Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
Saturday, August 5, 2017 @ 7:30 PM
JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Andrew Tyson, piano
Ticket holders may attend The PreConcert, a free recital in Thomas Hall, which begins one hour before the performance.
RAVEL La Valse
GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5
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Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Premiered December 12, 1920, by the Lamoureux Orchestra of Paris under the direction of Camille Chevillard.
Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, or waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.
This is Ravel’s description of La Valse—which, as even the casual listener can attest, seems to not account for the dark undercurrent of this work! So what is going on? Why would Ravel provide a program that seems incongruent with his own work? The answer to this question can be found in the work’s complicated history. Over the years, Ravel had developed a keen interest (some might call it an obsession) in the Viennese Waltz and the music of Johann Strauss Jr. In 1906 Ravel had begun a tone poem called Wien. Interrupted by other projects (and World War I), Ravel returned to the work in 1919 in response to a ballet commission by Sergei Diaghilev. Many critics have placed La Valse within the context of post-war Europe, with Vienna and the Waltz cast in a dark light. Others see La Valse as a parody—Ravel processing the war’s horrors. Ravel wrote his programmatic ideas in response to these political interpretations, purposely placing the events of his work in 1855—long before the Great War.
When Ravel played La Valse for Diaghilev, the impresario rejected the work as “undanceable,” stating that La Valse is “a masterpiece . . . but it is not a ballet. It is the portrait of a ballet.” Once again, we are left hanging, unsure what to do with this piece. As is so often the case, the simplest reading might be the best. Ravel provides only two clues: the title, and a description of a Waltz scene in Vienna at the height of the dance’s popularity. Might we hear Ravel’s fascination with the Waltz as a cultural expression that encapsulates the totality of its meaning—not just our glamorized portrayal of the Waltz as a cleaned up, Disneyesque experience?
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue
Premiered on February 12, 1924, in New York with Paul Whiteman conducting and Gershwin at the piano.
Gershwin did not know that he was going to write Rhapsody in Blue until his brother Ira read an announcement in the New Tribune about a new type of concert that would include a “jazz concerto” by George Gershwin. As it turns out, Paul Whiteman had made this premature announcement, because he feared that someone else might beat him to punch. Gershwin called Whiteman and agreed to write a work for piano and orchestra that would include jazz elements. Given the short amount of time (four weeks), the composer decided to write a one-movement piece. It all came together for Gershwin during a train ride to Boston. The composer explains: It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang that is often so stimulating to a composer . . . And there I suddenly heard—and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end. . . . I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America—of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.
Pyotr Il'ych Tchaikkovsky (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Premiered on November 17, 1888, in St. Petersburg with Tchaikovsky conducting.
This symphony poses a dilemma. Tchaikovsky did not provide a program for this work. In fact, he made sure that there would be no utterances of anything programmatic. After providing a detailed program for the fourth symphony and writing an overtly programmatic work with his Manfred Symphony, Tchaikovsky wanted to offer a work of absolute music. Of course, musicologists can never take no for an answer, and after some digging, they found Tchaikovsky’s enigmatic notes about his fifth symphony:
Introduction. Complete resignation before Fate—or, what is the same thing, the inscrutable designs of Providence. Allegro. 1. Murmurs of doubt, laments, reproaches against . . . XXX. 2. Shall I cast myself in the embraces of faith??? A wonderful program, if only it can be carried out.
Since we don’t know what the XXX stands for, we naturally like to speculate—is he referring to homosexuality, gambling addiction, or [insert any biographical clues]? The problem is, we are still left hanging, desperately wanting to solve the puzzle of this symphony. In the process, we overlook the freshness and richness of this absolutely riveting work. Maybe we should take our cue from Brahms who made a special effort to hear the work in Hamburg—shortly after its Russian premiere. Over lunch the next day the two composers discussed the piece—and there is no mention of Brahms wanting to know the secret key to the work.
Listening to the symphony without a biographical reading, there is much to enjoy. We are drawn into the musical narrative right from the start with the opening clarinet theme. When the strings enter with the main theme, the movement picks up momentum, and we are treated to one of the most exciting opening movements, partly because of the rich inventiveness found in the perfectly chiseled out themes. The end of the movement is a cliffhanger, pointing at the cyclic nature of the work.
