About the Composer
Sean Shepherd has quickly gained admiration and return engagements with major ensembles and performers across the US and Europe. In recent years, his work has been performed by the National, BBC, and New World symphony orchestras, at festivals in Aldeburgh, Heidelberg, La Jolla, Lucerne, Tanglewood, and Santa Fe, and by leading European ensembles including Berlin's Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, Amsterdam's Asko|Schönberg, and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. A growing list of conductor-champions includes Oliver Knussen, who led the premiere of Wanderlust with The Cleveland Orchestra in 2009; Alan Gilbert, who led the premiere of These Particular Circumstances, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the inaugural season of CONTACT! in 2010; and Susanna Mälkki, who premiered the Ensemble Intercontemporain-commissioned Blur in Paris and Cologne in 2012.
Shepherd maintains a busy schedule as an emerging voice in the orchestral world with new works scheduled for several renowned American groups. He continues as the Daniel R. Lewis Composer Fellow of The Cleveland Orchestra, for whom he composed a new work that Franz Welser-Möst and the ensemble premiered in April 2013. In March 2013, the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble premiered a new piece at various New York venues. He will also compose a new work for the New York Philharmonic, to be performed in 2013-2014, in response to being named the Kravis Emerging Composer.
Shepherd's education includes degrees in composition and bassoon performance from Indiana University, a master's degree from The Juilliard School, and doctoral work at Cornell University with Roberto Sierra and Steven Stucky. He lives in New York.
In the Composer's Own Words
In anticipation of my new piece for NYO-USA on its inaugural season and tour with maestro Gergiev, my thoughts very naturally drifted eastward. In writing a piece to precede two pillars of the Russian repertoire, and to be performed in cities in Russia, I immediately thought of so much music that I adore in the great tradition of the Russian overture-from Ruslan and Lyudmila and Romeo and Juliet by Glinka and Tchaikovsky, through those of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and many of the 20th century, including Shostakovich's Festive Overture. I also find myself drawn to a specifically Russian sense of magic—or magiya—in the stories, folklore, and literature (old and new) of the place, a kind that often gets no explanation or justification; a "normal," everyday magic. When these tales find their way to the stage (as, for example, in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel and Stravinsky's Petrushka) some of most colorful and most exotic—and some of my favorite—music of the age is the result.
Magiya is a celebration of a wonderful new orchestra and an exciting tour, and a humble nod to a brilliant musical tradition.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
About the Composer
For all Tchaikovsky's heart-on-sleeve Romanticism and his intimately revealing correspondence with his patron and confidante, Nadezhda von Meck, much about the man and his music remains enigmatic. The composer's characteristically ecstatic effusions masked an inner life racked by anguish and self-doubt. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, he produced a string of sunny and extroverted works, including the brilliant Violin Concerto, the tub-thumping 1812 Overture, and the incandescent Serenade for Strings. Yet the same period saw the composition of the Fourth Symphony, with its portentous fate motif, and the opera Eugene Onegin, the tragic overtones of which mirrored the homosexual Tchaikovsky's unhappy marriage. By the time he appeared on the podium at the opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891, he was one of most celebrated musicians in the world. Two years later, shortly after conducting the premiere of his "Pathétique" Symphony, he died under mysterious circumstances. Endowed with a sensibility at once poetic and conservative—Mozart was one of his favorite composers—Tchaikovsky sought what he called "the higher artistic truth which springs from the mysterious depths of man's creative power and pours out into clear, intelligible, conventional forms."
About the Work
Tchaikovsky dashed off the original version of his Violin Concerto in less than a month in the spring of 1878. "Ever since the day when the auspicious mood came upon me, it has not left me," he enthused to Mme. von Meck. "In such a phase of spiritual life, composition completely loses the character of work; it is pure enjoyment." The concerto was written for a former pupil of the composer named Yosif Kotek, with whom he had a close and possibly intimate relationship. Anxious to avoid any appearance of impropriety, he dedicated the work to the virtuoso Leopold Auer, who disappointed him by pronouncing the fiendishly difficult solo part "unviolinistic" and declining to perform it. Although Auer offered to help revise the score, he procrastinated so long that Tchaikovsky, in a huff, awarded both the dedication and the honor of the first performance to Adolph Brodsky. The long-delayed premiere took place in Vienna on December 4, 1881. Years later, Auer made amends: He not only championed the concerto tirelessly in the concert hall (in the much-revised version that he had promised to make earlier), but ensured that it would become a mainstay of the violin repertoire by teaching it to Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifetz, and other up-and-coming virtuosos.
