Art of the Baroque
The Philadelphia Inquirer calls Simone Dinnerstein one of “the great Beethoven pianists of our time.” This is high praise and well deserved, but it’s perhaps more accurate to refer to her simply as one of America’s greatest living pianists.
MCO audiences are getting to know her on increasingly intimate terms, after she delivered a passionate premiere of Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the MCO in 2018. It’s a testament to Simone’s rare talent that it was for her that Glass composed the concerto (co-commissioned by the MCO).
Reportedly, it was Dinnerstein’s famous mastery and love of Bach to which Glass was drawn. She gave us a taste of this in her 2018 concert, when she performed BWV 1058. She continues in this vein at her 2019 concert, playing Bach’s keyboard concertos BWV 1052 & BWV 1053. If those figures don’t mean much to you, we suspect you’ll recognize the works’ melodies—or will never forget them after Simone’s exquisite renderings.
While so much of Bach’s music was used to serenade and ceremonially present forgotten nobles, his keyboard concertos announce himself as the most enduring ruler of the Baroque era. No superlative has gone unused in critics’ rhapsodic commentaries on these works. Suffice to say they are really, really, really good.
One of Manitoba’s richest Baroque-centric concerts of 2019, with the illustrious Douglas Boyd conducting.
One of Chamber Orchestra of Europe’s founding members, Boyd’s fame rested initially on his spectacular gifts as an oboist. Over a decade ago he transitioned to conducting, in which capacity he became the Orchestre de chambre de Paris’s music director. About this diversely gifted artist, the Sunday Telegraph writes, “He is one of the major British occupants of a rostrum today and will be increasingly recognised as such.”
The concert begins at 7.30pm on November 13th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets, at $36 for adults, $34 for seniors and $15 for students and those under-30 (incl. GST), are available at McNally Robinson, Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave), and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.
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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
13 November 2019
Douglas Boyd, conductor
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 2
Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli
Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto No. 2 in E Major (BWV 1053)
Introduction and Allegro
Johann Sebastian Bach
Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D Minor (BWV 1052)
Guest Artist Sponsor / The Asper Foundation
Concertmaster Sponsor / Raymond Hébert
Considered one of the most dynamic and exhilarating contemporary conductors, Douglas Boyd is currently Artistic Director of Garsington Opera (a thriving six-week summer Opera Festival in Oxfordshire, UK) and Music Director of L’Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. In recent years he has held the positions of Chief Conductor of the Musikkollegium Winterthur, Music Director of Manchester Camerata, Principal Guest Conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Principal Guest Conductor of City of London Sinfonia. In the summer of 2019 he conducted Mozart’s Don Giovanni both at Garsington and in Paris—the latter with his Orchestre de Chambre at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysees. At the helm of L’Orchestre de Chambre, Mr. Boyd has previously performed in Paris and on tour with such soloists as Emmanuel Pahud, Alisa Weilerstein, Andras Schiff, Viktoria Mullova and Jonathan Biss. Boyd’s recording of the Bach Oboe Concerti for Deutsche Grammophon marked his recording debut as director/soloist, and he has since built an extensive discography. His recordings as a conductor with Manchester Camerata of the complete Beethoven symphonies and Mahler’s Symphony No.4 (Avie) and Das Lied von der Erde have received universal critical acclaim. He has also recorded Schubert symphonies with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra on their own label, as well as several recordings with Musik kollegium Winterthur.
Born in Glasgow, Boyd studied oboe with Janet Craxton at the Royal Academy of Music in London and with Maurice Bourgue in Paris. A founding member—and principal oboist—of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe until 2002, Boyd enjoyed a stellar career as a noted oboist until he stopped playing to concentrate completely on conducting.
American pianist Simone Dinnerstein is known for her “majestic originality of vision” (Independent) and her “lean, knowing and unpretentious elegance” (The New Yorker). 2018 was a banner year for Dinnerstein, including a highly lauded recital at the Kennedy Center, her debut with the London Symphony Orchestra, a live recital for BBC’s Radio Three, and an ambitious season as the first artist-in-residence for Music Worcester, encompassing performances, school outreach, master classes, and lectures. Future highlights include a European tour with Kristjan Jarvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and a residency in San Francisco with the New Century Chamber Orchestra including a collaboration with Daniel Hope and Lynn Harrell for the Beethoven Triple Concerto.
Dinnerstein spent 2018 touring Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece that Philip Glass wrote for her as a co-commission by twelve orchestras, including the MCO with whom she performed the Canadian premiere. Circles, her world premiere recording of the concerto with GRAMMY-nominated string orchestra A Far Cry, topped the Billboard Classical charts. Future performances will be held in France, Germany, Italy, and Canada. Dinnerstein first attracted attention in 2007 with her self-produced recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. It was a remarkable success, reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Classical Chart and establishing Dinnerstein’s distinctive and original approach. The New York Times called her “a unique voice in the forest of Bach interpretation.” Her career has since taken her around the world from Brazil to Japan and she has made a further eight albums with repertoire from Beethoven to Ravel.
