Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Opus 77/99
Karen Gomyo, violin
Sonata No. 1 for Piano and Violin in G Major, Opus 78
Karen Gomyo, violin
William Eddins, piano
Le Grand Tango
Karen Gomyo, violin
William Eddins, piano
*Indicates approximate performance duration.
Program subject to change.
John Estacio (b. Newmarket, Ontario, 1966)
is a precursor to John Estacio’s opera Filumena
, which had its world premiere in Calgary in February, 2003 – to great critical and popular success. It was presented by Edmonton Opera in 2005. The opera is based on the true story of Filumena Losandro, a young Italian woman who immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s and settled in the Crowsnest Pass. Caught up in the criminal bootlegging life of the family she married into, Filumena became the last woman executed in Canada.
Mr. Estacio has said this about Bootlegger’s Tarantella
: “I wrote this short overture before I started writing the opera, and a few of the themes from this overture in fact ended up in the opera. The first of three themes in this piece is a folk-like melody, which segues into a dance tune that one might hear at a traditional Italian wedding party; and perhaps the wedding band has had one too many of the bootlegger’s brew. The third theme suggests the passionate elements of the story; betrayal, unrequited love, and the despair at the tragic turn of events. Gradually, the music returns to the theme that started off the piece.”
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op.77/99
Dmitri Shostakovich (b. St. Petersburg, 1905 / d. Moscow, 1975)
The story is well known of how Shostakovich’s modernist opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District
was initially well received, but how a short time later it incurred the wrath of Stalin and the Soviet regime. Along with several other composers including Prokofiev, Shostakovich was publicly shamed in 1948 about the composition of “formalist” music, necessitating a letter of apology, among other humiliations.
The problem was that Shostakovich had written a number of works since Lady Macbeth
, and he didn’t dare present them publicly now. Such was the case with his Violin Concerto, Op.77
, written for the great Russian virtuoso David Oistrakh, but now withdrawn by its composer until the times might prove more favourable. Stalin died five years later and by 1955, Shostakovich was ready to bring his concerto, slightly modified and re-published as Op.99, before the public. It premiered on October 29, 1955, with Oistrakh as soloist.
A constantly unfolding song of mourning pervades the first movement from the violin’s first notes. Twice, the music builds to what seems like a passionate climax, only to ebb away again, leaving the violin to continue its unbroken melody. Only for a brief passage in the woodwinds does the violin cease, and when it resumes, double stops and dramatic orchestra underneath again rouse the movement from a quiet cry to a heightened, tense outburst – but it, too, cannot sustain, and with an emphasis on the violin’s upper register, the music dies away as quietly as it began. That mood is immediately eradicated with the mischievous syncopation of the second movement. The violin engages in scurrying horseplay with instruments of the orchestra as a perpetuum mobile
feel dominates this Scherzo. The violin buzzes around the orchestra ceaselessly until the ensemble rises up, trying to shout it down with a quick dance of its own – to no avail. The violin is at it again, and it is only in the movement’s last moments that the violin dances with, not around, the orchestra.
The vast third movement is a Passacaglia, the ground bass of which is stated definitively, with brass and timpani punctuations. The violin, when it finally enters, does so with a soaring, beautifully sad song in the instrument’s upper register. The tender accompaniment builds, as does the violin’s emotional content, until about halfway through the movement. Then, it ebbs away, the violin now almost a whisper as the orchestra underneath is reduced to the lone beats on the timpani. It, too, stops, and the violin commences a long, vast cadenza which increases in both passion and energy, linked without a pause to the final movement – a Burlesca which leaps out of the orchestra as if it had been caged up the moment before. This is a frantic, almost breathless dance with the feel of Jewish folk music to it (Shostakovich was also writing his song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry at the time). Near the end, references to music from the previous movements are heard, while the final measures are a whirlwind tour de force for orchestra and soloist.
Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 1 in G Major, Op.78
Johannes Brahms (b. Hamburg, 1833 / d. Vienna, 1797)
The idea of composing chamber works featuring the violin was one Johannes Brahms had even as a youth. Yet his first attempts came to nothing; dissatisfied with them all, he destroyed them, leaving his G Major Sonata
of 1879 (the same year as the Violin Concerto
) as his official “first.” Like the concerto, it was written for his friend Joseph Joachim, though another violinist figures into its origins as well.
The sonata was written in the months following the death of Brahms’ godson (the youngest of the seven children of Robert and Clara Schumann) Felix. He had hopes of becoming a violinist, but was discouraged in this pursuit by Clara and by Joachim. Brahms eventually set three of Felix’s texts as lieder. Felix died of tuberculosis in 1878 at 24 years old. Yet the work that resulted from this tragedy is not one of mourning, but rather, as musicologist Karl Geiringer was to phrase it, one of “smiling through the tears.” There are elements which unify all three of the sonata’s movements. An important dotted-rhythm idea is heard at the outset of the first and third movements, the same rhythm given different melodic clothes. Likewise, each of these movements contain brief quotes from two Brahms lieder (neither are from Felix Schumann’s songs), Regenlied, Op.59 No. 3
and Nachklang, Op.59 No. 4
. Both use rain as a metaphor, the latter tells of rain concealing and washing away tears.
