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Gimeno + Hannigan

 Julia Mermelstein: in moments, into bloom for orchestra: Celebration Prelude
(born Halifax, 1991), composed 2021–2022, 3 mins

Composer and interdisciplinary artist, Julia Mermelstein blends electronic soundscapes and choreography into performances that create a space for introspection and the surreal. About in moments, into bloom the composer says: “[Because the work]  was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the orchestra’s 100th season, in moments, into bloom explores a movement of expansion following a slow dissolve—continually  building and evolving, like new growth forming after the thaw. The piece takes inspiration from the legacy of Canadian music commissioned by the TSO over its one  hundred seasons, steeping in the past and exploring it in new ways. I think we’re moving into a new  kind of growth this year, and I wanted to play with this shifting movement—capturing a glimpse of this continual cycle.”

Julia Mermelstein

Originally from Halifax, Julia Mermelstein currently lives and works in Toronto as a freelance composer and designer at Human Collective. Her music has also been performed, across Canada and in the USA, by ensembles and musicians such as  Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, North/South Chamber Ensemble, Barbara Pritchard, and Blue Rider Ensemble. Recent projects include commissions from Joseph Petric, Arraymusic, Esprit Orchestra, Ilana Waniuk, and  interdisciplinary collaborations with Leslie Ting, Din of Shadows, and Angela Blumberg Dance. Her music has also been featured at Vancouver New Music, NottNOISE New Music Festival (UK), Open Waters Experimental Music Festival (Halifax), CEMIcircles Intermedia Festival (Texas), OUA  Electronic Music Festival (Osaka, Japan), and Festival of Original Theatre and The Music  Gallery (Toronto). She was recently  awarded the Trudi Le Caine Award in GroundSwell’s 2020 Emerging Composers Competition and awarded third-place in Musicworks' 2017 International Electronic Music Competition. Originally from Halifax, Julia currently lives and works in Toronto as a freelance composer and designer at Human Collective. She studied with Georges Dimitrov earning her BFA from Concordia University and independent post-graduate studies with Linda Catlin Smith, Brian Harman, and Juliet Palmer. 

Igor Stravinsky: Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3
1882–1971, composed 1907–8, 11 mins

Stravinsky at 26 was still an apprentice composer in the circle of Rimsky-Korsakov, who had been his composition tutor—and surrogate father—for six years. In the Scherzo fantastique, he paid homage to his mentor: with its exotic scales and harmonies and sensuous, prismatic orchestration, it tapped into the vein of the “fantastic” that had been a staple of Russian Romanticism as far back as Glinka and culminated in Rimsky-Korsakov’s late fairy-tale operas; moreover, the very genre of the piquant, evocative orchestral scherzo was a Russian cliché, especially for young composers. (French music, except for Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, had not yet had much impact on Stravinsky’s music.)

The Scherzo was inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s book The Life of the Bee (1901); Stravinsky was “very much moved” by the bees’ “extraordinary world,” and found there “the vital energy and the ferocious lyricism” for a short symphonic poem. His preface to the published score sets out the ternary song structure (A–B–A) of this “fantastical portrait.” The first and third parts depict life in the hive, with mechanistic, perpetual-motion “buzzing” music and recitative-like solos that suggest bees communicating. (The opening trumpet lick calls to mind Maeterlinck’s comparison of the queen’s “war-song” to “a distant trumpet of silver.”) The central “slow movement”—a detour into more Wagner-like love music—depicts the rising of the sun, the queen’s nuptial flight, her “love struggle” with her chosen mate, and his subsequent death. (It has been suggested that the third part depicts the workers’ massacre of the idle and  superfluous remaining male drones.)

Early reviewers of the Scherzo were impressed more by its sound than its substance—“not much music and a lot of orchestra,” one wrote. Stravinsky’s brash, glittering orchestration is certainly the main attraction here. It is dense and complex, yet also light and fleet-footed—the bright colours of winds, celesta, and harps, but no heavy brass or percussion.

“A promising Op. 3,” Stravinsky said, and he was right. The Scherzo won him the Glinka Prize (and 500 rubles) in 1909, and caught the attention of the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who invited him to join the Ballets Russes, in Paris. The result, in 1910, was The Firebird—and international fame. 

Program note by Kevin Bazzana

Zosha Di Castri: In the half-light for Soprano and Orchestra
(born 1985), 20 mins

In the half-light explores the subjects of displacement, belonging, and home. It reflects on the meaning and simultaneously unsettling and exhilarating sensations of moving from one physical space to another. This seven movement song cycle for orchestra and soprano was born from a close collaboration between composer Zosha Di Castri, soprano Barbara Hannigan, and author Tash Aw. Aw’s moving libretto evokes not only the experience of human migration (which the current Ukrainian refugee crisis renders all the more relevant), but also a more universal questioning: what happens to our sense of being, and of self, when we move from a place we know, to a place we don’t, then back again? How do we recalibrate feelings of attachment; how do we fit into a landscape (both cultural and physical), and how do we appear to others and ourselves?

The music takes shape on the threshold between darkness and light, the moment before dawn. Hovering on the cusp of change, it opens up spaces where everything that has seemed impossible can suddenly be realized, just for a moment, before we pass into another world. As Hannigan has stated, “It is mystery and love and heimweh (homesickness) and solitude and sehnsucht (wistful longing).”

During the collaborative process, Tash prompted Barbara for a photo or a few lines of description of a place that was meaningful to her. He said it could be, “Where you grew up, or where you live now, or a place that troubles or unsettles you. Anywhere that provides a strong emotional resonance.” Barbara in turn shared the story of her move from Holland to France, when she put all her belongings in a Shurgard Storage unit in Paris. She would go there occasionally to get a dress or a pair of shoes, living otherwise out of a few suitcases in various Airbnbs while on tour. But, she realized with a jolt that the neighboring storage unit had people in it, cooking, living, breathing. She described how only their feet were visible from the bottom of the storage unit door–two transient existences, connected by a shared physical space, yet both living very different experiences, with no one ever fully meeting. She also spoke of a close supportive relationship she built over the past three years with a teenage refugee who traveled from Afghanistan to Europe, and the evolution of his story as a “sans papiers” "(without papers)" in France.

Tash also discussed his own experiences moving from Malaysia to the UK as a young person, then later to France. Themes of migration and displacement run through several of his novels (Five Star Billionaire and We, The Survivors), including his latest book Strangers on a Pier: A Portrait of a Family, which unpacks his own complicated family story of migration and adaptation. Two works which have underpinned his thinking on the subject as well as the writing of this libretto are Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, and Paul Celan’s Atemwende — very different texts, but both linked by a furious sense of displacement. He was drawn to how these works probe that moment when we are on the cusp of change, when everything is on the turn—when light is about to break, when the in breath comes to the out breath, when we are not fully one thing or another—not fully awake or fully asleep; a place of possibility. It is those in-between spaces that the music of In the half-light hopes to tap into, those contrasting transitions from one moment to another that don’t last, but which are somehow crucial to our sense of self.

Tash’s spare but emotionally rich text provides an ideal framework for Di Castri’s imaginative and atmospheric orchestral writing. At times, the music evokes sounds of nature, nostalgia, travel, and time passing, as well as more complex, abstract textures, contrasted with naked lyrical vocal lines. Ultimately, her music seeks to express this search for belonging and a yearning to connect. In an effort to capture that which cannot be fully expressed through words, there are also passages where the voice sings non-semantic utterances, touching at something otherworldly, or a “half-light of language,” if you will. A haunting loon-like lullaby returns at various moments in the piece, calling out, listening for a response within the orchestra. This eerie wail, a sound associated with night or dusk, is a strong childhood memory for both Barbara and Zosha. The “contact calls”—ways for the loon to reach out and make sure their mate or offspring is there, to connect across the expanse of the landscape—is a powerful and lonely sound that one never forgets.

Finally, Zosha dedicates this piece to the memory of her late uncle, Matthew Di Castri, who unexpectedly passed away last summer. As one of the only other artists in her family, his death took on a special significance for the composer. Though he lived a hermit-like, off-the-grid existence in British Columbia and did not often publicly share his artistic work, he was a prolific painter and powerful creator. His works are beautiful, raw, and haunting, unsettling, at times angry and restless. Zosha chose a reference painting for each song to serve as an emotional canvas for the music, posting his artwork on her studio wall while composing the piece. It is not essential to know these images to appreciate the work; rather, they served as an impetus to achieve each movement’s affect and emotional resonances. This piece at once mourns Matthew’s crossing of the threshold from life to death and all the unknown this provokes, and also celebrates his electric use of colour, dancing brush strokes, gentle soul, and ability to revel in the joy and freedom of being a radical outsider.

Interweaving the personal experiences of the contributing artists—their movings about the world, loves and losses, reflections on rootedness, transience, and death—In the Half-light thus hopes to resonate in this highly unique and shared moment we are living, when so many are grappling with the liminal spaces we all inhabit.

Zosha Di Castri
Tash Aw libretto

In the Half-Light by Tash Aw 

1.

In the half-light of this moment, 

still dark, but not quite,

we might meet, 

for the iron wall is 

not yet down.

You give me food, 

I offer a dress: 

our skins, our souls—

fragments of a shared earth

in this time 

before dawn.

2.

This strange life:

You and I, 

so close 

yet still divided. 

We should know all, 

but we know nothing.

3.

You look at me, 

and I at you. Two lives at sea, floating, 

not yet moored. 

Crates, a stove, nos passés

We could say, come in,  

entrez s’il vous plaît,  

but we don’t.  

Le gouffre entre nous  

Two worlds,  

before dawn.  

4.

What’s this? 

Un bruit. 

The threat of dawn, 

of metal: closing.  

And now, we must part.  

Only our feet remain, 

unfixed, still,  

to this earth. 

5.

In the half-light, 

blinds drawn, always, 

against other lives— 

past lives— 

like your own

before dawn. 

6.

This is the moment you long for, 

the shadows protect from the day 

that is not yet yours. 

Here, you belong. 

For now, at least. 

Le petit matin

You wish it were not so small,  

That it could last forever 

7.

We share this space 

But not our lives. 

Maybe someday we 

will understand

In this time

before dawn.

About Zosha Di Castri

Zosha Di Castri, a Canadian “composer of riotously inventive works” (The New Yorker), currently lives in New York. Her music has been performed across Canada, the United States, South America, Asia, and Europe and extends far beyond purely concert music, including projects with electronics, sound arts, and collaborations with video and dance that encourage audiences to feel “compelled to return for repeated doses” (The Arts Desk). She is currently the Francis Goelet Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University and a 2021 Guggenheim fellow. 

Zosha’s current projects include a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress for percussionist Steve Schick and International Contemporary Ensemble; a commission for the Grossman Ensemble in Chicago; and a new work for Ekmeles vocal ensemble. She recently completed a commission titled Hunger for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra with improvised drummer, which is designed to accompany Peter Foldes’ 1973 silent film by the same name. In July 2019, Long Is the Journey, Short Is the Memory for orchestra and chorus opened the first night of the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall, featuring the BBC Symphony, the BBC Singers, and conductor Karina Canellakis. Other large-scale projects include a 25-min piece for soprano, recorded narrator and orchestra entitled Dear Life, based on a short-story by Alice Munro, and an evening-length new music theater piece, Phonobellow, co-written with David Adamcyk for the International Contemporary Ensemble with performances in New York and Montreal. Phonobellow features five musicians, a large kinetic sound sculpture, electronics, and video in a reflection on the influence of photography and phonography on human perception. 

