Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante

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Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 49 in F minor, La Passione

Like so many of Haydn’s symphonies, this one acquired its nickname, La Passione, after the fact, and in this case, long after its initial composition during the early years of Haydn’s residency as Kapellmeister for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. An advertisement for a performance of the work during the Holy Week in the German city of Schwerin in 1790 is the earliest reference to this nickname, and it is not difficult to see why the title has stuck. (Publishers were wont to latch onto catchy nicknames as a way to boost sales.) The dark and brooding opening slow movement, the prevalence of the minor mode throughout, and the reckless abandon of the two fast movements are all characteristics of this symphony that hold with the idea that this work could be a reflection upon the suffering of Christ.

Symphony No. 49 achieved widespread popularity in Haydn’s time, judging from the abundant number of contemporary copies found throughout Europe. It is perhaps the finest example of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”) period, in which subjectivity and the extreme emotions of the individual take precedence over the Enlightenment ideals of rationality and empirical thought. Sudden and extreme shifts in dynamics, mood, and temperament pervade the work. The oboes and horns often hold plangent chords while the strings scurry back and forth or weave melancholy lines on top of halting bass notes. Only the Trio of the Minuet, with its F Major tonality, grants the listener a glimmer of sunshine.

Kyu-Young Kim ©2015

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George Tsontakis

O Mikros, O Megas (This Tiny World, This Enormous World) for String Orchestra

My title, O Mikros, O Megas was inspired by the opening lines of Axion Esti, by the great contemporary Greek poet, Odysseas Elytis: “Aftos O Kosmos, O Mikros, O Megas” (This tiny world, this enormous world). There are no direct literal connections to the words, only the feeling of the intended ambiguity; certainly no superficial dynamic nor density parallels. In fact, it is to me that within the quietest and most inwardly moments of the work, the world seems to fully impose its power and enormity. At the same time, the figurative “flip-side” of my work's title could well be “This tiny fleeting life, this huge eternal life” – a reflection on recent world circumstances including the tumbling world, loss of friends and my own personal advancement into the foothills of an ageless maturity.

Thinking and hearing into the sonic qualities and potentials of the string orchestra, my creative and inward sensibilities seemed to eschew many “fast and loud” possibilities for those of quietude and grace. I fought with this tendency, frankly, during the word's composition, however, in the end, textures of long, quietly floating tensions won out, for the most part. There are faster movements among the four and imploding episodes, but the heart and largeness of the work are made manifest in the second and last. All movements end quietly and the last, with my most preferred ending, a “dot dot dot” figure. In fact, in the score, the performers are given the option of repeating the final phrase for as long as desired, until the “end” of the work is felt.

George Tsontakis ©2016

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola

Eunice Kim, violin
Hyobi Sim, viola

The Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major represents a unique delight among Mozart’s oeuvre. Scored for solo violin and viola accompanied by modest orchestral forces, the work offers a cross between concerto and symphony, encased in the intimacy of chamber music. The medium for two or more soloists with orchestra had, by the late 1770s, become especially fashionable in Paris, where Mozart, frustrated in his provincial hometown of Salzburg, hoped to secure a position. While fulfilling his obligations at the Salzburg court to provide church music (with little effort and less enthusiasm), Mozart focused intensely on instrumental and secular vocal composition, producing an excellent catalogue of symphonies, concerti, arias, serenades, etc. Such works as the Sinfonia Concertante had little chance of being heard in Salzburg. (Nor was the imbalance of Mozart’s artistic energies lost on his boss, the Archbishop Colloredo. Their cooling relations culminated in Mozart’s final break with Salzburg in January 1781.)

The sheer sophistication and extroverted brilliance of the Sinfonia Concertante, composed between 1779 and 1780, betray Mozart’s gaze toward a more cosmopolitan musical environment. In its first stroke of inventiveness, Mozart (himself an avid violist) writes the solo viola part in D major, and calls for the instrument to be tuned a semitone high; the scordatura allows the violist greater resonance to match the violin’s bright tone. (Violists today employ and forgo the scordatura with equal frequency.)

The Allegro maestoso, bright and declamatory in character, immediately grabs the listener with its curtain-raising opening gesture, then proceeds with a characteristically Mozartian font of melodic invention. Mozart fashions a rich interplay between the soloists throughout, as well as between soloists and orchestra. The work closes with exuberance to match in the bubbling Presto finale.

But the work’s greatest riches reside in its second movement. “Mozart’s mature instrumental music represents our civilization’s sign for the beautiful,” writes biographer Maynard Solomon. “We cannot think of him without thinking of beauty; we cannot refer to beauty without recalling his music. … [H]e created… a special kind of musical beauty, one that thenceforth came to exemplify the idea of superlative beauty itself.” In support of this poetic claim, Solomon offers as evidence the Sinfonia Concertante’s C-minor Andante. The movement is remarkable for the expressive lyricism of the solo parts, both reluctant to cadence, instead constantly extending each line towards ecstatic heights. The supporting orchestral textures, warmed by divided violas, are equally inspired.

Patrick Castillo ©2014

About This Program

Hear the full spectrum of the SPCO’s skills as an unconducted ensemble on a program that stretches from Classical to contemporary. Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 is a prime example of his emotional and evocative Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) symphonies. George Tsontakis’s reflection on recent turbulence in the world was a 2016 SPCO commission. Finally, SPCO musicians Eunice Kim and Hyobi Sim are the soloists and leaders for Mozart’s most masterful example of a hybrid symphony plus concerto, written when the prodigy composer was touring Europe at the age of 23.