Performance Sunday, May 20, 2012 | 3 PM

The MET Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Please note that David Robertson has graciously agreed to replace James Levine for this performance. Maestro Levine has cancelled this and all conducting engagements through the 2012–2013 season.

Last season at Carnegie Hall, Christian Tetzlaff joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra as soloist for all three works on a dazzling program The New York Times called “triumphant” and “masterful.” The luminary violinist takes center stage with David Robertson and The MET Orchestra on a concert that includes music by Mozart, and violin concertos by Schoenberg and Mendelssohn.
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The Program


Adagio in E Major, K. 261

Mozart wrote all five of his violin concertos as a teenager in his native Salzburg between 1773 and 1775. The Adagio in E Major, K. 261, though performed today as a stand-alone piece, was written in 1776 as a replacement slow movement for the Violin Concerto No. 5, whose original slow movement is also an adagio in E major. The impetus for K. 261 was almost certainly the arrival of the famous Italian violinist Antonio Brunetti, who succeeded Mozart as concertmaster of the Salzburg court orchestra and who supposedly found Mozart's original slow movement to be "too serious." (Mozart's other two single movements for violin and orchestrathe Rondo in B-flat Major, K. 269, and the Rondo in C Major, K. 373were also written for Brunetti as replacement concerto movements, likely for Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 1 and a concerto by a now unknown composer, respectively.) This replacement Adagio must surely have been straightforward and untroubled enough for Brunetti: Its breathy, songlike nature provides the soloist with a vehicle to display his most ravishingly lyrical playing.

Jay Goodwin

Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64

In the long, astounding history of musical child prodigies, Mendelssohn towers above the vast majority and has few, if any, equals; a strong argument can be made that Mendelssohn's early accomplishments surpass even Mozart's. So although he was just 36 years old when his Violin Concerto received its premiere in 1845, Mendelssohn was already tremendously accomplished and firmly established as one of the world's finest composers, conductors, and pianists. (Indeed, this concerto would sadly turn out to be his last large orchestral work; he died two years later.) Among the many advantages and privileges he enjoyed from his exalted status was a captive and superlative ensemble with which to rehearse, refine, and perform his new worksthe Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which he took over as conductor and manager in 1835. One of his first acts as leader of the Gewandhaus was to appoint his friend Ferdinand David concertmaster, a favor David repaid handsomely through years of correspondence and collaboration with Mendelssohn on this concerto, for which David offered much valuable advice about the technical abilities and limits of the violin, as well as a few important revisions.

Along with recognition as one of the all-time great prodigies, Mendelssohn also shares something less desirable with Mozart: a history of receiving misguided, unfair criticism for writing music that is "too perfect," so smooth and flawless in its craftsmanship that it lacks the heart and soul only imbued in a work by the struggles of its creator. Mozart's music has, for the most part, finally shrugged off that ridiculous label and is regarded with an appropriate amount of delight and awe from the modern listener. Mendelssohn has not been so lucky, and his music is still woefully underperformed in proportion to its merit. The Violin Concerto, a work that happily receives due admiration, exemplifies Mendelssohn's particular brand of magic and proves such complaints unfounded.

Admittedly, the technical proficiency on display here is prodigious. Across its approximately 28-minute length, the E-Minor Concerto is absolutely seamless, an effect Mendelssohn achieves not only by connecting all three movements so they run together without pause, but also by weaving together the various sections within each movement through a series of ingenious yet understated compositional devices. Take, as just a few representative examples, the lack of a long orchestral introduction before the entrance of the soloist; the placement of the cadenza in the middle rather than at the end of the first movement; and the integrated rather than flashy and distracting nature of that cadenza, as well as how its tail end continues beneath and melds with the re-entry of the orchestra, avoiding what in so many other composers' concertos becomes a prosaic, clunky moment of linkage. These wonderful moments of compositional skill are fascinating, but it is a mistake to focus on them. More important is the infectious energy, a procession of achingly beautiful melodies, and a range of genuine emotion that Mendelssohn places within this exquisite framework. From the ardent passion of the first movement, through the touchingly melancholic Andante, to the fleet-footed exuberance of the finale, the concerto hums with life. Anyone who can't hear the beating heart of this music through its technical flourishes simply isn't listening.

