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Sergei Prokofiev Listen to Audio

Sergei Prokofiev

Symphony No. 1, Classical

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

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George Tsontakis

George Tsontakis

Coraggio for String Orchestra

The composer has provided the following program note:

Coraggio for String Orchestra is a nine-minute work based on the first movement of my String Quartet #3, which is subtitled “Coraggio.” I have altered several sections of the work for the new idiom and have integrated a double bass part where appropriate. A version for full strings was premiered in Athens by the Athens Camerata in 2007, and this new arrangement was commissioned in 2014 by the SPCO specifically for the opening of their new Concert Hall at the Ordway.

An insight relating to the evocative title is offered in the liner notes, written by the late American composer George Rochberg, to the American String Quartet recording (on New World Records) of my Third and Fourth string quartets:

“In the program note to his Third String Quartet,” Rochberg wrote, “George Tsontakis acknowledges the great contrasts between his Second Quartet (composed for the Emerson Quartet in 1983) and the Third, which followed two years later. While the Second is a ‘severely introverted and intense semitonal work, submerged in the seemingly inescapable malaise of our time,’ the Third, which he calls “Coraggio” (courage), ‘offers a certain exuberance and brightness, an optimism that might be based on our blindness –a—momentary lapse into forgetfulness—to what surrounds us, or else perhaps on the tenacious human spirit we have inherited, where even in the worst of times there is a taking of heart and welling up of courage.’

Rochberg continued: “I don’t think it is too farfetched to suggest that in composing his Third Quartet Tsontakis was stating, in purely musical terms, a credo which arose from a hard-won conviction that modernism and modernity had to be broken with—set aside by an act of will. He acknowledges freely his ‘reliance on the stability of diatonically triadic harmonies’ and his debt, ‘gesturally...to the work of the late classical masters.’ The great physical energy of [this work] is an important part of, and is intensely related to, Tsontakis’s gifts as a composer; he has the ‘luck’ of having concrete musical ideas that the ear can perceive and the mind hold in memory—expressed in concentrated, densely packed, nodule-like motives that the composer treats obsessively, and which, as they spread out in time and spin in tight figurational, centripetal orbits, create structure and gesture.”

George Tsontakis ©2014

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 3, Eroica (47 min)

After writing a monumental symphony that dwarfed his two previous efforts (and those of all composers who came before him), Ludwig van Beethoven gave the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major the subtitle of "Bonaparte," honoring the military mastermind of Revolutionary France. But the composer’s adulation turned to disgust in 1804, when he learned that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor; according to the student who delivered the disturbing news, Ferdinand Ries, “Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor.” When preparing the symphony for publication in 1806, Beethoven re-titled it "Sinfonia eroica, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man,” without specifying who that other hero was.

The defining motive of the Eroica Symphony’s first movement is a rocking cello strain that trails into foreign harmonies after four measures. As the central development section closes, a French horn makes a surprise entrance with a recapitulation of that same theme a few measures ahead of schedule — an effect so unexpected that even Beethoven’s student Ries, upon hearing the symphony for the first time, suspected the horn player of having lost count of the measures.

The symphony’s second movement, labeled a funeral march, sinks into a prolonged state of despair that might induce misery if not for its undeniable grace and beauty. A major-key interlude, providing respite, incorporates an arpeggiated accompaniment that recalls the gentle sway of the first movement. After returning to the minor key, the appearance of fugal counterpoint reinforces the profound, ceremonial atmosphere of the funeral march.

Out of this grief comes a giddy Scherzo, a symphonic construct that Beethoven popularized as an alternative to Franz Joseph Haydn’s slower, tamer minuets. A contrasting trio section features the three horns in vigorous hunting calls.

The finale, built as a theme and variations, incorporates material from the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus that Beethoven had also used in an earlier set of piano variations. A short but fiery introduction gives way to an unusual presentation of the theme, reduced to its bare skeleton.

Aaron Grad ©2024

About This Program

Approximate length 2:00

The SPCO makes its first appearance in this intimate space designed specifically for the chamber orchestra’s artistry. Led by SPCO musicians, the world premiere of a new string orchestra arrangement of George Tsontakis’ Coraggio will be paired with two of the most celebratory pieces in the SPCO core repertoire: Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Beethoven’s Eroica.

Please note: These concerts are currently SOLD OUT. If you would like to attend one of these performances, please select one of the waiting lists below and we will contact those on the waiting list should additional tickets become available.

Waiting list for Thursday, March 5
Waiting list for Friday, March 6

Fanfare Pre-Concert Discussion

Join us one hour before any of these special performances to hear SPCO President and Managing Director Bruce Coppock and Concert Hall Acoustician Paul Scarbrough discuss the design of the hall and the acoustical tuning process.

Free Post-Concert Celebration

Join us for these historic concerts and you’ll also enjoy free champagne and live jazz after the performances.

Learn More

Have questions about the new Ordway Concert Hall? Visit thespco.org/concerthall for information about our new downtown Saint Paul home.


ROCK THE ORDWAY this March with an unprecedented mix of eclectic artists and performances specifically chosen to shake things up while also showcasing the state-of-the-art acoustics and intimacy of the new Concert Hall. Whether you’re into classical, R&B, opera, show tunes, Latin-fusion, love songs, the sounds of South Africa or choral music, please help us open the doors, raise the roof and celebrate Minnesota’s newest world-class performance hall. Learn more at ordway.org/rocktheordway


SPCO concerts are made possible by audience contributions.


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