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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 29

Mozart spent much of his youth traveling through Europe and performing in circumstances arranged by Leopold, his enterprising father. Their last major trip together took them through Italy for over a year, until they returned to Salzburg in December 1771. This period marked a turning point for Mozart, for at fifteen he was getting a little old to be paraded around by his father as a child prodigy. At the same time, the death of Salzburg’s Archbishop (who had made Leopold the Assistant Kapellmeister and Wolfgang an honorary Konzertmeister) complicated their standing at home, and the new Archbishop proved to be a troublesome employer.

Those problems at court did not slow Mozart’s composing, nor did two follow-up trips to Milan to present music for which Leopold had secured commissions on their earlier visit. Between 1771 and 1774 Mozart issued more than twenty symphonies, about half of his lifetime output. Many of those works qualify as youthful experiments, but some bear early signs of Mozart’s genius, such as the Symphony No. 29 in A, written at age eighteen.

The symphony’s opening movement introduces the primary theme, characterized by its descending octave leaps, over a gentle chorale accompaniment at a piano dynamic. As might be expected, this material repeats at a firm forte dynamic; the surprise is that it adds a layer of contrapuntal complexity, with the low strings chasing the violins on the same material but delayed by two beats. This heightened sense of layering and counterpoint runs throughout the symphony, as in the Andante second movement, which waits only four measures before adding a bouncing countermelody to the dignified violin theme.

After the slow movement’s hush of muted strings, the minuet supplies a playful and rustic color with dramatic dynamic changes and tongue-in-cheek fanfares. Closing the symphony, the Allegro con spirito finale re-integrates ideas from the opening movement, including a new theme built from octave leaps. Call-and-response phrases and melodic imitation reinforce the work’s abundance of sophisticated counterpoint, signaling a new maturity in Mozart’s symphonic craft.

Aaron Grad ©2014

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Mason Bates

Garages of the Valley (World Premiere)

Scott Yoo, conductor

The composer provided the following note about Garages of the Valley for Chamber Orchestra:

Paradoxically, much of what we now think of as "the Digital Age" was dreamed up in the most low-tech of spaces. The garages that dot the landscape of Silicon Valley housed the visionaries behind Apple, Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Google.

My imagined music of these tech workshops begins hyper-kinetically yet sporadically, filled with false starts. It soon flashes into a quicksilver world of out exotic textures and tunings that is informed by the music of the French composer Gerard Grisey, whose imaginative orchestrations sound electronic but are completely unplugged. The exhilarating finale reflects the infectious optimism of the great inventors of our time, who from their dark garages conjured new worlds within the bright Valley.

The piece is dedicated to Maestro Edo de Waart, who lived just north of the Valley when some of its garages were just starting to burst with energy.

Mason Bates ©2014

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Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Serenade for Strings

A work of tremendous immediate appeal, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings could equally well be heard on deeper listening as an artistic credo of sorts. Composed simultaneously with the 1812 Overture, the Serenade, by contrast to the bombast of 1812, represents an intent focus on craft as a vehicle for personal expression.

The private anguish Tchaikovsky wrestled with throughout his life has been well documented, centering primarily on his sexuality and social relationships. Add to these his cultural orientation as a less palpable, but no less pointedly felt, source of angst. Tchaikovsky was Russian, and held a fervent love for his homeland. He likewise grew up with a deep affinity with French culture: his mother, with whom he was close, was an amateur pianist and singer of French descent; one anecdote relates how, as a child, Tchaikovsky would kiss Russia on a map of Europe, then spit on the rest of the continent—but with his hand covering France.

The Russian-Western dichotomy would become more pronounced in his artistic maturity. Among the Russian composers of his generation, Tchaikovsky was the most firmly rooted in the Western Classical tradition, thus aesthetically distanced from his self-trained compatriots known as the Five (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov), who strived to create a distinctly Russian school of music. He was, in other words, not as Russian as the Russians; nor did he quite fit among the German Romantics (Brahms, et al.).

In the Serenade for Strings, Tchaikovsky seems to work out his cultural identity before our very ears. The Serenade demonstrates Western technique styled after Mozart—Tchaikovsky’s musical idol—and Beethoven. It is, surmises musicologist Roland John Wiley, “as closely knit a motivic work as Tchaikovsky ever wrote.” The opening Pezzo in forma di Sonatina— an overt homage to Mozart in both form and character—begins with a descending melodic figure that unifies much of the work. The ascending scales that follow become the theme of the fetching second movement Walzer, and reappear in the introductory measures of the poignant Élégie.

The Serenade’s rollicking Finale is based on what Tchaikovsky identifies as a Tema Russo, yet derives from the motif that opens the Mozartian Pezzo in forma di Sonatina. Lest there be any doubt, the Russian theme slows to a verbatim reprise of the previous melody before the Serenade’s climactic end. Wiley interprets the Serenade as “an essay in Western/Russian rapprochement which favors Russian at the end.” It is also, more importantly, a sheer triumphant work. Tchaikovsky’s catharsis is our gain.

Patrick Castillo ©2015

About This Program

Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 opened the evening and serves as a superb example of the composer’s ability to balance lyricism with vigor, qualities that would later inspire Tchaikovsky’s graceful yet impassioned Serenade for Strings. Between these classics was the world premiere of Garages of the Valley by rising young American composer and DJ Mason Bates, whose music fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, jazz harmonies and the rhythms of techno.