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Concert Program Cover

First Concert of the 69th Season

From the Edges of Europe

Sunday, October 28th, 2007
Cordier Auditorium
Suzanne Gindin, Conductor

  Finlandia, Op. 26 Jean Sibelius  
       
  Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 Edvard Grieg  
 

I. Allegro molto moderato
II. Adagio
III. Allegro moderatomolto e marcato

 
 

Adam Marks, piano

 
       
  Intermission  
       
  Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95
"From the New World"
Antonin Dvořák  
 

I. Adagio - Allegro molto
II. Largo
III. Scherzo: Molto vivace - poco sostenuto
IV. Allegro con fuoco

 
       
 

Program Notes by James R. C. Adams

 
  Finlandia, Op. 26 Jean Sibelius
(1865-1957)
 
 

In 1899, when Sibelius wrote Finlandia, Finland was under the yoke of the Russians. Prior to that, it had been dominated by the Swedes. The Finns have had a long struggle for their independence. Although culturally, Finland is closely linked to Scandinavia, ethnically and linguistically, Finland is not at all Scandinavian. Finnish is one of a very small number of languages such as Estonian and Hungarian, that are spoken in Europe, but are not really European. It has more in common structurally with Turkish than it does with Swedish or Russian. Yet, Finland has been claimed by both its neighbors.

This long period of lack of national identity produced a number of fierce nationalists, and Jean Sibelius was paramount among them. Finlandia became virtually an anthem of Finnish nationalism, to such an extent that it was banned for a long time in that country. On those occasions when it was performed, ti went by a different name: Impromptu.

In 1939, the Finnish poet V.A. Koskenniemi wrote words to go with part of the music ... the best-known part, and in 1948, Sibelius re-scored the music for mixed choir, and it is known as The Finlandia Hymn.

The work opens with an ominous brass flourish. The strings then produce a hymn-like melody that surely suggested such a use to the poet later on. This slow introduction is punctuated by staccato bursts from the brass. Later, this builds into a triumphant rising theme, where the strings imitate the brass in that rapid-fire way that Sibelius repeated in his second symphony. When this dramatic part wanes, the familiar strains which later became The Finlandia Hymn are heard. This is the most familiar part of the work, and many people are surprised to discover that it is just part of the longer piece.


 
       
  Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 Edvard Grieg
(1843-1907)
 
 

Grieg was a composer of the romantic era, during which nationalism was much in vogue. He was not content to write simply "Scandinavian" music; he wrote "Norwegian" music. He was most emphatic about that. His great-grandfather, however, had come from Scotland, where the family name was spelled "Greig." For you trivia fans, Grieg was the cousin of the great-grandfather of the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould.

Grieg wrote only one piano concerto, but it is one of the most popular piano concerti ever written. Certainly, the solo opening is the most dramatic and recognizable opening of any piano concerto. The work was written in 1868 for Edmund Neupart, who gave the work its world premiere in Copenhagen. It scored an immediate success, and has maintained its popularity ever since. Both Franz Liszt and Anton Rubinstein, the two most renowned pianists of the day, were mightily impressed. (The young Debussy, however, was quite critical: dramatic brass flourishes that led to nothing important.)

The work begins after a tymphni-roll and an orchestral chord with a series of descending chords for piano solo, maddening in that the series is memorable enough to run through one's mind, but spans a range too great for whistling or humming. As we listen to the unfolding of the first movement, it is difficult to believe that it is the first orchestral work of the twenty-five-yeard-old composer.

The second movement is slow, as is to be expected of a concerto, and here Grieg produces one of his most memorable melodies. This music, which had left Debussy unimpressed, charmed Liszt and Rubenstein when they first heard it.

The third movement, allegro moderato molto e marcato, may be the most obviously Norwegian of the work. It features the halling, a popular Norwegian folk-dance in 2/4 time with strong accents (marcato), interrupted by lyrical moments. The halling dance rhythm reappears several times, and then a so-called springdans is introduced. While Grieg alludes to folk music frequently in his works, he almost never quotes actual folk music. The only known exception is in "Solveig's Song" from Peer Gynt. This shows great restraint and originality on the part of a great nationalist composer. Other composers of the same period, such as Tchaikovsky, had no compunction about quoting melodies of folk origin in their works.


 
       
  Symphony No. 9 in E minor ("From the New World") Antonin Dvořák
(1841-1904)
 
 

Musically, Dvořák is the heir to Schubert; emotionally, the heir to Smetana. He had Schubert's natural gift of lyricism, and he tried to follow Smetana as a Czech nationalist. He failed in his attempt to develop as an opera composer, never matching Smetana's success in this field, but many think he outdistanced his model as far as musical nationalism is concerned.

Dvořák was born in Vlatava, a small village where his father was an inn-keeper. His music, with its frequent references to peasant dances and folk tunes, may have been colored by his exposure at an early age to the small town bands he heard at his father's inn.

