Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra comes to the Wisconsin Union Theater on November 21, 2010 with exciting and diverse pieces--and none of the composers are the standard German or French! This is an exciting opportunity to expose oneself to music of different cultures. MSO, under the baton of Edo de Waart, will be performing works by Norwegian Edvard Grieg, American Samuel Barber, and Hungarian Bela Bartok.
The orchestra will begin the evening with Grieg’s popular Suite No. 1 Op. 46 from Peer Gynt. Based on Henrik Isben’s adaptation on a fairytale, Peer Gynt, Grieg’s first suite, contains two very famous movements. The first movement, Morning Mood, contains the theme you hear in cartoons and commercials with the scene of a sunrise and birds chirping. The third movement, In The Hall of the Mountain King, is another very easily recognizable theme, obtaining an iconic status in popular culture. The opening slow theme imitates an image of Peer sneaking into the Mountain King’s castle with careful footsteps. Slowly, the theme accelerates signaling the moment when the King’s trolls spot Peer. Becoming a chase scene, the music gets louder with cymbals clashing all of the way to the climax where we get a B minor chord—the moment that Peer successfully escapes. This is a piece you will not want to miss. It’s quite the narrative!
Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra Op. 14 is the second piece that MSO will be performing with their very own Frank Almond as the violinist. There are many tales of the origin of the concerto. Philadelphia industrialist Samuel Fels commissioned Barber to compose a violin concerto for Fel’s adopted son, Iso Briselli, who graduated with Barber from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1934. Barber took the commission money and spent it on a trip to Switzerland where he began writing the concerto.
The first two movements were delivered to Briselli, and after a year-long delay, so was the third movement. Unfortunately, Briselli didn’t like the third movement, saying that the ending should be longer and the movement as a whole should have a more structured form. Barber didn’t agree and stuck with the original. Despite the conflict, the two did remain friends. The piece was publicly premiered on February 7, 1941 by the Philadelphia Orchestra with the prominent and virtuosic violinist Albert Spalding. The premiere was followed by repeat performances, with one at Carnegie Hall. This was the piece’s even bigger breakthrough, making the concerto standard repertoire for violinists. It’s one of the most successful 20th century works to this day.
The composition itself is quite conservative, with lyrical melodies, and it is fastidiously orchestrated. The first movement is a classical Sonata-Allegro form. The violin carries the first theme which is claimed (inappropriately) to take on a Mozartian twist, whereupon the clarinet begins the second theme. Both are rigorously developed before the return of the first violin theme, marking the recapitulation.
The second movement is a traditional Andante. The oboe melody is smooth with a bit of an oriental influence. Coupling it is a horn. The independent violin dominates the middle portion of the movement driving towards a closely related cadenza-like figure flowing into its own rendition of the initial oboe and horn theme, drawing the movement to a close. It’s incredibly colorful.
The third movement is a perpetual-motion finale, which is a tour-de-force for not only the violin but also the orchestra. In rondo form, each section shows off the virtuosity of the violin and orchestra itself, hence “Concerto for…Orchestra”. This idea of a “concerto for orchestra” carries over into the Bartok piece Concerto for Orchestra.
You can hear many of Bartok’s folk influences in this work; narrow melodies abound with unsteady rhythms; the music departs tonality, going into non-traditional modes and artifical scales; the horns have drone figures in the first movement. The second movement is rather eclectic. Instruments are paired off in twos, and the side drum has a different tempo marking. This accumulates into a special aesthetic. The third movement is derived from the first. The fourth movement is peculiar. Flowing melodies with different time signatures are quite noticeable, and the theme parodies and even ridicules Shostakovich’s march tune in his “Leningrad” Symphony (No. 7). The form is basically a rondo. The fifth movement seems to be beautifully out of control. The whirling perpetuum mobile first theme competes with the fugato Hungarian folk melodies, all the while being in Sonata-Allegro form.
Grieg, Barber and Bartok all come together, with different cultural backgrounds, adding spice and variety to the venue. Do yourself an unforgettable favor and come to the performance on November 21, 2010 – you won’t regret it!