A player of dazzling virtuosity and magnetic expressivity, Ariel Barnes is, in the words of Maestro Bramwell Tovey, “the outstanding Canadian cellist of his generation.”
Canadians have noticed. His recordings have garnered two Western Canadian Music Awards, and a JUNO nomination, and are met with critical acclaim. After taking in his 2017 Winnipeg performance, Canadians eagerly lined up to see him perform with MCO in venues across BC; a collaboration that culminated in the CD recording of Michael Oesterle’s Cello Concerto.
After opening with Holst’s folk-inspired St. Paul’s Suite, we’ll hear Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade. It’s a melodious and wistful work inspired here and there by Tchaikovsky’s role model Mozart, and infused with the former’s signature borrowings from Russian folk music. The evening concludes with Tchaikovsky’s Rococo. Its name should give away its similarly Mozartian inspiration, though the wonderful piece also shows signs of a more controversial influence: cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who premiered the piece and reworked its composition more to his liking. Ultimately, history has canonized Fitzenhagen’s adaptation, and in this instance we are perhaps better for the meddling.
Audiences will have another chance at this concert to marvel at Ariel under the spotlight, as he premieres a new cello concerto by the popular Canadian composer Marcus Goddard.
Earl Stafford (C.M.), celebrated former RWB music director and collaborator with numerous orchestras, conducts this irresistible concert. Rumour has it that this may be the last concert under Earl’s baton as he transitions from an illustrious career towards retirement. In any case, it will be an excellent and increasingly rare opportunity to see one of Canada’s great ballet conductors in action, as he conducts Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, a piece with strong associations with the ballet repertoire, and more.
‘Cello Concerto’ CD
As well as performing in concert and touring with Ariel Barnes in the past, the MCO released an excellent CD with him in June 2019. On it, they perform the titular Cello Concerto, Michael Oesterle’s “extraordinary” (Macleans) musical statement about the effects of industrialization on humanity. Together these artists achieve with flying colours what audiences so often desire of new art music: not just technical brilliance and experimentalism, but also beauty and a quality of irresistible entertainment. In the words of Fanfare Magazine, "Who would have thought a cello concerto about the Industrial Revolution could be so much fun?
The concert begins at 7.30pm on February 12th 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
12 February 2020
Earl Stafford, guest conductor
Ariel Barnes, cello
St. Paul’s Suite, Op. 29, No. 2
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 48
Concert Sponsor / Johnston Group Inc.
Described as creating a “mesmerizing musical experience” by combining his “deep personal connection” (Toronto Live Music Report), “luscious tone and technical prowess” (Vancouver Sun), Ariel Barnes has been hailed as “truly an inspiring artist … the outstanding Canadian Cellist of his generation” (Maestro Bramwell Tovey). His international concert engagements spanning Europe, North America and Asia include concerto appearances, chamber music collaborations and solo recitals to critical acclaim. His live performances and produced recordings are broadcast on such platforms as CBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, Hessisches Radio and Bavarian Radio & Television.
With a passion for creating new music he is consistently involved in working with composers and ensembles developing contemporary music for the cello, meaningfully contributing to the concerto, chamber music and unaccompanied solo canon for the instrument. One recent highlight in this connection was his collaboration with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra to produce a CD recording of Michael Oesterle’s Cello Concerto, for which Barnes recorded the solo cello part.
As a dedicated teacher, Ariel has fostered the talents of many cellists, aiding them in garnering prizes and recognition at the Busan Maru (Korea), Johansen (USA), Stulberg (USA) and Sheen (CAN) competitions and helping them continue their studies at some of the World’s finest music schools including the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles, the Hans Eisler Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal and the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Nourished by his experience in all major genres of performance and pedagogy, Ariel’s natural musicianship is recognised in his collaboration with musicians throughout the world.
Ariel’s unique tone and passionate performances garnered him first Prize at the 24th International Johannes Brahms Competition, Top Prize at the 2012 Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank Competition, and two Western Canadian Music Awards and a JUNO nomination.
Marcus Goddard is an award-winning composer and internationally-respected trumpet player whose music has a way of connecting with and expressing the essence of the elemental forces of nature.
