A Welcome Return: Gimeno & Your TSO

Plan to arrive early—we recommend arriving between 7:00–7:15pm to make sure you have enough time to enter the hall and take your seats prior to the concert starting.

Program Notes

Anthony Barfield: Invictus

A photo of Anthony Barfield

At the precipitous intersection where soaring COVID-19 cases met the reckoning with racial justice of the Black Lives Matter protests, Summer 2020 in New York City was a tiring stretch of anxious uncertainty. Pundits and comedians alike openly debated whether or not New York was dead, and the arts-going public braced for a fall season with no vaccine in sight. This was the atmosphere wherein Anthony Barfield’s Invictus was composed, presenting a snapshot and tributary of a time and city like no other. Invictus premiered in a socially-distanced concert spread across the plaza of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, on August 7, 2020. Commissioned by the Lincoln Center—with Barfield conducting a 15-piece brass ensemble—the première assembled performers across six of the city’s leading orchestras.

Raised on a farm in Collinsville, Mississippi, and more accustomed to the buzz of tractor trailers and grazing cattle, Barfield’s arrival at Juilliard introduced him to a city he came to describe as “resilient, courageous, and adaptable.” Graduating with a degree in Trombone Performance, he went on to wear many hats in orchestral music, including: producer, production manager, and lecturer at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Most notable is his career as a composer, which was ignited by a band director’s remark regarding his perfect pitch. In summer 2012, he hung up the trombone and picked up the baton for good—and one of his works debuted at Carnegie Hall in the same year. His lexicon as a composer is informed by components of jazz, hip-hop, and gospel; and his appeal reaches beyond North America into Europe and Asia. Conscious of the need for healing after the murder of George Floyd, Barfield arrived at Invictus with the resolution that “despite these troublesome times, we are in fact unconquerable.”

Indeed, it’s hard to hear the title of this work without thinking also of the so-named poem by British poet William Ernest Henry: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul,” and so on. Though the poem’s fame reached its height as a source of solace for an imprisoned Nelson Mandela—and the height of the poet’s fame is arguably as the father of the inspiration behind a Peter Pan heroine—the sincerity of the courage that animates it, remains intact. While Barfield’s work makes no direct reference to the poem, the rallying call of the trumpets and horns gesture at the same images of resilience and hopeful fortitude. It was, at the time, a fitting commission for a famously restless city in the temporary grip of a rural quiet. Now it makes its Canadian début as a herald of a uniquely difficult period for Black communities on both sides of the border, and a reminder of the challenges that persist.

Program note by Michael Zarathus-Cook

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Haydn: Overture to L’isola disabitata (The Desert Island)

A portrait of Franz Joseph Haydn

On a steady diet of at least one opera by Joseph Haydn per year, Prince Nicolas II of the Esterházy court managed to squeeze 15 in total out of the resident composer—his orchestration for L’Isola disabitata being the tenth. The libretto, by Pietro Metastasio, has been scored by several composers: from Haydn contemporary, Giuseppe Bonno, to more recent iterations by Nino Rota (frequent collaborator of filmmaker Federico Fellini). Haydn’s contribution remains at the top of this list, this Overture in particular, which has since graced more stages than the opera.

The plot of the opera—which Haydn preferred to call an operetta—hinges loosely on the bit of graffiti inscribed, by the heroine Costanza, on a rock next to her cave: “Abandoned by the traitor Gernando, Costanza spends her days on these strange shores. Friendly traveler, if you are not a tiger, then either avenge or pity my case.” Thus ensues a tête-à-tête in two acts, between Costanza, her sister Silvia, and two sailors who’ve just escaped capture from pirate ships—one of which is the allegedly traitorous Gernando. That Costanza and Gernando reunite, and Silvia finds first love in the sinewy Enrico, is merely a background formula for the intrigues prescribed by this Overture. 

Like several other works attributed to Haydn’s brief Sturm und Drang period (late 1760s–1770s), the Overture is vitalized by the sudden explosions of passion that the aesthetic movement advocated for. The movement poked a colourful finger in the eye of Classical constraints, and was batting practice for the advent of Romanticism and it’s emotional heavy hitters. Sturm und Drang, like other artistic trends in late 18th-century Europe, found it’s genesis in the American Revolutionary War—which was the backdrop of the 1777 play by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, Der Wirrwarr oder Sturm und Drang, that gave the movement its name. Haydn’s championship of the virtues of Sturm und Drang can be easily overstated. The clouds briefly rolling over the storm of the opening Largo are a shade lighter than was fashionable, and the stress of the closing Vivace assai leave enough room for a playful little figure before the tutti explosion of the finale.

Program note by Michael Zarathus-Cook

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Paul Hindemith: Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op. 50

A photo of Paul Hindemith

b Hanau, Germany, Nov 16, 1895; d Frankfurt, Germany, Dec 28, 1963

Composed: 1930

The young Hindemith stood at the forefront of the German avant-garde, delighting in creating bold, daring music that unabashedly flaunted convention. With time, he became a Bach-like, fully practical artist. The mature Hindemith created specific pieces for specific occasions, and music for the enjoyment of professional and amateur musicians alike. His productivity was vast, and his music is vigorous, richly textured, and life-enhancing. 

He composed the Concert Music for Brass and Strings on commission for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Other major, enduringly impressive works created for that auspicious occasion included Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Serge Koussevitzky conducted the BSO in the première of Hindemith’s piece on April 4, 1931. 

It was the last in a series of three similarly-entitled compositions, for various instrumental combinations, that he composed during the period 1929-30. Their structure, based upon interaction between separate groups of instruments, recalls the concerto grosso form of the baroque period. 

His choice of instruments for this piece gave it a sound that is often massive and powerful. The first movement falls into two sections. The first is lively and filled with great contrapuntal interest, Hindemith regularly layering together several lines of activity. In terms of style, it resembles one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, but it is driven by rhythms and underpinned by harmonies that are distinctly twentieth-century. The second section of the movement is slower in tempo and lyrical in mood, giving free rein to the strings’ expressive capabilities.

The jazz-inflected second movement begins playfully, as the strings introduce a bounding fugue subject that is punctuated first by brass chords, then by solo turns for various instruments. Contrast arrives with a quiet, flowing passage which in time is shared by both groups of instruments. Hindemith brought back the first section’s themes and built them to a sonorous, richly textured conclusion.

A DVD of Hindemith conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a live 1963 concert performance of this piece (as well as music by Brahms and Bruckner) is available on the Video Artists International (VAI) label, #4237. 

Program note by Don Anderson

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Schubert: Symphony No. 5

A portrait of Franz Schubert

While Haydn had his Esterházy prince in Eisenstadt, Schubert wasn’t so lucky with Emperor Francis II of the Vienna court—the latter didn’t care as much for a musical diet. Had Schubert been more favoured by the court, he might have seen more of his symphonies performed by the major orchestras, and enjoyed more of the renown that his obvious talents achieved posthumously. What he lacked in popular acclaim, he buoyed with the ardent support of his equally unendowed peers (a troop dubbed Schubertianern). It’s this simultaneous proximity to lower-middle-class folkliness, while rubbing ruffled shoulders with the likes of Antonio Salieri—his tutor in composition—that engenders his music with both a formulaic timelessness and melodic relevance. This Symphony No. 5, composed at the raw age of nineteen, is an early snapshot of the two worlds that Schubert’s music comfortably astrides. 

Departing from the thematic ideas of the first four symphonies—composed in the shadow that Beethoven cast on the desk of every serious composer of the age—No. 5 returns to a more natural setting and Mozartian simplicity. When Salieri was celebrating his 50th year in Vienna, part of the festivities included a potluck of compositions contributed by the master’s numerous pupils. The event coincided with the period wherein Schubert was compiling ideas for No. 5, and remarked how the contributions of his peers, in Salieri’s honour, were collectively “free from all the eccentricity that is common among most composers nowadays, and which is due almost wholly to one of our great German artists.” There’s no mystery that this wagging finger was in Beethoven’s direction, and with that the young Schubert opted for the open air and uncomplicated jollity that’s fully realized in the brisk fourth movement of No. 5. In the ebullient mood of the tutti opening of the Allegro vivace, there are traces of the Mozart string quintets he recently attended, and more muscular iterations of Haydn’s symphonic language. The composer’s own voice, characterized by one of the most melodic lilts of the century, comes through unimpeded in the second theme that ultimately ramps the symphony up to a close.

Longevity is often an understated determinant of what becomes of a composer’s catalogue, and aside from his distance to the auspices of the royal court, Schubert’s own health presented the greatest obstacle to his career. Musicologist Watson Lyle no doubt had in mind the likes of Schubert and Chopin—swift burning candles of early 19th-century Romanticism—when characterizing “that pathetic band of pioneers in the history of the arts and sciences, whose mortal span fell short of the length of their spiritual mission.” There is of course nothing pathetic about this type, insofar as their output nevertheless surpasses several lifespans. At the juncture of No. 5, the young composer’s mission was at hand: Beethoven’s torch would soon be passed. But eight years after No. 5, the composer who would die just a year after Beethoven, was slowly realizing the inevitability of his fate. In a March 1824 letter to painter and member of the Schubertianern group, Leopold Kupelweiser, the splendor and radiance of No. 5 was fading in the rearview: 

“Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better. Think, I, say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship are but torture, and whose enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing; and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy.”

Program note by Michael Zarathus-Cook

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Performers

Gustavo Gimeno, conductor

TSO Music Director Gustavo Gimeno outside Roy Thomson Hall

Gustavo Gimeno begins his first full season as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the return to in-person performances in November, 2021. Maestro Gimeno has programmed a 2021/22 season that reflects his expansive artistic vision, intellectual curiosity, and sense of adventure, and will conduct eleven subscription programs.

He is known for his passion for exploring how well-known classical works contrast and illuminate repertoire across many musical genres and styles of diverse composers. He made his Canadian début with the TSO in February 2018, and returned in June 2019 to conduct the suite from Stravinsky's celebrated ballet The Firebird. In October 2019, he conducted Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé to critical acclaim, with the Toronto Star stating “Gimeno revealed himself to be a focused, meticulous leader whose main goal was to let the composer’s ideas speak clearly…. The Toronto Symphony will be in sure artistic hands for the foreseeable future.”

Gustavo Gimeno has been the Music Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (OPL) since 2015, appearing with the orchestra in many of the most prestigious concert halls throughout Europe. He is a much sought-after guest conductor worldwide, performing with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, and is regularly invited to the Concertgebouworkest. In the U.S, Gustavo has conducted with the National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra, and many more. He is in demand as a conductor of opera, with past appearances at Liceu Opera Barcelona (Verdi’s Aida), Zurich Opera (Verdi’s Rigoletto), and Valencia Opera House (Bellini’s Norma), where he is scheduled to conduct Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel in 2022.

As part of his touring engagements, Gustavo has conducted alongside soloists Daniel Barenboim, Gautier Capuçon, Anja Harteros, Leonidas Kavakos, Bryn Terfel, Yuja Wang, and Frank Peter Zimmermann. A highlight has been performances of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with Krystian Zimerman.

In 2020, Gimeno conducted the world premiere of Francisco Coll’s Violin Concerto, written for Patricia Kopatchinskaja and co-commissioned with NTR ZaterdagMatinee, London Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony and Bamberger Symphoniker. During 2021, Pentatone released a recording of the Violin Concerto with Kopatchinskaja, Gimeno and OPL as part of a Coll monograph. Gimeno’s catalogue on Pentatone with OPL also includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1 and Bruckner’s Symphony No.1, Ravel’s complete ballet music to Daphnis et Chloé, Mahler’s Symphony No.4, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle and César Franck’s Symphony in D minor.

Gustavo will make his debut with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony in 2021 and 2022.

Born in Valencia, Spain, Gustavo Gimeno began his international conducting career in 2012 as assistant to Mariss Jansons, while he was a member of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He also gained invaluable experience as assistant to Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado, who strongly supported and influenced him in many respects as a mentor.

For more detailed information, please visit Gustavo Gimeno’s website.

Gustavo Gimeno's appearances are generously supported by Susan Brenninkmeyer in memory of Hans Brenninkmeyer.

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