He became a very accomplished violinist, and eventually won a post in the Czech National Theatre Orchestra as violist. He played there for several years under the baton of Bedřich Smetana. He wrote a number of string quartets and became very adept at writing for massed strings, an important element in developing orchestral tone.

There is a straightforward, down-to-earth quality about Dvořák and his music. He loved birds, his garden, the Church, and locomotives (!). He wrote the Ninth Symphony when he was in New York and, when he was homesick, would travel over an hour to get to a point from which he could watch the express trains go by. His love of the Church was so heartfelt that he was very disappointed to discover that his great friend and patron, Brahms, did not share his devotion. "Such a man, such a soul - and he doesn't believe in anything!"

Critics are divided in their opinions of Dvořák's orchestration. Some think there is evidence in his music that he spent too much time listening to village bands ... that he tried too hard to be Czech. Others believe he was self-indulgent, that he refused to revise or to edit. "What I have written, I have written," he once remarked. However, there is much evidence to the contrary. The final movement of the G major symphony was revised at least nine times. The very numbering of the symphonies bears witness to his self-critical nature.

The Eighth Symphony in G major used to be called the Fourth. The familiar New World Symphony, known to many of us as the Fifth, is now called the Ninth. This is because Dvořák was dissatisfied with his first four symphonies and withdrew them. It was a terrible thing to live in the shadow of Beethoven, so many composers (including Brahms) waited until they were quite mature before venturing to write their first symphonies. Dvořák dared to start early, but repented.

Almost certainly the popular favorite among his symphonies is the Ninth (From the New World). Dvořák enjoyed "negro music," and had great sympathy for the oppressed people. There are themes in his music that remind us of some Negro Spirituals, but Dvořák was very irritated by the suggestion that he had used any American folk-tunes in his work. The false impression of such usage is, no doubt, the result of an arranger's having used his slow movement (largo) to concoct a fake spiritual called Going Home.

The first movement features two phrases as part of the first theme, which are repeated in different keys, and are typical of Bohemian folk music. Critics believe they are also characteristic of the "restless energy" of the New World. This leads to a second theme which is unmistakenly related to Czech folk-dances. Although the title of the work suggests praise for the nation that had taken him in, many believe it was an outpouring of homesickness of a man of rather simple tastes, longing for his garden and his church.


 
       
 

Manchester Symphony Orchestra Personnel

 
  Violin I
Dessie Arnold, Concertmaster
Linda Kummernuss
Casey Lambert +
Ervin Orban
Ilona Orban
Moo Il Rhee
Liisa Wiljer

Violin II
Joyce Dubach *
Martha Barker
Erin Cole +
Janice Eplett
Heather Hufgard +
Jennifer Iannuzzelli +

Viola
Naida MacDermid *
Jessica Jacoby +
Julie Sadler
Margaret Sklenar

Cello
Brook Bennett *
Rosemary Bond +
Erica Hedges +
Cori Miner +
Tim Spahr
Sara Thomas

Bass
Darrel Fiene *
Sam Gnagey
Brad Kuhns

Flute
Kathy Urbani *
Sarah Curry +
Jena Eichenlaub +

Oboe
George Donner *
Nyssa Gore +
Deana Strantz +
Clarinet
Lila D. Hammer *
Mark W. Huntington
Amy Reidhaar +

Bassoon
Erich Zummack *
Karen Labuda

Horn
John Morse *
Nicole Anderson +
Brittany Cook +
Josh Murray

Trumpet
Steven Hammer *
Kristine Harris
Nicholas Kenny +

Trombone
Jon Hartman *
Doug McElhaney

Bass Trombone
Scott Hippensteel

Tuba
Robert Lynn

Timpani
Dave Robbins *

Percussion
Michael Holler +
Robin Jo Steinman +

* Denotes principal
+ Denotes MC student
 
Adam MarksPianist, lecturer and crossword enthusiast Adam Marks is garnering critical acclaim for his innovative and impassioned performances. A staunch supporter of contemporary music, he developed his series of Curated ConcertsTM - interactive and informal programs - to contextualize even the most complicated pieces. As a recitalist and speaker, he has performed throughout the United States, as well as in France and The Netherlands. Also an active educator, Adam has taught at New York University, and has been a guest lecturar at The Juilliard School, Mannes College of Music, and Yale University. Adam currently serves on the faculty for New Triad for Collaborative Arts, where he teaches audience engagement, public speaking, and coaches musicians as they craft theatrical recitals. Other recent collaborations include multi-media works with performance artist Connie Beckley and video artist Jenny Perlin. Adam holds degrees from Brandeis University and the Manhattan School of Music. A former EMT and professional puppeteer, he is currently a candidate for the Ph.D. in piano performance at New York University.