ARTISTS


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HANNU LINTU


CONDUCTOR

The 2018/19 season marks Hannu Lintu’s sixth year as Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. A regular in the pit, Lintu works frequently with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet.

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YEVGENY SUDBIN


PIANO

Highly praised as a concert soloist - Yevgeny Sudbin has been hailed by The Telegraph as “potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century”.

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CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

LOUIS LANGRÉE • MUSIC DIRECTOR

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.

PROGRAM NOTES


Originally broadcast on February 17, 2019 on 90.9 WGUC in Cincinnati, OH

FRI NOV 2, 11 am • SAT NOV 3, 8 pm 

HANNU LINTU conductor • YEVGENY SUDBIN piano 

MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Night on Bald Mountain

TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)

Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 23

• Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso. Allegro con spirito
• Andantino semplice. Prestissimo. Andante semplice
• Allegro con fuoco

INTERMISSION

SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) 

Symphony No. 15 in A Major, Op. 141

• Allegretto
• Adagio
• Allegretto
• Adagio—Allegretto


Night on Bald Mountain

Born:March 21, 1839, Karevo, Pskov District, Russia

Died:March 28, 1881, St. Petersburg

Work composed:1867 

Premiere:February 3, 1932 in London, conducted by Nikolai Malko 

Instrumentation:2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, tambour de basque, triangle, strings

CSO notable performances:One previous performance of this original 1867 version: July 1990 at Riverbend, Jesús López Cobosconducting. 

Duration:approx. 12 minutes

In the 1860s, Russian music was just beginning to find its distinctive voice. A number of composers—Balakirev, Cui, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky—explored native musical and folkloric sources as the basis of a national art, and became loosely confederated into a group known as “The Mighty Handful” in Russia and “The Five” in the West. Since their works took their inspiration largely from indigenous legends and folk music, Mussorgsky considered himself lucky to receive a commission in 1861 (when he was just 21) for a dramatic musical composition based on a specifically Russian subject. On January 7, he wrote to his mentor, Mili Balakirev, “I have received an extremely interesting commission [for music for a drama titled The Witch by his friend Baron Georgy Fyodorovitch Mengden], which I must prepare for next summer. It is this: a whole act to take place on Bald Mountain…a Witches’ Sabbath, separate episodes of sorcerers, a solemn march for all this nastiness, a finale—the glorification of the Sabbath into which is introduced the commander of the whole festival on the Bald Mountain. The libretto is very good. I already have some material for it; it may turn out to be a very good thing.”

The mountain to which Mussorgsky referred, well known in Russian legend, is Mount Triglav, near Kiev, reputed to be the site of the annual Witches’ Sabbath that occurs on St. John’s Night, June 23–24, the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist. The sinister god Chernobog, the devil himself in disguise, presides over the demonic revelries. (Other European countries observe similar pagan ceremonies—the day is known as Midsummer’s Night in Britain—and Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Boito, Liszt, Gounod and Saint-Saëns composed musical interpretations of the sinister proceedings.) Mussorgsky’s original conception for a dramatic work based on the legend seems to have come to nothing, though it did serve as the basis for the earliest version of Night on Bald Mountain, a now-lost piece for piano and orchestra in the vein of Liszt’s Totentanz (“Dance of Death”).

Presumably building upon his original piano–orchestra work, Mussorgsky completed a symphonic version of St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain (his original title) in a creative frenzy in 1867. On July 12, three weeks after finishing the score, he wrote to Balakirev, “I composed St. John’s Night at great speed: right away into full score, in about twelve days…. While at work on The Night I did not sleep, and actually finished it on St. John’s Eve. It simply seethed within me.” Balakirev, however, did not like the piece. Mussorgsky tinkered with the music for a while, and mined some of its themes for inclusion in two later works: as a chorus for an aborted operatic project titled Mlada—a composite work to which Cui, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov also contributed some material—and as a choral introduction to the opera The Fair at Sorochinsk. However, Night on Bald Mountain, Mussorgsky’s only extended orchestral work, never came to performance during his lifetime—the original orchestral version of 1867 was not heard until Nikolai Malko conducted it in London in 1932; the score was published in 1968 and the work first recorded only in 1981. The form in which the music is most widely known is the extensive revision, a virtual re-composition around the work’s themes, that Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov made in 1886, which smoothed out its harmonies, augmented its orchestration and sharpened its formal structure, but tamed much of its stylistic originality, spectral conception and demonic savagery.

