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Masterworks

2018-2019 Season / Masterworks / Brahms & Bruckner
All performances at 7:30pm at Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater
20190330 MW7

LAWRENCE LOH | conductor
JENNIFER FRAUTSCHI | violin

PROGRAM:
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto, Op. 77, D major
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4, E-flat major (Romantic)

This concert offers two dramatic peaks of the romantic period. It opens with Brahms’s Violin Concerto, the grandest of the 19th century, played by one of America’s most dazzling young virtuosi, Jennifer Frautschi, a two-time Grammy nominee and Avery Fisher career grant recipient. After intermission, we have the warmest and most popular of Bruckner’s symphonies, the Fourth. This uplifting work provides special opportunities for Symphoria’s brass section (above all for principal horn Julie Bridge); and it will hold you in its spell from its mystical opening sunrise to its overwhelming final pages.

PRE-CONCERT EVENT

The Bond, Schoeneck & King Pre-Concert Talk will be held in the Banner Room on the lower level of the Civic Center, beginning at 6:30p.m.

 

NOTE: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who had been scheduled to perform on this concert has sustained a knee injury, and has had to withdraw as a result.

Brahms & Bruckner
03.30.19

7:30pm | Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater

When tonight’s two works appeared in the 1870s, Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) and Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) were seen as polar opposites. Brahms, whose career had been launched by Robert and Clara Schumann, was viewed as the heir to Beethoven, the conservative bearer of the great Austro-German tradition. Bruckner, in contrast, was associated with the radical wing represented by Liszt and Wagner, a group advocating “the music of the future.” Looking back a century and a half later, the quarrels seem increasingly petty—and, indeed, Brahms and Bruckner have a great deal in common. Both were intellectuals nourished by pre-classical music. Both eschewed opera and program music, preferring—in their orchestral works, at least—to compose “absolute” music in which form took priority, and in which the arresting color of the radicals was absent. Both were perfectionists, although, as we’ll see, that perfectionism manifested in different ways.

The Brahms Violin Concerto, written in 1878, stands with the Beethoven and the Tchaikovsky at the peak of 19th-century violin concertos, and in terms of sheer craggy grandeur, it tops them both. The first movement is especially monumental: as tonight’s soloist, Rachel Barton Pine, puts it, “I am continually awed by the majestic and inexorable qualities of such sections as the opening solo and the broken octaves in the development. If the Beethoven Concerto captures the beauty of God’s creation, the Brahms Concerto conveys its magnitude and power.” It’s followed by a lyrical Adagio that took early listeners by surprise, since the gorgeous main theme is introduced by the oboist even before the soloist enters (a technique mirrored in the Barber Violin Concerto, a Symphoria favorite). After two extremely serious movements, Brahms lightens up (in spirit, if not in weight) with a rollicking rondo in what was then called “Hungarian” style—based not on Hungarian folk tunes, but on Romani music.

The first performance was by Brahms’s close friend and mentor, violinist Josef Joachim, who gave Brahms invaluable advice while he was composing the work. Oddly, it was not a success. In fact, it was sufficiently disastrous that Brahms, in despair (as he often was), burned the early draft of a follow-up. Clearly a mistake—for within a few years, the Concerto was widely recognized as a masterpiece, and it has been a concert staple ever since.

Bruckner’s music is less common on orchestral concerts than Brahms’s is, especially in the United States; in fact, this is Symphoria’s first foray into his symphonies. Why is that? Whatever the reasons, they probably stem more from an outdated reputation than from his actual music—as we believe will be clear after tonight’s performance of the Fourth. If you’re looking for uplift, you’ll find it here.

It’s hard to date Bruckner symphonies, because most of them exist in multiple versions. If Brahms was the kind of perfectionist who threw manuscripts into the fire, Bruckner was the kind who constantly revised his scores, in some cases decades after he’d composed them. To add to the editorial issues, he was an extremely modest man, and he often allowed the intervention of others, who sometimes made massive changes in the music to make it more palatable to 19th-century tastes. As a result, there are at least seven different editions of the Fourth circulating—and while some of the differences are minimal, many are substantial. Indeed, the first version had an entirely different Scherzo from the one we normally encounter. The most commonly performed version nowadays is the so-called “First Definitive Edition” from 1880, and that is the one we’ll be hearing tonight.

