Full Episode: Colburn School Orchestra Plays Martin & Tchaikovsky


The following program notes are for The Colburn Orchestra's performance of works by Giuseppe Verdi, Frank Martin, and Piotr Tchaikovsky. The show airs Thursday, April 12th at 9:00PM.

Composer Bios:

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
"Overture to La Forza del Destino" (1861)

From "Aida to Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore" to "LaTraviata," the operas of Giuseppe Verdi have captured the hearts of audiences across the globe. So beloved was he that, at his state funeral in 1901, a crowd of over two hundred thousand people were in attendance, grieving the loss of the venerated Italian composer. Over a century after his death, Verdi's presence in the operatic world is more prevalent than ever; the popularity of his compositions has led to their annual programming by the world's leading companies, from the Metropolitan Opera to our own Los Angeles Opera.

Premiering in 1862, "La Forza del destino" is based on the play Don Álvaro, a melodramatic work written by Ángel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas. Following a lukewarm reception, Verdi made a series of revisions to the opera, resulting in the 1869 version which is usually produced today. To a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, one of Verdi's longtime collaborators, "La Forza" revolves around the lives of three characters. The first is the play's titular namesake, the Incan prince Don Álvaro; the second, Álvaro's love interest and the daughter of the Spanish nobleman Don Calatrava, Leonora; and the third, the son of the very same nobleman and brother of Leonora, Don Carlo.

The plot of "La Forza" del destino is rather simple, though somewhat illogical. During an altercation triggered by his thwarted attempt to elope with Leonora, Alvaro's gun accidentally discharges and fatally wounds her father, Don Calatrava, leaving Leonora's brother, Carlo, to obsess over obtaining revenge against the lovers. Though having fl ed together, the two are inexplicably - though conveniently, as far as plot is concerned - torn asunder between acts. The lovers go their separate ways, each relinquishing hope of ever being reunited. Leonora retreats to a cave to live as a hermit, while Alvaro eventually joins a monastery. Though having been foiled through several plot twists in his attempts to duel Alvaro, Carlo is finally successful in goading the reluctant Álvaro into fi ghting him. In a cruel turn, they end up fi ghting outside of Leonora's cave. Álvaro mortally wounds Carlo, and upon hearing the commotion outside, Leonora rushes out to tend to her brother, who fatally stabs her in his undying thirst for vengeance. From that point, the ending differs signifi cantly between the original version and Verdi's 1869 revision. In an attempt to lighten the ending, Don Álvaro (who in the original ending literally jumps off a cliff to his death), claims redemption following the deaths of Leonora and Carlo.

Alongside various plot changes, Verdi's 1869 revision also saw the creation of the overture heard on tonight's program, replacing a shorter preludio which had originally introduced the opera. In the tradition of operatic overtures, the work endeavors to familiarize the listener with the most memorable melodies and themes from "La Forza del destino." The overture begins with a recurring "fate" motif, a three-note unison issued by the brass section. This is quickly followed by an undulating line played in the strings, placed over an undeniable force created through the rhythmic pulsations issuing forth from the lower members of the section. Soon after this motif is introduced, the winds present the fi rst theme - an unforgettable melody overlaid on the string motif. The melody is taken from the duet sung in the last act between Don Carlo and Don Álvaro, a prelude to their fi nal duel - Col sangue sol cancellasi. With little warning, the orchestra leads into a breathless pause, the trailing melody leaving the audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of a resolution which never comes.

Immediately thereafter, the strings gently glide into the second theme, taken from an aria sung by Leonora in the second act as she attempts to fi nd peace through prayer, Madre, pietosa Vergine.

Shortly after the theme is introduced, the lower strings reiterate the "fate" motif, driving the orchestra into a pulse-pounding frenzy of motion, the epitome of what one would consider the considerable force of destiny - only to stop abruptly upon reaching the end of a particularly climactic upwards climb. After short mention of the fi rst theme played between alternating solo winds, the third and final theme is carried by the clarinet, a sonorous interpretation of a duet, "Se voi scacciate questa pentita," sung between Leonora and Padre Guardiano (Father Superior), who led her to her hermit cave. "Se voi scacciate questa pentita" is Leonora's moment of redemption, her transformation into a pious hermit through divine forgiveness.

