Veronika Eberle Plays Mozart

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  • January 23, 2016
    Deluxe Corporation Foundation

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György Ligeti

Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet

Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles are his own wind quintet arrangements from his Musica ricercata, a cycle of eleven short piano pieces composed between 1950 and 1953. In addition to this work, these early years of Ligeti’s career (prior to his flight from Budapest in the wake of the failed 1956 revolt against Stalinist rule) also produced his seminal First String Quartet, Sonata for Solo Cello, and numerous choral works on traditional Hungarian themes. The choral music fulfilled the societal expectations for Ligeti as an artist under despotic rule; his more daring instrumental works, including the Musica ricercata, for the time being remained under lock and key.

Ligeti wrote of the Six Bagatelles:

As a student in Kolozsvár and Budapest I was a confirmed believer in the folkloristically-oriented music of the “New Hungarian School”; Bartók was my compositional ideal. I wrote eleven piano pieces in Budapest between 1950 and 1953, in an attempt—initially fruitless—to find a style of my own. This was Musica ricercata in the true sense of “ri-cercare”: to try out, to seek. When the eminent Hungarian wind ensemble the Jeney Quintet asked me for a piece in 1953, I arranged six of the eleven piano pieces for flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, B-flat clarinet, F-horn, and bassoon. Four pieces from this cycle are “pseudo-folkloristic”: no actual folk songs are quoted, but Nos. 2 and 5 have a “Hungarian diction” about them (No. 5 depicts mourning bells in memory of Bartók); No. 4, with its “limping” dance music, is Balkan; and No. 3 depicts an artificial hybrid of Banat-Romanian and Serbian melodic idioms.

The Franz Liszt Academy presented the first Festival of New Hungarian Music at the end of September 1956. My Bagatelles were finally performed at the instigation of the Jeney Quintet. At that time they were called Five Bagatelles, since No. 6—despite the thaw in the political climate—still contained too many minor seconds. (Dissonances and chromaticism were still “cosmopolitan” and “hostile to the people,” just somewhat less so than previously.) The audience of intellectuals and musicians was at a loss as to whether or not they were permitted to enjoy the music or to applaud. One of my earlier teachers tried cautiously to congratulate me on my “success”: he shook my hand but shifted his weight from one foot to the other in embarrassment.

Patrick Castillo ©2015

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Violin Concerto No. 4

Veronika Eberle, violin

Admirers of Mozart’s serenades will find much to appreciate in his five violin concerti, which together mark the pinnacle of his music for violin. In the late eighteenth century, the serenade genre, rooted in the tradition of musical courtship (think of the lover, supported by his mandolin-strumming friends, singing beneath his beloved’s window), expanded to include more public celebrations: weddings, graduations, and the like. Per Mozart’s contemporary J.A.P. Schulz: “The title ‘serenade’ is also used for purely instrumental compositions, which, to honor or congratulate specific personages, are performed at dusk in front of their houses… The composer must strive to write simple, flowing melodies, set primarily to consonant rather than dissonant harmonies.”

The violin concerti, all completed in the year before Mozart’s twentieth birthday, might be heard as an extension of the serenades that mark his early years in Salzburg (Eine kleine Nachtmusik, et al.). They are untroubled works, recalling the serenades in both their compositional style and idyllic character. Equally so, the serenades, a number of which feature virtuosic solo violin writing, foreshadow the concerti. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon surmises that the third, fourth, and fifth concerti specifically “are the highest examples of his serenade style after it has been detached from the serenade proper and reconstituted within a separate genre.”

The Fourth Violin Concerto is set in D major: a logical choice of key for the glorification of the violin, as it capitalizes on the instrument’s natural resonance. The opening Allegro bespeaks an irrepressible joie de vivre immediately from its opening measures. The opening theme is as uncomplicatedly ebullient as a nursery rhyme: a martial succession of unison Ds and a giddy outline of a D major chord prepare the way for “simple, flowing melodies, set primarily to consonant rather than dissonant harmonies” indeed. The Andante cantabile second movement responds to the gaiety of the Allegro with sublime beauty. Solomon describes this music as “inhabit[ing] a world of plenitude, [in which] beauty is everywhere for the taking. … [T]he beauties succeed each other with a breathtaking rapidity, their outpouring of episodic interpolations suggesting that we need not linger over any single moment of beauty, for beauty is abundant, it is to be found ‘here, too,’ and ‘there, as well.’” The concerto concludes with a playfully indecisive Rondeau: the meter vacillates between a graceful 2/4 and galloping 6/8 tempo, but the music’s prevailing lightness of spirit is assured.

Aaron Grad ©2015

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Derek Bermel

Murmurations for Strings

When I listen to and watch a string orchestra play, I'm reminded of a flock of birds. Visually and aurally, the performers seek unity on many levels: attention to tuning, tone, clarity of rhythm, consistency and pressure of bowing. They glide and dive in formation, soaring together or splitting into layers of counterpoint before regrouping into a single unit. During my year living in Rome, I was often treated to the graceful spectacle of a starling murmuration. Their stunning, geometrical displays of aviation prior to settling down for the night are a humbling sight to behold. In fact, starlings' mass motion suggests "emergence," a concept in Game Theory that explains how simple interactions can engender complex systems.

In Murmurations I attempted to map onto a musical structure some of the behavior I observed in the starlings' flight. Their collective push and pull, swoop, and parallel movement manifests in the opening movement "Gathering near Gretna Green", titled for the Scottish village where starlings frequently assemble. The music hovers and swoops, culminating in a cadenza; the lone concertmaster briefly separates from the flock for a rare individual moment, and is again swallowed up into the mass motion. In the middle movement, "Soaring over Algiers," the melodic line glides alone, then in double, and finally triple layers of counterpoint, over arpeggios in the lower strings. I was inspired to write the third movement, "Swarming Rome," upon learning that starlings signal and sense subtle directional intent to and from their neighbors seven birds distant. Here the notes travel in loose clusters, darting and fluttering, far enough from each other to maneuver through the air, yet close enough to respond to sudden shifts in the murmuration's rhythm and cadence.

Murmurations was co-commissioned by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and partner A Far Cry. For inspiration, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Steve Copes, Jae Young Cosmos Lee, and Chao-Liang Lin; writer Siobhan Roberts and Noah Strycker; mathematician Helmut Hofer; and photographer Richard Barnes. Special thanks to Alecia Lawyer, Parker Monroe, Kyu-Young Kim, Todd Vunderink, Anthony Cornicello, and Elizabeth Dworkin.

Derek Bermel ©2015

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Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 85, La Reine

Haydn composed his Symphonies Nos. 82–87 between 1785 and 1786 on a commission for the Concert de la Loge Olympique, a Parisian musical society; the commission was funded by Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny, a twenty-something aristocrat who also played cello in the Olympique orchestra. Haydn was by this time Western music’s most celebrated composer, and despite his working in relative seclusion at the Esterházy court, his symphonies had enjoyed tremendous popularity among Parisian audiences since the 1770s.

The six “Paris” Symphonies were no exception. They were premiered in the 1786 concert season to great success, and subsequent editions were quickly published in London and Vienna. Jean-Jerome Imbault, the symphonies’ Parisian publisher, captured the works’ favorable reception in his sales advertisement: “These symphonies… cannot fail to be eagerly sought by those who have the good fortune to hear them, and also for those who do not know them. The name of Haydn answers for their extraordinary merit.”

The particular merit of the Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major, the fourth of the “Paris” set, won the admiration of Marie Antoinette, thereby giving it the nickname La Reine (“The Queen”).

The first movement’s slow introduction—a convention among Haydn’s symphonies by this time—begins La Reine in fittingly regal fashion. As the music enters the main Vivace section, long sustained notes in the violins above a martial descending line in the lower strings preserves the music’s stately manner. Even at its most exuberant, this opening movement retains a dignified air.

The second movement Romance is a set of variations on the French folk tune “La gentile et jeune Lisette.” Haydn, ever inventive, uses this simple tune to explore a wide palette of textures and broad expressive range. Moments of Sturm und Drang pass through these variations, but the prevailing sentiment (aided in large part by the featherweight flute solo in the penultimate variation) is one of carefree delight.

The innocuous Menuetto features a sly turn at the end of its central trio section, as the wind instruments take short solos in succession above a pedal in the horns and pizzicati in the strings—arriving at a piquant texture to close the section. The symphony ends with an arresting Presto finale.

Patrick Castillo ©2015

About This Program

Approximate length 2:00

Lauded by the Pioneer Press last season for her “pulse-pounding,” and “magical” playing, German violinist Veronika Eberle returns to the SPCO to perform Mozart’s exquisite Violin Concerto No. 4. This program also features György Ligeti’s lively Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet, an SPCO co-commission by the dynamic American composer Derek Bermel, and Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, La Reine (The Queen), weaving together an enticing mix of Classical and contemporary works.

Related Event: Music in the Making

Derek Bermel
Wednesday | Jan 20, 2016 | 7:00pm
Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Saint Paul
Hosted by Classical MPR's Steve Seel

Derek Bermel joins us for the second iteration of the Music in the Making conversation season, bringing to St. Paul his signature and vibrantly assorted musical influences. Bermel’s diverse background in ethnomusicology and the study of various folkloric music traditions in addition to his prolific composition and clarinet career are sure to make for an insightful and colorful conversation.