Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra Spring Concert

Michael Giacchino (b.1967): Star Trek

Born in Riverside Township, New Jersey, Giacchino studied filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. While working in marketing at Disney, he studied music composition at the Juilliard School and at UCLA. He became a producer at Disney’s Interactive Division where he wrote music for video games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. He also wrote scores for the television series Lost, Alias and Fringe, as well as film music for Mission: Impossible III, Ratatouille, Up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World, and Zootopia, among others.

In 2009 Giacchino wrote the music for Star Trek, the eleventh film in the Star Trek franchise. The first in the series was titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and featured the cast of the original television show. The 2009 Star Trek is referred to as a “reboot,” or “prequel,” as younger versions of the original cast are thrown into an earlier “alternate reality.” The exception was an aged Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy.

Max Bruch (1838-1920): Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26

III. Finale: Allegro energico

Bruch was nineteen years old when the first sketches for his First Violin Concerto appeared. By 1866 the work was ready for a planned performance by the concertmaster of the Mannheim Symphony. After two postponements due to the illness of the soloist, the Concerto was finally performed by the concertmaster of the Gürzenich Orchestra, Otto von Königslöw, on April 24, 1866 in Coblenz, with Bruch conducting.

The performance inspired Bruch to revise the work. The following summer, he sent the score to violinist Joseph Joachim, with a note wondering if the music was too “free” to be called a concerto.

Joachim replied: “I find that the title ‘concerto’ is fully justified; for a fantasy, the last two movements are too completely and symmetrically developed. The different sections are brought together in beautiful relationship, and yet–this is the principal thing–there is sufficient contrast.” Joachim did suggest some changes in the music, and Bruch complied. Indeed, he dedicated the work “in friendship to Joseph Joachim.”

After a private performance in Hanover in October, 1867, Joachim played the revised version on January 7, 1868 in Bremen, with Karl Reinthaler conducting. Edouard Lalo, usually no friend of rival violin concertos, found the piece to be “magnificent.”

The huge popularity of the G minor Concerto eventually began to irk its composer. When violinists insisted on playing the piece for him, Bruch would exclaim, “The G minor Concerto again! I couldn’t bear to hear it even once more! My friends, play my Second Concerto or the Scottish Fantasy for once!”

Bruch once published a letter, titled “Prohibition by Order of the Police concerning Max Bruch’s First Concerto.” The letter stated: “Since recently the astounding eventuality has come to pass that violins have of their own accord, been playing the First Concerto, we make known with all possible haste, to reassure fearful souls, that we hereby sternly prohibit the said concerto.”

Sir Donald Francis Tovey wrote: “It is really easy for Bruch to write beautifully, it is in fact instinctive for him; and such instinct is a matter which all modern critics and psychologists will agree to rate very high. Further, it is impossible to find in Max Bruch any lapses from the standard of beauty which he thus instinctively set himself…. Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto thoroughly deserves the great success it has always had. Nobody who can appreciate it will believe for a moment that its composer has written nothing else worthy of the like success.”

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

Shostakovich’s life as a Soviet artist was occasionally stormy.  In 1936, after a performance of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk, Pravda printed an editorial headlined “Confusion Instead of Music.” The opera was described as “a wilderness of musical chaos, in places becoming cacophony…. The composer ignored the demand of Soviet culture that all coarseness and wildness be abolished from every corner of Soviet life.”  

The Union of Soviet Composers endorsed Pravda’s opinion. All performances of Shostakovich’s music ceased. The Fourth Symphony, then in rehearsal, was withdrawn. Shostakovich himself withdrew from public life.

But he was hardly idle. From April to July of 1937, he wrote his Fifth Symphony. There is now some dispute over whether it was Shostakovich or a Soviet critic who subtitled the work “a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism.”

In any case, Shostakovich was at least publicly contrite. In a magazine article, he wrote: “Working ceaselessly to master my art, I am endeavoring to create my own musical style, which I seek to make simple and expressive. I cannot think of my further progress apart from our socialist structure, and the goal that I set for my work is to contribute at every point toward the growth of our remarkable country.”

Yevgeny Mravinsky conducted the Leningrad Philharmonic in the first performance of the Fifth Symphony on November 21, 1937. “The atmosphere at the premiere was highly charged,” Shostakovich recalled. “The hall was filled. All the best people were there, and all the worst too. It was definitely a critical situation…. Which way would the wind blow?”

In short, the Fifth was a smash hit. One listener remarked: “This is not music; this is high-voltage, nervous electricity.” The composer remembered: “People who came to the premiere of the Fifth in the best of moods wept.” Writing in Izvestia, Alexei Tolstoy reported: “The powerful, rousing sounds of the finale stirred the audience. All rose to their feet, infused with joy, and happiness streamed from the orchestra like a spring breeze.”

Conductor Mravinsky wrote of the Fifth: “This symphony is, I consider, a phenomenon of world-wide significance. It has staggering strength and depth of philosophical conception embodied in strict forms which are classical in their simplicity and greatness. The complete mastery of the writing is so obvious that it does not require any comment…. I can only compare my feelings as the first musician to perform this symphony with what I experienced when coming into contact with the finest examples of the world’s musical literature.”

“The theme of my symphony,” said the composer, “is the development of the individual. I saw man with all his sufferings as the central idea of the work, which is lyrical in mood from start to finish; the finale resolves the tragedy and tension of the earlier movements on a joyous, optimistic note.”

~ Program Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2018