For much of the opening movement, which the violin dominates thematically, the rhythms of the two instruments do not seem to “line up,” making the moment when they finally do impactful and dramatic. It is a particularly Brahmsian way of creating tension within a work in which the passion is held in check. The middle movement is in ternary form, the outer sections having a songlike nature to them; while the middle recalls the dotted-rhythm idea from the previous movement in what sounds rather like a funeral march. The finale has, aside from its relationship to the opening movement, a sense of both lyrical and rhythmic flow, an apt canvas on which to revisit the “rain” allusion once again.
Le grand tango
Astor Piazzolla (b. Mar del Plata, 1921 / d. Buenos Aires, 1992)
Astor Piazzolla brought the great dance from the slums of his native country – the tango – to a worldwide audience by adapting it to European idioms – what became known as tango nuevo
. After years as a composer and bandoneón player, Piazzolla took formal composition lessons from the famous Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She directed him to stay with the form he knew so well, and he eventually found a compromise, helping to bring the tango to concert stages the world over. Inspired by the cello playing of Mstislav Rostropovich, Piazzolla composed Le grand tango
in 1982, dedicated it to Rostropovich and mailed the score to him. The story goes that Rostropovich had never heard of Piazzolla, and so left the score in a drawer for years. It was first heard, at least in North America, when Piazzolla encountered cellist Carter Brey in 1987 and, impressed with Brey's playing, sent him a copy of Le grand tango
. Brey recognized the importance of the work and performed it shortly after. Rostropovich did eventually discover the piece and in 1990 traveled to Buenos Aires to be coached by Piazzolla on its playing. Rostropovich first performance of the piece was in New Orleans that same year.
Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina arranged Le grand tango
for violin and piano, originally for a 1996 recording by Gidon Kremer. The dance begins passionately in both instruments, with decisive statements of the main melody alternating with more introspective ones. Some dissonant double stops in the violin herald a slower middle section, though the dramatic quotient remains high. The piano has some cross rhythms against the violin’s song, which soars to the instrument’s upper reaches at times. The concluding section is again up tempo, but now with a bit of a cosmopolitan swagger to it – tango is no longer limited to the backstreets of Buenos Aires – now it lights up hot dance clubs and even glitzy ballrooms around the world.
Program notes © 2012 by D.T. Baker, except as noted
William Eddins, conductor & piano
Now in his eighth season as Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, William Eddins has a captivating energy, a magnetic stage presence, and an adventurous musical curiosity that continues to propel the orchestra to unique, new and exciting achievements. His commitment to the entire spectrum of the ESO audience brings him to the podium for performances in every subscription series, as well as for a wide variety of galas and specials.
A distinguished and versatile pianist, Bill was bitten by the conducting bug while in his sophomore year at the Eastman School of Music. In 1989, he began conducting studies at the University of Southern California with Daniel Lewis, and Assistant Conductorships with both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony (the latter under the leadership of Daniel Barenboim) followed.
Bill has many non-musical hobbies including cooking, eating, discussing food and planning dinner parties. He is also quite fond of biking, tennis, reading and pinball. He recently complete building a state-of-the-art recording studio at his home in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wife Jen (a clarinetist), and their sons Raef and Riley.
While conducting has been his principal pursuit, he continues to perform as pianist, organist and harpsichordist. He has conducted the ESO from the keyboard on many occasions, and in 2007, joined then-ESO concertmaster Martin Riseley and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Brahms' Piano Trio No. 1 at a gala concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Winspear Centre. In 2008, he conducted Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for Opéra de Lyon, leading to repeat performances in Lyon, London and at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2010. Other international highlights include a 2009 tour of South Africa, where Bill conducted three gala concerts with soprano Renée Fleming and the kwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra. On May 8, 2012, Bill made his Carnegie Hall debut conducting the ESO at a memorable concert featuring four Canadian soloists, and music by three Canadian composers alongside Martinů's rarely-performed Symphony No. 1.
Karen Gomyo, violin
Born in Tokyo, violinist Karen Gomyo grew up in Montréal and New York. Recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2008, she has been hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "A first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance and intensity". Her engagements as soloist have included performances with the orchestras Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sydney, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, and the National Symphony of Washington D.C. In Europe, she has performed with City of Birmingham Symphony, Royal Scottish National Symphony, Orchestre national de Lille, Scottish Chamber, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Bergen Philharmonic, Norwegian Opera, Salzburg Camerata, Vienna Chamber, and Den Haag Residentie Orkest, among others.
2012-2013 highlights include concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and with the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, Montréal, Phoenix, Atlanta, Colorado, San Diego, Toronto, Detroit, Vancouver, Milan, Sao Paulo, and Sydney. Karen Gomyo is deeply interested in the Nuevo Tango music of Astor Piazzolla, and in 2012, along with several other Piazzolla specialists, she toured a unique program featuring the music of Piazzolla and the classical composers who influenced him. She participates with these artists again at a weeklong festival in Laguna Beach, California in early 2013. In 2008, Gomyo performed at the First Symposium for the Victims of Terrorism held at the United Nations in New York, and in 2009 was the guest soloist for the New York Philharmonic's Memorial Day concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Ms. Gomyo plays on a Stradivarius violin that was bought for her exclusive use by a private sponsor. She lives in New York City.
Ms. Gomyo last appeared with the ESO in October 2011.