Pride Of Ownership

Mike Cochrane sent us these thoughts about the Khachaturian violin concerto on the program in preparation for our concerts this weekend, October 29th and 30th, performed by Kevin Chen.

Khachaturian in the 1930’s

Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor was completed in 1940, dedicated to David Oistrakh, and first performed in September 1940. It is worth noting that while the rest of the world was preparing for the nightmare of World War II, the Soviet Union and  Nazi Germany were conspiring allies. This concerto displays none of the intense patriotism that flowed from the pen of Dmitri Shostakovich just a few short years later.

First Movement: Allegro con fermezza. The movement is in Sonata form, although hardly Mozartian or Haydnesque. Slavic folk song melodies abound.  Khachaturian’s birthplace was Armenia, so perhaps his ear remembered some country dances from his teenage years.


Second Movement:
Andante sostenuto.  This movement is notable for its variety of moods and highly expressive solo passages in dialogue with the orchestra. An impressive dialogue between violin and clarinet appears and a soft yet intense conversation transpires.

Third Movement:  Allegro.  A fanfare commences the movement. A Rondo follows based on the second theme from the first movement.  This is another Slavic country dance with rhythmic challenges that keeps the orchestra on its toes. There’s a need to drive the music forward….whatever happens we mustn’t  D..R…A….G..!!

When Khachaturian dedicated the Concerto to David Oistrakh there must have been some camaraderie between them. They were both born and raised in the “Soviet Empire” ….Aram in Armenia, David in the Ukraine, so perhaps there was some antipathy, even in the music itself, towards the Russian masters. This antipathy may well be demonstrated in the following anecdote. It has often been assumed that Oistrakh was a proud owner of as many as 12 Stradivari violins. One would assume that he would treat his violins with tender loving care.

Norman Nelson has the following story:

During an intermission of a rehearsal of a violin concerto, probably Shostakovich, the great man left the violin, probably one of the state-owned Strads, and went off for a coffee with the conductor. Of course, we violinists swarmed around the violin, and the point of the story was that the poor thing was smothered with a thick crust of rosin from the bow hairs, obviously lacking the slightest sign of any loving care by its custodian. Oistrakh. If he had owned it, I can’t imagine him leaving it unattended in the hall, never mind looking like a buskers instrument lying in an open case along with a few coins, unloved and deserted, as it were.  

A few short years later the Soviet Union itself, just like an old rosin-crusted violin, was abandoned in its shabby case, without any accompanying coins, on a lonely pavement.

 

Khachaturian in 1964

The Don Chrysler Concerto Competition for Young Musicians, 2016

Five remarkable young musicians, five impressive performances were on display at the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall on Saturday night, April 23, 2016:

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All photos courtesy of Rick Robinson, StoneRidge Photography

Left to right are: Tovin Allers, who tackled the Korngold violin concerto; Kevin Chen, the Khachaturian violin concerto; Emma Reader-Lee, who played the Haydn C major violin concerto; Iris Hung, who presented the Mozart piano concerto number 17; Aimi Howden played the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1.

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Kevin Chen, our October soloist

Audience comment: “Amazing! Needs to smile a bit more!” “Gorgeous sound!”

They were all very different and enjoyable performances, but in the end it was Kevin Chen who took home the first prize for his stunning performance of the virtuosic Khachaturian. If there were a prize for largest number of notes, he surely would have earned that as well!

Chen wins the rare opportunity to play the Khachaturian concerto with an orchestra, and will be the soloist with the Sooke Philharmonic at our October concerts in Sooke and Colwood this fall.

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Iris Hung

Audience comment: “Great fluidity!”

Iris Hung won second place with her strong, sensitive performance of the Mozart Piano Concerto No.17, K453 in G major.

 

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This year’s jury was composed of Jeanne Campbell, FTCL (UK), A.Mus, ARCT, who taught piano for many years at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Gerald Stanick, one of Canada’s finest violin and viola pedagogues and Lawrence de la Haye, clarinet, who studied at the Royal College of Music in London, UK, and has performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Orchestra and the Banff Festival Orchestra.

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Tovin Allers was picked for second place by the audience

Audience comment: “Well done, great stage presence!” “Phenomenal!”

