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Program Notes: Mozart and Brahms (October 13 & 15, 2023)

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October 13, 15, 2023




Hannah Eisendle

heliosis (U.S. premiere)


W.A. Mozart

Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K.219

Allegro aperto

Adagio

Rondeau: Tempo di Menuetto


Benjamin Beilman, violin


Intermission


Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 73

Allegro non troppo

Adagio non troppo

Allegretto grazioso (Quasi Andantino)

Allegro con spirito

 

Program Notes



This concert explores a Viennese connection that crosses nearly 250 years of music-making. We begin with the newest music, a blistering musical evocation of heat by the Viennese-born composer Hannah Eisendle. A “summer piece” she’s called it, but not in the way you’d expect. What’s intriguing about Eisendle’s biography is that she’s not only a composer— she’s also a pianist and a conductor. In fact, two influential figures in her development as a conductor, Marin Alsop and Cristian Măcelaru, have become champions of her work as a composer. Meanwhile, her experience as a pianist and composer echoes that of Mozart and Brahms, who were also performers.


The Mozart concerto in this program is a reminder that, in addition to being a piano virtuoso, Mozart was also an accomplished and admired violinist. The music itself reveals something of his playing style—which was much praised for its beauty and purity of tone—as well as his musical imagination. That imagination was shaped by his operatic instincts, and our soloist, Benjamin Beilman, approaches this concerto through an operatic lens, bringing out the “vocal” gestures in the music, and considering it in terms of diction and syntax—communication, in other words.


Unlike Eisendle, Mozart and Brahms were born elsewhere (Salzburg and Hamburg respectively) but both were drawn to Vienna as the leading musical city in Europe—the place to be. For the young Brahms, the pressure was on to write a symphony in the shadow of Beethoven’s legacy. His first effort took him years, but once it was complete, the Second Symphony, which we perform in this concert, emerged in a flood of creativity. It, too, is a summer piece—largely composed at a summer resort and, despite moments of melancholy, overflowing with sunny pastoral lyricism.

 
Hannah Eisendle

heliosis

Hannah Eisendle

Born 1993, Vienna



Before the U.K. premiere of heliosis at the 2022 BBC Proms, Hannah Eisendle [pronounced EYE-zend-luh] was interviewed about her creative process. It all begins with listening. “I have a balcony,” she said, and she listens to the sounds of people outdoors, of nature, and even “annoying” sounds—machines, the rhythm of something flapping in the wind, and so on. She fills notebook after notebook—not with musical notation but with thoughts and ideas. “I love that part.” But at some point she has to be the “responsible adult” (there’s a smile in her voice), “force” herself to write down the first notes, go to the piano and “just try it out.” She described how a certain rhythm might work with another idea that has been percolating in her imagination—literally playing at the piano. Eventually, she said, the music “pours out…explodes out of me.”


“Explode” is a good word for the beginning of heliosis, with all the instruments entering in a fierce, blazing orchestral chord. The title itself is the medical term for sunstroke, from the Greek word for the sun, helio, and the sounds that follow are in turn blistering, scorching, and shimmering in their effect.


heliosis is a summer piece (Sommerstück), Eisendle has written, “but not the kind with a clear landscape under a blue sky and radiant sun.” Instead, she invites you to imagine the kind of summer that leaves you feeling “dirty, suffocating, sticky with dust.” Imagine you’ve been abandoned in the middle of a desert, with baking sand dunes and an incandescent heat that takes your breath away. Your senses are inflamed. This fleeting work tips between the explosive quality of the opening and feelings of exhaustion, the soundscape is one of intensity and extreme contrasts—underpinned by a relentless pulse and an almost cinematic energy


About the composer

Hannah Eisendle is a conductor, composer, and pianist—three areas of endeavor that share a common orientation towards the contemporary. She studied piano in Hamburg, and composition and conducting with Mark Stringer in Vienna. She has also participated in conducting masterclasses with Marin Alsop and Cristian Măcelaru, among others, and this past summer was a conducting fellow at the Conductors/Composers Workshop at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Santa Cruz.


