September 28 & 29, 2012
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Robert Franz, conductor
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Arthur Honneger | Pacific 231
Jean Sibelius | Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 47
Johannes Brahms | Symphony #1 in C Minor, Op. 68
BUY BOISE | BUY NAMPA
Rachel Barton Pine
American violinist Rachel Barton Pine has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, including the Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore, Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand and Iceland Symphonies, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Israel and Scottish Chamber Orchestras, working with conductors including Charles Dutoit, Zubin Mehta, Erich Leinsdorf, Marin Alsop, Neeme Järvi, and Placido Domingo. Acclaimed collaborations include Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, William Warfield, Christopher O’Riley and Mark O’Connor. Her festival appearances include Ravinia, Marlboro, and Salzburg. She has been featured on St. Paul Sunday, Performance Today, From the Top, CBS Sunday Morning, and NBC’s Today.
Her 16 critically acclaimed albums for the Cedille, Dorian, and Cacophony labels include "Brahms and Joachim Violin Concertos" with Carlos Kalmar and the Chicago Symphony, "Scottish Fantasies" with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and "Beethoven and Clement Violin Concertos" with José Serebrier and the Royal Philharmonic. She holds top prizes from the J.S. Bach (gold medal), Queen Elisabeth, Paganini, Kreisler, Szigeti, and Montreal international competitions, and has twice been honored as a Chicagoan of the Year.
A tireless ambassador for classical music, Ms. Pine is dedicated to community engagement and music education. She frequently participates in pre-concert conversations, gives master classes, and presents programs in public schools. Her creative efforts to reach new audiences include appearances on rock radio stations and solo concerts in alternative venues.
Ms. Pine’s charitable activities include serving as a trustee of the Music Institute of Chicago and president of the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation. She plays the Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu (Cremona 1742), known as the “ex-Soldat,” on generous loan from her patron.
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Arthur Honegger | March 10, 1892 – November 27, 1955
Born of Swiss parents, Arthur Honegger belonged to a group of young avant-garde composers in Paris in the 1920s called “Les Six.” Among his companions were Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc. Disappointed with the state of French music, they vowed to lead it into “a new day.” The group dismissed Ravel as “too arty,” and Debussy as “dead.” Inspired by their guru Erik Satie, they aspired to write music that was “clear, healthy, and robust,” and “as French in spirit as Stravinsky’s is Russian.”
Although Honegger composed several symphonies, his most successful work was Pacific 231. It is a steel-age tone poem that realistically expresses in orchestral terms the composer’s passion for the massive coal-fired, steam driven iron horses of his day. His own words tell the story. “I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me, they are living creatures, and I love them as others love women and horses. What I wanted to express was not the sound of the locomotive, but to convey in musical form a visual impression of the physical sensation it creates. It begins with simple contemplation: then the turning-over of the machine at rest, the sense of exertion as it starts up; the increase in speed in order to pass from the lyrical to the state of an engine of 300 tons driven in the night at 120 miles per hour. The music creates the impressive image of an intelligent monster, a joyful giant.”
For you railroad enthusiasts, the “Pacific” was a type of locomotive, and the numerals “231” come from the French method of designating the number of axles on it: 2 pilot axles (four wheels), 3 driving axles (six wheels), and 1 trailing axle (2 wheels).
Honegger was known as the “enfant terrible of ‘Les Six’” because of his daring dissonances, jarring rhythms, and astringent tonalities. The appeal of his music in Pacific 231 is as much kinesthetic as it is aesthetic. Sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Pacific 231 was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on February 1973.
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Jean Sibelius | December 8, 1865 - September 20, 1957
Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 47
At 5 years old, young Janne Sibelius delighted in crawling around under the piano whenever it was played. Soon, he began to study the instrument with his Aunt Julia, and before long, he assembled his own small “orchestra of friends” which he conducted from the piano. The other instruments in the band besides the piano? Harmonica, ocarina, triangle, and chimes -- hardly anything for the ages.
At 14, Janne began violin lessons with the local military bandmaster. “The violin took me by storm,” he later recalled, “and for the next 10 years it was my dearest wish, my greatest ambition to become a great virtuoso.” Frequently he would perch on a boulder overlooking a lake near his home. There, with only the water and trees to hear him, he would play his violin in peaceful communion with nature. He poured heart, soul, sweat, and tears into his dream, but he failed to achieve it. He had started too late and with inferior instruction. Finally, he came face to face with the reality that he just did not have the “chops,” neither the hand coordination nor the extroverted assured temperament required of a star performer.
For a time, we almost lost to law school the man who would grow to become Jean Sibelius, the beloved artist. Why law school? As he explained, “What else could I do? I had to do something!”
Fortunately, as he came to despise school, his gift for music got the better of him, and he started down the path to becoming Finland’s greatest composer.
Early in his career, Sibelius wrote music as a nationalist, drawing his inspiration from the Finnish landscape and mythology. His style fills us with a sense of primal grandeur, evoking landscapes of immense forests, rugged mountain terrain, shining lakes, stormy seas, rolling thunder, and glistening Northern Lights. In 1899, his signature piece, Finlandia, became in 1899 his country’s underground national anthem in the Finn’s battle of liberation against the occupying Russians.
