Program Notes: Symphonie Fantastique

Concert Program

Magnus Lindberg
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Concerto No. 4 in G major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 58
I. Allegro moderato
II. Andante con moto
III. Rondo: Vivace
Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869)
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
1. Rêveries, Passions
2. Un bal (A Ball)
3. Scène aux champs (Scene in the Country)
4. Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold)
5. Songe d’une nuit du sabbat (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath)

Program Notes

Aventures (2013)

Helsinki-born composer Magnus Lindberg carries a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. Sir Simon Rattle has characterized him as “one-man living proof that the orchestra is not dead.” Certainly, the catalogue of the Finnish composer leans heavily towards the orchestral, from the vast, almost epic scale of his 1985 score Kraft (Power) (‘one of the great sonic brouhahas of the late 20th century,’ according to one critic) to more recent works where he looks over his shoulder to the music of the past to trigger orchestral scores that are at once audience-friendly, colourful and player-friendly too. His 2013 Aventures additionally introduces a playful feeling of fun to a contemporary score. Originally commissioned as a 30th anniversary fanfare by the Finnish Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Lindberg expands the commission to embrace some 500 years of musical history with quotations from Monteverdi and Purcell to Lindberg himself.

An orchestral fanfare, led by the brass, reflects the celebratory origins of the piece. One quarter of the way into the 12-minute score, Lindberg introduces a sequence of reasonably easy-to-spot re-worked snippets from Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schubert and Mendelssohn before developing a passage of original music, with prominent glissandi from the strings, derived from the opening fanfare. Charles Ives’s question is then left unanswered until the winds further develop Lindberg’s ideas. Another sequence brings in Mozart, Stravinsky again and, soon, Beethoven, who almost immediately becomes Sibelius, or is it Monteverdi? Berlioz, on his way to the scaffold encounters whoops of delight from Ravel and colleagues and, to end, Lindberg’s original fanfare.

Piano Concerto No. 4, in G, Op. 58 (1804-6)

Beethoven created this mysteriously serene masterpiece while he had a remarkable number of other landmark works on the go. His Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the three Rasumovsky quartets, the Appassionata, the original version of the opera Fidelio and other works were all at various stages of completion. That’s creative multi-tasking indeed! Given the vast emotional range this music encompasses, the creative and intellectual turmoil in Beethoven’s brain during these years, his so-called middle period, is remarkable. Not surprisingly, ideas posed in one work reappear in another. The persistent four-note (short–short–short–long) figure that dominates the first movement of the Fifth Symphony is viewed from an altogether calmer perspective in the Fourth Concerto, the most delicate and subtle of Beethoven’s piano concertos. It is first heard at the very beginning in a gently questioning phrase that initiates a dialogue between piano and orchestra. As if stunned by the radical notion of the soloist opening a concerto rather than delivering the customary orchestral preview of the soloist’s appearance, the orchestra answers in a glowing, distant key, meditating on the same idea while unfolding a spacious landscape, at once serene and welcoming. As the orchestra gradually develops the theme and introduces a second idea, wistfully in the minor, anticipation builds for the reappearance of the piano. Almost 70 bars later, the piano picks up on the improvisatory nature of the opening, delighting in the treble sonority of the keyboard and highlighting it with plunging scales and brightly ringing chords. Throughout the entire opening movement, the piano encourages dialogue rather than confrontation with the orchestra. A feeling of wonder and elation permeates the music, culminating in a profound sense of peace in the orchestra after the cadenza, before the piano animates the proceedings for a rousing conclusion.

In the brief slow movement, the piano responds to blunt questioning from the orchestra with untroubled eloquence, diffusing the tension and, like Orpheus in Greek mythology, taming the furies – in an analogy first drawn by Beethoven’s early biographer A. B. Marx. Certainly, these astonishing 72 bars of music come as close to human speech as anything of comparable length in any concerto. The finale follows without a break. It is one of the most satisfying of concerto rondo finales in which even concerto display never loses its symphonic significance. Trumpets and drums make their first appearance and add to the feeling of elation. Building from a whispered opening, through a peaceful second theme high in the piano, the tautly-knit movement culminates with a cadenza which Beethoven tersely instructs ‘must be short’ – as is the one he himself wrote.

HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (1830)

It is by no means the first French symphony, but when he created the Symphonie fantastique, the 27-year-old Hector Berlioz knew that he had created something revolutionary. The catalyst was Beethoven, a few of whose symphonies had been performed in Paris by 1828, three years after his death. Beethoven showed – and shocked Parisians in the process – that a symphony could be alternately subjective, dramatic or descriptive. “There are new things, many new things, to be done,” Berlioz said in response to the 1828 performances. And so quickly did he absorb the implications of Beethoven’s symphonies that his own first symphony became simultaneously subjective, dramatic and descriptive. The music was more autobiographical and self-confessional that anything previously heard.

The Symphonie fantastique, however, is not pure narrative. Berlioz does not simply tell stories in the symphony he originally called “Episode in the Life of an Artist.” Rather, he explores emotions and again takes his cue from Beethoven, who showed that new thoughts and feelings need to be given new forms and textures. The dramatic theme underlying the Symphonie fantastique comes from real life, from an ideal Berlioz made out of his infatuation for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, then playing Shakespeare in Paris. His obsession fuelled the outline for a symphony in which Berlioz portrays his dreams and passions for the beloved to the point where they finally drive him to kill her. He is sent to the guillotine and, in a nightmarish witches’ sabbath, she returns to haunt him, hideously distorted, amid grotesque apparitions and visions of death.

Then, when Part One of Goethe’s Faust was published in translation in Paris in 1828, Berlioz’s already overheated imagination drew a third element into the mix. Two years later, the Symphonie fantastique began life as what he first called “a descriptive symphony on Faust.” Both the symphony and Faust’s journey begin not so much with an affair of the heart, but more with an affair of the mind. In both, longings, dreams and passions culminate in an inferno. Given all these intense and consuming influences on the symphony, the wonder of it all is that Berlioz was able to contain his material into a highly structured symphony, where musical unity is an underlying goal.

To help achieve this he came up with a musical idea known as the idée fixe. It is a recurring musical theme that can be transformed, but which is always associated with the woman of his obsessions. It first appears as the main theme of the opening movement – a projection of the artist’s dreams and desires. Then, the idée fixe becomes a waltz melody, finely woven into the rhythmical flow of the second movement. The slow movement is a landscape of subtle atmospheric painting. It is melancholy in vein, a spreading solitude both of landscape and emotion. In it, the piping of shepherds is imitated by onstage cor anglais and offstage oboe – and this is the first use of off-stage music in a symphony.

The fourth movement portrays a procession to the scaffold with another traditional form – the march. In this macabre procession, the idée fixe only appears at the very end, when it is abruptly cut off by a savage tutti crash, as the blade falls. Descending pizzicato string arpeggios portray the severed head, as it falls. Transported to a witches’ sabbath, the artist now finds himself in a nightmarish world. The finale opens with strange noises and the groans of the assembled sorcerers. The beloved is soon introduced to the inferno (on the shrill E-flat clarinet), now distorted and grotesque. Berlioz then draws from the Gothic novel, unleashing funeral bells, rattling bones (col legno strings), an orgiastic round-dance, a parody of the Dies irae and a striking clock. The music builds to its climax as a kind of fugal ballet. Both structurally and orchestrally, the finale is the most daring movement of the symphony. By being merely fantastic, the symphony could not have maintained a place in the repertoire. It survives, long after its première at the Paris Conservatoire in December 1830, because it is the sum of its parts: the imaginative, dream-like first three movements, as well as the more descriptive and visceral final two. All in all, the most remarkable first symphony ever written.


Alpesh Chauhan, conductor

Alpesh Chauhan is Principal Conductor of the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini in Parma, a post he took up in autumn 2017. Quickly rising to international prominence, highlights of his career to date include conducting two concerts at the BBC Proms, a production of Turandot at the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, recording the Ten Pieces Secondary film with the BBC Philharmonic and a main season concert at the Barbican Centre with the London Symphony Orchestra. Alpesh held the position of Assistant Conductor at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 2014 to 2016.

During Alpesh’s first season at the Filarmonica Toscanini the great symphonic tradition takes centre stage, as he programmes a cycle of the Brahms symphonies and juxtaposes pillars of nineteenth-century repertoire such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with twentieth-century masterpieces including Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra. Other highlights in 2017/18 include debuts with the Royal Philharmonic and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestras, the Orchestra of Opera North, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and with Düsseldorfer Symphoniker in a programme featuring Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4. The season also sees him return to the Philharmonia Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Symphony Orchestra, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Orkest van het Oosten. Having already worked with leading soloists such as Alison Balsom, Nicola Benedetti, Benjamin Grosvenor, Leila Josefowicz, Johannes Moser and Garrick Ohlsson, forthcoming collaborations include Markus Werba, Elena Urioste, Wenzel Fuchs and Stephen Hough.

