It's Not Christmas Yet!
by Jan Jezioro
Okay: We all know that the classical Christmas music season has just gotten off to a great start this past weekend. How can any classical music lover disagree, when the Neglia Ballet’s second annual collaboration with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in a pair of performances of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker at Shea’s Performing Arts Center this past weekend, or, for that matter, the Nickel City Opera’s four-performance run of its premier production of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Riviera Theater, last Friday and Saturday, resulted in packed houses and smiling faces?
All well and good, but, no matter how much most of us enjoyed these events, it still seems that there should be the opportunity to enjoy hearing classical music in December that is, very definitely, not Christmas music.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra presents a pair of concerts at Kleinhans Music Hall this Saturday evening at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm, under the baton of music director JoAnn Falletta, that more than fill that need, showcasing, as they do, the talents of the renowned American virtuoso cellist Lynn Harrell. The BPO concerts feature a performance of Elgar’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, as well as Brahms’ final symphonic masterwork, his Symphony No. 4, and Isle of Bliss, an orchestral showpiece by the leading contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, perhaps the most notable Finnish composer since Jean Sibelius.
Edward Elgar (1867-1934) began composing his Concerto in E Minor for Cello and Orchestra in 1918 during the final year of World War I, completing it in August 1919. Though Elgar is often identified as the composer of the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, with the British Empire at its pre-war zenith, he felt himself to be something of an outsider. Born poor, self-educated in a country where everyone who mattered went to either Cambridge or Oxford, he was a Catholic among Anglicans, and he was also troubled that some of his country gentry neighbors felt that he had married “above his station.” Emotionally devastated by the carnage and destruction of the war, Elgar had written only minor works from 1913 to 1918, when he composed his only Violin Sonata, String Quartet and String Quintet; the Concerto for Cello, and Orchestra shares a certain affinity with the intimacy of these late chamber music works. Sir Adrian Boult, the British conductor who later became a leading interpreter of the composer’s works, observed that in the cello concerto Elgar had “struck a new kind of music, with a more economical line, terser in every way,” and thus, very different from the broadly expansive style of his two pre-war symphonies and symphonic poems such as Falstaff. The premiere performance of the cello concerto in 1919, under the baton of the composer, received a lukewarm reception, due in part to the lack of rehearsal time, which had been monopolized by the other conductor on the program. The death of Elgar’s beloved wife a few months later lead to his virtually abandoning musical composition, making the cello concerto his last major work, although there is no reason to believe that he had composed the work as a “farewell” to music. The concerto gained widespread popularity slowly, but for the last 40 or so years, virtually every major touring cellist has included it in their repertoire.
The compositional talent of Johannes Brahms was evident from an early age. Robert Schumann, in his role as a music critic for a leading German musical journal, declared in 1853 that the then unknown 20-year-old Brahms was “destined to give ideal expression to the times.” Yet, laboring under the long shadow of Beethoven, Brahms did not finish composing his first symphony until the age of 43. Brahms went on to compose three more symphonies, and they have since become some of the most frequently programmed symphonic works worldwide. The BPO will close its program with a performance of Brahms’ final symphony, the Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, a work that it has performed no less than 24 times previously.
After the print addition of Artvoice went to press, the BPO announced a last minute change to this weekend’s program. Rautavarra’s tone poem the Isle of Bliss is being replaced by Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Marosszék. Kodály originally composed the Dances of Marosszék in 1927 for piano, before orchestrating the work in 1930. Like his friend Bartók, Kodály spent a lot of time in the field, collecting Hungarian folk songs. He discovered the six songs that make up this work in Marosszék, a town in the Szekely region of eastern Hungary, The tunes date back several centuries, and are of Transylvanian origin. The opening theme is developed and then comes back repeatedly, after each new theme is introduced; the entire work is brim full of exotic color and passion, as the piece rushes irresistibly to its grand climax.
“Musically Speaking,” a pre-concert talk free to ticket holders sponsored by Uniland, is held one hour before Saturday and Sunday performances on the M&T Bank Classics Series. For tickets or information, call 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.
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