Songs of Mahler
Songs of Mahler
Soprano Measha Brueggergosman hardly needs introduction.
She’s not only one of Canada’s most celebrated singers, she’s an habitué of Winnipeg, who has endeared herself to audiences here.
As an up-and-coming soloist, the soprano performed an emotional concert with the MCO two weeks after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. While establishing herself as an international star over the next 15 years, she would perform with the MCO no fewer than six times, as well as record her first CD with our orchestra for CBC Records. In the 2017/18 season, we’re proud to say that she joins the MCO as Guest Artist-in-Residence.
An astoundingly eclectic interpreter with a special gift for post-Romantic repertoire, Measha will perform Mahler’s almost decadently rich Lieder eines Fahrenden Gessellen (Songs of a Travelling Journeyman) at this concert. She explains her motivation for selecting this piece:
“When I almost died in 2009, I told myself three things: that I would live closer to my parents in the Maritimes, that I would have kids, and that I would sing more Mahler… It’s something of a miracle as a classical singer to find repertoire that literally feels like it was written for you yesterday.”
In addition to this decidedly Germanic offering, the MCO performs great music by Russian, Spanish, and Canadian composers.
Composing is just where things start for Winnipeg-based Heidi Ouellette, who is also the co-founder/director of the Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival, and the Executive Director of GroundSwell. Her work often incorporates borrowed or recycled material, improvisation, and collaboration with other musicians and disciplines.
The concert begins at 7:30 pm on May 24th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets, at $35 for adults, $33 for seniors and $15 for students and those under-30 (incl. GST), will be available 28 July 2017, at McNally Robinson, the West End Cultural Centre (586 Ellice at Sherbrook), Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave) or MCO’s Ticketline (204-783-7377).
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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
24 May 2018
Measha Brueggergosman, soprano
Turtles all the Way Down
Manitoba Arts Council commission
World premiere performance
Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov
Serenade, Op. 48
Gustav Mahler (arr. Schoenberg)
Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen
Joaquín Turina (arr. Vivian Fung)
Tres Sonetos, Op. 54
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Concert sponsor / Gail Asper Family Foundation
Guest artist sponsor / Quadrant Asset Management
Music Director sponsor / Tommy & Liba Stillman; Marty, Amy, Jacob, Ruby, Zachary Stillman; David, Sharon, Ellie, Jonah, Sadie Stillman — in honour of Elaine Margolis’s special birthday
Motivated and hungry for new experiences, Measha Brueggergosman’s highlights on the opera stage include Giulietta and Antonia in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Elettra in Idomeneo, Madame Lidoine in Dialogues des Carmélites, Jenny in Weill’s Mahagonny, Emilia Marty in Věc Makropulos, Hannah in Miroslav Srnka’s Make No Noise, and Sister Rose in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking.
On the concert platform she has appeared with numerous organizations, including the New World Symphony Orchestra and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco and London, and the New York Philharmonic—with conductors such as Barenboim, Sir Andrew Davis, Dudamel, Harding, David Robertson, Tilson Thomas and Welser-Möst.
Measha began her career predominantly committed to the art of the song recital. She has presented innovative programs at Carnegie Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, both the Konzerthaus and Musikverein in Vienna, Madrid’s Teatro Real, as well as at the Schwarzenberg, Edinburgh, Verbier and Bergen Festivals with celebrated collaborative pianists Justus Zeyen, Roger Vignoles, Julius Drake, and Simon Lepper.
Her first recording for Deutsche Grammophone, Surprise!, includes works by Schoenberg, Satie and Bolcom and is one of the most highly regarded debut albums of recent years. Her subsequent disc Night and Dreams, which features songs by Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, Schubert, Debussy, Duparc and Fauré, won several awards and her recording of the Wesendonk Lieder with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra earned her a Grammy nomination. So Much To Tell, her 2005 recording with the MCO, was nominated for a JUNO Award.
Measha Brueggergosman champions the education and involvement of new audiences and holds several honorary doctorates and ambassadorial titles with international charities.
Heidi Ouellette is a Winnipeg-based composer, curator, cultivator and administrator of the arts. She thrives in the space in between these roles and often blurs the lines between these titles. She is eager to collaborate with other performers and artists, and seeks projects that allow her to do so. Her interests lie in innovative approaches to music composition, incorporating recycling or re-use of music and materials (including re-conceptualization and re-contextualization), improvisation, and multi-disciplinary endeavours.
In recent years, Heidi has devoted much of her creative energy to co-founding and directing the Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival in Winnipeg. Curating this annual festival of contemporary sound and art has expanded her artistic focus from strictly musical to multi- and inter-disciplinary realms, has evolved her approach to her own composition, and reflects a conscious shift towards a more community-driven approach to her work. With an increasing awareness of the collective ecology of the arts, Heidi strives to contribute to the growth and vitality of the artistic communities around her.