The remainder of the overture is an amalgamation of these themes in various incarnations. Ever present, the "fate" motif is strewn about the orchestra as well, appearing in several distinct variations throughout. The overture climaxes with a thrilling conclusion, pushing ever forward with the rhythmic pulsation of "La Forza del destino."

~ By Leonard Chiang, who is a violist and a senior in the Bachelor of Music program in the Colburn Conservatory

Frank Martin (1890-1974)
"Concerto for Seven Winds" (1949)

Swiss composer Frank Martin was a unique man in many regards. He came from a large religious family and was the tenth and youngest child of a Calvinist minister. To please his father, he studied mathematics and physics at the University of Geneva for two years, only to realize that his musical studies proved to be more interesting and compelling to him. Martin was musically active both in composition and in teaching. He taught at the University of Geneva, the Institut Jacques-Dalcroze and later at the "Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik" in Cologne. He was also the president of the Swiss Association of Musicians and founded the "Société de Musique de Chambre de Genève."

The 1949 premier of Martin's "Concerto for Seven Winds," Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra in Berne, Switzerland was wonderfully successful. The concerto highlights Martin's creativity and imagination as a composer and though the piece has some neoclassic characteristics, such as the reduced orchestra size, it is distinctly modern. The "Concerto for Seven Winds," Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra features not just one soloist like most concertos, but eight soloists, some coming from unexpected sections of the orchestra. At times, he reverses the traditional trends of instrumental roles, such as by having the orchestra accompany a timpani solo.

The first movement introduces the main soloists - the oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, and trombone - who all pass around a mischievous allegro theme. The final solo instrument, the timpani, will make its major appearance in the third movement. The Concerto's first theme is introduced by the oboe and then logically moves on to the clarinet. Rather than immediately passing the theme to the woodwind neighbors, the flute and bassoon, Martin decides next to introduce the horn, trumpet, and trombone playing in canon with each other. The flute then enters accompanied by a pulsing bassoon and shortly after, the bassoon steals the spotlight. The pairings are initially more traditional, such as that of the bassoon and flute and of the brass instruments. Martin quickly moves on to experiment with different instrument combinations, such as the duet between trumpet and flute. He also teases the audience with a short timpani solo, only a glimpse of what is to come later on.

The second movement, Adagietto, opens with a soft steady pulse in the strings followed by a mysterious and almost exotic sound presented shortly thereafter by the violin section. The pulse continues throughout the movement as the exotic theme is passed around the orchestra. This movement showcases the unique timbre and character which each instrument can bring to the soundscape, such as the broad grandness of the brass, the longing sound of the bassoon and oboe, and the delicate beauty of the flutes.

The final movement, an Allegro Vivace, alternates between upholding a serious mood and a playful one. Martin explores a more extensive use of percussion using the snare drum, cymbals, and bass drum to create a march-like character and the timpani makes its major solo appearance about half-way through the movement. The movement's momentum continues to build; the winds and strings flurry about as the orchestra moves into an exciting and almost chaotic state with interjections of percussion, until the final pointed note of the brass section concludes the piece.

~By Katalin LaFavre, who is a percussionist and a junior in the Bachelor of Music program in the Colburn Conservatory.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
"Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36" (1877-1878)

The Fourth Symphony of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky bears perhaps the greatest emotional context of any of his works. Though without a subtitle - 5 of his 7 symphonic masterpieces have such a title - the Fourth Symphony contains some of Tchaikovsky's most expressive and profound material.

