Stephanie Childress, conductor
Katie Lee, clarinet
Lumière et Pesanteur (2009)
Bernard Henrik Crusell
Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in F, op. 5 (1810)
Katie Lee, clarinet
Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 43 (1901)
Tempo Andante, ma rubato
Finale: Allegro molto
Lumière et Pesanteur
Born October 14, 1952, Helsinki, Finland
Kaija Saariaho, a voice of our own time, is a founder of the Korvat auki (Ears Open) society. Founded in 1977, this group of Finnish composers and musicians advocates for contemporary music, seeking to “open the auditive landscape with our concerts...open the door into composers’ chambers... [and] cast a spotlight onto the sounding arts lying in the blindsides and rabbit holes.”
Another founding member of Korvat auki is Esa-Pekka Salonen, for whom Saariaho dedicated her Lumière et Pesanteur, or “Light and Gravity.” The piece is an arrangement taken from her oratorio La Passion de Simone, which shares different moments and ideas from the life of French philosopher Simone Weil.
“I have been reading Simone Weil’s writing since my youth,” writes Saariaho. “Her book Gravity and Grace was one of the things I packed into my suitcase” when she left Finland to continue studies in composition in Germany. “The combination of Weil’s severe asceticism and her passionate quest for truth has appealed to me ever since I first read her thoughts...I have always been fascinated by [her] striving for abstract (mathematical) and spiritual-intellectual goals.”
Saariaho’s music is the calm before the storm: sometimes light and airy, sometimes fiercely searching.
First performance: August 29, 2009, by the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Helsinki Festival, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting
First YO performance: this concert
Damrosch Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, strings
Approximate duration: 6 minutes
Clarinet Concerto No. 2
Bernhard Henrik Crusell
Born October 15, 1775, Uusikaupunki, Finland
Died July 28, 1838, Stockholm, Sweden
Bernhard Henrik Crusell is hardly a household name, but he created an enviable musical life for himself. As a child, he taught himself to play the flute, an activity his parents could hardly keep him away from. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing clarinet in a military band. From there he became a respected clarinet virtuoso, toured throughout Europe, was a permanent member of the King of Sweden’s court orchestra, and even wrote a few pieces for his own use and for his colleagues.
As an instrument, the clarinet had only recently found its way into the standard orchestra. W.A. Mozart had popularized it in the 30 years before Crusell’s Second Concerto, but it remained an incredibly difficult instrument to play. The closest relative of the modern clarinet wasn’t developed until around the time of Crusell’s death.
This concerto also shares a glimpse at a defining period in music history. By the year it was published, 1818, prevailing winds were shifting out of the stately, ultra-well-mannered Classical era and into the dramatic, high- powered Romantic.
Strings open the work, toeing the line between structure and drama. The solo clarinet enters in the middle of a fray, showcasing its own highs and lows, weaving around the orchestra. The second movement is a lyrical dance between strings and solo clarinet. The final chapter smirks devilishly one moment, then beams earnestly the next.
First performance: Unknown
First YO performance: this concert
Instrumentation: solo clarinet, 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
Approximate duration: 25 minutes
Symphony No. 2
Born December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, Finland
Died September 20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland
Sibelius’ Second Symphony can serve to dispel two misconceptions surrounding his work. Because the moods his compositions present often seem intensely subjective, a casual listener might easily assume that their creation was guided by expressive rather than formal considerations. In fact, Sibelius achieved a remarkable mastery of tonal architecture. The Second Symphony reveals a four-movement structure in the classical mold: a strong opening of conventional design followed by a slow movement, scherzo, and triumphant finale. The conciseness of the work’s themes and their recurrence in succeeding movements provide further evidence of a concern for formal coherence.
Then there is the notion that Sibelius was a nationalist composer whose music consistently reflected the rugged landscapes, spirited people, and even the mythology and folk legends of his native Finland. Sibelius certainly drew inspiration from these sources at times, but he disavowed any extra-musical meaning, Finnish or otherwise, in his symphonic work. “My symphonies are music conceived and worked out in terms of music and with no literary basis,” he declared in an interview. He was particularly irritated by attempts to explain his Second Symphony in terms of a patriotic scenario. We can note, moreover, that he composed this work not by some Nordic fjord but, for the most part, during a visit to Italy during the early months of 1901.
The symphony opens with eight measures of throbbing chords. These function as a thread binding the first movement: they accompany both the pastoral first theme, announced by the oboes and clarinets (and echoed by the horns), and a contrasting second theme consisting of a sustained high note followed by a sudden descent. The latter merits careful attention, since it will appear in several transformations later in the work.
A drum roll announces the second movement. Sibelius sketched the initial theme for this part of the symphony while considering writing a tone poem on the Don Juan legend, and much of the music that follows has an intensely dramatic character that seems suited to that story. Some of the most stirring moments involve variations of the second theme of the preceding movement.
Distant echoes of the series of chords that opened the symphony can be heard throughout the scherzo that constitutes the third movement: in the repeated notes that start both the violin runs at the beginning of the movement and the limpid oboe melody later on, as well as in the trombone chords that punctuate the heroic theme that appears near the movement’s end. This latter passage leads without pause into the last movement, which begins modestly but builds to one of the most exultant finales in the symphonic literature.
First performance: March 8, 1902, by the Helsinki Philharmonic Society, the composer conducting
First YO performance: March 4, 1977, Gerhardt Zimmerman conducting
Most recent YO performance: March 4, 2018, Gemma New conducting
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings
Approximate duration: 43 minutes
Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.