Sommerville, MCO

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Airs, dances, and waltzes: French hornist and conductor James Sommerville

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• Buy May 31st in-person ticket (incl. online) | $36 Adult | $34 Senior | $15 Under-30
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• Buy June 14th online-only ticket | $20 Household ticket


In casual corroboration of the historian’s hunch that outstanding trajectories are often set in motion by flukes, French hornist James Sommerville encountered his instrument only by chance in high school. Audiences profit from this accident as much as he does. We can’t wait to be in that audience when the Boston Symphony Orchestra principal French hornist performs and conducts an historically diverse program at this MCO concert. It features a trajectory of loosely related and outstanding works from the 18th century to the present, including Mozart, Respighi, Agócs, and Brahms.

To focus on a few of those works: Mozart’s K447 is the third of four horn concertos he wrote for his friend, the French horn player Joseph Leitgeb. Though K447 is considered relatively obscure in Mozart’s repertoire, the charming, bombastic concertos are a near minefield of “stopped notes”, “overblowing”, and technical feats that would have presented special challenges to 18th century performers using pre-modern French horns. It’s almost as though Mozart was “trolling” his talented friend and all future soloists with daunting tests of their musicianship. (The original manuscripts contain many mocking remarks by Mozart, such as: “Mozart took pity on Leitgeb the ass, ox and fool.”) We can’t speak for Leitgeb, but we know that Sommerville will more than rise to the occasion of Mozart’s challenge!

We’re also delighted to present an MCO-co-commissioned Horn Concerto by Canadian composer Kati Agócs, written for James Sommerville as a companion to the Mozart concerto. Heralded as “one of the brightest stars in her generation of composers” (Audiophile Audition), the former Guggenheim Fellow composes “[s]ublime … music of fluidity and austere beauty” (The Boston Globe). We presented excerpts of this work at our online 2021 Spring and Summer Festival, and we can’t wait to present it in full for a live audience at this concert.

Our performance at this concert of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes will offer Sommerville a welcome opportunity to show his considerable gifts as a conductor. Bursting with syncopation and interesting metre changes, the waltzes are also just that: oom-pah-pahing songs meant for popular audiences. Tremendous hits in Vienna (is there a better measure of a waltz’s mark?), the works earned Brahms a fortune — but, alas, not the hand of Clara Schumann, in whose honour it’s thought they were secretly written. Clara’s hands were more than full already with her demanding husband Robert, not to mention her career as one of Europe’s greatest pianists.


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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster Church in Wolseley
Tuesday & Wednesday, 31 May & 1 June 2022
Online presentation 14 June 2022

James Sommerville, horn soloist & conductor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, K. 447

Ottorino Respighi
Ancient Airs and Dances – Suite III

Kati Agócs
Horn Concerto
Canadian premiere performance, co-commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with support from the Canada Council for the Arts

Johannes Brahms
Liebeslieder Waltzes, arr. Hermann

Season sponsor / CN
May 25th Concertmaster sponsor / Pollard Banknote Limited
Volunteer sponsor / MB Liquor Mart
Media sponsors / Classic 107, Golden West Radio & Winnipeg Free Press

James Sommerville

James Sommerville is a conductor and French Hornist. The winner of the highest prizes at the Munich, Toulon and CBC competitions, Mr. Sommerville has pursued a career as a French horn player that has spanned over 35 years. Principal Horn of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he has brought immensely successful appearances with major orchestras throughout North America and Europe. His disc of the Mozart Horn Concertos with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra won the JUNO Award for Best Classical Recording. Mr. Sommerville has recorded chamber music for the Deutsche Grammophon, Telarc, CBC, Summit, and Marquis labels. He is a member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, with whom he tours and records regularly.

Mr. Sommerville has been a principal member of the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, and was acting solo horn of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He has toured and recorded extensively as an orchestral player.

In the role of conductor, Mr. Sommerville has led many first-rate professional orchestras and ensembles throughout Canada and the USA. He led the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra to great critical acclaim in his seven seasons as Music Director. Recent engagements include appearances with Symphony Nova Scotia and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Edmonton, London (Ontario) and Québec Symphony Orchestras. Internationally, Mr Sommerville has been conductor of the US National Brass Ensemble in concert and on their award-winning CD of music of Gabrieli and Williams, as well as a variety of ensembles throughout the USA, Europe and Asia.

As a guest artist and faculty member, Mr. Sommerville has performed at many chamber music festivals throughout Canada, the USA, Europe, Oceania and Asia. In recent seasons, Mr. Sommerville has appeared as a soloist in London (with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields), and in Costa Rica, Holland, Quebec, Ottawa and Italy. In 2007, he performed the world premiere of Elliott Carter’s Horn Concerto, commissioned for him by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Sommerville also tours as a member of Osvaldo Golijov’s Andalucian Dogs. Future engagements include world premieres of new concertos by composers Kati Agócs and Christos Hatzis.

