Marc-André Hamelin “urged to return by a riotous ovation” …

Ring any bells? The words from The Oregonian sound wonderfully familiar to anyone who has been at an MCO concert with Marc-André Hamelin. The piano superstar first appeared with us in 1991, and he has been one of the high points of every season in which he has appeared.

Hamelin moves between new and traditional repertoire with ease, and at this concert, he will do so quite literally with Valentyn Sylvestrov’s The Messenger, which is new, yet not recent. Sylvestrov has said, “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.”

At this opening concert, Anne Manson will present the first of two works this season by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. ‘The Kancheli which Marc-André is playing is a major work which he has talked to me about playing with the MCO for some time now,” says Manson. “He doesn’t have a chance to play it very often.”

Post-modern, and then some

Using traditional tonal and modal techniques, the Ukrainian composer Valentyn Sylvestrov creates a unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures, qualities which he suggests are otherwise sacrificed in much of contemporary music.

Sylvestrov, on The Messenger: “It is as if a visitor from some other dimension in time came to us with a message … perhaps Larysa herself, perhaps some distant muse speaking in the language of the late eighteenth century. This archaic and yet vitally contemporary language is filtered through a profoundly post-modern sensibility.”

The concert begins at 7:30 pm on October 14th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors and $10 for students, including GST, 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
14 October 2015

Marc-André Hamelin, piano


Valentyn Sylvestrov
The Messenger (Der Bote), for synthesizer, piano and string orchestra

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No.25, in G minor (K 183 / 173dB)

Giya Kancheli
Valse Boston

Concert sponsor / Wawanesa Insurance
Guest artist sponsors / Sandi & Ron Mielitz
Concertmaster sponsor / Raymond Hébert
Piano sponsors / St. John’s Music and Yamaha Canada
Print media sponsor / Winnipeg Free Press
Radio media sponsors / ICI musique 89.9, Classic 107 and Golden West Radio.

Marc-André Hamelin

Marc-André Hamelin is ranked among the elite of world pianists for his unrivaled blend of musicianship and virtuosity in the great works of the established repertoire, as well as for his intrepid exploration of the neglected music of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 2015/16, Hamelin performs with the London Philharmonic and Vladimir Jurowski at the Alte Oper Frankfurt (Liszt’s Totentanz and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations) and again later in the season at the Royal Albert Hall for performances and recording of Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 3 and Medtner’s Concerto No.2. He also tours North America playing Liszt no.1 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer to Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Maison symphonique de Montréal. He has a three-part residency at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, and debuts at the Teatro alla Scala with the La Scala Orchestra led by Jakob Hrusa.

Orchestral appearances in North America include Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of the National Arts Centre, Québec, San Diego, Edmonton and Toronto. In addition to the London Philharmonic, in Europe Hamelin appears with the Berlin Radio Symphony, the Hallé, the Lucerne Symphony and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Brahms, Ravel and Messiaen.

In recital, he plays on the Keyboard Virtuoso series in Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall and performs solo concerts for Chicago Symphony Presents, the Van Cliburn, Spivey Hall, ProMusica Montreal, Music Toronto, and the Green Center in Sonoma. European recitals include Munich, DeSingel in Antwerp, Moscow State Philharmonic Society, Perugia, Heidelberg Festival, Bilbao, and the Salzburg Mozarteum.

Mr. Hamelin records exclusively for Hyperion Records. His most recent releases are a two-disc set of Mozart Sonatas and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet with the Takács Quartet. He was honoured with the 2014 ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of the Year (Piano) and Disc of the Year by Diapason Magazine and Classica Magazine for his three-disc set of Busoni: Late Piano Music.

Other recent recordings include Debussy Images and Préludes Book II, Haydn concertos with Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie, three double-disc sets of Haydn sonatas and an album of his own compositions, Hamelin: Études, which received a 2010 Grammy nomination (his ninth) and a first prize from the German Record Critics’ Association. The Hamelin études are published by Edition Peters.

His Hyperion discography of over 50 recordings includes concertos and works for solo piano by such composers as Alkan, Godowsky, and Medtner, as well as brilliantly received performances of Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Shostakovich.

Born in Montreal and a resident of Boston, Marc-André Hamelin is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the German Record Critic’s Association. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.