In tandem with the development of Cluster, Ms Ouellette has built a career as a leader in the arts—most recently acting as Executive Director for GroundSwell. Heidi approaches her work with the local new music concert series (and collaborations with a myriad of other organizations) as an extension of her efforts to create, curate and cultivate the arts in Winnipeg, Canada, and beyond.
Turtles All The Way Down
The composer has provided the following note:
Turtles All the Way Down is a new work for string orchestra with flute, clarinet, piano and percussion commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. The piece is inspired by the work of children’s author and illustrator Jon Klassen. Originally from Winnipeg, Klassen’s work has a uniquely sparse yet expansive style—reflected in both his imagery and narratives. I am particularly drawn to this dichotomist combination of qualities in both visual and aural realms.
This new composition is specifically inspired by the third book of Klassen’s Hat Trilogy, We Found a Hat. The story follows two turtles who discover a hat together and are quickly faced with a dilemma: there is one hat to be had, and two of them who want it. After delightful tension builds due to the problematic equation of one hat and two turtles, the story takes a surprising, surreal turn. The story ends in a dream sequence with both turtles floating in a starry sky, each wearing a hat. It is a striking image and conclusion that continues to resonate for some time after finishing the book.
While the piece is not necessarily an aural ‘scoring’ of the book, it is intended to have a narrative quality. The friendship between the two turtles acts as a starting point to explore musical relationships. Meanwhile, the striking desert setting of We Found A Hat (a prominent and essential element of the book) inspires the harmonic and textural context of the piece. The story takes place over the course of a day, with the sky moving from day to night throughout the illustrations. The piece also reflects this cyclical nature. With direct inspiration from the magical ending in the book, the piece concludes with a somewhat unexpected sparkling, optimistic finale.
Much of Klassen’s original material is straightforward and understated: the muted colour scheme, desert setting, humble protagonists, and minimal text. On the surface, this is a simple, charming story about two turtles. However, it is also an exploration of honesty, generosity, and perception. Turtles All the Way Down reflects this multi-layered approach, capturing a sound world that combines restraint and minimalism with personality, vulnerability and occasional bursts of vibrant resonance.
Serenade for Strings
The tragic brevity of Kalinnikov’s life silenced a genuine talent before it was able to blossom fully. His legacy is slim but it is a treasure to listeners who enjoy the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Borodin.
The son of an ecclesiastical family, he began his education at the seminary in Oryol after his family moved there. His talent enabled him to become director of the institute’s choir at age 14. In 1884, he relocated to Moscow to study at the Conservatory, but because he couldn’t afford the fees he had to drop out after only a few months. A short time later, he won entrance to the music school of the Philharmonic Society on scholarship. After graduation in 1892, he eked out a meagre living by playing the bassoon, timpani and violin in various ensembles, and by working as a music copyist.
Tchaikovsky came to admire him and recommended him for the position of music director of the Malïy Theater, and later for the Italian Theater, as well. Signs of the tuberculosis that Kalinnikov’s life of deprivation had brought about soon made themselves felt, however, and doctors ordered him to seek a warmer, healthier climate. He spent the rest of his life in Ukraine, devoting himself to composition and relying upon friends to support him.
He created primarily orchestral works, including two splendid symphonies, a suite, two intermezzi, a handful of overtures and symphonic poems, and incidental music for Aleksey Tolstoy’s play Tsar Boris. The celebrated composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff paid him a visit. Appalled by the wretched state in which Kalinnikov was living, Rachmaninoff gave him financial assistance and helped to have some of his works published. These fees went to Kalinnikov’s widow, after her husband’s death at age 34.
The first of the two Russian serenades for strings on this program is a student work, dating from 1891 when Kalinnikov was 25. It was performed at his graduation concert the following year. Consisting of a single movement, it has the character of a slow, melancholy waltz.
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)
—arr. Arnold Schoenberg
The character of the forlorn, heart-broken wanderer became a familiar and highly representative figure in romantic art. This early work of Mahler presents a marvelous update of the tradition into late nineteenth century terms. It may include an element of autobiography, Mahler regularly declaring himself something of an outcast.
He composed Songs of a Wayfarer from 1883 to 1885, initially for voice and piano. The version with orchestral accompaniment followed during the early 1890s. It was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic on March 16, 1896, with baritone Anton Sistermanns as the soloist and the composer conducting.
Mahler wrote the text himself, under the clear influence of Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), a collection of German folk poetry that exercised a profound, long-lasting influence on his music. He is known to have written two further poems for the cycle, but he did not include them in the final score and may never even have set them to music.
Shortly thereafter, he began Symphony No. 1 in D Major, a work which shares not only much of the same atmosphere with the song-cycle, but two musical themes. The inter-connection between song and symphony would become a recurring feature in his music.
Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) developed a cordial, if occasionally strained, personal and professional relationship. Mahler appreciated Schoenberg’s early music, with its late-romantic style reflecting his own. For Schoenberg’s part, despite their occasional differences, he held Mahler in great esteem, regularly performing the older man’s music at the concerts he organized.