Zosha’s orchestral compositions have been commissioned by John Adams, the San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony, Esprit Orchestra, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, and the BBC, and have been featured by the Tokyo Symphony, Amazonas Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra among others. She has made appearances with the Chicago Symphony, the LA Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players in their chamber music series and has worked with many leading new music groups including Talea Ensemble, Wet Ink Ensemble, Ekmeles, Yarn/Wire, the NEM, Ensemble Cairn, and JACK Quartet. She was the recipient of the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music for her work Cortège in 2012, and participated in Ircam's Manifeste Festival in Paris, writing an interactive electronic work for Thomas Hauert's dance company, ZOO

Other recent projects include a string quartet for the Banff International String Quartet Competition, a piece for Yarn/Wire for two pianists, two percussionists, and electronics that premiered at her Miller Theatre Composer Portrait concert, a solo piano work for Julia Den Boer commissioned by the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust Fund, a piano/violin duo with violinist Jennifer Koh, and a string octet premiered by JACK Quartet and Parker Quartet at the Banff Centre. 

Zosha’s debut album Tachitipo was released on New Focus Recordings in November 2019 to critical acclaim and the title track was nominated for The JUNO Awards’ 2021 Classical Composition of the Year. Tachitipo was named in the Best of 2019 lists by The New Yorker, I Care if You Listen, AnEarful, Sequenza21, and New York Music Daily, and praised as “a formidable statement. It is so comprehensively realized, institutionally ratified, and sensitive to the creative exigencies of the 21st century that one wants to send a copy of it to the publishers of textbooks for music history survey courses in the hope that it will be included in a last chapter or two.” (I Care if You Listen)

Zosha completed her Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance and Composition at McGill University, and has a doctorate from Columbia University in Composition. She was also an inaugural fellow at the Institute for Ideas and Imagination in Paris in 2018-19. Zosha was born in St. Albert in Alberta, Canada and currently lives with her family in New York City. Learn more at www.zoshadicastri.com.

About Tash Aw

Tash Aw was born in Taiwan to Malaysian parents and grew up in Kuala Lumpur. He moved to England in his teens, and studied Law at the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick. He moved to London and undertook various jobs, including working as a lawyer for four years. He then studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), won the 2005 Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific Region Best First Book). It juxtaposes three accounts of the life of Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant in rural Malay. His subsequent novels are Map of the Invisible World (2009), set in Indonesia and Malaysia in the mid-1960s, and Five Star Billionaire (2013). In 2019 he published We, the Survivors, with Fourth Estate. His work of short fiction Sail won the O. Henry Prize in 2013 and he has had pieces published in A Public Space and the landmark Granta 100, amongst others. His essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Magazine littéraire, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and The New York Times.

Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird (original 1910 complete ballet version) 
(1882–1971), composed 1909–10, 44 min

The 1910 première of The Firebird was the triumph that launched Stravinsky’s long and glittering international career (so much so that in later years, he came to resent this early work’s enduring popularity.)  Magical birds were already a commonplace in European folklore and in nineteenth-century art and music; in Russia, there was, by 1910, already a veritable Firebird cult. This ballet’s scenario conflates various tales, surrounding the Firebird by other recognizable characters: hero, love interest, and villain. 

The result: a fairy tale for grown-ups, rife with allegories: Following an introduction (part 1), in Tableau 1, Ivan Tsarevich, a prince, strays at night into the garden of an evil sorcerer-king, Kashchei the Immortal, sees the Firebird and captures her, then agrees to let her go in exchange for a magic feather (parts 2-6). Thirteen beautiful princesses appear, under Kashchei’s spell, Ivan falls in love with one of them, follows them back to Kashchei’s palace at dawn, and is seized by Kashchei’s monster guards (parts 7-10). Kaschei enters, and Ivan asks to marry his beloved. The conversation does not go well, despite the princesses' attempts to intercede. Just in time, Ivan remembers the magic feather and waves it three times. The Firebird reappears, makes Kashchei and his monsters dance until they collapse (parts 11-12), then shows Ivan an egg containing the life and death of Kashchei. Ivan breaks the egg, Kashchei dies, and the princesses, along with Kashchei’s other human subjects, is freed. In Tableau 2, the reunited lovers celebrate their betrothal followed by “General Rejoicing” (part 14).

The centrepiece of The Firebird is the virile, virtuosic “Infernal Dance”, with its brutal energy and powerful rhythmic drive, but no less impressive are the various moving and enchanting melodies—in the “Lullaby,” the final “General Rejoicing,” and especially the gentle, pastoral “Princesses’ Round.” Stravinsky’s own favourite number, “Dance of the Firebird,” is an imaginative study in orchestral texture, gesture, and colour, altogether devoid of melody. Throughout, the orchestration, influenced by French as well as Russian models, is vibrant and picturesque, deploying a massive late-Romantic orchestra with fantastic ingenuity and discrimination.

Program note by Kevin Bazzana

Past Concerts

Gimeno + Dvořák’s “New World”

Luis Ramirez: Mi Piñata: Celebration Prelude (World Première/TSO Commission)
composed 2022, 3 min

To celebrate the Orchestra’s relationship with Toronto, the TSO has commissioned a series of three-minute “Celebration Preludes” from composers across the GTA, to reflect the diversity of musical voices in our community. Luis Ramirez’s Mi Piñata is the second of five this season; five more will follow in 2022/23. Here are the composer’s notes: 

This piece is about the empowerment, jubilance, and catharsis in meticulously crafting something whose ultimate purpose is to be destroyed ferociously. There is something viscerally powerful in the destruction of a beautiful, meticulously crafted creation. While the history and symbolism of the piñata are interesting, this piece is not about that. This piece is about its deeply meaningful presence as a child, focusing on the excitement and anticipation of breaking Mi Piñata.

In the Mexican tradition, the breaking of the piñata is the highlight of any major communal celebration. During the celebration, all the children line up and take turns to strike the piñata, and the moment you receive the stick you are immediately empowered. The anticipation of landing the final blow can feel more meaningful and enjoyable than the delectable reward inside. The moment of destruction is a glorious one - a cathartic experience and an incredible way to release deeply-rooted emotions we otherwise might not know how to address. Piñatas are a certainty in any party or celebration, and this ritual of physical and psychological release leaves an indelible imprint on those who grow up experiencing it.

Mi Piñata captures this powerful sensory and emotional experience from the perspective of a child, for whom it constitutes a kind of focused excitement and exhilaration like no other. The piñata artisans put painstaking work and immense craftsmanship into their products, transforming scraps of cardboard and paper into an exciting shape to be destroyed. I represent this in the music by constructing the entire piece around a single idea, a tiny melodic fragment evoking the folk songs chanted during the breaking of the piñata. The small fragments build up one after another, as the full piñata gradually emerges accompanied by a childlike spirit of anticipation and excitement. Once assembled, the music is festive and jubilant up until the first strike of the stick. Each “hit” that lands increasingly distorts the musical content, morphing into joyous cacophony until there is nothing left but a kaleidoscopic display of colour, candy, and cheers.

The premise of creating something beautiful only to destroy it is counter to the human instinct to preserve and cherish. At the same time, it is an empowering and liberating act akin to what occurs in nature and life: the certainty of the impermanence in all things, even the most beautifully and meticulously crafted. What matters in the end is the community and the joy of being with each other.

Mi Piñata was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to celebrate their 100th season. The piñata is an icon of Mexican folklore and, for me, a most fitting way to celebrate this incredible achievement.

Born and raised in Aguascalientes, Mexico, Luis Ramirez (b.1992) is a Mexican-Canadian composer with an affinity towards rhythmically colorful textures and visually-evocative sonic worlds, which often incorporate elements of Mexican folklore and a cinematographic approach to musical story-telling. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Composition at York University in Toronto with Randolph Peters, in which he is exploring the digital landscape for music-making and humanity’s often pernicious dynamics with the internet.

Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959): The Rock
composed 1957, 11 min

By 1957, Martinů was considered to be the greatest living Czech composer, and was as greatly admired in Cleveland, which then had the fourth largest Czech population in the world, as he was throughout midcentury America, praised for his “synthesis of lush, Romantic orchestrations with rhythmic, Bartókian Modernism.” Commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra for its 40th anniversary, The Rock was titled after Plymouth Rock, Martinů explained, in recognition of the freedoms and opportunities that America had provided him. (The Czech composer lived in New York from 1941 to 1953, and maintained major ties with the US until his death.) He went on to say the title was also a play on other “rocks” in American culture, including Rock ’n’ Roll and Little Rock, Arkansas—the turmoil surrounding the integration of Little Rock Central High School was also in the fall of 1957. 

The Rock, his third Cleveland première, received a mixed reception, though. The Plain Dealer described it as “beginning promisingly with severity of mood suggesting Puritanical restraint, and it has hymnal and religious allusions characteristic of the subject and a little reminiscent of Hanson’s opera, ‘Merry Mount.’ Before it is finished, however, it spreads thin in a sort of Hollywood atmosphere, which is no esthetic sin, except that one would like to see the picture for which it might well provide background.”

The Cleveland News was less severe, described it as “abounding in spiritual and melodic graces [with] no angularities, nothing blatant or disturbing, yet is fresh, original and evocative. It brings to mind the optimism and courage of the founding fathers in the traditional musical language so proper for it.”

Note compiled by David Perlman

Hans Abrahamsen (born 1952): Horn Concerto
composed 2019, 18 min 

Hans Abrahamsen’s Horn Concerto was commissioned specifically for tonight’s soloist, Berlin Philharmonic Principal Horn Stefan Dohr. It is Abrahamsen’s fourth Berlin Philharmonic commission. His second, in 2013, was let me tell you, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra, dedicated to and premièred by Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, who went on to perform it worldwide around 40 times over the next six years, including at the TSO as part of the 2015 New Creations Festival. In 2019, The Guardian named it the best classical work of the 21st century (so far), calling it “one of the most spellbindingly beautiful vocal-orchestral works of recent years.” 

The Horn Concerto, in Dohr’s hands, is on a similar trajectory, with Abrahamsen being hailed as one of the most intriguingly personal compositional voices of our time, with a style rooted in refined expression, with eloquent musical lines superimposed to create rhythmically complex textures.  “A deliberate disorientation that has something sophisticatedly mysterious about it,” wrote Andreas Göbel, following the concerto’s January 2020 Berlin première. 

The Horn concerto subverts the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern of Classical concerto form. The first movement, Sehr langsam und mit viel Ruhe [Very slowly and with a lot of quiet] is a peaceful sonic vista, “summoning images of vast open spaces, clad in mists and seen from a distance, and the airy solo part floating through overlapping cycles of sustained orchestral lines, with sublime kinetic energy,” as described in a review of Dohr’s performance of the work by the Tampere Philharmonic in Finland. 

Stürmisch und unruhig [Stormy and turbulent] is the composer’s instruction for the second movement, in which, as ther Tampere review describes it,  “the virtuoso horn line becomes entangled in a stormy orchestral labyrinth, resulting in instrumental drama par excellence. Sehr langsam, ohne zeit [Very slowly, outside time] is the instruction that ushers in the final movement, with the music slowly taking shape in a call and response between horn and orchestra supported by bass and timpani, before “an upbeat second section in double tempo, with dexterous solo passages and orchestral parts clad in ravishing colour.” A final instruction precedes the coda: Immer mehr und mehr schwer, aber im tempo (nicht schleppern) [Always more and more difficult, but in time (no forcing)]. The challenge is set for a mesmerizingly nuanced close.

Note compiled by David Perlman

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904): Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”
composed 1893, 43 min

In 1891, Jeanette Thurber, the philanthropist wife of a New York grocery millionaire, was seeking a front-rank European composer to be the new director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, which she had founded in 1885. She set her sights on Dvořák, whose fame had already spread to America, and the composer, though cautious at first, was tempted by her generous terms, and eventually excited at the prospect. He signed a contract at the end of the year, and duly arrived in New York on September 27, 1892.