Regularly appearing in the media, Alpesh has been featured as a Rising Star in BBC Music Magazine, and interviewed on BBC Radio 4, the BBC World Service, BBC Breakfast, for the Guardian’s Facing the Music series and for Classical Music Magazine’s Meet the Maestro. He has guest blogged for Gramophone Magazine, appeared in an extensive feature in The Times, and was appointed to the judging panel for the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016.

By way of background, Alpesh was principal cellist at the CBSO Youth Orchestra which gave him the opportunity, as part of the Youth Orchestra Academy in 2007, to take conducting masterclasses. He joined the Royal Northern College of Music in 2008 to study the cello with Eduardo Vassallo before deciding to pursue the prestigious Master’s Conducting Course, taught by Clark Rundell and Mark Heron. Alpesh has studied with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, participated in masterclasses with Juanjo Mena, Vasily Petrenko and Jac van Steen and has been mentored by Andris Nelsons and Edward Gardner.

André Laplante, pianist

Canadian pianist André Laplante, hailed as one of the great romantic virtuosos, has performed extensively throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia, and has released a series of ever more impressive CDs. He garnered international attention after winning prizes at the Geneva and Sydney International Piano Competitions, and capturing the silver medal at the International Tchaïkovsky Competition in Moscow. Critics have compared him with Ashkenazy, Horowitz and Rudolph Serkin, placing him in the elite circle of virtuoso pianists who do not hesitate to take risks.

Recently honored as an Officer of the Order of Canada, Laplante’s recent and upcoming performances include concertos with the Rochester Philharmonic and the Symphonies of New Jersey, Montréal and Chicago, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, a Russian tour including appearances with the St. Petersburg Symphony, and the Symphonies of Newfoundland, Quebec, Trois Riviere and Sherbrooke. Audiences at the Toronto Summer Music Festival have recently enjoyed Laplante in performances of sonatas and chamber music, and Pro Musica presented André Laplante in recital at Montréal’s Place des Artes.

Mr. Laplante’s distinguished discography includes his latest, Listz’s Années de pèlerinage – Suisse (Years of Pilgrimage – Switzerland). Hailed for his virtuosity and musicianship, Laplante won the Félix Award: Album of the Year for this release.

Laplante has appeared as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, and on tour in Europe with the Toronto Symphony under Andrew Davis. His history includes an extensive North American tour with the Royal Philharmonic under the baton of the late Sir Yehudi Menuhin.
The acclaimed pianist has also made a major concert tour of the People’s Republic of China, recital tours of the Far East, Australia and North America, and appearances at major music festivals, including the Debussy Festival (France), Pecs Festival (Hungary), Orford Festival (Canada), Cascais Festival (Portugal), Salzburg Festival (Austria), Festival International de Lanaudière (Canada), International Summer Festival (Canada), Domaine Forget (Canada), and the TCU-Van Cliburn Institute (USA). Mr. Laplante performed with the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in Malaysia as well as a critically acclaimed appearance with orchestra and quartet in an all French Festival with the Buffalo Philharmonic. He also appeared with the Columbus Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa and Club Musical de Québec, as well as performances with the Toronto, Québec, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Lexington, Pasadena and México City symphonies.

André Laplante’s releases on the Analekta label include, in addition to Liszt, works by Ravel and Rachmaninoff, as well as an award winning Brahms album. He has also recorded for CBC and Melodia. His recording of Tchaikovsky No. 1 with Joav Talmi and l’Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, was nominated for the 2001 Felix Award, and his recording of Jacques Hetu’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for CBC Records won the 2004 Juno award for orchestral recordings. Laplante has also been honored with two Opus Awards for 1999 live performances: “Best Concert in Montréal” and “Best Concert in Québec Province.” His recording of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage was awarded a Felix Award for Best Classical Solo Album of the Year.

André Laplante has served as a juror of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, the International Music Festival in Australia, the CBC National Competition (Canada’s most prestigious), the Honens International Piano Competition, the William Kapell International Piano Competition and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs.