It’s Toujours Paris! for this lovely afternoon concert of works relating to the City of Lights! With works by Mozart and Haydn, The Violin Concerto No. 1 of Chevalier St. Georges completes this salon de musique.
MOZART: Symphony No.31 in D major, K.297 (300a) (Paris)
SAINT-GEORGES: Violin Concerto No.1 in G major
HAYDN: Symphony No.82 in C major (L’ours; The Bear)
Years after initial visits as a youthful prodigy, Mozart was again attracted to Paris—one city on a long European tour from 1777–1779—in the hopes of finding employment away from his stultifying home town of Salzburg. The Paris stop was a low point in Mozart’s career, for reasons both personal (his mother, traveling with him, died while there) ...
Years after initial visits as a youthful prodigy, Mozart was again attracted to Paris—one city on a long European tour from 1777–1779—in the hopes of finding employment away from his stultifying home town of Salzburg. The Paris stop was a low point in Mozart’s career, for reasons both personal (his mother, traveling with him, died while there) and professional (the employment possibilities did not materialize). Still, he wrote some of his great early works in Paris, including the Symphony No. 31, which took advantage of the opportunity to write for what was, at the time, a fairly large and accomplished orchestra (this was his first symphony with clarinets).
The symphony was written with Parisian taste in mind. It was, for instance, in three movements rather than four (as had increasingly become his norm), and orchestral brilliance took priority over counterpoint and complex thematic development. Mozart took on this idiom with full confidence—but also, due to his disdain for the French, with a subtle vein of irony. For instance, French style demanded that Allegro movements open with what was known as the premier coup d’archet—a loud tutti passage, often in unison. He followed that tradition to launch the first movement, but pulled the rug out from under his listeners in the finale, which begins with eight measures of hushed contrapuntal music on just the violins—followed by an unexpected forte smack from the whole orchestra. No one, however, was offended by the challenge to decorum. In fact, the effect won over the first audience so completely that they applauded mid-movement (concert decorum was different in those days). Mozart, by the way, wrote two exceptionally elegant Andantes for this symphony. It’s not entirely clear which was the original; tonight, we’ll be hearing the one in 6/8.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799) came to Paris well before Mozart did, in 1753. The illegitimate son of a Guadeloupe planter and his slave, he defied cultural conventions, achieving astounding success and moving in the highest social circles. It would have been enough had he just been a military leader, a political revolutionary, an abolitionist, and one of Europe’s greatest fencers. But he was also one of the foremost musicians of his age, a dazzling violin virtuoso and a composer of symphonies, chamber music, and at least six operas (mostly lost)—including one with a text by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, author of Dangerous Liaisons. Saint-Georges also wrote around a dozen violin concertos (there’s some dispute about the exact number), which of course were calculated to show off his own expertise.
Today, we hear the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G, op. 2/1, composed in 1773. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard it, since after his death, Saint-Georges’s works were largely forgotten—a familiar occurrence amplified, in his case, by racial prejudice. Over the past few years, however, his works have returned to the spotlight and his genius has been recognized again, giving us the paradoxical situation of encountering first-rate old works that are still new for audiences and performers. Today’s soloist, Hannah White, for instance, is performing it for the first time this afternoon. She has found it “a wonderful experience learning and exploring this musical gem,” and she “can’t wait for the absolute privilege of playing it with Symphoria.”
In a sense, what Hannah calls this “elegant, joyful” concerto is a far cry from the knottier works that are her favorites, the Brahms and the Sibelius. If you listen carelessly, in fact, Saint-Georges’s might seem similar in spirit to the light, untroubling violin concertos Mozart wrote two years later. While the music is untroubling for the audience, however, it’s not so for the soloist. Indeed, says Hannah, her “surprisingly virtuosic” part is even more difficult than the notoriously treacherous ones in the Brahms and Sibelius. Why? She calls the concerto “leapy,” for reasons that will be clear when you hear it; and because of the wide jumps that give it its special character, “it doesn’t fit in the hand quite like they do.”
