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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LEILA JOSEFOWICZ


PIANO

Leila Josefowicz’s passionate advocacy of contemporary music for the violin is reflected in her diverse programmes and enthusiasm to perform new works.

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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


FRI FEB 23, 8 pm

SAT FEB 24, 8 pm

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor | LEILA JOSEFOWICZ violin

BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)

Overture to Egmont, Op. 84

THOMAS ADÈS (b.1971)

Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23, Concentric Paths 

Rings
Paths
Rounds

INTERMISSION

BEETHOVEN

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, Eroica

Allegro con brio
Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Finale: Allegro molto

OUR BEETHOVEN REVOLUTION JOURNEY continues with a truly revolutionary work, Beethoven’s Eroica. The violently redacted dedication to Napoleon is the most famous aspect of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3; however, the hero of this symphony is Beethoven himself, who broke open the possibilities of symphonic writing forever. The architecture and musical transcendence of the heroic battle, incredible funeral march and ultimate victory transport us to a higher level of consciousness and spirituality. With the Eroica, Beethoven pushes the boundaries of expression and challenges the limits of what the orchestra can be. It is an honor to welcome back the uniquely talented violinist Leila Josefowicz to perform a concerto that can accurately be described as a tour de force, Thomas Adès’ Concentric Paths. Though you will surely be enraptured with Leila’s performance, I invite you to also draw your attention to Adès’ ingeniously prismatic orchestrations throughout this dizzyingly beautiful work. —Louis Langrée


Overture to Egmont, Op. 84

Born: December 16 or 17, 1770, Bonn, Germany
Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria
Work composed: 1810
Premiere: June 15, 1810 at Vienna’s Court Theater
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
CSO notable performances: 21 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1896 (Pike Opera House), Frank Van der Stucken conducting | Most recent: March 2003, Gustav Kuhn conducting
Duration: approx. 8 minutes

Three years before Beethoven was born, the German playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published an important theoretical work on theatre called the Hamburg Dramaturgy. In it, Lessing wrote at length about the role of music in spoken drama, an area in which he felt substantial changes were needed. 18th-century aesthetics insisted not only on music’s power to express human emotions but also its obligation to do so as fully as possible. According to Lessing, music for spoken plays should express the subject matter at hand, rather than just provide a background or a distracting entertainment.

In the same year, 1767, Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote a preface to his opera Alceste, in which he said: “My idea was that the overture ought to indicate the subject and prepare the spectators for the character of the piece they are about to hear.”

In the hands of Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven, the genre of the overture became capable of dramatic expression to a degree never dreamed of by Lessing. Beethoven discovered entirely new possibilities in the overture, and when, between the second and third versions of his opera Fidelio, he turned to the spoken theatre to write Egmont, he incorporated incidental music into the drama like no one had ever done before.

The action of Goethe’s tragedy Egmont, written in 1786, takes place in the 16th century, when Flanders was occupied by the Spanish. Count Lamoral van Egmont, scion of a noble family of Flanders, was appointed governor of the province by Spain’s King Philip II (the stepfather and rival of Don Carlos in Schiller’s tragedy and Verdi’s opera). Seeing the suffering of his oppressed fellow countrymen, Egmont turned against the Spaniards and challenged the King to give freedom to the Low Countries. In response, Philip had Egmont executed in Brussels on June 4, 1568; this cruel act touched off a war of independence that eventually ended with the victory of the Flemish insurgents.

This story of a foreign oppression challenged could never have been timelier than in the Vienna of 1809, occupied by Napoleon’s forces. And surely no composer had treated the themes of oppression, struggle and freedom as often and as gloriously as Beethoven, whose opera Fidelio was about the liberation of a freedom-fighter from unjust imprisonment and whose Fifth Symphony climaxed in a breathtaking transition from darkness to light.

Lessing had written in the Hamburg Dramaturgy: “The overture must only indicate the general tendency of the play and not more strongly or decidedly than the title does. We may show the spectator the goal to which he is to attain, but the various paths by which he is to attain it must be entirely hidden from him.” In fact, the Overture to Egmont describes the goal (victory) through a transition from darkness to light not unlike those in the earlier Fifth Symphony and the “Leonore” Overture No. 3.

KEYNOTE. The overture consists of three sections: a slow introduction, followed by a dramatic Allegro and a triumphant coda. The introduction is based on two themes, a forte chordal passage played by the strings and a doleful melody given to the woodwinds. A short transition leads into the passionate Allegro, written in a heroic style with reminiscences of the Fifth Symphony. The chordal passage from the introduction reappears as the Allegro’s second theme. Another dramatic transition ushers in the coda (concluding section), in which the fanfare of the horns and trumpets proclaims the triumph of the cause of freedom.

