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2018-2019 Season / Masterworks / Schumann’s Rhenish
All performances at 7:30pm at Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater

LAWRENCE LOH | conductor
XUE SU | flute

STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, TrV 171, Op. 28
LIEBERMANN: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Op. 39
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 3, Op. 97, E-flat major (Rhenish)

Late winter can be grim in Central New York, so for March 9, we’ve chosen a program aimed at lifting your spirits. The concert begins with the most cheerful of Richard Strauss’s tone poems, the boisterous Till Eulenspiegel. Here, the great romantic tradition and slapstick collide in the musical narrative of the trickster Till as he punctures the pretentions of his stodgy neighbors. For the centerpiece, Symphoria’s dazzling principal flutist Xue Su brings us Lowell Liebermann’s Flute Concerto, a work that has consistently beguiled audiences with glittering colors, infectious rhythms, virtuoso flash, and, most of all, a melodic beauty that will warm your heart. And the concert ends gloriously with Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, the “Rhenish,” the most luminous and self-confident of his orchestral works. All in all, the perfect antidote to seasonal doldrums.


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.

Schumann’s Rhenish

7:30pm | Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater

In Central New York, March is the cruelest month; and although, when we planned this concert, we couldn’t be sure what the weather would be when it took place, we were confident that a sunny, upbeat program would be appropriate. We open with Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, composed in 1894–5 by Richard Strauss (1864–1949). Strauss was an exceptionally wide-ranging composer, sometimes philosophical (Also sprach Zarathustra), sometimes perversely decadent (Salome), sometimes poignantly bittersweet (the Four Last Songs). Till Eulenspiegel shows that his capacity for slapstick was unmatched, too. The tone poem is based on tales that date back at least to the 16th century, tales of a trickster who punctures the pretentions of the conventional townspeople around him. Despite this literary inspiration, however, and despite what conductor Larry Loh rightly points out as the “Once Upon a Time” opening, Strauss was loath to provide a specific program, directing our attention to the score’s purely musical elements instead.

In particular, he pointed to two themes representing our anti-hero that show his character right off the bat—a deceptively cajoling tune introduced by the violins at very beginning and a more important one brought in boisterously by the first horn right after. As Larry puts it, “There’s no doubt how much of a prankster he is, by the way the rhythm dances across the bar lines in such an unexpected way. The beats are not where you expect them to be.” These themes provide much of the material of the piece, and hearing how they’re twisted and turned for a riotous quarter hour provides consistent delight, doubly so given Strauss’s brilliant orchestration. You can’t avoid the program entirely, however, since toward the end, the music becomes almost viscerally literal: at the climax, Till is captured and sentenced to be executed, an event marked by long drum rolls and stentorian brass. Even here, Till the jokester, represented by squawks from the E-flat clarinet, remains irrepressible, sticking his tongue out at the “upright” members of his community until death. Until death—or beyond it? For the work’s brief epilogue makes clear that his spirit has not been squelched.

Coincidentally, our closer, the five-movement Symphony No. 3 (“Rhenish”) by Robert Schumann (1810–1856), begins with an ebullient theme that, Larry points out, plays with the beat in a way that may remind you of the horn theme in Till. On the surface, the symphony’s spirit is quite different from that of Strauss’s tone poem—buoyant where Strauss’s is manic, celebratory where Strauss’s is consciously unruly, marked by an inward glow where Strauss’s is ostentatiously flashy. Still, it shares Till’s profound optimism.

Biographically, its uplift may seem surprising. Schumann wrote the symphony quickly, in little over a month, toward the end of 1850, right after his setting of Byron’s tortured Manfred and just a few years before an attempted suicide led to his institutionalization for the final years of his life. But there’s not a trace of despair in the work, supposedly fueled by a vacation along the Rhine. Yes, the fourth movement (sometimes considered an extended introduction to the fifth) is grave. Said to be inspired—while he was in the middle of composing the work—by a ceremony at the Cologne Cathedral, it begins with a chorale (introduced by trombones) that grows increasingly rich and contrapuntal as the movement continues. But while the music is solemn, it’s far from gloomy; and the other four movements have unbuttoned high spirits.

