ARTISTS


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KARINA CANELLAKIS


CONDUCTOR

Internationally acclaimed for her emotionally charged performances, technical command and interpretive depth, Karina’s reputation has risen quickly since winning the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award in 2016.

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KIRILL GERSTEIN


PIANO

Internationally recognized as one of today's most acclaimed and admired pianists, Yefim Bronfman stands among a handful of artists regularly sought by festivals, orchestras, conductors and recital series.

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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 March 13, 2019 on 90.9 WGUC in Cincinnati, OH

FRI JAN 4, 11 am • SAT JAN 5, 8 pm

KARINA CANELLAKIS conductor • KIRILL GERSTEIN  piano

RACHMANINOFF (1873–1943)

Concerto No. 3 in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 30

• Allegro ma non tanto
• Intermezzo: Adagio—
• Finale: Alla breve

INTERMISSION

BRITTEN (1913–1976)

 Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a

• Dawn: Lento e tranquillo
• Sunday Morning: Allegro spiritoso
• Moonlight: Andante comodo e rubato
• Storm: Presto con fuoco

ELGAR (1857–1934)

In the South, “Alassio,” Op. 50

We are delighted to welcome back guest conductor Karina Canellakis and pianist Kirill Gerstein as we begin 2019. Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto is one of the most challenging pieces for any pianist, but it is in sure hands with the wonderfully skilled, thoughtful and imaginative Kirill Gerstein. Collaborating with Kirill is always an invigorating artistic experience as he lends a fresh viewpoint on tradition and interpretation. The second half of the program features Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from Peter Grimes. This ingenious suite, which was performed before the opera was premiered, encapsulates the richly evocative and somewhat eerie nature of the sea personified in Britten’s orchestrations. The program concludes with the brilliant tone poem, In the South, by another great British composer, Edward Elgar. In the South is Elgar’s musical expression of the sometimes idyllic, sometimes relentlessly tumultuous landscape of the Mediterranean coast. In 1906, Elgar traveled to Cincinnati to conduct this very piece for the May Festival at Music Hall. -Louis Langrée


Concerto No. 3 in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 30

Born: April 1, 1873, Oneg, in the Novgorod district of Russia

Died: March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills, CA

Work composed: 1909

Premiere: November 28, 1909 in New York, Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra; Sergei Rachmaninoff, pianist

Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, crash cymbals, bass drum, suspended cymbals, strings

Rachmaninoff wrote his Third Concerto at his summer estate, Ivanovka. He needed a new concerto to play on his upcoming tour of America. He had decided to come to this country with some trepidation, since he did not particularly like Americans. He complained that all they ever thought about was business. Yet it was for business reasons that the composer planned his American tour: he wanted to raise enough money to buy a car. It was 1909 and he was fascinated by the novelty of the automobile.

Rachmaninoff was too busy writing the concerto to have sufficient time to learn to play it prior to departing for the New World. He therefore took along on the boat a “dumb piano,” upon which he practiced silently every day. By the time the ship landed in New York, he knew the solo part.

Rachmaninoff recorded the events surrounding the first performances of the concerto:

My Third Concerto was written especially for America, and I was to play it for the first time in New York under the direction of Walter Damrosch.… Immediately afterwards I repeated it in New York, but under Gustav Mahler. At that time Mahler was the only conductor whom I considered worthy to be classed with Nikisch. He touched my composer’s heart straight away by devoting himself to my concerto until the accompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to the point of perfection, although he had already gone through a long rehearsal. According to Mahler, every detail of the score was important—an attitude which is unfortunately rare amongst conductors.

The rehearsal began at ten o’clock. I was able to join in at eleven and arrived in good time. But we did not begin to work until twelve, when there was only a half hour left, during which I did my utmost to play through a composition which usually lasts 36 minutes. We played and played. Half an hour was long past, but Mahler did not pay the slightest attention to this fact.… Forty-five minutes later Mahler announced, “Now we will repeat the first movement.” My heart froze within me. I expected a dreadful row, or at least a heated protest from the orchestra. This certainly would have happened in any other orchestra, but here I did not notice a single sign of displeasure. The musicians played the first movement with a keen or perhaps even closer application than the previous time. I went up to the conductor’s desk, and together we examined the score. The musicians in the back seats began quietly to pack up their instruments and to disappear. Mahler blew up.

“What is the meaning of this?”

The concertmaster: “It is after half past one, Maestro.”

“That makes no difference! As long as I am sitting, no musician has a right to get up!”

