“To Tell A Story” – Café Ludwig, May 19, 2019

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Orli Shaham

The program is all about storytelling in a very direct sense. Obviously any piece of music tells some kind of story, but these are concrete stories in a more literal sense. We’ll start with Alan Ridout’s “Ferdinand the Bull.” I perform it on my kids show Bach Yard a lot, and I decided it was time to introduce adults to it. It’s a great piece of music for the violin and it’s also a fabulous story. The new concertmaster, Dennis Kim will play the violin part and I’ll narrate. Dennis and I had a chance to perform the piece a few months ago for an audience of 3 and 4 year olds and they adored it, so we’re very excited to bring it to the Café Ludwig audience.

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Meredith Crawford

Then we have the two Songs for Voice, Viola, and Piano, Op. 91 of Brahms; these are really two of my favorite pieces ever. You need a very special violist to pull them off, and since we have Meredith Crawford as the Pacific Symphony’s principal viola now, I knew it was time to program these. In a way, they are lullaby songs, about a longing that has been assuaged. But in typical Brahmsian fashion, they’re both a lullaby for a small child and also a farewell at the end of a life, a combination of two kinds of goodbyes. They’re very powerful songs. We have an incredible mezzo-soprano, Kirstin Chávez, coming to sing with us. She’s worked with Pacific Symphony before, and I’m looking forward to working with her. After intermission, she’ll sing a touching collection by Benjamin Britten called “A Charm of Lullabies.”

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Dennis Kim

We’ll finish the program with Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale” in the trio version for clarinet, violin and piano, with Dennis Kim and Joe Morris, the wonderful principal clarinetist of Pacific Symphony. In this case I’ll be telling the story verbally as well as musically at the piano, as well as narrating it. This is, like “Ferdinand,” a very direct and programmatic storyline. It’s a piece with great virtuosity and myriad musical colors. Overall, the program is full of interesting and varied stories and shows off some of our best Pacific Symphony musicians.

 


– Orli Shaham, pianist, curator and host of Café Ludwig

To find information on this concert, or to purchase tickets, visit the concert page here.

Know Before You Go…

Our program note annotator Michael Clive writes about the guitar’s most famous work, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. After reading about this beautiful piece, listen to Pablo Villegas playing the exquisite slow movement.


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Bust of the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, with an image of his wife, the pianist Victoria Kamhi, in the background. España Park, Rosario, Santa Fe Province, Argentina.

So many of classical music’s great geniuses led tragically short lives—Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Bizet all died in their 30s—that when we encounter those blessed with longevity, we rejoice. The Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, though blinded by diphtheria at age 3, lived to be 98. He credited the apparent calamity of his illness for his lifelong involvement in music.

Rodrigo made rapid progress at the conservatory in Valencia, graduating early and going on to Paris, where he studied with Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique. But while he absorbed the elements of French style and refinement, his music remains Spanish to its very core. With Manuel de Falla (b. 1876) and Enrique Granados (b. 1867), Rodrigo was central to the flowering of musical creativity that raised the prominence of Spanish music in the 20th century. These composers burst upon the music world like a new discovery, though their cultural lineage extended back centuries. Musicians and audiences greeted them like long-lost brothers, but their distinctively Iberian sound, drenched in folk melodies and in the traditions of Spanish church music of the Baroque period, was like nothing to be heard in the rest of Europe.

While Manuel de Falla gained renown for ballet scores that traveled with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Granados’ orchestral and piano compositions earned their standing as repertory staples (and his opera Goyescas in opera houses including New York’s Metropolitan), Rodrigo became known for his remarkable concertos. They reflect the Spanish affinity for the guitar; the two best-known examples, his Fantasy for a Nobleman and the Concierto de Aranjuéz, are both for that instrument. But there are other notable examples, including a spectacularly original concerto for harp. Rodrigo composed the Fantasy for a Gentleman in 1954 for Andrés Segovia, and though it is often mistakenly associated with Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme—inspiration for many musical adaptions—the gentleman of Rodrigo’s title is actually Segovia himself. But the Concierto de Aranjuéz remains his most popular and widely performed composition.

Inspired by the gardens at the Palacio Real de Aranjuéz, the concerto opens with two themes in alternation. As Rodrigo notes, the movement is “animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigor without either of the two themes … interrupting its relentless pace.” Their rhythmic impetus makes the slow hush of the second movement all the more dramatic, with a dialogue between solo instrument and ensemble that is traditional in concertos. The last movement, as Rodrigo notes, “recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar.”

The late George Jellinek—a perceptive musicologist and commentator not inclined to exaggerate—called Rodrigo’s concertos revolutionary, and asserted that their freshness resulted from the composer’s use of the second interval. Even listeners with no musical background are likely to have heard about other harmonic intervals—thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on—but seconds, comprised of two notes that lie next to each other on the piano keyboard, are rarely heard or mentioned. And, yes, we do hear them frequently in this concerto. But are they so fully responsible for the concerto’s distinctive sound? Or do they function more like the rainfall on a streetscape in Paris or at the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, adding a poetic dimension to a scene that is already beautiful?


Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor‑in‑chief for The Santa Fe Opera.

Meet the Bandoneón

Astor_Piazzolla.jpgWhy is there a squeezebox on stage with Pacific Symphony this week? Well, that’s not just any button accordion—it’s a bandoneón, the rich, dark-voiced squeezebox that was born to sing the blues of Buenos Aires: the tango. The bandoneon is a type of concertina popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It’s considered to be the musical heart and soul of the tango.

The famed Argentine-American composer Astor Piazzolla used to tell audiences the instrument’s background by recounting that the bandoneon was invented in Germany to be used as a small organ in churches, but ended up in the brothels of Buenos Aires before moving on to the international tango scene. “Yes, this instrument has had an interesting tour,” Piazzolla would say smiling.

zj1ninl7.jpeg“Sinfonia Buenos Aires,” the final piece on the program (May 2, 3, 4), is by Piazzolla, who was a virtuoso bandoneonista. He wrote a part for himself and, in fact, this sinfonia was accomplished enough to win Piazzolla a scholarship to study in France with noted composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. It was Boulanger who told Piazzolla that his true creative voice was in composing for the bandoneon. He went on to revolutionize the traditional tango into a new style termed “nuevo tango,” incorporating elements from jazz and classical music.

Playing the bandoneon part for these concerts will be Daniel Binelli, direct from Buenos Aires. Binelli is widely acclaimed as the foremost exponent and torchbearer of the music of Astor Piazzolla. Watch this video of Binelli playing, and notice that the instrument when fully open is over three feet wide!


 

– by Jeanne Quill

On the Passing of Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer

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Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer performs at a League Luncheon

It is with deep sadness that I share with you the passing of our beloved Timothy Landauer, Principal Cellist of Pacific Symphony.

As many of you probably know, Tim battled cancer over the last year with great determination and courage. Even as he was in discomfort, he managed to perform at the highest levels during his final appearances with Pacific Symphony. Tim has a teenage daughter who was just accepted to Boston University and his former wife Ana was a Pacific Symphony violinist and current member of the LA Opera orchestra. His mother has been a devoted supporter of and collaborative pianist with Tim, and we share our deepest condolences with all of them. It’s a heartbreaking time for them.

Tim’s family history is fascinating.  His grandfather was a German scientist who fled the Nazis before World War II because he was Jewish. He settled in China but wasn’t allowed to leave for the US. He eventually settled in Taiwan. This move created political difficulties for Tim’s parents, the most severe of which was being forced into slave labor during the Cultural Revolution.

Tim’s father was Associate Principal Cellist of the Shanghai Symphony and his mother was a pianist. Tim’s ability to emigrate from China to the US was expedited by virtue of his winning the Piatigorsky Competition in LA in 1983. He studied with Eleonore Schoenfeld at USC, where he earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and also served for three years as an assistant to the great cellist Lynn Harrell, who joined Pacific Symphony as a soloist during its first international tour in 2006. Tim joined Pacific Symphony in 1995 and was one of Carl’s earliest principal musician appointments. They shared a deep personal bond which one could observe backstage or onstage. They collaborated many times including the Elgar Concerto and Tim’s signature solo work in Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote. 

With Orli Shaham, he collaborated for 11 seasons, performing 28 concerts, 80 rehearsals and 51 pieces as part of the Café Ludwig series. These sold-out concerts were a lovefest between musicians and audience!

We all know that Tim was a beautiful musician, possessing extreme virtuosity, rich tone production, and he was an inspiring leader of his section. It’s hard to imagine life in the orchestra without Tim, but the soaring, soulful beauty of his performances and his delightful, self-deprecating, humble personality will never be forgotten. 

 

Warm regards,

John Forsyte, Pacific Symphony President

Villegas: “5 Life Lessons from Plácido Domingo”

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Pablo Sáinz Villegas & Plácido Domingo

Pablo Villegas, who will be the featured soloist in our upcoming “Master of Guitar” festival on May 2-4, wrote a blog post last year about the inspiration he draws from his relationship with world-renowned opera singer Plácido Domingo.

Villegas touches on finding energy in being passionate about your work, the benefits of continued optimism and how being with loved ones brings happiness. Give it a read on his blog, and we hope to see you at “Master of Guitar”!

 

“L’enfant et les sortilèges” Director’s Note

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“L’enfant” Stage Director Robert Neu

It’s always a little humbling when you’re asked to direct a piece you don’t know. Since I’ve been working in the opera business for a while I pride myself on knowing the repertoire. So when I recently had this happen—with a work by Ravel, one of my favorite composers—I was immediately curious to figure out why this great work had never been on my radar. I quickly figured out it wasn’t that the music is in any way inaccessible. If you love Ravel’s greatest hits—Boléro, Daphnis et Chloe, La Valse—you’ll love this piece. L’enfant is unmistakably pure Ravel! Then could it be the text? But this was written by Colette—that amazing and provocative early 20th century French writer who also penned Gigi and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. (There was even a recent movie about her starring Keira Knightley!)

Maybe it was the subject matter? Let’s see—a charming quasi-fairy tale about a misbehaving young child who has encounters with dancing chairs, a grumpy grandfather clock, and two amorous cats and nurses an injured singing squirrel back to life. What’s not to like about that?

And then I figured it out—why L’enfant is rarely produced: 1) It’s an unusual length. At just 52 minutes, it barely counts as one act in the opera house. So any theater producing it needs to find a companion piece—and there are very few operas of comparable length. 2) Along with eight principal singers covering 21 roles, the piece requires a children’s chorus and an adult chorus, and a sizeable and virtuosic orchestra. 3) L’enfant needs that rare conductor who is equally at home with vocalists and instrumentalists and who has a sense of theater and collaboration.

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Marie-Therese Gauley as the child in “L’enfant’s” original 1926 production

Obviously, none of these have to do with the accessibility, playfulness, joy and depth that this opera provides. So leave it to Pacific Symphony to figure out that this is the perfect piece for an orchestra to program in a situation that is much more flexible, nimble and freewheeling than most opera houses are able to be. And thank you, Pacific Symphony, for inviting me and a first-rate group of performers and designers to have the rare treat to produce this masterpiece, and to have the pleasure of presenting it to your audiences.

You and I—we’re all richer for being able to add L’enfant to our repertoires!

 

– Bob Neu