Beethoven’s lively 7th Symphony is said to be one of the most perfect symphonies of all time, while Beethoven himself considered it one of his best works. Rounding out the program is Golijovs’ Last Round for String Nonet and Mendelssohn’s popular and largest orchestral work, the violin concerto, performed by Jennifer Frautschi.
For video program notes by Music Director Dan and Principal Viola Robert Elder, click on the Audio/Visual tab
(b. December 5, 1960 in La Plata, Argentina)
Although his name is still unfamiliar to many Osvaldo Golijov is a hot property. Already a MacArthur Fellow (the so-called genius grant), he is regularly programmed by famous groups like the Kronos Quartet and on New Year’s Eve public TV viewers were treated to Yo-Yo Ma premiering Golijov’s composition Azul with the NY Phil. An unusual background exposed him to the diverse elements that make his music compelling. He was born and raised in Argentina by Romanian Jewish parents. Klezmer music at home and tangos on the street were his birthright.
Golijov was thinking of his countryman Astor Piazzolla when he wrote Last Round. Piazzolla was revered in Argentina in his later years and his death in 1992 left the whole country feeling the loss. Golijov’s piece, however, is no memorial. If it is a monument then it honors the pugnacious and earthy man that Piazzolla was. Piazzolla was a master of the bandoneón, an instrument like an accordion, that could voice the sultry eroticism of the tango and was perfectly suited for entertaining clients at Buenos Aires brothels.
About his own work Golijov wrote, “I composed Last Round as an imaginary chance for Piazzolla’s spirit to fight one more time. The piece is conceived as an idealized bandoneón. There are two movements: the first represents the act of a violent compression of the instrument and the second a final, seemingly endless opening sigh. Last Round is also a sublimated tango. Two [string] quartets confront each other, separated by the focal bass, with violins and violas standing up as in the traditional tango orchestras. The bows fly in the air as inverted legs in crisscrossed choreography, always attracting and repelling each other, always in danger of clashing, always avoiding it with the immutability that can only be acquired by transforming hot passion into pure pattern.”
(b. February 3, 1809 in Hamburg; d. November 4, 1847 in Leipzig)
Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Mendelssohn was a child prodigy, in his way more remarkable than Mozart. By the time he wrote his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a teenager, he was in full flower as a composer. In his lifetime, he had tremendous success, most especially in England where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were particularly important fans.
Time passes and reputations change. Because Mendelssohn by temperament wasn’t a revolutionary and had had great success with his style, what few new elements he introduced in his later music were subtle. Contemporaries who pushed the envelope, like Liszt and Wagner, felt he was stuck in the past. Antisemitism reared its ugly head as well. All his inspired music to Christian texts notwithstanding, his Jewish roots followed him and affected his reputation long before Hitler rose to power. In the 1930s the Nazis banned his music outright and even went so far as to convince Carl Orff to write replacement incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Looking back to the 19th century no one much cares anymore who was the newest of the new. Mendelssohn takes his place among Sibelius, Elgar, and even Bach (whose major champion after his death was Mendelssohn) as “rediscovered” composers. Violin virtuosos always held Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto Op. 64 in high esteem, but today we better appreciate how very advanced the work really is and how Mendelssohn adventured in completely new ways.
Mendelssohn began work on the concerto in 1838 and from the beginning consulted his violinist friend Ferdinand David. Demanding virtuoso concertos had previously been written by virtuosos of the instrument, like Beethoven on piano and Paganini on violin. Mendelssohn’s collaboration with David was the first of its kind and was a model for future composers.
Work stalled because of unpleasant duties as director of the Academy of Arts until Mendelssohn resigned his position in 1844. The bulk of the composing got done on his summer holiday that year. He dedicated the work to David who premiered it in 1845.
A murmur of chords from the orchestra and the soloist launches into the main theme. No one had done this in a violin concerto before, although Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto begins similarly. The cadenza breaks ground as well. Not only is it in the “wrong” place (before the recapitulation), but it is written out in the score. Up to that time soloists usually improvised cadenzas. As soloists became less accomplished at improvisation, other composers would often write cadenzas for older works. Even Beethoven’s famous violin concerto is usually performed today with cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler.