Described by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini as “atmospheric” and by the CBC’s Bill Richardson as possessing a “shimmering, translucent, winning eloquence”, Goddard’s work is routinely praised by musicians, audiences, and composers alike. Goddard’s unique ability to connect across these lines has led to frequent performances of his works. His string quartet Allaqi was commissioned for the St. Lawrence String Quartet by Chamber Music Kelowna and CBC Radio, received the 2011 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Composition, and has been performed over 100 times by quartets around the world including performances at Carnegie Hall, the New World Center, and the Banff International String Quartet Competition.
Other recent works include a violin concerto, commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for Rachel Barton Pine, a trumpet concerto for trumpeter Ryan Cole and the Victoria Symphony, and a new chamber work titled Pool of Lost Grooves. Goddard has enjoyed frequent creative partnerships with performers, dancers, and visual artists, including a recent collaboration with Nisga’a artist Mike Dangeli and Vancouver’s Standing Wave Ensemble, and a current multimedia collaboration with Mohawk-Acadian artist Lindsay Dobbin and the Victoria Symphony. The Archytas Quartet is preparing to release an album of Goddard’s chamber music for strings.
Goddard is Composer in Association and Associate Principal Trumpet with the GRAMMY and JUNO Award-winning Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Composer in Residence with the Victoria Symphony.
St Paul’s Suite, Op. 29 No. 2
Holst was one of the major figures in the school of English composition, whose members regularly looked to the country’s rich heritage of folk song for inspiration. The influence of those traditional melodies (and on occasion, as in this work, the authentic articles) can be felt throughout much of his work. Holst divided his early career between playing the trombone and conducting. He later settled into the pattern of teaching and composing that he followed for the balance of his life. He produced a sizeable number of works, including music for orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble and operas. For many years, the spectacular orchestral suite The Planets (1914-16) was the sole work for which he was known internationally. Recently his other, more representative music has grown in popularity.
His most important teaching post was at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in London. He joined the faculty in 1905, just two years after the institution opened, and he was still a member at the time of his death 29 years later. He wrote the enchanting St. Paul’s Suite for strings in 1913 for the school’s orchestra, his first work for such an ensemble. He dedicated it to the young musicians who studied with him.
The four brief movements include several quotations from English folk songs, most prominently in the finale where two Renaissance tunes, The Dargason, and Greensleeves, rub shoulders with impressive ingenuity. This movement is a transcription and expansion of the last movement of the Suite No. 2 for military band, which he had composed in 1911. In performances at the St. Paul’s School under Holst’s direction, the students were often instructed to sing the words of Greensleeves, with tambourines brought in at the climax and “Ha!” shouted loudly on the final chord.
The suite opens with a lively Jig that established the light-hearted, folk-like mood of the entire composition. Its character reflected the traditional Morris Dance tunes that Holst had recently been arranging for military band. The second movement is a soft, swift Ostinato in which the strings are muted to give a special, veiled colour. An exotic traditional Algerian melody appears as the solo violin theme in the third movement, Intermezzo. Its inclusion demonstrated his deep and abiding interest in the music and philosophies of other lands, and the impressions that a trip to northern Africa in 1908 made upon him.
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky—Orch. W. Veenstra
Tchaikovsky composed this set of variations in 1876. The premiere took place at a concert by the Russian Musical Society in Moscow on 30 November 30 1877. Wilhelm Fitzenhagen was the soloist and Nikolai Rubinstein conducted.
Tchaikovsky adored the courtly music of the eighteenth century, in particular the elegant rococo style of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). “I not only like Mozart, I idolize him,” he wrote. “He captivates, delights and warms me. It is my profound conviction that Mozart is the culminating point of musical beauty. It is thanks to him that I devoted my life to music.”
He paid homage in several ways, most directly through Mozartiana (1887), an orchestral suite transcribed from Mozart’s piano and choral pieces. Another means was the creation of works that reflect and stylize Mozart’s musical world. Among this latter group are the luxurious Serenade for Strings (1880, which will close this evening’s concert), and this charming set of variations for cello and small orchestra.
Prior to the variations, his most recent creation had been Francesca da Rimini, a stormy symphonic fantasia inspired by Dante’s poem The Divine Comedy. While he was composing the variations, he was also striving to create a viable scenario for an operatic setting of Shakespeare’s Othello. The opera came to nothing. The variations may have provided a diversion from the stresses and eventual frustrations of labouring over it, as well as a cool, emotionally detached counterweight to the Dante piece.
