The Argentine composer and bandoneón prodigy Astor Piazzolla ranks among his country’s most celebrated composers, and stands without peer in the realm of 20th century tango. His early classical training under Alberto Ginastera (which he pursued while also performing with the leading tango bandleader Aníbal Troilo) led him, in 1954, to study in Paris with the eminent pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Weary by this time of the tango he had grown up with, and seeking a career as a composer of “serious” classical music, Piazzolla kept his bandoneón hidden away. But on eventually hearing him play his tango Triunfal, Boulanger admonished her pupil, “This is Piazzolla! You never give it up.”
His true artistic identity validated, Piazzolla returned to Argentina, and to tango, with renewed vigor. Reflecting his extensive musical instruction and far-ranging technical expertise, Piazzolla injected traditional tango music with modern chromaticism, elements of jazz, and even fugal technique. Though at first met with disapprovingly by tango traditionalists at home, Piazzolla’s nuevo tango thrived abroad and, eventually, in Argentina as well. By the 1980s, Piazzolla was regarded as tango’s savior.
Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) exemplify Piazzolla’s brand of nuevo tango. Originally scored for Piazzolla’s Quinteto of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón, the Estaciones Porteñas were conceived as four discrete pieces rather than as a set. Piazzolla composed Verano Porteño (Buenos Aires Summer) in 1965 as incidental music for Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’s play Melenita de Oro. Otoño Porteño (Autumn) was composed in 1969, with the remaining two Estaciones completed the following year.
The Estaciones Porteñas have become some of Piazzolla’s most popular works; they frequently appear on concert stages as a full suite, and in arrangements for various ensembles, as we encounter them on this program. The Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov was the first to juxtapose them with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as is also now habitually done, arranging Piazzolla’s tangos for solo violin and string orchestra. Certainly, the Estaciones retain their irresistibility in this guise. Delighted listeners are urged to seek out, as further listening, Piazzolla’s own dazzling performances of these pieces with his Quinteto.
Patrick Castillo ©2016
The music that Mozart wrote for his friend Anton Stadler, a clarinetist and fellow freemason, was instrumental in establishing the clarinet as an equal to its older cousins in the woodwind family. Mozart’s first composition for Stadler was the Kegelstatt Trio from 1786, scored for clarinet, viola and piano. (Mozart played the viola part himself.) Next came a quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello, completed in 1789. This work required a basset clarinet in the key of A, an instrument with a low-range extension designed by Stadler. Mozart went on to write Stadler a concerto featuring the same instrument, completed two months before the composer’s untimely death.
The Clarinet Concerto in A Major demonstrates Mozart’s keen understanding of the solo instrument’s range and agility, especially when rendered on a replica of the original basset clarinet, as in this performance. (To play the concerto on a modern clarinet, the player must transpose certain passages into higher octaves.) The tonal quality of the clarinet changes through its range, from the deep resonance of the extended bass notes, through the warm and hollow midrange of the chalumeau register, and up into the brilliant clarity of the highest octaves. At certain points in the fast opening movement, the soloist seems to play several opera characters engaged in dialogue, leaping from range to range; other times, a single scale or arpeggio journeys across all four octaves of the instrument’s compass.
In 1785, a critic wrote of Anton Stadler, “One would never have thought that a clarinet could imitate the human voice to such perfection.” Judging by the slow movement penned expressly for Stadler, Mozart surely agreed!
The finale has a bit of Haydn’s sense of humor in it, as in the playful held notes of the main theme that draw out unresolved tension. The episodic structure of the Rondo allows for fanciful and dramatic excursions, making each return to the familiar music all the more delightful.
Aaron Grad ©2017
In 1811, the ailing Beethoven took his doctor’s advice and summered in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz. The trip succeeded in refreshing Beethoven’s health and spirits, and soon he started on a new symphony, his first in three years. He completed the Symphony no. 7 the following spring and began work immediately on his Eighth Symphony. His return visit to Teplitz in 1812 was a more heartbreaking affair: he penned unsent love letters to his mysterious “Immortal Beloved,” now believed to be Antonie Brentano, a married woman from Frankfurt. He also had a disappointing introduction to his literary hero, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, about whom Beethoven complained, “He delights far too much in the court atmosphere, far more than is becoming in a poet.”