Valentyn Sylvestrov

Valentyn Vasylyovych Sylvestrov, born in 1937 in Kiev, is a Ukrainian pianist and composer of contemporary classical music. He began private music lessons at age 15 and studied piano at the Kiev Conservatory from 1958 to 1964.

Sylvestrov’s works could be considered neoclassical and post-modernist. Using traditional tonal and modal techniques, he creates a unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures, qualities which he suggests are otherwise sacrificed in much of contemporary music. “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists,” Sylvestrov has said.

In 1974, under pressure to conform to both official precepts of socialist realism and fashionable modernism, Sylvestrov chose to withdraw from the spotlight. In this period he began to reject his previously modernist style. Instead, he composed Quiet Songs (Тихі Пісні (1977)) a cycle intended to be played in private.

Sylvestrov’s recent cycle for violin and Melodies of Instancesstances, a set of seven works comprising 22 movements to be played in sequence (and lasting about 70 minutes), is intimate and elusive — the composer describes it as “melodies … on the boundary between their appearance and disappearance.”

Sylvestrov’s principal and published works include seven symphonies, poems for piano and orchestra, miscellaneous pieces for (chamber) orchestra, two string quartets, a piano quintet, three piano sonatas, piano pieces, chamber music, and vocal music (cantatas, songs, etc.).

Giya Kancheli

Giya Alexandrovich Kancheli, born in 1935 in Tbilisi, is a Georgian composer, resident in Belgium.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kancheli has lived in Western Europe — first in Berlin and, since 1995, in Antwerp, where he became composer-in-residence for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic.

Kancheli has written seven symphonies, and what he terms a liturgy for viola and orchestra, called Mourned by the Wind. His Fourth Symphony received its American premiere, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov, in January 1978, not long before the cultural freeze in the United States against Soviet culture. Glasnost allowed Kancheli to regain exposure, and he began to receive frequent commissions, as well as performances within Europe and America.

Championed internationally by the likes of Dennis Russell Davies, Jansug Kakhidze, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Kronos Quartet, Kancheli has seen world premieres of his works in Seattle, as well as with the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur. He continues to receive regular commissions. New CDs of his recent works are regularly released, notably on the ECM label.

His work Styx is written for solo viola, chorus and orchestra. It is a farewell to his friends Avet Terterian and Alfred Schnittke, whose names are sung by the choir at certain points.

In Georgia, Kancheli’s work is well known in the theatre, for which he does much of his musical composition. For two decades, he served as the music director of the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi. He composed an opera, Music for the Living, in collaboration with Rustaveli director Robert Sturua, and in December 1999 the opera was restaged for the Deutsches National Theater in Weimar.

He has also written music for dozens of films, such as Georgi Daneliya’s science fiction film Kin-dza-dza! (1986) and its 2013 animated remake.

The Messenger – 1996
Valentyn Sylvestrov

Sylvestrov created two versions of this piece. The first, for solo piano, appeared in 1996, and the one you will hear this evening, scored for piano and strings and synthesizer, the year after. The orchestral version was premiered in 1997 in Kiev, Ukraine, with Virko Baley conducting the Kyjivska Kamerata. Since then this hushed, beautiful piece has been frequently played by renowned ensembles in many countries, throughout North America and Europe.

The following remarks appear on the publisher’s website: “Dedicated to the composer’s late wife, Larysa Bondarenko (who died at an early age), it follows the style of Mozart with folk-song melodies and conventional string orchestration, but it is no imitation of style—Sylvestrov allows the cadenzas to end unexpectedly, and chord series are interrupted unconventionally, giving the music a sense of fragmentation and distance from a recognizable history.”

The composer writes, “The Messenger – 1996 is perhaps Larysa herself, perhaps some distant muse speaking in the language of the late eighteenth century. This archaic and yet vitally contemporary language is filtered through a profoundly post-modern sensibility. It is as if a visitor from some other dimension of time came to us with a message.”