In Vienna in 1918, seven years after Mahler’s death, Schoenberg and his followers established an organization called The Society for Private Musical Performances. Their concerts of chamber music were open only to subscribers, no publicity was undertaken, and reviews were not permitted. The audience was not even allowed to express its pleasure or displeasure with what they heard—no applause, hissing or booing, thank you!
The Society’s goal was simply to give this often complex music the hearing it was unlikely to receive otherwise, and under the most sympathetic conditions possible. The best available musicians were engaged, and they were allowed as much rehearsal time as was deemed necessary. Subscribers were not informed of the repertoire before the concerts, and most pieces were scheduled more than once, in order to give listeners the opportunity to become more familiar with them.
In the society’s three-year existence, 113 concerts took place and more than 150 works by 42 composers were heard, including pieces by such major figures as Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartók, Strauss, Reger, Schoenberg and Zemlinsky. The organizers wished to present orchestral works, but they were faced with practical and financial limitations that made this impossible. They prepared special transcriptions of the orchestral works that appealed to them, some 50 in all. The early arrangements were confined to one or two pianos, but more elaborate forces gradually came into use.
Eventually the expense of such an ambitious enterprise made it no longer financially feasible, and the Society’s final performance took place on 5 December 1921.
Schoenberg’s chamber version of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer was premiered at a Society concert on 6 February 1920. The scoring is for voice, flute and piccolo, clarinet, piano, harmonium, percussion and strings.
The first song presents the narrator’s unhappy reaction to the approaching marriage of a former lover. Between its gloomy, yearning opening and closing verses the tone shifts briefly to a more positive sentiment, reflecting the poet’s abiding love of nature. That cheerful atmosphere continues in the second song, as the narrator sets out across a field on a sunny spring morning. Mahler used this melody in the first movement of Symphony No. 1. By song’s end, happiness again gives way to doubt.
Stark drama pervades the next number, as the poet reacts in agonized tones to the “red-hot knife” that failure in love has lodged in his heart. The final song begins with a funeral march, a type of piece Mahler would go on to use regularly. In the peaceful concluding section, the wanderer is finally granted a measure of contentment, through the tranquility and lack of pain he expects to find in the afterlife. Mahler transplanted this section to mid-way through the third movement of Symphony No. 1.
Tres Sonetos (Three Sonnets), Op. 54
—arr. Vivian Fung
This Spanish composer’s parents wanted him to pursue a career in medicine, but the musical gift that he had displayed from childhood could not be denied. His studies began with piano lessons and progressed to composition. Early successes emboldened him to visit Madrid in hopes of having an opera performed there. This proved impossible for an unknown composer from the provinces.
Under the guidance of a generous and more experienced composer, Manuel de Falla, he tried his hand at composing zarzuelas, a form of operetta. Finding no success in that field, either, he relocated to Paris and undertook further study. His instructors at the Schola Cantorum included Vincent d’Indy. He composed several works in a modernist style, but they generated little enthusiasm.
In 1907, Turina and de Falla took part in a Parisian performance of a Turina quintet. The celebrated Spanish composer, Isaac Albéniz, was in the audience. Afterwards he took his two young colleagues to a café and recommended that Turina cast off his conservative models and look to Spanish folk music for inspiration. Turina decided to take this advice, but only to the point of making folk flavouring one ingredient in his style. The shift earned him the breakthrough he had been longing for, through such pieces as the vivid orchestral tone poem, La procesión del Rocio (1913).
Turina composed songs throughout his career. The Tres Sonetos date from 1930. The texts are by Francisco Rodríguez Marín (1855-1943), a Spanish poet and scholar who was devoted to Spanish literature, and who published several editions of Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote. The set begins and ends with ardent love poems (Yearning, and To those eyes). In between comes the playfully cynical Go away!.
Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
The cheery Mozart and the often gloomy Tchaikovsky might seem an odd pair, but they had more in common than one might think. Both were superb entertainers and composed magnificent dance music, and shared a flair for musical drama, with or without voices.
Besides, Tchaikovsky, like virtually all great composers, adored Mozart. “I not only like Mozart, I idolize him,” he wrote. “He captivates, delights and warms me. To hear his music is to feel that one has done a good deed. It is my profound conviction that Mozart is the culminating point of musical beauty. In Mozart I love everything, for we love everything in those we love truly. He was as pure as an angel, and his music is rich in divine beauty.”
Tchaikovsky paid his respects to Mozart several times. He did so as directly as possible through his Suite No. 4, Mozartiana (1887), which presents orchestrations of his idol’s music for piano and for voices. In terms of general classical style, he made homage through the delicious Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra (1876), and this glowing Serenade for Strings (1880). For all its classical leanings, it is a romantic work through and through.
He composed it immediately after 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 on 4 November 1880, it had only a month to wait for its first performance, given by students at the Moscow Conservatory on December 3rd as a surprise gift to the composer. The public premiere followed in October 1881, and won 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, and 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.