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Celebrate opening night and Beethoven’s birthday with pianist Jon Nakamatsu and Symphoria! You’ll recognize the gorgeous Allegretto from the Symphony No. 7 from many classic films.

 

 

 


PROGRAM

MONTGOMERY: Banner
SCHUBERT: Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, Op. 90
CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 4 in E Major

Please note: Due to Covid travel restrictions, Jon Nakamatsu will join us for a special solo piano performance from California.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7

 


 

All programs and artists subject to change.

PROGRAM NOTES

“It’s not what we had planned”: so says Octavian at the vertiginous climax of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, when the stability of the opera’s romantic world is upended. Nor is this concert what we had planned. Originally, we had intended to launch the season with a high-powered all-Beethoven concert, before a live audience, as part of our two-season celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1770. Since then, Covid-19 and the police killing of George Floyd (among others) have upended our world, too. So we’re offering a different kind of event, in two ...
“It’s not what we had planned”: so says Octavian at the vertiginous climax of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, when the stability of the opera’s romantic world is upended. Nor is this concert what we had planned. Originally, we had intended to launch the season with a high-powered all-Beethoven concert, before a live audience, as part of our two-season celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1770. Since then, Covid-19 and the police killing of George Floyd (among others) have upended our world, too. So we’re offering a different kind of event, in two ways.

First, the manner of presentation has been altered in response to the pandemic. Since it’s impossible to perform before an audience in the hall, we’ll be streaming the concert to you in your homes. And since travel restrictions have made it impossible for soloist Jon Nakamatsu to come to Syracuse to join us in the Beethoven Third Concerto as originally planned, he has agreed to play (and introduce) some solo music by Beethoven’s successors from his home: the Impromptu in G-flat Major, op. 90/3 by Franz Schubert (1797–1828) and the Scherzo No. 4 in E, op. 54 by Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849). Second, the orchestral part of the program has been slightly revised to match the new socio-political situation in which we find ourselves.

The anchor of the evening remains the same—Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (1811–1812), since the work turns out to fit our current moment well. True, while Beethoven is widely recognized as a political composer, the Seventh may not seem to have an overt agenda in the way that the Third and Ninth do. Yet it was composed during a period of historical trauma, toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars. And it was premiered at a benefit concert for soldiers injured at the Battle of Hanau, sharing the program with his Wellington’s Victory, a potboiler celebrating Wellington’s victory over the French at Vitoria. From the beginning, therefore, the work—despite the lack of an explicit program—shared the democratic, anti-authoritarian edge of such pieces as the prison-rescue opera Fidelio (the final version of which was premiered just a few months later). That socially committed aura has remained for over two centuries. The second movement was arranged by activist folksinger Pete Seeger as a song whose opening words (grammar sacrificed to fit the rhythm) are “We'll work together, though we work different”; Daniel Barenboim chose the Seventh to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The symphony is in the traditional four movements—although, as often with Beethoven, those movements don’t work in entirely traditional ways. It begins with an ambiguous and slowish introduction. Lasting around four minutes, it’s probably the longest of any symphony written to that point, and is sufficiently long that you might think you were actually in the exposition of the movement. Then, after a few measures of hesitation, it springs into a Vivace based on an obsessively repeated rhythmic figure—giving the work a rhythmic focus that lasts, with little respite, until the end of the finale. Indeed, the Seventh has no true slow movement: the second movement (the most popular since the first performance, when it had to be encored) is an Allegretto (rather brisk) rather than the Andante or Adagio that might be expected, and it’s similarly laced with a repeated rhythmic figure. Wagner’s famous description of the Seventh as “the Apotheosis of the Dance” was surely nourished by this consistent energy.

The third movement, a scherzo and trio, is conductor Larry Loh’s favorite. In part, that’s because of the contrast between the “levity and propulsion” of the scherzo sections and the “static-ness” of the trio. But it’s also because “it has so many surprises”—the largest of which is its overall form, which “leaves the audience wondering what’s going to happen next.” Normally, after the trio, the scherzo would return to round things out. But just as the movement ought to end, we return to the trio, followed by yet another race through the scherzo. Surely we’re ready for the end now? No, the trio seems to come back yet again—but after a few quizzical bars, wandering between major and minor, the curtain suddenly drops. After all this, it’s hard to believe there’s more energy to come—but the hyperkinetic finale, with what Larry calls its “overwhelming surges,” drives us to a monumental conclusion.

“We’ll work together, though we work different”: Pete Seeger’s words could apply to our opening work as well, added to the program in the wake of this summer’s events as a reconfirmation of Symphoria’s commitment to racial justice and equity and of our obligation to speak out against racial violence. In 2014, Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981) was commissioned by the Joyce Foundation and Sphinx (an organization dedicated to nurturing young African-American and Latinx string players) to compose a work marking the 200th anniversary of The Star Spangled Banner. Asking herself “What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multi-cultural environment?”, she came up with the “exploration of contradictions” you’ll hear tonight: Banner, for string quartet and string orchestra. It is a richly textured work in which the national anthem—Banner’s primary musical ingredient—is played off against, challenged by, and combined with a throng of other folk songs and patriotic tunes, most radically in the Ivesian final section.

Most prominent are James Weldon Johnson’s and J. Rosamond Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice” (often known as the Black National Anthem) and the Mexican national anthem. But you can also hear, among others, “Lo Eterno” (a Cuban song about Che Guevara), Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and even “Cumberland Gap,” a traditional song taken up by the Confederate soldiers. As Jessie puts it, “We’re all here, whether you like it or not.” Look out, too, for a passage about four minutes in, soon after the beginning of the section entitled “Dirge” (introduced by weird glissandos and imitations of drum taps), where the quartet emulates the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance—including the slight lack of unanimity familiar in group recitations— played over “Lift Every Voice.” It’s a reminder, she says, that “the promises within the pledge are not being met.” In a way, then, Banner “a musical protest”—but one that celebrates our “ideals of freedom” even as it excoriates “the realities of injustice and oppression.”

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


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