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Mike Cochran sent along these thoughts about our recent concerts.
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.
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.
You have our deepest respect, admiration, friendship, love. The Sooke orchestra community will miss you terribly!
The photos below of the 2013 workshop are by Shima Takeda Photography courtesy Lee Anderson.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mike Cochrane, SPO bass, was one of the musicians who gathered this past Sunday at All Saints Church on Saltspring to remember our friend and fellow musician, Jean Knight, and he sent us a few words about the memorial.
THIS IS JEAN
A pale sunlit afternoon, the welcoming vestibule of All Saints-by-the-Sea.
This coolly pleasant January.
This is Jean’s church.
There in the sanctuary a smile: compelling, magnetic, irresistible.
Her beauty, alluring, delicate.
This is Jean not so long ago.
And there is another photo:
Jean’s smile ever more invincible… ever more gracious.
This is Jean now.
Jean the den mother. Nurturing her “kits”.
Those seconds Norman met.
This is Vancouver Jean.
The Elgar Serenade; profound
Inevitability of life’s passage.
There is Jean playing second.
And Mozart, carefree, cheerful, cheeky; Jean all over.
I believe she’s dancing, sharing joy, as we play.
This is the Jean we know.
In my tiny cramped place as I play, a daisy is misplaced
From the vase behind my Bass. Detached from its stem
It rests like a delicate white posy at my feet.
The Service concludes – retrieving my fragile posy I place
Her back in her family’s vase, Jean smiling from her portrait.
This is Jean.
Playing a musical instrument is good for the brain; research has shown this. Norman Nelson, Lorna Bjorklund and Anne McDougall are planning to implement this idea with Sooke youngsters, particularly those who lack support or resources; who are, in the words of the organisers, “under-served”.
The U.S.-based Harmony Project has developed a method to put these new findings about brain development and music into practice. It has been successfully set up in urban schools in Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans. Lorna and Anne went to L.A. in the fall to see the projects first-hand and meet some of the teachers involved.
We all know Anne, our concertmaster. Lorna, of course, is the Journey Middle School music teacher who is responsible for their extremely successful string and band programs. Norman and the Sooke Philharmonic Society are fully on board.
Norman was introduced to the program through the Ernest Lieblich Foundation, and he immediately saw its enormous potential to make a positive change in young people’s lives.
“If things go through as planned, this will be the first instance in Canada of the fast-developing Harmony Project, making this American endeavour an International one — on a par with the Suzuki programme. The importance of this situation should not be underestimated,“ Norman said, just back from meetings with the Harmony people and the Ernest Lieblich people, in California.
Youngsters who are interested and willing to make certain basic commitments can be accepted in the program as early as Grade 2. The child must agree to attend his or her music lessons and music classes, to take care of the musical instrument, and to demonstrate responsible behaviour generally. The music program stays with the student through school, and at graduation there are university scholarships available.
The purpose of the Harmony program is not to turn out musicians; it is literally to develop young brains. Of the 2014 Harmony graduates in L.A., no fewer than 97% were accepted into four-year college or university programs. This is not because they were pre-selected as kids who would do well, but because, as music students in the Harmony program, they developed the ability to do well. Music develops intellectual skills that have been shown to be good for academic subjects like reading and math. Participation in the program also benefits the whole person: the kids learn how to behave in a community of musicians. And of course, the pleasure of making music can give them something to stay in school for.
The L.A. Harmony Project started out with 36 students and now has almost 2,000. The projects vary: in L.A., projects feature drums, mariachi, and choir.
Sooke plans are to start with a string program At this point, Norman, Anne and Lorna are exploring the details and developing a budget. Instruments will need to be bought and teachers will be paid. Fundraising is just getting underway.
All Harmony projects require three partners: one is the site donor, which in Sooke is School District 62; second is the project manager and music teachers; the third Sooke partner will be Norman Nelson and the Sooke Philharmonic Society.
For more information about the American projects, go to the Harmony Project site.
It’s an intriguing and exciting prospect for all of us here in Sooke!
