Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, MCO Music Director
Karl Stobbe, MCO Concertmaster
Eckhardt Hall, Winnipeg Art Gallery
Original concert: 4 October 2020
Concert broadcast: 15 January 2021
THE BUHLER CONCERT
— Victoria Sparks
Passacaglia for Solo Violin
— Karl Stobbe
Sonata No. 4 for Solo Violin, Op. 27
— Karl Stobbe
Somewhere over the Rainbow (arr. Robert Oetomo)
— Victoria Sparks
Heaven’s Reflexes (world premiere performance)
— Victoria Sparks
Johann Sebastian Bach
Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) for oboe, English horn, and bassoon (arr. Broms-Jacobs)
— Caitlin Broms-Jacobs, Tracy Wright, Allen Harrington
MCO season sponsor / CN
MCO at Home sponsor / Christianson Wealth Advisors, National Bank Financial
Karl Stobbe, violin
Caitlin Broms-Jacobs, oboe
Allen Harrington, bassoon
Victoria Sparks, percussion
Tracy Wright, oboe
Karl Stobbe is recognized as one of Canada’s most accomplished violinists, known for his dedication to excellence on the violin and classical music in all its forms. As a concertmaster, soloist, and chamber musician, Karl has been an audience favorite in small settings and large venues. His diverse career has included performances of all six Ysaÿe Sonatas for Solo Violin, all 16 Beethoven String Quartets, and all ten Mahler Symphonies. He is as comfortable directing an orchestra without conductor, as he is giving an unaccompanied recital. Noted for his generous, rich sound, and long, poignant phrasing, he is described by the San Francisco Classical Voice as “an artist with soulful musicianship,” and by London’s Sunday Times as “a master soloist, recalling the golden age of violin playing … producing a breathtaking range of tone colours.”
Karl has performed in many of North America’s most famous concert halls, including Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, the National Arts Centre, Roy Thompson Hall, Segerstrom Hall, and the Orpheum Theatre. As a chamber musician, soloist, and orchestra director, he has shared the stage with many of the most important and eclectic violinists of our day, from James Ehnes to Mark O’Connor. Avie Records’ recording of Karl performing Ysaÿe’s Solo Violin Sonatas received worldwide attention, including Gramophone magazine, which hailed it as “full of spirit and energy… exciting, fearless…” It was nominated for a 2015 JUNO Award for best Classical Album: Solo or Chamber Ensemble, and was the winner of the 2015 Western Canadian Music Award for Classical Album of the Year. Also winning a Western Canadian Music Award that year was Jocelyn Morlock, whose CD Cobalt featured a live recording of Karl, joined by Jonathan Crow and the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Karl frequently performs and records new music, and has been involved in numerous commissions and world premieres.
A lover of all things violin, Karl completed a minor in Violin Repair and Construction while completing his Master’s of Music at Indiana University. His passion for the construction and mechanics of the violin is an important part of his professional musical life, and continues to influence his performances and teaching. Karl never misses an opportunity to see and play exceptional violins and bows. He has given multiple presentations on the history of the violin family, violin building and repair, and organized showings and lecture recitals on rare, fine instruments at various concert halls, art galleries, universities, and conservatories.
Caitlin Broms-Jacobs is the principal oboist of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. Described as “a delightfully musical player, with elegant tone and delivery” (Winnipeg Free Press), she can often be heard performing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as guest principal oboist. Caitlin has also served as guest principal with the Calgary Philharmonic, and was formerly principal oboist of the Saskatoon Symphony. Caitlin is passionate about chamber music, and has performed recitals and concerts with colleagues across Canada. She has been featured on Winnipeg’s millennium recital series and has premiered contemporary works for oboe for Groundswell new music. Originally from Toronto, Caitlin studied with Keith Atkinson at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Young Artists Performance Academy. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music where she studied with Richard Killmer. Caitlin furthered her musical education with San Francisco Symphony Orchestra principal oboist Eugene Izotov.
