Program Notes: Andrei Conducts Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky

Concert Program

Calixa Lavallee / John Fenwick (1842 – 1891)
O Canada
Eric Champagne
Festive Overture
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)
Concerto No.2 in C minor for Piano & Orchestra, op.18
I. Moderato
II. Adagio sostenuto
III. Allegro scherzando
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)
Symphony No.5 in E minor, op.64
I. Andante – Allegro con anima
II. Andante cantabile con alcuna licenza
III. Valse: Allegro moderato
IV. Finale: Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace

Program Notes

ÉRIC CHAMPAGNE
Born in Montreal, August 22, 1980
Festive Overture (2018) (world première)

Montreal-based composer, Éric Champagne was composer-in-residence for the city’s Orchestre Métropolitain from 2012 to 2014 and continues to be a regular collaborator on musical and pedagogical projects.  He is now concluding a similar two-year position as composer-in-residence at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur.  In June 2017, his monumental Te Deum, for soloists, choir and orchestra was presented at Carnegie Hall and, in November 2017, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain performed his symphonic poem Exil Intérieur in Cologne, Amsterdam and Paris.  Éric has been awarded numerous prizes and honours and is the author of many print articles, interviews, and reviews.  He also directs creative workshops with music students.

Éric Champagne writes: “Festive Overture (Ouverture festive) is a six-minute work of joy, energy and pleasure!  It is a kind of mini-concerto for orchestra, highlighting the musicians in a flamboyant and spectacular manner.  Its form, although free, is, nevertheless, clear in structure.  An opening brass section, similar to a fanfare, precedes a fugal theme in the strings.  A second theme, more melodic, is played by horns and violas, then gives way to a trombone chorale.  Then comes the most virtuoso section of the work: the fugal theme returns, to which is added the second theme and the trombone’s chorale, all in a virtuoso orchestral whirlwind.  The return of the opening fanfare closes this lively and cheerful piece.  And all these themes are built on the same three-note pattern! (you can’t miss it, it’s the three first and the three last notes of the piece!).

Festive Overture is dedicated to the musicians of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and their new conductor Andrei Feher.”

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF
Born in Semyonovo, Russia, March 20 / April 1, 1873; died in Beverly Hills, California, March 28, 1943
Piano Concerto No. 2, in C minor, Op. 18 (1900-1)

Russian composer Igor Stravinsky called him “six feet four inches of misery.”  In life he seldom smiled.  There’s no doubt that Sergei Rachmaninoff does seem the archetypal Russian Romantic with his depressive personality, his introspection and self-questioning.  But then there’s the music and those glorious, confident melodies that strive toward an unattainable ideal.  Rachmaninoff’s heady, lushly romantic harmonies have been plundered by generations of film score writers.  It’s often with a musical sweet tooth that he pleases our palate, yet the language is distinctive, tinged with an appealing melancholy.  It’s music that ‘smiles with a sigh,’ as another late Romantic, Edward Elgar, put it.

The Second Piano Concerto was born out of crisis.  The première of Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony in 1897 had been a disaster, sabotaged by a conductor’s ineptitude and reported drunkenness.  Its effect on the young Rachmaninoff, not yet 24, was devastating.  Three years of uncertainty, doubt and not a little alcohol followed.  He wrote nothing of consequence.  “Overall, I have absolutely lost my facility to compose, so it seems, and all my thoughts are directed to getting it back,” he confessed to Tchaikovsky.  Hypnosis with a music-loving doctor provided the magic bullet and, after its première on October 27, 1901, ‘Rach 2’ began its rapid rise as (arguably) the most popular of all piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff, the last of a great line of virtuoso composer-pianists, puts the piano front and centre at the very opening of the work.  Nine brooding, haunting chords, of increasing power and tension, plunge the concerto into its dark, expansive opening theme.  The piano does not hog the limelight all the time.  Strings and clarinet play the opening melody, while the piano unfolds stirring waves of arpeggios.  Paradoxically enough, the soloist is frequently called on to play a secondary, ensemble role throughout this powerful war-horse of a concerto.  Like Tchaikovsky before him, Rachmaninoff recognised that by creating contrasting textures, a composer can give the soloist more impact when dominating the ensemble.

