Program Notes: Jonathan Crow Plays Beethoven

Concert Program

Jörg Widmann
Con brio Concert Overture for Orchestra
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op. 56 (Scottish)
I. Andante con moto – Allegro un poco agitato
II. Vivace non troppo
III. Adagio
IV. Allegro vivacissimo – Allegro maestoso assai
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61 *
I. Allegro ma non troppo
II. Larghetto
III. Rondo: Allegro

Program Notes

JÖRG WIDMANN (b. 1973)
Con brio: concert overture for orchestra (2008)

German composer and clarinettist Jörg Widmann pays homage to the classical tradition in his music without framing its composers as museum pieces. In this 11-minute curtain raiser he draws on the energy and heroic gestures of Beethoven’s symphonies and weaves them into a virtuoso, attention-grabbing, sometimes explosive concert overture for the 21st century. Con brio (With Spirit) is one of Beethoven’s favourite score markings and Widmann’s opening timpani fanfare, stabbing full-orchestral chords, toneless woodwind blowing and many other creative, percussive effects throughout all contribute to the dynamism and energy of the piece. The Munich-born and -based composer says there are no literal quotations from Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies in the work, though its commissioning (by the Bavarian Radio SO and Mariss Jansons) requested some reference to the two. “My reference to Beethoven begins with the scoring, because in these symphonies it is special,” the composer said. “There are no four horns or trombones here, as in the Ninth Symphony. No, he makes that incredible ‘noise’ with just two horns, two trumpets and timpani. In my view, the reduced scoring is the very reason why he unleashes such musical fury in the first place.” Con brio is Widmann’s affirmation of the relevance of Beethoven to our own times.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 3, in A minor, ‘Scottish’, Op. 56 (1829-42)

Scottish or Scotch? Well, neither, really. Although Mendelssohn often referred to his A minor symphony as his Scotch Symphony, he never got around to inscribing the title on his manuscript. Throughout the 19th century, Scotch was good enough. But, as the Scottish increasingly saw money to be made from sales of a wee dram or two (or from a boiled egg), the Scottish in Scotland reserved Scotch for oral pleasure. Scottish then became the term of choice when dealing with music for aural pleasure.

That said, is there anything specifically Scottish about the symphony? Indeed, there is. Mendelssohn took many years to write the work, complaining that he could not “find his way back into the Scottish fog mood.” The sombre, hymn-like opening of the first movement rises majestically from a misty Scottish landscape. The entire movement is dark, peaty and Northern. The second movement, a busy Scherzo, is based on a five-note (pentatonic) scale, which is reminiscent of Scottish folk music (and specifically of the melody to Charlie is my darling) with each phrase ending with the Scottish ‘snap.’ A funeral march third and battle music in the other three movements all help evoke a romantic feeling of history and legend.

Mendelssohn came by the Scottish colour authentically. In July 1829, just 20 years old, with a highly successful London début as composer, conductor and pianist behind him, he set out on a tour of Scotland. Like many Germans, he thought of Scotland as a wild and rugged country, a place of pristine beauty and antiquity that would stir the German soul. Scotland’s romanticism and legend were the magnet that drew the sophisticated young composer and his friend Karl Klingemann Northwards. The Hebrides were their ultimate destination. En route, they had a brief, but unsatisfying meeting in Abbotsford with the hugely popular poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott (whom Mendelssohn had read in German translation). Then, in nearby Edinburgh, on July 30, 1829, Mendelssohn wrote to his family: “In the evening twilight we went today to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy. And, at that broken altar, Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scotch symphony“.

It was only the beginning, however, just 16 bars long, and it was not until January 1842, some 13 years later, that the work was completed, with most of the work being done over the previous year. In the meantime, he composed both the Reformation and Italian symphonies, the Hymn of Praise, the oratorio Saint Paul, two piano concertos and much chamber music. The work was first performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in March 1842 and Mendelssohn himself was already on his seventh visit to England when he conducted the British première later that year. The symphony is dedicated to “H. M. Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland.” The symphony is in four distinct movements. But, as with his later Violin Concerto, Mendelssohn indicated that they should follow one another without the usual breaks. It is scored for the normal classical orchestra, with an additional pair of horns.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (1806)

With an apprenticeship that began in the viola section of the Elector of Bonn’s orchestra, Beethoven deeply understood the evolving string instruments of his day. By 1806, he had nine of his ten violin sonatas and roughly half of his concertos and symphonies under his belt and was ready to create the first and the greatest of 19th century violin concertos. It was written for Franz Clement, a player of phenomenal technical skill. But virtuosity is just one ingredient in the makeup of Beethoven’s concerto. The music’s essential quality is radiant, lyrical sweetness and serenity, not grandeur or technical display. The four soft drum beats at the beginning are to dominate the opening movement, much as the rhythmically assertive ‘Fate knocks on the door’ motif drives the Fifth Symphony, which Beethoven was working on at the same time. The four notes underline both themes of the movement. They lie at the heart of the conflict in the opening theme, a conflict of tonality where the established key is violently contradicted by the four-note pattern. The repeated notes are heard under the second theme of the concerto, a closely related simple rising and falling phrase on woodwinds. The theme reveals a darker side, with hollow octaves in the minor key, before moving on to more passionate utterances. The cadenza is left to the soloist. Joachim’s cadenza used to be heard, (Joseph Joachim championed the work as a 13-year-old under Mendelssohn and the work’s popularity can be traced back to him). The one written by the 19-year-old Fritz Kreisler is more usually heard these days. The Russian Alfred Schnittke wrote one for Gidon Kremer that includes quotations from Bartók and Berg. Several soloists have also written their own cadenzas.

