Tchaikovsky's Fourth

Saturday, December 3, 2016 - 7:30 p.m.
Jim Rouse Theatre

Rachel Young


Osvaldo Golijov - Azul
Program Notes


AZUL for cello and orchestra

Composed: 2005-6
Premiered: Tanglewood, MA, 2006

In his own way, Osvaldo Golijov represents a fusion of nationalisms, mixing the Klezmer and religious music of his Jewish origins with the unmistakable Argentinian flavor of his upbringing, represented in Azul by the presence of a “hyperaccordion” in the chamber group that dominates the piece like the concertino of the Baroque concerto grosso.

Written for Yo Yo Ma and dedicated to the composer’s sister, the psychologist Alicia Golijov, Azul (“Blue”) is a largely contemplative piece consciously evoking the great Baroque adagios of Handel and Bach (not to mention the fake Albinoni). The hyperaccordion group are not merely Latin color – they act as a continuo for the soloist. Golijov has a special affection for Couperin, whose textures – traceries of decorative counterpoint, often over repetitive, chaconne-like basses – adorn long stretches of the work. The cello will often spin out long melismas of melody whose origins lie in the aeons of Jewish music that stands almost visibly over Golijov’s shoulder.

Azul is cast in one long movement, which divides clearly into two parts. The second half begins with a passage marked “Silencio,” which on its own summarizes the composer’s aim – to create what a mounts to a sonic garden of contemplation. Azul is not so much a concerto for cello as a sacrament for it.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4
Program Notes


SYMPHONY No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36

Composed: 1877-1878
Premiered: Moscow, Russia, 1878

  • Andante sostenuto — Moderato con anima — Moderato assai, quasi Andante — Allegro vivo
  • Andantino in modo di canzona
  • Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato
  • Finale: Allegro con fuoco

Tchaikovsky’s music is nothing if not self-expressive – this was his main aim, after all. But what does it express? Movie fans may remember it as the background to Paul Newman’s murder by robot painters in What A Way To Go; some might agree with the New York Times critic who suggested that it should have been called A Sleighride Through Siberia after its American premiere. What lurks behind it is not much lesser bizarre: his extraordinary relationship with his patron, Nadezhda von Meck.

Unlike nearly every other Russian composer of his time, Tchaikovsky was a professional. He achieved this by having a patron who paid him a great deal of money to stay home and compose. Incredibly, the two never met, though they were once in the same large room. Appropriately enough, Nadezhda is the dedicatee of the Fourth Symphony.

Not particularly helpfully, Tchaikovsky wrote Madame von Meck a synopsis of the “story” behind the symphony. Put simply, it is all about that Beethovenian favorite, fate knocking at the door, which many have taken as a description of the opening movement’s first subject. Not so:

The introduction is the seed of the whole symphony, beyond question the main idea. This is Fate. One must submit to it and to futile yearnings. Would it not be better to turn away from reality and plunge into dreams? At last a sweet and tender vision appears. It is here, it is here, happiness! No! These were dreams, and Fate awakens us harshly. Thus, life is a perpetual alternation between grim reality and transient dreams and reveries of happiness.

The composer had just been divorced; we know what he means. The second movement is “another aspect of depression” – “one is sad because so much is gone, past, and it is pleasant to remember one’s youth.” The apparently amiable scherzo is in fact our hero (guess who) in a Berlioz-like drunken haze that renders him so insensible to the horror of life that he thinks a passing military band might cheer him up.

The Finale brings something resembling good news, or at least Romantic fortitude – “Life is still worth living,” we are told. This cheering thought is reached by a particularly Russian Nationalist route – “If you find no cause for joy within yourself, look for it in others. Go to the people.” The people are, of course, the toiling serfs of Mother Russia, in the shape of “In the Field Stood a Birch Tree,” a folksong – “When I play my new balalaika, I will think of you, my lovely birch tree.” This is not entirely apolitical. As always in Tchaikovsky, even happiness casts a shadow; the personal is the political is the universal. He did, after all, carry a hereditary noble title and knew the Tsar personally.

It is best to leave aside Tchaikovsky’s own psychological musings and the fleeting political shadows that flit around the Finale, and listen to what matters – the flow of idea into idea that came to replace (for some) the Sonata Form monolith. Tchaikovsky’s deeply Russian musical language is a poetry that speaks to a whole world.

Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto for Two Oboes
Program Notes

ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678 – 1741)


Composed: c. 1715
Premiered: Venice, Italy, c. 1715

  • Largo – Allegro
  • Largo
  • Allegro

Vivaldi - il prete rosso, The Red Priest - taught for many years at Venice’s Ospidale della Pieta, a church orphanage, where he was given special responsibility for the musical and spiritual welfare of the girls. It was during this period that he wrote this concerto, one of the 500 (!) concerti that he wrote for just about every imaginable instrument of his time. Although famous for much of his lifetime (and studied with great interest by Bach), Vivaldi’s career faded towards the end of his life, and he died in poverty in Vienna. With the glaring exception of the Four Seasons concerti, most of his music lay unplayed and forgotten until the early 1950s, when the discovery of a large cache of his manuscripts reignited interest in his music. Among the manuscripts was this work, which first attained modern popularity in a strange transcription for clarinet and flute. Today, we hear it as the composer intended, in the clear fast-slow-fast arch form that he more or less alone set as the standard for the late Baroque and Classical concerto.

About the Concert

Turmoil in Tchaikovsky's personal life may have been the catalyst that inspired the Fourth Symphony, but the result is one of the most emotional and uplifting symphonies of all time. Returning guest cellist Rachel Young joins us for Osvaldo Golijov's Azul ("Blue") whose ravishing melodies are inspired by water, sky, and even space travel. Plus, we feature our wonderful principal oboist, Lindsey Spear, in her final concert in a duet alongside our new principal.

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