Past Performances

The Courage of Friendship: The Composer as Jew in the Soviet Union

The historical thread running through this concert program is the presence and persecution of the Jews of Poland and Soviet Russia in the mid-twentieth century. The nearly total annihilation of the Jews that began in 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland and proceeded with increased intensity after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 had an unexpected and grim epilogue. In 1948 Stalin launched his post-war campaign against…

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Mieczysław Weinberg, Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes

Born December 8, 1919, in Warsaw, Poland Died February 26, 1996, in Moscow, Russia Composed in 1949 Premiered on November 30, 1949, in Moscow by the All-Union Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Gauk Performance Time: Approximately 12 minutes During the last decade or so, a true Mieczysław Weinberg renaissance has begun in the concert halls of the world. Weinberg, who fled the Nazis from Poland to the Soviet Union…

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Mieczysław Weinberg, Symphony No. 5

Born December 8, 1919, in Warsaw, Poland Died February 26, 1996, in Moscow, Russia Composed in 1962 Premiered on October 18, 1962, in Moscow by the Moscow Symphony, conducted by Kirill Kondrashin Performance Time: Approximately 42 minutes Weinberg’s Fifth Symphony may be seen as the composer’s response to Shostakovich’s Fourth, which was first performed publicly in 1961, 25 years after it was written. Weinberg had been familiar with the work…

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Veniamin Fleishman, Rothschild’s Violin

Born July 20, 1913, in Bezhetsk, Russia Died September 14, 1941, in Krasnoye Selo, near Leningrad Composed by Fleishman in 1939–41, completed by Shostakovich in 1944 Premiered on June 20, 1960, in Moscow Performance Time: Approximately 40 minutes Shostakovich called Veniamin Fleishman his favorite student at the Leningrad Conservatory. At his teacher’s suggestion, Fleishman was working on a one-act opera based on Chekhov’s short story “Rothschild’s Violin” (he himself had…

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Music, Autocracy, and Exile

What makes music so compelling as a means of human expression? Why were composers and audiences in the 20th century still drawn to the symphony and the concerto, musical forms that require neither words nor images and that occupy an extended duration of time? Why did composers seek to prove wrong Richard Wagner’s prediction that the traditions of instrumental music—music thinking pursued autonomously on its own terms—were incompatible with the…

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Grażyna Bacewicz, Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion

Born February 5, 1909 in Łódź, Poland Died January 17, 1969 in Warsaw, Poland Composed in 1958 Premiered in 1959 at the Warsaw Autumn Festival Performance Time: Approximately 19 minutes Upon hearing the words Music for Strings…and Percussion in the title of a composition, one immediately thinks of Bartók’s masterpiece from the year 1936, where the missing word in the title is completed by ‘celeste.’ Bartók’s music found a particularly…

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Bohuslav Martinů, Symphony No. 6, Fantaisies symphoniques

Bohuslav Martinů, Symphony No. 6, Fantaisies symphoniques by Peter Laki Written for the concert Triumph of Art, which was performed on December 7, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. Born December 8, 1890, in Polička, Czechoslovakia Died August 28, 1959, in Liestal, Switzerland Composed in 1951–53 Premiered on January 7, 1955 in Boston, Massachusetts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Performance Time: Approximately 28 minutes Bohuslav Martinů said about his Fantaisies symphoniques,…

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Grażyna Bacewicz, Violin Concerto No. 7

Born February 5, 1909 in Łódź, Poland Died January 17, 1969 in Warsaw, Poland Composed in 1965 Premiered on January 13, 1966 at the Grande Salle de Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels, with Augustín León Ara and the Belgian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Sternfeld Performance Time: Approximately 20 minutes Bacewicz was trained as a virtuoso violinist, which explains the large number of works for violin, and strings…

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Alfred Schnittke, Symphony No. 5

Born November 24, 1934 in Engels, Russia (Soviet Union) Died August 3, 1998, in Hamburg, Germany Composed in 1988 Premiered on November 10, 1988 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly Performance Time: Approximately 37 minutes Almost twenty years after his death, it is becoming increasingly clear that Alfred Schnittke was one of the few composers for whom the traditional genres of symphony (with more than 200 years…

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Music and Democracy

During the past century—the hundred years since America entered World War I—what has been (and still might be) the connection between the essentially European traditions of orchestral and symphonic music and the ideals, demands, and predicaments of American democracy? The historical precedents of form and expression that preoccupied the American composers on today’s program emerged from a political world quite different from the American experience. Classical and Romantic concert music…