The Fourth stands with the Seventh as the most popular of Bruckner symphonies, and it offers many of Bruckner’s recurrent characteristics: mysterious string tremolos, cataclysmic brass climaxes, intricate counterpoint, chorale-based passages, a wide dynamic range, and frequent use of what’s known as the “Bruckner rhythm” (a measure consisting of a duplet followed by a triplet or vice-versa). Bruckner was an organist, famous for his improvisations; and as conductor Larry Loh points out, “What is incredible about his music is that it has this improvisatory nature to it. There are things that are unexpected, but at the same time there are things that you can count on, like phrasing and a certain harmonic language.” Bruckner’s experience as an organist also shows up in his orchestration, which tends to favor stark alternations of orchestral groups rather than a shifting blend of colors. It’s a cliché to compare Bruckner’s symphonies to cathedrals. Still, the comparison has merit, not so much because his symphonies are on the vast side (although not longer, on the whole, than Mahler’s), but even more because of their sonic solidity (grounded, in the climaxes, by crushing brass), their profound sense of meditation in the slow movements, and, most of all, their sense of awe. An extremely devout Catholic, Bruckner no doubt saw his music in religious terms; you don’t have to be a believer, however, to share in its sense of the sublime.

Bruckner’s music is especially gratifying for brass players—and the Fourth gives special opportunities to the first horn. “I love the mystical start of this symphony and the way it builds,” says principal horn Julie Bridge. And well she might: That mystical start features a serene horn solo (far harder than it sounds, says Julie, because of its wide slurs) over tremolo strings, a passage that leads to what might seem a musical equivalent of a sunrise. That opening gesture is readily recognizable, and Bruckner returns to it often in the movement as a marker of important formal junctures. The movement as a whole is strenuous one, building to a stupendous coda.

The contemplative Andante, which also features plenty of opportunities for the first horn, is less titanic in spirit; while it too builds to a massive climax, it ends softly. The mood shifts dramatically yet again for the third movement Scherzo, which begins (as the first movement does) with tremolos and horn—although here the first horn is quickly joined by its partners in spirited hunting calls. As for the finale: the finale in Brahms’s Violin Concerto is a complete departure from the first two movements, but Bruckner’s symphonies aim for a more consistent kind of unity, and the last movement here takes up much of the grandeur—and some of the specific gestures—of the first movement. Indeed, it too opens with a horn over tremolo strings. But the movement is a culmination, not a repetition; and however grand the coda of the first movement is, the one in the finale outdoes it—a patient but increasingly intense crescendo that will knock you out.

Peter J. Rabinowitz

Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org

Artist Information:

Jennifer Frautschi

Two-time GRAMMY nominee and Avery Fisher career grant recipient Jennifer Frautschi has garnered worldwide acclaim as an adventurous musician with a remarkably wide-ranging repertoire. As the Chicago Tribune noted, "violinist Jennifer Frautschi is molding a career with smart interpretations of both warhorses and rarities." Equally at home in the classic and contemporary repertoire, her recent seasons have featured innumerable performances and recordings of works ranging from Brahms and Schumann to Berg and Schoenberg. She has also had the privilege of premiering several new works composed for her by prominent composers of today.

Ms. Frautschi has appeared as soloist with Pierre Boulez and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Christoph Eschenbach and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, and at Wigmore Hall and Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival. Selected by Carnegie Hall for its Distinctive Debuts series, she made her New York recital debut in 2004. As part of the European Concert Hall Organization's Rising Stars series, Ms. Frautschi also made debuts that year at ten of Europe's most celebrated concert venues, including the Salzburg Mozarteum, Vienna Konzerthaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, La Cité de la Musique in Paris, and Brussels’ Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. She has also been heard in recital at the Ravinia Festival, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, Washington's Phillips Collection, Boston's Gardner Museum, Beijing's Imperial Garden, Monnaie Opera in Brussels, La Chaux des Fonds in Switzerland, and San Miguel de Allende Festival in Mexico.