Noteworthy too is Mendelssohn’s repeated use of the soloist in an accompaniment role, very unusual in a violin concerto in that era.
A single bassoon note is sustained at the end of the first movement eliding into the second movement without pause. In that era applause between movements was usual, even expected. Denied their moment, Mendelssohn’s audience would have been surprised.
The music barely stops as a bridge passage links the middle movement to the last. Effortless and festive, it could be the young Mendelssohn once again. Instead it was his joyful farewell to large works for orchestra. He completed the oratorio Elijah in 1846 and died the year after.
Ludwig van Beethoven
(b. December 16, 1770 in Bonn, d. March 26, 1827 in Vienna)
Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
In the fall of 1811 as Beethoven began working on his seventh symphony in earnest, he was truly at the peak of his career, not just in his reputation as the greatest living composer—that would continue—but he had a few more public appearances as performer and conductor to make before his deafness became too profound. A great mystery in Beethoven’s life is the “Immortal Beloved” he addressed in a letter, apparently written in 1812, found among his papers after he died. A budding love could indeed explain the unbridled exuberance that suffuses Symphony No. 7. For a listener with a romantic nature, that is enough.
The first performance of the symphony was December 8, 1813. It was a special benefit performance that Beethoven himself conducted. The entire concert was a smashing success and was repeated soon after, although the biggest drawing card was his new piece Wellington’s Victory, wildly popular at the time especially as it celebrated final victory over Napoleon, but considered something of a monstrosity today.
Richard Wagner called Symphony No. 7 “the apotheosis of the dance.” Despite a very long, slow introduction—arguably a movement in itself—when at last the introduction finally wends its way to its end through F major to E—just the note, over and over again, fraught with tension, the Vivace unleashes frenetic dancing movement that romps ceaselessly to its final cadence.
The dancing feeling begun in the first movement and that continues through the rest of the symphony is so strong and obvious that it attracted at least two choreographed versions in the Twentieth Century: Isadora Duncan danced it first in 1908 and Léonide Massine created a version in 1938. The theme he acted out in dance was no less than the creation and the destruction of Earth!
The second movement is relatively slow and is marked by a long, two-shorts, two-longs pattern that carries consistently through the rest of the movement. It isn’t a music form (canon, chaconne, etc.) based on repetition, but it reminds one of Pachelbel’s Canon in its ever grander and busier elaboration that occurs over the basic rhythm. Beethoven’s movement is circular: What was wound up, winds down, the unadorned figure returning once more for a gentle ending.
The third movement, a scherzo in F major, bounces along with gay simplicity. The slower trio section in D major quotes an Austrian pilgrims’ hymn. The scherzo returns but Beethoven is not finished! He repeats the trio and scherzo again and seems to begin the trio a third time, finally in F major. He was teasing. Five decisive chords and we are through.
Massine called his dance to the last movement, “Bacchanale,” a good choice. It careens along, with themes tossed from key to key. After the final onslaught, did our Earth survive? We feel a little unsteady as we look around to see what is left.
(c)2014 by Steven Hollingsworth, Creative Commons Public Attribution 3.0 United States License.
Avery Fisher career grant recipient violinist Jennifer Frautschi has gained acclaim as an adventurous performer with a wide-ranging repertoire. As the Chicago Tribune wrote, “the young violinist Jennifer Frautschi is molding a career with smart interpretations of both warhorses and rarities.” Equally at home in the classic repertoire as well as twentieth and twenty-first century works, in the past few seasons alone she has performed the Britten Concerto, Poul Ruders’ Concerto No. 1, Steven Mackey’s Violin Sonata, and Mendelssohn’s rarely played d minor Concerto, along with standards such as the Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Berg Concerti.
Ms. Frautschi has created a sensation with appearances as soloist with Pierre Boulez and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Christoph Eschenbach and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, and at Wigmore Hall and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. She has also soloed in recent seasons with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Kansas City Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, San Diego Symphony, and Seattle Symphony, and toured the United States with the Czech Symphony Orchestra.
