Grace Park, Violin Virtuoso – Incredible!
2018 Naumburg International Violin Competition Winner
Fri. Apr 1 Metropolitan State University 7pm
Main Auditorium, 700 East 7th Street, St. Paul, 55106
Sat. Apr 2 Basilica of St. Mary 2pm
1600 Hennepin Ave Minneapolis, 55403
Braving the Unknown and ContemplationJay Fishman
Dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Kathleen Hardy
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K.216Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Grace Park, violin
Petite Suite de ConcertSamuel Coleridge Taylor
Braving the Unknown and ContemplationJay Fishman (b. 1947)
Dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Kathleen Hardy
In mid-March of 2020, the negative repercussions from COVID-19 were increasing day by day, and of course were taking a horrific toll on the health and well-being of the community. These effects certainly affected the Sinfonia, and we cancelled the rest of the winter season, the entire summer season, and I recognized that the upcoming fall season probably was in doubt. Always the optimist, I started creating activities for our musicians to undertake during the time that we were not going to play as a full orchestra, and planning for the eventual re-start of live performing. I divided my energies into creating alternate programs for our musicians (teaching and chamber music videos), researching, arranging music by Black and Latino classical and romantic composers, and composing.
Composing became a much-needed creative outlet. The pandemic certainly was taking an emotional toll on me, and I was curious how it would affect my composing. When I started what was to become the first movement of Braving the Unknown, I did not have any ideas of how to begin and what to say. And at that time, I certainly did not have this title in mind. I started “musical doodling” – writing out ideas and motives, and then seeing if any of them could amount to something interesting. I eventually came up with a jagged line that would become the initial driving motif. Once the line was decided, it led to a couple of variations, followed by a rather dramatic and pounding section – almost like a cry for help or anguish. Interestingly, I did not intend a melodramatic moment, but it just sort of happened. Eventually, I felt that the piece needed some relief, so a slower and more somber section followed, but it still has a sense of anxiety. Next came a series of waltzes, but again with that sense of angst.
The second movement also has a sense of unease. I called it Contemplation, with the idea that trying to make sense of all that was happening was very difficult and unnerving. Even with melodic lines throughout, I included many dissonances, which are meant to be jarring. And again, there are loud cries of despair. In the middle section there is a playful section, but even it has a few questionable moments. The ending brings back memories of the beginning, and the piece ends with a question mark. I soon realized that when all is said and done, the pandemic did affect all of my work, including my composing. I have dedicated this music to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Kathy Hardy, who worked with the Sinfonia for fourteen years as part of our Music in the Schools. jf
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K.216Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
I declare to you before God, and as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by name.
Franz Joseph Haydn to Leopold Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756 and died in Vienna in 1791. He is best known as the boy genius who gave us hundreds of wonderful operas, symphonies, concerti, songs, etc. Thanks to the play Amadeus and the movie that followed, he is often remembered as a prankster, a fun-loving child who never grew up, and a genius who was just able to spin out one masterpiece after another. Life of course is never that simple, nor was his life the happy fairy tale one so often wants to assume.
The young Mozart started music lessons at age three with his father Leopold, who in his own right was a well-known and respected violinist and teacher. By age five the young Wolfgang had progressed enough to begin public performing and composing. Soon thereafter, Leopold took both Wolfgang and his sister (who also was a talented musician) to Vienna to show them off. The boy’s reputation preceded them, and he was already called the “little magician.” The child Wolfgang performed for the royal court and was a smash hit. After the performance, he jumped into to the lap of the empress, and kissed her. The court went wild, and according to a quote from the time, “all the ladies lost their hearts to the little fellow.” The children’s early childhood was filled with many successful trips, playing concerts, and meeting important leaders and musicians. During these travels, the young Mozart continually studied and learned under the direction of his father.
Mozart’s life and career had many ups and downs. At times he was very popular and at other times he was all but neglected. Like his popularity, his finances also had many fluctuations – sometimes he was wealthy, and at other times he was poor. Despite the uncertainties, he was able to create more than 600 works, many of which remain popular in today’s repertoire. Included are forty-one numbered symphonies, and twenty-seven numbered piano concerti.
Mozart composed his five violin concerti during the span of April through December of 1774, when he was only nineteen. There seems to be some question as to whom they were composed for, most likely a violinist named Brunetti. As it turns out, there were several violinists named Brunetti, and one theory is that they may have been written for Antonio Brunetti, who later became the concertmaster of the Salzburg opera. Given Mozart’s connection to the city and its opera, this seems to be a reasonable conjecture. However, there was another violinist name Gaetano Brunetti who was largely associated with Boccherini, but who had dealings with Mozart, and for whom Mozart did compose some music. So, the questions remain unanswered.