Highlights of Ms. Frautschi’s 2013-14 season included performances with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Tucson Symphony, as well as return engagements with the Alabama, Arkansas, Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Chattanooga, Phoenix, and Toledo Symphonies and the Rhode Island Philharmonic. She returned to DaCamera of Houston and the Helicon Foundation in New York for concerts on all-gut strings with period instruments. In the summer of 2014 she performed at the Ojai, La Jolla, Santa Fe, Moab, Bridgehampton, and SaltBay Music Festivals. Recent seasons include the world premiere of James Stephenson’s Violin Concerto, a piece written for her, with the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä; Barber Concerto with the orchestra of the Teatro di San Carlo Opera House in Naples, James Conlon conducting; and performances with the Eugene, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, and Utah Symphonies, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. She has also soloed with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Kansas City Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke's, San Diego Symphony, and Seattle Symphony, and toured the United States with the Czech Symphony Orchestra.

Ms. Frautschi performs regularly at the Caramoor Center for the Arts, where she has appeared annually since she was first invited by André Previn to play there as a “Rising Star” at the age of 18, during her freshman year at Harvard. As a chamber artist she appears frequently at the Boston Chamber Music Society, Chamber Music Northwest (in Portland, OR), and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Formerly a member of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two, she has also appeared at the Charlottesville, La Jolla Summerfest, La Musica (Sarasota), Moab, Music@Menlo, Newport, Seattle, and Spoleto USA Chamber Music Festivals, as well as at New York’s Metropolitan and Guggenheim Museums of Art, the 92nd Street Y, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and Mainly Mozart in San Diego. Internationally, she has performed at the Cartagena International Music Festival in Columbia, the Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds and Rome Chamber Music Festival in Italy, Pharo’s Trust in Cyprus, Kutna Hora Festival in the Czech Republic, St. Barth's Music Festival in the French West Indies, and toured England with musicians from Prussia Cove, culminating in a concert in London’s Wigmore Hall. She has premiered important new works by Barbara White, Mason Bates, Oliver Knussen, Krzysztof Penderecki, Michael Hersch, and others, and has appeared at New York's George Crumb Festival and Stefan Wolpe Centenary Concerts.

Her discography includes three widely-praised CDs for Artek: an orchestral recording of the Prokofiev concerti with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, and highly-acclaimed discs of music of Ravel and Stravinsky, and of 20th century works for solo violin. She has also recorded several discs for Naxos, including the Stravinsky Violin Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by the legendary Robert Craft, and two GRAMMY-nominated recordings with the Fred Sherry Quartet, of Schoenberg's Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra [nominated for ‘Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (with Orchestra)’ in 2006] and the Schoenberg Third String Quartet [nominated for ‘Best Chamber Music Performance’ in 2011]. Her most recent releases are a recording of Romantic Horn Trios, with hornist Eric Ruske and pianist Stephen Prutsman, and the Stravinsky Duo Concertant with pianist Jeremy Denk. With pianist John Blacklow she will soon be featured on two releases by Albany Records: one disc devoted to the three sonatas of Robert Schumann, including the rarely performed posthumous sonata; the second an exploration of recent additions to the violin and piano repertoire by contemporary American composers Barbara White, Steven Mackey, and Stephen Hartke.

Born in Pasadena, California, Ms. Frautschi began the violin at age three. She was a student of Robert Lipsett at the Colburn School for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. She also attended Harvard, the New England Conservatory of Music, and The Juilliard School, where she studied with Robert Mann. She performs on a 1722 Antonio Stradivarius violin known as the "ex-Cadiz," on generous loan to her from a private American foundation.


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