Otto Tausk conducts Prokofiev
MORNING SYMPHONY SERIES
Thursday 1 September 2022, 11.00am
Perth Concert Hall
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Otto Tausk conducts Prokofiev
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART The Abduction from the Seraglio: Overture (6 mins)
Sergei PROKOFIEV Symphony No.5 (46 mins)
Otto Tausk conductor
Wesfarmers Arts Pre-concert Talk
Find out more about the music in the concert with this week’s speaker Cecilia Sun. The Pre-concert Talk will take place at 9.40am in the Main Auditorium.
Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 Listening Guide
WASO On Stage
Acting Principal 1st Violin
Principal 2nd Violin
Assoc Principal 2nd Violin
Assistant Principal 2nd Violin
Bao Di Tang
Acting Assoc Principal
• Pamela & Josh Pitt
• Sam & Leanne Walsh
• Stelios Jewellers
★ Rod & Margaret Marston
Principal 3rd Horn
Francesco Lo Surdo
• John & Nita Walshe
• Dr Ken Evans AM & Dr Glenda Campbell-Evans
• Peter & Jean Stokes
Assoc Principal Percussion & Timpani
★ Section partnered by
• Chair partnered by
* Instruments used by these musicians are on loan from Janet Holmes à Court AC.
About the Artist
Otto Tausk is the Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Artistic Advisor of the VSO School of Music, where he has successfully raised the orchestra’s profile by launching a digital performances series and introducing Canadian contemporary music over recent years.
He is best known for his broad range of repertoire, inclusive way of working, and energetic stage presence. He has appeared with the Concertgebouworkest, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de Belgique, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with whom he made his BBC Proms debut in August 2018.
From Utrecht, the Netherlands, Otto Tausk is a hugely respected musical personality in his native country. In 2011 he was awarded the prestigious ‘De Olifant’ prize recognising his contribution to the Arts in the Netherlands.
Image credit: Sarah Wijzenbeek
About the Music
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Abduction from the Seraglio: Overture
If Mozart were alive now, composing and performing, it is entirely possible he would be topping the charts as the male version of Madonna – a musical chameleon, a trendsetter, an enfant terrible embroiled in very public brawls with the media and with, no doubt, a legion of adoring fans. Your basic marketing dream.
This stereotypical image of Mozart was successfully perpetuated in Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play Amadeus and in its big-screen adaptation where one could be forgiven for thinking that at any moment Mozart would actually strip down into his basketball regalia and shoot a few hoops with Salieri.
In fact it was in this very film that the immortal words ‘it has too many notes’ were uttered by the emperor, Joseph II, in response to his first hearing the overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail).
Written in 1781-82, Seraglio was Mozart’s first great Viennese opera triumph, and considering the pressure that he was under during this period, it was no minor achievement. He arrived in Vienna in March 1781, was subsequently sacked from the Archbishop Colloredo’s service, married Constanze Weber, and entered a distinctly frosty phase in his relations with his father, the ever-domineering Leopold. However, things with his father did not deteriorate so rapidly that he was not included in the initial stages of composition of the opera. Mozart wrote to his father in August 1781:
“Of the overture [to The Abduction from the Seraglio] you have only 14 bars. It is quite short, and switches from forte to piano all the time, whereby in the forte there is always Turkish music. It modulates continually through various keys and I think they won’t fall asleep over it even if they haven’t slept for a whole night.”
The story of the opera is that of a young noblewoman, the faithful and sincere Konstanze, who has been kidnapped, shipped to Turkey, and is in the clutches of the cruel and faithless Pasha, Selim. Belmonte comes from Spain to search for his beloved Konstanze. As with most Singspiel of this era, it is both serious and comic, and it all ends happily ever after, with good triumphing over evil.
The overture begins softly and then bursts forth with an exultant orchestral tutti. Following this vigorous melodic romp, Mozart wrestles the musical action into a subdued, and melancholic slow section in a minor key. The triumphant mood of the first section returns, and the overture concludes with a rendition of the slow section, this time in a major key.
Symphony Australia © 1998
16 July 1782, Vienna.
Most recent WASO performance:
14 July 1991. Isaiah Jackson (conductor).
one flute (doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, three percussion and strings.
Singspiel – a German form of comic opera. By 1750 a singspiel was a comic opera with spoken dialogue.
Tutti – all the instruments of the orchestra playing at the same time.
