CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Wednesday, December 7, 2011 | 8 PM

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
For the first of its two nights at Carnegie Hall, the London Philharmonic Orchestra is joined by violinist Janine Jansen, whose elegance has made her a hit with audiences since she first rose to fame for her 2005 Four Seasons recording. Together, they perform Mozart’s “Turkish” Concerto on a program that also includes Brahms’s final symphony.
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The Program

MATTHIAS PINTSCHER
towards Osiris

About the Composer


At age 40, German composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher is no longer the youthful prodigy who burst onto the world stage in the 1990s with such seductive, ear-opening works as the ballet Gesprungene Glocken, the expressionist opera Thomas Chatterton, and the equally theatrical Five Orchestral Pieces. Yet he remains a commanding figure in the vanguard of contemporary music, at once deeply engaged with tradition and irrepressibly— almost defiantly—iconoclastic. Pintscher has written in a wide range of genres, from chamber music to the stage, but the orchestra remains his chosen instrument. Among his recent works is the violin concerto Mar’eh, which Julia Fischer and the London Philharmonic Orchestra premiered on September 11 of this year at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland. A resident of New York for the past several years, Pintscher is currently at work on commissions for The Cleveland Orchestra (in partnership with the Vienna Philharmonic) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


About the Work


As its name implies, towards Osiris, is a kind of preparatory sketch for Pintscher’s 25-minute–long Osiris, which Carnegie Hall co-commissioned in 2007 with the Chicago Symphony and London Symphony orchestras. Both pieces, like much of Pintscher’s music, sprang from a specific extramusical impulse—an abstract collage by the 20th-century German artist Joseph Beuys, consisting of irregularly shaped pieces of felt affixed to a bare canvas. Beuys took his cue from the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris, whose body was ripped to pieces by his vengeful brother, scattered far and wide, and lovingly reconstituted by his consort, Isis. In tailoring the myth to his own specifically musical purposes, Pintscher explores a theme that has preoccupied countless composers over the last 60 years: the disintegration and reintegration of musical styles and materials.


A Closer Listen


Ethereal filaments of melody, floating untethered in musical space, whisk us immediately into Pintscher’s distinctive and beguiling sound world. These amorphous motivic fragments—or “pieces of sound,” as the composer called them in an interview—gradually coalesce into more substantial, sustained structures that give the piece its overall shape. Pintscher unites a poetic sensibility with a mastery of the (very large) orchestra and a passion for precision that is reflected in his meticulously notated scores. At the beginning of towards Osiris, for example, the flutes are instructed to play “very high, delicate, and irregular ‘whistletones,’” while the clarinets speak in airy whispers and the brass produce what Pintscher calls “clear noise,” without playing identifiable notes. In the resulting sonic wash, subtle tone colors, fleeting gestures, and persistent rhythms combine and recombine in captivating permutations.


—Harry Haskell

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 


 

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219, “Turkish”

About the Composer


Mozart’s legendary virtuosity on the piano is amply attested. Less well known is that he was also a child prodigy on the violin, the instrument on which his father built his reputation. Leopold, ambitious and domineering, frequently berated young Wolfgang for neglecting the violin. Notwithstanding his brash self-confidence—in one of his cockier moments he boasted post-performance that he had played as if he were “the greatest fiddler in all of Europe”—Mozart never felt as comfortable playing the string instrument as he did the keyboard. Over time, he seems to have given up practicing altogether and took his violin out only in the privacy of domestic chamber music sessions. Irish tenor Michael Kelly attended a quartet party in Vienna at which Mozart played viola to Joseph Haydn’s first violin. He judged that “the players were tolerable,” although “not one of them excelled on the instrument he played.” Even so, Kelly added, “a greater treat, or a more remarkable one, cannot be imagined.”


About the Work


Mozart wrote all five of his violin concertos between 1773 and 1775, while still in his teens. (Three other violin concertos once attributed to him, including the charming “Adélaïde,” are now regarded as spurious.) As concertmaster to Prince-Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg, he was undoubtedly eager to cater to the aristocratic taste for solo violin music. His interest in the instrument was further whetted by the vogue for the violin in Italy, where he had traveled with his father on their grand tour of Europe, and in particular by the bravura three-movement concertos of Antonio Vivaldi. Whether Mozart ever performed his own concertos in public is unknown, but another violinist in the court orchestra, Antonio Brunetti, certainly did. When Brunetti pronounced the original slow movement of K. 219 “too artificial,” Mozart obligingly composed an alternate Adagio (now catalogued as K. 261). 