Eisendle is interested in bringing together different forms of artistic expression and observing their mutual transformations. It’s unsurprising, then, that she has worked extensively in opera as a conductor and musical director, as well as composing for stage and film, and is currently working on a youth opera, Elektrische Fische (Electric Fish), for the Vienna State Opera.

She came to international attention as a composer in 2022 with heliosis, which was commissioned and premiered by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The work has since been performed in Madrid, Zaragoza, London, and Paris, and this week also receives its Polish premiere. Later this year it will be heard in Lexington (KY) and Helsinki, Finland.

Yvonne Frindle © 2023

First performance: November 3, 2022, Wiener Konzerthaus, with Marin Alsop conducting the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

First SLSO performance: These concerts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, strings

Approximate duration: 7 minutes

 
W.A. Mozart

Violin Concerto No. 5


W.A. Mozart

Born 1756, Salzburg, Austria

Died 1791, Vienna, Austria


In 1772, when Mozart was 16 years old, he was hired as a concertmaster for the Prince-Archbishop in Salzburg. Between then and June 1781, when he was unceremoniously dismissed from the Archbishop’s employment and “escaped” to Vienna, he composed his five violin concertos. The first concerto stands alone, probably composed in 1773; the remaining four in 1775. Among the earliest performers were Antonio Brunetti (who joined the Salzburg orchestra as a solo violinist in 1776) and Mozart himself.


These violin concertos point to Mozart’s own taste as a performer. He was a virtuoso—Brunetti said “Mozart could play anything.” But his style wasn’t flashy. Once, when he’d performed the third concerto, he wrote that it had gone as “smoothly as oil,” and everyone had praised his “beautiful, pure tone.” And as a composer he always put musical substance ahead of technical display.


Even so, in his violin concertos, Mozart’s musical invention takes on an aspect of caprice such as we rarely encounter in his other major instrumental works. Melodies pour so abundantly from his pen that they need not be thoroughly developed, and the flow of music is sometimes interrupted for fascinating but inexplicable digressions.


The last concerto, in A major, is in many ways the most daring, but also the most mature. The first movement begins with the customary orchestral exposition, the ensemble setting out several brief themes with an almost operatic élan. Then the soloist enters—but with slow music that changes the character of the movement completely. Indeed, the soloist seems to have stumbled into the wrong composition, rhapsodizing in slow tempo over a murmuring accompaniment. Having thoroughly perplexed us (but in the most delightful way), Mozart once again shifts gears and returns to the original tempo. At this point the soloist introduces a new theme, with the original theme cunningly hidden in the accompaniment. It’s the work of a 19-year-old genius at play.


The slow second movement (Adagio) floats its rapturous lines over the orchestra in what will turn out to be the longest movement and most elaborate movement in the concerto.

This concerto is often referred to as the “Turkish,” a nickname that comes from the finale. This movement is a rondo—spelled “Rondeau” in the French way and adopting a French dance (the minuet) for its graceful recurring rondo theme. But in the middle of the movement Mozart raises the stakes, interrupting the music with so-called Turkish percussion effects (the cellos and basses hit their strings with the wood of their bows to raucous effect). As always, Mozart knew how to make his audiences smile. After this surprising interlude, Mozart returns us once more to the minuet theme, as though the intriguing excursion had been only a dream.

Adapted from notes by Paul Schiavo © 2013 and Yvonne Frindle © 2013


Mozart alla turca

Eighteenth-century Vienna had a taste for the exotic: it wrapped itself in Turkish robes, smoked Turkish tobacco, ate Turkish delight, and read Turkish fairy tales. Mozart—ever astute to fashion—capitalized on the fad for Turkish music in his unfinished Singspiel Zaide, an early ballet called Le gelosie del seraglio (Jealousy in the Harem), the finale of his Violin Concerto K.219 (heard in this concert), as well as the famous Rondo alla turca in his Piano Sonata K.331, and his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio.


This “Turkish music” had very little to do at all with actual Turkish music—it was long before the era of ethnomusicology or cultural authenticity. Instead it was inspired by the music of the janissaries, the elite troops of the Ottoman Empire. These bands were renowned for their rhythms, “so strongly marked…that it is virtually impossible to get out of step.” In theatres and concert halls these effects were often achieved with piccolo (imitating military fifes), oboes (in place of strident shawms), and above all percussion.

