Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra Spring Concert

Preston Nowakowski
(2014-15 Young Composer Competition Winner)

Preston Nowakowski is an amateur composer from Pleasanton, California. He currently attends California State University, Northridge, pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Media and Commercial Composition. Preston graduated from Amador Valley High School, where he participated in various ensembles including Jazz Band, Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Winter Percussion. At the age of 9, Preston began learning to play the drums. Since then, his interest in music has grown to include not only classical percussion, but piano and marimba as well. Preston is grateful for the continuous support of his friends and family, and is honored to debut his original composition with the incredibly talented Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Ascension is a modern fanfare for full orchestra. The piece begins with a trumpet solo that introduces the main melody before quickly expanding to the rest of the ensemble in an outburst of layered harmonies and rhythmic ostinatos. These ostinatos can be heard moving through the different voices of the ensemble, creating a rising effect from which the piece derives its name. Utilizing heavy percussion and a strong brass section, the piece strives to create a juxtaposition between the complex rhythmic aspects and the soaring melodies that together paint the images of Ascension.

~ Ascension notes by Preston Nowakowski @2015

David Popper (1843 – 1913): Hungarian Rhapsody, Op.68 (orch. by Max Schlegel)

Born in Prague, Popper studied at the Prague Conservatory, where his cello teacher was Julius Goltermann. During a tour of Germany, conductor Hans von Bülow recommended him as Chamber Virtuoso at the Löwenberg court of Prince von Hohenzollern-Hechingen. The next year, he appeared with von Bülow and the Berlin Philharmonic at the premiere of Robert Volkmann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 33. After his debut in Vienna in 1867, he was named principal cellist at the Court Opera. For two years he was a member of the Hellmesberger Quartet. In 1872, he married Liszt’s pupil, Sophie Menter. Popper toured with his wife until their marriage dissolved in 1886.

That same year, Liszt recommended Popper for a teaching position at the Budapest Conservatory. He and Jenő Hubay founded the Budapest Quartet, and in that capacity played chamber music with Johannes Brahms, including the premiere of Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, in Budapest on December 20, 1886.

Most of Popper’s compositions feature the cello: four concertos, a Requiem for three cellos and orchestra, and the Hungarian Rhapsody, as well as numerous solo pieces like the Tarantella, Spinning Song and Dance of the Gnomes.

Josef Suk (1874-1935): Scherzo Fantastique in G minor, Op. 25

“I do not bow to anyone, except to my own conscience and to our noble Lady Music,” Suk said, “and yet at the same time I know that thereby I serve my country, and praise the great people from the period of our wakening who taught us to love our country.” Born in Křečovice, Bohemia, Suk learned to play piano, violin and organ from his father, a local school teacher. He entered the Prague Conservatory at the age of eleven. His composition teacher was Antonín Dvořák, whose daughter Otilie he later married.

Suk also studied with cellist Hanuš Wihan, for whom Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto. It was Wihan who picked Suk to be the second violinist in the Bohemian Quartet. He stayed for 41 years, playing more than 4,000 concerts until his retirement in 1933. He was appointed composition professor at the Prague Conservatory, where his pupils included Bohuslav Martinů.

Scherzo Fantastique dates from the autumn of 1903. Partly an homage to Dvořák’s Scherzo Capriccioso, the work represents Suk’s sunny mood before tragedy struck the following year: both Dvořák and his daughter (Suk’s wife) died. The work has two themes in the first part, a lively dance for woodwinds and a waltz introduced by the cellos, then a slow polka leads to an exuberant conclusion.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

Unlike Haydn, who wrote his first symphony in his early twenties and kept going until he had amassed more than a hundred, Brahms waited until his early forties and stopped at four. Of course, symphonies had changed considerably in this interval of over a century. Brahms himself observed: “A symphony is no laughing matter nowadays.” Brahms had other reasons for procrastinating. When urged by Schumann and others to make the attempt, he insisted: “I shall never write a symphony. You have no idea how the likes of us feel, when we hear the tramp of a giant like him behind us.” The “giant” was Beethoven, whom even Haydn regarded as “that Great Mogul.”

After hearing a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms set out in earnest to write his First, finishing it after a few false starts in 1876. The first performance took place in Karlsruhe on November 4, 1876. Conductor Hans von Bülow immediately pronounced the work “Beethoven’s Tenth.” Indeed, there is some similarity between the theme of Brahms’ last movement and the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth. When someone pointed this out to Brahms, he replied: “Any ass can see that.”

It was also von Bülow who made the familiar coupling of the three “B’s,” when he said: “I believe it is not without the intelligence of chance that Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are in alliteration.” These kinds of remarks served only to embarrass Brahms and inflame his critics. Hugo Wolf reported: “The art of composing without ideas has decidedly found in Brahms one of its worthiest representatives…. He understands the trick of making something out of nothing.”

It was the influential critic Eduard Hanslick who ensured the First Symphony’s success. After the Viennese performance, he wrote: “The new symphony displays an energy of will, a logic of musical thought, a greatness of structural power, and a mastery of technique, such as is possessed by no other living composer.”

“The gloomy, painfully struggling first movement,” writes biographer Karl Geiringer, “is dominated by a sort of musical motto, which plays an important part in the Introduction, supplies the counterpoint to the main subject, and is the leading feature in the second subject and the development … The two middle movements, however, are lighter and  shorter…(providing) the indispensable moments of relief in the dramatic action of the whole composition. For not only the first movement, but the beginning of the Finale, conjures up a vision of a gloomy Inferno. Everything in this last movement seems to be hastening towards a catastrophe, until suddenly a horn solo sounds a message of salvation. Then the broadly flowing, hymn-like Allegro proclaims its triumph over all fear and pain.”

~ Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2015