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25th Anniversary season
Music of Our Common Earth
Festival Concert 5
August 16, 2019
7:30 pm – Festival Concert at Darrows Barn
6:30 pm – Pre-concert lecture by Mark Mandarano
Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm
Nina C. Young Spero Lucem (2015)
Serena Canin, violin; Misha Amory, viola; Nina Lee, cello; Ignat Solzhenitsyn, piano
Ferruccio Busoni Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor, Op. 36a (1900)
Mark Steinberg, violin; Ignat Solzhenitsyn, piano
Tchaikovsky String Sextet in D minor, Op. 70, “Souvenir de Florence” (1890)
Brentano String Quartet (Mark Steinberg & Serena Canin, violins; Misha Amory, viola;
Nina Lee, cello); Dov Scheindlin, viola; Wilhelmina Smith, cello
Who has not at one time or another profited from the salubrious effects of immersion in another culture? Any increased understanding or awareness heightens the sensitivity and ultimately, encourages one to better understand oneself and one’s home. For the artist, the sense of renewal can result in a re-engagement with core principles and present opportunities to delve into new creative pathways. The composers on this program have all travelled extensively and been affected by what they witnessed and heard. In the case of Tchaikovsky, who travelled to Italy numerous times and once stated, “This country is a gift from God,” the evidence is stated in the title, “Souvenir de Florence.” American Nina C. Young also spent time in Italy at the Rome Academy and the piece on the program was composed in Finland. Italian Ferruccio Busoni travelled throughout his life, although it is probable that his time in Germany had the most profound effect on the work presented tonight.
There is something of an inherent irony in the reception of the music of Tchaikovsky, who is seen by most concertgoers as the quintessential Russian composer. In his homeland, he was viewed by fellow musicians as more of a pan-European composer, just as much influenced by his Slavic heritage as he was by chromatic German harmony, the colorful palette of French orchestration, and the graceful, winding intricacies of Italiante melody. The moody folk roots of Mussorgsky was held up as the essential Russian character, something that, in perception at least, was far from the sound and feeling of Tchaikovsky.
The truth of the matter is that Tchaikovsky did compose a number of important works while abroad. In one instance, immediately after his impulsive and disastrous decision to marry, he fled to Rome in early 1878, where he took up lodging with his brother. His absorption in the ancient culture and art allowed him to distance himself from his personal travails for a time. The stimulus of this journey led to his orchestral composition Capriccio Italien. His Violin Concerto was written in Switzerland and his Fourth Symphony was written mostly in northern Italy and finished in Venice. By 1890, his Sleeping Beauty ballet had debuted in St. Petersburg to much acclaim and his position at home was more secure. He went to Florence, where he composed the opera The Queen of Spades to a story by Pushkin.
Simultaneously, he conceived of the desire to compose a chamber work for string sextet, intrigued by the challenges of achieving clarity and differentiation among six homogenous string instruments (a challenge met by his contemporaries Brahms and Dvořák). The melody of the slow movement is the literal “souvenir,” a tune that he began to develop while in Florence which became the germinal starting point for the music. Tchaikovsky experienced mixed feelings during the gestation process of this work, complaining to friends it was an impossible task; but upon completion he wrote that the entire process had been an uninterrupted pleasure. Despite any doubts he may have had, it has proven to be a popular work—admired precisely because it displays qualities Tchaikovsky himself had admired in Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, when he wrote that it “does not strive after profundity, but carefully avoids routine, seeks out new forms, and thinks about musical beauty more than observing established traditions.”
Ferruccio Busoni, born in Empoli (Tuscany) and raised in Trieste, showed formidable talent as a pianist at a young age and, for most of his life, kept up the itinerant schedule of the traveling virtuoso. He toured throughout Europe and Russia and held positions in Finland, Russia, Germany, and even Boston where he served on the piano faculty of the New England Conservatory. While in the U.S., Busoni became intrigued by the folk music of Native Americans and wrote several pieces inspired by transcriptions of these novel musical ideas. Although strongly rooted in tradition, Busoni was ever a pioneer who embraced the future, including emerging ideas about dissonance, microtones, and electronic instruments, let alone the cross-pollination by different cultures.
Busoni’s intellectual leanings directed him to follow in the path of predecessors such as Bach, Beethoven, and Liszt, and much of his life’s work included performances, transcriptions, and new editions of works by these composers. The Violin Sonata No. 2 exhibits many of the traits of Busoni’s more traditional side. The structure creates a blend of classic multi-movement form and the Lisztian innovation of melding movements into a single continuous entity by allowing each listed movement to proceed directly into what follows. It begins with a brooding, Gothic series of harmonies (featuring an upper chromatic turn that reappears throughout). This slow introduction yields by degrees to faster tempos and a degree of classicism not far removed from Beethoven. The succeeding Presto tarantella sheds the moody qualities for clear, crisp harmonies that dart from one region to another. The brooding quality returns as a kind of gesture toward a fragmentary slow movement. In the finale, the clarity of his associations with Bach come to the fore: it takes the form of a series of variations on a chorale “Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seele” which Bach wrote for the Anna Magdalena notebook. The style is conventional, but masterful and appealing. The brilliant final variation features the pianist in sparkling cascades of scales, followed by the return of the theme proper, where the word “apotheosis” is actually written into the score. The ambitious work then settles back into the peace described in the chorale, the opening chromatic turn finally resolving via a cadence in a major key.
Nina C. Young’s art has brought her to many corners of the world and led to collaborations highlighting issues of social justice and international responsibility. Young’s current creative interests tend in the direction of collaborative, multidisciplinary works. While in Rome, Young worked with choreographer Miro Magloire and the New Chamber Ballet to develop a site-specific piece, Temenos, around the intersection of movement, architecture, and sound at the Tempietto del Bramante. Spero Lucem was written for the 2015 Creative Dialogue hosted in Finland which intends, according to the founders, “to inspire young performers and composers to engage in a dialogue that benefits not only the two parties but musical life in general. Apart from the immediate personal relations that result from such a dialogue, it will lead to a deeper understanding of how composer-performer friendships have affected the history of music.”
The title of the work, Spero Lucem, is a quote from the Book of Job: “After darkness, I hope for light,” which places the piece in a tradition of music that voices the experience of near-despair, with strength derived from belief. The music explores a spacious sonic world, opened up by tone color and a wide-ranging intervallic compass in which conventional language about rhythm and harmony seem almost irrelevant.
By Mark Mandarano