Concerto grosso in F Major, Op. 6 No. 2
Corelli’s reputation and influence extended through much of Europe. He was one of the leading violin soloists of the Baroque era and a composer of music that is both appealing and historically significant. His sonatas for violin, for example, helped establish this instrument as the most important non-vocal element in music. Although he didn’t invent the concerto grosso (grand concerto), one of the Baroque era’s most popular forms, he played a crucial role in the establishment of its popularity. It is founded on the interplay between two bodies of strings: a small concertino (usually two violins and a cello), and a larger group, the ripieno.
Corelli’s Op. 6 (1714), his final published work, is a set of 12 concerti grossi. No. 2 begins with its longest movement, a multi-paneled piece whose brief sections shuttle between the energetic and the contemplative. A brisk Allegro follows, then a plaintive slow movement and a jovial, dance-like finale.
Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli
Tippett’s unorthodox attitudes to life and music kept him apart from the mainstream of music for many years. By the sunset of his lengthy career, however, he had become a widely celebrated elder statesman. He proved a late bloomer, producing the first works he was prepared to acknowledge only after 15 years’ labour. His musical education continued throughout the 1920s and early `30s, side-by-side with the development of a strong social conscience.
He gradually evolved a musical style blending continental European traditions with the legacy of British folk song, while advancing his deeply humanistic beliefs. That faith led him to perform many charitable acts, such as organizing an orchestra of unemployed musicians, and to his maintaining his status as a conscientious objector during the Second World War. After the war, his orbit of contacts widened as commissions and international performances of his music increased steadily. He won particular success in orchestral works and concertos, and in vocal scores such as his operas: The Midsummer Marriage, King Priam, The Knot Garden, and The Ice Break. This impressive Fantasia for string orchestra was commissioned for the 1953 Edinburgh Festival, to pay homage to Arcangelo Corelli on the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth. Tippett composed it in a brief three weeks, shortly after completing The Midsummer Marriage. He conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the premiere on 29 August 1953, in Edinburgh, after the celebrated (but strongly conservative) conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent declined the assignment.
In this piece, Tippett incorporated materials from two pre-existing works. First to appear are two contrasting thematic fragments from the first movement of the Corelli concerto grosso that opens tonight’s concert. Tippett saw the first fragment (to which Corelli gave the tempo marking Adagio/slow) as “dark and passionate,” in contrast to the second (Vivace/energetic), which Tippett wrote “explores the brilliance of the violin.” In his mind, they represented the conflict between dark and light forces that appears in many of his works. The second pre-existing work was Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ piece entitled Fugue on a Theme by Corelli, BWV 579. Tippett’s Fantasia includes original thematic material as well.
The instrumentation calls for a large body of strings to be located on the left (ripieno), a concertino consisting of two solo violins and a solo cello in the middle, and a concerto terzo (third concerto) on the right.
After presenting Corelli’s noble and vivacious themes, Tippett submits them to seven
strongly contrasting variations. Then he introduces the Bach fugue and builds it to a passionate, elaborately textured climax. Once the energy of this climax has ebbed away, he concludes the piece with an extended, lyrical Pastorale, tranquil for the most part but fading into silence in an exalted mode. It recalls in spirit the Pastorale that concludes Corelli’s beloved ‘Christmas’ Concerto.
Keyboard Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1053
Johann Sebastian Bach
In 1729, Bach added to his numerous responsibilities at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig by launching what proved to be a decade-long term as the supervisor of the collegium musicum (musical fraternity). The ranks of this volunteer ensemble were made up of talented university students and amateur performers, augmented on occasion with professional musicians. His good and greatly esteemed friend, Georg Philipp Telemann, had founded it in 1702.
When Bach took it over, it was giving public, evening concerts during the winter months at a coffee house owned by Gottfried Zimmerman, and on summer afternoons in a garden. It blossomed under Bach’s expert direction, a development that gave him enormous satisfaction, during a period when his primary duty—the creation of sacred vocal music—was causing him a great deal of grief. The collegium musicum concerts presented diverse programs, from solos and chamber music to cantatas and other vocal works, orchestral pieces and concertos. Composers from across Europe were represented, and when eminent musicians such as Johann Adolf Hasse, Franz Benda, Johann Gottlieb Graun and Jan Dismas Zelenka visited the city, they brought additional prestige to the concerts by performing their own music at them.
