Concert Program for April 14 and 15, 2012

David Robertson, conductor Leon Fleisher, piano

RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)

Symphonic Dances, op. 45 (1940) Non allegro Andante con moto (Tempo di valse) Lento assai; Allegro vivace Intermission

RAVEL (1875-1937)

Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major (1929-30) Leon Fleisher, piano Scythian Suite, op. 20 (1914-15) The Adoration of Veless and Ala The Enemy God and the Dance of the Spirits of Darkness Night That Glorious Departure of Lolly and the Sun’s Procession

PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

David Robertson is the Beofor Music Director and Conductor. Leon Fleisher is brought to you through the generosity of the Whitaker Foundation as part of the Whitaker Guest Artist Series. The concert of Saturday, April 14, is underwritten in part by a generous gift from Dr. Philip and Mrs. Sima Needleman. Pre-Concert Conversations are presented by Washington University Physicians. These concerts are part of the Wells Fargo Advisors Series. Large print program notes are available through the generosity of Mosby Building Arts and are located at the Customer Service table in the foyer.

David Robertson Beofor Music Director and Conductor A consummate musician, masterful programmer, and dynamic presence, David Robertson has established himself as one of today’s most sought-after American conductors. A passionate and compelling communicator with an extensive knowledge of orchestral and operatic repertoire, he has forged close relationships with major orchestras around the world through his exhilarating music-making and stimulating ideas. In fall 2011, Robertson began his seventh season as Music Director of the 132-year-old St. Louis Symphony, while continuing as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a post he has held since 2005. Robertson’s guest engagements in the U.S. include performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Ensemble ACJW, and the New York Philharmonic, where Robertson is a regular guest conductor. In May 2012, Robertson returns to the Metropolitan Opera to conduct Britten’s Billy Budd with Nathan Gunn and James Morris in the leading roles. Internationally, guest engagements include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, where Robertson appears regularly, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, as part of Music Viva, and several concerts with the BBC Symphony. In addition to his fresh interpretations of traditional repertoire, this season Robertson conducts world premieres of Graham Fitkin’s Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and cellist YoYo Ma; John Cage’s Eighty with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Providence, a newly commissioned work by Dutch composer Klaas de Vries, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; and new works by Yann Robin and Michael Jarrell with the New York Philharmonic. A champion of young musicians, Robertson has devoted time to working with students and young artists throughout his career. On February 5, 2012, he conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a chorus of New York City students in the Carmina Burana Choral Project at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium. The program included Orff’s cantata, as well as new works written by three high school-aged composers based on musical themes of Carmina burana. In March, Robertson led the St. Louis Symphony in a triumphant return to Carnegie Hall. New York Times critic Allan Kozinn wrote of the concert finale, Stravinsky’s The Firebird: “[Robertson’s] tempos were relaxed and often surprisingly (in a good way) fluid, an approach that made the tactile brashness of the ‘Infernal Dance’ and the grandeur of the finale stand out all the more vividly…” and “the ensemble produced a beautifully polished, enveloping sound that captured the work’s mythological magic.”

Michael TaMMaro

Leon Fleisher Whitaker Guest Artist Legendary pianist Leon Fleisher represents the highest standard of musicianship and, at 84 years young, he continues to impart his life-affirming artistry throughout the world, thriving in a sustained career as conductor and soloist, recitalist, chamber music artist, and master class mentor. Fleisher made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1944 and in 1952 became the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium competition, establishing himself as one of the world’s premier classical pianists. At the height of his success, he was suddenly struck silent at age 36 with a neurological affliction later identified as focal dystonia, rendering two fingers on his right hand immobile. Rather than end his career, Fleisher began focusing on repertoire for the left hand only, conducting and teaching. Not until some fifty years later was he able to return to playing with both hands after experimental treatments using a regimen of rolfing and “botulinum toxin” injections. In the upcoming season, Fleisher’s engagements include performances and master classes in Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, France, Taiwan, and Japan, and in halls across the United States. In 2011-12, he has appeared as conductor and soloist with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Toronto Symphony and Radio Philharmonique in Paris, as soloist with the London Philharmonic and Baltimore Symphony, and in recitals and chamber music in New York, Washington, D.C., and Brussels, among other cities. A recipient of numerous honors and awards, he received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 2007 and is the subject of the 2006 Oscar and Emmy-nominated documentary film Two Hands. His recent memoir, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music, co-written with Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette, is published by Doubleday. Most recently, Baltimore philanthropists Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker established the Leon Fleisher Scholars Fund for piano students at the Peabody Conservatory, an endowment of over $1,000,000. Leon Fleisher most recently performed with the St. Louis Symphony in March 2006.