In 1903, he returned with a concerto in mind to his first love, the violin. The piece he wrote in many ways reflects the virtuosic heights to which he aspired but never attained. One critic claimed that he wrote it “for his own ghost.” This very personal piece expresses both Sibelius’s feeling for the instrument and the raw pain of his farewell to his dearest wish and overriding ambition. The concerto is demonically demanding, calling for instrumental skill from the soloist that only the best of the profession have to offer. It also is a field day for the kettledrums.
The opening of this masterpiece is unmatched in its mystery and beauty. We can virtually see the young Sibelius sitting alone by a shimmering Nordic lake, pouring out to the great unknown his deepest feelings on his instrument. The haunting violin melody floats above a cushion of soft gently pulsating strings. Soon the challenge begins. Listen for rapid fire double stops, a trill with the first and second fingers on one string while the soloist plays a moving line on the adjoining string with the first and third fingers, and two different melodies played simultaneously on different strings. Rachel makes it sound easier than it is.
The second movement is pure lyricism, one of the most lovely he ever wrote. The profoundly passionate melody, suspended over a darkly glowing background, speaks in tones that reach deeply into our souls.
The third movement is a taxing decathlon, full of bravura fireworks and technical demands. It is an inexhaustible dance, with both a warlike quality that evokes a battlefield, and also -- as one critic put it -- a lumbering “polonaise for polar bears.” Occasionally, the violin retreats to its darkest register. To ensure that its voice can be heard, Sibelius pares back the orchestra to chamber-music size: two violas, two cellos, a single string bass, and a kettledrum, all playing as quietly as they can.
Between 1903 and 1905, Sibelius reworked and refined his concerto. In its final form, it received its triumphant premiere in Germany, Richard Strauss conducting. It remains a sparkling and permanent staple of the repertoire.
Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on April 14, 1965 with soloist Walter Cerveny. It was most recently performed on October 15, 1988 with soloist Qian Zhou.
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Johannes Brahms | May 7, 1833 – April 3, 1897
Symphony #1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Brahms’s father, a “beer fiddler” with limited talent, introduced his son Hannes to music at the age of 5, but not out of paternal love. Herr Brahms intended to turn his son into an income producing commodity. Thus, when Brahms was barely 12, father installed son as a piano player in a brothel near the docks of Hamburg, Germany. The boy was surrounded by the worst that drunken and lecherous humanity had to offer. Brahms’s salvation? Rigorous piano lessons during the day with Hamburg’s best teacher. Brahms learned all the classics, from Bach to Beethoven. It was Heaven, while the sun was up, Hell when it went down.
Eventually, young Brahms escaped the brothels. As fate would have it, he landed in Leipzig at 19 on the doorstep of Robert and Clara Schumann. Schumann, who published a widely-circulated newsletter, listened to Brahms play his original compositions, and he immediately proclaimed to the musical world that a “new Messiah” had come. Such lavish praise proved quite a burden for the young unknown to carry, but carry it he did, producing the monumental “German Requiem” by the time he was 34 years old.
However, to be considered by one’s peers as a composer of the first rank, one had to tackle the most difficult instrumental form of all: the Symphony. Years went by, but Brahms did not rise to the challenge -- until he was 43 years old. Why so late? Beethoven’s shadow. He feared that the Titan had exhausted the genre and left it with no room for originality. “I’ll never write a symphony,” Brahms bellowed to a friend. “You have no idea what it’s like to hear the tramp of the giant Beethoven behind you!”
Brahms concerns were justified. Hans von Bulow, Europe’s foremost conductor, dubbed Brahms’s First, “Beethoven’s Tenth.” Richard Wagner, the self-appointed champion of revolutionary “New Music,” called Brahms’s work, “a stale relic from the past.”
Disdain aside, von Bulow and Wagner had a point. Brahms did utilize traditional 18th Century classical forms, but he packed them with the harmonic richness and expressive intensity of late-Romantic music. Brahms was truly the keeper of the classical flame, but under his pen, that flame burned with fresh hues and a new incandescence. His music appeals both to the heart and to the mind.
Moreover, Brahms did meet Beethoven on the latter’s turf. Beethoven’s celebrated Fifth and Brahms’s First both start in and travel to the same keys, C minor to C major. Like the Fifth, the First also is a journey from darkness to light, from trial to triumph.
Listen to the opening of Brahms’s first movement. Could that be the menacing “tramp of the great giant?” In the fourth movement keep your ears open for two unmistakable special moments. First, the celebrated horn solo. It routs the dark, like the Sun breaking through at dawn -- ushering in a glorious new day flush with hope. Then you might notice that one of Brahms’s major ideas echoes the dominant majestic theme in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. When queried about the similarity, a pugnacious Brahms retorted, “Any ass can see that!”
We celebrate this consequential man as the last of the great classical giants, one of the “Three Bs:” Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. That’s quite an accomplishment for a kid who got his start in a brothel.
Symphony No. 1 was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on March 9, 1962. It was most recently performed on September 24, 2004
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