Yvonne Frindle © 2023

First performance: Probably 1775, Salzburg, with the composer as soloist

First SLSO performance: February 4, 1972, Walter Susskind conducting with Wanda Wilkomirska as soloist

Most recent SLSO performance: January 19, 2019, Karina Canellakis conducting with Ray Chen as soloist

Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings

Approximate duration: 31 minutes

 
Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 2

Johannes Brahms


Like Mozart, Johannes Brahms gravitated to Vienna as a young man and spent the rest of his life there. He arrived in the Austrian capital in 1862, at age 29. He had already begun writing his First Symphony, but completing that work proved an arduous process for a young composer who felt overshadowed by the legacy of Ludwig van Beethoven. Not until 1876, after some 20 years of composing and revising, did the highly self-critical Brahms feel ready to bring the piece before the public. Having finally published this initial symphony, however, he soon set to work on a successor, completing it during the summer he spent at the Austrian lake resort of Pörtschach in 1877. It must have been an inspiring location: “the melodies fly so thick here that you have to be careful not to step on one,” wrote Brahms.


The composer’s contemporaries were quick to perceive the new symphony as a reflection of the pleasant surroundings in which it was written. Theodore Billroth, a cultivated and musical surgeon who was Brahms’s closest friend, wrote of the just-finished score: “This is utter blue sky, a murmuring of brooks, sunlight and cool green shade! It must be beautiful at Pörtschach.” It’s unsurprising that this lyrical and radiant symphony came to be known as “Brahms’s ‘Pastoral’.” But this sobriquet annoyed Brahms, and there is much more to this major work than the carefree sentiments and bucolic impressions Billroth’s words imply.


The Second is the longest of Brahms’s four symphonies and in many ways the richest in detail. In no other piece did the composer achieve a more inventive development of his musical materials or establish more fascinating relationships among them. Melodies are transformed in unexpected ways but nevertheless retain their identities; different ideas are set against each other in counterpoint; accompanying figures, on careful listening, turn out to be variations of principal themes.


Yet for all its ingenuity and external charm, the symphony attains a rare depth of expression, and not all of this is of the bright quality detected by Billroth. Beneath the idyllic surface are undercurrents of more sober thought, and Brahms himself wrote to his publisher that the symphony “is so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning.” Although these undercurrents do not dominate the work, they do enrich its emotional complexion.


The opening bar of the first movement (Allegro non troppo, “fast, not too much”) could hardly be more modest: cellos and basses sound the note D, dip down a step, and then return. But this three-note cell is the seed from which much of the symphony springs. It punctuates the horn-call presentation of the first theme and begins the two variations of that theme—the first a flowing violin line, the second a robust orchestral tutti—which quickly follow. It appears in different guises again and again throughout the first movement and will emerge later as well.


The second movement (Adagio non troppo, “slow, not too much”) paints a darker picture. Beginning serenely with a theme that descends in the high register of the cellos against nearly a mirror image melody rising in the bassoons, it swells into a passionate outburst.


The graceful third movement returns us to a sunnier landscape, though one not without shadows. There is a wistfulness in the harmonies that color the oboe’s lilting, almost dance-like melody. Again we encounter one of Brahms’s trademark tempo markings, full of moderating qualifications: Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andantino), which can be interpreted as fairly fast and graceful, but in the style of a slower, easier paced movement. In the middle, Brahms briefly embarks on a Presto (as fast as possible) but even this is qualified: ma non assai (but not much).


No such ambiguity exists in the spirited finale (Allegro con spirito), however. It sets off with the same three-note motif that began the symphony, and the entire movement seems to flow effortlessly from the quiet running theme stated by the violins. (Those opening notes provide a tangible link to the first movement and demonstrate Brahms’s conception of the symphony as a unified structure.) Rhythmic vitality and skillfully varied instrumentation enliven the discourse, and the symphony concludes with one of the most joyous closing passages in the literature.


The pianist and composer Clara Schumann was one of the first to hear the symphony, as Brahms played sections of it for her on the piano. She considered it more original that his First Symphony and correctly predicted that the public would prefer it. The premiere in December 1877 proved her right: it was a resounding success, with critics praising the symphony as “attractive,” “understandable,” and refreshingly unlike Beethoven.

Adapted from a note by Paul Schiavo © 2013


First performance: December 30, 1877, in the Vienna Musikverein, with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic

First SLSO performance: February 15, 1906, Alfred Ernst conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: February 10, 2019, Stéphane Denève conducting Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 46 minutes

 
Cristian Măcelaru

Cristian Măcelaru

Conductor


Romanian-born Cristian Măcelaru is Music Director of the Orchestre National de France, Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Interlochen Center for the Arts’ World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and Artistic Director of the George Enescu Festival and Competition.

His musical education began with violin, and his studies brought him to the U.S. where he attended the Interlochen Arts Academy, University of Miami, Rice University (studying conducting with Larry Rachleff), Tanglewood Music Center, and Aspen Music Festival.


As a conductor, he first came to international attention in 2012, deputizing for Pierre Boulez with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That year he also received the Solti Emerging Conductor Award, followed in 2014 by the Solti Conducting Award. Since then, he has regularly conducted the best American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and National Symphony Orchestra, as well as the SLSO, where he is returning for the fifth time. He also enjoys a particularly close connection with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut in 2015 in a program with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.


A keen opera conductor, in 2010 he made his debut with Houston Grand Opera in Madama Butterfly and led the U.S. premiere of Colin Matthews’s Turning Point in the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival. In 2015 he led the Cincinnati Opera in acclaimed performances of Il trovatore, and in 2019 he returned to Houston to conduct Don Giovanni.


He is also in demand as a guest conductor in Europe, appearing with many well-known orchestras and festivals, including the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Hallé Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and Danish National Symphony Orchestra.


 
Benjamin Beilman

Benjamin Beilman

Violin


American Benjamin Beilman has established himself as one of the leading violinists of his generation, winning critical praise in the U.S. and internationally, and with these concerts he makes his SLSO debut. His 23/24 season also includes returns to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Oregon Symphony, and the Pacific Symphony, where he will play-direct in a program of Vivaldi. He will also perform in Europe and the U.K.

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, he became one of the youngest artists to be appointed to the Curtis faculty in April 2022. This season, he will lead a Curtis string ensemble on a national tour.


In recent seasons his commitment to contemporary music has seen him perform works written for him by Frederic Rzewski and Gabriella Smith. He is also a champion of Jennifer Higdon’s violin concerto, has recorded Thomas Larcher’s concerto with Hannu Lintu and the Tonkünstler Orchester, and premiered Chris Rogerson’s Violin Concerto (The Little Prince) with the Kansas City Symphony and Gemma New.


Recent performance highlights have also included concerts with major orchestras worldwide, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and other esteemed orchestras across the globe.


He works with conductors such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Lahav Shani, Krzysztof Urbański, Ryan Bancroft, Matthias Pintscher, Karina Canellakis, Jonathon Heyward, Juraj Valčuha, Han-Na Chang, Roderick Cox, Rafael Payare, Osmo Vänskä, and Giancarlo Guerrero.

In recital and chamber music, he performs regularly in the world’s major concert halls, as well as appearing in leading festivals in the U.S. and Europe. He also performs with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and has toured Australia in recital for Musica Viva.

He studied with Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank (Curtis), and with Christian Tetzlaff (Kronberg Academy), and his accolades include a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a London Music Masters Award.


Benjamin Beilman performs with the ex-Balaković F.X. Tourte bow (c. 1820), and plays the “Ysaÿe” Guarneri del Gesù from 1740, generously on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.


Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.

1 Comment


George Yeh
George Yeh
Oct 09, 2023

The date of the world premiere of Hannah Eisendle's "heliosis" was actually March 11, 2022, not November 3, 2022. The misinterpretation is understandable, as her website gives "11.03.2022" as the date of the world premiere, but one has to remember that continental Europeans put the number of the date before the month. So "11.03.2022" is in the notation of "dd.mm.yyyy", not "mm.dd.yyyy".

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