Program Notes

Ideas at Play

Despite differences in harmonic language, the two Russian works on this program share inspiration from dance and elements of grotesquerie. Rachmaninoff’s piece started out as “Fantastic Dances,” and he initially contemplated staging it as a ballet. Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite originated as a ballet for the legendary Russian impresario Sergey Diaghilev and his Paris-based troupe, the Ballets Russes. When Diaghilev rejected the music, Prokofiev salvaged the score by fashioning four substantial excerpts into this dynamic suite. The oversize orchestra calls for unusual instruments such as alto flute, high E-flat trumpet, and a whopping nine percussionists. Scythian Suite’s programmatic movement titles betray its origins for the stage. (Ironically, Rachmaninoff planned a ballet called The Scythians in 1914-15; but no manuscript survives from that projected work.) Ravel composed the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I. Wittgenstein commissioned pieces from many prominent composers of the day. Ravel’s concerto, a jazz-influenced single movement with astounding cadenzas, is arguably the finest of those works.

Serge Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, op. 45
Born: Oneg, Novgorod District, Russia, April, 1, 1873 Died: Beverly Hills, March 28, 1943 First performance: January 3, 1941, in Philadelphia, Eugene Ormandy conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra STL Symphony premiere: April 5, 1968, Abram Stasevich conducting Most recent STL Symphony performance: January 24, 2009, Edward Gardner conducting Scoring: Two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, alto saxophone, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and a large battery of percussion, piano, harp, and strings Performance time: Approximately 35 minutes


In Context 1940 Germany occupies France; Royal Air Force repels German Luftwaffe in Battle of Britain; Walt Disney’s Fantasia released During the summer of 1940, following an exhausting concert season, Serge Rachmaninoff took refuge in Huntington, Long Island, then a bucolic town. He hoped to regain his failing health. The work he composed that summer proved to be his last complete score—and a magnificent swan song it was. Rachmaninoff was deservedly proud, writing excitedly on August 21 to his friend Eugene Ormandy:

PeTer Joslin - arena Pal

Last week I finished a new symphonic piece, which I naturally want to give first to you and your orchestra. It is called “Fantastic

Dances.” I shall now begin the orchestration. Unfortunately my concert tour begins on October 14. I have a great deal of practice to do and I don’t know whether I shall be able to finish the orchestration before November.

By the following week, when Ormandy visited, Rachmaninoff had changed the title to Symphonic Dances. The Music Rachmaninoff flirted with the idea of presenting his new piece as a ballet, but it is essentially a symphonic work that celebrates the lush orchestral palette for which he is celebrated. Nevertheless, vigorous dance rhythms permeate its fabric in all three movements, providing momentum in a whirl of mysterious, compelling sound. A descending triad dominates the first movement. Virtually all the musical material unfolds from it. Rachmaninoff employs a panoply of percussion, woodwind and brass accents amidst the ongoing sweep of the strings. Their parts are notoriously difficult—and with good reason: Rachmaninoff enlisted the assistance of the eminent violinist Fritz Kreisler in editing the string parts, including all bowings. The string presence is a constant factor throughout the Symphonic Dances. A unique stroke is the luscious alto saxophone solo in the more leisurely middle section. The timbre is unusual: peculiarly close to the human voice, and vividly set with clarinet and oboe sharing a transparent accompaniment. The central waltz opens with muted trumpets in an eerie reminder of the composer’s Russian roots. Pizzicato strings establish the ghostly triple meter; a violin solo lends a Gypsy facet to the music. Rachmaninoff focuses on individual instrumental colors, whose chromatic lines often seem like veiled threats undulating beneath the smooth exterior of the waltz. The brasses of the opening measures return periodically, as if to herald the shadowy spirits that seem to underlie this disquieting dance. Metric vacillations from 6/8 and 3/8 to 9/8 add to the haunting character. Rachmaninoff used the medieval Dies irae chant in several compositions. Its presence in the Symphonic Dances finale has been called his last and definitive statement. “Blessed Be the Lord,” a Russian Orthodox chant that Rachmaninoff also used in his 1915 Vespers, appears as an English horn solo. He binds these two ideas together with original music to build to a dynamic close.

Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand
Born: Ciboure, Basse-Pyrénées, France; March 7, 1875 Died: Paris, December 28, 1937 First performance: January 5, 1932, in Vienna’s Grosser Musikvereinssaal; Paul Wittgenstein was the soloist, Robert Heger conducted the Vienna Symphony Orchestra STL Symphony premiere: December 11, 1942, Robert Casadesus was soloist, with Vladimir Golschmann conducting Most recent STL Symphony performance: February 8, 2002, Gary Graffman was soloist and David Robertson conducted at Carnegie Hall Scoring: Three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two B-flat clarinets, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and other percussion, harp, and strings Performance time: Approximately 19 minutes

In Context 1929-30 Stock-market collapse precipitates worldwide economic depression; Gandhi calls for peaceful civil disobedience against British rule; Freud publishes Civilization and Its Discontents Early in the First World War, the young Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein was drafted to serve as a reserve officer in the Austrian army. He was seriously wounded within months, and his right arm had to be amputated. Against all odds, Wittgenstein resumed his career during Ravel the 1916-17 season. Over the next two decades, he commissioned concertos, chamber music, and solo works from many prominent composers, including Strauss, Schmidt, Korngold, Britten, Prokofiev, and Hindemith. All the new repertoire placed formidable demands on left-hand technique. When Ravel met Wittgenstein in Vienna early in 1930, Wittgenstein asked him for a concerto almost immediately. Coincidentally, Ravel was already at work on his G-major Piano Concerto, but he was diverted by the challenge of Wittgenstein’s commission. After intense study of lefthand études by Saint-Saëns, and Godowski’s left-hand arrangements of Chopin’s Études, Ravel set to work, completing the concerto that August. In a famous interview comparing his two piano concertos, Ravel observed:
The concerto for left hand alone is very different. It contains many jazz effects, and the writing is not so light [as the G-major concerto]. In a work of this kind, it is essential to give the impression of a texture no thinner than that of a part written for both hands. For the same reason, I resorted to a style that is much nearer to that of the more solemn kind of traditional concerto.

The Music The Concerto for the Left Hand is a serious and passionate work, vastly different in temperament from the better-known G-major Concerto. The music is alternately tortured and ecstatic, playful and driven. Ravel opens with a murky introduction that sets contrabassoon against lower strings, pitting the keys of E and D against one another. The introduction builds upward to the piece’s first explosive climax, out of which erupts the

first piano cadenza. This kind of abrupt mood swing is characteristic of the concerto, which never relinquishes its grip on us once it has seized hold. The central portion of the concerto is a march/scherzo in 6/8 time with a powerful jazz flavor. Ravel had traveled to North America in 1927 and 1928, where he first heard American jazz on its home turf. Its influence is tangible in both his piano concertos, but the central allegro in the lefthand work is a pinnacle of Ravel’s jazz adaptations. Themes in his scherzo grow out of material from the concerto’s opening section. Listeners may not necessarily perceive Ravel’s metamorphosed themes; however, they are certain to grasp the tragic undercurrent flowing beneath the black humor of this powerful work.

Sergey Prokofiev Scythian Suite, op. 20
Born: Sontsovka, Ukraine, April 23, 1891 Died: Moscow, March 5, 1953 First performance: January 21, 1916 in St. Petersburg; Prokofiev conducted the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra STL Symphony premiere: April 3, 1959, Edouard Van Remoortel conducting Most recent STL Symphony performance: October 8, 1977, Jerzy Semkow conducting Scoring: Three flutes, alto flute, and piccolo, three oboes and English horn, three clarinets, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contrabassoon, eight horns, five trumpets, piccolo trumpet, and alto trumpet, four trombones, tuba, timpani and other percussion, two harps, celesta, piano, and strings Performance time: Approximately 20 minutes

In Context 1914-15 Assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, in Sarajevo, triggers World War I; Germany declares war on Russia; Russian composer Alexander Scriabin dies The ballet that never happened. Ala and Lolly, Prokofiev’s first ballet, was never produced. Hard to fathom, given that his Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella are among the most beloved ballets. Those are late works, however, from the 1930s and 1940s, Prokofiev respectively. Ala and Lolly was early, rough-hewn, and ultimately nixed by Sergey Diaghilev, who commissioned it. Scythian Suite is the vestige of Prokofiev’s original score. Upon his graduation from St. Petersburg Conservatory in June 1914, Prokofiev traveled to London. He knew that the Ballets Russes would be performing at the Drury Lane Theatre. Through his friend Walter Nouvel, he finagled an introduction to Diaghilev and played his Second Piano Concerto. Impressed, Diaghilev first proposed a ballet based on the concerto, then decided to commission a new score. With the succès de scandale of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring fresh in his mind, Diaghilev specified a prehistoric Russian topic. Prokofiev received the scenario from the poet Sergey Gorodetzky late in 1914. The story is about Ala, daughter of Veless, the chief sun god. The god of darkness, Chuzhbog, abducts Ala, but when he attempts to force

himself on her, a moonbeam deflects his advances. The daughters of the moon are her protection. Her love interest is the Scythian warrior Lolly, who sets out to liberate her. He is on the verge of losing a heroic battle with Chuzhbog when the sun rises. Powerless against the brilliant light, Chuzhbog capitulates. Ala and Lolly are reunited in a happy ending. So who were the Scythians? Herodotus’s Histories relates the violent tales of the Scythian people. Expelled from Asia, they settled in southern Russia and the Crimea, flourishing from the 7th century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. Archaeologically, little has survived from their culture apart from intricate gold objects, but legend describes them as a savage race. “Scythian” has come to mean warlike or savage. (The Fauvist movement in art is analogous.) After seeing Stravinsky’s Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring in Paris and London, Prokofiev’s interest in ballet was piqued. He acknowledged that he was trying to craft a score along the lines of The Rite. Two of Diaghilev’s associates in Russia were alarmed when they heard Prokofiev play excerpts of Ala and Lolly. They alerted Diaghilev, who summoned Prokofiev to Rome— all expenses paid, and bring the piano score. Diaghilev wined and dined his young guest and showed him the sights, including Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii, and Palermo on the island of Sicily—then announced that Ala and Lolly would not fly. The plot was uninspired and he had reservations about Prokofiev’s score. Diaghilev placated Prokofiev by arranging his international concert debut in Rome on March 7, 1915. Prokofiev returned to Russia with instructions to start over on a different topic. Ala and Lolly was tabled. Determined to rescue the rejected score, Prokofiev worked simultaneously on the replacement ballet for Diaghilev’s 1916 season and a concert version of Ala and Lolly. The result was his four-movement Scythian Suite, which is indebted not only to the atavistic qualities of Stravinsky’s Rite, but also the “Infernal Dance” of Kastchei in The Firebird and the music of the Moor in Petrushka. The Music The score is ablaze with machine music, pounding horses’ hooves, near-constant motion, evocations of war, and nightmarish hallucinations. The third movement, “Night,” shifts to nocturnal music of mystery, perhaps black magic. The blazing triumph of sunlight in the finale is unmistakable. Frederick Stock in Chicago and Serge Koussevitzky in Paris were early champions of Scythian Suite. Critics dismissed it as “brutally realistic,” decrying the score as expressing “a materialism equally as ruthless as Bolshevism.” Today, it sounds profoundly Russian, urgent, packing emotional wallop suitable for the story it relates. Prokofiev’s music fuses the unbridled energy of youth with the roughness of a world at war. Performances are rare because of the difficulty of the score and the enormous size of the orchestra. Scythian Suite is a rare and unusual treat.
Program notes © 2012 by Laurie Shulman

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