It is actually very easy to follow the narrative of the work. Tchaikovsky is known for his great melodies, and so it comes as no surprise that he uses a motto theme (introduced at the beginning by the clarinet in E minor) to not only unify the work but to transform it in each movement according to the changing events—until it finally appears in radiant E major at the end of the last movement, ushering a joyous ending.
- Siegwart Reichwald
Overture Program Information
Artist Information (Show)
JoAnn Falletta is internationally celebrated as a vibrant ambassador for music, an inspiring artistic leader, and a champion of American symphonic music. An effervescent and exuberant figure on the podium, she has been praised by The Washington Post as having “Toscanini’s tight control over ensemble, Walter’s affectionate balancing of inner voices, Stokowski’s gutsy showmanship, and a controlled frenzy worthy of Bernstein.” Acclaimed by The New York Times as “one of the finest conductors of her generation”, she serves as the Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Brevard Music Center, and music advisor to the Hawaii Symphony.
Ms. Falletta is invited to guest conduct many of the world’s finest symphony orchestras. Recent guest conducting highlights include debuts in Belgrade, Gothenburg, Lima, Bogotá, Helsingborg, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a European tour with the Stuttgart Orchestra, return engagements with the Warsaw, Detroit, Phoenix, and Krakow, Symphony Orchestras and a 13-city US tour with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and James Galway. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2015-16 Season celebrated the 75th anniversary of Kleinhans Music Hall, with major guest artists such as Lang Lang, Chris Botti and André Watts, and works showcasing the hall’s exquisite acoustics.
Ms. Falletta's growing discography, which currently includes over 90 titles, consists of recordings with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Czech National Symphony, English Chamber Orchestra, Lithuanian National Symphony, London Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, Netherlands Radio Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony, Philadelphia Philharmonia, Prague Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Virginia Symphony, and the Women’s Philharmonic. Her recording with the Buffalo Philharmonic and soprano Hila Plitmann of Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man received two GRAMMY Awards in 2009. GRAMMY nominated discs include her recordings with the Buffalo Philharmonic of Tyberg’s Symphony No. 3, Corigliano’s Red Violin, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Strauss’s Rosenkavalier, and Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Song. In her role as Principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra from 2011-2014, Ms. Falletta recorded 6 CDs for the Naxos label returning the orchestra to its renowned recording history.
In addition to her current posts with the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Virginia Symphony, Brevard Music Center, and Hawaii Symphony, Ms. Falletta has held the positions of principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, music director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the Denver Chamber Orchestra.
Ms. Falletta, elected in 2016 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received her undergraduate degree in classical guitar from the Mannes College of Music in New York and her master’s and doctorate degrees in conducting from The Juilliard School.
Hailed by BBC Radio 3 as “a real poet of the piano,” Andrew Tyson is emerging as a distinctive and important new musical voice and has made recital and concerto performances around the globe. Highlights of his solo recitals abroad include Wigmore Hall, Lucerne Piano Festival, Beethovenfest in Bonn, International Music Festival of Colmar, and the Dubrovnik Festival. He also appears as soloist with the Bern Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège. Mr. Tyson appears in the U.S. at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and NDR Hanover Concert Hall, as winner of Juilliard’s prestigious Leo B. Ruiz Memorial Recital, as well as at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Merkin Concert Hall, the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, SILL Music Mondays, FPC Concerts, and as soloist with the Louisville Orchestra and the Owensboro Symphony.
Recipient of a 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Mr. Tyson is Laureate at the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition and the 2013 Queen Elisabeth Competition, and captured First Prize at the 2015 Géza Anda Competition in Zürich, where he was also awarded the Mozart and Audience Prizes. He subsequently appeared throughout Russia with the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra with Vladamir Spivakov. Mr. Tyson has also appeared with the National Orchestra of Belgium under Marin Alsop, the Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Alice Tully Hall, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the North Carolina Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, the Omaha Symphony, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Tyson made his orchestral debut at the age of 15 with the Guilford Symphony as winner of the Eastern Music Festival Competition. After early studies with Dr. Thomas Otten of the University of North Carolina, he attended the Curtis Institute of Music, where he worked with Claude Frank. He later earned his master’s degree and Artist Diploma at The Juilliard School with Robert McDonald, where he won the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition and received the Arthur Rubinstein Prize in Piano.