Allen Harrington is an Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba Desautels Faculty of Music where he is the chair of woodwinds and teaches saxophone and bassoon. As “an extremely fluid player of superb artistry” (Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal), Allen has amazed and delighted audiences with his “honest sound, …radio-active resonance,” (Halifax Chronicle Herald) “considerable virtuosity,” and “mellifluous tone,” (Winnipeg Free Press). A native of Saskatoon, he holds degrees from the University of Saskatchewan (B.Mus.) and Northwestern University (M.Mus.) He maintains a busy schedule outside his University teaching career as a soloist, orchestral and chamber musician, and adjudicator. Allen has appeared as a soloist with more than a dozen orchestras in Canada, Europe, and South America. He has given countless recitals across Canada, including recital tours for Debut Atlantic, Prairie Debut, and Home Routes Classical. Allen has three CD recordings on the Ravello Records label, featuring music for saxophone and piano as well as saxophone and pipe organ: Metropolis, The Postcard Sessions and Vanishing Point. Allen plays principal bassoon with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and is a regular extra with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Winnipeg-based Victoria Sparks is an active solo, orchestral and chamber percussionist. She completed bachelor’s degrees in Music and Education after studying with Rob Gardner and Jauvon Gilliam (University of Manitoba) and her master’s in Percussion Performance with Jon Crabiel (Butler University). Active as a soloist in a variety of chamber music series in Winnipeg, Victoria also performs regularly with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. She is principal Timpani/Percussion with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and works with other local arts organizations including the Brandon Chamber Players, GroundSwell, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and The Winnipeg Singers. In 2016 she had the honour of premiering Sid Robinovitch’s Concerto for Percussion and Strings with the MCO. Victoria works closely with clarinettist Cathy Wood in their collaborative project Viđarneistí. This duo has commissioned works for their unique instrumentation and they perform regularly in Manitoba and at conferences and festivals throughout Canada and internationally.
In 2018, Sparks was delighted to join the Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba teaching percussion and directing the percussion ensemble. Previously, she was the Coordinator of Percussion Studies at Brandon University (from 2010). She is the founder and director of the MBA Prairie Percussion Workshop (since 2012), an education- and performance-based event for percussion students in middle and high school. She also maintains an active schedule as an adjudicator and clinician in Manitoba and Saskatchewan through various organizations and festivals.
Tracy Wright is an experienced performer and active musician in and around Winnipeg. Over the last 15 years, she has played regularly with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Rainbow Stage, the Thunder Bay Orchestra and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Tracy holds degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Victoria where she also regularly played with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra and at Butchart Gardens as the leader of a wind quintet.
Her training began under Douglas Bairstow which involved a lot of driving over many years for her parents. After Tracy was married, her training continued at the Banff Centre under Peter Bowman and Richard Kilmer, in Victoria under Alexandra Pohrin-Dawkins and later in Minneapolis under Kathy Greenbank as the couple tried out new places to live. Tracy was also fortunate enough to spend 3 summers training and touring with the National Youth Orchestra across Canada and Europe during this time.
More recently, Tracy has spent a lot of time in her basement studio playing solo repertoire for oboe and for English horn for nobody in particular. She is thrilled to be playing with two of her favourite colleagues today for an actual audience!
Jeff Presslaff was born in New York City and came mid-career to live in Winnipeg where he has found a lively, highly skilled and supportive musical community. Since his arrival, he has composed and/or arranged over 100 pieces for big band (mostly the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra) and many other works for a large variety of ensembles including Indie rock band, symphony orchestra, salsa band, clarinet choir, solo marimba and many others. As a pianist, trombonist and/or composer/arranger, he has performed or collaborated with many top Canadian and international jazz, classical and avant-garde musicians. His albums have received worldwide airplay and multiple Western Canadian Music Award nominations. (Image: Saskatoon Star Phoenix; photo: Handout.)
A Little Prayer. from Three Chorales for Solo Marimba
Dame Evelyn Glennie
According to Evelyn’s website, “(she) particularly likes writing and arranging for the marimba. Her Three Chorales for Solo Marimba are hauntingly beautiful pieces, which take full advantage of the unique sonority of the instrument. Their simple chorale style makes them accessible to both the professional and the student player.”