A Closer Listen


Mozart labeled the concerto’s opening movement Allegro aperto (“open”), an apt description of its exuberant, outdoorsy spirit. The orchestra’s vigorous opening theme, in rising arpeggios, gives way to a more relaxed variant, warmly colored by horns and oboes. The solo violin enters not with the expected flourish, but with a languorous melody set against an accompaniment of rippling roulades. Only belatedly does it launch into a brilliant display of passagework that echoes the bouncy subject presented earlier by the orchestra. The spacious E-major Adagio is equally full of surprises; playful curlicues and dynamic accents contrast with smooth, long-breathed phrases as Mozart ratchets up the harmonic tension. The finale starts out as a stately minuet, but soon takes a livelier turn. Each episode between the statements of the recurring rondeau theme strays farther from the beaten path until the landscape is abruptly transformed and the soloist introduces the exotic, Turkish-flavored melody from which the concerto takes its nickname.


—Harry Haskell 

 

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 


 

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

About the Composer


As an avid student of music history, Brahms was keenly aware of his place in the Austro-German tradition. Haunted by the specter of Beethoven, he destroyed dozens of string quartets before publishing his first work in that genre. Not until his mid-40s did he venture to write his first symphony, and the inevitable well-meant comparisons of his First Symphony to “Beethoven’s Tenth” did little to allay the nagging fear that he was tempting fate. By the mid-1880s, two symphonies and many successful premieres later, Brahms’s niche in the musical pantheon was unassailable. Yet he remained sensitive to criticism and craved the approval of confidants like his erstwhile pupil Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, pianist Clara Schumann, and violinist Joseph Joachim.  


About the Work


The Fourth Symphony was written over two summers in the Austrian village of Mürzzuschlag. Brahms’s mountain retreat was set amid meadows, olive trees, and tree-bowered paths; the mood of his last symphony, however, was far from idyllic. As the composer himself acknowledged, it was a less ingratiating and accessible work than his Second and Third symphonies, both in major keys. He jokingly warned Elisabeth von Herzogenberg that the music might leave a sour taste in her mouth, like the cherries in Mürzzuschlag that never ripened to sweetness. When, after returning to Vienna in the fall of 1885, he and composer-pianist Ignaz Brüll tried out a four-hand version of the symphony on a group of friends, it met with a bewildered and somewhat hostile response. Even Elisabeth failed to muster her usual enthusiasm, writing, “I feel as if this piece is unduly calculated to appeal to the eye of an observer with a microscope at his disposal, as if all its beauties are not visible to the mere amateur.” Yet for all that, the E-Minor Symphony was so well received at its premiere in Meiningen on October 25, 1885, that conductor Hans von Bülow took it on a 14-city tour.


A Closer Listen


Unlike Brahms’s first three symphonies, which end on an optimistic note, the Fourth Symphony is almost unrelievedly dark-minded, opening and closing in the depths of E-minor despond. The billowing waves of thirds and sixths that we hear at the outset of the Allegro non troppo plant the seed from which much of the symphony’s thematic material grows. (Listen for an echo of them in the strings at the very end of the last movement.) After a while, the woodwinds introduce a crisp, dotted-rhythm countersubject of a markedly different character; from then on it’s a fight to the finish, blazing fanfares contending valiantly but vainly with the forces of darkness. Nowhere did Brahms more clearly embrace the Beethovenian concept of the symphony as a titanic struggle, one whose outcome is apparent in the slashing E-minor chords that close the first movement.

As if to make amends, Brahms firmly anchors the Andante moderato in E major, opening with a boldly striding melody in the horns. Yet the movement’s inexorable tread has funereal overtones, and despite its moments of rapturous ecstasy and the tender valedictory at the end, the prevailing mood is one of dogged resolve. In sharp contrast, the C-major Allegro giocoso is a raucous, almost lumpish march. The taut rhythmic motive (short-short-long) that generates much of the movement’s demonic energy is never far from the surface, even in the most winsomely lyrical passages. The Allegro energico e passionato gathers all the strands of this mighty symphonic tapestry together. A progression of eight stentorian chords (similar to the opening that Brahms wrote for the first movement and then discarded) provides the harmonic foundation for a passacaglia-like series of variations shot through with anguish and stoicism. Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick likened this tragic finale to “a dark well,” but added, “the longer we gaze into it, the more brightly the stars shine back.”


—Harry Haskell 

 

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
 

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Sponsored by Deloitte LLP
This performance is part of Carnegie Hall Classics.

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