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Aaron Copland, Canticle of Freedom

Born November 14, 1900 in Brooklyn, New York Died December 2, 1990 in North Tarrytown, New York Composed in 1955 Premiered in 1955 at Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge, Massachusetts Performance Time: Approximately 13 minutes On May 26, 1953, Aaron Copland appeared before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) chaired the committee; the committee’s infamous chief counsel Roy Cohn was present. The anti-Communist crusader McCarthy called Copland to…

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Roger Sessions, Symphony No. 2

Born December 28, 1896 in Brooklyn, New York Died March 16, 1985 in Princeton, New Jersey Composed in 1944–46 Premiered on January 9, 1947 by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierre Monteaux Performance Time: Approximately 26 minutes Roger Huntington Sessions was born in Brooklyn and raised in Hadley, Massachusetts. His ancestors included Samuel Huntington, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Rt. Rev. Dan…

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Leonard Bernstein, Symphony No. 3, Kaddish

Born August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts Died October 14, 1990, in New York City Composed in 1961–63; Revised in 1977 Premiered on December 10, 1963 in Tel Aviv by the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel Performance Time: Approximately 41 minutes As Leonard Bernstein’s biographer Humphrey Burton notes, “Between 1957 and 1971, the year of the Mass, [Bernstein] completed only two works: the Kaddish Symphony (No….

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Religion and Music in England at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Edward Elgar’s two monumental masterpieces for chorus and orchestra, The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles, mirror the tensions and contradictions that surrounded religion at the end of the Victorian era. Elgar, a Catholic, had experienced isolation and prejudice, particularly in his younger years. But he also witnessed a Catholic revival in England, the rise to prominence of John Henry Cardinal Newman as an influential English voice (Newman was the…

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Elgar’s The Apostles

In the usual narrative of Edward Elgar’s career, the composer sprang overnight from provincial obscurity to international fame with the 1899 premiere of his Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, now known as the Enigma Variations. Unsurprisingly, the truth is more complicated: Elgar was already becoming well known through a series of acclaimed choral works, such as The Black Knight, Op. 25 (1892), Scenes from the Saga of King…

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AFTER DVOŘÁK AND SMETANA: CZECH MUSIC IN THE 20th CENTURY

The four composers on this ASO program were major twentieth-century figures in the musical tradition of a region in Central Europe: the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, famed for contributions to European culture, particularly in music. The historic capital of Bohemia, Prague is now the capital of the Czech Republic. Before this, it was the capital of a nation spliced together after the end of World War I—Czechoslovakia—which existed…

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Vítězslav Novák, In the Tatras

Born December 5, 1870, in Kamenice nad Lipou, Southern Bohemia Died July 18, 1949, in Skuteč, Czech Republic Composed in 1902 Premiered on November 25, 1902 in Prague by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Oskar Nedbal Performance Time: Approximately 25 minutes Vítězslav Novák was a gifted and prolific composer who was at the core of Czech musical life in the first decades of the 20th century. Composing in virtually every…

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Bohuslav Martinů, Symphony No. 3

Born December 8, 1890, in Polička, Czechoslovakia Died August 28, 1959, in Liestal, Switzerland Composed in 1944 Premiered on October 12, 1945 in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitsky Performance Time: Approximately 30 minutes Before coming to New York City in 1941 as a political refugee, Czechoslovak composer Bohuslav Martinů obtained recognition internationally in a variety of musical genres and styles. Until his American residency, however, Josef…

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Josef Suk, Scherzo fantastique

Born January 4, 1874, in Křečovice, Czechoslovakia Died May 29, 1935, in Benešov, Czechoslovakia Composed in 1903 Premiered on April 18, 1905 in the Rudolfinum, Prague Performance Time: Approximately 15 minutes Canonic figures like Felix Mendelssohn (Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture from 1826), Hector Berlioz (Queen Mab from the 1839 choral symphony Roméo et Juliette), and Paul Dukas (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from 1897) assisted in bringing the concert hall genre known…

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Erwin Schulhoff, Symphony No. 5

by Michael Beckerman Born June 8, 1894, in Prague Died August 18, 1942, in Würzburg, Germany Composed in 1938–9 Premiered on March 5th, 1965 in Weimar by the Weimar State Orchestra conducted by Gerhardt Pfluger Performance Time: Approximately 36 minutes There is no style shift more dramatic than that undergone by Erwin Schulhoff after his “conversion” to Communism in the early 1930s. Beginning his career as an apostle of the avant-garde,…

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