One of Dvořák’s duties as the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America (1892–95) was to instill a passion for musical nationalism in his students, to which end he began exploring America’s indigenous music. Dvořák put his ideas into practice in an explicitly American work: his Ninth Symphony, to which he gave the title “From the New World”. He began sketching themes as early as December 1892, completed the whole symphony on May 24, 1893, and attended the public première on December 16. Highly publicized, the première was the most sensational success of Dvořák’s career; each movement was applauded, and he had to rise to acknowledge especially tumultuous cheers after the Largo. Soon the symphony was being performed elsewhere in the United States and all over Europe.

The emotional centrepiece of the “New World” Symphony is certainly the Largo, which, despite its fame, still sounds fresh and original. Its pastoral and elegiac tone and almost heartbreaking poignancy evoke unforgettably America’s vast, desolate prairies, in which Dvořák found not only beauty but also sadness, even despair. Throughout the Largo, Dvořák’s orchestration offers one extraordinary texture and sonority after another—right up to the very last chord, which is scored, to astonishing effect, for divided double basses alone.

The four movements of the “New World” Symphony are tied together by cyclical recurrences of themes. The two main themes of the first movement—the upward-thrusting theme (horns) that begins the Allegro molto and the later, spiritual-like melody (solo flute)—are recalled in the movements that follow. In the second movement, both themes are placed in counterpoint with the Largo’s own theme in a striking fortissimo climax; in the third movement, the themes from the first movement appear in the transition between sections and, most notably, in the coda. In the stormy finale, which develops its own severe new theme (horns and trumpets), melodies from all three previous movements are recalled at the end of the development section and saturate the coda, to the point that the finale becomes a kind of synthesis or grand summation of the whole symphony.

Kevin Bazzana

Gustavo Gimeno, conductor

With the opening of the 2022/23 season Gustavo Gimeno celebrates with live audiences on both sides of the Atlantic: as Music Director with Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg – a title he has held since 2015, and with Toronto Symphony Orchestra where his tenure began in 2020/21. During his second season in Toronto, Gimeno and the TSO celebrate the orchestra’s 100 year anniversary with soloists such as Jan Lisiecki, Stefan Dohr, Barbara Hannigan, Daniil Trifonov and Javier Perianes, as well as visiting audiences on tour in North America and Asia.

Stefan Dohr, Horn

Proclaimed by the New York Chronicle as the “king of his instrument”, Stefan Dohr is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest horn players. 

In addition to being Principal Horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, Stefan has collaborated as a soloist with the world’s leading conductors, including Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink, Christian Thielemann, Daniel Harding, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Dima Slobodeniuk, Gustavo Gimeno, John Storgårds, and Marc Albrecht. He has performed with orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Oslo Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orquesta Nacional de España, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra and Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra. As well as performing the great Classical and Romantic works for horn, Stefan Dohr is continually expanding his instrument’s repertoire – commissioning and premiering new pieces by today’s foremost composers. In recent years, these included works by Herbert Willi, Jorge E. López, Johannes Wallmann, Dai Bo, Toshio Hosokawa and Wolfgang Rihm. Most recently, Grawemeyer Award winning composer Hans Abrahamsen wrote a horn concerto for Stefan Dohr, which received its world premiere in Berlin in January 2020 as a joint commission from the Berlin Philharmonic, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Seattle Symphony Orchestra. In the 2021/22 season, Dohr will perform with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, Athens State Orchestra, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Stuttgarter Philharmoniker and Gürzenichorchester Köln under the baton of conductors such as Dima Slobodeniouk, Kazushi Ono, Karina Canellakis, Eva Ollikainen, Giordano Bellincampi and Frank Beermann. 

A prolific chamber musician, Stefan is a permanent member of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker Chamber Music Society, and the Philharmonisches Oktett Berlin. He has appeared at the Lucerne, Salzburg, Rheingau and Baden-Baden Festivals, and has performed alongside prominent artists such as Maurizio Pollini, Ian Bostridge, Lars Vogt, Kolja Blacher, Markus Becker, Guy Braunstein, Mark Padmore, and Kirill Gerstein. Stefan’s extensive discography includes ‘The Yellow Shark’ with Ensemble Modern and Frank Zappa (Barking Pumpkin Records); Schumann’s ‘Konzertstück’ for Four Horns and Orchestra with Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (RCA Red Label); Toshio Hosokawa’s horn concerto ‘Moment of Blossoming’ with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Naxos); Music for horn and piano by Franz and Richard Strauss with Markus Becker (Campanella Musica); the Complete Mozart Horn Concertos with Camerata Schulz; and Weber’s Concertino for Horn and Orchestra with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester (both on the Camerata label). Stefan studied in Essen and Cologne, starting his professional career at the age of 19 as Principal Horn of the Frankfurt Opera, during which time he also frequently appeared as a guest artist with Ensemble Modern. He held the position of Principal Horn in Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Festival Orchestras of Bayreuth and Lucerne before taking up his current post in 1993. A passionate teacher, Stefan is a Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music, the Sibelius Academy, and a permanent faculty member at the Herbert von Karajan Academy and the Hochschule für Musik ‘Hanns Eisler’ in Berlin.

Gimeno, Lisiecki & Tchaikovsky 5

 

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975): Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes, Op. 115
composed 1963, 10 min

For Dmitri Dmitryevich Shostakovich the year 1963 was one of relative compositional inactivity. The previous year had seen perhaps his most overtly dissident work, the Thirteenth Symphony (`Babi Yar'), premièred, and the resurrection of his infamous opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District under the new title Katerina Ismailova. The Fourth Symphony (composed in 1935-36), another work whose fate was directly affected by the scathing 1936 article in Pravda `Muddle instead of Music', had been premiered a year earlier in 1961. Together with the composer's marriage to his third wife, Irina Supinskaya, in December 1962, 1963 may well have been embarked upon with a feeling of rejuvenation and hope. Yet, apart from the re- orchestration of the Schumann Cello Concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich and the orchestration of his song cycle of 1948, From Jewish Folk Poetry, Shostakovich's only original composition of that year was the Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes.

On a recent visit to the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic to commemorate the centenary of the republic's “voluntary incorporation into Russia”, Shostakovich had promised to write a work to celebrate the occasion. During his visit the composer witnessed at first hand the artistry of at least one of Kirghizstan's distinguished folk musicians, and later recalled that the Kirghiz S.S.R. was a place “where everyone sings.” The experience of the folk music tradition of Kirghizstan appears to have inspired Shostakovich to employ Kirghiz folk melodies in this overture. That he also used a Russian theme perhaps represents, musically, Kirghistan's integration with Russia. Despite his personal interaction with Kirghiz folk musicians, Shostakovich was no ethnomusicologist and took both the Russian and Kirghiz themes from published collections; the main Russian theme had been recently collected from the Omsk region of Siberia.

The overture was completed in early October 1963 and received its premiere in the Frunze Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Frunze is the capital of Kirghiz S.S.R.) on 2nd November. The Moscow premiere followed eight days later.

Kristian Hibberd, for the London Shostakovich Society

Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953): Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16
composed 1913, 31 min

At the première of the Piano Concerto No. 2 on August 23, 1913, at the imperial palace at Pavlovsk, near St. Petersburg, Prokofiev provoked a scandal — for he had written nothing before that was so massive, serious, difficult, and idiosyncratic, or so aggressively modern. His conservative audience, relaxing on manicured lawns sipping champagne in the sun, expected pleasant diversion and was outraged at his impertinence.  Most critics were abusive, accusing the brash youngster — still a conservatory student — of cacophony, capriciousness, even insanity. When he fled post-Revolutionary Russia in 1918, he left the manuscript of the Concerto behind, but in 1923, resettled in Paris, he reconstructed (and thoroughly revised) the score and reintroduced it on May 8, 1924. The blasé Parisians were neither shocked nor impressed, however, they considered the music not modern enough. A few years later, he was heard to disparage it himself: “It’s too many notes, and I don’t like it myself.”

It is an ambitious work, brimming with ideas. The music is bold, rugged, astringent, and intensely expressive, sometimes tortured and desperate.  The piano writing and orchestral sonorities are often hard and abrasive; only occasionally does a lyrical impulse emerge. The piano writing is mostly crisp, steely, grasping. (Prokofiev’s own playing was noted more for incisiveness, brilliance, and rhythmic tension than for lyricism or colour.) The piano is almost always in command and the solo part is exhaustingly athletic — there is a thrilling propulsiveness to the music that is both joyous and a little dangerous.

Prokofiev’s forms are highly original. The core of the first movement, for instance, is a monumental piano cadenza that becomes freer, more massive and dissonant, and more sweepingly virtuosic as it works over the movement’s main theme. The concise scherzo is a wild dance in which the pianist plays running figuration at top speed without a moment’s rest. The third movement is the strangest of the four.  Its main theme is a grotesque, heavy-footed march, and later melodies are (respectively) morbid and exotic. In the finale, Prokofiev intensifies the rhetoric of the first movement, unleashing a veritable storm that two lyrical episodes and a cadenza cannot quell. The Concerto closes with an awesome assertion of power that left listeners at the première “frozen with fright, hair standing on end.”

Kevin Bazzana

Cris Derksen: Parkdale: Celebration Prelude 
(World Première/TSO Commission)

composed 2022, 3 min

To celebrate the Orchestra’s relationship with Toronto, the TSO has commissioned a series of three-minute “Celebration Preludes” from composers across the GTA, to reflect the diversity of musical voices in our community. Cris Derksen’s Parkdale is the first of five this season; five more will follow in 2022/23. Here are Cris Derksen’s notes.

“Parkdale is an honouring of the neighbourhood I’ve called home for the past 5 years. Parkdale is a neighbourhood poor in capital and rich in everything else. It is diverse, colourful, beautiful, sensitive, harsh, stinky, and most of all … it is a neighbourhood that has got your back. The piece starts in the peaceful morning with my Tibetan neighbours singing chants in the backyard with the birds, we go out the front door to the wilds of King and Jameson, it’s busy, you can see the lake, but you gotta look both ways before crossing the street. There is great sorrow in the history of colonisation and displacement, but it’s a neighbourhood that is willing to give a helping hand to those in need, or at least send money to the front of the No Frills line-up to make sure whoever is short can go home with their goods.”

Juno nominated Cris Derksen is an Internationally respected Indigenous Cellist and Composer. Originally from Northern Alberta she comes from a line of chiefs from North Tallcree Reserve on her father’s side and a line of strong Mennonite homesteaders on her mother’s. Derksen braids the traditional and contemporary, weaving her classical back ground and her Indigenous ancestry together with new school electronics to create genre defying music. 2021 commissions include pieces for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Ottawa’s Chamberfest, the City of Toronto, Edmonton New Music, the Edmon ton Symphony with support from the National Arts Centre, Vancouver's Blueridge Chamber Festival, Indigenous fashion week TO, The Canadian Expo Pavilion in Dubai, and a 4-part docuseries for the Knowledge Network. A new album of Derksen’s works will be released in 2022.

www.crisderksen.com

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893): Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
composed 1888, 46 min               

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840 and died in St. Petersburg, Russia on November 6, 1893. He composed Symphony No. 5 between May and August 1888, and conducted the première himself in St. Petersburg on November 17, 1888. 

Tchaikovsky saw himself as the victim of a cold, heartless fate. In Symphony No. 4 (1878), he used a recurring theme, a harsh brass fanfare, to represent this concept. Ten years passed before he composed his next symphony. The international successes that his music had won in the interim placed him in a more positive frame of mind. The idea of fate still dogged him, but according to a sketch of the programmatic content of the Fifth Symphony, fate had evolved into providence, a less hostile governor of life.

He conducted the Fifth Symphony’s first two performances himself, then another in Prague shortly thereafter. Audiences loved it, but the press reacted with hostility. The critical barbs devastated him, but a further performance in Hamburg firmly erased his pessimistic feelings. 