Jay Goodwin


Violin Concerto, Op. 36

The fact that so many great composers died tragically young makes it all the more interesting to study the stylistic evolution of the music by those lucky enough to live long lives. Schoenberg is one of the most fascinating of all. He lived to be 76, and his lifespan encompassed arguably music history's most turbulent years. When Schoenberg was born, Wagner was still hard at work trying to build his custom-designed theater in Bayreuth, and Brahms had yet to complete his First Symphony. By the time he was in his mid-20s, those great masters of Romanticism were dead, replaced at the heart of Austro-German music by Mahler (who became a great supporter and patron of Schoenberg) and Richard Strauss, both of whom further stretched but didn't fully break away from established forms and methods of tonality and musical expression. During his early years, up through most of the first decade of the 20th century, Schoenberg largely wrote musicsuch as Verklärte Nacht and Gurreliederthat, though distinctive and highly accomplished, was much in the same mold as those great late-Romantics.

It was in the 1910s that Schoenberg made the revolutionary musical leap for which he is most remembered, advocating for and writing music that completely abandoned the traditional harmonic system and allowed all 12 standard tones to be used freely at any time and with equal importance. He called it the "emancipation of dissonance," and the concept, in its many variations and guises, has been at the heart of musical discussion and a matter of endless debate ever since. It is important to remember, however, that although Schoenberg was the first of the atonal composers, he was never the most extreme or the most pedantic. His music is not cold or lifeless, and it always shows traces of Schoenberg's Romantic roots. He left old methods behind not as an academic exercise, but because he believed it was necessary in order for musical expression to keep pace and retain its relevancy in the modern world. He also didn't forsake his earlier work after venturing into atonality. "For the present, it matters more to me if people understand my older works," Schoenberg wrote in 1923. "They are the natural forerunners of my later works, and only those who understand and comprehend these will be able to gain an understanding of the later works that goes beyond a fashionable bare minimum. I do not attach so much importance to being a musical bogey-man as to being a natural continuer of properly understood good old tradition!"

Like all artists in the first half of the 20th century, Schoenberg's life and work were profoundly affected by the World Wars. He served briefly in Austria's army reserve during World War I, and though his physical frailty kept him off the front lines, the disruption of his life and the country's cultural activities meant that his musical output slowed to a trickle during the war years. The 1920s were productive, but when trouble began brewing in the early 1930s, Schoenberg joined the flood of artists leaving Austria and Germany to escape the Nazis. He emigrated to the United States in 1933, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where he would spend the rest of his life.

The Violin Concerto was completed in 1936, and was one of the first major works Schoenberg wrote in America, as well as one of his first 12-tone works following a few years spent revisiting tonal methods. For performers, it has a well-earned fearsome reputation. Schoenberg recognized what he was asking of the soloist: "[It] is extremely difficult, just as much for the head as for the hands. I am delighted to add another 'unplayable' work to the repertoire. I want the concerto to be difficult and I want the little finger to become longer. I can wait." He didn't have to wait long. The concerto received its premiere in 1940 with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Louis Krasnerwho also premiered Berg's Violin Concertoas soloist.

The Violin Concerto is in three movements with the traditional fast-slow-fast tempo structure. Despite its foundation on a single tone row and extensive use of 12-tone techniques, the music is thoroughly enjoyable without any technical knowledge of its construction. According to conductor and musicologist Robert Crafta specialist known for his expertise in the music of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and the other composers of the Second Viennese Schoolthe Violin Concerto "should be approached as essentially a work of melodic development and variation. Its phrase-lengths and shapes, tempo contrasts, rhythmic figurations, repetition, metric variation (2/2, 3/4, 2/2), melodic structure-even, to some extent, the treatment of the orchestra-are extensions of the language of Brahms." The sonorities, especially, are a source of continual interest, ranging from spare to lush and hazy to intensely focused; moments of grating dissonance are purposeful and infrequent. And for all its devilish difficulty for the soloist, the piece does not give the impression of being solely focused on pushing the limits of the instrument. For all these reasons, the Violin Concerto is one of the finest encapsulations of Schoenberg's personal brand of atonal compositionexpressive and wide-ranging, informed and inspired by the long Austro-German musical tradition, and infused below the surface with lyricismand, perhaps for that reason, was the composer's own favorite of his orchestral works.

Jay Goodwin


This performance is part of The MET Orchestra, and Instrumental Sampler - Students.