As usual, members of the audience were invited to weigh in with their opinion, and forty-two ballots were returned, all of them enthusiastic. The audience chose Kevin Chen as a hands-down favourite, but put Tovin Allers in second place. Third place went to Iris Hung.

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Emma Lee-Reader

Audience comments: “What a sweet performance!”  “Come back next year!”

 

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Aimi Howden

Audience comment: “Passionate performance, spirited and with flair!”

Special mention should also go to May Ling Kwok and Elfi Gleusteen who provided the orchestral accompaniment on the piano – a major art form in itself and highly demanding – with great technical assurance.

This is the eleventh year for the Don Chrysler Concerto Competition, and the young musicians seem to be getting better and better. Special thanks go to David Symons and Long & McQuade, who donated the $500 first prize and $300 second prize money.

Be sure to take in the October concert, when we hear the Khachaturian concerto like  with the Sooke Philharmonic, and we’ll see you all  at the competition next year:  April, 2017!

 

Cauliflower ears and tongue in cheek

By Mike Cochran

GFH

GFH

 

George Frederick was in his mid twenties when he settled in London in 1712. Just a couple of years earlier he’d been appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, who then scooted off with wife Anne to become King George the First of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel couldn’t resist the 200 pounds yearly stipend offered by Queen Anne.  In a few short years he became the most successful English resident composer of his day. Given his German heritage, can we say that Handel’s music, following  Purcell, is truly English? I say we can, and that’s where the cauliflower ear comes in.

Many young men (and nowadays young women), usually of Herculean stature, tend to enjoy running about the place clutching a pigskin, preferably in the freezing wet, covered in mud, bruises and blood. This peculiar endeavor goes back many centuries, possibly originating on the cold, wet, freezing grassy mud of an English private school just outside the English town of Rugby.  Handel, from the looks of him in prints and portraits, is burly of build.  It’s somewhat difficult to discern his Herculean build since our eyes are drawn to facial features and the large curly periwig, considered high fashion for men of stature at the time.  Another aspect of the game of rugby sees many participants banding together to form a tortoise shell structure, all legs, and arms clutching bodies, and heads locked together.  There are two fellows in the centre of the tortoise shell, called hookers, who have an especially hard time of it — their heads being crushed. Proud hookers are considered to be members of an exclusive profession, but not the oldest, and they wear their cauliflower ears as a badge of honour.  To my ears, the distinct “Englishness” of Handel’s music draws some of its uniqueness from the invigorating coldness and wetness of the fields of Britain. “Rough, rugged, vital, thriving, robust, sturdy, tough and vigorous” are adjectives that consummately describe the music and the game. I’m convinced Handel knew rugby — his melodies, counterpoint and harmonies are unerringly direct, logical and powerful — just like the muddy old game.

Our concert contains Handel’s most famous works with excerpts from the Water Music and Messiah. Our Messiah selections are mainly from Part 1 — the prophecy and birth of Christ. In Part 2, the trial and crucifixion of Christ, the Passion is heard, ending with the “Hallelujah” Chorus. It is said that George the First, on hearing the Chorus for the first time, stood in homage. Maybe, maybe not; perhaps he just needed a stretch! Messiah is not crafted as narrative of the life of Christ. It’s more an acclamation of the creation of Christianity with some narrative recitatives when needed, and many reflections on aspects of the Passion.  The soloists ask questions time and again and receive answers or confirmations from the chorus or other soloists. The Bass aria “Why do the Nations so furiously rage”,  followed by the Tenor aria “Thou shalt break them” come to mind.  There’s a pledge of holy betrothal between music and text unsurpassed in Baroque repertoire. Even Bach is second among equals in this respect. Every performer of Messiah experiences the pleasure of discovery of yet another enhancement of text through simple melodic lines, logical direct harmony and ingenious counterpoint. “Glory to God in the highest” with soaring sopranos, “and peace on earth “ — the depths of the earth in the basses. Or “The people that walked in darkness” with bewildering chromaticism as the people felt their way through blackness. Simple means, great effects that inspire great affection in performers and audiences alike. The text of Messiah is like a Da Vinci sketching in the framework of a painting. The music of Messiah is like Da Vinci’s brush and palette — the masterpiece is wondrous and complete.