Selected by Carnegie Hall for its Distinctive Debuts series, she made her New York recital debut in 2004. As part of the European Concert Hall Organization’s Rising Stars series, Ms. Frautschi also made debuts that year at ten of Europe’s most celebrated concert venues, including London’s Wigmore Hall, Salzburg Mozarteum, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Vienna Konzerthaus, and La Cité de la Musique in Paris. She has also been heard in recital at the Ravinia Festival, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, Washington’s Phillips Collection, Boston’s Gardner Museum, Beijing’s Imperial Garden, Monnaie Opera in Brussels, La Chaux des Fonds in Switzerland, and San Miguel de Allende Festival in Mexico.
Ms. Frautschi’s 2011-12 highlights included the world premiere of James Stephenson’s Violin Concerto, a piece written for her, with the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä; the Barber Concerto with the orchestra of the Teatro di San Carlo Opera House in Naples, James Conlon conducting; and the premiere of Les Bijoux, a violin concerto by Richard Aldag, with the Napa Valley Symphony. As chamber musician she appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Boston Chamber Music Society and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and perform on all-gut strings with period instruments at DaCamera of Houston and the Helicon Foundation in New York.
She has performed with the Phoenix Symphony and Rhode Island Philharmonic, as well as appearanced with the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais in Brazil, at the Britt Festival in Oregon, and with the Eugene, Jacksonville, and Sarasota Symphonies. She also appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Boston Chamber Music Society, and Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. 2009-10 highlights included opening night with the Utah Symphony, as well as appearances with the Pasadena and Toledo Symphonies, the Buffalo and Boulder Philharmonics, and the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie in Germany. She toured England with musicians from Prussia Cove, culminating with a concert in London’s Wigmore Hall, and premiered a new piece by Mason Bates at the inaugural season of the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota.
As a chamber artist, Ms. Frautschi performs often at the Boston Chamber Music Society, Caramoor (where she has appeared annually since she was first invited there at the age of 18 by Andre Previn), Chamber Music Northwest (in Portland, OR), and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Formerly a member of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two, she is a frequent guest at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. She has also appeared at the Charlottesville, La Jolla Summerfest, La Musica (Sarasota), Moab, Music@Menlo, Newport, and Seattle Chamber Music Festivals, as well as at New York’s Metropolitan and Guggenheim Museums of Art, the 92nd Street Y, and Mainly Mozart in San Diego. Internationally, she has performed at the Cartagena International Music Festival in Columbia, the Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds and Rome Chamber Music Festival in Italy, Pharo’s Trust in Cyprus, Kutna Hora Festival in the Czech Republic, St. Barth’s Music Festival in the French West Indies, and Prussia Cove in England. She has premiered important new works by Mason Bates, Oliver Knussen, Krzystof Penderecki, Michael Hersch, and others, and has appeared at New York’s George Crumb Festival and Stefan Wolpe Centenary Concerts.
Her growing discography includes three widely-praised CDs for Artek: an orchestral recording of the Prokofiev concerti with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, and highly-acclaimed discs of music of Ravel and Stravinsky, and of 20th century works for solo violin. She has also recorded several discs for Naxos, including the Stravinsky Violin Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by the legendary Robert Craft, and two GRAMMY-nominated recordings with the Fred Sherry Quartet, of Schoenberg’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra [nominated for ‘Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (with Orchestra)’ in 2006] and the Schoenberg Third String Quartet [nominated for ‘Best Chamber Music Performance’ in 2011]. Her most recent releases are a recording of Romantic Horn Trios, with hornist Eric Ruske and pianist Stephen Prutsman, on the Albany label (fall 2010) and Stravinsky Duo Concertant with pianist Jeremy Denk on Naxos (spring 2011).
Born in Pasadena, California, Ms. Frautschi began the violin at age three and was a student of Robert Lipsett at the Colburn School for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. She subsequently attended Harvard, the New England Conservatory of Music, and The Juilliard School, where she studied with Robert Mann. She also studied the clarinet with Richard Meyer. She performs on a 1722 Antonio Stradivarius violin known as the “ex-Cadiz,” on generous loan to her from a private American foundation.
Video program notes
Portland Youth Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra performance of Golijov’s Last Round for String Nonet
Midori (violin) and Berlin Philharmonic performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto
Excerpt from BBC Proms 2012 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7