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Grace Park, Violin Virtuoso – Incredible!

Grace Park, violin

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

Program

 

Braving the Unknown and ContemplationJay Fishman
   Dedicated to the memory of a dear friend and colleague, Kathleen Hardy

Violin Concerto No. 1 in g minor, opus 26Max Bruch
   Grace Park, violin

Petite Suite de ConcertSamuel Coleridge Taylor

L’ArlesienneGeorges Bizet

 

Program Notes

 

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. 1 in g minor, opus 26Max Bruch (1838-1920)

Max Bruch’s first violin concerto is one of the most popular works in the entire romantic repertoire. However, when he was writing it, Bruch was very unhappy with his creation, revised it a half dozen times, and generally felt that it would not be a success. Before the first public performance, Bruch brought the concerto to Johannes Brahms for the master’s approval. Brahms also was not very impressed nor was he encouraging. History has proven both Brahms and Bruch to be mistaken. From the first performance this assessment was wrong, and in fact, the concerto became immensely popular. So much so, that it overshadowed all of Bruch’s other work. The composer became so frustrated with this success, that in a satiric note he wrote:

Police prohibition concerning M. B.’s First Concerto. As very recently, the astonishing fact has emerged that violins played the First Concerto by themselves, with the utmost dispatch we make it known, for the relief of anguished souls, that we hereby seriously ban the said concerto.

The famous violinist Joachim helped work out the solo violin part to this concerto, as he also did with Johannes Brahms’ violin concerto. He wrote:

The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, without any reservations at all comes from Beethoven. That by Brahms, in its seriousness, contends with Beethoven. Max Bruch wrote the richest and most bewitching… But the most intimate, the heart’s jewel, is by Mendelssohn. 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