Dvořák's New World
Friday 22 & Saturday 23 April 2022, 7.30pm
Perth Concert Hall
West Australian Symphony Orchestra respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and Elders of Country throughout Western Australia, and the Whadjuk Noongar people on whose lands we work and share music.
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Dvořák's New World
Elliott GYGER Concerto for Orchestra (World Premiere) (24 mins)
A tattered flag and a dream of time (Carl Sandburg)
The thing with feathers (Emily Dickinson)
A crack in everything (Leonard Cohen)
Intermingled, impure we shine (Tricia Dearborn)
A hungry and angry hope (Julia Baird)
Maurice RAVEL Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (19 mins)
Interval (25 mins)
Antonín DVORÁK Symphony No.9 From the New World (40 mins)
Adagio – Allegro molto
Scherzo (Molto vivace)
Allegro con fuoco
Eduardo Strausser conductor
Paavali Jumppanen piano
Elliott Gyger’s Concerto for Orchestra commissioned for WASO by Geoff Stearn.
Wesfarmers Arts Pre-concert Talk
Find out more about the music in the concert with this week’s speaker, Jen Winley. The Pre-concert Talk will take place at 6.45pm in the Terrace Level Foyer.
Wesfarmers Arts Meet the Musician (Friday only)
Join Principal Cor Anglais, Leanne Glover for a post-concert interview. In her final week with WASO hear insights into Leanne’s 32-year career with the orchestra. The Post-concert Talk will take place immediately following the Friday evening performance in the Terrace Level Foyer.
Listen to WASO
This performance is recorded for broadcast on ABC Classic. For further details visit abc.net.au/classic
WASO On Stage
Acting Assistant Concertmaster
Acting Principal 1st Violin
Principal 2nd Violin
Assoc Principal 2nd Violin
Assistant Principal 2nd Violin
Bao Di Tang
• Tokyo Gas
• Pamela & Josh Pitt
Acting Principal Oboe
• Sam & Leanne Walsh
Geoffrey Bourgault du Coudray^
• Stelios Jewellers
★ Rod & Margaret Marston
Principal 3rd Horn
• Dr Ken Evans AM & Dr Glenda Campbell-Evans
• Peter & Jean Stokes
★ Section partnered by
• Chair partnered by
* Instruments used by these musicians are on loan from Janet Holmes à Court AC.
About the Artists
Eduardo StrausserThe charismatic Brazilian conductor, Eduardo Strausser has gained a reputation for his intelligent programming and powerful style on the podium. Highlights of the first part of the 2021/22 season included a new commission, Odyssee for Zurich Opera, performances with violinist Augustin Hadelich at the Musikkollegium Winterthur and successful debuts with the City of Birmingham Symphony and Kansas City Orchestras. He will join Collegium Musicum Basel in the Spring and further ahead will join Sydney Symphony as well as returns to Antwerp Symphony and Indianapolis.
Successes of the 2020/21 season included debuts with Detroit Symphony Orchestra as well as Handel’s Messiah with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which he will reprise this year.
Previous European symphonic highlights include engagements with Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester Berlin, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tampere Philharmonic and Oslo Philharmonic as well as Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. Elsewhere he has made debuts in previous seasons in Australia with Queensland Symphony Orchestra, ANAM and in South America with Orquestra Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico.
Image credit: Rodrigo Levy
Jessica Cottis is unable to perform this concert as originally scheduled due to COVID-19. We are grateful to Eduardo Strausser for joining us tonight.
About the Artists
In the span of recent seasons, the imaginative and versatile Finnish virtuoso Paavali Jumppanen has established himself as a dynamic musician of seemingly unlimited capability who has already cut a wide swath internationally as an orchestral and recital soloist, recording artist, artistic director, and frequent performer of contemporary and avant-garde music.
Mr. Jumppanen has performed extensively in the United States, Europe, Japan, China, and Australia and collaborated with great conductors including David Robertson, Sakari Oramo, Susanna Mälkki, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Jaap van Zweden. He has commissioned numerous works and collaborated with the composers Boulez, Murail, Dutilleux, Penderecki.
In the recent years Paavali Jumppanen has dedicated much of his time to performing cycles of the complete Beethoven and Mozart piano sonatas. He has frequently performed all of Beethoven’s piano concertos and chamber sonatas. He attended the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and later worked with Krystian Zimerman at the Basel Music Academy in Switzerland where he also studied organ, fortepiano, and clavichord. Russian born pianist Konstantin Bogino has remained an important mentor throughout his career.
Mr Jumppanen is the current Artistic Director of the Australian National Academy of Music.