What should you look out for? It’s a delightful work from beginning to end, but it’s also a “profoundly beautiful” one. Hannah points in particular to a passage in the middle of the first movement, where it goes into the minor, giving her a chance to bring out her romantic tendencies. You will also enjoy the sweetness of the slow movement, richly ornamented in a way that never chokes off the music’s melodic beauty.
Haydn was also drawn to Paris—in his case, though, the draw was less the attractions of the city itself than the inducement of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. For aside from everything else, Saint-Georges was a conductor, too, heading up Le Concert des Amateurs and its successor Le Concert de la Loge Olympique, arguably the top Parisian orchestras of the day. And in that capacity, with the support of Count D’Ogny, in the mid-1780s he commissioned six symphonies from Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), at the time arguably Europe’s most sought-after composer. The Symphony No. 82 (1786) is the first of the six in the standard numerical catalog of Haydn’s works, but actually the last of the set to be composed. Haydn, like Mozart, made the most of the resources available to him, and the symphony has all the vivacity and good humor that Saint-Georges and D’Ogny expected from him. Especially memorable is the drone-based music that laces the finale. Reminiscent of the music that traditionally accompanied dancing bears, it eventually led the symphony to take on the nickname “The Bear.”
Peter J. Rabinowitz
Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org
Hannah began her solo career at age nine with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and since then performed with Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony Orchestra, Albany Symphony Orchestra, South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, and Madison Symphony Orchestra among others. She has performed at numerous prestigious venues including: Carnegie Hall, Severance Hall, Kennedy Center, Rock and Roll hall of fame, Ordway Center, Harris Theater, New World Center, Disneyland, National Gallery of Art Museum, and Aspen Summer Camp. She has performed in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Switzerland. Recently, Hannah performed at the World Economic Forum in front of world leaders and business leaders.
Hannah has earned First Prize at dozens of competitions for solo and chamber at the local, national and international level.
Hannah has been admitted into the renowned studio of Robert Lipsett, with whom she presently studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music.
Mr. Loh’s previous positions include: Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Syracuse Opera; Resident Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra; Associate Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Associate Conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra.
Having a particular affinity for pops programming, Mr. Loh has been engaged for repeat performances with Chris Botti, Idina Menzel, Ann Hampton Callaway, the Texas Tenors and more. He has assisted John Williams on multiple occasions and conducted numerous sold-out John Williams tribute concerts. He is particularly adept at conducting concerts synchronizing live orchestral music with film, and he has lead Star Wars, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Pixar in Concert, Disney in Concert, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, among other concert productions.
Mr. Loh is active as a guest conductor, both in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to annual concerts in Pittsburgh and Dallas, his recent engagements include the Boston Pops (Tanglewood); Detroit Symphony; San Diego Symphony; Seattle Symphony; Buffalo Philharmonic; and the Cathedral Choral Society at the Washington National Cathedral. Past engagements include the National (Washington D.C.), Indianapolis, Tacoma, Utah, Naples, Knoxville, Florida, El Paso, San Luis Obispo, Edmonton, Colorado, Charleston (SC), Malaysia, Daejeon (South Korea) and Greater Bridgeport Orchestras. His summer appearances include the festivals of Sun Valley, Bravo Vail Valley, Aspen (CO), Mann Center in Philadelphia, Breckenridge, Las Vegas, Hot Springs (AR), the Kinhaven Music School (VT) and the Performing Arts Institute (PA). In the summer of 2016, he made his debut at Tanglewood, conducting Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Orchestra and returned in 2017 to conduct the Boston Pops.
Mr. Loh received his Artist Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from Yale, his Masters in Choral Conducting from Indiana University and his BA, and Certificate of Management Studies, from the University of Rochester. Lawrence Loh was born in southern California of Korean parentage and raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Jennifer have a son, Charlie, and a daughter, Hilary. Follow him on instagram @conductorlarryloh or twitter @lawrenceloh or visit his website, www.lawrenceloh.com.