Evelyn writes: ‘My Three Chorales for Solo Marimba were written at different times as individual pieces, and not originally intended as a set to be played together. A Little Prayer, and Light in Darkness, were written when I was 13 years old, expressing my spiritual feelings and at the same time displaying a pleasantly relaxed dimension to the instrument.”
Passacaglia in G Minor for Solo Violin, from the Mystery/Rosary Sonatas
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber
Renowned as one of the greatest violinists of the seventeenth century, Biber was also a highly productive composer. During the 1660s, he was employed by the Prince-Archbishop of Olmütz, but he moved to Salzburg, Austria, during the winter of 1670/71. In 1679, he became vice-Kapellmeister to Archbishop Max Gandolph, and took over the post of full Kapellmeister in 1684. A century later, no less a figure than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would find himself working for the same office.
One of Biber’s most impressive compositions is the set of Mystery or Rosary Sonatas. It consists of 15 brief pieces for violin and continuo, with the compelling passacaglia for violin solo that you will hear at this concert as the conclusion. Each sonata bears a title related to the Christian Rosary devotion practice and possibly to the Feast of the Guardian Angel. Biber composed them in the 1670s, but they were only published in 1905. The appearance of this challenging, virtuosic music did much to enhance his previously tenuous reputation.
According to Wikipedia, “The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, practiced in the so-called Rosary Processions since the thirteenth century, are meditations on important moments in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. During these processions, believers walked around a cycle of 15 paintings and sculptures that were placed at specific points of a church or another building. In this tradition, at every point a series of prayers was to be recited and related to the beads on the rosary (this is the reason why they are also named the Rosary Sonatas). While the faithful performed this ritual, they also listened to the corresponding biblical passages and commentaries. It is presumed that at the time they would listen to Biber’s musical commentary to accompany this ritual of meditation.
“Each sonata corresponds to one of the 15 Mysteries. The Passacaglia for solo violin that closes the collection is possibly relating to the Feast of the Guardian Angel which, in Biber’s time was a celebration that took place on different dates near those of the Rosary Processions in September and October.”
Regarding scordatura, the special tuning method that Biber used throughout the sonatas (except for the first sonata and the concluding Passacaglia), Peter Holman writes, “Scordatura is a technique which provides the instrument with unusual sonorities, colours, altered ranges and new harmonies made available by tuning the strings of the instrument down or up, creating different intervals between the strings than the norm. Biber’s scordatura tuning helped create music that was relevant to the themes of each mystery.”
Referring to the Passacaglia, Elisa Dann writes, “it is considered the most ‘outstanding work of its type before the Bach Chaconne.’”
Sonata No. 4 in E Minor, from Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27
Belgian musician Ysaÿe’s great and multiple talents led to a brilliant career as violinist, composer and conductor. Several generations of violinists preceded him within the family. Admitted to the Liège Conservatory at age nine, he later studied with the distinguished violinists Henryk Wieniawski and Henri Vieuxtemps. He landed his first professional position as concertmaster of the orchestra that later became the Berlin Philharmonic. Performances of the concertos that his teachers had composed helped him establish an international reputation, not only with audiences but with his fellow violinists, as well. “Ysaÿe was on a solitary peak, streets above all contemporary fiddlers, in a class of his own,” said his distinguished contemporary violinist, Carl Flesch. “In our memories he will forever remain the knight of the violin, the last grand virtuoso, an unforgettable landmark in the history of our art.”
Ysaÿe’s friendships with many of the era’s finest composers led to their dedicating to him such superlative works as César Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano, Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 1, Ernest Chausson’s Poème for violin and orchestra, and the string quartets of Camille Saint-Saëns and Claude Debussy. Debussy praised his “freedom of expression” and “pure beauty of tone.” Ysaÿe also found considerable success on the podium, serving for example as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1918 to 1922.
