Symphony North of Houston is most excited to invite you to our opening concert of our 2023-2024 season. This is the beginning of our 48th season, and we will perform on Sunday, October 15, 2023, at 4:00 PM. Our concert venue is Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas. Admission to our concerts is by donation. At the performance, we will be accepting donations, but you may also donate online.
This concert will be conducted by our principal conductor, Dr. Karl Blench. The repertoire features Moritz Moszkowski’s Suite for Two Violins with guest soloists Rodica Gonzalez and Mihaela Frusina, Pablo de Sarasate’s Navarra, and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.
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Moritz Moszkowski was known the world over as the “Sunshine Composer.” When he died in April 1925, a prominent musical journal reported,
Moszkowski dead! So painful an announcement has not stricken the entire musical word since the deaths of Chopin, Rubinstein, and Liszt, of whom he was a worthy successor.
Today it seems rather curious that Moszkowski’s name should be included into such an illustrious list of legacy composers. However, at the turn of the twentieth century he was considered the “most successful salon composer of the present day, and a natural heir to Chopin.” His compositions were lighter, wittier, and less pretentious than many of his contemporaries, and he attracted a large following. His formidable pianistic technique gave rise to genial and tuneful works that “never strike an attitude, but aim to charm our senses with melodious, euphonious, and artistically made music.”
Moszkowski was primarily known as a pianist. He had tremendous technical ability, and he hardly ever missed a note. Yet his playing was said to be cold and lacking passion. By contrast, his contemporary Anton Rubinstein played with a great deal of fire and abandon, but frequently inaccurate. At a Rubinstein recital Moszkowski turned to a friend and said “Anton must be sick tonight. He got two of those top notes right!” As a composer Moszkowski excelled in writing small but delightful piano compositions. However, he also dabbled in larger forms and wrote a piano and violin concerto, a symphony, a ballet and an opera. Condemnation of these works, however, was swift and decisive. “We do not expect heaven-sent inspirations from Moszkowski” a critic wrote, “and his latest work does not disappoint.” The composer was well aware that his music was never going to be able to say something of profound importance, and he was made aware of this shortcoming more than any other composer. Seemingly, he responded with wit and humor and when asked for a copy of his piano concerto Moszkowski replied, “I should be happy to send you my piano concerto but for two reasons: first, it is worthless; second, it is most convenient for making my piano stool higher when I am engaged in studying better works.”
Suite for Two Violins
Suite for Two Violins was composed by Moszkowski and arranged for orchestra by Carl Topilow. Rodica Gonzalez and Mihaela Frusina will be performing this highly dramatic piece with Symphony North on our October 15, 2023, concert.
Critics immediately hailed the original suite which Moszkowski arranged for two violins and piano as a spectacular and brilliant work, and for many years it remained one of Moszkowski’s best-known compositions. With the weaving thematic connections between movements, this work is noteworthy for its varied employment of the performing forces. In passages laden with double stops, these 2 violinists will be employed in the manner of a string quartet, while at other points the composition unfolds in the manner of a piano trio.
Accompanied by rippling arpeggios the opening “Allegro energico” presents two highly attractive and yearning melodies, while the ensuing “Allegro moderato” is cast as a lyrical and elegant waltz. An extended cantilena stands at the core of the slow “Lento assai,” with the high-spirited finale engaging a buoyant and playful subject. Tuneful, cheerful, and without pretention, the work was an audience favorite from the very beginning! Sadly, together with Moszkowski’s entire musical output, it eventually disappeared from the concert stage. With the rise of Internet publishing, Moszkowski’s music is gradually making a comeback.
Pablo de Sarasate
Pablo de Sarasate was born in Pamplona, (Navarre) the son of an army bandmaster. Pablo displayed remarkable talent as a violinist at an early age, performing his first public concert at the age of eight in La Coruña (Galicia). His extraordinary talent caught the attention of a wealthy music-loving patron, the Countess of Espoz and Mina. Her financial support eventually allowed young Pablo to move to Madrid to further his studies. The media was already taking notice of his abilities as evidenced in a review by the Gaceta musical de Madrid in 1855:
“Sarasate, infant prodigy, at the age of nine (he was actually eleven) has the talent of a true artist. He has a bright and flawless technique, remarkable intonation, self-assurance on stage, and a wonderful sense of phrasing. He is so natural, exciting the enthusiasm and admiration of the audience, which could hardly believe what they were hearing at the moment.”Gaceta musical de Madrid, 10/06/1855
At the age of 12, his patroness supplied him with a Stradivarius violin as well as the necessary funds to study in Paris, gaining admission to the violin class of Jean-Delphin Alard at the Paris Conservatoire. After only one- and one-half years of study he won the coveted first prize in violin. He gradually gained success as a soloist and by the 1870s was performing in important venues in Europe, England, Scandinavia, North and South America.
