Youth Orchestra Winter Concert

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

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’s 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.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): Overture to Candide

Bernstein’s third Broadway musical, Candide, opened at New York’s Beck Theater on December 1, 1956. It lasted only 73 performances, but was revived in 1973 and was voted the best musical of 1974 by the New York Drama Critics Circle.

Described as “a comic operetta based on Voltaire’s satire,” Candide was staged by Tyrone Guthrie, with book by Lillian Hellman, and lyrics by John Latouche and Dorothy Parker. After its original opening night, Walter Kerr wrote: “Three of the most talented people our theater possesses–Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein, Tyrone Guthrie–have joined hands to transform Voltaire’s Candide into a really spectacular disaster.”

Bernstein conducted the Overture for the first time at a New York Philharmonic concert on January 26, 1957. “It is a tour de force of imagination and one of the 20th century’s finest parodies of the opera buffa style,” writes Ted Libby. “Melodies from the musical, including the refrain from ‘Glitter and Be Gay,’ are seamlessly woven into the orchestral texture, and the concluding canon is as Bernsteinian a moment as any in the composer’s catalogue.”

Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880): Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22

“Splendid, classic and virile” was Joseph Joachim’s description of Wieniawski’s playing. The Polish-born violinist entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of eight, won first prize in violin and made his debut in St. Petersburg in 1848. Wieniawski wrote two violin concertos for his own use in his numerous concert tours. The second concerto, published in 1870, was introduced in 1862 with Anton Rubinstein conducting.

The first two movements are played without pause; the last is marked “in the gypsy manner.” Joseph Braunstein writes: “Although in the concerto Wieniawski exhibits dazzling virtuoso effects, he nonetheless offers the player good opportunities to ‘sing.’ There are lyrical passages in the opening Allegro, which is framed by extended orchestral ritornellos, and there is the lyrical Romance, which is contrasted markedly with the high-spirited finale.”

Arturo Márquez (b. 1950): Danzón No. 2

Márquez began studying music at the age of sixteen, later entering the Mexican Conservatory of Music and the Institute of Fine Arts of Mexico. He also studied privately in Paris and at the California Institute of the Arts with Morton Subotnick and Mel Powell.

Danzón No. 2 was commissioned and premiered in 1994 by the Filarmonica de la UNAM in Mexico City, Ronald Zolman conducting. Márquez provided the following program note: “The danzon is a Cuban dance that became very popular in Mexico during the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the state of Veracruz and Mexico City. Because it was developed in a very special way in our country, many of us Mexicans consider it our own national music. The structure in the classical danzon is Introduction–First Theme (first danzon)–Introduction–Second Theme (second danzon)–Introduction–Son (son montuno, cha-cha or mambo). Danzon No. 2, rather than dealing directly with the form and harmony of the classical danzon, pays tribute to the tradition and its people. I decided to start with a slow, sensuous theme instead of an introduction. After that, a rhythmical section continues the elaboration of these materials. The work is dedicated to my daughter Lily.”

Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (Unfinished)

The Unfinished Symphony was begun in October, 1822. A month later, two movements and part of a third had been written. Why Schubert stopped there–or if he did finish, where the remainder of the music went–has mystified music lovers ever since.

Johann Herbeck conducted the first performance of the Unfinished Symphony at a Society of the Friends of Music concert in Vienna on December 17, 1865.

After an introduction, the first movement presents what one critic called “the most famous melody in the world.” The tune was fitted to the words, “This is the Symphony that Schubert wrote and never finished.” That same melody was used in the popular song, “You Are My Song of Love, My Melody Immortal.” The second movement, according to Alfred Einstein, “in its mysterious and unfathomable beauty, is like one of those plants whose flowers open only on a night of the full moon.”

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908): Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36

The first music published in Russia was the Obikhod, a 1772 collection of canticles used in the Orthodox Church. Rimsky-Korsakov employed various liturgical themes from this collection in his Russian Easter Overture, which was introduced at the Russian Symphony Concerts on December 15, 1888.

“In order to appreciate my Overture even ever so slightly,” he said, “it is necessary that the hearer should have attended Easter morning service at least once…in a cathedral thronged with people from every walk of life with several priests conducting the cathedral service.” The composer was wrong: even godless heathens are powerfully moved by this music.

Rimsky-Korsakov even admitted that the work “combined reminiscences of the ancient prophecy, of the gospel narrative and also a general picture of the Easter service with its ‘pagan merry-making.’ The capering and leaping of the biblical King David before the Ark, do they not give expression to a mood of the idol-worshipers’ dance? Surely the Russian Orthodox Obikhod is instrumental dance music of the church, is it not? And do not the waving beards of the priests and sextons clad in white vestments and surplices…transport the imagination to pagan times? (…) This legendary and heathen side of the holiday, this transition from the gloomy and mysterious evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious merry-making on the morn of Easter Sunday, is what I was eager to reproduce in my Overture.”

~ Program Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2015.