April 13th 1742, the première of a new Oratorio by Mr .Handel, to be performed at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble  Street, Dublin.  Why Dublin for the first performance is somewhat of a mystery especially for the concert audiences in London.  But we have it on completely reliable rumour that a very prominent Irish family of musicians residing in Dublin had something to do with it. Unfortunately, the name of the musician who persuaded Handel is unknown, but he was known to be a violinist friend. His handle was possibly Norman but surname unknown! The legend of the Dublin première has passed down to the present day and a prominent member of our Sooke musical community is fond of retelling it, albeit with a slight bulge in his cheek!

If you’d been around in Handel’s day, and you were on intimate terms with the master, and you tweaked his periwig a little, you’d be bound to glimpse a cauliflower ear.

Harmony in Summer, May 29th and 30th

Mike Cochran sent along these thoughts about our recent concerts.

Brahms on the way to the Roter Igel, his favorite pub in Vienna. Silhouette by Otto Böhler

Brahms on the way to the Roter Igel, his favorite pub in Vienna. Silhouette by Otto Böhler

 Hemiola  Heaven

There’s a silhouette print of Brahms, stooped, trudging the streets of Vienna, hands clasped behind his back, oversized overcoat draped to his ankles… trudging. Every day, trudging to his favorite haunt, the Red Hedgehog tavern. One glance at the silhouette reveals a man trudging deep in thought. Perhaps he’s deciding the harmonies of another hemiola within the architecture of his current composition as he sits crumpled at a Red Hedgehog corner table, glass of ale half-empty.

It wasn’t music dramas, he was thinking, or tone poems or some Greek legend or an unrequited love… [hhmm well maybe this one…]  It was the purity of abstractism and the upholding of tried and true forms that held him. Baroque polyphony, classical sonata form, the rondo, and allied musical genres, were where his imagination took him. Then there were these hemiolas, they were everywhere. Of all the Romantics, only Brahms latched onto these rhythmic three-against-two’s.

In the Baroque era hemiolas showed up regularly, adding tension to polyphony, yet resolving handsomely. Brahms’ Third Symphony, in contrast, begins by diving into a deep pool of hemiolas. The first movement is awash with them. The tautness of the rhythmic structure creates a brooding, reflective, even meandering substance to the movement, which finishes softly, still seemingly searching for resolution.

The second and third movements are lighter and more delicately scored. A folk tune in the second, a scherzo in the third, almost as if a chamber orchestra were performing. The Finale in F minor, marked sotto voce exhibits a typical Brahmsian subdued melody in the strings. Later the trombones introduce a chorale which evolves into a complex development until the return of sotto voce.

“The music floats away into a Brahmsian quietude.” –Roy Saberton.

All the movements end quietly, contemplatively.

“I look at the Third Symphony of Brahms and I feel like a pygmy.” — Edward Elgar.

And Brahms himself: “You’ll never know how the likes of me feels with the tramp of a giant behind you.” The shadow looming over Brahms curtailed his symphonic imagination at four, as if he feared to approach more symphonies, a giant at his back. Like a golfer trying to score 59, Brahms would never reach 9.

Robert Schumann and Clara were Brahms’ first mentors and after Robert’s incarceration, Brahms came closer to Clara. Much closer… helplessly closer. This was reciprocated to some extent by the older Clara, such that closeness, even at a distance, endured for a lifetime. But a formalized closeness at that. Could it be that embracing hemiolas so persistently was Brahms’ way in music to assuage lonely desperation?  To my ear there’s a hesitant, searching, irresolute quality to these rhythmic structures. More often than not, it seems Brahms’ three-against-twos resolve ambiguously.

 Die Meistersingers Overture with its vast orchestration lets our listeners know what we’re about with this concert. Leitmotif melodies represent the characters of the opera, which surprisingly is Wagner’s only comedic offering. These magnificent melodies on a grand scale (which never end) hardly reflect the light-hearted comedy to come. The lasting popularity of the overture for listeners and performers is an ideal curtain-raiser.