He began composing as a child and continued to write music until nearly the end of his life – in fact a large percentage of his musical catalogue dated from the period after he withdrew from performing for reasons of health. His compositions ranged from innovative works for solo violin to chamber pieces, eight violin concertos, and a full-length opera, Piére li houyeû, which is sung in the Walloon language of his native country.
Inspired by hearing the esteemed Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti perform the magnificent six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ysaÿe set out to compose something similar in layout but more contemporary in style and content. Recalling the creative inspiration and process that Sir Edward Elgar had followed in composing the “Enigma” Variations for orchestra (1899), in Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27 (1924) he portrayed six of the younger fellow violinists with whom he was friends. They were Joseph Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom and Manuel Quiroga. Once the idea had seized him, he shut himself away in his seaside villa at Le Zoute. He emerged after 24 hours of uninterrupted labour with detailed sketches for all six sonatas.
Throughout them, he employed numerous contemporary techniques because he believed that “at the present day the tools of violin mastery, of expression, technique, mechanism, are far more necessary than in days gone by. In fact they are indispensable, if the spirit is to express itself without restraint.” This set of sonatas places high technical demands on its performers. Yet Ysaÿe repeatedly warned performers that they should never forget actually to play, instead of becoming preoccupied with technical elements. A violin master, he wrote, “must be a violinist, a thinker, a poet, a human being, he must have known hope, love, passion and despair, he must have run the gamut of the emotions in order to express them all in his playing.”
In the liner notes for his superb CD of the complete sonatas (Avie AV2310), Karl Stobbe writes of No. 4, “The sister of the First Sonata, this is Ysaÿe’s neo-Baroque homage to Bach’s secular Partitas (as opposed to the sacred Sonatas). The dance titles are appropriate to the decidedly ‘folksy’ style of the writing here. The first movement introduces a very strong and brilliant opening before entering the slow, proud and stately Allemanda. The final section of this movement is a compelling fugue, beginning rather tentatively, but developing into a very powerful and irresistible musical force. The second movement is an exquisite piece of compositional craft, based on a repeated pattern of four notes. It’s a lovely, delicate little movement that shows Ysaÿe’s ability to marry creative expression with a rigid compositional structure. The final movement is a fun, fast ride with a slow, proud middle section based on a joyful inversion of the Allemanda theme. As in all the Sonatas, Ysaÿe finds the perfect ending that ties this Sonata together as an essay on motion and dance in music.”
Over the Rainbow, from The Wizard of Oz
One of America’s legendary composers of popular songs, Arlen’s more than 500 songs include such enduring “standards” as Blues in the Night, Come Rain or Come Shine, It’s Only a Paper Moon, One for My Baby, Stormy Weather, and That Old Black Magic. Born in Buffalo, New York, he worked as a singer and pianist in vaudeville before moving to California and filling a wide variety of positions in the music side of the film industry. Hired by the MGM studio to compose original songs for the 1939 movie musical The Wizard of Oz, he and lyricist E.Y. Harburg created the classic Over the Rainbow and several other excellent numbers. This wistful, yearning and Oscar-winning ballad was introduced in the film by Judy Garland in her role as Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale. It served as Garland’s signature song for the remainder of her career, and has been recorded by countless other performers.
Heaven’s Reflexes is a set of ten variations on an original theme for solo marimba by Jeff Presslaff. The genesis of the piece was Victoria Sparks’s interest in Presslaff’s jazz compositions, and her need as a teacher for interesting, but accessible, pieces for college level marimbists. Thus each variation explores a particular aspect of marimba technique, while also exploring a harmonic and melodic language created specifically for the work. ‘Heaven’s reflexes’ is a phrase from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which the composer thought evoked both the ethereal quality of some of the variations, and also the need for quick hands.