Image credit: Nina Sivén
About the Music
Elliot Gyger (b.1968)
Concerto for Orchestra
I. A tattered flag and a dream of time (Carl Sandburg)
II. The thing with feathers (Emily Dickinson)
III. A crack in everything (Leonard Cohen)
IV. Intermingled, impure we shine (Tricia Dearborn)
V. A hungry and angry hope (Julia Baird)
While for most concert-goers the title “Concerto for Orchestra” is associated almost exclusively with the 1945 work by Bela Bartòk, there is a rich tradition of hundreds of examples across almost a century, beginning with Hindemith in 1925, and including several composers who have written more than one. To my mind, works in the genre are distinguished by being not only “for”, but in some sense “about”, the orchestra, often with connotations of virtuosic celebration. This piece definitely belongs in that mould, exploring the common trope of the orchestra as a metaphor for an ideal society. As it took shape, however, its design and content also came to reflect the contemporary challenges of 2020 – that strangest of years – in a very direct way.
My Concerto for Orchestra follows Bartòk’s example in its symmetrical five movement arc, but the five movements play without a break. Another important difference is that the weightiest movements are II and IV, with the shorter movements I, III and V providing a frame. In this and other respects the piece is also particularly influenced by Robin Holloway’s exuberant Second Concerto for Orchestra of 1979. The individual movements take their titles and inspiration from a variety of verbal quotations, all linked by the guiding theme of hope.
I. (Carl Sandburg)
Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter winter night
The opening lines of Sandburg’s Depression-era poem set in motion a depiction of hope in vivid but disconnected images: fragile glimpses of a better world. The concerto begins similarly in fragments, suggesting flashes of light or distant fanfares. Each instrumental group (the violin section, the three trumpets, solo celesta, and so on) is isolated in a “family bubble”, with its own musical material. Separated initially by silence, the groups overlap more as the movement progresses, but never really connect. There is also a registral gap, as the movement is scored only for the high and low instruments, with the mid-range absent.
II. (Emily Dickinson)
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all –
The scherzo-like second movement draws two elements from Dickinson’s well-known poem: an avian lightness of texture and motion, and the idea of a “tune that never stops”. A continuous melodic line is passed around the whole orchestra, retaining the bubble-like division into groups but with more of a sense of cooperation: each group, after its time in the spotlight, provides accompaniment for those which follow. The line ebbs and flows across three complete circuits of the ensemble, before dissolving into thin air.
III. (Leonard Cohen)
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
The brief third movement acts as a hinge at the midpoint of the work. The words of the refrain from the 1992 song Anthem by Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen, celebrating the power and hope to be found in imperfection, provide the inspiration. The focus narrows to a three-note chord in the middle of the orchestra’s range, tossed back and forth between different instruments. Halfway through, the “crack” splits wide open, leading to a chaotic ringing of bells.
IV. (Tricia Dearborn)
It’s how we’re designed – connection
as vital as oxygen
intermingled, impure we shine
The closing lines of Sydney poet Tricia Dearborn’s 2019 poem Sodium articulate, in scientific metaphor, humanity’s fundamental need for community and connection in order to flourish – a message with an increased resonance in a world of lockdowns and social distancing. The slow fourth movement is in some ways the core of the concerto. Here the orchestral strands begin to intertwine and blend, starting with the middle-register colours omitted from I, and expanding in three large waves towards a complex, layered tutti. The movement is in triple time throughout, but acquires momentum via shortened beat lengths: the initial 3/2 metre is displaced by bars of 9/8 and then of 3/4.
V. (Julia Baird)
It’s an arresting thought – the only way to
succeed, or merely survive, is to hope.
Not a passive hope, but a hungry and
angry hope, one that will force us to act.
The source text for the final movement is not poetry or song, but a newspaper article: a profile by Australian journalist Julia Baird of climate action advocate Christiana Figueres, published in March 2020. Here hope is transformed from consolation to compelling moral choice. The orchestra, painstakingly assembled across the preceding movements from small fragments, here coalesces in a single galvanized voice, a continuous line reminiscent of II but now scored in mixed colours. Urgent percussive gestures propel a series of progressively longer and higher melodic arcs, reaching upwards to bring the concerto to an aspirational close.
This is the World Premiere of the work.
Commissioned for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra by Geoff Stearn.
two each of flutes and one piccolo, oboes and one cor anglais, clarinets and one bass clarinet, bassoons and one contrabassoon; four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tube; timpani two percussionists; celeste, harp and strings.