 

Brian Yoon Photo by Mélanie Provencher

Brian Yoon
Photo by Mélanie Provencher

Here are some final thoughts from our brilliant soloist, Brian Yoon, performing Dvorak’s sumptuous Cello Concerto in B Minor:

“The Dvorak concerto is undoubtedly the most important piece in the concert repertoire for cellists. It is joyful, heroic, nostalgic and passionate. I think it reflects both his time in the United States, when he was invited as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, and his longing for home in Bohemia. Along with the New World Symphony, the cello concerto was one of the last orchestral works he wrote in the US before returning to Europe. Since learning it over ten years ago, I have returned to this work every season. Despite it being such a standard piece of repertoire, I continue to discover new details and different ways of shaping a phrase. I am especially fond of the duet with the concertmaster in the third movement. Anne sounded great in the rehearsal! I am really looking forward to the performances.”

As for myself… if there was a Stanley Cup Final for cello concertos, it would be the Elgar vs. the Dvorak.

Tanya Prochazka 1952-2015

Goodbye, Tanya!

You have our deepest respect, admiration, friendship, love. The Sooke orchestra community will miss you terribly!

As a young woman. (photo from her Facebook page)

As a young woman. (photo from her Facebook page)

Our tenth anniversary concert.

Our tenth anniversary concert.

Tanya & SPO 2

Sooke Chamber Music Workshop '07 008

Coaching at the Chamber Music Workshop 2007 (photo from Trevor MacHattie)

Coaching at the Chamber Music Workshop 2007 (photos from Trevor MacHattie)

Chamber Music, 2007

Chamber Music, 2007

The photos below of the 2013 workshop are by Shima Takeda Photography courtesy Lee Anderson.

Tanya

Lee's Tanya 1

Tanya hand

Tanya stand

in action

Cello Group This photo is from Mary Jane Watson

Cello Group
This photo is from Mary Jane Watson

Don Chrysler Concerto Competition, 2015

 

Rae Gallimore took the first prize with Bartok.

Rae Gallimore took the first prize with Bartok.

Saturday, April 25th was the night of this season’s young musicians’ competition — the tenth anniversary of this event. As usual, it was a fascinating and enjoyable evening of listening to six concertos. At the end of the night, it was Rae Gallimore who was chosen the winner. This October, the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra will be presenting the Bartók Viola Concerto, and Rae Gallimore will be our soloist.

Rae Gallimore is no stranger to Sooke and Metchosin audiences. She placed second in last year’s concerto competition; she also played the Telemann Viola Concerto in G last November with the Sooke Philharmonic Chamber Players, in our Warming to Winter concerts.

Alyssa Fu played Shostakovich and won second prize

Alyssa Fu played Shostakovich and won second prize

Ya-Ping Huang won second prize with Mendelssohn

Ya-Ping Huang won second prize with Mendelssohn

The young people were all amazingly skilled on their instruments. Four of the six — Leo Phanichphant, Ya-Ping Huang, Ashley Green and Rae Gallimore — were competing for the second year in a row, and the improvement in their playing was remarkable, not that they weren’t already impressive last year.

No one envied Linda Gould, Lanny Pollet and Dolores Vann, the adjudicators; it must have been a difficult choice.

The adjudicators had their work cut out.

The adjudicators had their work cut out.

Leo Phanichphant, clarinet

Leo Phanichphant, clarinet

Only two people marked “can’t decide” on their Audience Choice ballots, however. The 74 ballots returned showed this to be an audience that admired virtuosity. Nelly Tian got the most votes for her performance of the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3, and Ya-Ping Huang came second. Third place in the audience’s estimation went to Alyssa Fu. The three others were tied. Leo Phanichphant played the Krommer Clarinet Concerto, and Ashley Green (cello) brought us Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.

Nelly Tian. violin

Nelly Tian. violin

Ashley Green, cello

Ashley Green, cello

Our congratulations go to all six for their dedication, courage and skill. We should also congratulate the accompanists — Tzenka Dianova, Elfi Gleusteen, Ingrid Henderson and May-Ling Kwok — for their skillful rendition of the orchestra parts. And of course, our thanks go to the adjudicators and the SPO volunteers who make this competition happen.

Thank you Michael Nyikes for these great photos!

See you next year!

Alison Crone, SPO Principal Flute, was the M.C. for the evening.

Alison Crone, SPO Principal Flute, was the M.C. for the evening.