SPCO at Como Lake

Spring 2021 Outdoor Concert

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  • This concert is supported by special project funding from The Saint Paul Cultural STAR program

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Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Summer from The Four Seasons

Antonio Vivaldi composed at least 230 violin concertos, many of them originating at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, where he taught violin to “orphaned” girls — most of whom were actually the illegitimate offspring of aristocrats, which explains why their school was endowed with such excellent music instruction.

In 1725, Vivaldi’s publisher in Amsterdam released a set of twelve of those concertos under the title Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention). Vivaldi named the first four concertos after the seasons, and he organized the musical ideas to correspond to descriptive sonnets. These interrelated works that we know simply as The Four Seasons live on as the crown jewels within Vivaldi’s incomparable catalog of solo concertos.

The second concerto, Summer, opens under the scorching “heat of the burning sun,” matched by wilting musical figures. The soloist enters in the style of a cuckoo, with the distinctive two-note call embedded within constant bow-strokes. The arrival of a stiff wind from the north, bringing a squall, sends the movement into an agitated state. The slow movement depicts a nap interrupted by the nuisance of gnats and flies and occasional peals of thunder. With phrases cascading down like sheets of rain, the finale unleashes the full force of the summer storm.

Aaron Grad ©2021

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George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

Suite in D Major, Water Piece

Lynn Erickson, trumpet

Not long after George Frideric Handel became Kapellmeister in 1710 to George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, those two Germans would find themselves making history in England. Handel, for his part, revolutionized the opera scene with Rinaldo from 1711, the first Italian opera written expressly for London. Meanwhile George, by virtue of the 1689 Bill of Rights that barred Catholic monarchs, became the unlikely heir to the British throne, as the great-grandson of King James I and the closest living Protestant relative to Queen Anne when she died in 1714.

George fired Handel from the Hanover position in 1713, leading to a brief falling out, but the two reconciled after George’s coronation, and Handel became a trusted source of music for the royal court. In 1717, when a conflict with his liberal-minded son (the future George II) left the king in need of some good public relations, he organized an outing on the River Thames and asked Handel to provide orchestral entertainment. On July 17, 1717, the river filled with boats, including a barge loaded with some fifty musicians. The whole flotilla rode the tide upriver to Chelsea, stopped for a supper, and then returned to Whitehall, with Handel’s new Water Music sounding all the while.

The suite heard here, published in 1733 as Mr. Handel’s Water Piece, traded on the enduring popularity of Water Music by arranging one of its overtures for trumpet and strings. The rest of the music is a mish-mash, including a final march adapted from the 1730 opera Partenope, and most likely Handel was not involved in the arrangement of any of it. Handel knew better than anyone how to squeeze maximum profit out of a good bit of music (his or even a competitor’s), and his publisher cranked out reams of music without any of the guardrails around intellectual property and provenance that we would expect today. The result is a very practical and idiomatic showpiece for trumpet, highlighting the bright and clear upper range of the instrument where it could play flowing melodies even in those days before valves made it easier to access all available pitches.

Aaron Grad ©2021

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Viet Cuong

Viet Cuong

Circling Back for Oboe and Cello (SPCO commission)

Circling Back seems to reflect the moment of its creation, as well as the hope that things are getting better. It feels like waking up. It feels like remembering something significant. It feels wistful but determined. The expression “circling back” conjures images of a flight and the sense that we had been driven from our course but are now returning to the path we had charted, to the hopes and ideas we had to defer. Thank you to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Cassie Pilgrim and Sarah Lewis for bringing this piece to life. I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity to circle back to music-making with you.

Viet Cuong ©2021

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George Walker

Molto Adagio from String Quartet No. 1, Lyric

George Walker was a vital American composer who was active right up to his death in 2018 at the age of 96. Decades before he became the first Black winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1996, he broke ground in 1945 as the first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and composition with Samuel Barber. In an uncanny parallel with Barber, whose most celebrated music is still the Adagio for Strings adapted from the first String Quartet he wrote just after graduating from Curtis, Walker, too, is best known for the slow movement of the String Quartet No. 1 that he wrote in 1946. Originally titled Lament and dedicated to his recently deceased grandmother, Walker renamed the movement Lyric. Whether performed in its original quartet configuration or in his transcription for string orchestra, Lyric has become a fixture of American concert music.

Aaron Grad ©2021

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Selections from Septet in E-flat

Sang Yoon Kim, clarinet
Carole Mason Smith, bassoon
James Ferree, horn
Eunae Koh, violin
Hyobi Sim, viola
Richard Belcher, cello
Zachary Cohen, bass

When the 21-year-old Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792, Mozart had been dead less than a year, and Haydn — with whom Beethoven studied briefly — was in his prime. Under their long shadows, Beethoven spent his first years in Vienna mastering the “Classical” style, meanwhile earning a reputation as the city’s ranking keyboard virtuoso. If any one day marked his arrival as a composer of note, it must have been April 2, 1800, when he produced his first benefit concert at Vienna’s Burgtheater, the same venue where Mozart had presented highly successful concerts of his own in the 1780s. Besides leading an orchestra in a Mozart symphony and excerpts from Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, Beethoven performed one of his own piano concertos, and he debuted both the Symphony No. 1 and the Septet in E-flat, which stole the show.

In the spirit of Mozart’s serenades, the Septet was a musical confection with no higher aim than to entertain and delight its audience. (Well, it may have had one other aim: Beethoven was trying to gain favor with the work’s dedicatee, Empress Maria Theresa, who thought highly enough of the young composer that she recommended him a year later for an important ballet project, The Creatures of Prometheus.) In later years, Beethoven would back away from the success of his Septet, which remained one of his most popular works in his lifetime and which spawned numerous adaptations, including Beethoven’s own reduction for clarinet, cello and piano.

It would be wrong to discount the innovations that flow under the cheerful surface of the Septet, particularly in the novel use of a mixed ensemble of strings and winds. Just as Beethoven’s First Symphony attracted attention for emancipating the woodwinds from a supporting role, the Septet assembled the clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass as a band of equals. The clarinet shares melodic duties with the violin, and the omission of a second violin opens sonic space for the accompanying textures of the horn and bassoon. The Allegro con brio body of the first movement makes the most of the sonic range, setting up contrasts among the elegance of a string trio, the breeziness of a wind trio and the full force of the miniature orchestra. In the slow movement that follows, some of the most sublime movements are those that cut against the instrumental typecasting, as when the bassoon and cello each climb into their upper ranges to deliver poignant lines.

The third movement, a Minuet, reuses a theme from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in G, Opus 49, No. 2 (completed in 1796, its high opus number notwithstanding). For the fourth movement, the theme-and-variations structure invites myriad instrumental combinations, including spare textures for string duo and trio in the first variation and bare duets for clarinet and bassoon in the third.

In the quick Scherzo, the main motive takes its shape from the characteristic intervals of horn calls. The finale, in a bit of a twist, enters with a slow introduction, set in the parallel minor key. The Presto tempo soon brushes away that drama and tension, and the sprint to a buoyant conclusion only halts momentarily for a violin cadenza.

Aaron Grad ©2021

About This Program

Approximate length 0:46

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra brings chamber music to the Como Lakeside Pavilion. Antonio Vivaldi’s Summer violin concerto from his iconic Four Seasons starts the performance off with the SPCO’s Nina Tso-Ning Fan as soloist. George Walker’s lush Lyric is dedicated to his grandmother who passed away a year before it was written. New music by the “alluring and “wildly inventive” (The New York Times) composer Viet Cuong conjures images of flight and the sense that we’ve been driven from our course but are now “circling back” to hopes and ideas deferred. Music by George Frideric Handel and Ludwig van Beethoven round out the performance.

There are currently no city or state requirements or recommendations regarding mask use or social distancing outside. We encourage audience members to use personal discretion and to respect the space and choices of those around them. People who are sick or exposed to someone with COVID-19 should stay home.

Please note: This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required for entry, but space is limited so please arrive early and bring chairs or a blanket for seating. Food and beverage will be available for purchase at the adjacent Dock and Paddle restaurant.

This concert is presented in collaboration with Dock & Paddle
This concert is supported by special project funding from The Saint Paul Cultural STAR program

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