Once again, he constructed a symphony upon a recurring melody representative of his current philosophical outlook. Reflecting his lightening in attitude, the new “providence” theme is less intimidating than its counterpart in Symphony No. 4. It undergoes a gradual, increasingly positive transformation, as well. He introduces it quietly in the clarinets. The opening movement contrasts restlessness with yearning. 

A passionate love-idyll follows. Its raptures are twice interrupted by the “providence” theme, the second time with particularly devastating impact. Next comes a typically elegant Tchaikovsky waltz. He based it on a popular song he heard being sung by a boy in the street during a visit to Florence, Italy. The sole blemish on its courtly surface comes in a brief, almost casual appearance of “providence,” just before the end. 

“Providence” appears fully transformed in the slow introduction to the Finale, where it is heard in a major key for the first time. After much folk-flavoured rambunctiousness in the Finale itself, “providence” stands radiantly transfigured into a sturdy processional, before a whirlwind coda brings the Symphony home.

Don Anderson

Gustavo Gimeno, conductor

With the opening of the 2022/23 season Gustavo Gimeno celebrates with live audiences on both sides of the Atlantic: as Music Director with Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg – a title he has held since 2015, and with Toronto Symphony Orchestra where his tenure began in 2020/21. During his second season in Toronto, Gimeno and the TSO celebrate the orchestra’s 100 year anniversary with soloists such as Jan Lisiecki, Stefan Dohr, Barbara Hannigan, Daniil Trifonov and Javier Perianes, as well as visiting audiences on tour in North America and Asia. 

Jan Lisiecki, piano

Jan Lisiecki’s interpretations and technique speak to a maturity beyond his age. At 27, the Canadian performs over a hundred yearly concerts worldwide, and has worked closely with conductors such as Antonio Pappano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin,Daniel Harding, Manfred Honeck, and Claudio Abbado. In 2021/2022, Lisiecki presents a new recital programme featuring Chopin's Nocturnes and Études in more than 30 cities all around the globe. Recent return invitations include Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Filarmonica della Scala, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for performances at Carnegie Hall and Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. Lisiecki recently performed a Beethoven Lieder cycle with baritone Matthias Goerne, among others at the Salzburg Festival, and has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Staatskapelle Dresden, Orchestre de Paris, Bavarian Radio Symphony and London Symphony Orchestra.

Celebrate 100: Maestros' Special Homecoming

TIMELINE: Meet the Maestros

Performers

Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Günther Herbig, conductor
Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Gustavo Gimeno, conductor
Marion Newman, host

Program

Land Acknowledgement and “O Canada” (Marion Newman, mezzo-soprano)
Hector Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
Frederick Delius/arr. Thomas Beecham: “The Walk to the Paradise Garden”
Richard Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser (Dresden version)
Intermission
Jean Sibelius: ”Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island”, No. 1 from Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22 (Revised 1897 & 1939)
Alexina Louie: The Ringing Earth
Bedřich Smetana: “Šárka”, No. 3 from Má vlast
Maurice Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole

Marion Newman, host

A critically acclaimed mezzo-soprano of Kwagiulth and Stó:lō First Nations, English, Irish, and Scottish heritage, Marion Newman is recognized as one of Canada’s most accomplished singers in works ranging from Vivaldi to Vivier, and operatic roles including Carmen, and Rosina in The Barber of Seville. She was nominated for a Dora Award for her leading role in the world première of Shanawdithit (Nolan/Burry) with Toronto’s Tapestry Opera. She also portrayed Dr. Wilson in the première of Missing (Clements/Current) with Vancouver City Opera/Pacific Opera Victoria, which gives voice, in English and Gitxsan, to the story of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, and starred as Tsianina Redfeather in Jani Lauzon’s music-drama I Call Myself Princess at Regina’s Globe Theatre.

Most recently, Marion curated and performed in What is classical Indigenous music? with Toronto’s Confluence Concerts and débuted with Rhode Island Symphony in Handel’s Messiah. In 2022, she creates the role of Dawn with Welsh National Opera in the upcoming world première of Migrations, with stories by five writers based on their personal experiences of migrations and working with refugees.

In addition to her extensive performing career, she is a co-founder of Amplified Opera and has worked in many facets of the performing arts as a curator, arts administrator, speaker, and teacher. She is the host of CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
Message from Seiji Ozawa

The TSO’s only other living Music Director, Seiji Ozawa, while not able to join us on April 9, should be recognized for his prodigious gifts and groundbreaking foray into TSO recordings, which elevated the TSO to international levels. He sent this short letter.

Dear TSO Music Family,

On the occasion of your celebrations of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 100th season, I am pleased to send greetings from my home here in Japan. Although I cannot be with you in person, my thoughts and warm memories of my years in Toronto will be with you, the musicians, patrons, and former Music Directors of the TSO.

It is hard to believe that I began as your Music Director 57 years ago in 1965. One of my fondest memories of that first year is a special outdoor concert celebrating the opening of Toronto’s “New” City Hall. Also close to my heart was the tour to Japan in the 1968/69 season. I am especially proud of having introduced the Orchestra and Toronto audiences to such contemporary music as Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie and the works of Tōru Takemitsu both in Toronto and on tour.

Congratulations and Arigato Toronto!

Seiji


ABOUT THE MUSIC AND THE MAESTROS

Sir Andrew Davis

TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis begins the evening with a short work by Hector Berlioz that has been conducted by seven of the TSO’s ten Music Directors, most notably in this context by Sir Andrew Davis himself, as part of the TSO’s seminal “Canadian Odyssey” tour of the North in 1987. Sir Andrew continues on the podium this evening with the evocative “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” by Frederick Delius, a nod to his own British roots and those of the TSO’s second and longest-serving Music Director, Sir Ernest MacMillan.

Hector Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Born: La Cote-Saint-André, France, December 11, 1803
Died: Paris, France, March 08, 1869
Composed: 1844
8 min

In September 1843, short of new works for his upcoming Paris concert season, Berlioz took two themes from his failed opera Benvenuto Cellini, given five years before, and fashioned them into Le carnaval romain, a brilliant orchestral showpiece to which he gave the title Ouverture caractéristique. (The Overture Le Corsaire was also written around the same time, for the same purpose.) The Roman Carnival Overture (as we know it) became a cornerstone of his concert repertoire for the next 20 years; in 1852, it was even adopted as a “second overture” for Benvenuto Cellini, performed before Act II in productions of the opera in Weimar and London.

The first of the Cellini themes is briefly announced at the very beginning: a saltarello—a furious, rhythmically propulsive Italian folk dance featuring leaping and violent arm movements. The frenzy subsides, and the English horn sings out the second principal theme: a long-breathed, languorous melody borrowed from a trio in Act I of the opera. The presentation of these two themes forms the overture’s introduction; with the return of the opening saltarello rhythm, the long exposition begins. In the brief development section, the English-horn theme returns, now in the bassoons, in the saltarello rhythm accompanied by repeated notes in the second violins. This leads to a frenzied, brassy conclusion, in which themes, rhythms and motifs from throughout the overture are all brought climactically together.

When he wrote Le carnaval romain, Berlioz was just completing work on his influential Treatise on Instrumentation, and clearly he poured everything he had learned about orchestration into the new piece. The overture is a technically difficult but enormously rewarding vehicle for showing off an orchestra, not just because it offers such a kaleidoscope of instrumental sonorities, but because it whips by at such breathtaking speed that the listener’s ear is almost overwhelmed by the ever-changing tone colours. At its première in February 1844, Le carnaval romain was given without the benefit of a proper general rehearsal, but by some miracle the performance was a success.

Kevin Bazzana

Frederick Delius (1862–1934)/arr. Thomas Beecham: “The Walk to the Paradise Garden”
Born: Bradford, United Kingdom, January 29, 1862
Died: Gez-Sur-Loing, France, June 10, 1934
Composed: 1906
10–11 min

Frederick Delius aspired to opera in the wake of Wagnerism, but the British composer is most frequently remembered for his small impressionistic orchestral pieces, often describing scenes from nature. “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” is among the most famous of these, and it is actually an orchestral intermezzo taken from his most successful opera, A Village Romeo and Juliet.

Based on a short story by the 19th-century Swiss author Gottfried Keller, who is sometimes described as an exponent of a literary movement called “poetic realism, the opera tells of the lovers Sali and Vreli, children of neighbouring farmers who have quarrelled their lives away in a dispute over a piece of land separating their farms. Realizing their romance can never find acceptance among their warring families or others in the village, they wander along the river to an abandoned inn called The Paradise Garden, where they consummate their love. Then they board a barge full of hay, which they scuttle so that they drown together in a suicide pact at the end of the opera.

A Village Romeo and Juliet was composed between 1900 and 1901, but “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” was only composed five years later, shortly before the opera received its première at the Berlin Comic Opera in 1907. The original opera was opulently scored; Sir Thomas Beecham reduced the instrumental forces for the standard orchestral version.

The intermezzo is based on themes from the opera, loosely arranging themselves into a sort of five-part form (ABABA), preceded by a short introduction. The lower strings take up the first main theme, while the second is stated initially by the clarinets several measures later. The music comes to its climax in a full-orchestra section toward the end, then falls back gently in the closing measures.

Carl Cunningham

One of today’s most recognized and acclaimed conductors, Sir Andrew Davis’s career spans over 50 years during which he has been the artistic leader at several of the world’s most distinguished opera and symphonic institutions, including Lyric Opera of Chicago (Music Director and Principal Conductor, 2000–2021), the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Conductor Laureate and Chief Conductor, 1991–2004, the longest tenure since that of its founder, Sir Adrian Boult), Glyndebourne Festival Opera (Music Director, 1988–2000), Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Conductor Laureate and Chief Conductor, 2013–2019), and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Conductor Laureate and Principal Conductor, 1975–1988), where he also served as Interim Artistic Director (2018–2020).
Günther Herbig

Günther Herbig, who recently turned 90, conducts the Overture to Tannhäuser, first performed in 1924, under Luigi von Kunits. It has been presented at least 51 times since then, under eight of the TSO’s ten Music Directors, including Herbig himself. Fellow Maestros Sir Andrew Davis and Walter Susskind performed it with the TSO in Toronto, and took it on tour, and Peter Oundjian performed it most recently in the opening concert of the TSO’s 2013/14 season.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883): Overture to Tannhäuser (Dresden version)
composed 1845
14 min

The overture to Tannhäuser is itself a self-contained musical drama—a miniature tone poem on the principal themes and situations of the close-to-six-hour opera. The plot is a conflation of two stories. First is the title character’s dalliance on Venusberg, the Mountain of Venus, followed by his pilgrimage to Rome. The second is a singers’ contest. These two legends had not traditionally been linked, but Wagner grafted them into a three-act opera structure, incorporating a major subplot of his own invention: Tannhäuser’s troubled but ultimately redeeming relationship with the saintly Elisabeth. His central conflict between the sensual and the spiritual is represented musically by the seductive music of the Venusberg and the pure, chant-like music of the pilgrims.

Clarinets, bassoons, and horns play a quiet rendition of the famous Pilgrims’ March theme to open the overture. The strings add a yearning second phrase, then the first phrase is played again, fortissimo, by the trombones, with a violin accompaniment that, in Wagner’s words, represents “the pulse of life.” Night falls, the tempo quickens, and the orchestration becomes filmy and quicksilver. “At nightfall,” wrote Wagner, “enchanting apparitions come out. A roseate twilight mist is diffused, voluptuous songs of joy assail our ears, movements of a wild and sinister dance are heard. These are the evil enchantments of the Venusberg, which appear at night to those whose heart burns with a bold, sensual fire.” Tannhäuser approaches, “drawn by the seductive vision.” A new theme bursts out in a heavy, full-orchestra setting: Tannhäuser’s “Song to Venus.” After a brief lull, the song is repeated, “answered by savage cries of joy” underscored by the first entry of the cymbals, triangle and tambourine. Now the music represents Tannhäuser drawn into the arms of Venus, “who embraces him with passion and sweeps him away, drunk with voluptuousness, to a faraway and unattainable land – the land of oblivion.” The music reaches a Bacchanalian fury, then subsides.

Dawn breaks. The song of the approaching pilgrims is heard again, quietly, in the clarinets, bassoons, and horns, with busy accompaniment figures in the violins, then bursting forth, fortissimo, in the trumpets and trombones, accompanied by the full orchestra. “A rustling and whispering in the air,” as Wagner describes it, “that first sounds like the terrible wails of the damned, but…finally, in the resplendent sunrise…becomes an intoxicating paean of sublime joy.” Near the end, a brief but prominent new counter-theme emerges in the horns.This, according to Wagner, “is the shout of joy from the Venusberg, redeemed from the curse of sin; we hear it as a kind of holy chant. The pulsing of life itself is in this song of redemption, and the two opposing elements of spirit and of life itself is in this song of redemption, and the two opposing elements of spirit and matter, God and Nature, here embrace each other and melt in a holy kiss of love.” So the Tannhäuser overture ends, having done the work of three acts in less than 15 minutes.

Kevin Bazzana

Born November 30, 1931, in what is now known as Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic, Günther Herbig left behind the challenging political environment of East Germany and moved to the United States in 1984, where he has since conducted all of the top-tier orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco symphony orchestras. Posts Herbig has held, in addition to Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, include Music Director of the Detroit Symphony, Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Symphony and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and general music director of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Former Artistic Advisor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, he is now their Conductor Laureate.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste

Jukka-Pekka Saraste takes to the stage with a piece by his Finnish compatriot Jean Sibelius: “Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island”, the first movement from the composer’s epic symphonic poem Lemminkäissarja, Op. 22. Saraste introduced the work to Toronto patrons on September 19, 1998, followed by a performance as part of the TSO’s tour to Carnegie Hall later that year. It was subsequently recorded by the TSO and Saraste in 2000.

Jean Sibelius (1865–1957): “Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island”, No. 1 from Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22
composed 1895–1896
revised 1897 & 1939
7 min

Jean Sibelius’s suite of Four Legends is based on the exploits of Lemminkäinen, a legendary hero kept alive in Finland in a grand poetic work called the Kalevala, assembled by the scholar Elias Lönnrot from folk songs he collected on more than 15 years’ worth of research trips, from the 1820s to the 1840s. The importance of the Kalevala to the Finnish people cannot be over-emphasized. It is really an artistic conflation of narratives, wedding lays, curses, recipes and magic spells that were sung to him by different Nordic peasants in the course of these travels. First published in 1835, the Kalevala soon became a cultural touchstone of the country’s artistic and political movements, which eventually resulted in Finland’s independence from Russia. The epic takes place in a mythic, iron-age Finland with hints of a Viking presence.

Of the three main figures who tend to travel and fight alone, relying heavily on magic, and ruled by love, lust, loyalty, and revenge, Lemminkäinen is the youngest, most virile, and least governed by a sense of duty. In “Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island”, our hero, who needs to stay out of sight for a while, travels to a remote island, discovers that the island is inhabited by many beautiful women, sings charms to drive the men away, and then “has his pleasure” with all but one of the women who displeased at being spurned and insulted by Lemminkäinen, vows to take revenge by causing his ship to run onto a rock. There is no need, as it turns out. , for the men of the island suddenly return and burn Lemminkäinen’s boat, but, by singing a magic spell, he is able to make a timely escape by assembling a whole new boat “from a very tiny plank, five little bits of a distaff [and] six small fragments of a spindle.”

The music begins with a sustained, heroic chord played by the French horns, bringing to mind the image of Lemminkäinen standing on the bow of his tippy little boat and catching his first view of the lovely island. The violins rock gently and the upper winds call to each other. As the vessel comes ashore with a distinct “bump” in the lower strings, the scene’s promise of pleasure becomes evident in the sprightly dancing tune played by the upper woodwinds. Solo and tutti cellos play an especially important part in the fluid movement that ensues; they are heard frequently through rents in the orchestral fabric, singing slowly-winding phrases in the manner of Karelia’s folk singers. When the environment becomes too boisterous for the cellos, these phrases are also sounded by combinations of wind instruments, and they run through the weave of ideas in this piece like luminous threads.

What we hear though is not a chronological acting-out of the story, but the emotions stirred up by the tale. Around the latter third of the piece, undulating, tremulous figures in the strings prompt visions, but of what? The men returning to menace Lemminkäinen, or crashing waves, or the gathering of magic to assemble the boat? The magic in the story is matched by the enchantment of the music, and in this there is a wonderful symmetry.

William Westcott

An artist of exceptional versatility and breadth, Jukka-Pekka Saraste has established himself as one of today’s outstanding conductors, demonstrating remarkable musical depth and integrity. He served as Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne from 2010 until 2019. Earlier, he served as Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and as Principal Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Most recently, he created the LEAD! Foundation, a mentorship program for young conductors and soloists. Guest engagements have taken him to major orchestras worldwide.
Peter Oundjian

Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian’s tenure as Music Director was marked by his championship of contemporary (and particularly Canadian contemporary) music, as well as energetic touring. Alexina Louie’s The Ringing Earth was part of the TSO’s Northern Residency in 2005. And Smetana’s Má vlast was performed as part of a 2014 European tour, which included a two-day residency at the Prague Spring Festival. The inclusion of Smetana on the program also pays tribute to two of the TSO’s Czech-born Music Directors, Karel Ančerl and Walter Susskind.

Alexina Louie (born 1949): The Ringing Earth
composed 1986
5 min

“It’s not every day that a composer is asked to write a festive overture for the city of her birth. As a proud Vancouverite, I was thrilled,” says Alexina Louie. The Ringing Earth began the Expo 86 Opening Gala concert in the presence of many international dignitaries including Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Along with the orchestral overture, she was asked to compose three fanfares based on the same thematic material: a brass outdoor fanfare to greet Their Royal Highnesses at the Orpheum Theatre, a fanfare to accompany them up the grand staircase, and a call-back fanfare to signal the end of intermission.

“I decided to reach out to the world with a big, buoyant welcoming piece that relied on brass fanfare calls which percolate through the strings and woodwinds. The joyful exposition makes a transition into a lyrical, introspective second section where the tempo and orchestral colours change. I wrote an arcing melodic line for the centre of the piece to be played by the harp and vibraphone over harmonies in the strings. The slow section builds to a reprise of the fanfare material which is presented in diminution, as a stretto (overlapping of musical material), and makes a last appearance in the final cadence.”

The Ringing Earth has featured at other special occasions since then including a performance by the Montreal Symphony in the United Nations General Assembly on United Nations Day in 1989. “Happily I was there,” she says. “Now, 35 years later, as a proud Torontonian, I get to hear the piece once again, woven into another momentous occasion.”

David Perlman

Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884): “Šárka”, No. 3 from Má vlast
composed 1874–1879
11 min

Austrian-ruled Bohemia was, during Smetana’s youth, not the place to try to establish, as Smetana did, a Czech school of composition. Official hostility and his own frustration led him to accept a position abroad, in Göteborg, Sweden, where he stayed until Italian victories over Austria in 1859 led to a loosening of the political situation in Bohemia, and to Smetana’s return to Prague. He threw all of his energies into revitalizing Czech musical life: he organized performing societies, led the drive to build a new opera house where Czech operas could be staged, and composed music with a distinctively Czech flavour – not only operas and symphonic poems, but piano and chamber works. Smetana became conductor at the new theatre and composed his operas (including the comic gem The Bartered Bride) to be performed on its stage.

He also composed a wide range of music with a distinctively Czech flavour, of which Má Vlast (My Homeland) is his most important orchestral work. It consists of a cycle of six thematically interrelated symphonic poems surveying the history, folklore, legends, and landscapes of Bohemia.

The piece “Šárka” is a legend. As Smetana described it: “It begins with a portrayal of the enraged girl swearing vengeance on the whole male race for the infidelity of her lover. From afar is heard the arrival of armed men led by Ctirad who has come to punish Šárka and her rebel maidens. In the distance Ctirad hears the feigned cries of a girl (Šárka) bound to a tree. On seeing her he is overcome by her beauty and so inflamed with love that he is moved to free her. By means of a previously prepared potion, she intoxicates him and his men, who finally fall asleep. As she blows her horn in a pre-arranged signal, the rebel maidens, hidden behind the nearby rocks, rush to the spot and commit the bloody deed. The horror of general slaughter and the passion and fury of Šárka’s revenge form the end of the composition.”

Don Anderson

Peter Oundjian has been privileged to share his love of music with audiences for over five decades. 2017/18 marked Oundjian’s 14th and final season as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. His appointment in 2004 reinvigorated the Orchestra with recordings, tours, and acclaimed innovative programming, as well as extensive audience growth. Under his leadership, the ensemble underwent a transformation that significantly strengthened its presence in the world. In 2017, he led the Orchestra on a major tour of Israel and Europe, which included a residency at the Prague Spring International Music Festival and a performance at the famed Wiener Konzerthaus. In 2008 and 2011, the TSO played sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall. Oundjian is now honoured by the TSO with the title of Conductor Emeritus.
Gustavo Gimeno

Current Music Director Gustavo Gimeno takes the stage to present Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole, a work that five of the ten Music Directors have conducted. There is an obvious connection in the choice of piece to Gimeno’s own Spanish roots. And as richly gestural music, it calls forth the same qualities from conductor and orchestra. “From our very first encounter,” Gimeno says, “I connected with the Orchestra’s sound, their cultivated playing and flexibility, and immediately felt at home, both musically and personally.”

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937): Rapsodie espagnole
composed 1907–1908
15 min

The music of Spain echoes through Ravel’s output, and he comes by it rightly, born in Basque France, close to the Spanish border, to a Spanish-speaking mother. Its primary antecedents can be traced to two pieces that Ravel adored: fellow Frenchman Emanuel Chabrier’s boisterous rhapsody España (1883), and Rimsky-Korsakov’s glittering Capriccio espagnol (1888). Both make use of traditional folk melodies, while Ravel’s work does not. It shows us Spain through insightful French eyes.

Eminent Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, with whom Ravel became good friends during the years Falla spent in Paris, marveled at Ravel’s deep understanding of Spanish music. “(Rapsodie espagnole) surprised me because of its Spanish character,” he wrote in an article published in the magazine La Revue musicale in 1939. “But how was I to account for the subtly genuine Spanishness of Ravel, knowing, because he had told me so, that the only link he had with my country was to have been born near the border? The mystery was soon explained: Ravel’s was a Spain he had felt in an idealized way through his mother. She was a lady of exquisite conversation. She spoke fluent Spanish, which I enjoyed so much when she evoked the years of her youth, spent in Madrid, an epoch certainly earlier than mine, but traces of its habits that were familiar to me still remained. Then I understood with what fascination her son must have listened to those memories that were undoubtedly intensified by the additional force all reminiscence gets from the song and dance theme inseparably connected with it”

The music of Spain echoes through Ravel’s output. It colours the chamber opera L’Heure espagnole; the wordless song Vocalise-etude en forme de habanera; the piano piece Alborada de gracioso; and the orchestral works Rapsodie espagnole and Bolero. Securing a première for Rapsodie at the fashionable Sunday afternoon Concerts Colonne reflected Ravel’s growing, if still controversial reputation.

It appeared midway through the sort of long, varied programme that was typical of the period. The bill included music by Lalo, Schubert, Rimsky-Korsakov, Fauré, Franck and Wagner, and, according to eyewitness accounts, the reception divided along predictable lines. Some of the wealthy, conservative patrons seated in the boxes and on the ground floor endured it in hostile silence; others booed or hissed. The less monied, more free-thinking students occupying the balconies cheered and applauded without restraint. After hissing greeted the second section, Malagueña, a voice (possibly that of youthful composer Florent Schmitt) boomed out from the balcony: “Once more, for the public downstairs who didn’t understand!” Conductor Edouard Colonne dutifully obliged by encoring the movement immediately. The same voice continued, “Tell them it’s Wagner and they’ll find it good.” Comments weren’t confined to the upper reaches. The string glissandi in the concluding section, Feria, were greeted with a call from downstairs enquiring, “Where is the cat?” The press reaction displayed a matching gulf. Some critics praised the freshness and subtlety of the orchestration; others damned the entire piece as “slender, inconsistent and fugitive.”

