CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Saturday, December 24, 2011 | 7 PM

New York String Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
For over 40 years, this group of young musicians has been lighting up the holidays with its annual Christmas Eve concert. This season, Jaime Laredo and the New York String Orchestra return with showpieces by Saint-Saëns and Dvorák, and perform favorites by Bach and Mozart.
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The Program

 

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D Minor, BWV 1043

About the Composer


Although no autograph score of BWV 1043 survives, its musical qualities place it among the works that Bach composed around 1730 while living and working in Leipzig. In addition to his duties as cantor at the St. Thomas School and music director of the four city churches, Bach also directed the Collegium Musicum, a professional-level ensemble that performed weekly concerts at a local coffeehouse. Among its members were university students, town musicians, and talented amateurs along with Bach’s own pupils. During his tenure, they gave some 500 two-hour concerts of vocal and instrumental music, including many works that Bach composed especially for the Collegium, such as the well-known “Coffee” Cantata and a bevy of concertos.


About the Music


Bach’s Double Concerto is written for two solo violins, a string orchestra, and continuo instruments; all parts are equally important. The texture in the outer movements of BWV 1043 is generally contrapuntal, meaning that independent musical lines are superimposed, whereas the middle movement is more like an aria, with the solo violins taking up the melody. Unlike concertos from the late-18th and 19th centuries, which showcase a single virtuoso soloist, the Baroque concerto emphasizes the interplay of soloist and group. Unusually, however, the soloists and group in this concerto both have their own distinct material.


A Closer Listen


The opening of the Vivace first movement is a fugal exposition: The main fugue subject is heard in the second solo violin (doubled by the second violins in the string ensemble) with churning accompaniment. A quick trill ends the phrase, and the first solo violin then enters with the fugue subject. It next returns in the basses. Solo interludes, often featuring quick imitative passages between the two violins, alternate with the fugal ensemble (known as the ritornello, because this music returns whereas the episodes present new material).

The slow movement has been described as having a bel canto melody—a term familiar from opera, meaning “beautiful singing,” and distinguished by elegant phrasing and unbroken legato lines. The two violins spin out long, gossamer threads of music; here it is obvious that Bach was an accomplished composer for the lyrical voice as well as a contrapuntal wizard.

The finale is truly orchestral in its dense textures and dramatic interjections. It opens with a close canon: The two violinists enter, staggered, with the same music. At times during the tutti sections, the two violinists actually play an accompanying role.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
Romance in F Minor, Op. 11

About the Composer


Antonín Dvořák was the eldest of eight children born to a Czech butcher and his wife. Recognizing his talent, they sent him off to study the violin, piano, and organ as well as harmony; later, he picked up the viola and became principal violist in Prague’s first Czech theater. In 1871, Dvořák announced himself as a composer in a Prague musical journal: His first works to be performed and printed were songs. The Romance, Op. 11, is one of his most successful early works.


About the Music


The Romance is an arrangement of the slow movement from Dvořák’s 1873 String Quartet in F Minor, which remained unpublished during the composer’s lifetime. Soon after he completed the quartet, Dvořák reset the movement for violin and piano, and also turned out this version for violin and orchestra.


A Closer Listen


The Romance begins with a series of entrances of a lilting melody moving down through the ensemble to the lowest bass. The orchestral texture thickens then thins as the soloist enters with this same graceful theme. A subtle slide to the major mode (and transition to a new color, as the music moves from flats to sharps) ushers in a new melody in the solo violin; the accompaniment retains hints of the original theme. A series of cadenza-like flourishes introduce new tonal areas, none stable. The music continues to slip and slide until finally taking a turn toward the dramatic with a brusque orchestral tutti and foursquare marching rhythm. Both themes then return to restore a sense of melancholy ease.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28

About the Composer


A child prodigy at the piano, Camille Saint-Saëns entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1848 and quickly distinguished himself as an organ virtuoso. From 1852 to 1858, he served as organist at St. Merry, subsequently assuming a prestigious post at La Madeleine, a Roman-styled temple (just north of the Place de la Concorde) originally erected to celebrate Napoleon’s Grand Army and consecrated as a church in 1842. Saint-Saëns continued an active career as a performer, composed much sacred organ and choral music for his own use, and also took up teaching; among his pupils was the young Gabriel Fauré. Although his own compositions tend to be rather conventional, Saint-Saëns introduced to France the innovations of German Romanticism in works by Liszt, Schumann, and Wagner. His best and most characteristic works date from the 1870s and ’80s, a period that encompasses the opera Henry VIII, the Fourth Piano Concerto, the tone poem Danse macabre, and Le carnaval des animaux.


About the Music


The Introduction and Rondo capriccioso was originally composed as the finale of the Violin Concerto, Op. 20. It was premiered as a stand-alone piece on April 4, 1867, by Pablo de Sarasate at the Théâtre de Champs-Élysées with Saint-Saëns himself conducting. Sarasate, to whom the Concerto (and thus the Rondo) is dedicated, was an accomplished violinist and composer born in Navarre, Spain—hence the Spanish flair of Saint-Saëns’s score.


A Closer Listen


As suggested by the title, the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso is in two sections, both of which showcase the virtuoso soloist. The slow introduction ends with a wide-ranging cadenza. After a brief orchestral interlude, the soloist presents the prancing rondo theme, a melody that returns periodically (by definition, a rondo features a catchy melody that alternates with contrasting episodes). This theme contrasts the more lyrical, swaying second theme, which features double stops—chords played by the solo violin.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, “Haffner”

About the Composer


From 1773 to 1780, Mozart was unhappily employed in the service of Archbishop Colloredo and dissatisfied with musical life in his native city of Salzburg. In the summer of 1777, he was actively seeking a new position and so traveled to Munich, Augsburg, and Mannheim. From there, he continued on (at the insistence of his overbearing father) to Paris. Finally in January 1779, Mozart returned to Salzburg; by June 1781, he was unceremoniously dismissed from Colloredo’s service, thus freeing him to pursue his career as a freelance musician in Vienna. Yet he still had ties to Salzburg, including an acquaintance with the Haffner family, for whom the music of the Symphony No. 35 was composed.


About the Music


What would become the “Haffner” Symphony began as a celebratory serenade for the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner in July 1782. Mozart’s father asked his son to compose a symphony for the occasion, but at the time Wolfgang was utterly overwhelmed by work on an arrangement of his opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. “How on earth am I to do so?” he lamented in response to his father’s request. “Well, I must just spend the night over it, for that is the only way; and to you, dearest father, I sacrifice it.” The original serenade included a march, and perhaps a second minuet, but Mozart cut those to create a four-movement symphony first performed in March of 1783. “My new ‘Haffner’ Symphony has positively amazed me,” he wrote to his father upon receiving the score back from Salzburg. Mozart was confident of its success: “It must surely produce a good effect,” he wrote. Indeed it was well received by Emperor Joseph, who (according to the composer) applauded enthusiastically.


A Closer Listen


The celebratory tone of the symphony is established at the outset: The first movement features trumpets and drums, vigorous leaps, declamatory unison passages, and arresting moments of silence. The development highlights the wind instruments in a murky moment of imitative entrances just before the opening theme returns in full force. The Andante and Menuetto that follow are lovely, gracious, and easy-going—this is, after all, party music. The pace picks up again in the Finale, which Mozart ordered be played “as fast as possible.” Its many brief motifs and strikingly insistent timpani part are positively operatic in inspiration.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

This concert is made possible, in part, by an endowment fund for young artists established by Stella and Robert Jones.