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Program Notes: Youth Orchestra Concert

Saturday, March 23, 2018 at 1:00pm

Gemma New, conductor


SMETANA Vltava (The Moldau) from Má vlast

VERDI La forza del destino Overture

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64



Born: 1976, Oxford, England


This piece is based on something that all Olympic athletes face: the moment before the event. I imagine the incredible anticipation and apprehension with the realization that all training is for this moment. The athletes must block out all of their nervousness to maintain their calm and focus. When the athletes approach the starting line, I imagine that time stands still for a period, until the rush of adrenaline as the body takes over from the mind. The music reflects the athlete’s turbulent emotional stages while trying to maintain a sense of peace and focus. When the moment finally arrives, there is a brief pause and suspension of time before an incredible explosion of energy as the race begins.

This piece was commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony Society and the Province of British Colombia.

Program notes by Abigail Richardson-Schulte

First SLSYO Performance: March 23, 2019, Gemma New conducting

Scoring: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, maracas, marimbas, pistol, snare drum, triangle, woodblock, and xylophone), harp, and strings

Performance Time: approximately 4 minutes



Born: March 2, 1824, Smetana, Litomyšl, Czechia (now Czech Republic)

Died: May 12, 1884, Prague, Czechia

Vltava (The Moldau) from Má vlast

To define his country’s cultural identity, Bedřich Smetana first had to find his own inner Bohemian. This invention of self and country required both determination and a wild optimism. The region that we know today as the Czech Republic had not been independent for centuries. The composer, whose first language was German, was not even fluent in Czech until he was 40. But after working in Sweden for about five years, he returned to Prague in 1861, lured by rumors that a new venue offering Czech-language opera was about to open. He immersed himself in the language and folklore of his homeland and then began creating a repertoire for the Provisional Theater. As its principal conductor from 1866 until 1874, he introduced more than 40 new works.

In 1874 Smetana began to write Má vlast (My Country), a cycle of six symphonic poems glorifying the landscape, mythology, history, and imagined future of his native land. For many years, the region had been under Austrian control; although the concept of an independent Bohemia seems prophetic in hindsight, it must have struck many of Smetana’s contemporaries as faintly delusional. The first work, Vyšehrad (The High Castle), is a musical portrait of the royal palace of Prague, the legendary seat of the earliest Czech dynasty. It begins with two harps playing a delicate arpeggiated pattern, and then soft brass, winds, and strings each introduce a brief motif that represents the castle. This theme resurfaces in some of the following works, including Vltava (The Moldau), which celebrates the famous river in Bohemia. The best-known piece in Má vlast, Vltava depicts both the sounds of the water and its course through the surrounding countryside. In his written preface, Smetana describes its progress “through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer’s wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night’s moonshine: on the nearby rocks look proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft.”

Program notes by René Spencer Saller

First Performance: November 5, 1882, Žofín Palace, Prague, Czech Republic, Adolf Cˇech conducting

First SLSYO Performance: November 23, 1979, Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting

Most Recent SLSYO Performance: November 21, 2004, Scott Parkman conducting

Scoring: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, and triangle), harp, and strings

Performance Time: approximately 12 minutes



Born: October 10, 1813, Le Roncole, Italy

Died: January 27, 1901, Milan, Italy

La forza del destino Overture

La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), composed by Verdi in 1862, is based on a Spanish tragedy by Rivas of the murder of the Marquis di Calatrava and the consequent deaths of the other principal characters in the play: his daughter, Leonora; his son, Don Carlo; and Leonora’s lover, Don Alvaro.

The Marquis is accidentally killed by Don Alvaro when he discovers that Leonora and her lover are about to elope. Don Carlo swears to avenge his father’s death, and his pursuit of Don Alvaro finally ends in a duel in which Don Carlo is mortally wounded. Leonora appears from her nearby refuge and casts herself sobbing upon her brother’s body but, remembering his vow, he stabs her. Thus is a grim destiny fulfilled.

The overture is based on themes which appear at various points in the opera. The brass peals out dramatically, leading to a restless melody that is used several times in the opera: first, when the father discovers the lovers, and later when he meets his death. Next comes the poignant air of Alvaro’s plea to Don Carlo (from the last act), and then the theme of Leonora’s prayer to the Virgin for protection. Then follows another melody, taken from Leonora’s thanks to God for being given sanctuary, after which the music becomes agitated, menacing and peaceful in turn, and builds to a dramatic conclusion.