In between these two Germanic masterpieces, we have the Flute Concerto composed in 1992 by American composer Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961), performed by our principal flutist, Xue Su. It will, I think, be immediately obvious why Xue chose to share it with us this evening. The work is brimming with melodic beauty (evident from the very opening measures), rhythmic imagination, and opportunities for virtuoso display. The excitement in what Xue calls the “technically challenging” finale is literally breathless. “It keeps going faster—it doesn’t slow down. I don’t catch a break, ever!”

Whatever the challenges for the performer, it’s one of those pieces that insinuates itself with the listener on first hearing—which may explain why it has been so popular since it was first performed. Yes, it’s full of surprises. Some are local (unexpected metrical shifts, unusual orchestral sounds like the combination of piccolo and contrabassoon in the finale); some involve larger formal design (it’s fairly rare for a concerto’s first movement to end slowly and quietly). Still, the concerto works within the tradition, not against it—for instance, it’s tonal, it’s got the expected three-movement fast/slow/fast structure, and the themes are all readily recognizable. And if you hear echoes of Korngold in the opening theme, or of Prokofiev and even Tchaikovsky in the finale, you won’t be alone.

What Xue likes most about the piece is its timbral range, especially in the central movement, which is “all about color.” This won’t surprise regular Symphoria attendees, who are familiar with the nuances Xue always draws from her instrument. How does she do it? Interestingly, it’s a combination of the visual and the communal. On the one hand, her tonal quality is tied to her visual imagination—“I tend to have pictures in my head when I’m playing, especially when it’s a solo work. It helps me create the sound and character that I’m aiming for.” At the same time, her tonal quality is tied to her sense of community: how she sounds depends a great deal on who she is playing with. As a result, as she prepares, it makes a difference to know who she will be playing with. And she’s especially pleased to be able to perform this work for the first time with these particular players, her colleagues in Symphoria. “I know how they play, I know their sounds, I know how to blend in with them, even when I’m standing in front. It means a lot.”

Peter J. Rabinowitz

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Artist Information:

Xue Su

Xue Su, known for her sparkling tone and sensitive, expressive musicality, is the principal flute of Symphoria. Currently residing in New York City, she is dedicated to a career in orchestral performance and music education. Ms. Su performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, and is a member of Symphony in C. She is a guest teacher at the Manhattan School of Music's Orchestral Performance program, as well as the Juilliard School Pre-College. Ms. Su has performed as guest principal flute with orchestras include the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Princeton Symphony Orchestra and China National Symphony.

During the 2018-19 season, Ms. Su makes her Symphoria solo debut with Music Director Lawrence Loh, performing Lowell Liebermann's virtuosic Flute Concerto. She was featured in Telemann's A Minor Suite for Flute and Strings with the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music Ensemble. Her previous solo engagements include performances with Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra on Bernstein’s Halil, Mozart’s Concerto in C Major for Flute and Harp, and Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.

Her brilliant musicianship has been recognized by numerous international competitions. In 2013, Ms. Su performed for a 1,500 audience at the Music for All summer symposium as a winner of the Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition. She was a second prize winner at the National Flute Association’s Young Artist Competition, and also received the award for best performance of the newly commissioned piece. Her other prize winning competitions include the Maxence Larrieu High School Soloist, Biwako and the Unisa International Flute Competitions.

Ms. Su began playing the flute at age 6. During her childhood music education, she attended the Elementary and Middle Schools of Central Conservatory in Beijing, China. She holds a Master of Music degree in Orchestral Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, where she was a full scholarship recipient. She is an alumna of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard Pre-College. Her principal teachers have included Robert Langevin, Bradley Garner and Guoliang Han.

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