Goethe’s tragedy ends as Egmont confronts his executioners without fear; as the curtain falls, Goethe’s stage direction calls for a Siegessymphonie (symphony of victory) to be played by the orchestra; and that is exactly what Beethoven composed here.

—Peter Laki

 

Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23, Concentric Paths

Born: March 1, 1971, London
Work composed: 2005, on commission from the Berliner Festspiele and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Premiere: September 4, 2005 in Berlin, Adès leading the Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Anthony Marwood, violinist
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, anvil, bass drum, bongo drums, cowbell, crash cymbals, 2 guiro, log drum, 2 low tom-tom, metal can, 4 military drums, snare drum, suspended cymbals, 4 tam-tam, wood block, strings
CSO notable performances: One previous subscription weekend: March 2013, Juanjo Mena conducting; Leila Josefowicz, violinist.
Duration: approx. 20 minutes

On his 48th birthday, which falls on March 1, 2019, Thomas Adès can look back on an international career of three decades. Having burst on the scene as an astonishing teenage prodigy, he has long been an established composer, pianist, conductor and festival director, and the youngest-ever musician to have won the Grawemeyer Award, nicknamed the “Nobel Prize of music,” for his first work for large orchestra, Asyla. His operas, Powder Her Face, The Tempest and The Exterminating Angel have garnered universal acclaim; every new work from his pen is greeted with the greatest expectations and premiered in the most important musical centers of the world to rave reviews.

With the Violin Concerto, Adès has certainly left his “early period” behind and produced a work that is fiercely original yet entirely comfortable with tradition—opposites only truly great composers can reconcile. He elegantly tweaks the customary fast-slow-fast pattern of the concerto, in which the opening movement carries the most weight, into a structure centered on its substantial middle movementc lanked by two shorter statements. The titles of the individual movements (“Rings,” “Paths,” “Rounds”) indicate different routes by which one navigates the rich array of ideas that make up the work’s musical landscape.

KEYNOTE. The piece is a real journey, and a rather arduous one at that, completed by the solo violin. In the 121 measures of the first movement, there are only six in which the soloist doesn’t play; the violin part is dominated by breakneck sixteenth-note passages and melodies in the stratospheric regions of the instrument’s range. Delicate harmonics combined with agile woodwind parts and grave drumstrokes create a complex and ever-changing orchestral texture that never lets the momentum flag for a moment.

If the first movement is a kind of perpetuum mobile, the second has a more complex form, complete with abrupt dramatic changes and intricate offbeat rhythms that often sound like rubato (free rhythm) while they are in fact notated with extreme meticulousness. A section filled with energetic double, triple and quadruple stops is followed by another made up of rapid passagework, leading in turn to a lyrical intermezzo for woodwind, a passionate theme for the soloist, and a concluding section where the intense activity gradually calms down as the violin descends from the stratosphere to the ground, its thematic material finally reduced to the two lowest pitches of the instrument (G and A-flat).

The final movement opens with what sounds like some imaginary popular dance tune, put through its paces in constantly changing mixed meters and with an eerie percussion accompaniment. Combined with a slower-moving violin theme, the dance tune increases in energy and finally appears as a duet between the solo violin and the piccolo, who play it at the same time but not at the same tempo! A final crescendo puts a sudden end to the dance, and to the concerto.

Peter Laki

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, Eroica

Work composed: 1803
Premiere: April 7, 1805 in Vienna, Franz Clement conducting
Instrumentation: 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
CSO notable performances: 37 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1896 (Pike Opera House), Frank Van der Stucken conducting | Most recent: May 2016, Louis Langrée conducting | The Orchestra also has performed the Eroica Symphony on domestic and foreign tours, including to Europe (1969 and 1995) and Asia (1966).
Duration: approx. 47 minutes

Perhaps the most popular image of Beethoven is of a heroic humanitarian who used music as a force for freedom and against tyranny, as the “man who freed music” (actually the title of a popular biography of the composer). One source of this view is the Eroica Symphony, the work with which Beethoven ushered in a new style that completely and permanently changed the very nature of music. The Symphony was intended to be an homage to Napoléon Bonaparte, the general who had led the struggle for freedom in France, but the composer angrily removed the dedication when Bonaparte had himself crowned emperor. The powerful, liberating, heroic nature of the Third Symphony is unmistakable, whatever the degree of influence Bonaparte really had on its composition.

