Program notes by Gregg Wager, May 23
About this Piece
In 1711, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) published 12 concertos under the title “L’estro armonico,” Opus 3. The third (for two violin soloists in A minor) inspired Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) to arrange it as a piece for solo organ, eventually catalogued with Bach’s other original works for organ as BWV 593. Something about this Baroque-era collaboration between geographically separated composers gave 20th-century organist and composer Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) the idea of arranging it as an organ concerto accompanied by strings.
Dupré’s addition of the strings gives extra nuance to Vivaldi’s original back-and-forth dynamic of the Baroque concerto, while Bach’s keyboard transcription of techniques otherwise idiomatic to a string instrument, such as cross-bowing and tremolo, allows a more universal sensation to emerge. The outer movements display Vivaldi’s stark juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, but not without cadences that bring the ensemble together on unison melodies. The simplicity of the second movement also relies on the instruments playing the main melody in unison.
Bach’s familiar Brandenburg Concerto 3 in G major, BWV 1048, undeniably carries with it a perfection that often distracts from the utter simplicity of the material. A three-note mordant figure saturates the first movement alternating between a downbeat occurring sometimes on the first note and sometimes on the third.
Musicologists interpret a two-chord adagio cadence in E minor notated in the score between outer movements as either the final measures of a keyboard improvisation, or an extremely brief interlude as written. The final movement combines an ascending, scalar figure immediately coupled with its inversion to create a perpetual ostinato with the contour of a simple sine wave.
With an eclectic assortment of styles, the music of Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946) generally blends bold examples of minimalism, chance music, and Latvian folk music into an otherwise cosmopolitan, post-modern style. In contrast, his more stylistically consistent Musique du soir (first published in Paris in 1993; also titled Evening Music) spins out a lyrical, declamatory cello melody in a subdued neo-Romantic style, accompanied softly by the organ. The 12-minute continuous gesture that this piece represents finds a few surprising interruptions as if posing unanswered questions, but mostly builds gradually in intensity into an elaborate climax occurring midway, only to be immediately cut off and returned to the opening mood.
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) austerely adds his own quirky emphasis to the slow movement of a Mozart sonata in his Mozart-Adagio from 1992, revised in 2005. The resulting composition exists almost entirely as a sparse orchestration of the second movement from Mozart’s piano sonata in F major, K. 280, which has often been described as a “siciliana” (a slow and lyrical triple-metered movement), even though Mozart did not specify such a genre or origin.
Especially notable within a separate introduction, interlude, and coda, Pärt’s minimalism also evinces the subtlest accentuation from the most shimmering passages and harmonies of the Mozart original. To go beyond the fully intact example of a preexisting piece in order to hear what is produced by Pärt’s strict use of his Tintinnabuli technique (a construction that rigidly adheres to rules based on a tonic triad) actually demands more active and attentive listening than some more complicated music.
Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) symbolizes multifarious diversity combining into a unity with his Voice of the Ocean. He writes the following paragraph to explain this process:
“The voice of the ocean roars in the dark depths, thunders as water crashes against rocks, cries as swirling birds pierce the sky, and is silent as glassy sheets of calm waters stretch from east to west, north to south. It endlessly conjures up new sea- and soundscapes and yet at the same time nothing seems changed. Like a book without a cover and like a panorama without a horizon, the voice of the ocean speaks endlessly and without constraints.”
Described as a concerto for organ and orchestra, the three-movement work (premiered by Apkalna, the 2014 version heard tonight includes a solo flute) presents lyrically tonal motives over drones, clusters, and ostinatos.