ARTISTS


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LOUIS LANGRÉE


CONDUCTOR

The French conductor Louis Langrée has been Music Director of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 2013.

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ESTHER YOO


VIOLIN

Esther Yoo, the first ever Artist-in-Residence with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (2018) is acclaimed for her “dark, aristocratic tone” (Gramophone Magazine) and “balanced grace” (The Herald).

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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


Program Notes

SAT MAR 30, 8 pm | SUN MAR 31, 2 pm

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor | ESTHER YOO violin

JONATHAN BAILEY HOLLAND (b.1974)

Halcyon Sun

  • Slow and Calm
  • Moderately Fast
  • Calm. Slightly Faster. Slower

PROKOFIEV (1891–1953)

Concerto No. 2 in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 63

  • Allegro moderato
  • Andante assai
  • Allegro, ben marcato
INTERMISSION

BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36

  • Adagio molto—Allegro con brio
  • Larghetto
  • Scherzo: Allegro
  • Allegro molto

WE ARE THRILLED to welcome back our Composer-in-Residence Jonathan Bailey Holland, and to perform his CSO-commissioned work, Halcyon Sun. This piece was composed for the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in Cincinnati, and takes us on a journey through dark and uncertain paths to hope and light. Next we feature the talented Esther Yoo in her CSO debut, performing the magnificent Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2. Closing this concert is Beethoven’s jubilant Symphony No. 2. Though it was composed at a time when Beethoven was forced to face his increasing deafness, this symphony resonates with energy and frantic joy. One could never guess that this significant work was written at the same time as the “Heiligenstadt Testament,” an essay Beethoven wrote to his brother in which he describes his despair at losing his hearing and contemplates suicide. This era of writing propelled him into his prolific second period.

—LOUIS LANGRÉE


Jonathan Bailey Holland

Halcyon Sun

  • Work composed: 2003 on commission from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • Premiere: April 30, 2004, Paavo Järvi conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (incl. E-flat clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, crash cymbals, marimba, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, xylophone, harp, strings
  • CSO notable performances: One previous subscription weekend: April–May 2004, Paavo Järvi conducting | The CSO also recorded this work live in 2004 for its American Portraits CD (released in 2011), Paavo Järvi conducting.
  • Duration: approx. 16 minutes

Jonathan Bailey Holland, Chair of Composition at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, is currently serving as composer-in-residence with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Earlier this season, the CSO performed his most recent work, Ode, his fifth commission from the orchestra. Halcyon Sun, in 2003, was his first.

Written exactly 100 years after Nielsen’s Helios Overture (to be performed at the April 12–13 CSO concerts), Halcyon Sun is a 21st-century take on the same timeless topic. At the time of the premiere, the composer offered the following comments on his work:

This work was commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as a celebration of the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. For me, the Underground Railroad has always sparked visions of dark tunnels and pathways, with people moving from desolation to an unknown new life. The end of a journey is often symbolized by an image of light. For those traveling through the Underground Railroad, the light at the end of the tunnel was freedom and a new life. (The Freedom Center’s website uses this same metaphor in the Stories of Freedom section when it describes the candle at Rev. John Rankin’s window as a “true beacon of hope.”)

I chose to focus on the end result of that journey as a starting point for my composition. The sun is nature’s beacon, used for direction, used to mark time and to provide energy and light. It is also a symbol of continual rejuvenation. The opening movement tracks the sun from pre-dawn through its ascent and onto its slow arc across the sky. The music moves slowly and pulsates through shifting harmonies and ascending scales. This movement has a primeval quality, built as it is from some of music’s most basic elements: sustained sounds with punctuations, a two-note figure repeated sometimes at great length, and scale-like passages. The rich and sometimes massive harmonies provide an undercurrent of growth.

Movement 2 takes the harmonies from the first movement and turns them into sporadic bursts of light. These bursts are gradually layered to create a dance of light.

The final movement is a hymn-like epilogue, perhaps representing the setting of the sun. The work ends as it began, with low strings playing soothing, predawn chords.

—Peter Laki

 

Sergei Prokofiev

Born: April 23, 1891, Sontsovka, Ekaterinoslav, Russia
Died: March 5, 1953, Moscow

Concerto No. 2 in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 63

  • Work composed: 1935
  • Premiere: December 1, 1935, Madrid, Enrique Arbós conducting; Robert Soetens, violin
  • Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, bass drum, castanets, snare drum, suspended cymbals, triangle, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 11 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: December 1938, Eugene Goossens conducting; Jasha Heifetz, violin | Most recent: November 2006, Paavo Järvi conducting; Dmitry Sitkovetsky, violin
  • Duration: approx. 27 minutes

1934 was a year of indecision for Prokofiev. He spent a large part of it visiting Russia, yet respect for his work was becoming especially high in the West. He was, for example, elected to honorary membership in the Academy of Music in Rome. And, as a result of his growing fame, he was asked by a group of French musicians to compose a violin concerto for the famous virtuoso Robert Soetens. The composer was torn between remaining in the West to take advantage of his rising fame, and returning to the homeland he had left 16 years earlier.