Bach created 13 concertos for one or more keyboards, plus strings and continuo. He most likely created them to be performed at the collegium musicum concerts, which they certainly were. The soloists were often his talented sons, his finest pupils—and himself. They are the earliest of all surviving keyboard concertos. Bach was the first composer to bring the harpsichord forward into the solo spotlight from its long-standing role of accompanist or continuo player.
He appears to have conceived only one of them, the Concerto for Two Keyboards (BWV 1061), specifically for that instrumental combination. It’s likely that he based all but one of the others on previously existing concertos for a variety of instruments. The odd piece out in the latter group is the Concerto for Four Keyboards (BWV 1065). He transcribed it, as a gesture of homage, from the Concerto for Four Violins (RV 580) by his respected contemporary, Antonio Vivaldi.
The first movement of the Concerto in E Major is all courtly, unforced elegance and regal style. This is relaxed, joyous music; active yet poised. The following slow movement is a gentle, restrained reverie, mildly sad in nature and founded on the swaying rhythm of an Italian folk dance, the siciliano. The finale provides a smile-inducing wrap-up through its ample energy and emotion.
Introduction and Allegro
Another Englishman’s homage to baroque …
Numerous front-rank British composers, including Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Holst, have found writing for the rich, expressive, and flexible medium of the string orchestra a highly congenial practice. Elgar’s contributions were small in number but substantial in every other sense. When fellow composer Herbert Howells asked him for the secret of his understanding of strings, Elgar replied, “Study old Handel. I went to him for help ages ago.”
The newly founded London Symphony Orchestra was eager to have Elgar conduct a concert of his music, hopefully to include the premiere of a new work. Elgar’s good friend, the music editor and journalist, A.E. Jaeger (the inspiration for the glorious ‘Nimrod’ section of the ‘Enigma’ Variations) persuaded him to use the opportunity to compose a piece that would showcase just the LSO strings, rather than the full orchestra.
The concert, which included the first performance of the Introduction and Allegro, took place on 8 March 1905. That reading, and the second, which followed on March 19, drew cool receptions. “That’s good stuff. Nothing better for strings has been done – and they don’t like it,” Elgar groused. So technically demanding a piece needed time to be mastered by the players. This kept it from widespread popularity until the general upgrade in playing standards that came after the Second World War.
Elgar had conceived the second theme of the slow, majestic introduction in 1901, during a brief holiday in the village of Llangranog in South Wales. “On the cliff, between blue sea and blue sky,” he recalled, “there came up to me the sound of singing. The songs were too far away to reach me distinctly, but one point common to all was impressed upon me, and led me to think, perhaps wrongly, that it was a real Welsh idiom—I mean the fall of a third.” A theme came to him, one he planned to use in a ‘Welsh Overture,’ but the project didn’t materialize.
He was reminded of the theme during another tour of Wales in 1904, this one undertaken on foot. He heard, “far down our own valley of the Wye (River), a song similar to those so pleasantly heard on Ynys Lochtyn. The singer of the Wye unknowingly reminded me of my sketch. Although there may be (and I hope there is) a Welsh feeling in the one theme—to quote Shakespeare: ‘All the waters in Wye cannot wash the Welsh blood out of the body’—the work is really a tribute to that sweet borderland where I have made my home.”
The scoring, for solo string quartet and string orchestra, recalls, to a degree, the concerti grossi of Corelli. Facing the opposite direction in time, it served as a model for another English masterpiece composed five years later: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, by Ralph Vaughan Williams (as well as Tippett’s Fantasia concertante).
Elgar’s initial Allegro section is a bustling, rhythmic tour‑de‑force. What he calls “a very devil of a fugue … with all sorts of japes and counterpoints” follows. After much masterfully constructed elaboration, the work concludes with a triumphant return of the introduction.
The Introduction and Allegro is one of the few major orchestral works that Elgar did not conduct for a recording. Sir John Barbirolli led the premiere disc. In a congratulatory letter to Barbirolli, Elgar wrote “If I were a discriminating (how dreadful) critic I should naturally tell you, to show my learning, what every wise man’s son, and every ass’s son also, doth know, that there are one or two immaterial squeaks in the strings. A critic must put in ‘in the strings’ to show his learning, although nothing but strings are playing.”
Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052
Johann Sebastian Bach
It’s likely that Bach based this piece on a violin concerto, the original version of which has vanished. He used music from it in cantatas Nos. 146 and 188. It is the richest and most substantial of his keyboard concertos, resulting in it being the one most often performed. Such eminent musicians as Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn held it in high regard. Mendelssohn performed it at a concert by the orchestra he directed, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, which traced its ancestry back to the collegium musicum.
The first movement is forceful in mood and rich in texture. The slow second movement makes a particularly lovely and thoughtful impression. The finale is pleasingly bright and animated, without straying far from the concerto’s overall serious tone.