About the Music
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Concerto in D for the Left Hand
The first performance occurred not with the composer at the helm, but with Robert Heger conducting, in Vienna, prompting much speculation about ‘artistic personalities’. It was not until 1933 that the concerto was heard in Paris. All differences apparently resolved, Ravel conducted the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, while Wittgenstein performed.
We can be glad today of Ravel’s pride in his ‘neat and nice labours’, as the Concerto for the Left Hand occupies a unique place in the repertoire. But Wittgenstein can
hardly be accused of faint-heartedness. Brother of the philosopher Ludwig, he lost his right arm at the Russian front in 1914, but resolved to continue his career as concert pianist. He commissioned works for left hand alone from Prokofiev, Hindemith and Britten. Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto was published in 1931, as Wittgenstein’s ‘exclusive property’.
Compositions for the left hand were not without precedent – pianists, it seems, had been losing their arms or hands or disabling themselves since time immemorial. And for some reason the right hand was always the first to go. Schumann famously ruined his right hand through ‘overdone technical studies’, perhaps involving the use of a mechnical device; in the 19th century a Count Geza Zichy contributed a concerto for left hand after losing his right arm hunting. Leopold Godowsky, who lost the use of his right hand in a stroke, had by good fortune previously composed 22 studies on Chopin etudes for left hand alone. Ravel studied Saint-Saëns’ Six Studies for the Left Hand in his preparation for this concerto, and may have been exposed to Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for Left Hand Alone. Ravel’s solutions to the problem of ‘half a pianist’, however, are entirely his own. The difficulty, he claimed, was ‘to avoid the impressions of insufficient weight in the sound-texture,’ something he addressed by reverting to the ‘imposing style of the traditional concerto.’
The Left Hand concerto and the G major concerto for both hands were composed simultaneously, in the years 1929 to 1931, but the two works could scarcely be more different. The Concerto in G is a popular and enduring work, but essentially a divertissement – a good-hearted rollick. Perversely, the composer saves his deepest statements, and his greatest virtuosity, for his ‘lame’ work. It unfolds almost as a Concerto Grosso, with the pianist responding to the orchestra in dazzling cadenzas. Here the soloist really is tragic hero, triumphing against orchestra and handicap.
The concerto begins with cellos and double bass in their lowest register, creating less a sound than mere a feeling of darkness. A contrabassoon in its lowest range introduces fragments of the theme. (This passage, incidentally, was originally scored for the historical curiosity of the Sarrusophone – a bizarre hybrid of saxophone and bassoon, designed for use in military bands.) Other instruments gradually enter the fray until the texture builds to an enormous climax, and the piano enters, in a cadenza of extraordinary virtuosity. The orchestra responds and builds to an even greater plane, before the piano returns, and surprises us with transparent lyricism. This introduces the central section, of distinct jazz influence. Parallel triads skid downwards through the piano; a tarantella recalls the opening melody. Finally, Ravel returns to his opening material, and a yet more dazzling piano cadenza. The piece ends almost too abruptly, with what the composer described as a ‘brutal peroration’.
Musically probably the supreme work for left hand alone, the concerto is also one of the most difficult. Ravel makes few concessions to single-handedness, and the piano part is expressed in virtuosic, stereo sound. The pianist Alfred Cortot suggested that a two-handed arrangement would do nothing to diminish the music, but would rather allow it a more permanent place in the repertory. The Ravel family refused. The concerto exists as unique piece of musical illusion, and perhaps they wished to preserve this. The first performances received an excited audience and critical response, not least because of the work’s outpouring of sentiment. The concerto’s overt emotionalism refutes Stravinsky’s dismissal of the composer as ‘the Swiss watch-maker’. Prunières noted wistfully that he should have liked Ravel to have ‘been able to let us observe more frequently what he was guarding in his heart, instead of accrediting the legend that his brain alone invented these admirable sonorous fantasmagorias. From the opening measures [of the concerto], we are plunged into a world to which Ravel has but rarely introduced us.’
It was to be short-lived introduction. Ravel soon exhibited symptoms of the debilitating brain disease that was to end his life. He composed three songs for a projected film about Don Quixote which, along with the two piano concerti, became his unexpected swansong.
Anna Goldsworthy © 1999
1 May 1932, Vienna. Paul Wittgenstein, piano. Robert Heger conducting.
Most recent WASO performance:
11-12 November 1994. Gary Graffman, piano. Marcello Viotti, conductor.
three each of flutes (3rd = piccolo), oboes (3rd = cor anglais), four clarinets (two doubling piccolo and bass clarinet) and three bassoons (3rd – contrabassoon); four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba; timpani, four percussionists, harp and strings.