A Closer Listen
The gently lilting tune that the first violins play at the beginning of the Allegro moderato is a red herring: Almost immediately a drumroll ratchets up the tension, as an embryonic D-major theme emerges in a series of short syncopated phrases. The solo violin enters in its lowest register, stretches its wings in a graceful arpeggio, then settles down to develop the theme in a warmly lyrical fashion. The music grows steadily more virtuosic, with the syncopated melody reappearing in various guises, now accompanied by a majestic brass fanfare, now embedded in a delicate skein of violinistic filigree. A brilliant cadenza seems to portend the movement's imminent end, but instead of the quick wrap-up we expect, Tchaikovsky treats us to an extended synopsis of the Allegro, culminating in a scintillating stretto.
The relaxed Canzonetta, with its sultry, Slavic-inflected theme in G minor, provides a welcome respite from the supercharged intensity of the concerto's outer movements. A quizzical half-step figure at the end effects a seamless transition to the spitfire Finale. Once again, as at the beginning of the work, the soloist enters unaccompanied. After warming up on material the orchestra has just presented, the violin dashes off in a double-time sprint in the home key of D major, alternating with contrasting passages in A major. The music periodically runs out of energy, then winds itself back up and continues on its way, until finally Tchaikovksy calls a halt to the proceedings, and both orchestra and soloist stop short on a dime.
© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation
Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93
About the Composer
Shostakovich occupies a special niche in the annals of 20th-century Russian music. Unlike Stravinsky and Prokofiev, he didn't come of age before the Bolshevik Revolution and immerse himself in Western culture. And unlike younger composers such as Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina, he didn't live to see the fall of the regime that had muzzled artistic expression under the banner of socialist realism. Outwardly, Shostakovich remained a loyal citizen of the Soviet Union, alternately lionized and demonized by the Communist Party's cultural apparatchiks. Throughout his life, the highly strung composer played an elaborate game of feint and attack with the authorities, cannily balancing his more abrasive, cutting-edge music with a stream of reassuringly patriotic and artistically conservative works. His output veers wildly between mordent satire (the opera The Nose and the ballet The Age of Gold), patriotic bombast (the Second Symphony and the symphonic poem October, both eulogizing the 1917 Revolution), and bleak alienation (almost any of his 15 string quartets). Fundamentally tonal but laced with dissonant harmonies and kinetic energy, Shostakovich's music epitomizes the turbulent, existentialist spirit of the so-called Age of Anxiety.
About the Work
In the political thaw that followed Stalin's death in March 1953, Shostakovich reached a precarious entente with his political overseers, who needed the world-famous composer's support almost as much as he needed theirs. He devoted that summer and fall to writing his first symphony in eight years. In its somber and often acerbic tone, Shostakovich's 10th Symphony departs radically from the uplifting bromides of socialist realism. Its premiere on December 17, 1953 by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Evgeny Mravinsky, one of Shostakovich's staunchest allies, ignited a debate between hard-line partisans of cultural orthodoxy and newly emboldened progressives. The ideological dispute became so heated that the composer Aram Khachaturian felt obliged to mount a convoluted defense of the Symphony No. 10 as "an optimistic tragedy, infused with a firm belief in the victory of bright, life-affirming forces." The controversy put paid to Shostakovich's hopes of winning the coveted Stalin Prize for the symphony. Instead, he was awarded the title "People's Artist of the USSR," an honor shared with his nemesis Tikhon Khrennikov, the powerful head of the Soviet Composers' Union.
A Closer Listen
Structurally, Shostakovich's 10th Symphony is decidedly unorthodox, with a massive, darkly brooding first movement followed by three faster movements of a predominantly bright and outgoing character. The opening Moderato—which is almost as long as the other three movements combined—traces a gigantic arc, arising from serpentine slitherings in the lower strings and fading away to the airy tweeting of a piccolo, like a solitary bird fluttering out of sight. Near the beginning, a solo clarinet introduces the simple, lullaby-like tune that will become one of the movement's principal building blocks. But Shostakovich's conception of the symphony is essentially dramatic, a struggle of opposing forces: Tenderly lyrical passages, often twinning woodwinds in transparent two-part counterpoint, contrast and contend with displays of brassy Brucknerian grandeur, intermittently punctuated by moments of triadic repose.
The tautly wound, scherzo-like Allegro uses highly compressed rhythmic and melodic cells to conjure a mood of fierce bacchanalian frenzy. In the third-movement Allegretto, a dainty, mincing melody for the strings is transformed into the first of many statements of Shostakovich's four-note musical monogram, D, E-flat, C, B (the first letters of his name spelled in German musical notation); listen for it near the beginning in the little trio for flute and clarinets. The movement is further inscribed with name of Elmira Nazirova, a former student for whom the composer seems to have carried a torch; her five-note motif (E, A, E, D, A) is repeatedly punched out like a clarion call by the French horn. After a flowing Andante introduction, the final Allegro takes off lickety-split, pauses for a unison statement of the Shostakovich motif by the full orchestra, then drives on at full throttle to the final explosive E-major chord.
© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation