

The 1937 premiere, conducted by the composer's longtime friend and advocate Evgeny Mravinsky, was a resounding success. The Fifth Symphony pleased the Soviet critics, and soon, the world at large. It appeared that Shostakovich had succeeded in creating a work that managed both to glorify the Soviet regime and appeal to international audiences.

In 1979, four years after the composer's death, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, stunned the music world. The Shostakovich who emerged from this book was far different from the one who had seemed to follow the Communist party line. For the Shostakovich of Testimony, the Fifth Symphony was hardly a paean to Communism:
I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat, as in (Modest Mussorgsky's opera) Boris Godunov. It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, "Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing," and you rise, shaky and go marching off, muttering, "Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing."
 
What kind of apotheosis is that? You have to be a complete oaf not to hear that. People who came to the premiere of the Fifth in the best of moods wept. 

Shostakovich's friend and student, Solomon Volkov, compiled Testimony from what he claimed were the composer's own words. Many, including, not surprisingly, the Soviet government, questioned the authenticity of Testimony. The controversy continues to this day, although as time has progressed, many of Shostakovich's friends and family members have acknowledged that Testimonyexpresses the composer's real feelings.

Program notes by Ken Meltzer.
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Christof Perick, Christopher Warren-Green, Classical, History.

Observer: Charlotte Symphony enables sun to shine in ‘Spring’ Symphony

By Steven Brown | 11/3/2012 | Charlotte Observer
Reblogged from Charlotte Observer

Everyone else can think about falling back this weekend. The Charlotte Symphony, despite the end of daylight saving time, is busy springing forward through Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 1.
That's also known as the "Spring" Symphony, of course. Thanks to the orchestra, it's living up to its nickname, in both senses of the word.

The orchestra sprang through it Friday night. With Christof Perick, the group's former leader, back on the podium, the orchestra was crisp, clear and agile. It filled the opening movement with bounding energy. It flung out the scherzo's buoyantly rhythmic chords. It breezed through the finale's jauntiness and byplay.
As for spring, the season: Its sunshine arrived with the brasses' gleam in the very first phrases. The woodwinds' warmth in an array of lyrical sections enhanced it. The strings contributed to it through the coziness they gave the slow movement, which wasn't really that slow. The way it flowed along, its peaceful melody could've been blooming before everyone's ears.

With the motion that ran through the whole symphony, Perick and the orchestra could have been looking forward to Schumann's Symphony No. 3, which salutes a great European river the Rhine. Instead, they moved on after intermission to a river farther east: the Moldau, the subject of Bedrich Smetana's beloved tone poem.

The qualities that made the orchestra so appealing in the "Spring" Symphony were just as winning in "The Moldau" and "From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests," another of Smetana's portraits of his homeland.
"The Moldau" started quietly, but that didn't mean it started small: The flutes and clarinets blended silkily in the purling theme that sets the river in motion. The little wedding dance was airy and cheerful. The strings made the moonlight scene glisten and when the trombones and tuba entered with their theme underneath, they added fullness and depth without breaking the mood. That took skill and control.
Speaking of finesse: There were further generous helpings of it in the way the woodwinds sang out their big tune in "From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests." Opening up like a full-through chorus, they were full, smooth and well-blended. Those used to be qualities they hardly ever displayed. But they're commanding them more and more often a welcome development.

After Smetana's booming final chords, Perick and the orchestra added an encore: one of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances. It was just as jubilant as Smetana had been. Perick and the group especially savored its quick changes between gusto and grace.

The orchestra played lustily in the stormy spots of the concert's opener, Carl Maria von Weber's Overture to "Der Freischutz." The group dug into the exuberant finish, too. But the opening, meant to evoke the mystery and supernatural that drive the plot of Weber's opera, didn't quite take hold. The orchestra, with its modest-size string section, didn't command the dark-hued sound that would've created the mood. The group manages to summon such tones once in a while, as in Stravinsky's "Firebird" Suite earlier this month. But for the players to do it dependably is a development that has yet to come. Until there are more players, it probably can't come.
 
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Charlotte Observer, Christof Perick, Classical, Musicians, Review, Schumann, Smetana, The Moldau.

Observer: Perick enjoys freelancer’s life — at least for a while

By Steven Brown | 11/1/2012 | Charlotte Observer
Reblogged from Charlotte Observer Critical Mass

It's lucky that Christof Perick had a nonstop flight from Germany to Charlotte. Otherwise, Mother Nature might've gotten in his way for the second time -- which would've been particularly ungrateful of her this week,  since the music he'll conduct with the Charlotte Symphony is a celebration of nature's power and beauty.

A volcanic eruption in April 2010 blasted a dust cloud over Europe that kept Perick from conducting his last concerts as the orchestra's music director. But he circumvented Sandy on Monday. So he's back for a three-week U.S. visit. It will not only return him to the Charlotte podium he occupied for nine seasons, but offer him other reminiscences of his work on this side of the Atlantic -- or, as he put it Tuesday, his "28-year history of conducting in this wonderful country."

He plans visit friends in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles -- all cities where he has conducted prominently -- and close with the San Diego Symphony, which he has guest-conducted repeatedly over 20-plus years. (A Perick travel tip: If you ever travel from L.A. to San Diego, go by train. The ride offers spectacular views of the coast.)

But first: The Charlotte Symphony concerts this weekend may offer some reminiscences of their own. They'll start with Carl Maria von Weber's Overture to "Der Freischutz," an opera that received full-length, concert-style performances from Perick and the orchestra in 2003. Next will come the "Spring" Symphony, Schumann's exuberant hymn to nature's annual rebirth. To cap things off, two of Bedrich Smetana's portraits of his native Bohemia: the beloved "The Moldau" and the less-famous but equally catchy "From Bohemia's Forests and Meadows."

Perick hadn't yet gotten in front of the orchestra Tuesday morning. But he credited his successor, Christopher Warren-Green, for the fact that the orchestra is financially "safer" -- quickly rapping his knuckles on a wooden table in the Charlotte Symphony's office -- than it was during Perick's time.
"I think it's probably because Christopher is living here," Perick said. He thinks Warren-Green's presence in Charlotte, promoting the orchestra around town, is "very important. I think it's very good. I was always saying that -- the orchestra needs someone who is (visible) at the arena, across the street."
"I couldn't do that," Perick, who's based in Germany, added. "I didn't have the time to do that. In that regard, I'm not a good American music director. Because you need that talent and that outgoing personality to do all those things (in the community) convincingly."

But Perick takes pride in cultivating the Charlotte Symphony's  style and precision -- something Warren-Green has complimented  from his own perspective. Perick points to similar work back home in Germany, where he last year finished a stint as music director of the Nuremberg State Theater. Zeroing in on a cycle of Mozart operas with the company's singers -- such as the vibrant Heidi Meier, who also made a couple of visits to Charlotte -- was a highlight, he said.

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Christof Perick, Christopher Warren-Green, Classical, Schumann, Smetana, The Moldau.

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