The slow movement takes us to the remote and distant key of E major and to a gentle reverie (which violinist Fritz Kreisler soon arranged as his popular Prayer, for violin and piano.   At its conclusion, Rachmaninoff brings us back to the home key of C minor.  The military rhythms of the finale are derived from a military motif in the opening movement.  The ‘big tune’ of the second theme dominates the movement, particularly with its dynamic reappearance in the coda.

PYOTR IL’YICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia, April 25/May 7, 1840; died in St. Petersburg, Russia, October 25/November 6, 1893
Symphony No. 5, in E minor, Op. 64 (1888)

“I am exceedingly anxious to prove to myself, as to others, that I am not played out as a composer,” Tchaikovsky wrote to his long-time patron Nadezhda von Meck, acknowledging fear of failure as one of the strongest of all motivators for a creative artist.   “Have I told you that I intend to write a symphony?  The beginning was difficult, but now inspiration seems to have come. We shall see . . .”  Tchaikovsky had expressed a similar fear to his brother Modest a month earlier, in May 1888.  But work was progressing well in the pleasant surroundings of a new dacha he had built in the woods at Frolovskoe, just outside Moscow.   He had even noted down an outline for the first movement.  The cryptic note was to provide the only indicator of any underlying program in the Fifth: “Introduction. Complete resignation to Fate, or, which is the same, before the inscrutable predestination of Providence.  Allegro. (I) Murmurs, doubts, plains, reproaches against XXX . . . (II) Shall I throw myself in the embrace of faith? “

This program sketch, found in one of Tchaikovsky’s notebooks, certainly promises something.  But read what you will into ‘XXX.’  A decade earlier, Tchaikovsky had provided von Meck with a detailed programmatic outline of his Fourth Symphony.  It had been his main work for her during the 13 years of their relationship.  “This is Fate,” he wrote of the urgent figure that he hurls forward in the first bars of the Fourth Symphony.  “One can only resign oneself and lament in vain.”  Fate is again mentioned in Tchaikovsky’s outline for the Fifth, but not the struggle.  Tchaikovsky now appears resigned to his lot in life and willing to trust in Providence and faith.  He said little about the piece, though he did once write to his patron about adopting faith: “The intelligent man who believes in God has armour against which the blows of fate are absolutely in vain.”

Fate makes a low-key entrance at the very beginning in a darkly coloured, two-bar clarinet theme that is melancholy and muted.  Its rhythm, however, is distinctive and forms a motto theme that will reappear throughout the symphony – initially as a subdued march-like main theme, soon to be whipped into a state of great agitation.  The slow movement introduces one of the most celebrated of Tchaikovsky’s romantic tunes, an expansive, supplicatory melody given to the horn.  This and two additional themes add a humane, compassionate dimension into the symphonic argument.  But comfort gives way to conflict with two brusque and quite unexpected intrusions of the Fate motif.  By the end of a movement of great drama, resolution remains a distant objective.  The appearance of the motto theme punctuates the smooth contours of the third-movement waltz, which, otherwise, suspends the emotional trajectory of the symphony.  In the finale, however, it is transformed into a triumphant march of victory as a grand military procession brings out the heavy guns and Tchaikovsky completely resigns himself to Fate.  “If Beethoven’s Fifth is Fate knocking at the door,” wrote a critic not long after the première, “Tchaikovsky’s Fifth is Fate trying to get out.”

© All Program notes are written by Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca

Biographies

Photo by: Ben Lariviere Photography

Andrei Feher, conductor

Andrei Feher has already earned a reputation for his musical maturity and integrity, natural authority on the podium, and an imaginative and intelligent approach to programming. At the age of 26 Feher was appointed as the new Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, a position which is effective from August 2018.

Having gained early experience as assistant to Fabien Gabel at the Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, at the age of 22 Feher joined the Orchestre de Paris as Assistant Conductor to its Music Director, Paavo Järvi. During this time he collaborated with conductors including Zubin Mehta, Valery Gergiev, Christoph von Dohnányi, Thomas Hengelbrock and Jaap van Zweden, as well as regularly conducting the orchestra in their popular Young Public concerts at the Philharmonie de Paris.