Beethoven was deeply ambivalent about Bonaparte. He identified with this self-made man who, at least early in his career, fought for freedom, justice and equality. He admired the Frenchman’s courageous leadership and, like many European intellectuals of the time, applauded Bonaparte’s restoration of order in post-Revolutionary France. But Beethoven also deplored Bonaparte’s continual wars of conquest. As early as 1796 Beethoven was composing anti-Napoléonic patriotic songs. He reacted strongly against the suggestion of a publisher that he compose a sonata celebrating Bonaparte:

Has the devil got hold of you all, gentlemen, that you suggest that I should compose such a sonata? Well, perhaps at the time of the Revolutionary fever, such a thing might have been possible, but now, when everything is trying to slip back into the old rut..., to write a sonata of that kind?... But good Heavens, such a sonata—in these newly developing Christian times—ho, ho—there you must leave me out. You will get nothing from me.

Yet Beethoven soon started not a sonata but an enormous Bonaparte Symphony, even though the French general had two years earlier invaded and defeated Austria. It was impossible to live in Vienna and remain neutral about Bonaparte—to compose a work in honor of the conqueror (especially at a time when renewed war was imminent) would have been pointedly anti-patriotic. Why, then, did the composer decide to dedicate a symphony to Bonaparte?

The easy reason is that he was considering a permanent move to Paris, and he thought such a work would provide an entry into French social and intellectual circles. But there were deeper reasons. Beethoven despised the way Vienna’s artists had to depend on patronage from the aristocracy, and he thought that the dedication of a major symphony to Vienna’s enemy, coupled with a well-timed move to the enemy’s capitol, would be an appropriate slap in the face to those who wielded artistic power through wealth. His recent anti-Napoléonic songs and dedications to Austrian nobility had been acts of a faithful servant of the state. But, deep down, he was an independent spirit who hated Viennese society. He saw the French general, who had proclaimed the liberty of all people, as the symbol of his own desired independence from an aristocratic society that supported him financially. The inner manifestation of his struggle to be free of a social system on which he depended for his livelihood was his intense ambivalence toward Bonaparte; the outer manifestation of this ambivalence was the Eroica Symphony.

Shortly after finishing the Symphony, Beethoven received the news that France’s First Consul had declared himself emperor. Beethoven’s friend Ferdinand Ries recounted the composer’s reaction:

Beethoven esteemed him greatly at the time and likened him to the greatest Roman consuls. I as well as several of his more intimate friends saw a copy of the score lying on his table with the word “Bonaparte” at the extreme top of the title page.... I was the first to bring him the intelligence that Bonaparte had proclaimed himself emperor, whereupon he flew into a rage and cried out: “Is he then, too, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition. He will exalt himself above all others and become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, took hold of the title page by the top, tore it in two, and threw it on the floor.

Bonaparte’s personal ambition may have enraged and disillusioned Beethoven, but it cannot have been a total surprise. The act of removing Bonaparte’s name from the title of the Third Symphony represented the victory of Beethoven’s patriotism over the heady influence of Bonaparte. By his rejection of Bonaparte, Beethoven announced that he would remain in Austria and that he would accept, albeit with misgivings, the Viennese patronage system. The composer titled the Symphony simply “Heroic.”

KEYNOTE. We listen to the Eroica and hear one strikingly original gesture after another. The first such event is the opening sound—a tremendous chord played and reiterated, followed by a melody which simply presents the notes of this chord one by one. Later in the first movement we hear intense rhythms, strongly accented (!) silences, an other-worldly derivative of the opening theme in the far-off key of E minor, a mysterious horn statement of the tonic theme against dominant harmony in the strings (just before the recapitulation), exciting rhythmic interactions of 2s and 3s, and two final tonic chords that mirror the opening. The Funeral March is equally original, from its very nature through its poignant fugue to its shattering climax. The third movement contributes an enormous vitality that comes from wonderfully inventive rhythms—the opening metric ambiguity and its extraordinary resolution, the unexpected move into two-beat rhythms during the restatement after the trio, and the interplay of 2s and 3s (even more involved than in the first movement). The originality of the affirmative finale lies in its form. It starts as a series of variations on a simple theme, which becomes the bass line of a more melodic theme and eventually disappears.

This list of unprecedented gestures in the Symphony could go on and on, but it is not the novelty of materials to which we should listen. Rather it is the originality of conception that matters. Beethoven had a unique idea for his Third Symphony, and in the process of finding music appropriate to that idea he created an expansive, integrated and powerful work.

Once the Eroica existed, no subsequent composer could ignore it. The development of 19th-century symphonic music is traceable more to the Eroica than to any other single work, and it took composers more than a century to exhaust its implications.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

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