February 10, 2013
Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85
Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
Special Guest: David Requiro, cello
“Most musical performers play upon an instrument. But, there are some rare ones who merge into a symbiotic relationship with their instruments that make us think of them as one. And, that is Requiro. Look for him to be a musical leader of the future.”
David Requiro, cello
First Prize Winner of the 2008 Naumburg International Violoncello Competition, DAVID REQUIRO (pronounced Re-keer-oh) has emerged as one of today’s most promising young cellists. After winning First Prize in both the Washington International and Irving M. Klein International String Competitions, he also captured a top prize at the Gaspar Cassadó International Violoncello Competition in Hachioji, Japan, coupled with the prize for the best performances of works by Cassadó.
Mr. Requiro has made concerto appearances with the Tokyo Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and with several orchestras from California including the Marin, Stockton, Peninsula, Santa Cruz, Fremont, Diablo and Santa Rosa Symphonies. He has also been featured as soloist with the Naples Philharmonic, Santa Fe, Ann Arbor, Pine Bluff, and Quincy Symphony orchestras as well as with Symphony ProMusica in Boston. This season, Mr. Requiro will solo with the Edmonton, Canton, Peninsula, and Oakland East Bay Symphonies, and with the Pacific Northwest Sinfonietta. His Carnegie Hall debut recital at Weill Hall was followed by a critically acclaimed San Francisco Performances recital at the Herbst Theatre. Soon after making his Kennedy Center debut, Mr. Requiro also completed the cycle of Beethoven’s Sonatas for Piano and Cello at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Actively involved in contemporary music, Mr. Requiro appeared as a guest artist at the 2010 Amsterdam Cello Biennale where he gave the Dutch premiere of Pierre Jalbert’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. He has collaborated with composers Krzysztof Penderecki and Bright Sheng, as well as with members of the Aspen Percussion Ensemble, giving the Aspen Music Festival premiere of Tan Dun’s concerto, Elegy: Snow in June, for cello and percussion. As a member of the Talea Ensemble, he joined the Hyperion Ensemble for a spectral music tour of London and Paris. Mr. Requiro has also performed the European premieres of Lou Harrison’s Suite for Cello and Orchestra on tour in Italy with the Crowden School Orchestra. As a chamber musician, he is a member of the Baumer String Quartet and also collaborates with the ensembles Concertante and ECCO (East Coast Chamber Orchestra).
Mr. Requiro has recently been appointed “Artist in Residence” at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. His artist faculty appointments include the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Giverny Chamber Music Festival, Center Stage Strings, Innsbrook Music Festival and Institute, Maui Classical Music Festival, and the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival. As a member of the Baumer String Quartet, he co-founded the inaugural Monterey Chamber Music Workshop and will be on the artist faculty of the Crowden Music Center Summer String Program.
A native of Oakland, California, Mr. Requiro began cello studies at age six and his teachers have included Milly Rosner, Bonnie Hampton, Mark Churchill, Michel Strauss, and Richard Aaron. He resides in Tacoma, Washington and is a member of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players in New York City.
Read more about David on his website: www.davidrequiro.com
Born June 2, 1857, Broadheath, near Worcester, England.
Died February 23, 1934, Worcester.
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85
Although Elgar was to live another fifteen years the Cello Concerto constitutes his last major work. The Great War had taken its toll on Elgar’s spirit, eventually sapping his creative juices for good. In a letter (1917) to his confidante, “Windflower”—alias Alice Stuart-Wortley—he confessed: “Everything good and nice and clean and fresh and sweet is far away—never, ever to return...Never glad confident morning again.” After a period of sickness and mental exhaustion, Elgar managed to escape London’s war-ravaged environs and retreated to the verdant pastures of Sussex, where he began to compose once more. The Cello Concerto was sketched after three chamber works—the Violin Sonata, String Quartet, and Piano Quintet—all cast in the introspective tonality of E minor. These four works also embrace a common mood: a weary and resigned feel, a sense of Weltschmerz amid the inhumanity of the First World War—events that radically changed the social and artistic fabric of the entire nation. Elgar’s inner-fire, in the autumn of his life, burned with intensity one final time in the Cello Concerto.
Like his contemporaries Richard Strauss, Mahler and Ravel, Elgar possessed a fine ear for orchestral sonority. All of his symphonic works are littered with felicitous touches and brilliant use of tone colors. Unlike some other composers before him, Elgar knew how to orchestrate a concerto for cello: the soloist’s baritone range is never obfuscated and its sonorous tenor register is garlanded with a myriad of telling details. As Michael Kennedy observes, “Elgar’s lightness of touch, however, does not make the music sound lightweight.” The full orchestra is used sparingly but adds enormous weight and persuasion when it is employed.
The fundamental reason why this work is a “concerto with a difference” is that Elgar was not interested in producing a virtuoso display piece—the melancholic nature of the Concerto’s message is integrated into a work of thematic and structural concentration. The energy of the opening noblimente flourish is soon drained by the long and exhausted theme in 9/8. A more optimistic paragraph in 12/8 time (introduced by the clarinet) lifts the spirits but only provides temporary rest, as the mood of sad resignation returns. The moribund first movement is linked to the second by a pizzicato variation of the opening flourish. After much hesitation the Allegro molto develops into a fleeting and eerie Scherzo. The Scherzo's secondary theme recalls the pessimistic undercurrent that permeates the entire Concerto.