He knew full well that to move back to Russia would affect his musical style, because the brilliant, hard driving, powerful works he had been writing while living in Paris would never satisfy the official Soviet requirements for art. Russian music was supposed to be readily accessible, melodic and consonant.

The Second Violin Concerto became a transitional work. The first movement was composed in Paris, while the remaining movements were written after Prokofiev’s return to Russia. Stylistically, however, the concerto is typical of his Soviet period, in that it is lyrical, tonal, relatively consonant, and simplified.

Despite returning to Russia, the composer was still able to make extensive concert tours. Consequently, the concerto was composed in hotel rooms in a variety of European cities. The premiere took place on Prokofiev’s and Soetens’s tour of Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

The composer liked Spain. The Spanish people displayed a great love of music. He said, “Wherever I played, after every concert, whether in a café or during supper in a restaurant, they would ask me thousands of questions about the Soviet Union, about Soviet music. The Spaniards were particularly interested to hear about our unions of creative artists, composers’ contracts, and the centralization of our concert institutions and orchestras.”

When Soetens premiered the concerto in Madrid, Prokofiev was accorded a standing ovation by both audience and orchestra. Later a special delegation was sent to the composer to express appreciation for his having allowed the work to be played first in Spain.

KEYNOTE. The first movement is cast in a traditional sonata form, except that the usual opposition between a dramatic first theme and a lyrical second theme is not evident. Both themes are lyrical. Nonetheless there is drama, as well as excitement and virtuosity, in the transitional and developmental passages. As the development section is remarkably straightforward, it is easy to follow the two themes through their various transformations. Prokofiev’s concern with accessibility is clear throughout the concerto.

The second movement, like the first, is predominantly lyrical, with the solo instrument seldom silent. Again Prokofiev makes the main theme’s transformations easy to follow. Many of the textures derive from the opening opposition of staccato (short note) accompaniment and legato (smoothly connected) solo line. At the very end these roles are reversed, as the violin plays a pizzicato accompaniment to the lyrical tune in the cellos, horns and clarinets.

In contrast to the earlier movements, the finale is brash, a bit sarcastic, almost demonic—certainly not lyrical. As earlier, the solo instrument plays nearly constantly. There are no cadenzas. Despite the lack of outright lyricism, the music is melodic, as befits a concerto by a proper Soviet composer. Dance rhythms abound, and several times the music almost becomes a waltz. There are also exciting rhythmic and metric asymmetries, such as the passage in 7/4 time that is heard twice.

Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto was written nearly 20 years after his First. Comparisons are instructive. What is surprising is that the two works are not more different, considering the avant-garde music the composer was creating in the intervening years. Although there are certain stylistic differences, they share the idea of lyricism contrasted with harshness. The First Concerto was composed while Prokofiev was preparing to leave Russia, the Second upon his return. Thus the two works form an appropriate frame around the composer’s Parisian period.

Jonathan D. Kramer

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Born: December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany
Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36

  • Work composed: 1802
  • Premiere: April 5, 1803 in Vienna, Beethoven conducting
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 26 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: April 1895 (Pike Opera House), Henry Schradieck conducting | Most recent: January 2015, Louis Langrée conducting
  • Duration: approx. 32 minutes

For some time Beethoven had been alarmed over the weakening of his hearing. How could he function as a musician if he were to become deaf? What chagrin he would feel if he, the world’s greatest composer, could not hear! He consulted several doctors, each of whom prescribed a different remedy. Nothing worked. He had days of good hearing and days when he could barely make out conversations. There were times when he could hear music perfectly and other times when he could not even rehearse, because all he could perceive were high notes.

One of his doctors felt that a few months away from the tumult of Vienna might help. So the composer went for six months to the small town of Heiligenstadt. There he composed the Second Symphony. Also, he had time and solitude to reflect on the consequences of his loss of hearing. He faced up to the inevitability of eventual deafness, he contemplated suicide, and he wrote down his anguished concerns in a document known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.” The testament is ostensibly addressed to Beethoven’s brothers, although at times he seems to speak to all of humanity, sometimes to God, and at other times to one special, unnamed person.

Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was ever inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible). Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to withdraw myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh how harshly I was flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing! Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, “Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.” Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or have ever enjoyed? Oh, I cannot do it; therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you. My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished; I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people, a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. Thus it has been during the last six months which I have spent in the country. By ordering me to spare my hearing as much as possible, my intelligent doctor almost fell in with my present frame of mind, though sometimes I ran counter to it by yielding to my desire for companionship. But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing! Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life—it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me….

That fond hope, which I brought here with me—to be cured to a degree at least—this I must now wholly abandon. As the leaves of autumn fall and are withered, so likewise has my hope been blighted. I leave here—almost as I came—even the high courage, which often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer, has disappeared. Oh Providence, grant me at last but one day of pure joy. It is so long since real joy echoed in my heart. Oh when, oh when, oh Divine One, shall I feel it again in the temple of nature and of mankind? Never? No, that would be too hard.

One might expect such anguished feelings to be reflected in the music composed at the time of the Heiligenstadt Testament, but the Second Symphony is surprisingly happy, carefree, and innocently sunny. One might expect that Beethoven’s concern over his hearing would eat away at his creativity, but he was composing at breakneck speed. One might expect that the composer would give up, but instead he plunged himself into composing with renewed ardor, and soon his music matured into his extraordinary second-period style.

His deafness actually may have helped more than harmed his work. He was forced to retire from the concert stage, and so he devoted more time to composition. Also, as his deafness increased, he kept more and more to himself, thereby developing the strong inner personality that shines through in his mature works. Although he did have occasional periods of normal hearing almost to the end of his life, his deafness made him more and more withdrawn. He shunned the company of all but his close friends, and he compensated for his isolation with an incredible intensity in his music.

People often wonder how a composer can work if he is deaf. Composers imagine the sounds of their music in their minds. They usually o not need to rely on the actual physical sounds of instruments. If they compose at the piano, for example, it is more for convenience than necessity. Beethoven was already an experienced composer when he began to lose his hearing. He knew exactly what his music sounded like, without having actually to listen to it. Occasional slips in orchestration in his later works have been attributed to his deafness, but his sense of melody, harmony and counterpoint—the essentials of his art—never wavered.

KEYNOTE. For this keynote, let us turn to the interesting program note written by composer Hector Berlioz: “In this symphony everything is noble, energetic, and proud. The introduction is a masterpiece. The most beautiful effects follow one another without confusion and always in an unexpected manner. The song is of touching solemnity, and it at once commands respect and puts the hearer in an emotional mood. The rhythm is already bolder, the instrumentation richer, more sonorous, more varied. An allegro con brio of enchanting dash is joined to this admirable adagio. The grupetto [the rapid figure that forms the principal motive], which is found in the first measure of the theme, given at first to the violas and cellos in unison, is taken up again in an isolated form, to establish either progressions in a crescendo or else imitative passages between wind instruments and strings….

“The larghetto is not treated after the manner of the First Symphony. It is not composed of a theme worked out in canonic imitation, but it is a pure and frank song, which at first is sung simply by the strings and then is embroidered with a rare elegance by means of light and fluent figures. Their character is never far removed from the sentiment of tenderness which forms the distinctive personality of the principal idea. It is a ravishing picture of innocent pleasure, which is scarcely shadowed by a few melancholy accents….

“The scherzo is as frankly gay in its fantastic capriciousness as the second movement has been wholly and serenely happy, for this symphony is smiling throughout. The war-like outbursts of the first allegro are completely free from violence; there is only the youthful ardor of a noble heart, in which the most beautiful illusions of life are preserved untainted. The composer still believes in love, in immortal glory, in devotion. What abandon in his gaiety! What wit! What sallies! Hearing these various instruments disputing over fragments of a theme which no one of them plays in its complete form, hearing each fragment thus colored with a thousand nuances as it passes from one to the other, it is as though you were watching the fairy sports of Oberon’s graceful spirits….

“The closing movement is of like nature. It is a second scherzo, in 2/2 time, and its playfulness has perhaps something still more delicate, more piquant.”

Berlioz’s descriptive terms—noble, energetic, proud, touching solemnity, enchanting dash, rare elegance, tenderness, ravishing picture of innocent pleasure, frankly gay, serenely happy, delicate, etc.—certainly do not suggest the turmoil of Beethoven’s mind as revealed in the Heiligenstadt Testament. The human mind, particularly that of a genius like Beethoven, is complex. It is capable of operating on independent planes at once. Beethoven demonstrated this fact more than once. His Eighth Symphony, for example, is just as carefree and witty as the Second, yet it too was written during a difficult period.

Beethoven had a strong character, and he always managed to emerge the victor in his internal struggles. That he surmounted his deafness to go on composing is more important than the degree to which his struggles were manifested in the music. Eventually his inner strength did gain expression in, for example, his next symphony, the Eroica. Perhaps, at the time of the Second his musical personality was not yet ready to express the anguish over his deafness because he had not yet mastered his fate. As a result the Second Symphony could become a happy creation, although written at the unhappiest of times.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

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