Mike Cochrane writes…
With Handel’s Water Music as an opening, our concert could have been titled From Warming To Winter. On July 17th, 1717 the Water Music premiered aboard a barge on the River Thames. The musicians’ barge trailed the King’s barge, riding a vigorous flood tide from Whitehall Palace to Chelsea. There the King disembarked upon an “errand” and the musicians and Handel, no doubt, relocated to a local to await the completion of the errand. The King’s return journey, now upon the ebb, commenced around 11.00 pm, accompanied by an encore Water Music performance. Handel might well have composed an additional movement for the Water Music return cruise, “At The Pub Awaiting “, possibly another hornpipe…! The need for large numbers of players for a performance to be heard over water accentuates the marvelous vigour and robustness of everything Handel. Our selection of movements from the Water Music Suite #1 shows off the robust playing of our horn players, the fine playing of our woodwinds and the vigorous playing of the strings.
Bach’s Air from the Orchestral Suite #3 in D continues our warming to winter theme. The familiar tranquil melody floats above a gentle ground base. Leaping and diving octaves below the serene melody seem full of repose. You could drown in this lovely Air, but it’s a sunny afternoon in late summer with a mild breeze… punting… punting on the mirror that is the River Cam.
George Phillipe Telemann, a contemporary of Bach and Handel, was equally prolific in producing both sacred and secular music, and was in fact the wealthiest and most famous composer of the day. Although he lived entirely in Germany there’s something Italianate in his music. Being self-taught and studying Corelli may explain the texture, structure and style of much of his string music.
Here’s what Rae Gallimore , our viola soloist, has to say about the Viola Concerto in G.
The Telemann Concerto was actually the first piece I learned on the Viola. I was disappointed with the technical aspect because at that time I was also learning the Khatchaturian Violin Concerto and I seemed to judge pieces by their virtuosity. However with the Telemann I learned the importance of colour and commenced my journey on how to create a great bowed articulation. I love this concerto not only from the wonderful character Telemann shares but because of the musical journey I have travelled. Two years ago I took my first bow strokes on the viola and now I am blessed with this wonderful music..!
Our vocal performers take centre stage for the remainder of our Warming with the mellow Cantilena Pro Adventu by Haydn first up. To Haydn a Cantilena is much like a Da Capo Aria, or repeated verses just like a Hymn. This Cantilena is a song of praise of the Virgin during Advent. Structured in Haydn’s simple “folk” style, perhaps intended for a countryside church, the work is pastoral, celebratory and yet a delicate accompaniment to the soprano soloist. We are blessed with Nancy Washeim’s soprano: her peerless intonation sparkles with the purity of white cut diamond. Vocal brilliance finely accompanied by strings, horns, bassoons and organ… a mood of gentle exaltation ensues.
Three Carols for SATB, Strings and Winds, by John Rutter, creates a lullaby sandwich with a clippety-clop filling…! The Nativity Carol sets your imagination soaring to the heavens of a Gothic Cathedral, the choir, as if choirboys, effortlessly reaching flawless high ‘A’s “. Candles in the choir… a gloriously pure traditional carol. And then the Donkey Carol … clippety-clop. A cheerfully lopsided gait over the bumpy road, carrying Mary to Bethlehem. This of course had to be in 5/8 time… the “Gina Lollabridgida” time signature. Take out the “Gina” and Lollabridgida becomes 12, 123… or BridgidaLolla becomes 123,12. (Thanks to Norman Nelson for this insight!) Oh! and give a carrot when the journey’s done.
What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King
A-Wake a voice. A-Wake a string.
Words by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), music by John Rutter (1945- ) in G flat Major — that soft rich purple key. Resplendent music enhancing a beautiful poem.
And give the honour to this day
That sees December turned to May
Why does the chilling winter morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn
Or smell like a meadow newly shorn.
Wade Noble’s hale and hearty baritone, perfectly suited to the choral works of Handel, is no less fitting for the Fantasia of Carols. First performed in Hereford Cathedral in 1912, it presents four English carols. Vaughan Williams scores this for full orchestra, solo baritone and chorus. After a fine cello solo the baritone intones and gradually more instruments and voices fill out The Truth Sent from Above .The work overflows with a lustrous smooth cantabile, familiar Vaughan Williams to our ear. A joyful tempo announces, “Come All You Worthy Gentleman” with a somewhat non-Handelian robustness as we drive through to the conclusion. A lovely a capella, “Both Now and Evermore… Amen” and an impressive conclusion to our winter celebration.
Oh and keep an eye out for donkeys on the way home… !