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JEAN SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
Finlandia, Op. 26, No. 7
Matti Raekallio, piano
JURI SEO (b. 1981)
Itamar Zorman, violin
DAVID BRUCE (b. 1970)
The Consolation of Rain
Charles Hamann, oboe • David Ying, cello • June Han, harp • Luke Rinderknecht, percussion
— Intermission —
CÉSAR FRANCK (1822–1890)
Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 14
- Molto moderato, quasi lento — Allegro
- Lento, con molto sentimento
- III. Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco
Itamar Zorman, violin • Daniel Dastoor*, violin • Phillip Ying, viola • Keiko Ying, cello • Liza Stepanova, piano
Finlandia, Op. 26, No. 7 (1899)
Jean Sibelius was born at a time when the Finns — who had lived for centuries under the occupation of first their Swedish then their Russian neighbors — were beginning to form a collective, nationalist political movement. The “Suomalainen Puolue” (Finnish Party), founded in the 1860s, fought first and foremost to increase the political and social status of the Finnish language. In 1863, Tsar Alexander II promisingly decreed that the Finnish language should share official status with Swedish in Finland. But by the end of the century, his successor, Tsar Nicholas II, issued his “February Manifesto,” implementing a policy of “Russification” that threatened Finland’s political and linguistic autonomy.
The “February Manifesto” set the stage for a wave of resistance among Finnish intellectuals and artists, including Jean Sibelius, who by then had achieved an international profile as Finland’s leading composer. The fact that Sibelius family (like most upper-class families) spoke Swedish did nothing to diminish his feeling of national belonging. Sibelius began embracing the Finnish-language cause in earnest after meeting his future wife, Aino, whose family were prominent advocates. He reacted to the “February Manifesto” by composing a significant number of staunch, even provocative, nationalist anthems. Of these, only Finlandia — originally titled Suomi herää, or “Finland Awakens,” after the famous patriotic hymn by Finnish composer Emil Genetz titled, Herää, Suomi! or “Awaken, Finland!” — has managed to outlive its immediate political contexts.
Finlandia’s arc depicts a trajectory from oppression, through awakening and strife, to triumphal liberation. Originally composed for full orchestra, the work was quickly followed (as was customary before the widespread availability of recording technology) by a wide variety of transcriptions for other instrumental or vocal forces. In addition to the solo piano arrangement performed this evening, there were several choral versions of the work’s concluding chorale, which is itself an arrangement of Genetz’s hymn.
Program Note by Peter Asimov
One comprises twelve vignettes, each representing a month of the year, arranged in a cyclic form. The performance can begin or end with the current month, progressing through all twelve in order without breaks. Written during the first few months of the pandemic in 2020, the piece captures my humble yearning for the future and sweet reminiscence of the past. In my attempt to represent experiential time in fixed musical objects, I revisited the perennial theme of time’s duality, both flowing and static (“recurrence of continuity,” as Thomas Mann puts it) and moving forward and back. One was commissioned by and dedicated to the violinist Patrick Yim.
Program Note by Juri Seo
The Consolation of Rain (2015-2016)
We all take consolation from different things, and without wanting to be overly morbid, I would like to think that after I die, my loved ones could take consolation from the sense that I was quite literally all around them, in the air, water and earth as part of the natural cycle of things. There are numerous poems on this theme, including the famous “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye in which, rather than being dead, the deceased speaks directly to us: “I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.” Clearly I am not alone in my way of thinking there is something very moving about the idea that you can reconnect with someone you’ve lost simply by looking at nature. Perhaps an inevitable topic for an Englishman, the focus in this piece is rain. Taking Debussy’s method of portraying the sea in La Mer as something of a model, the piece is primarily an abstract musical construction, but one that constantly and variously evokes different aural images of rain, whether it be rippling, glistening, dripping, rumbling, swooshing or showering; gathering pace or subsiding; distantly echoing or vigorously present. But throughout, the impression is of rain not as dark and depressing, but as something positive, consoling, life-affirming and renewing — the ‘gentle autumn rain’ mentioned in the Frye poem.
I suspect — as is often the case in my work — this focus emerged out of the instrumentation, particularly the combination of harp and marimba which has a lot of potential ‘water’ in its sound. The focus on quietness in this piece may also relate to the fact that I knew I was writing for the wonderful oboist Nicholas Daniel. Just as I was beginning to write the piece I went to watch Nick perform, and one of the things that struck me in particular was his breathtakingly beautiful pianissimos. I’ve always felt that one of the tell-tale signs of a great performer is someone who knows how to use the very quietest tones their instruments can produce, to captivate a room and make everyone collectively hold their breath at the delicacy and fragility of the sound. These are often the moments when music really does offer a sense of transcendence.
Alongside Nick it has been a delight to know I’m writing for the fantastic players of Camerata Pacifica, and to know I can throw anything at them; and in particular to reconnect with Bridget Kibbey who has fearlessly tackled many of my fiendishly difficult harp parts in the past without batting an eye.
The Consolation of Rain is in five short movements, each in a way, a kind of ‘song without words.’ It lasts about 20 minutes in total.
Program Note by David Bruce
Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 14 (1879)
“Modulate, modulate, modulate!” With these words, Franck reportedly exhorted his students (including a resistant Claude Debussy) never to settle too comfortably into any one key. Although Franck was professor of organ, not composition, at the Paris Conservatory, young composers knew to flock to his classes for legendary lessons in improvisation that shaped many students’ approach to writing music more than their composition professors ever did.
Franck brought this advice to bear in his own mature works, such as this Piano Quintet, steeped in increasingly dense chromatic harmonies. Franck’s style was not only harmonically dense but also thematically so, with melodies and motifs developed and resurrected from one movement to the next, creating what is known as “cyclical” form. However, in the context of late–nineteenth-century France, such chromaticism and cyclicality were generally thought of as “German” musical characteristics, a designation that appeared especially threatening to some French composers and critics in light of Wagner’s soaring popularity. Indeed, the reception of Franck’s Piano Quintet was fraught — many were enraptured by its stormy energy, while others were severe in their distaste.
The tales of two such detractors provide colorful context. One was César Franck’s wife, Felicité. She had become aware (it was no secret) of her husband’s irrepressible lust for one of his students, the composer Augusta Holmès; believing Holmès to be the source of the Quintet’s emotive expression, Felicité Franck had no tolerance for the work. The other detractor was the composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who played piano at the premiere. Franck, so pleased with the performance, seized the chance to publicly dedicate the work to Saint-Saëns during a curtain call — leading the latter to turn around and leave the stage. We can only speculate at Saint-Saëns’s reasons for this humiliating stunt. A staunch nationalist, perhaps he was offended by the perceived Germanic flavor of the work (this became the source of ongoing disputes between the two composers in the 1880s). Or perhaps there were personal reasons: Saint-Saëns himself had proposed marriage several times to Holmès, and may, too, have resented the work’s association with her. If Saint-Saëns’s relationship with Franck had become testy, he nevertheless paid homage to the elder composer in 1890 — as one of the pallbearers of his casket.
Program Note by Peter Asimov