Author Tatjana Frumkis writes: “ ‘As in a fog’—thus reads the performance direction in the score … Like frozen breath (dolcissimo, lontano, light and sad), a beautiful theme reminiscent of Mozart strikes our ears, and with it an artless sonatina in the style of the eighteenth century takes shape. Hardly has this died away, however, when the melodies in this piece are immediately enveloped by its shimmering echo. ‘The whole piece must be played with a light hand and the lightest possible touch,’ the composer wrote, regarding the solo piano version. ‘The top of the piano should be completely closed. Keep pressing the pedal again immediately so the preceding sound continues to resonate.’ Thus are beloved figures superimposed, as in a dream, sometimes losing their contours, but never fading from our memory.”

The distinguished Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov adds, “Oblivion? There is no such thing as oblivion, Sylvestrov says with his The Messenger – 1996. It is enough to fling a window open, to strike a match, to look at a cloud, to hear a triad, for memories — not only ours but also those, unknown to us, of all these messengers — to start working a miracle” (translated by Natalie Priymenko).

Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This bold, vibrant work is Mozart’s first truly significant symphony, as well as the earliest of his symphonies that receive regular concert performances. Its current popularity dates from the twentieth century, as it was little known and seldom performed prior to that.

The seventeen-year-old composer completed it on 5 October 1773, seven months after he had returned to his native Salzburg from the last of three trips to Italy. During that visit, his opera Lucio Silla had been greeted with acclaim at its premiere in Milan. Works dating from the summer of 1773 included several serenades and no fewer than six string quartets. He rapidly followed up on Symphony No. 25 with the first examples of two musical forms of which he would prove himself a complete master: the string quintet and the piano concerto (this was Concerto ‘No. 5,’ prior to which he had created four concertos based on themes by other composers).

He wasn’t happy to be back in a city that he considered backward and unappreciative of his talents. His feelings may have coloured this piece. In it, he rejected the conventional cheerfulness that the audiences of the day expected in a symphony. Another possible inspiration was his future friend Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 (1770), which is set in the same key and which also shares the unusual-for-the-day inclusion of four horns in the orchestra instead of two. Mozart may well have heard it, or read the score, during a two-month visit he and his father Leopold made to Vienna that summer.

Mozart composed just two symphonies in a minor key — the same G Minor, in fact: No. 25 and No. 40 (1788). At times, No. 25 has been referred to as the ‘little’ G Minor, not to disparage its considerable worth but to distinguish it from its later, longer, and even more remarkable sister piece. He used this key to express especially passionate emotions. Other compositions in which he did so include the magnificent String Quintet, K. 516 (1787) and his glorious final opera, The Magic Flute (1791).

The pulsing opening measures of Symphony No. 25 (which served as a memorable accompaniment to the title sequence in the film Amadeus), offer complete individuality, rather than the somewhat bland conventionality of his previous symphonies. The remainder of the movement mingles drama with pathos. The slow movement offers a measure of consolation, but is not totally free of unresolved tensions. The minuet is a serious and sober affair, framing a central trio section, scored for woodwinds alone, that offers a brief oasis of genteel amiability. In the finale, the first subject resumes the opening movement’s sense of struggle. But Mozart offers a ray of warmth in the second theme. Its character isn’t enough to win the day, but it does help smooth away the roughest edges of the music’s bleakness.

Valse Boston (1996)
Giya Kancheli

Kancheli composed Valse Boston (Boston Waltz) for piano and string orchestra in 1996. It bears two dedications: to conductor/pianist Dennis Russell Davies, a noted advocate of Kancheli’s music, and in the composer’s words, “to my wife with whom I never danced.”

Introduced in the 1830s, the Boston Waltz was a slow, Americanized version of the quicker, more lively Viennese waltz. Its popularity lasted quite some time, as shown by German composer Paul Hindemith’s inclusion of one in the Suite 1922 for solo piano.

Kancheli’s dream-like Valse Boston opens with a single stroke on the piano, followed by a haze of very quiet string tones and what might be ghostly fragments of a waltz-like melody. In a lengthy crescendo, the music gathers in volume and intensity, only to subside abruptly into further rumination. This pattern repeats throughout the work, nostalgic tenderness alternating with hair-raising aggressiveness. Both approaches become more sustained in duration. One of them achieves a firm and lasting position at centre stage only in the final section. Kancheli calls upon the piano soloist to produce the widest possible range of dynamics, from barely audible to thunderous.

One interpretation of this fascinating piece is that it presents a philosophical statement, uneasily placing a sweet, remembered past up against a harsh, present-day reality. Can you think of others?