At the time of the work's completion, Tchaikovsky had endured a crisis beyond imagination. As a homosexual in 19th-century Russia, he tried ceaselessly to prove his heterosexuality to the music loving public and his own family. After familial tensions rose as a result of his bachelor status, Tchaikovsky felt the need to marry for political and societal approval. The easiest and most convenient choice was a sex-craved former composition student named Antonina Milyukova. She also proved herself a crazed "Tchaikophile" by sending numerous letters to Tchaikovsky declaring her undying love and unbridled passion. She offered her hand in marriage so frequently and with such vehemence that Tchaikovsky could not refuse. The marriage (1877) lasted a mere three weeks and caused the composer intense emotional harm to the point of an attempted suicide in the Moscow River - Robert Schumann's attempt in the Rhine was 23 years prior.

A much more substantial and beneficial relationship was developing at this time in the composer's life - that of Madame Nadezhda von Meck. This affiliation began as purely donor/ composer, for Madame von Meck had the sole desire to ease Tchaikovsky's monetary worries and inspire compositional creativity. A great music lover, especially Russian music, von Meck did not wish to meet the composer, just retain occasional postal correspondence to track the development of his works. This casual correspondence transformed into a deep emotional exchange between the two, some musicologists even refer to their relationship as the closest to true love Tchaikovsky ever came.

Though they never did meet, the Fourth Symphony is dedicated to von Meck and bears the inscription "To my best friend." He even referred to the work as having developed from this "artistic" partnership.

The Fourth Symphony is in four movements and is related both thematically and harmonically to the Fifth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Tchaikovsky himself drew this most fateful parallel (two decades later, Gustav Mahler would also draw inspiration from Beethoven's work in his own Fifth Symphony). First is the fate motive: Tchaikovsky opens the symphony with his version of "fate." In lieu of Beethoven's clarinets and strings, he uses horns and bassoons (Mahler uses a solo trumpet). All three works employ a minor mode first movement, and a major mode last movement (the tonic note remains the same except in the Mahler): Beethoven - C minor to C Major, Tchaikovsky - F minor to F Major, Mahler - C# minor to D Major.

The first movement is marked Andante sostenuto - Moderato con anima - Moderato assai, quasi Andante - Allegro vivo. It opens with the aforementioned "fate" motive, which travels from the horns to the trumpets. This motive serves as the introductory section as well as to separate the grand sections of this large-scale opening. The first theme is introduced by the violins and is indicated as a waltz in 9/8 time (three measures of traditional waltz stress for every one bar of 9/8). As this thememakes its way to the woodwinds, the strings supply a marcato accompaniment that will later serve as a prominent rhythmic motive when the again theme rears its angry head. The second theme is introduced by the clarinet and provides the snickering sarcasm for the movement. Descending scale interjections by the flutes, bassoons, and second clarinet (oboes join later on) follow each statement of the theme - each instrument with its unique comment on the clarinet's material. The violins push the melody into a slightly friendlier atmosphere as the timpani accompanies them. The fi rst theme reappears in this context. This writer's favorite moment is the triumphal four-horn unison statement in this section.

The second movement, marked Andantino in modo di canzona, opens with a long, gorgeous melody stated by the solo oboe. Tchaikovsky marks semplice ma grazioso for the oboe, yet when the theme travels to the cello section, he omits the semplice and just indicates grazioso. A striking motive of three pulsing chords appears throughout the movement and has been associated with sighs. The second theme is almost hopeful and in the major mode. When the first theme returns it is played by the first violins and accompanied by descending lines in the woodwind section quite similar to those of the first movement. The first theme has become a popular melody and, as such, has taken many forms including a jazz version by former Blood, Sweat & Tears trumpeter Lew Soloff.

The third movement is surprising in its jovial, uplifting character (marked Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato- Allegro). It begins with the string sections (bows on the floor, music stands, and laps) plucking away as if preparing 50 turkeys for thanksgiving dinner. The trio then begins with a held note in the oboe as if signaling the other wind players to finally pick up their instruments. The trio is just as entertaining as the "turkey plucking" but more demanding of the instrumentalists -- especially the poor piccolo player. He/she has to sit during the fi rst two movements only to enter with the highest statement of the trio's most prominent theme. Just a few bars later the same player has to tackle one of the most demanding piccolo fl ourishes in the repertoire (lasting a mere 3 seconds that is repeated once). The brass section provides a March-like theme throughout the trio that eventually makes a turn back to the pizzicato of the opening.