A brief but eloquent Adagio soliloquy, painted in the most remote key (B-flat major) from Concerto’s home tonality, follows the Scherzo. Another variant of the opening flourish links the Adagio to the finale without a break. The optimism and confidence of the music is redolent of Elgar's pre-War scores—especially the First Symphony and Overture In London Town—but its swagger is constantly undermined by a more ominous countenance. Chromatic harmony, as it had done in the sublime Violin Concerto, gradually brings tragedy to the forefront for the accompanied cadenza. At this juncture—following the precedent of Dvorák's celebrated Cello Concerto—Elgar brings back a theme from an earlier movement (the lamenting Adagio) which stresses the emotional crisis of the work as autumn turns to winter. In an attempt to end with a brave face, Elgar concludes the work with the opening noblimente flourish, the soloist and orchestra combining in the same strain for the sole time in the Concerto.
Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany.
Died April 3, 1897, Vienna, Austria.
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
Elgar loved the Brahms Third—he once stated it was his favorite Romantic symphony—and he prepared and presented an insightful lecture on the work in many cities throughout Great Britain. He loved its enigmatic quality, the warmth of its orchestration and, uniquely, that each of its four movements end softly; many of these hallmarks rubbed-off on him, as in Germany he is referred to as “the English Brahms”.
The Third Symphony is the least played and known of Brahms’s four symphonies. As John Horton remarks, “Of all the symphonies it is perhaps the one that least readily yields up its secrets, and from the performers’ point of view it sets problems that tax the greatest conductors and orchestras. The music gives the impression of concealing personal meanings. It is a Symphony of contradictions.” It was composed during the summer of 1883 and was premièred that December by the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Richter. Brahms was fifty when he wrote the F major Symphony and, indeed, it is full of introspective thoughts and intriguing connotations. The Third is not so public or extrovert as Brahms’s other orchestral creations and it is the only one of his symphonies to employ Schumann’s type of cyclical devices—with themes reappearing in later movements and in different guises. The middle movements are both short and “simple”, very much like chamber music writ large, and are not the profound slow movement and brisk Scherzo pairing of Beethoven’s symphonic philosophy. Brahms uses a lot of chromatic transitions and “modal mixture” (both much favored by Wagner) in the Symphony: although reportedly in F major, the opening theme of the first movement is littered with A-flats, imparting the strong feel of F minor. The second movement is in C, as is the ravishing third movement, but it resides in the minor mode. The finale opens in F minor and only establishes F major at the very end of the movement—after much drama and anguish—when the first movement’s principal theme is reincarnated in an amazing apotheosis.
Much has been made of the famous Brahms versus Wagner rivalry in Germany during the second half of the 19th century. This clash of compositional styles was played out by the Viennese press rather than between the composers themselves. The papers loved to fuel an acrimonious feud and stir the music-loving public into taking sides; Eduard Hanslick, a conservative critic and Brahms’ chief advocate, vilified the radical Wagner and his disciples for corrupting German music—the symphony in particular. I have always been curious about the very opening of the Brahms No. 3—the full, bracing wind chords—and, perish the thought, have felt that they sound more like Wagner than the customary lambent style of Brahms’s orchestration. It should be noted that Wagner died in February 1883; ludicrous as it may seem but did Brahms respond to Wagner’s death and write parts of the Third Symphony with him in mind? It is well-chronicled that Bruckner, a composer very much in the “Wagner camp”, memorialized the Master of Bayreuth in the sublime Adagio movement of his Seventh Symphony—the sad news of Wagner’s passing reached him as he was sketching that movement. But did Brahms pen a musical homage as well?
My curiosity was reignited in 1999 when this subject came up in conversation with Dr. Stephen Hefling of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who directed me to an illuminating article by his former teacher, Robert Bailey. Professor Bailey is adamant about this unlikely connection: “The entire musical world, and particularly that of Wagner’s native Germany, felt a sense of shock and loss at the news of his death in February 1883. In the summer of 1883, Brahms completed his Third Symphony, a work which to some extent can be regarded as a memorial to the deceased composer, a memorial of Brahms’s own particular sort.”
Professor Bailey cites some examples of alarming similarity between themes in the Third Symphony and Wagner’s Tannhäuser (1845)—“an opera of special significance for Brahms”—but does not directly allude to the opening chords. I am most indebted to Dr. Hefling who divulged that Brahms was involved in copying the parts for concert performances of Tannhäuser in Vienna, and even pilfered some of Wagner’s autograph manuscript! Dr. Hefling also notes that the two opening chords, with near identical orchestration, occur in Act III of Tannhäuser, which accompany the words “fire and salvation”—and come at a critical juncture in the piece.
There are further overlaps: Brahms once translated the opening theme (F, A-flat, F) as “free but sad”…free of Wagner but sad at his death? Each movement seems to sing of some past regret; the music wrestles and reaches for something but never fully obtains it. The trombones are used—but not the trumpets and timpani—in the second movement; the trombone is an instrument key to Tannhäuser but its sound also intones the notion of advancing mortality to Germans and Lutherans. The idea of “redemption” was central to Wagner’s music dramas, and most of them end softly with radiant paeans in the home key. Brahms (in conversation with his friend Joachim) referred to the Third Symphony as “redemption through dissolution”, and the conclusion of this work recalls the leading motifs of the work in a soft, luminous haze—the music being both fast and slow at the same time—which is akin to the final pages of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Die Walküre and Parsifal.
Much of this is mere fascinating musicological detective work and is not important to the enjoyment of the work in concert. Whatever its inspiration, the overriding fact remains Brahms’s Third Symphony is a glorious work, rich in hue and incident, and a magnificent example of Romantic art. With its arresting drama, nostalgic glow, autumnal colors and muscle-soothing sonorities, it is the perfect Symphony for a Sunday night.
Program Notes Copyright ©2013 by Huw Edwards