In addition to his commitments with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, recent and upcoming highlights include performances with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, Les Violons du Roy, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Orchestre National d’Ile de France, Orchestre Métropolitain Montreal and Romanian Radio National Orchestra.

A strong advocate of contemporary music, Feher has recently performed works by Eric Champagne, Pierre Mercure, George Dimitrov, Ciprian Pop and Abigail Richardson, as well as the world premiere of Thierry Besancon’s opera for children Les Zoocrates with Opéra de Lausanne. In November 2015, Feher conducted the world premiere of Soleil Noir by Pierre Jodlowski with the Orchestre de Pau-Béarn, which resulted in an immediate invitation to conduct the work in Toulouse in November 2016.

Born in Romania into a family of musicians, Feher began his musical education as a violinist in his hometown Satu-Mare before continuing his studies at the Montreal Conservatoire when his parents relocated to Canada.

Lukas Geniušas, pianist

Born in Moscow in 1990, Lukas Geniušas started piano studies at the age of 5 at the preparatory department of F. Chopin Music College in Moscow, going on to graduate with top honours in 2008.

He was born into a family of musicians which played a major role in Lukas’ swift musical development, in particular the mentorship of his grandmother, Vera Gornostaeva, the prominent teacher and professor at the Moscow Conservatory. This early development helped Lukas become the laureate of several major competitions including the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition in Utah, the Silver medal at the Chopin International Piano Competition in 2010. Two years later he received the German Piano Award in Frankfurt am Main. His most recent victory, and one of the most important, is the Silver Medal at the XV Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2015.

Lukas has appeared with numerous orchestras including the Toronto Symphony, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, NHK Symphony Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Kremerata Baltica, Russian National Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under the batons of conductors such as Valery Gergiev, Mikhail Pletnev, Charles Dutoit, Andrey Boreyko, Tugan Sokhiev, Saulius Sondeckis, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Antoni Wit, Rafael Payare, and Dmitry Liss, to name but a few. His international career has taken Lukas to prestigious venues and festivals throughout the world, including the Rheingau, Ruhr and Lockenhaus Music Festivals, La Roque D’Antheron, Piano aux Jacobins, the Auditorium du Louvre and Wigmore Hall, as well as to major concert halls in Russia and South America.

Highlights of the 2016/17 season have included triumphant recitals at the Sala Verdi in Milan, Mariinsky-3 and the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. He recently gave highly acclaimed recitals in the Pro Musica series in Montreal and the Washington Phillips Collection, ‘Russian pianist quarrels, attacks and fox trots in spectacular debut at the Phillips’ The Washington Post.

In the 2017/18 season he returns to the La Roque D’Antheron and Verbier festivals and gives début recitals at Frick Collection in New York and Schloss-Elmau Festival. Important forthcoming engagements also include performances with Alexander Vedernikov and Odense Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as recitals in Tokyo Bunka Kaikan and at the Macau International Music Festival.

Lukas’ musical interests are extensive and he explores a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque to works by contemporary composers. His repertoire spans from Beethoven Piano Concerti through to Hindemith’s ‘Ludus Tonalis’ Cycle, as well as a strong interest in Russian repertoire such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. Lukas is an avid chamber musician. He is an extremely inquisitive performer and enjoys working on new works by modern composers, as well as resurrecting rarely performed repertoire.

These aspects of his career are reflected in Lukas’ critically acclaimed discography, which includes his most recent recordings of the complete Rachmaninov Preludes (Piano Classics), ‘The Emancipation of Dissonance’ (works by Desyatnikov, Arzumanov and Ryabov) and a CD of works for violin and piano with Aylen Pritchin (Melodiya) as well as earlier recordings of Chopin Etudes op. 10 and 25, and Brahms and Beethoven sonatas.

At the age of 15, he was awarded a “Young Talents” federal grant from the Russian Federation and two years later received the “Gifted Youth of the 21st Century” award. Lukas has since garnered much praise and many awards in recognition of his talent, also in his native Lithuania, where he gives concerts regularly and is recognized as an outstanding performer. Since 2015, Lukas has been a featured artist of “Looking at the stars” a philanthropy project based in Toronto, whose purpose is to bring classical music to institutions and organizations (prisons, hospitals and shelters) where people may not have an opportunity to experience it live in a traditional setting.