Soon after completing Night on Bald Mountain, Mussorgsky wrote of it to his friend Vladimir Nikolsky, a scholar of Russian literature and history: 

The witches used to gather on this mountain, gossip, play tricks and await their chief—Satan. On Satan’s arrival, the witches formed a circle around the throne on which he sat, in the form of a goat, and sang his praises. When he was worked up into sufficient passion by the witches’ songs, he gave the command for the Sabbath in which he chose for himself the witches who caught his fancy. At the head of my score I’ve put its content: 1. Assembly of the witches, their talk and gossip; 2. Satan’s train; 3. Obscene glorification of Satan; 4. Witches’ Sabbath. Its general tone is hot-blooded and chaotic…. It is an original Russian production, not deriving from German profundity and routine but springing from our native fields and nourished on Russian bread.

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda

 

Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 23

Born: May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia 

Died: November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg 

Work composed: 1874–1875; revised in 1889

Premiere: October 25, 1875 in Boston, Benjamin Johnson Lang conducting a freelance orchestra; Hans von Bülow, pianist

Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings 

CSO notable performances: 31 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: April 1895 (Pike Opera House), Henry Schradieck conducting; Albino Gorno, pianist | Most recent: November 2014, Louis Langrée conducting; Alexander Gavrylyuk, pianist (also at Carnegie Hall, January 2016) | The work has also been performed by such luminaries as Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn (Riverfront Stadium under Erich Kunzel), Lorin Hollander (on the Orchestra’s 1966 World Tour), and many others.  

Duration: approx. 32 minutes

At the end of 1874, Tchaikovsky began a piano concerto with the hope of having a success great enough to allow him to leave his irksome teaching post at the Moscow Conservatory. By late December, he had largely sketched out the work, and he sought the advice of Nikolai Rubinstein, Director of the Moscow Conservatory and an excellent pianist. Tchaikovsky reported the interview in a letter:

On Christmas Eve 1874, Nikolai asked me to play the Concerto in a classroom of the Conservatory. We agreed to it. I played through the work. There burst forth from Rubinstein’s mouth a mighty torrent of words. It appeared that my Concerto was utterly worthless, absolutely unplayable; the piece as a whole was bad, trivial, vulgar. 

Tchaikovsky was furious, and he stormed out of the classroom. He made only one change in the score: he obliterated the name of the original dedicatee—Nikolai Rubinstein—and substituted that of the virtuoso pianist Hans von Bülow, who was performing Tchaikovsky’s piano pieces across Europe. Bülow gladly accepted the dedication and asked to program the premiere on his upcoming American tour. The Concerto created such a sensation when it was first heard, in Boston on October 25, 1875, that Bülow played it on 139 of his 172 concerts that season. (Remarkably, Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto was also premiered in this country, by Madeleine Schiller and the New York Philharmonic Society conducted by Theodore Thomas on November 12, 1881.)

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto opens with the familiar theme of the introduction, a sweeping melody nobly sung by violins and cellos above thunderous chords from the piano. Following a decrescendo and a pause, the piano presents the snapping main theme. (Tchaikovsky said that this curious melody was inspired by a tune he heard sung by a blind beggar at a street fair.) The clarinet announces the lyrical, bittersweet second theme. The simplicity of the second movement’s three-part structure (A–B–A) is augured by the purity of its opening—a languid melody in the solo flute. The center of the movement is of very different character, with a quick tempo and a swift, balletic melody. The languid theme and moonlit mood of the first section return to round out the movement. The crisp rhythmic motive presented immediately at the beginning of the finale and then spun into a complete theme by the soloist dominates much of the movement. In the theme’s vigorous full-orchestra guise, it has much of the spirit of a robust Cossack dance. To balance the vigor of this music, Tchaikovsky introduced a romantic melody first entrusted to the violins. The dancing Cossacks repeatedly advance upon this bit of tenderness, which shows a hardy determination. The two themes contend, but the flying Cossacks have the last word.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Symphony No. 15 in A Major, Op. 141

Born: September 25, 1906, St. Petersburg

Died: August 9, 1975, Moscow

Work composed: 1971

Premiere: January 9, 1972, Moscow, Maxim Shostakovich conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, castanets, crash cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, tam-tam, tom-tom, triangle, vibraphone, whip, wood block, xylophone, celeste, strings

CSO notable performances: One previous subscription weekend: September 2000, Jesús López Cobos conducting | The Orchestra also recorded the work in 2001, under Maestro López Cobos (Telarc). 

Duration: approx. 42 minutes

Historically, the symphony is a public genre. In the 18th century, when the form was derived from the opera overture—the sinfonia—by Sammartini and his Italian colleagues, it was used as an imposing opening concert piece to call attention to the importance of what followed. It differed from the chamber music of the day in its use of large orchestra, its broad expression and its performance for a sizeable assembly of music lovers in a spacious hall. Though the symphony underwent many changes at the hands of Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and the others capable of handling its challenge, the form continued to be the bearer of the grandest emotions, while a composer’s more personal thoughts were confided to chamber music or songs or other intimate works. It was only late in its development that a way was found to turn the symphony inward, to make it a vehicle of introspection as personally revealing of its creator (and moving for the listener) as the masterworks of the chamber literature. The composer who joined together these public and private worlds to create works of an unprecedented expressive range was Gustav Mahler. Especially in the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde, it is precisely this juxtaposition of the inner and outer man that gives his music much of its emotional power and incomparable poignancy.

