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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Overture to Don Giovanni (6 min)

Tabea Zimmermann, director and viola
Grażyna Bacewicz

Grażyna Bacewicz

Divertimento for Strings (7 min)

Tabea Zimmermann, director and viola
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Sergei Prokofiev Listen to Audio

Sergei Prokofiev

Symphony No. 1, Classical (15 min)

Tabea Zimmermann, director and viola

The external trappings of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1—its compact four-movement structure, friendly D-major tonality, and, of course, the Classical moniker—amount to something of a Trojan horse. An example of the composer’s Neoclassical style, the Classical Symphony is in fact a work of biting modernism, rife with Prokofiev’s characteristically devilish wit. (The Classical subtitle was Prokofiev’s idea: a bit of fun, perhaps, echoed years later by Britten’s harmonically restless Sonata “in C” for cello and piano.) “I thought that if Haydn were alive today,” Prokofiev remarked, “he would compose just as he did before, but at the same time would include something new in his manner of composition. I wanted to compose such a symphony: a symphony in the Classical style.” Prokofiev’s orchestration (double winds, no low brass) is perfectly Haydn-and-Mozart-sized. As per the Classical style, the opening Allegro and concluding Molto vivace are tightly wrought sonata-form movements. The third movement, a gavotte, even harkens back to the Baroque. Yet the Classical Symphony’s lasting impression is indeed of something unmistakably new.

Though based in traditional tonality, the music’s tonal center is a constantly moving target. The D major starting pistol fired at the top of the Allegro is heard again in the eleventh measure, in C major (close in proximity, but harmonically quite remote from D). The opening melody of the Gavotte wends its way from D major to G major in short order—then takes an even stranger route, via C-sharp major, back to the home key.

Consider, too, Prokofiev’s melodic contours: triadically based, as per the tradition of Haydn and Mozart, but with a sly wink nevertheless. The Allegro’s second theme, uttered con eleganza by the first violins, is decorated with cheeky two-octave grace note leaps. The Larghetto’s featherweight opening melody, set against gossamer string textures, seems at first to nod to the sublime slow movements of Mozart’s piano concerti—yet as it unfurls, the long-breathed tune seems giddily erratic, dawdling like a carefree youth flouting a missed curfew.

Packaged in a symphony of Haydn-esque proportions, the mischievous strokes that give the Classical its spice are made all the more startling. The wolf comes in sheep’s clothing, its bite made fiercer as a result. A century later, among audiences who continue to disdain the early twentieth century’s most audacious scores, the seemingly harmless Classical remains a perennial favorite. Prokofiev’s subterfuge is complete.

Patrick Castillo ©2014

Intermission
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Sinfonia concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra (30 min)

Tabea Zimmermann, director and viola
Steven Copes, violin

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sinfonia concertantes blend the style of the Classical solo concerto with the instrumental configurations of earlier Baroque orchestral works, such as George Frideric Handel’s concerto grossi and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. Scored for two solo instruments — the violin and viola — and oboes, horns, and strings, this piece was inspired during Mozart’s visit to Paris. Concerto-like works for a group of two or more solo instruments and orchestra were quite popular in Mannheim and Paris, leading Mozart to compose several such works in the late 1770s and early 1780s.

The Sinfonia concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra was likely written in late 1779. Although we have surviving documentation detailing the premieres of many of Mozart’s other works, all information about who he wrote this particular piece for and who may have first performed it remains speculative. Contemporary scholars place it stylistically in the early part of Mozart’s middle period. While it is the culmination of his writing for solo strings, it demonstrates musical characteristics of his more youthful works.

This piece is divided into three movements that alternate between fast and slow tempos. The viola, an instrument which is often somewhat overlooked in music from this time period, plays an especially important role as both a soloist and a member of the orchestra. Mozart creates a rich harmonic texture and full orchestral timbre by dividing the orchestral violas into two separate parts. Additionally, the solo viola part is written in D major, while the remainder of the parts are in E-flat major. Thus, the viola is to be tuned one half step higher than usual, a technique called scordatura. This increases the brilliance of the solo viola’s sound.

The grand first movement begins with an opening tutti section made up of six contrasting melodic themes, and the solo passages add an additional five themes. The development section of the first movement is unusually based on a significant amount of new material, rather than being derived from the opening themes. The Andante second movement portrays a profound sense of tragic power. The work concludes with a brisk and triumphant Presto movement, which features horn calls and alternations of thematic material between the winds and strings.

Paula Maust ©2022

About This Program

Approximate length 1:28

SPCO Artistic Partner and violist extraordinaire Tabea Zimmermann returns to open the SPCO’s 66th season with the dramatic overture to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni and Mozart’s beloved Sinfonia Concertante alongside SPCO Concertmaster, Steven Copes. The program also features Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, a celebratory launch to the season, akin to the uncorking of a bottle of champagne.

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