Rapsodie espagnole is a four-movement dance suite strongly suggestive of various times of day. The opening section, Prélude à la Nuit (Prelude to Night), paints a misty, sensuous portrait of a warm, star-filled night, with muted strings throughout. A brief, scherzo-like example of the Malagueña, a flamenco-style Spanish dance, comes next, inhabiting a world where the sun has risen and the day’s activities are beginning.

The third section, Habanera, is a largely quiet interlude that moves languorously forward on a slow, sinuous dance rhythm, evoking midday, near siesta time, under intense heat and diamond-bright sunlight. The concluding section, Feria, is the longest and most spectacular of the four. In this riotous portrait of a Spanish folk fair, wrapped around a restrained middle panel that recalls something of the habanera’s brooding sultriness, Ravel finally unleashes the energy that has remained largely pent-up during the preceding movements.

Don Anderson

In the 2021/22 season, Gustavo Gimeno celebrates with live audiences on both sides of the Atlantic: as Music Director with Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg—a title he has held since 2015—and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, where his tenure began in 2020/21. During his first season in Toronto, Gimeno and the TSO took the opportunity to record and stream a range of digital performances, and in 2021/22, they celebrate doubly, as this also marks the TSO’s centenary season.

Ehnes Plays Beethoven

Emilie LeBel: the sediments

In August 2018, TSO Interim Artistic Director Sir Andrew Davis announced composer Emilie LeBel had been selected as our new RBC Affiliate Composer, saying her work “reflects her intelligence and audaciousness." The Affiliate Composer position provides an opportunity to compose three works for the TSO while working closely with artistic staff.

Lebel’s first Affiliate Composer commission, Unsheltered, was written in Spring 2019, while fires raged in the forests north of Edmonton where she lives. LeBel has said her work is “a contemplation of the surrounding landscapes that I inhabit, reflecting on these sites, smells, shapes, and sounds that are constantly in flux.”

Of her second Affiliate Composer piece, the sediments, Lebel says: “At the beginning of things, before it ever rained, there were clouds. Clouds so heavy, no light could penetrate to the earth. Any rain that did fall was instantly converted back into steam. At some point when the temperature of the earth dropped enough, the rain fell. Every surface on the planet filled up, and the continuing rain dissolved the land above, washing away and dissolving things. As I listen now to the rain, water surrounds me. I think about the weight of sediment, and our history. Water flows on, whether I am here or not. Everything that ever was is still here.”

Lebel took inspiration from conservationist Rachel Carson who wrote: “The sediments are a sort of epic poem of the earth. When we are wise enough, perhaps we can read in them all of past history. For all is written here. In the nature of the materials that compose them and in the arrangement of their successive layers the sediments reflect all that has happened in the waters above them and on the surrounding lands.”

Program note by Leah Borts-Kuperman

Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28

Born: Munich, Germany June 11, 1864
Died: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany September 08, 1949
Composed: 1894-95
Duration: 17 minutes

In the wake of the complete failure of his first opera, Guntram, in 1893, Strauss settled on the irreverent, quick-witted prankster Till Eulenspiegel as his next musical subject. Till Owlglass appears to have been a real person, a German of the peasant class who died about 1350. The earliest published account of his exploits appeared in 1515 and quickly became known across Europe. A new, illustrated edition of the Till stories caught Strauss’s attention. At first he considered writing an opera on the subject, but a wish not to repeat the critical attack that Guntram had received led him to create a purely orchestral portrait instead.

The full title is Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, after the Old Rogue’s Tale, Set for Large Orchestra in Rondo form—the traditional rondo, where the principal themes keep recurring, being well suited to his subject matter,

At first Strauss declined to provide details of the episodes described in the music, but he later relented. The music begins with a dreamy “once upon a time” introduction; the solo horn then announces Till’s principal theme—a delight to hear but exceedingly difficult to play! The specific escapades depicted include Till’s riding on horseback through the marketplace, scattering townsfolk and creating havoc as he goes; posing as a priest and delivering a sermon mocking religious pomposity; trading flattering chit-chat with young ladies but suffering rejection; confounding learned academics with questions they cannot answer; and finally his capture, trial and execution by hanging. The sweet introduction returns, only to be swept rudely away as the seemingly imperishable Till re-appears, thumb firmly to nose, to deliver one final jeer.

Program note by Don Anderson

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61

Born: Bonn, Germany December 15, 1770
Died: Vienna, Austria March 26, 1827
Composed: 1806
Duration: 48 minutes

Beethoven studied the violin in childhood, and though he was never more than mediocre player—his performances of his own violin sonatas, according to his accompanist, were “dreadful”—he came to know the instrument’s resources intimately. He composed his only violin concerto for a leading Viennese virtuoso, Franz Clement, whose playing was admired not so much for power and bravura as for beauty, elegance, and delicacy. Beethoven obviously kept this in mind: witness the insistent lyricism and high tessitura of the solo part in the first movement, and the gracious ornamentation in the second. (Clement may have collaborated on the solo part, with which Beethoven struggled.) The concerto was written in haste, apparently in just four or five weeks (the manuscript is a mess), and finished just in time for the première on December 23, 1806, at which Clement was virtually sight-reading.

The first movement, long and crowded with incident, has the heroic, occasionally militaristic tone of many of Beethoven’s middle-period works, but it is also leisurely, lyrical, and quiet to a degree unusual in a fast movement of a concerto. Beethoven was thinking symphonically; note, for instance, how the motif of five repeated notes, quietly introduced by the timpani in the opening bars, pervades the movement. Indeed, the soloist often seems incidental, embellishing and commenting on ideas that are introduced and primarily developed by the orchestra.

The slow movement, its solemn, hymnlike theme quietly introduced by muted strings, unfolds at first as a conventional set of variations, but changes course midway, becoming something altogether more remarkable and profound. A second theme is introduced among the variations, then a third; the original theme seems all but forgotten; the movement evolves as a kind of rhapsodic fantasy. The music is deeply expressive, dreamy, poetic, and the pastoral mood and picturesque solo-orchestra dialogues hint that Beethoven may have been composing with some private program in mind.

The finale, which follows without a break, is also pastoral: it has the rhythm of traditional “hunting” music. The wit, playfulness, and studied naïveté of the music nicely balance the grandeur of the first movement, though there is also a sweetly melancholy episode in the middle. The long, jubilant coda is founded on transformations of the main theme, and the violin gets one last, charming solo—pianissimo!—just before the final chords.

Program note by Kevin Bazzana

The TSO Chamber Soloists

Thu, April 7th, 2022 at 6:45 pm

James Ehnes, violin
Jonathan Crow, violin
Rémi Pelletier, viola
Theresa Rudolph, viola
Joseph Johnson, cello

Ludwig Van Beethoven: String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29, “Storm”

Born: 1770
Composed: 1801

With Beethoven’s String Quintet in C major Op 29, his sole work originally conceived for the medium, we move to 1801 and the final phase of his so-called ‘first period’. This strangely neglected masterpiece is Janus-headed, at once retrospective and prophetic. Although Beethoven did not model the work directly on any of Mozart’s string quintets, he never wrote a more voluptuously Mozartian slow movement than the Adagio molto espressivo. On the other hand, the tranquil expansiveness and harmonic breadth of the quintet’s first movement prefigure later masterpieces like the first ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet, Op. 59 No. 1, and the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio.

With its explosive pianissimo tremolos (a foretaste here of Schubert’s C minor Quartettsatz), and fragmentary, combustible main theme, enhanced by ‘lightning flashes’ on its restatement by the cello, the 6/8 finale has been nicknamed ‘The Storm’ in German-speaking countries. A childlike contrasting theme, almost a nursery tune, appears in A flat, a key as unorthodox as the A major of the first movement. In the development the ‘storm’ atmosphere returns with a vengeance, with snatches of the main theme contrapuntally combined with a pair of new ideas in 2/4 time. Then, with the tension barely dispelled, the tempo changes to Andante con moto e scherzoso, the key, significantly, to A major (the main secondary key of the first movement), for an exaggeratedly courtly minuet, its mincing gait comically punctuated by sudden forte chords. The storm then returns, leading quickly to a more-or-less orthodox recapitulation. But Beethoven has two more surprises up his sleeve: a repeat of the Andante, now in C major (and with the forte interruptions exaggerated to fortissimo), and a coda that plunges into A flat, the key of the innocent second subject, confirming yet again that the relationship of keys a third apart is a prime preoccupation of this marvellously inventive work.

Program Note by Richard Wigmore courtesy Hyperion

The TSO Chamber Soloists

Founded in 2014, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra Chamber Soloists came together with a mission to create programming featuring a diverse and varied range of instruments. Acclaimed as an ensemble of distinguished virtuosi, The TSO Chamber Soloists’ unique combination of winds, strings, keyboard, and percussion gives it the flexibility to present a wide range of unusual and infrequently performed repertoire, along with some of the best-loved works in the chamber music literature. Comprising principal players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, The TSO Chamber Soloists have already performed around the world, from Roy Thomson Hall to the iconic Harpa Hall in Iceland, with such distinguished guest artists as Emanuel Ax, James Ehnes, Barbara Hannigan, and John Storgårds.

Curated by TSO Concertmaster Jonathan Crow, The TSO Chamber Soloists seek to bring audiences closer to the musicians of the Orchestra—personally and musically. As the chamber ensemble could be seen as a microcosm of the symphony orchestra, the intimate nature of chamber music invites the audience to a close encounter with the distinct personalities and talents of the TSO’s individual musicians, while the works performed offer a different perspective into a particular composer’s craft.

Rachmaninoff’s Second

Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492

Born: Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756
Died: Vienna, Austria December 05, 1791
Composed: 1785–1786
4 min

The Marriage of Figaro, a famous and scandalous play by the colourful French writer Beaumarchais—a sequel to his popular Barber of Seville—was first performed in Paris in 1784, but, even though it was published in German, Viennese theatres were banned from performing it. So it was with considerable audacity that Mozart and the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte began work on an operatic version in the fall of 1785. True, they excised most of the politics, but they were still working with controversial and inflammatory material widely considered subversive—if not revolutionary—both morally and politically, and some powerful forces in the Viennese court (including the composer Antonio Salieri) conspired to undermine the opera. Nevertheless, the première took place in Vienna on May 1, 1786. There were many encores, but the box-office receipts were disappointing and its success in Vienna was short-lived. By contrast, it was a huge hit in Prague, where it opened that December, and it was revived in Vienna (somewhat revised) in August 1789, after which its fame spread widely.

Figaro was Mozart’s breakthrough work in the genre that meant the most to him as a composer. It is long and ambitious, uncommonly nuanced and sophisticated, with characters more finely drawn and profoundly human than in any previous opera buffa; it is also very funny. As was usual, the overture was written last, just days before the première. The one-movement overture, by this time, had replaced the old three-movement sinfonia (the prototype of the concert symphony), though it was not until 1787, in Don Giovanni, that Mozart would write his first overture that actually quotes from the opera itself. In some earlier overtures, including those for Idomeneo and The Abduction from the Seraglio and this one, he sought at least to encapsulate the basic mood of the opera.

