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SYMPHORIA IN CONCERT

Join host Bruce Paulsen for this performance, broadcast on WCNY Classic FM.

Classic FM is available on 91.3 in Syracuse, 89.5 in Utica/Rome and 90.9 in Watertown, the North Country

 

 

Performed on March 9, 2020 at Crouse Hinds Concert Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor, Xue Su, flute

LOWELL LIEBERMANN

Concerto for Flute, Op. 39

  1. Moderato
  2. Molto adagio
  3. Presto

 

 

Performed on March 30, 2020 at Crouse Hinds Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor

ANTON BRUCKNER

Symphony No. 4 (Romantic), E-flat major

  1. Bewegt, night zu schnell
  2. Andante quasi allegretto
  3. Scherzo: Bewegt
  4. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell

 

Thanks so WCNY for supporting these Symphoria concert broadcasts!

PROGRAM NOTES

LIEBERMANN: Flute Concerto
... we have the Flute Concerto com-posed 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 ...
LIEBERMANN: Flute Concerto
... we have the Flute Concerto com-posed 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.”

ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4
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

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