Kati Agócs

“One of the brightest stars in her generation of composers” (Audiophile Audition), Kati Agócs writes music that delivers visceral power and otherworldly lyricism with soulful directness. Her diverse and growing body of works is often praised for its elegance and emotion and is performed by leading musicians worldwide. The Boston Globe calls it “music of fluidity and austere beauty … with a visceral intensity of expression.” The New York Times characterizes it as “striking … her vocal music has an almost nineteenth-century naturalness.”

Kati Agócs is a recent Guggenheim Fellow and a winner of the lifetime achievement award in music composition from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her music is commissioned and performed by many premier organizations including the Toronto Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Vancouver Symphony, Ensemble Reconsil Vienna, Lontano (UK), Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal, and multiple GRAMMY-award winning ensemble Eighth Blackbird, who toured the USA with Immutable Dreams. Upcoming premieres include a Piano Concerto commissioned by the Honens International Piano Competition for Honens Prize Laureate Nicolas Namoradze; the song cycle/cantata
, a consortium co-commission for the Miller Theatre Composer Portrait series at Columbia University in New York; and a choral piece commissioned by
Boston’s Emmanuel Music in celebration of their Fiftieth Anniversary. Her album with Boston Modern Orchestra Project, The
, on which she also sang as a soprano soloist, was one of the
Top Ten Classical Recordings of 2016. The title track was nominated for a JUNO Award for Classical Composition of the Year. Kati Agócs was born in Windsor, Ontario of Hungarian and American parents. She earned Masters and doctoral degrees at The Juilliard School, studying with Milton Babbitt, and currently serves on the composition faculty of the New England Conservatory in Boston. She maintains a composition studio in Flatrock, Newfoundland.

Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, K. 447
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart composed all or part of six horn concertos. Only three of them have survived in their full original forms; the rest exist in various incomplete states. Most of them came into being because of his friendship with the horn player Joseph (Ignaz) Leutgeb. He and Mozart had known each other since the time Leutgeb played in the court orchestra in Mozart’s home town, Salzburg. He became one of Mozart’s closest friends during his formative years. When Mozart and his father Leopold traveled to Italy in 1772/73, Leutgeb went with them, and caused a sensation with his spectacular and sensitive playing.

Leutgeb settled in Vienna in 1777. His name is listed as first horn for that city’s court and national theatre orchestras. Unable to make a living through his playing alone, he took over his father-in-law’s tiny cheese shop with money borrowed from Leopold Mozart. His retail income allowed him to continue making solo appearances. He was slow in paying back the loan, however, a situation from which Mozart was obliged to rescue him. “Please have a little patience with poor Leutgeb,” Mozart wrote to his father. “If you knew his circumstances and saw how he has to muddle along, you would certainly feel sorry for him. I shall have a word with him and I feel sure that he will pay you, at any rate by installments.”

Mozart and Leutgeb must have shared a pointed sense of humour, since the manuscripts of the horn concertos are laced with affectionate insults aimed at the soloist. For example, Mozart prefaced the score of the concerto, K. 417, with the following words: “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has taken pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and fool, in Vienna on May 27, 1783.” And in the finale of the Concerto in D Major, the orchestra part is marked Allegro (fast), the soloist’s, Adagio (slow), a comment on Leutgeb’s habit of playing behind the beat. Mozart’s inscriptions continue with “Take it easy–for you, Signor Ass–come on–good for you–get it over with–how flat you play–catch your breath–finished? Thank heavens! –enough, enough!” Caustic comments aside, Mozart’s horn concertos are heavenly pieces. They demonstrate that Leutgeb must have been an agile and poetic performer.

Leutgeb asked Mozart for a concerto as early as 1777, but the first fragment of one to appear was a single movement, the cheerful Rondeau, K. 371. Mozart composed it in March 1781. The probable date of composition of the piece published as Concerto No. 3 (the fifth of the six, in order of composition), is 1787. The slow second movement Romanze is exceptionally lyrical, and the bounding concluding rondo inevitably brings echoes of the hunt.

Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3
Ottorino Respighi

Like every Italian composer, the Bologna-born Respighi did his duty and wrote his share of operas. It’s unlikely, however, that you’ll ever have the chance to see a production of Belfagor, or The Sunken Bell, good as they may be. Respighi made his mark as a composer for the concert hall more successfully than any of his fellow countrymen, regardless of period. His colourful and atmospheric style successfully blends elements of Romanticism (Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Puccini) with the limpid pastel Impressionism of Debussy.

The young Respighi earned a living as an orchestral player. At 21, he traveled to St. Petersburg to take up the position of Principal Violist in the orchestra of the Imperial Russian Opera. He plucked up his courage and approached his idol, composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Impressed with the young Italian’s student scores, Rimsky gave him five months of lessons, focusing on passing on his mastery of virtuoso orchestration. Respighi proved a receptive pupil. He later learned an equal amount, though in more traditional ways, when he undertook further studies with Max Bruch in Berlin. In 1913, Respighi moved to Rome, which remained his centre of activity for the rest of his life. His music’s international renown eventually allowed him to devote his time exclusively to composing and touring.

His orchestral works can be divided into two categories: original compositions, such as the popular trilogy of tone poems celebrating the glories of Rome; and pieces transcribed from, or inspired by, the music of the past. To this second sector of his output belong the charming orchestral suites Ancient Airs and Dances, The Birds, and Botticelli Triptych. The building blocks of all but the last of these (a fully original work) were Italian and French lute and harpsichord music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The popularity of the first suite of Ancient Airs and Dances (1917) led Respighi to create two more, in 1923 and 1931. He drew most of the tunes he used in all of them from collections of lute music gathered and published during the 1880s by the Italian musicologist and lute soloist, Oscar Chilesotti. The success of the suites flowed in great degree from Respighi’s intimate knowledge of, and respect for, the source material. Only the most fanatical purists will fail to enjoy them.

He scored the first two suites for small orchestra, but the third calls for strings alone. It opens with a graciously flowing Italiana, followed by Airs of the Court, an enchanting miniature dance suite. Siciliana is a sweetly melancholy creation, and a stirring Passacaglia concludes the suite.

Horn Concerto
Kati Agócs

The composer has provided the following note:

My Horn Concerto highlights the lyrical and virtuosic properties of the solo horn. The piece’s instrumentation—two clarinets, two bassoons, and strings—takes the rich, dark hues of Mozart’s orchestra in his Third Horn Concerto as a point of departure. Apart from the parallel with the Mozart in terms of instrumentation, my Horn Concerto inhabits a sound world that is very much its own, showcasing different kinds of horn playing in each of its three movements.

The first movement, with its insouciant quality, evokes the instrument’s hunting-horn origins, embedding fanfare-like melodies in non-functional harmony. The second movement is lyrical; its long, embellished melodic lines evolve through gauzy string textures, featuring an interplay between the solo horn and the first clarinet, who start out trading phrases and end up duetting. The third and final movement is driven and angular. A spirited subject/answer complex gives way to more atmospheric sonorities but ultimately returns to its chromatic and punchy start, featuring members of the orchestra soloistically along the way. This movement introduces low woodwind doublings (bass clarinet and contrabassoon) that I have added as an extension of Mozart’s orchestra. The cadenza features the special sonority of glissandi (slides through many partials) combined with a stopped sound in the solo part.

My Horn Concerto was written for James Sommerville in 2020 as a co-commission by a consortium of five orchestras in the U.S. and Canada. It is eighteen minutes in duration.

Selections from Liebeslieder (Love Song) Waltzes, Op. 52
Johannes Brahms (Tr. Friedrich Hermann

Brahms quickly grew to love the waltz after he relocated to Vienna in the late 1860s. He became a good friend and ardent admirer of Johann Strauss, Jr., the ‘Waltz King.’ When Strauss’s wife asked him to sign her autograph book, he jotted down the first few bars of Strauss’s waltz The Blue Danube and added, “Alas! Not by Johannes Brahms!”

It’s likely that we have the unrequited feelings of love that he felt for his close friend Clara Schumann’s daughter Julie to thank for the charming Liebeslieder Waltzes. He composed them in 1868-69, possibly as a gift for her and a declaration of affection. He was highly pleased with them, telling his publisher, “I must confess that it was the first time I smiled at the sight of a printed work—of mine! I will risk being called an ass if our Liebeslieder don’t give pleasure to a few people.”

The original scoring was for piano duet and optional vocal quartet. The texts are light, fanciful love poems drawn from a variety of international sources and collected by author Georg Daumer. At this concert you will hear a selection of the waltzes in a transcription for strings that Friedrich Hermann prepared in 1889.

The enormous popularity of the Waltzes led Brahms to compose a second collection, called New Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 62, from 1869 to 1874. The royalties he earned from the Waltzes and the Hungarian Dances were the foundation of his considerable fortune, not the larger, more artistically significant symphonies, piano music and chamber works. These lighter creations found a ready welcome at a time when many people performed such music in their living rooms, for the enjoyment of themselves and their friends.

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