The effect of Mahler on the music of Dmitri Shostakovich was pervasive. In the grandiloquent program symphonies (No. 7, “Leningrad,” for example) or the works with voices (No. 13, “Babi Yar,” and No. 14) or the large tonal canvases painted in starkly varied colors (No. 8 and No. 10), Shostakovich’s indebtedness to the Austrian master is striking. Perhaps nowhere are the parallels closer, however, than in the last symphonic works of each man—Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. These pieces share a quality of introspection that is both revealing and enigmatic, as though the composer had opened the recesses of his soul only to then stand behind a shielding scrim. This music’s intimacy is largely created through attenuated orchestration and texture, which acquire a chamber-like clarity and immediacy, and against which the mass of the full orchestra can serve as a powerful foil. As in Mahler’s creations, these qualities in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 invite a search for its “message.” (The Fifteenth of 1971 was Shostakovich’s first non-programmatic or non-vocal symphony since the magnificent Tenth of 1953.) Mahler’s works are “songs of farewell,” a summing up not just of an individual life dedicated to music, but also of the entire historical tradition of which he saw himself as the last representative. The Ninth Symphony and Das Lied, however, are not works of exhausted bitterness, but rather of nostalgia and acceptance and gentle resignation. Shostakovich’s last Symphony (though reports from the Soviet Union noted, without the substantiation of the manuscript, that he had completed two movements of another symphony) may very well have a similar expressive content of thoughts and visions at life’s end. Testimony varies, however.

Discussion of the emotional engine driving the Fifteenth Symphony has been fueled by Shostakovich’s use of quotations: a familiar snippet from the William Tell Overture (his earliest musical memory, according to the composer) in the first movement, and motives from Tristan and The Ring of the Nibelungen in the finale, as well as references to his own earlier music and even the inclusion of his musical “signature”—the notes, D–E-flat–C–B (D-S-C-H , the composer’s transliterated initials, in German notation). The least likely explanation of the first movement, probably nothing more than a diversion to deflect criticism, is one attributed to Shostakovich by his son, Maxim, who conducted the premiere of the Symphony No. 15. This reading set the music in a toyshop at night, with the dolls coming to life and a toy soldier tootling William Tell on a miniature trumpet. The music, however, speaks of more profound things. Maxim himself thought that the Symphony “reflects the great philosophical problems of a man’s life cycle, from the appearance of certain childish emotions to the acquisition of energy, vitality and wisdom. In the Finale, the storms subside and there emerges triumphant a sincere feeling of humanity and great philosophical peace.” Eugene Ormandy, who recorded the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra, felt the finale “could be entitled ‘They Shall Not Be Forgotten,’” referring to the Soviet war dead. He supported his view by noting the use in the movement of an ostinato bass first encountered in the Seventh Symphony, “Leningrad,” commemorating the ghastly Nazi siege of that city in 1941.

In his purported memoirs, Testimony, the composer offered yet another explanation: 

I love Chekhov; I often reread Ward Six. And I feel sorry that I didn’t do as much work on Chekhov as I had wanted to.... I have a work based on motifs from Chekhov, the Fifteenth Symphony.... I never did learn to live according to Chekhov’s main tenet. For Chekhov, all people are the same. He presented people, and the reader had to decide for himself what was bad and what was good. Chekhov remained unprejudiced. Everything churns inside me when I read Rothschild’s Violin. Who’s right, who’s wrong? Who made life nothing but steady losses? Everything churns within me.

Shostakovich’s Fifteenth is one of the great 20th-century symphonies, and, like other musical masterworks from throughout history, will sustain many interpretations in its performance and philosophy. From the pellucid opening movement, into which the William Tell fragment is seamlessly woven, through the plangent lament and funeral march of the Adagio and the cheeky insouciance of the scherzo, to the enigmatic finale, with its references to the “Fate” motive from Wagner’s Ring, the opening melodic gesture of the Tristan Prelude, the ostinato from the “Leningrad” Symphony and the ticking percussion sounds from his long-unperformed Fourth Symphony, Shostakovich created a composition steeped in reference and suggestion. That the work speaks personally for the composer is without doubt, since he inscribed it with his “DSCH” signature and kept it for himself, in effect, by giving it no dedication. Yet this creation is also a universal statement, one that can touch every sympathetic listener in an individual way. When pondering this haunting work, perhaps it is best to recall the thought of Felix Mendelssohn: “…words seem so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstandable in comparison with genuine music, which fills the soul with things a thousand times better than words.”

Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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