Program Notes: Bénédicte Plays Barber

Concert Program

Thomas Adès (b. 1971)
Three Studies from Couperin
Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, op.14 *
I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Presto in moto perpetuo
Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
Symphony in C major, D.944 (The Great)
I. Andante – Allegro; ma non troppo
II. Andante con moto
III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
IV. Allegro vivace

Program Notes

THOMAS ADÈS (b. 1971)

Three Studies from Couperin (2006)

A triple threat as composer, conductor and pianist, London-born and based Thomas Adès, not yet 50, has been fêted around the world by opera companies, symphony orchestras, music festivals and those who honour with awards, commissions and honorary degrees.  His three operas have been performed at leading opera houses, he was artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival for a decade and was the youngest composer to win the Grawemeyer Award.  Similarly impressive is Adès’s idea of how an ideal day would be spent: “staying home and playing the harpsichord works of Couperin—new inspiration on every page.”  In his Three Studies from Couperin, he arranges three pieces by François Couperin (1668-1733), the most renowned of a dynasty of musicians spanning five generations, whose compositions were crowned by four books of lavishly ornamented harpsichord music, totalling some 220 pieces in all.  Adès draws out and reimagines the underlying ideas in Couperin’s music, making the familiar sound unfamiliar.  He projects Couperin’s plucked harpsichord sonorities onto a small double string orchestra plus seven woodwind and brass musicians and one percussion, extending the techniques of touch and registration that a harpsichordist would bring to the score.  In Les amusemens, with muted strings and brass, alto and bass flute add an other-wordly touch to the subdued sonorities.  Les tours de passe-passe (the slight-of-hand) deceives the ear in the way that bright sonorities pass from instrument to instrument and the texture becomes increasingly complex as the short piece builds to a triple forte climax.  Throughout these Three Studies, Adès precisely notates all aspects of the music including the elaborate keyboard ornamentation of L’âme-en-peine, in the process effectively dramatizing the piece into a grieving, painfully suffering portrait of a soul in pain.

SAMUEL BARBER (1910-1981)   

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 (1939)

American composer Samuel Barber called his Violin Concerto a concerto da sapone, his ‘soap concerto.’  And on many an occasion he must have wished that he could have washed his hands of the complex events that followed its commission from Samuel Fels, the wealthy manufacturer of Fels Naptha soap and a board member of the Curtis Institute of Music.  Fels had taken good advice when he chose Barber.  Although little known, with no previous large commissions to his name, Barber’s music had stirred interest the previous year, 1938, when Toscanini premièred and broadcast his Adagio for strings.  Fels offered $1000, a large amount for an unknown composer, not yet 30.

The first chord of the resulting concerto speaks volumes.  After a piano roll, soloist and orchestra enter together.  There is to be no contest between the two; no heroic soloist pitted against the orchestra.  The chord is G major and the concerto is anchored in tonality throughout.  The violin takes up a wonderfully lyrical melody.  There will be dynamic contrast later in the movement, but tranquillity is the pervading emotion.  The Andante opens with another glorious, heart-warming melody, this time on oboe.  Barber lets the oboe, then strings and horn enjoy its contours before re-introducing the solo violin.  Even then, the soloist presents different, more rhapsodic material, only savouring the main theme later, low on the G-string.  The finale is a non-stop, tour de force for the soloist, exciting and visceral, with fast-running triplets.  Its harmonies have an edge that is less obvious in the softer, smoother harmonies of the first two movements.  After its first performance in Philadelphia in 1941, both the critics and audience praised the concerto.  But few violinists played the piece.  It was only in the CD era that violinists took it into their repertoire, making the Barber concerto now one of the most played of all violin concertos.

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 9, in C, D. 944, ‘Great’ (1825-8)

“Today I have been in Paradise.  The orchestra rehearsed a work by Franz Schubert. . . I cannot describe it . . the Heavenly length of it!  It is a four-volume novel, longer than Beethoven’s Choral symphony.  I was supremely happy.”

The praise comes from Robert Schumann whose persistence led Felix Mendelssohn to direct the first performance of Schubert’s final symphony, in Leipzig, in 1839.  Before his death in 1828, Schubert had given the score to the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, but after the first rehearsal, they pronounced his final symphony unplayable.  Mendelssohn took it to a Philharmonic Society concert in England, but the orchestra laughed the work off the platform.  Schubert’s final symphony was the longest, most spacious symphony to sit on an orchestral player’s music stand until Anton Bruckner completed his Second in 1872.

Schubert worked on his final symphony mainly while on an extended holiday in the beautiful mountain scenery of Upper Austria in the summer of 1825.  The positive energy and beauty of his surroundings found their way into the C major symphony.  It is the culmination of all Schubert had discovered in his symphonic writing so far – a synthesis of the classical first through sixth symphonies and the romantic exploration he began, but left incomplete in the seventh and eighth.  There is a clear realisation of high aim in the symphony.  But the music is not heroic, or epic and it does not strive for effect.  Schubert’s symphony is ‘Great’ in every sense: in concept, in proportion, in content.  (The symphony is traditionally called Great to differentiate it from another C major symphony by Schubert, No. 6, known as the Little).