The entire percussion section (excluding timpani) sits out for the first three movements anxiously awaiting the finale, only to strike the eardrums of the audience throughout the exciting and impetuous final movement marked Allegro con fuoco. The movement opens with the whole orchestral string and woodwind complements playing a difficult unison descending line only to abruptly halt before starting right up again. The fate theme returns in this movement (stated by the trumpets) added to by a fortississimo cymbal crash marked "solo." The Colburn School percussionists have elected to use three players for maximum effect. The coda follows. This finale contains a fantastic cymbalpart of great difficulty and importance to the colorful fabric. It can be most convincingly compared to the analogous part in Tchaikovsky's tone poem/overture Romeo et Juliette. The symphony concludes as most works of Tchaikovsky's do -- with energy, panache, and emotional triumph.

~Julian Schwarz
Julian is a cellist and a sophomore in the Bachelor of Music program at the Colburn Conservatory.

About the Conductor:

Yehuda Gilad

Yehuda Gilad

Lauded by the New York Times for his "strong imaginative programming," Yehuda Gilad's innovative approach to music-making has earned him a reputation as one of today's most dynamic and charismatic artists. A conductor, instrumentalist, and teacher, he strives for "total musicianship," and as a result, he has won the acclaim of both critics and audiences alike.

Currently Music Director of the Colburn Orchestra, Gilad also served as Music Director of the Colonial Symphony of New Jersey from 1988-2003. According to The Star-Ledger, he "transformed the Colonial Symphony into one of [New Jersey's] artistic trendsetters." Other music directorships have included the 20th Century Unlimited concert series (Santa Fe, New Mexico), the Thornton Chamber Orchestra, and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra. Also an active guest conductor, his appearances have garnered critical acclaim in the United States, Asia and Europe, where he has conducted throughout Spain, Sweden, Germany, Finland, and France. In 1987 he became the first Israeli born conductor to perform in China and has since conducted numerous engagements in Beijing and Shanghai. Over the course of his career, he has collaborated with nearly every leading artist including Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, Pepe Romero, Joseph Kalichstein, Vladimir Feltsman, and Ann Marie McDermott to name a few. Additionally, Gilad has had an instrumental role in the founding and forming of several notable festivals. From 1982-1993 he directed the Malibu Strawberry Creek Music Festival, hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "a summer festival in which inspired, enthusiastic performance and intelligent varied programming are the norm."

As Music Director of the Colburn Orchestra, Maestro Gilad has recorded for Live Classics and Bridge Records, collaborating with composers Menachem Wiesenberg and Paul Chihara as well as violist Paul Coletti and cellist Ronald Leonard.

An accomplished clarinetist, Mr. Gilad has performed at prestigious music festivals across the country, including the Marlboro Music Festival and Santa Barbara's Music Academy of the West. He also founded the Yoav Chamber Ensemble, which performed at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Hall in New York, and the Colburn Woodwind Chamber Players, which toured Germany, China and major cities throughout the U.S. Additionally, he is a renowned teacher, having developed one of the most sought-after clarinet studios in the world. His students can be heard in practically every corner of the world, and many are members of top orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Stockholm, Hong Kong, and Seoul Philharmonics, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Spanish National Orchestra among others. Gilad's students also include prize winners at most of the top competitions such as the New York Philharmonic Young Artists Competition, the International Clarinet Association competition, the Carl Nielsen International Clarinet Competition, Munich's ARD International Music Competition, and the Prague Spring International Music Competition.

In addition to his positions as professor of music at the University of Southern California and master teacher at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, Gilad is regularly invited to present master classes and performances at music conservatories and festivals worldwide. He has been invited to such institutions as Kings College (Sweden), the Winter Festival in Spain, the Curtis Institute, Toronto's Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Sibelius Academy, the Juilliard School, Mannes College, and the Manhattan School of Music, among others. In his master classes, Gilad combines his three passions--teaching, conducting, and playing, as demonstrated by recent festivals in Sweden, Spain, and Finland.


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