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Notes From The Conductor: Mendelssohn & Schumann

The programme of this concert is a journey, exactly like Robert and Clara Schumann’s journey on the Rhine in 1850. The famous journey of the Schumann couple inspired the Third Symphony, but also inspired the “connecting waves” between all the pieces in this evening’s repertoire.

Although Schumann’s mental health was showing signs of altering, this journey on the Rhine delayed his torment by a few years, being remembered by the couple as one of the happiest periods in their lives. For me, the most important moment is the 4th movement, where the majestic procession symbolizes the Dome of Cologne; and we can really feel the importance of this journey in Schumann’s life exactly because of the grandiosity and might of this movement, every previous music material being a build-up for this moment, which flows straight into the joyful final movement.

Schumann was extremely affected by the passing of Felix Mendelssohn and during the time he was taken care of in an institution, he had many hallucinations and night terrors generated by the death of his friend. A special place in Mendelssohn’s creation is his Violin Concerto, written only 6 years prior to Schumann’s Third. It soon became an important milestone in the German violin tradition and it’s no surprise: extremely fresh and highly emotional, Mendelssohn’s actual second violin concerto (he composed his D minor concerto for violin and strings at the age of 13!) is aesthetically very connected with Schumann’s late period.

If the connection between Mendelssohn and Schumann is quite self-explanatory, Enescu’s musical language doesn’t look like a perfect fit with the other works. But…

The opener, Pastorale-Fantaisie, is a youthful gem composed when George Enescu was only 17 and has a bitter-sweet story behind. When Saint-Saëns introduced the 16 year-old Enescu to Edouard Colonne, THE conducting authority at the turn of the century, he was immediately charmed by the young violinist, pianist and composer, so he scheduled the “Poeme roumain” as soon as possible. The piece was an immediate success and Colonne reprised it 3 more times during the 1897-1898 season. Not only this, but he commissioned Enescu a new piece for the beginning of 1899. And so, the “Pastorale-Fantaisie” was born and premiered by Colonne in his renowned concert series on the 19th of February 1899. However, an unexpected and unfortunate event led to a poor attendance of the performance: the sudden death of president Felix Faure and especially in tabloid circumstances.

Mourning days and interest of the press only in that subject, made a very impressionable young Enescu believe that the piece shouldn’t be published, even though all the reviews of its performance were positive. It was scheduled to be performed in Bucharest in 1902, but there is no official record that the piece was actually performed, so it fell under a shadow which lasted for 117 years until I found, transcribed the manuscript, performed and recorded the piece.

I’m very excited that many orchestras started to perform this piece since it was brought to light in 2016. Even your fantastic Music Director, Andrei Feher, conducted the North-American premiere of the Pastorale-Fantaisie not long ago.

The piece pays a very direct tribute to Beethoven, hence the Pastorale in F-major, and Bach: it consists of two very distinct fugues. But what about the connection with Mendelssohn and Schumann? Well, the language of the piece is extremely close to the descriptive and autobiographical atmosphere of Schumann’s Third Symphony and Mendelssohn’s highly expressive Violin Concerto. The language which Enescu uses here is clearly a tribute to the great German composers, including Mendelssohn and Schumann. Even though there is roughly half a century between the last two pieces of this programme and the opener, the connection is so powerful, that one has the feeling of a bridge between time and space.

That’s why I consider this combination of pieces a journey and I’m very excited that we’ll experience it together.

– Gabriel Bebeselea