Beaumarchais’s original title was La folle journée, ou Le mariage de Figaro, because the whole bewildering and hilarious plot unfolds over the course of a single “crazy day,” summed up perfectly in this bustling overture. (The score is marked Presto, a term Mozart used only when he wanted something played as fast as possible.) The main themes, all of them introduced quietly, convey stealth, aptly so for an opera laced with intrigue and disguise: the first theme scurries (strings and bassoons); the second darts and feints (strings, with commentary from flutes and oboes). The overture is set in an easygoing sonata form with no development section: a handful of themes is presented, then, after a quick transition back to the home key, the whole sequence is repeated. A brief coda featuring noisily chattering woodwinds follows, and the overture comes to a joyous close.

Program note by Kevin Bazzana

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216

Born: Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756
Died: Vienna, Austria, December 05, 1791
Composed: 1775
24 min

Of the five violin concertos written by the 19-year-old Mozart in an astonishing nine-month burst of creativity in 1775, No. 3 in G Major, K. 216, remained one of Mozart’s own favourite pieces. In it, H. C. Robbins Landon wrote, “melody is piled upon melody and new ideas succeed each other in blissful insouciance of each other and of any strict formal pattern.”

Of the three later violin concertos, K. 216 was pivotal, as Mozart’s forms became increasingly original, adventurous, and irregular, full of strange and surprising digressions, yet always seeming coherent, logical, even inevitable, perfectly balancing freedom and order. It was also a definitive example of the Arcadian serenade style of Mozart’s later Salzburg works. Maynard Solomon describes the multi-movement serenade as having “originated as an amorous musical offering, an open-air work sung by a lover to his beloved.” Mozart imitated this style in much of his instrumental music, often giving a “vocal” part to a violin; but, in K. 216, he made the connection explicit, borrowing the opening theme of the first movement from the shepherd-king Aminta’s noble aria “Aer tranquillo e dì sereni” from Act I of Il rè pastore, a “serenata”—a short pastoral opera—that he had composed in Salzburg in April of 1775, the very month in which he began writing violin concertos.

The aria speaks of “tranquil air and serene days,” “fresh springs and green fields,” and Mozart translated this mood of idyllic pastorale, of amorous lyricism tinged with melancholy, into instrumental terms, transforming the violin concerto from a pleasant entertainment into a more poetic form of expression. The recapitulation in the first movement is preceded by a violin “recitative” also borrowed from Il rè pastore. There is a new world of sonority and sentiment in the dreamy, operatic Adagio, too. Mozart calls for flutes rather than oboes here (18th-century woodwind players often knew both instruments), and writes delicate melodic fioratura for the violin, supported by a serenade-like accompaniment of murmuring muted strings and pizzicato basses.

In the experimental finales of all three of the later violin concertos, Mozart plays fast and loose with the Classical rondo form by introducing the most unexpected contrasting episodes, yet, as stated earlier, he never loses control of his material. In K. 216, the jig-like Allegro unfolds as a perfectly conventional rondo, but just where we would expect the form to draw to a close, Mozart interpolates two delightful episodes. The first is a galant—a seductive French gavotte—in G minor, with dainty trills and a light, pizzicato accompaniment. (“It sounds as if a French dandy, with handkerchief to nose, had stepped in to reprove the boisterous dance of the Allegro,” wrote the musicologist Daniel Heartz.) The second interpolated episode is a jolly contredanse in G major, based on a popular tune of the day known as the “Strassburger” (hence the nickname “Strassburg” Concerto). Having thus indulged himself, to comic effect, Mozart brings back the jig, resolves the original rondo, and allows the concerto to close quietly, with a little curtsey from the oboes and horns.

Program note by Kevin Bazzana

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

Born: Semyonovo, Russia, April 01, 1873
Died: Beverly Hills, United States of America, March 28, 1943
Composed: 1906–1907
60 min

In 1897, the première of Rachmaninoff’s ambitious and intensely dramatic First Symphony proved such an unmitigated disaster that it plunged the 24-year-old composer into a depression so profound that he was virtually unable to compose. He needed three years and the help of a psychiatrist to revitalize his creative muse. By the autumn of 1906, he came to feel that his activities as pianist and conductor were leaving too little time for his first love: composition. Seeking a retreat, he chose Dresden, Germany. He leased a villa there, where he would spend several months during each of the next two-and-a-half years. In that idyllic setting, he was free to relax, to ponder, and to allow his inherently expansive creative impulses to define their limits.

During this period, he composed several important scores, including Piano Sonata No. 1 and the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead. Having finally exorcised the demon of his First Symphony’s failure, he was able to consider the creation of a successor. He took great care with it, sincerely wishing it to succeed. His efforts won total vindication when the first performance, which he conducted himself in St. Petersburg on February 8, 1908, scored a resounding triumph.

Many of Rachmaninoff’s works, including two of his three symphonies, are bound together by a simple four-note recurring theme or “motto” based on a 13th century Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) plainchant, reflecting a life-long morbid preoccupation with the theme of death in the composer’s work. In the Second Symphony the motif appears, played by the double basses, right at the beginning of the first movement’s slow, brooding introduction, then recurs in one form or another in each of the remaining three movements. The Allegro second movement offers a balance of restless, dramatic, and yearning elements. In its urgency and rhythmic drive the movement leans toward the tart style of Prokofiev, but only Rachmaninoff (or perhaps his idol, Tchaikovsky) could have written the soaring second theme.

The third movement Adagio is the symphony’s beating heart, contextualizing the motto in an outpouring of passionate lyricism virtually unsurpassed in all music. The principal theme is a long, glowing melody introduced by solo clarinet. As the movement develops, it touches repeated heights of rapture, before dying away into contented stillness. The symphony then concludes with a surging, joyful rondo fourth movement in which fleeting reminiscences of previous movements crop up, en route to an exhilarating conclusion.

Program note by Don Anderson

Truth in Our Time with NACO

Program

Nicole Lizée: Zeiss After Dark

Canadian Nicole Lizée (b. 1973) is an award-winning composer and video artist who creates new music from an eclectic mix of influences, including the earliest MTV videos, turntablism, rave culture, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Alexander McQueen, thrash metal, early video game culture, 1960s psychedelia, and 1960s modernism. Hailed by the CBC as a “brilliant musical scientist”, she is fascinated by the glitches made by outmoded and well-worn technology and captures these glitches, notates them, and integrates them into live performance. Lizée’s compositions range from works for orchestra and solo turntablist featuring DJ techniques fully notated and integrated into a concert music setting, to other unorthodox instrument combinations that include the Atari 2600 video game console, omnichords, stylophones, Simon™, vintage board games, and karaoke tapes. In the broad scope of her evolving oeuvre, she explores such themes as malfunction, reviving the obsolete, and the harnessing of imperfection and glitch to create a new kind of precision. Her commission list to date is comprised of over 50 works for numerous distinguished artists and ensembles.

Zeiss After Dark was a co-commission of the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as one of 40 co-commissioned “Sesquies”—two-minute concert openers—to celebrate Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017. Premiered by the NAC Orchestra in Ottawa on February 23, 2017, it has since been performed by other ensembles. Lizée provides this description of her “Sesquie”:

Stanley Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott filmed the unprecedented “candlelight scene” in Barry Lyndon using three-wick candles as the only light source. The resulting scene was unlike any other in cinema history for its look—gauzy and akin to a moving oil painting. The creativity and technical ingenuity required to capture this decidedly organic effect was considerable. Cameras with custom-mounted Zeiss lenses designed for NASA were Kubrick’s solution to an almost insurmountable problem of light. In writing this piece, I imagined a sonic equivalent: a musical work that brings sound into focus through techniques that emulate the conditions involved in ultra lowlight—glow, flicker, bokeh—reimagined for orchestra.

Scored for woodwind, brass, timpani, and percussion, Lizée draws on their distinctive timbres (as well as requiring the musicians to hand clap) to musically capture this cinematic low light technique.

Dmitry Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70

After Dmitry Shostakovich’s (1906–1975) Ninth Symphony premiered on November 3, 1945, by the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, it was clear by critical reaction that what was heard was not what had been expected. To be sure, the composer initially projected a kind of “heroic victory symphony”, one that could effectively memorialize the contributions of the Soviet people in the war effort against Nazism. In the end, the Ninth seemed to fall short; its comparatively lighthearted character was deemed to be an inappropriate response to—and reflection of—the post-war mood. The Soviet cultural authorities appeared to have felt this, and in 1948, they barred the Ninth Symphony (and other works by Shostakovich) from further performance. Only after Stalin’s death in 1953 was the ban lifted; the work was featured in concerts again beginning in 1955.

It’s possible that it was thought the Ninth Symphony would display, for example, a clearly defined emotional arc of victory over suffering. However, even such tropes are never just what they are at face value in Shostakovich’s music. There is frequently embedded a subtext of dark irony, which the composer honed from years of writing music under the deep scrutiny of Stalin and his Party. It’s worth considering that Shostakovich was aware that writing a “heroic victory symphony” would mean celebrating Stalin and his Party, who had previously murdered thousands, and whose oppressive regime, under which the composer had already suffered a very public denunciation in 1936, would resume after the war. Thus, it seemed impossible to create such a work while providing an authentic emotional outlet for what the Soviet people had been through. Perhaps, then, the bitter irony of this situation can only be expressed by the darkly humorous music of the Ninth.

The opening Allegro is a comic affair with two main themes: a jaunty motif introduced by the first violins, and later, a cheeky tune piped by the piccolo, announced boisterously by the trombone with timpani and snare drum. (One can’t help but hear circus music in the latter.) Tension builds as the themes develop, becoming caricatures of themselves as they reach a frenzied climax. The key melodies are reprised but given new instrumentation and context, the movement’s darker edge becomes more evident.

Solo clarinet begins the second movement with a kind of melancholy, off-kilter waltz melody, which is then taken up by the flute, along with the bassoon. The strings lumber in with an anxious ascending passage, over which oboe and clarinet rise in lament. Solo flute brings back the main theme, after which the strings’ lumbering passage also returns, but at a higher register; they break through to an ethereal peak. The piccolo closes the movement with a plaintive final rendition of the opening melody.

The last three movements are played through without pause. The Presto is a highly theatrical Scherzo of mercurial brilliance. Solo clarinet takes the lead again, this time with a sparkling theme, which is then played by woodwinds, and later, strings. In the trio, the trumpet blasts a lampoon of a song tune. After the Scherzo’s return, the pace slows and the mood takes a solemn turn, leading into the fourth movement, which begins with a stentorian passage of menacing dotted rhythms played by trombones and tuba. This ominous “announcement” alternates with a meditative bassoon solo of elegiac quality. Is this music looking back at the war or forward, as a portent of things to come? Whatever it is, it doesn’t dwell here for long. As if shaking off bad memories or future concerns, the bassoon starts the finale with a charming tune, which is reprised throughout in various guises. The strings later present a robust theme. Gradually, the orchestra advances with the main melody; the pace suddenly quickens, eventually reaching a climax—the light-stepping tune now a military march. (Whether this is an authentic or forced celebration is open to interpretation). The tempo picks up again, and the orchestra scampers to the symphony’s end.

Erich Korngold: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35

Erich Korngold (1897–1957) composed his Violin Concerto during the summer of 1945. At the time, he was living in Hollywood with his family, in exile from his native Vienna since 1938, away from the Second World War being fought in Europe. He dedicated the work to Alma Mahler-Werfel, a friend, and also a recent émigré to Los Angeles with her husband, the writer Franz Werfel. The Concerto was premiered on February 15, 1947 by soloist Jascha Heifetz with the St. Louis Symphony directed by Vladimir Golschmann.