Aria with Diverse Variations, BWV 988 (Goldberg Variations)
Johann Sebastian Bach (tr. for Oboe, English Horn and Bassoon by Caitlin Broms-Jacob)
This magnificent work was published in 1741, as the final segment of a keyboard collection that Bach entitled Clavierübung (Keyboard Practice). The origin of the nickname that has become attached to it appeared in the early 1800s. The story, which originated with Johann Nicolaus Forkel, Bach’s first biographer, may or may not be true:
“For this model…we are indebted to Count Keyserlingk, formerly Russian envoy to the court of the Elector of Saxony, who frequently resided in Leipzig, and brought with him Goldberg, who has been mentioned above, to have him instructed by Bach in music. The Count was often sickly, and then had sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night in an adjoining room to play something to him when he could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought he could best fulfill this wish by variations, which, on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task. But as at this time all his works were models of art, these variations also became such under his hand. This is, indeed, the only model of the kind that he has left us. The Count thereafter called them nothing but “his” variations. He was never weary of hearing them; and for a long time, when the sleepless nights came, he used to say, ‘dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.’”
Bach himself may have composed the slow, noble theme, entitled Aria, upon which he based the variations. It had previously appeared in the notebook that he created for the musical education of his second wife, Anna Magdalena. It appears at the beginning of the Goldberg Variations and returns at the end. In between come 30 variations that display masterful variety and ingenuity. Bach regularly sprinkled the score with canons and dance movements of numerous kinds. The score falls naturally into two halves, the second of which Bach launched with stately brilliance through variation 16, a multi-section Overture in French style. Variation 25 is an Adagio radiating sublime beauty, while the final variation, sub-titled Quodlibet, offers an appealing medley of folk tunes.
Following the practices of his day, Bach frequently transcribed his own music, and music by other composers. At that time, this was considered a gesture of respect, not plagiarism. For centuries, other musicians have prepared transcriptions of his music, as well, including such notable figures as Mahler, Schoenberg, Webern, Respighi, Stravinsky, Elgar and Walton. The transcription you will hear at this concert…
A further note from the arranger, Caitlin Broms-Jacobs
Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a piece for a lifetime—the more one delves into it the more secrets it reveals—endlessly it seems. I’ve had a unique opportunity to discover the piece through the process of arranging it, and of preparing my own part, all of which has been challenging and immensely rewarding. Part of the greatness and mystery of the Goldberg Variations lies in its adaptability to interpretation and even instrumentation. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this piece isn’t simply playing it correctly—it’s deciding what “correctly” even is—and there is no one right answer, rather, numerous possibilities. As I worked on arranging the adagio movement, I thought that this enigmatic melody was created for the oboe, the instrument’s character perfect for the movement’s dark and twisting chromaticism. Yet when I began to practice the adagio, I found that to make it sound convincing was much more difficult than I had ever imagined. After much searching, I arrived at an interpretation that was nothing like my original ideas.
The Goldberg Variations, originally for harpsichord, has been transcribed numerous times for various instruments, however to my knowledge this is the first arrangement for oboe, English horn and bassoon. Our three instruments have a similarity of tone colour that allows us to blend seamlessly, and yet sound different enough that it’s possible to clearly hear our individual interweaving lines. It’s a combination of instruments that brings out the beauty and satisfaction of Bach’s sliding harmonies, as well as revealing the genius of his imitative counterpoint. My basic task as an arranger was to divide the voices of the keyboard original amongst the three instruments, and it was often obvious which instrument should play which line. Sometimes though there was more than one solution, and choosing creatively, so as to capture and magnify the character of the original, was essential; this is what makes a successful arrangement. A few of the movements of the Goldberg Variations are for four or even five voices. Using only three notes at once, I strove to arrange these movements in way that sounds complete and true to Bach.
Bach had a deep appreciation for double reed instruments, and wrote some of his most beautiful music for them—at times haunting, other times uplifting and joyous, his obligato arias for oboe, oboe da caccia (which is now often played on the English horn) and oboe d’amore are some of the most meaningful compositions in our repertoire. So this arrangement of Bach’s music seems, and sounds, natural. In my selection of variations I sought to maintain the dramatic arc of the original, and to include those movements which are landmarks along the route by which we travel away from the Aria, and finally return home.
After what feels like a long time away from performing, it is thrilling to be making music together again, and to share with you Bach’s deeply moving, transporting musical journey—The Goldberg Variations.
Program notes by Don Anderson, except where noted.