On his tours he performed works by other composers, among them music written for him such as the Lalo – Symphonie Espanole, Bruch – Scottish Fantasy, Saint-Saens – Concerto No. 3, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and Havanaise. However a good deal of his concert repertoire consisted of the 54 works with opus numbers that he had written. They all display his incredible virtuosity, with the majority incorporating Spanish folk melodies and dances. They capture some of the essence of Spain and are above all brilliant showpieces to display his beautiful sound, melodic expression, elegant phrasing and technical wizardry. Carl Flesh, the great virtuoso performer and violin pedagogue wrote of Sarasate:
“When all is said and done, he remains one of the greatest and most individual figures of the nineteenth century—the ideal embodiment of the salon virtuoso of the greatest style. The history of violin playing cannot be imagined without him.”
Navarra op. 33 is scored for two solo violins and orchestra. Rodica Gonzalez and Mihaela Frusina will also be performing it with Symphony North on October 15, 2023. It was composed in 1889 and is a tribute to the Province (Navarre) of his birth. It is in the style of a jota, a quick dance with intricate steps, usually in 3/8 time and originating in Northern Spain. The couples dancing wear regional costumes and the traditional music is usually accompanied by castanets. Sarasate’s version of the dance captures its spirit and rhythmic vitality. Gonzalez and Frusina for the most part play in parallel thirds and rhythmic unisons with the orchestra supplying accompaniment. They are showcased in equal measure with numerous harmonics, double and triple stops, tremolandos, left-hand pizzicatos, and a brief duo cadenza. Especially noteworthy is the concluding section with the very ethereal harmonics for both soloists. One can easily imagine the castanets as well as the swirling dancers.
Jean Sibelius, Finnish composer, the most noted symphonic composer of Scandinavia studied at the Finnish Normal School, the first Finnish-speaking school in Russian-held Finland, where he came into contact with Finnish literature and in particular with the Kalevala, the mythological epic of Finland, which remained for him a constant source of inspiration. Although intended for a legal career, he soon abandoned his law studies at Helsinki, devoting himself entirely to music. At first he planned to become a violinist. Under the guidance of Martin Wegelius he composed much chamber and instrumental music.
He adopted the name Jean, which he used throughout his professional career in preference to his baptismal names. In his mid-20s he left Finland to continue his studies in Berlin and Vienna, where his teachers included the composers Robert Fuchs and Karl Goldmark. On his return to Finland a performance of his first large-scale orchestral work, the Kullervo Symphony, created something of a sensation. This and succeeding works, En Saga, the Karelia music, and the Four Legends, established him as Finland’s leading composer. The third of the four symphonic poems in Four Legends is the well-known The Swan of Tuonela. Before the appearance of his Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, the Finnish Senate voted Sibelius a small life pension in recognition of his genius. His tone poem Finlandia was written in 1899 and revised in 1900. Sibelius’ compositions of the 1890s are those of a nationalist composer working in the Romantic tradition. In the first decade of the 20th century Sibelius’ fame penetrated the European continent. The pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni, whose friendship he had made in Helsinki as a student, conducted his Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1901) in Berlin, and the British composer Granville Bantock commissioned his Symphony No. 3 in C Major (1907).
While his inspiration is intimately connected with the Scandinavian landscape, it is not primarily as a nature poet that he is remembered. His achievement both in the symphonic poems and the seven symphonies lies principally in his remarkable mastery of form. For example, the first movement of the third symphony has the clarity of construction of a Haydn or Mozart first movement, yet its organic unity and architecture even surpasses its models. It was in this capacity for organic growth that the secret of his genius lay.
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 43
Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 will be the third piece performed by Symphony North. A critic covering this work’s premiere expressed the opinion that Sibelius’s Second was
“one of the few symphonic creations of our time that point in the same direction as Beethoven’s symphonies.”
Some commentators have underscored the piece’s affinity with the symphonies of Brahms (particularly his Second, also in D major), while others find that especially the finale evokes something of Tchaikovsky. There’s truth in all of this, but in the end, Sibelius marches to his own drummer. Stravinsky once heard Sibelius’s Second Symphony in the company of his teacher, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and reported that Rimsky offered a solitary comment after the performance: “Well, I suppose that’s possible, too.”
Defining Rimsky-Korsakov’s “that” is not so easy. Perhaps he was referring to the restless sense of duality seeming to govern this score. The pastoral sunshine bathing the first movement’s opening is soon swept away by icy winds; perhaps the opposite happens in the third movement, where what one might take as a flurry of snow yields to a shepherd’s call on the oboe—meteorological metaphors are practically de rigueur when discussing Sibelius. Bucolic sections are interrupted by passages that evoke grave concern, or even by terrible outbursts; and these, in turn, are confronted by suggestions of proud defiance and resolute confidence. Perhaps Rimsky was thinking of Sibelius’s distinctive orchestration.