After a childhood as a celebrated musical prodigy and a burgeoning career as a leading composer of opera and concert music in Europe, since 1935, Korngold had been writing almost exclusively film scores for Hollywood. While this was a career move that ultimately helped save him (he was Jewish), his family, and his music from Nazi persecution, he intended to return to what he was doing before, back in Vienna, once the war was over. The Violin Concerto was intended to facilitate his “comeback”. He finally returned in 1949 (following a major heart attack in 1947) but soon found himself an outsider: the younger generation seemed to not know of him, and he was dismissed for being “merely” a film composer. Furthermore, his post-war concert works, including his Violin Concerto, were criticized for being “old fashioned”—their sumptuous harmonies and passionate melodies characteristic of late Romantic, fin-de-siècle style were felt to be out of touch with more modern idioms and the traumas of the Second World War. He died thinking he’d be largely forgotten, but in the 1970s, interest his film scores sparked renewed attention to his concert works. Today, his Violin Concerto is now an established work in the concert hall and on recordings, beloved by violinists and enjoyed by audiences everywhere.

In his own introductory note to the Violin Concerto, Korngold wrote, in 1947, “I have always remained true to my own beliefs; that music should be melodic, and as an old Viennese master used to preach and teach to me—‘wohllautend’ (well sounding).” It suggests that Korngold strongly felt that even after the horrors of war, there is still a place for music that is beautiful and hopeful, full of adventure and fantasy, like his symphonic film scores. In fact, the Concerto itself draws on music he composed for four movies in the late 1930s. The first movement’s noble opening theme, introduced by the solo violin, is from Another Dawn (1936). It becomes a refrain throughout, structurally delineating key sections: a quicksilver transition, followed by a tenderly passionate second theme, this one from the score to Juarez (1939); then another fast section, including the solo violinist’s cadenza, after which the main themes are reprised, inventively rescored. The movement closes with a flourish.

The Romance is a dreamy, rhapsodic song for violin on a melody from Korngold’s score to Anthony Adverse (1936), which had earned him an Oscar. It bookends an atmospheric contrasting section evocative of night. A vigorous dance of a finale follows. Based on music from another film score, The Prince and the Pauper (1937), this is a virtuosic tour-de-force for the soloist, giving this Concerto a dazzling finish. 

Philip Glass: Symphony No. 13

Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen to David Bowie, American composer Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times. He is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film, and in popular music—simultaneously. Over the last 25 years, he has completed over 25 operas, 12 symphonies, 13 concertos, film soundtracks, nine string quartets, and a growing body of work for solo piano and organ.

Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 13 was commissioned for Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra by the Jennings family as a tribute to the late Toronto-born Canadian journalist Peter Jennings. A highly respected news anchor for ABC News, Jennings was also a trustee of Carnegie Hall during his years in New York City, the founding director of the American chapter of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra, and served as a lifelong champion of Canadian artists generally. The world premiere of the work was given by the NAC Orchestra in Toronto on March 30, 2022; tonight’s performance is the Symphony’s US premiere.

Philip Glass provides the following introduction to his new work:

I started to compose Symphony No. 13 in the summer of 2020 in New York City. My life as a “symphonist” began 30 years ago in 1992, when, at the suggestion of conductor Dennis Russell Davies, I was commissioned to write my First Symphony. While I always thought of myself as a theatre composer—which has the virtue of being true—it was Dennis that “didn’t want me to be one of those opera composers who never wrote a symphony.”

So, while I have spent the majority of my creative life in theatre in one form or another, through friendly coercion and also with great joy, I have written a number of symphonies which were purely instrumental, as well as another group which included vocal materials or were based on outside material: poetry, wisdom traditions, and even popular music. 

I first heard the National Arts Centre Orchestra live in 2016 at the Glenn Gould Prize concert when they performed my Symphony No. 8. I have had a home in Nova Scotia for over 50 years and come here every year. And a number of my pieces have premiered in Canada over the years. When invited by the NAC Orchestra to compose a new work, I began to think of a new full-scale instrumental symphony to be part of their program “Truth in Our Time.”  The piece is part of the kind of music which I view to be a new body of work that started with Symphony No. 11 from five years ago. The journey continues to explore my own ideas about the language of music as it has evolved for me in the form of these symphonies. 

What can a piece of music express about the idea of truth? When we consider a figure like Peter Jennings, a Canadian by birth, an immigrant, a journalist, an American by choice, rather than making a proclamation about “what is truth,” for the composer we are on much better ground when we talk about “This is the music that I listen to, this is the music that I like, and this is the music that I write.”

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

**Commissioned by Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in honour of Canadian journalist Peter Jennings, thanks to the Jennings Family.

Saraste + Sibelius

Program

Samy Moussa: Crimson for large orchestra

Appointed Artist-in-Residence at the TSO in 2020—the first such appointment in TSO history—Montreal-born Samy Moussa’s music features in four contrasting programs between now and the end of the TSO season in June, including, in the last week of May, his Symphony No. 2, a TSO-commissioned world premiere. On Crismon for large orchestra, Moussa writes:

“I always start a composition from the beginning. This is essential, otherwise invention is impossible. Crimson was no exception: it took 62 different overtures before finally obtaining something that I considered satisfactory. Each of these openings was a plausible option, but I was looking for something else. One might think that I have absolute control over the music that I write, but that’s not true. Music is a living matter and very often has its own will. I only knew that it had to be resolute, loud, metallic, homophonic and equivocal.”

Program note by Durand Salabert Eschig

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105

composed 1918 to 1924, 24 min

Symphonic writing did not come easily to Sibelius. He was already four years into the writing of his Symphony No.5, which concludes this concert, when he began making notes for his Symphony No. 6 and No. 7 (although whether to even call them symphonies was one of the things that plagued the composer). No. 7 was in fact premiered in 1924 under the title In the early notes for No. 7, he envisioned a symphonic composition in three movements, planning to make the last one “a Hellenic rondo.” By the early ’20s the work had assumed a more conventional four-movement symphonic shape, and it was only in the summer of 1923 that it began to take on its final, one-movement form.

Under the title Fantasia sinfonica (Symphonic Fantasy), it was premièred in Stockholm on March 24, 1924. Sibelius conducted six further performances before the year was out, none of them, surprisingly, in Finland. Its debut in his homeland was delayed until April 1927. It was only when it was published in 1925 that Sibelius settled on calling it Symphony No. 7.

Yet within its single-movement span occur different sections that can be parsed as aspects of the three-movement symphony he envisioned in 1918. A long, slow Adagio leads to a skittering Scherzo of dizzying pace. This in turn gives way to a substantial Allegro, followed by a powerful epilogue.

The effect, though, is not one of collage. Sibelius constructs a convincing unity from this variety. The classical ideal of unity involves a kind of architectural structure, while the romantic vision suggests organic transformation of motifs. The composer repeatedly reconsiders his thrifty economy of musical material, shifting the perspectives of time and space from which he views it.

Sibelius begins with a roll on the timpani that will have great significance. A rising scale ensues, ending on a startling, eccentric harmony. Pastoral fragments from the winds add new material, leading to the thrillingly noble call of a solo trombone—the first of three times the trombone motif makes its shining appearance, becoming a kind of axis along which the Symphony spins. Each time, it seems to summon a clarity from amid Sibelius’s varied orchestral textures, tempi, and rhythmic figurations.

The epilogue is grippingly beautiful. It averts the impending sense of crisis, reaffirming the home we have never really left—a kind of primal C major—in a way that would seem impossible to so many modernist contemporaries of Sibelius. The last dissonance we hear is literally a step into the blazing affirmation of the final chord. Sibelius has somehow made C major seem new and unfamiliar—even frightening. With this chord and the silence following, he caps his entire symphonic cycle.

After creating two more major works, an incidental score for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, and the symphonic poem Tapiola, Sibelius lived out the remaining three decades of his life without releasing any significant new music – despite working on an Eighth Symphony for several years. His ever-increasing sense of self-criticism would not permit him to release it, nor possibly even complete it.

Program note by Thomas May (with additional notes by Don Anderson)

In TSO history: Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105 was last performed on November 11, 2016 – Peter Oundjian, conductor

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82

composed 1914 to 1919, 32 min

The Fifth Symphony was a pivotal work in Sibelius’s career. He had come to realize that he could not keep pace with the revolutionary experiments of composers like Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who rejected traditional melody, harmony and form. The Fifth, the first important product of this aesthetic crisis, was Sibelius’s reply to musical modernism, and he knew that such an overtly Romantic and accessible work would damage his reputation among champions of “progressive” music. Sure enough, it was viewed as a throwback, as a retreat from the forward-looking tendencies of his leaner, more dissonant Fourth Symphony of 1911.

But Sibelius himself must have thought the Fifth a watershed, for he worked long and hard at it —“struggled with God,” as he put it. He produced two versions of it, in 1915 and 1916, and at one point all but recomposed it, before he completed it, in 1919. Even then, he briefly considered publishing the first movement alone as a “symphonic fantasia.”

Today, the Fifth seems less “reactionary” than one of a kind — a unique and highly idiosyncratic rethinking of symphonic form. It owes so little to formulas drawn from classical or Romantic models that Sibelius considered replacing the title “symphony” with “fantasia,” and yet the music still has the generous proportions, the structural solidity, and the seriousness of purpose that we associate with the symphony genre. With its three movements forming a continuous, coherent drama, the Fifth was a way-station en route to the Seventh, which is in a single long movement.

The first movement is powerful and organic, with a compelling logic. The opening is tentative: the tempo is slow, the home key (E-flat major), is only weakly established and immediately undermined, and the “theme” consists of fragmentary motifs. Yet these motifs are clearly related, and as the movement unfolds they are recast and developed in such a way that the music seems to gradually cohere, as though evolving toward some sort of resolution. At the height of this process, the music suddenly begins to dance, shifting into the tempo and meter of a scherzo. In this driving scherzo section, all the tension of the first part gradually dissipates. Motifs are further developed, the tempo progressively quickens, and in its blazing, breathless final bars the movement achieves that unequivocal assertion of the home key so noticeably wanting at the beginning.

The second movement is naïve and pastoral in character, and its genial theme (pizzicato strings and staccato woodwinds) is varied and transformed throughout, at times in richly expressive settings. But beneath the theme-and-variations form something else is going on; in the opening bars, woodwind-and-horn chords introduce a note of tension, which persists throughout the movement. As the music unfolds, motifs from the first movement are recalled, and there are foreshadowings of themes from the finale. This seemingly innocent intermezzo is in fact a crucial pivot between the more dramatic outer movements, and by the end it has generated all of the musical material out of which the finale—and the resolution of the whole symphony—will be forged.

Like the first movement, the finale is a goal-directed conception, in which the second half functions as an intensification of the first. The bustling opening theme, “piled up” through most of the orchestra, opens onto a broad, swinging new idea in the horns, which is repeated until it acquires a timeless quality that suggests a goal attained. After a brief, dark interlude, the whole process is repeated, this time at greater length, and laced with new dissonance, tension, and ambiguity, so that the final statements of the horn theme, in an unsullied E-flat major, are all the more triumphant — more powerful because more hard-won. (Even from his earliest sketches, Sibelius knew that this theme would provide the climax for the whole symphony.)

And at the end of it all is one of the strangest and most awesome final pages in all music: six stark chords, torn apart by long pauses, whose only function is to make a grand, definitive cadence. This final assertion of E-flat major seems almost polemical, as though Sibelius meant to assert the continuing validity of key-centred tonality in the face of a, for him, cripplingly hostile modernism; his own historical situation becomes part of the very subject-matter of his symphony.

Sibelius’ distinctive melodies and musical style —the famously “Nordic” quality of his orchestrations —were deeply influenced by his experiences of nature in the Finnish woods where he made his home. In this symphony, the work’s final triumphant horn theme was inspired by the image of swans flying over the lake that adjoined his property. He came to think of this theme as the “Swan Hymn” (perhaps contradicting one popular notion that it conjures up the swinging of Thor’s hammer). In 1919, just after putting his pen to the score of the Fifth Symphony for the last time, Sibelius saw twelve white swans settle on the lake, then take off and circle his home three times before flying away. It seemed like a good omen.

Program note by Kevin Bazzana

In TSO history: Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82 was last performed on April 8, 2018 – Sir Andrew Davis, conductor