Concerto grosso – a kind of 17th- and 18th-century concerto where instead of having one solo instrument, there is a group of solo instruments contrasting with the full orchestra.
Cadenza – a showy passage by a solo instrument, usually towards the end of a concerto movement. Originally, cadenzas were improvised by the soloist to show off their brilliant technique.
Triad – a chord with three notes in it. The opening of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata consists of the notes of a triad played one after another, over and over again.
Tarantella – a fast dance from Naples once reputed to cure tarantula bites.
About the Music
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 From the New World
Adagio – Allegro molto
Scherzo (Molto vivace)
Allegro con fuoco
Dvořák composed his ninth, and last, symphony in New York between January and May 1893. As his secretary, Josef Kovařík, was about to deliver the score to the conductor of the first performance, Anton Seidl, Dvořák suddenly wrote on the title page, ‘From the New World’. That expression had been used in a welcome speech following his arrival in New York the previous September. Kovařík said the inscription was just ‘the Master’s little joke’; but the ‘joke’ has, ever since, begged the question: how American is the New World Symphony?
Dvořák could have written his ‘New World’ inscription, as in the welcome speech, in English. By writing it in Czech he was seen to be addressing the work, like a picture postcard, to his compatriots back in Europe. At the same time he challenged listeners to identify depictions of America or elements of American music. Either way, the composer was seen to be meeting the desire of his employer, music patron Jeannette Thurber, for music which might be identified as American.
Mrs Thurber had persuaded Dvořák to become director of her National Conservatory of Music in New York. Besides teaching students from a wide spectrum of society, he found he was expected to show Americans how to create a national music. So, controversially and perhaps naively, in a country which had not forgotten the Civil War, the egalitarian Dvořák told Americans they would find their future music in their roots, whether native or immigrant, and in particular the songs of the African Americans.
From his familiarity with gypsies in Europe, Dvořák had famously composed a set of Gypsy Melodies (including ‘Songs my mother taught me’), and was thus receptive when introduced soon after his arrival to the songs of the African Americans – the sorrow songs and spiritual songs of the plantation. As a devout man of humble rural origins, he responded to the pathos and religious fervour of the poor.
He told the New York Herald that the two middle movements of his new symphony were inspired by Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, a work he had long ago read in Czech and which Mrs Thurber was now suggesting for an opera. The famous slow movement, he said, was inspired by Hiawatha’s wooing of Minnehaha and the Scherzo by dancing at the wedding feast. Without using Native American melodies, he claimed to have given the Scherzo ‘the local colour of Indian music’ – an effect probably limited to repetitive rhythms and primitive harmonies.
As music, the New World Symphony is entirely characteristic of its composer (the ‘simple Czech musician’ he liked to style himself) and owes nothing to any specific ‘borrowings’ from the indigenous or African American musics Dvořák encountered in the New World. The ersatz-spiritual Goin’ home was actually arranged from Dvořák’s Largo movement by one of his students, not the other way around.
Strong non-musical impressions of America doubtless crowded the composer’s mind as he worked on the symphony. The surging flow and changing moods of the outer movements perhaps reflect the frenetic bustle of New York. The vast, desolate prairies Dvořák found ‘sad unto despair’, and this may be felt to underpin the deep yearning of the Largo (together with the composer’s own homesickness for his native Bohemia). As if to emphasise his personal longing for home, Dvořák uses a Czech dance as the central trio section of the third movement.
Musical ideas recur in the New World Symphony to link the symphonic structure. The two main themes of the first movement are recalled in festive mood in the Largo, at the brassy climax of the famous melody first stated by the cor anglais. They figure again in the coda of the Scherzo, the first theme (somewhat disguised) also making three appearances earlier in the movement. The main themes of both middle movements recur in the finale, and the main themes of all three preceding movements are reviewed in the final coda. There, a brief dialogue between the themes of the first and last movements is cut short by a conventional cadence, spiced by unexpected wind colouring in the last chord of all.
Abridged from an annotation © Anthony Cane
16 December 1893, New York. Anton Seidl conducting the New York Philharmonic.
First WASO performance:
First WASO performance: 28 October 1939. Malcolm Sargent, conductor.
Most recent WASO performance:
16-17 November 2018. Asher Fisch, conductor.
two flutes (one doubling piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets and two bassoons; four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba; timpani, percussion and strings.
Cadence – series of chords which gives a sense of the end of a phrase or section of music.
Coda – a concluding section added to the basic structure of a piece or movement to emphasise the sense of finality.
Scherzo – a movement in a fast, light triple time which may involve whimsical, startling or playful elements; the trio is the contrasting middle section of the movement.