He created it, presumably on commission, for Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (1848-1890). This German-born cellist, a faculty colleague at the Imperial Conservatory in Moscow, had participated in the premieres of Tchaikovsky’s three string quartets.
The composer gratefully accepted the cellist’s advice on modifications to the solo part. Fitzenhagen’s contributions didn’t end there. In the autumn of 1877, Tchaikovsky fled from Russia to recover from his disastrous marriage. During his prolonged absence, Fitzenhagen took it upon himself to “improve” the variations. He shuffled the order, eliminated completely the last (and most difficult) of them, and replaced it with the original variation No. 4.
When Tchaikovsky’s publisher, Peter Jurgenson, saw Fitzenhagen’s edition, just before it was to be published with piano accompaniment, he wrote to the composer, “Loathsome Fitzenhagen! He is most importunate in wishing to alter your cello piece, to make it more suitable for the instrument, and he says you have given him full authority to do this. Good heavens! Tchaikovsky reviewed and corrected by Fitzenhagen!”
The fact that Fitzenhagen’s performances of his edition won considerable acclaim may have mollified to some degree Tchaikovsky’s understandable displeasure. After a triumphant reading at a German festival in June 1879, Fitzenhagen wrote to the composer, “I produced a furore with your variations. I pleased so greatly that I was recalled three times…(Franz) Liszt said to me ‘You carried me away! You played splendidly,’ and regarding your piece he observed, ‘Now there, at last, is real music!’”
At first, Tchaikovsky appears to have held ambivalent feelings towards Fitzenhagen’s revisions. These changed to deep bitterness as the full score approached publication in 1889. Nevertheless, apparently weary of the affair and having received news that Fitzenhagen was dying, one of his pupils reported that he cried out, “The devil take it! Let it stand as it is!” In recent years, some cellists have returned to the original version, but Fitzenhagen’s undeniably effective edition remains the standard. You will hear it at this concert, in a reduced version with string orchestra.
The brief introduction establishes both the gentle, refined mood and the transparency of the chamber orchestra scoring. The soloist introduces the relaxed and winsome theme—and rarely gets a breather after doing so. The theme is an original Tchaikovsky creation that author Paul Serotsky has described as a “drawing room march.” The variations rarely stray far from it, transmuting it into, among other things, a nostalgic waltz (variation 3) and a sorrowful lament (variation 7).
The composer has provided the following note.
Top Groove: A hard-driving dialogue between cello and orchestra taking inspiration from the diverse elements of both heavy metal and Renaissance polyphony and woven into a byzantine-like texture of bright metallic colours.
Other Worlds: A beautifully lyrical solo cello line emerges from a stark, shimmering texture in continuous flux, giving one the sense of peacefully floating between layers of atmosphere, of space, or of consciousness.
Hyperkinetic: A fierce, unrelenting moto perpetuo that tests the limits of speed and agility: like sitting behind many horses on the German Autobahn.
Serenade for String Orchestra in C Major, Op. 48
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky composed this piece immediately following the bombastic 1812 Overture, a commissioned work that he had written hastily and with little enthusiasm. “The overture will be very loud and noisy, but I wrote it without any warm feelings of love and so it will probably be of no artistic worth,” he confided to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck. “But the Serenade, on the contrary, I wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic worth.” Completed in November 1880, it had only a month to wait for its first performance, given by students at the Moscow Conservatory in December as a surprise gift to the composer. Eduard Nápravnik conducted the public premiere, in St. Petersburg in October 1881. It was a huge success.
Tchaikovsky told a friend that he intended the opening movement as a tribute to Mozart, whose opera The Magic Flute he had recently been studying for relaxation. A stately introduction in slow tempo leads to a vigorous and charming allegro. A gracious waltz, one of Tchaikovsky’s best, follows, then a sweet, heartfelt elegy. The finale makes use of two Russian folk songs. The first is treated as a slow, wistful introduction. The second kicks off the ensuing allegro with mischievous charm, a quality abetted by a gracious second theme of Tchaikovsky’s own invention. Near the close, the return of the first movement’s opening theme brings the Serenade full circle.