About the Music
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100
As Prokofiev raised his baton to conduct the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Moscow shook with the sound of cannon-fire. It was January 1945, and the fusillade announced to the citizens that the Red Army had crossed the Vistula River in its rout of the invading Germans. Pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who was there, remembered the symbolism of the moment well: ‘A common borderline had come for everyone.’ If the cannon-fire was announcing the turn of the war’s tide, the symphony announced a new beginning. Its epic scale and optimistic trajectory perfectly reflected the mood of the time. Prokofiev later wrote that in this work ‘I wanted to sing of the free, happy man, his mighty power, his chivalry and his purity of spirit…I wrote the kind of music that grew ripe within me and finally filled up my soul.’
We need, of course, to understand the deliberate ambiguity of such remarks: Prokofiev, like anyone else, was well aware of the lack of freedom and happiness under Joseph Stalin; his description might sound like that of the new ‘Soviet man’, but can equally be read as a subtle denunciation of the regime. The composer, moreover, had first-hand experience of the precariousness of favour in the Soviet Union. Perhaps expecting to profit from Shostakovich’s recent fall from grace, Prokofiev had permanently returned to Russia in 1936 after living mainly in Paris since 1918. He soon found that when he tried to compose in the officially sanctioned way he would be accused of writing music that was ‘pale and lacking in individuality’; if he continued on the course he had begun in Western Europe he was derided as a ‘formalist’.
With works like Peter and the Wolf and Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev’s stocks revived, and during the early 1940s he received the Stalin Prize several times and was evacuated to safety when the Soviet Union entered World War II in 1942. He spent the summer of 1944 with composers Khachaturian, Shostakovich and Miaskovsky in the relative luxury of a government-run artists’ colony and in a mere two months (and with a little recycling) had composed his Fifth Symphony.
The Fourth Symphony, composed some 14 years earlier, was a not entirely successful cobbling together of offcuts from the Prodigal Son ballet. In the Fifth, Prokofiev produced a much more ‘classical’ work, of four movements, but one in which his material is superbly integrated and tightly argued. Like Shostakovich in a number of works, Prokofiev composed a first movement whose tempo is broad and stately rather than traditionally fast. This enables an epic treatment of the material. Beginning with a simple theme on flute and bassoon, the movement unfolds gradually but inexorably, with passages of characteristic wit, high lyricism and overpowering full scoring until, in its final cadence, a radiant B flat chord emerges from tense dissonance.
The second movement provides the first really fast music, its balletic quality partly explained by the use of material discarded during the composition of Romeo and Juliet. This recalls the Prokofiev of The Love for Three Oranges – fast, incisive, colourful – and provides a foil to the extended and beautiful slow movement which follows. What musicologist Arnold Whittall calls the ‘obsessive ticking’ rhythms of the second movement give place to a gently pulsating accompaniment over an arching main theme, which contrasts with an emotive central section.
In the finale, Prokofiev initially defies expectations by quoting the melody from the first movement, this time scored for the rarified sound of divided cellos. Whether or not this represents what Prokofiev’s ‘official’ biographer Israel Nestyev calls the ‘theme of man’s grandeur and heroic strength’, it is dramatically effective of the composer not to plunge immediately into the expected triumphal finale. As Whittall remarks, the movement avoids the ‘naively life-enhancing’ cliches of Soviet music but the subtle use of dissonance, and the uneasy sense right at the end, suggest that the energy of the music has outlived its meaning.
The timing of the symphony was, however, perfect, seeming to sing of Soviet victory. Sadly, it would not be long before Prokofiev would feel the weight of disfavour once more; moreover, concussion sustained in a fall shortly after the premiere meant that the Fifth Symphony would be the last work he would ever conduct.
Gordon Kerry © 2003
13 January 1945, Moscow, composer conducting USSR State Symphony Orchestra.
First WASO performance:
13 September 1967. Hans-Hubert Schönzeler conducting.
Most recent WASO performance:
13-14 July 2018, Joshua Weilerstein conducting.
two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, E flat clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, strings.
Cadence – series of chords which gives a sense of the end of a phrase or section of music.
Dissonance – a combination of notes which sounds harsh or unpleasant.
Formalism – term used by Soviet critics and officials to denounce musical works which failed to conform to the aesthetics of socialist realism, i.e. that music should be tuneful, positive and easily understood by the people. The criticism was levelled against composers (notably Prokofiev and Shostakovich) whose works were perceived as too ‘modern’ or avant-garde.