The concerto heard on this set of performances, and the rest of the violin concerti, are all scored for relatively small orchestra (2 oboes, 2 horns and strings). Technically they are not the virtuosic tours de force that one might expect from the young Mozart. In fact, the last three (the most famous and popular of the concerti) all end quietly – peacefully – and not with the grand rush of loud and exciting flourishes that would attract the shouts of bravos and standing ovations. For any other composer, this would surely be a disappointment. But for Mozart, they are another demonstration of his genius. jf
Petite Suite de ConcertSamuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London, England, the son of Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, who was a black doctor training at Taunton and King’s College, and an English white mother, Alice Martin. Because of his color, his father was not allowed to practice medicine in England. Consequently, he returned to his home country of Sierra Leone not knowing of Samuel’s birth. Alice Martin stayed in England and named her son Samuel after the famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Early on, Samuel’s musical skills were recognized, and by age fifteen he was able to study at the Royal College of Music. In 1898 at the behest of England’s most prominent composer, Edward Elgar, he was awarded a commission to write a work for the Gloucester Festival. The resulting Ballade in a minor was very successful and helped to establish his reputation. During the next two years, he composed a trilogy for soloists, chorus and orchestra based on the story of Hiawatha. After seeing the first performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the principal of the Royal Academy of Music proclaimed the work to be
one of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history.
Not to be outdone, Elgar wrote that Samuel was
far and away the cleverest fellow amongst the young men
In 1873, the Fisk Jubilee singers toured England and exposed the English public to black American spirituals. Samuel eventually heard some of the music, became fascinated, and began incorporating African American folk songs into his works. He was very proud of his African roots, and in 1896, after he met the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, they began collaborating, setting some of Dunbar’s poems to music. Joint recitals quickly followed. In 1900, Samuel was chosen to be one of thirty-seven delegates to the first Pan-African Conference in London, where he gave the opening address. Because of these ties, African Americans became enthralled with Samuel’s music and not only formed a Samuel Coleridge-Taylor society, but also sponsored three successful American tours. While in America, he conducted the Marine band, the Coleridge-Taylor Society chorus, and met Booker T. Washington and President Theodore Roosevelt. Samuel continually incorporated black music and folk songs into his work. Some examples include the African Suite, African Romances and Twenty-four Negro Melodies.
Returning to England, Samuel continued composing, taught at Trinity College of Music, and conducted several choral societies, including the Handel Society from 1904 until his death in 1912.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a very important and respected musician who had become a significant part of the English cultural establishment. To emphasize the point, King George V donated money for his funeral and gave his wife a monthly pension of 100 pounds for the rest of her life. The inscription on Samuel’s tombstone, taken from the story of Hiawatha which had brought him so much fame, also summed up his life:
Too young to die, his great simplicity, his happy courage in an alien world, his gentleness made all that knew him, love him.
The Petite Suite de Concert (“Little Concert Suite”), which is heard on this set of performances, is a set of four pieces, all composed in a light and straightforward manner. They are simply meant to be fun to play and fun to listen to. I think the composer succeeded on both accounts. jf
L’ArlesienneGeorges Bizet (1838-1875)
The romantic French composer, Georges Bizet, is best known for his opera Carmen and other stage works. The music for L’Arlesienne (which translates as “The Girl from Arles”) was created as incidental music (similar to what we now hear at the movies) for the stage production. The play, which premiered in 1872, was written by Alphonse Daudet, and is based on the story of a man who committed suicide after discovering that his love had been unfaithful. To lend a sense of authenticity, Bizet used folk songs native to the region where the story took place. He used the traditional provincial tune, March of the Three Kings, for the prelude (which was the original overture) as the basis for a theme and four variations. Other highlights of this suite include the famous saxophone solo, which signified a lovesick Frederi, and the lovely Adagietto for strings, which portrayed a reunion of former lovers.
The play opened during a time of politically charged activities and, after 21 performances, closed in what Daudet termed “a brilliant failure.” The revival took place in 1885 and became an instant success, with performances taking place well into the middle of the twentieth century. Two orchestral suites were extracted from the incidental music, the second by Ernest Guiraud, after Bizet’s death. Both suites have remained a staple in the orchestral repertoire. jf