During his American tour Rachmaninoff played his Second Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, in January of 1910. During a second American tour eight years later, Rachmaninoff was offered the post of music director of the CSO, even though he had never appeared in Cincinnati as a conductor. Although he desperately needed money (his financial resources—including his beloved automobile—had been confiscated during the Russian Revolution), he turned down this offer, as well as one from the Boston Symphony to conduct 110 concerts in 30 weeks. He felt he did not know enough of the orchestral repertoire to become the regular conductor of a major orchestra.

Although he was eventually to settle in the United States, Rachmaninoff’s impressions of this country during his first tour were none too favorable. He wrote home:

I am weary of America and I have had more than enough of it. Just imagine: to concertize almost every day for three months! I have played my own compositions exclusively. I was a great success and was recalled to give encores as many as seven times. This was a great deal, considering the audiences there. The audiences are remarkably cold, spoiled by the guest performances of first-class artists. Those audiences always seek something extraordinary, something different from the last guest soloist. Their newspapers always remark on how many times the artist was recalled to take a bow, and for the large public this is the yardstick of your talent, if you please.

KEYNOTE. The Third Concerto begins with a lyrical melody in the solo piano, accompanied by the orchestra. Joseph Yasser, an organist and musicologist who was a friend of the composer, believed that this distinctly Russian tune was derived from an ancient chant of the Russian Orthodox church, sung in the Monastery of the Cross, near Kiev. Yasser wrote an involved article in which he set out to prove the liturgical source of the Rachmaninoff theme. The composer denied the influence, but Yasser went so far as to demonstrate that Rachmaninoff might well have heard the melody years earlier in Kiev and hence might have remembered it subconsciously.

As the first movement progresses, the piano comes to dominate more and more, culminating in an extensive cadenza. (Rachmaninoff actually composed two alternate cadenzas, one longer and harder than the other. As pianist he used both on different occasions.) The cadenza develops the main melodic material, so that the ensuing return to the opening of the concerto need not dwell on its themes very long. This return serves more as an epilogue, after the increasing predominance of the solo instrument has run its course, than a full-fledged recapitulation.

As if to compensate for the piano’s prominence in the first movement, Rachmaninoff holds it in reserve until well into the lyrical second movement. The middle section of this movement is a scherzo, whose melody is a clever transformation of the first movement’s main theme.

The rhapsodic finale is a study in piano textures. The solo instrument is treated with marvelous variety. Rachmaninoff’s deep understanding of his instrument resulted in a most pianistic concerto.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a

Born: November 22, 1913, Lowestoft, England

Died: December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh, England

Work composed: 1944–45

Premiere: June 7, 1945 in London’s Sadler’s Wells Theater, Reginald Goodall conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. 2 piccolos), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (incl. E-flat clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, piccolo trumpet, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, bells, crash cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, tambourine, xylophone, harp, strings

CSO notable performances: 7 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1947, Eugene Goossens conducting | Most recent: January 2006, Paavo Järvi conducting | The CSO and Paavo Järvi recorded this work for Telarc in 2006.

Duration: approx. 16 minutes

Britten was a pacifist. His objections to war were hardly problematic in times of peace, but he knew he would be forced to make a public statement as Europe headed inexorably toward war in the late 1930s. Following the model of his friend, poet W.H. Auden, Britten determined to declare himself a conscientious objector.

After Auden went to Spain to drive an ambulance to help victims of the Civil War, Britten began a lifelong friendship with tenor Peter Pears. Over the ensuing 40 years of their companionship, Britten composed several operatic roles (including Peter Grimes) and many songs for Pears, whom he also frequently accompanied in recital at the piano. After the composer’s death, Pears looked back on their life together as one of “passionate devotion, faith, and love.”

As war came closer to England, Britten realized that his pacifism would soon no longer be a hypothetical stance. Many of England’s left-wing intellectuals were discontented with the political situation in Britain. Auden, who had returned from Spain, felt the need to leave Europe altogether. He moved to the United States in January 1939. Britten and Pears followed in May.

During the summer of 1941, while Britten and Pears were in California, the composer came across an article by E.M. Forster about the 18th-century English poet George Crabbe. The composer later recalled, “I did not know any of the poems of Crabbe at that time, but reading about him gave me such a feeling of nostalgia for Suffolk, where I had always lived, that I searched for a copy of his works, and made a beginning with The Borough…. The ‘entirely English poet’ evoked a longing for the realities of that grim and exciting seacoast around Aldeburgh.”

In California Britten composed his Scottish Ballad for two pianos and orchestra, which was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. Britten also composed the opera Paul Bunyan, with libretto by Auden. According to the composer, when the work was produced in New York, “the critics damned it unmercifully.… Despite the criticisms, I wanted to write more works for the stage. [Crabbe’s long poem] The Borough—and particularly its story of ‘Peter Grimes’—provided a subject and a background from which Peter Pears and I began trying to construct the scenario of an opera.” The title role was conceived for Pears.

Britten felt out of place in this country. He decided “to return to England, at any rate for the duration of the war. I am not telling people, because it sounds a little heroic, which it is far from being; it is really that I cannot be separated any longer from all my friends and family—going through all they are and, I’m afraid, will be in the future.”

Shortly before leaving America, Britten learned that Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky “was interested in my project for an opera based on Crabbe, although I did not expect to have the opportunity of writing it for several years. Some weeks later we met again, when he told me that he had arranged for the commissioning of the opera, which was to be dedicated to the memory of his wife, who had recently died.”

In the spring of 1942 Pears and Britten sailed to England through waters constantly threatened by submarine attack. In London they received official conscientious objector status, provided that they traveled throughout the country giving recitals. The war had made the patriotic English public particularly interested in its own musicians. Feeling welcome in his homeland, Britten engaged Montagu Slater as librettist and was soon at work on Peter Grimes.

KEYNOTE. Britten explained his interest in the theme of Peter Grimes:

For most of my life I have lived closely in touch with the sea. My parents’ house in Lowestoft directly faced the sea, and my life as a child was colored by the fierce storms that sometimes drove ships onto our coast and ate away whole stretches of the neighboring cliffs. In writing Peter Grimes, I wanted to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea—difficult though it is to treat such a universal subject in theatrical form.

The following synopsis of the opera is adapted from Eric Walter White’s book Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas:

At the end of the inquest into the death of Peter Grimes’s apprentice, the coroner brings in a verdict of accidental death. Peter complains that this verdict does not really clear him of the charge, for the case will still go on in people’s minds. First of the four orchestral interludes, “Dawn.”

Peter experiences difficulty working his fishing boat single-handed. The apothecary tells him he has found another apprentice boy, whom Ellen Orford—the woman Peter hopes to marry—agrees to fetch, despite widespread suspicions that Peter may be a murderer of young boys. Shortly after her departure a storm breaks. The boats are made fast, the nets brought in, and the windows of the houses shuttered. Peter speaks with Captain Balstrode. “Storm” interlude, which appears last in the suite Four Sea-Interludes.

Although it is past closing time, the pub is full. People are still coming in out of the storm for shelter and refreshment. News is brought that the coast road has been flooded and a landslide has swept away part of the cliff by Peter Grimes’s hut. When Ellen Orford arrives with the boy, Peter—to everyone’s consternation—insists on taking him away through the storm to his hut, which is actually just an overturned boat.

A few weeks later, Peter’s new apprentice sits in the sun on the beach with Ellen, while morning service goes on in the parish church. She discovers by chance that the boy’s clothes are torn and his body bruised. When Peter arrives to take him out fishing, her reproaches lead to an open quarrel between the two, which is overseen and overheard by some neighbors. By the time the church service ends, news has spread that Grimes is threatening his lady friend. A party of men sets out to investigate. “Sunday Morning” interlude, appearing second in the suite.

Peter gathers together his fishing gear at his hut. The boy’s blubbering delays him. After a clumsy attempt to soothe the lad, Peter hears the sound of the neighbors coming up the hill. Since they still believe he is a murderer, he decides to make a quick getaway. He flings his nets and tackle out of the cliff-side door. The boy starts to climb down the cliff but slips and is dashed to death. Peter scrambles down after him. The search party finds, to its surprise, that the hut is empty. “Moonlight” interlude, appearing third in the suite.

A dance takes place a few days later. As neither Peter nor his apprentice has been seen, it is assumed that they are off fishing. A gossip overhears Ellen telling Balstrode that the jersey she embroidered some time ago for the boy has washed up on the beach. Seeing that Peter’s boat is now back, the gossip confides her suspicions to the mayor: Peter may have murdered another apprentice. The constable takes a posse of men to apprehend Grimes.

It is night. The only sounds heard through the fog are occasional cries of the manhunt and the moan of foghorns. Peter creeps back to his hut. Ellen and Balstrode find him there, hungry, wet, exhausted, and almost insane. Balstrode suggests that Peter’s situation is hopeless. He must take his boat out to sea, scuttle it, and sink with it. Peter does this as dawn breaks. The town reawakens. The coastguard station reports a boat sinking far out at sea, but the news is dismissed as an idle rumor. As the morning light waxes, the town people start to go about their daily tasks.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

In the South, “Alassio,” Op. 50

Born: June 2, 1857, Broadheath, near Worcester, England

Died: February 23, 1934, Worcester

Work composed: 1904

Premiere: March 16, 1904 during a three-day Elgar festival at London’s Covent Garden, Edward Elgar conducting

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, crash cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, bass drum, 2 harps, strings

CSO notable performances: 3 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1933 (Emery Auditorium), Eugene Goossens conducting | Most recent: September 2013, Giancarlo Guerrero conducting | Edward Elgar led the CSO in this work at a 1906 May Festival concert.

Duration: approx. 21 minutes

The Elgars planned to spend the winter of 1903–04 in Italy, away from the gloom of England. A festival of Elgar’s music was planned for the following March, and the composer hoped to write a new symphony to be premiered at the festival.

With some difficulty, the couple found a house to rent in the town of Alassio. Their 14-year-old daughter, Carice, joined them for the Christmas holidays. The Elgars may have sought to escape the raw weather of a London winter, but they were greeted with several days of rain, cold and gloom in Italy. The weather depressed the composer. “This visit has been, is, artistically a complete failure” he wrote to his friend Jaeger. “I can do nothing: have been perished with cold, rain and gales—five fine days have we had and three of those were perforce spent in the train. The Symphony will not be written in this sunny (?) land.… I am trying to finish a concert overture for Covent Garden instead of the Sym.”

On January 3 the weather lifted, and the family went to visit a church in the neighboring town of Moglio. The church was on a steep hillside, with many small houses below it. Elgar was intrigued at the sight of townspeople walking rapidly down the incline and disappearing into their homes. Someone remarked, “There one really could roll home.” Amused by this image, the composer intoned for the benefit of his daughter, “Moglio, Moglio, roglio, roglio.” This semi-nonsense sentence kept reverberating in Elgar’s mind, just as his tunes often would not let go of his imagination. Eventually, the words took on a tune, which found its way into the new concert overture as the lyrical second theme.

A few days later the family took another walk, this time to see a ruined chapel. Elgar drew musical inspiration from a wandering shepherd with his flock, and later from “streams, flowers, hills, the distant snow mountains in one direction and the blue Mediterranean in the other.” Elgar’s creativity returned in full force: “In a flash it all came to me—the conflict of the armies on that very spot long ago, where now I stood—the contrast of the ruins and the shepherd—and then, all of a sudden, I came back to reality. In that time I had composed the overture—the rest was merely writing it down.”

Now fully inspired, Elgar was nonetheless unhappy with the uncooperative weather. When he received an invitation to dine with the King of England, Elgar decided it was indeed time to return home, where he completed orchestrating the overture. He called it In the South and subtitled it “Alassio,” after the town where he had been staying. It was ready in time to be included in the three-day festival of Elgar’s music at the Opera House in London’s Covent Garden—but not in time for conductor Hans Richter to learn it. Hence Elgar himself led the first performance, as the highpoint of what was the first extensive festival ever of a living British composer’s work.

The success of In the South—and his publisher’s insistence—convinced Elgar to extract part of it as a smaller piece, in versions for chamber orchestra, organ, piano, piano trio, and piano with either violin, viola, cello, clarinet or voice. The extracted piece was published with the title In Moonlight. It is hard to imagine this lavish score played by reduced forces, but Elgar chose only the more intimate passages, including the “Moglio, Moglio” theme.

KEYNOTE.The overture begins with a forceful theme reminiscent of the opening of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, in the same key of E-flat major. One might conclude that Elgar was influenced by this work, which had been introduced to the world five years earlier. However, Elgar had first jotted down his theme in 1899, before he had ever heard Strauss’ work. He conceived the tune at first as a tribute to Dan, his bulldog, who had triumphed in a fight, but in the context of the overture he identified it with the “joy of living (wine and macaroni).” The resemblance to Strauss hence must be taken as coincidence.

Yet this coincidence is not incidental. It extends far beyond the opening melody. In the South is a full-blown tone poem, not a mere overture, much in the manner of Strauss’ works from the same period. Elgar’s orchestration is as sumptuous as Strauss’, more so even than in his earlier but better known Enigma Variations. And the counterpoint is rich in a Straussian manner, with numerous melodic layers interweaving simultaneously to create a dense orchestral fabric of considerable power.

What does this extravagant music actually have to do with Italy? Not too much! Although the piece is frankly programmatic, reflecting numerous scenes and events Elgar observed in the south, its sounds do not invoke Italy in as nearly a direct way as, for example, those in Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Wolf’s Italian Serenade or Strauss’ Aus Italien. The sunny Italian landscape that resounds, in various ways and to various degrees, in these pieces is less prevalent in Elgar’s work—possibly because he experienced precious little of the Italian sun while he was composing it!

Jonathan D. Kramer

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