The slow movement is one of Beethoven’s most astonishing pieces of sustained lyrical writing. The music feels static and the perfect vehicle for lyrical outpouring. Nevertheless, it remains formally satisfying. It begins like a set of variations, with the theme present in its pristine form, however much the soloist may elaborately decorate it. After four variations, an entirely new theme is introduced and we proceed in the manner of double variations – first one theme then the other is varied. The strings violently break the mood and a cadenza leads without break into the finale. The rondo finale has strong rustic overtones. Its unceasing rhythmic drive is the perfect foil to the statis of the slow movement. A third opportunity for a cadenza is given to the soloist. It leads, in the kind of twist beloved of Beethoven at this period, to the most unlikely of keys – A-flat. An exceptionally long coda is needed to absorb the shock of this diversion, working its way back to a triumphant close in D major.

Biographies

Pablo Rus Broseta, conductor

Pablo Rus Broseta is Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony, having originally been appointed Assistant Conductor in 2015. During the 17-18 season, he leads the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in a wide variety of concerts, including an all-Russian program with pianist Beatrice Rana, Carmina Burana, and a festival of Prokofiev concertos. In 16-17, he conducted a festival of Shostakovich concertos as well as a gala concert with Yo-Yo Ma. He is rapidly building a wide-ranging repertoire from Handel to John Adams, with a focus on the great symphonic repertoire.

As guest conductor, Rus Broseta’s 17-18 season includes debuts with the Houston and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphonies, and return engagements with the SWR Symphonieorchester and Orquesta de Valencia. Highlights of the 16-17 season include a debut with the North Carolina Symphony, and returns to the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and Valencia National Youth Orchestra.

In 2014, Rus Broseta led a joint performance of the SWR Symphony Orchestra and the Ensemble Modern at the Musica Festival in Strasbourg. He has since made successful debuts with the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, the Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Radio Televisión Española. In 2016, he made his debuts with the Ensemble intercontemporain, and has since been invited to make return appearances with the Ensemble Modern as well as both the WDR and SWR.

Rus Broseta has already gained experience with the Orchestre Les Siècles, which performs on period instruments, and with orchestras such as the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, Bochumer Symphoniker, Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, and the Orquesta de Valencia. He has appeared at numerous music festivals including the Klangspuren Schwaz, Transart Festival Bolzano, Ensems Festival Valencia, and the Cresc… Festival Frankfurt. He has worked closely with composers such as Wolfgang Rihm, Hans Zender, Johannes Maria Staud, Thomas Adès, Philippe Manoury, Magnus Lindberg, Martin Matalon, Francisco Coll, and Luca Francesconi.

Rus Broseta studied composition and saxophone at the Conservatory of his native Valencia, with further studies in conducting in Lyon, at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and Universität der Künste Berlin; and he has received valuable guidance from Bernard Haitink, Pierre Boulez, David Zinman, Kurt Masur, and Steven Sloane. He served as Assistant Conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège in the 2009/10 season, the Dutch National Opera Academy in 2010 and the Valencia Youth Symphony Orchestra from 2010 to 2013. In 2011, he founded the Spanish chamber orchestra Grup Mixtour, which he still directs today. There, he aims to revitalize concert experiences through eclectic programming of music from different eras and with diverse aesthetics.

Jonathan Crow, violin

The 2016/2017 season marks Canadian violinist Jonathan Crow’s sixth season as Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. A native of Prince George, British Columbia, Jonathan earned his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance from McGill University in 1998, at which time he joined the Montreal Symphony Orchestra as Associate Principal Second Violin. Between 2002 and 2006 Jonathan was the Concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra; during this time he was the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra. Jonathan continues to perform as guest concertmaster with orchestras around the world, including the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Filarmonia de Lanaudiere and Pernambuco Festival Orchestra (Brazil).

Jonathan has performed as a soloist with most major Canadian orchestras including the Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras, the National Arts Centre and Calgary Philharmonic Orchestras, the Victoria and Kingston Symphonies and Orchestra London, under the baton of such conductors as Charles Dutoit, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Andrew Davis, Peter Oundjian, Kent Nagano, Mario Bernardi and João Carlos Martins.

In 2005, Jonathan joined the Schulich School of Music at McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Violin and was appointed Associate Professor of Violin in 2010. Jonathan is currently Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Toronto.