La forza del destino was composed for St. Petersburg after a four-year lull following Verdi’s previous opera, Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). It is, in the eyes of Roger Parker in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Verdi’s most daring “patchwork drama”, only loosely linear and a precursor of Russian operas like Prince Igor and Boris Godunov. The overture, which dates from the 1869 revision of the work for La Scala, expresses this juxtaposing quality, the reappearances of the so-called “fate” motif unifying the music but at the same time revealing the exciting disparateness of the themes.

© Symphony Australia

Reprinted with permission

First Performance: November 22, 1862, St. Petersburg, Russia

First SLSYO Performance: November 26, 1982, Catherine Comet conducting

Most Recent SLSYO Performance: May 3, 2009, Ward Stare conducting

Scoring: flute, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum and cymbals), 2 harps, and strings

Performance Time: approximately 8 minutes



Born: May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia

Died: November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia

Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64

Tchaikovsky conceived his mature symphonies as enactments of his own psychic conflicts. Each of his last three works in this genre were written to express a highly subjective program, a drama born of his struggle for happiness—or at least some measure of emotional equilibrium—in the face of difficult personal circumstances. But the composer grew increasingly reticent about the details of these programs as the years went by. With regard to his Fifth Symphony, written during the summer of 1888, he revealed only a short scenario concerning its first movement.

Tchaikovsky set forth the dramatic premise for the symphony in a brief note on the opening movement, written shortly before he began composing the work:

Introduction: complete resignation before Fate or, which is the same

thing, the unfathomable workings of Providence.

Allegro: (I) Murmurs, doubts, pleas, reproaches. ...

(II) Shall I throw myself in the embraces of faith?

Although this is certainly vague and incomplete, there is little need for further programmatic details. Even without fuller explanation from the composer, it is clear that the Fifth Symphony addresses programmatically the same issues of destiny and the quest for happiness that shaped Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Its tone, however, is entirely more optimistic than that of the earlier composition—or, for that matter, that of the tragic Symphony No. 6 that would follow. Here the music conveys a progression from crisis to triumph, a “plot” that has a venerable tradition in the symphonic literature.

The first movement opens with a somber introduction whose tone is well suited to Tchaikovsky’s description of “complete resignation.” Its melody, announced by the clarinets in their low register, is a “motto” theme, one that will recur in each of the symphony’s four movements. (Nearly all commentators refer to it as the “Fate” or “Providence” theme.) The main body of the movement begins with a sturdy march subject introduced also by the clarinets but quickly taken up by other instruments. Tchaikovsky counters this idea with several others of more genial character, the tension between them and the martial first theme accounting for much of the movement’s excitement.

The ensuing Andante cantabile unfolds under the spell of a handsome melody presented as a horn solo in its opening moments. Its mood of enchantment twice is broken, however, by the return of the motto figure, now more menacing in tone. The third movement offers waltz melodies that seem to belong to one of Tchaikovsky’s fairy-tale ballets. Once again, near the close of the movement, the theme from the introduction is heard, but it seems tame and powerless in the ideally elegant world suggested by the music we have just heard.

In the finale, Tchaikovsky comes to grips with the persistent motto theme. Here he transforms the melody that opened the symphony into a triumphal march, the furious outbursts midway through the movement only serving to make its final apotheosis more impressive. There is also a brief remembrance of the march subject from the first movement during the closing moments.

The metamorphosis over the course of the symphony of a single theme—in this case, the motto idea—from an expression of pathos to one of exultation has its original precedent, of course, in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Whether Tchaikovsky managed to make his finale as convincing as Beethoven’s has been widely debated. It is a matter that listeners have repeated opportunity to judge for themselves, for the symphony’s perennial popularity assures its place in the orchestral literature.

Program notes by Paul Schiavo

First Performance: November 17, 1888, St. Petersburg, Russia, Tchaikovsky conducting

First SLSYO Performance: November 26, 1982, Catherine Comet conducting

Most Recent SLSYO Performance: March 23, 2014, Steven Jarvi conducting

Scoring: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings

Performance Time: approximately 50 minutes


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