Listen Program Notes
About This Performance
Enjoy an evening of chamber music, from cello solos to a mass cello choir.
TORTELIER Sonata Breve
Ronald Leonard, cello
Kevin Fitz-Gerald, piano
RACHMANINOV Elegie in E minor, Op. 3, No. 1
Mischa Maisky, cello
Rina Dokshitsky, piano
FAURÉ Cello Sonata No. 2
ADÈS Lieux Retrouvés
Steven Isserlis, cello
Connie Shih, piano
STRAVINSKY Suite Italienne (arr. Piatigorsky)
Lawrence Lesser, Nathaniel Rosen, Jeffrey Solow, Raphael Wallfisch, cellos
BACH Air on a G String
Mass Cello Choir
View complete Cello Choir participant list.
About the Program
Notes by John Henken
The peripatetic son of a cantor, Emanuel Moór (1863-1931) toured Europe and the U.S. frequently as a pianist and conductor. He composed prolifically in almost every classical medium and genre, and also invented enhancements for several instruments, most famously a dual keyboard piano. Those instruments and his compositions were championed by music luminaries in the early 20th century. His Prelude, which exists in versions for violin and piano as well as cello and piano, was dedicated to the great Catalan cellist Pablo Casals and published in 1911. It is richly Romantic in style, with suggestions of his Hungarian and Jewish heritage in the dark double-stopping and his love for Bach in its patterned figuration.
The noted French cellist Paul Tortelier (1914-1990) also composed numerous pieces, many featuring the cello, including two concertos. (He also conducted regularly later in life.) His programmatic 1983 Sonata Breve, “Bucéphale,” tells the story of Alexander the Great’s favorite horse, beginning with Alexander’s first meeting with Bucephalus, through their final battle together, ending with Bucephalus’ death. (The work was dedicated to British Prince Charles, a famous horseman and amateur cellist.) Every moment of the piece is vividly descriptive, and Tortelier himself told – and played – the story in one of his master classes televised by the BBC in 1987.
The piano and orchestral music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) remain concert and recording staples, but he also composed a large body of vocal music, including over 80 solo songs. “Vocalise” is the last of a group of 14 songs written in 1912. As the title suggests, it is without words, thus lending itself readily to instrumental versions, beginning with the composer’s own adaptations for orchestra (with and without solo piano). Even had it a text, however, the haunting, achingly soulful melody would doubtless have been eagerly appropriated by all the solo instruments that now have arrangements. The more conventionally passionate Élégie is the first of Rachmaninoff’s Op. 3 Morceaux de fantasie from 1892, originally for solo piano.
Fame came late to Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Probably the most advanced French composer of his generation, he was able to write music only during summer vacations while toiling principally as a choirmaster and teacher. The great master of French song, Fauré sold his songs to his publisher outright for only 50 francs apiece.
Fortunately, Fauré lived long enough to see ultimate success. At the age of 60 he became director of the Paris Conservatory, a post that made him suddenly famous, although again leaving him with little time to compose. He was also troubled by an increasing deafness and a hearing impairment which distorted pitches at the high and low ends of the range.
Nonetheless, he retained his creative gifts to the end of his life – indeed, it is the later works that inspired the fervent admiration of younger composers such as Aaron Copland and Arthur Honegger. Fauré composed his First Cello Sonata, a violent, tragic work in D minor, during World War I. Although it is also cast in a three-movement form and set in a closely related minor key, the Second Cello Sonata (from 1921) is little like the First in spirit. Despite the prevailing minor modes, its turbulent energies are more ecstatic than angry. The agitation of the Brahmsian opening movement comes from the off-the-beat piano part, its syncopations restlessly extended over long passages against an ardent, noble cello line. The austere slow movement, with its serene resolution in major mode, is based on a Chant funéraire originally written a year earlier for the centenary of Napoleon’s death, while the finale is a dramatic whirlwind of a piece, filled with athletic exuberance.
Thomas Adès (b. 1971) became the hottest voice in British new music following the premiere of his first opera, Powder Her Face, in 1995. He has composed in most genres of concert music, including songs, chamber music, and concertos. His orchestral piece Asyla, premiered in 1997 by Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, won the 2000 Grawemeyer Music Award. Adès is also a highly regarded pianist and conductor and he served as Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival for ten years. He has also become a popular fixture here at Walt Disney Concert Hall, including On Location residencies and appearances on the Green Umbrella and Baroque Variations series, as well as orchestral concerts.
Adés and cellist Steven Isserlis gave the world premiere of Lieux retrouvés at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2009. The “places” of the title are evocatively described musically: rippling figuration growing to a flood of water, a powerfully striding climb up the mountain, the calm expanse of the fields, and the jittery urban dance of the city. The “rediscovered” aspect is probably not a matter of the physical locations as much as the means of expression, an acquaintance renewed in music of revisited techniques and styles, the patterns of “Les eaux,” for example, suggesting not only the cross-rhythms of Minimalism and the counterpoint of Ligeti, but also the broken style of Adès’ beloved Couperin.
The Suite italienne is one of several spin-offs from Pulcinella, the “ballet with song” that Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed for the Ballets Russes impresario Serge Diaghilev in 1920. “Composed” in this case being a somewhat misleading verb, as Diaghilev had found tunes he wanted to use by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), which he gave to Stravinsky to arrange. (Massine also based his choreography on 18th-century Neapolitan steps.) This borrowing was controversial at the time, as was the “neo-Classical” direction Stravinsky’s music suddenly took, spiking the Baroque harmonies with dissonances, goosing the regular meters, and generally creating witty, ironic musical mayhem.
The brio and charm of the music was undeniable, however, and Stravinsky capitalized on it with various arrangements, including several suites of excerpts from the ballet’s 18 numbers for violin and/or cello and piano. Neither Stravinsky nor Diaghilev were aware at the time that Pergolesi was a popular name that 18th-century publishers slapped on just about any piece by a lesser-known contemporary that needed a sales boost. Of this Suite, only the Serenata and Menuetto are based on actual Pergolesi melodies. The Introduzione, Tarantella, Scherzino, and Finale are based on music by Domenico Gallo, and the Gavotta con due variazioni came originally from Carlo Monza.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote his four orchestral suites in Leipzig. The Third Suite, in D major, was probably premiered at one of Bach’s Collegium Musicum concerts at Zimmermann’s Coffee House in 1730 or 1731. A century and a half later, the German violinist August Wilhelmj arranged the Suite’s second movement, a serenely floating Air, for solo violin and strings (or keyboard). He transposed it down to C major, and marked the solo part “auf der G-Saite” (on the G-string, as a passionately expressive tour-de-force), inadvertently giving it the name it has endured popularly ever since. This was also reportedly the first work by Bach ever recorded, and by a cellist – Aleksandr Verzhbilovich – in 1902.
Known for music ranging from anguished gravity to kinetic power, Baltimore-born Christopher Rouse (b. 1949) is one of today’s most prominent American composers. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy, Rouse was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2002 and now teaches at the Juilliard School. “In 1999–2000, I wrote an orchestral piece entitled Rapture for Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra,” Rouse says. “When approached by Ralph Kirshbaum to write a short, joyful piece for massed cellos for this year’s festival, I decided to develop further some of the material from Rapture. Rapturedux begins where Rapture ends, on an F-major chord, and then finds its own way forward.”
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.
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