Performed on April 28 , 2018 at Course Hinds Theater
Lawrence Loh conducting; Peter Rovit, violin (Symphoria concertmaster)
Ralph Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending
Performed on April 28 , 2018 at Course Hinds Theater
Lawrence Loh conducting; Raquel Gonzalez, soprano; Vanessa Cariddi, mezzo-soprano; Cody Autin, tenor; Daniel Mobbs, baritone
Messa da requiem
Verdi, however, knew the quality of his own contribution—and at some point,
he decided to write a complete Requiem of his own. There’s some debate about precisely when he started working on it (musicologist David Rosen, in his excellent short book on the work, gives convincing evidence that it was in April, 1873). In any case, the death of revered Italian author Alessandro Manzoni in May 1873 provided the spur for him to start working in earnest, using that “Libera me,” with surprisingly few changes, as a springboard for his new composition in Manzoni’s honor. In a curious sense, then, the work we know today was written backwards. Many listeners experience that “Libera me” as a summation of the entire work, recalling both the spirit and a fair amount of specific music from earlier movements. In fact, though, those earlier movements were crafted in such a way that they would specifically lead to the already-written finale. (You may remember that the Mahler Fourth Symphony, heard on our last Masterworks concert, followed a similar route: the first three movements were composed to prepare the way for a finale that had been composed earlier.)
Beyond its original inspirations, the Requiem is non-liturgical in two more important senses. First, its musical idiom comes more from theatrical traditions than from religious traditions, a quality that infused the work with some controversy. At the time of the premiere, Hans von Bülow, one of the leading conductors and pianists of the time, dismissed it as “opera in ecclesiastical costume”—and while that storm has died down (even von Bülow changed his mind), the work remains a fixture in the concert hall, not in the church. It’s true, as conductor Larry Loh points out, that Verdi “writes music that’s reminiscent of chant,” which gives the work a mildly religious, as well as a vaguely timeless, flavor, as if it were “a collec-tion of centuries of expression.” (The soprano’s senza misura—freely, without the constraint of bar-lines—passage at the opening of the “Libera Me” is among the clearest examples.) It’s true, too, that “Verdi asks his singers not to sing in an overly operatic way.” Still, the theatrical elements are hard to miss, whether it be the spectacular effects of the “Dies Irae” (representing the Day of Judgment) with its onslaught of off-stage trumpets or the soprano’s high C at the climax of the “Libera Me.”
Second, its spiritual content is humanist rather than specifically Christian, much less Catholic—a quality, as Larry reminds us, that ties it to the Brahms German Requiem. This non-sectarian quality is so strong that during the Holocaust, pris-oners of the Terezín concentration camp, who learned the piece by rote from a single copy of the score, performed it sixteen times within about a year as an act of defiance. For them, Verdi’s depiction of the Day of Judgment was a forewarning to their Nazi captors.
In terms of its breadth of musical expression, the Requiem holds up to just about any work in the standard nineteenth-century repertoire. The harrowing “Dies Irae”; the bare, almost chant-like a capella duet for soprano and mezzo at the beginning of the “Agnus Dei”; the boisterous “Sanctus,” its lines joyously bouncing back and forth between two choral groups; what Larry calls the “giant plea” of the closing pages, the chorus barely whispering its final words: this is a work that seems to contain the entirety of human experience.
In fact, there’s enough here to fill an evening, and since its first performance, the work has often stood by itself on concert programs. But we decided to fill out the concert—the question was, with what? What could possibly provide a plausible opener? In the end, we decided on The Lark Ascending for violin and orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Vaughan Williams is often typecast as a reserved composer with a strong interest in the countryside, in folk music, and in music of the past. And while there’s a lot more range to his art than that cliché would suggest, The Lark Ascending, with its quiet rural spirit, would not provide evidence for anyone wanting to refute the stereotype. Inspired by a brief George Meredith poem, it’s a luminous and meditative piece attuned to natural beauty. The solo part avoids traditional romantic virtuosity almost entirely, in exchange, it demands the greatest delicacy and purity of tone. Originally begun as a work for violin and piano just around the outbreak the First World War, it was later recast for violin and small orchestra in 1919, and it’s hard not to hear it as a nostalgic evocation of calmer and simpler times. It seems an appropriate opener for this concert because its understatement provides such a clear counterweight to the heightened emotions of the Verdi. But it was also chosen because the two works, for all their outward differences, share a certain disposition. Vaughan Williams, like Verdi, was a non-believer; and like Verdi, he could nonetheless write music of transcendent spiritual quality.
Peter J. Rabinowitz
Mr. Rovit also loves to share his knowledge and experience with young musicians and has been on the string faculty of the University of Oklahoma and the University of Alabama. His students have gone on to study at such schools as Juilliard and Rice, and have won positions in professional orchestras, as well as the Chicago Civic Orchestra.
In his spare time, he enjoys reading, gardening, cooking, and finding imaginative ways to cook up those garden vegetables so that his children will eat them. Since having moved to Syracuse, he and his family have also enjoyed getting involved in winter sports such as snowshoeing, skating, and skiing.
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.