With the Napoleonic Wars disrupting concert life in Vienna, the Seventh Symphony did not reach the public until the end of 1813. On December 8, Beethoven conducted a benefit concert for wounded soldiers from the Battle of Hanau, featuring the premiere of Wellington’s Victory or the Battle of Vitoria, a bombastic orchestral account of the conflict, complete with six trumpets, ten percussionists creating martial sound effects, and triumphant variations on God Save the King. Beethoven’s “Battle Symphony” stole the show, but the debut of the Seventh Symphony made an impression, too, with the audience demanding an encore of the Allegretto movement.
The symphony begins with an introduction, the structure favored by Haydn in his late symphonies. Typically this would be a slow introduction, but Beethoven’s Poco sostenuto tempo has unusual forward drive, its momentum reinforced by repeated notes and rising scales. The introduction is also of an unprecedented length, lasting nearly four minutes before a single repeated pitch links into the lively Vivace continuation, set in a rollicking triple meter infused with the snap of dotted rhythms.
The second movement again defies the expectation of slow music, appearing as a nimble Allegretto in A minor. It explores a distinctive rhythmic stamp (long, short-short, long, long), advancing a simple theme while expanding the scoring from lower strings to the full orchestra. A contrasting major-key section with broad phrases and pulsing pizzicato intervenes twice, but variants of the opening figure return each time as the heartbeat of the music, even when it is reduced to a skeletal final statement.
The Presto third movement is a scherzo in all but name, Beethoven’s supercharged answer to Haydn’s minuets. It features cheeky rhythmic play and sudden dynamic contrast, as would be expected from a palate-cleansing third movement; more surprising is the strangely earnest trio section, with winds intoning a hymn-like chorale over droning violins. Instead of the typical three-part structure in which the trio appears once as a central departure, here it enters twice and then echoes again in the movement’s coda.
The Allegro con brio finale ushers in more foot-stomping rhythmic drive, pounding hard on the accented off-beats. It is no wonder that Richard Wagner called this symphony “the apotheosis of the dance”—each movement is a celebration of relentless, infectious rhythms.
Aaron Grad ©2012
About This Program
First Annual Musician Appreciation Concert
Deborah Palmer, Event Chair
Please join us for our first annual Musician Appreciation Concert in celebration of the musicians of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, who enrich our community by sharing transformational performances with thousands of people throughout the Twin Cities every year. Join fellow SPCO supporters for this very special celebratory evening where you’ll experience a one-of-a-kind program featuring multiple SPCO musicians as soloists. Net proceeds from ticket purchases for this event will go directly to SPCO musicians in appreciation for the passion, dedication and incredible artistry they share with our community. Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate and directly support the talented musicians of the SPCO!
Ticket Price/Contribution Levels
- Gold Package - $10,000
(includes 10 premium concert tickets and invitation to post-concert reception with musicians)
$9,850 tax deductible
- Silver Package - $5,000
(includes 6 premium concert tickets and invitation to post-concert reception with musicians)
$4,880 tax deductible
- Premium Seats - $1,000 – including onstage seating
(includes 1 premium concert ticket and invitation to post-concert reception with musicians)
$985 tax deductible
- Scale 1 Seats - $500 – including onstage seating
(includes 1 concert ticket)
$485 tax deductible
- Scale 2 Seats - $250
(includes 1 concert ticket)
$235 tax deductible
- Scale 3 Seats - $100
(includes 1 concert ticket)
$85 tax deductible
Click “buy tickets” to select your own seats from our online seating chart. For access to Gold or Silver Packages or Premium Seats not shown online, please contact Rosie Hughes at 651.292.6988 or email@example.com.
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All who purchase tickets or make contributions to this event by November 12 will be recognized in the concert program as supporters of the event.