The first movement is a marvel of symphonic craft of the highest order.  The romantically coloured opening on horn gives the movement a motto theme from which all the introduction and much of the main Allegro derives.  The coda is a glorious, uncontrived, apotheosis of the whole melody.  Schubert’s long melodic patterns traced by woodwinds foreshadow the music of Gustav Mahler, another song-writing symphonist.  The persistence of long paragraphs of repeated rhythmic patterns foreshadow the noble symphonic writing of Bruckner.  Schubert’s magical key changes need a broad canvas to achieve their full impact.  The finale is astonishing.  The headlong pace is unusual for Schubert, while its 1500 measures are an amazing study in rhetoric and variation, as well as a formidable study in string technique.  In the movement, Schubert squarely faces up to the challenges of the symphonic finale and conquers them.  The Great C major symphony used to be criticised as being too long.  Too long for what, we might wonder.

Biographies

Case Scaglione, conductor

American conductor Case Scaglione has impressed orchestras across the globe with his sensitive and thoughtful music-making. The 2017/18 season sees him make concert debuts with the Oulu Symphony Orchestra, Brussels Philharmonic, Ulster Orchestra and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. He also returns to the Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, Kristiansand Symfoniorkester, Sacramento Philharmonic and Rzeszow Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as Brno Philharmonic Orchestra for concerts in Brno and Wrocław.

Following his critically acclaimed debut in Germany with the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn in June 2016, Case Scaglione was named the Orchestra’s new Chief Conductor in July 2017, with effect from September 2018.

Last season, particular highlights included concerts with the Dallas and Phoenix symphony orchestras, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Tampere Philharmonic and Sarasota orchestras.

In recent years, Case Scaglione has worked with Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia, Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra, Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava and Bilkent Symphony Orchestra to name only a few. Among the soloists were artists such as Joshua Bell, Yulianna Avdeeva, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Behzod Abduraimov and Khatia Buniatishvili.

In the US and Canada, Scaglione’s previous engagements have included the New York Philharmonic, The Juilliard Orchestra, Detroit and Baltimore symphony orchestras, Calgary Philharmonic and Winnipeg Symphony orchestras. In Asia, he has led concerts with the China Philharmonic Orchestra as well as Shanghai and Guangzhou symphony orchestras, in addition to regular returns to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Formerly the Associate Conductor with the New York Philharmonic – a position revived especially for him by Music Director Alan Gilbert – Scaglione conducted critically-acclaimed concerts in the orchestra’s subscription series on several occasions during his tenure. He was previously the Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra of Los Angeles (2008-11), and was the driving force behind the artistic growth and diversification of the organisation, founding their educational outreach initiative ‘360° Music’. His eclectic programming included music by Ligeti, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – the Orchestra’s first staged opera in nearly 60 years – and the Los Angeles premiere of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony.

Scaglione studied under David Zinman at the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen, where he won the James Conlon Prize. He was awarded the Aspen Conducting Prize in 2010 and in 2011 received the Conductor’s Prize from the Solti Foundation US. He was one of three Conducting Fellows at Tanglewood in 2011, chosen by James Levine and Stefan Asbury. Scaglione received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and his postgraduate studies were spent at the Peabody Institute where he studied with Gustav Meier.

Bénédicte Lauzière, violin

Described as “beautiful to watch and breathtaking to hear” by the Guelph Mercury, violinist Bénédicte Lauzière enjoys a prolific career on the Canadian stage notably as concertmaster of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, but also as a soloist, chamber musician and recitalist. She won numerous prizes and awards including the Prix d’Europe 2014, the Michael-Measures Award 2011, the Peter Mendell Prize 2010 as well as a grant for professional musicians from the Canada Council for the Arts. Ms Lauzière was a laureate of the prestigious Stulberg International String Competition in 2010 and won several first prizes in national competitions. As a soloist, her recent performances include Korngold’s Concerto op. 35 in d major and Ravel’s Tzigane with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, respectively in October and April 2016 and Tchaikovsky’s Concerto op. 35 in d major with the Kingston Symphony in January 2016. She also had the great privilege of sharing the stage as a soloist with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra and Yoav Talmi as well as with the Western Michigan University Orchestra. Bénédicte obtained her Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School in New York City in May 2014, where she studied with Masao Kawasaki with the support of the Karl H. Kraeuter, H. & E. Kivekas and Starr scholarships. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, studying with Jonathan Crow as recipient of the Lloyd Carr-Harris scholarship. She also studied with Helmut Lipsky at Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal.