OCTOBER 14, 2023 | 7:30PM
MAYO CIVIC CENTER PRESENTATION HALL
I love great music, erupting with sound and energy and driving rhythm. As a Taiwanese-born conductor in the States, I am inspired by how these first-rate composers honor their roots by drawing from past legends to create something entirely new and magnificent. — MAESTRO LIN
In October, Rochester Symphony welcomes Chia-Hsuan Lin to the stage as one of four conductor candidates pursuing the position of our new artistic director.
Antonín Dvořák, Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Born: September 8, 1841 in Mühlhausen, Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic)
Died: May 1, 1904 in Prague
Premiere: April 28, 1892 in Prague, Orchestra of the National Theatre conducted by Antonín Dvořák
Length: 10 minutes
One only needs to hear the first two seconds of Antonín Dvořák’s Carnival Overture to already feel what the music is about: celebration! The brilliant opening chords announce the festive atmosphere in a virtuosic display of the orchestra. Originally titled, Life, in a trilogy of concert overtures called Nature, Life, and Love, Carnival Overture captures the essence of all three themes in an energetic, passionate, youthful fashion.
Dvořák’s early career was hardly carefree, spent in relative obscurity as he scraped together a living as a church organist and music teacher. Dvořák’s world was dominated by German romantics like Wagner, Bruckner, and Brahms. Following in the footsteps of these giants, how could Dvořák make a name for himself? In his mid-thirties, he made a breakthrough as he discovered his personal style, evident in two sets of Slavonic Dances. Tapping into the folk tunes of his native land and transforming them through the modern symphonic style, these tunes were widely popular and helped define the Dvořák we know today.
Carnival was written during Dvořák’s rise in popularity, in the year he and his family moved to New York, where he accepted a director position at a conservatory and a mission to help young America find its musical voice. His influence on the American school of classical music endures, through his advocacy for America’s folk music and particularly the African-American spirituals.
From the composer:
“The lonely, contemplative wanderer reaches the city at nightfall, where a carnival is in full swing. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of people giving vent to their feelings in their songs and dance tunes.” – Antonín Dvořák
After receiving a copy of Carnival from Dvořák, Brahms wrote to his/their publisher, Simrock, about this “merry” work, and had the foresight to add these words, to which I heartily agree, “Music directors will be thankful to you.”
Ke-Chia Chen, Chasing the Sun
Premiere: 2006 in Philadelphia, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joshua Gerson
Length: 6 minutes
From the composer:
“Chasing the Sun for chamber orchestra draws its inspiration from nature and the energy source that sustains all life on our planet, the sun. Its radiant light begins and ends both day and night defining time and providing necessary nourishment. With this in mind, I contemplated what sustains and provides energy in my life? What keeps the wheels moving forward? What inspires and nourishes a wandering heart?
When I pondered these questions, a childhood story told to me by my parents in Taiwan came to mind. “Kua Fu” is one of the earliest known myths. In Chinese mythology Kua Fu was a giant who wished to capture the sun. He was tall and strong with two yellow snakes hanging from his ears.
One day out of the blue, he became perplexed by the Sun’s whereabouts at night and decided to chase and catch the sun. With each stride Kua Fu makes progress and slowly gets closer to the sun. He followed the sun from the east to the west. As he closed in on the daystar all the rivers and lakes that crossed his path were drained to quench his burning thirst. In the end the chase proved futile and he died in his impossible quest succumbing to extreme heat and exhaustion. Although Kua Fu failed, the story of his failed quest has inspired many people to be patient and not to overestimate their abilities when chasing their own imaginary suns.
The sun nurtures the Earth; a dream feeds a starving soul.”
Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46
Born: June 15, 1843, in Bergen, Norway
Died: September 4, 1907, in Bergen, Norway
Composed: 1874-75, First Suite published in 1888
Premiere: 1876 in Christiania (Oslo), Norway, conducted by Edvard Grieg
Length: 15 minutes
From the composer:
“I have done something for the hall of the troll-king in Dovre which literally I can’t bear to hear. It absolutely reeks of cow pies, exaggerated Norwegian nationalism, and trollish self-sufficiency! But I am hoping that the irony will be able to make itself felt.” – Edvard Grieg
We can forgive Edvard Grieg for his passing feelings of frustration, especially regarding what would become one of the most recognizable pieces in classical music, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Instead we turn to his wife for the rest of the story: “The more he saturated his mind with the powerful poem, the more clearly he saw that he was the right man for a work of such witchery and so permeated with the Norwegian spirit.” And there is no composer that embodies that Norwegian spirit more than Grieg. Born in Norway, Grieg pursued musical studies in Germany, but his heart brought him back to his homeland to inherit the mantle of Norwegian romanticism, where he loved to explore such folk heroes as Peer Gynt.
Henrik Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt, is a commentary on the pitfalls of society, where Peer, very loosely based on a real person, is a selfish and twisted young peasant. After a series of failed adventures, he returns home to the undying love of a woman he had once abandoned. However, Grieg’s music sets an entirely different tone. His Peer Gynt is a charming journeyman, and the legend is greatly romanticized through the music.
For instance, consider Grieg’s idyllic tune of Bugs Bunny fame, “Morning Mood”, with a peaceful pentatonic melody in the flute:
Then Grieg writes simply that the music is “the sun breaking through the clouds at the first forte.” But in the Ibsen, rather than a tranquil setting, the sun rises as Peer Gynt is alone in a desolate and dangerous North Africa.
In “Death of Åse,” Peer is at his mother’s deathbed. This strings-feature is heart wrenching yet beautiful. “Anitra’s Dance” depicts a girl in a dance Grieg described as “delicate and beautiful.” He uses clever orchestration– muted violins, pizzicato strings, the folksy pentatonic scale once again, and a light touch of triangle– to paint a vivid, exotic picture. “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” in the words of George Bernard Shaw, is “a riotous piece of weird fun.” A piece often compared to Ravel’s Bolero for its repeated melody that adds instruments over a gradual crescendo, Peer Gynt endures the taunts of an old mountain troll king and his cronies.
Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Born: May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany
Died: April 3, 1897 in Vienna, Austria
Composed: 1884 and 1885 during two summer vacations in the Styrian Alps
Premiere: October 25, 1885 in Meiningen, Germany, the Meiningen Ducal Chapel Orchestra conducted by Johannes Brahms
Length: 44 minutes
From the notes of conductor Hans von Bülow:
“Difficult, very difficult. [Symphony] No. 4 gigantic, altogether a law unto itself, quite new, steely individuality. Exudes unparalleled energy from first note to last.”
Often seen as a conservative composer, Brahms followed in the tradition of his musical predecessors, especially Beethoven. Of Beethoven, he famously declared, “I shall never write a symphony! You can’t have any idea what it’s like to hear such a giant marching behind you.” But history knows better– Brahms broke through with his Symphony No. 1 and burst forth with three more symphonies in rapid succession.
The Fourth Symphony was conceived in 1880 as Brahms played a bass line from J. S. Bach Cantata 150 for some friends, wondering aloud, “What would you think of a symphonic movement written on this theme someday?” This rising scale and cadence became the theme of Brahms’s 4th movement passacaglia:
J.S. Bach, “Chaconne” from Cantata 150
Brahms extended the line with a (rather tasty) F-natural before the F-sharp, then transposed it to E minor:
Brahms then takes this passacaglia theme through 30 variations. He feared that his densely composed symphony would be criticized for being too intellectual. Brahms wrote to a friend, “Would you…tell me what you think of it?…Cherries never get ripe for eating in these parts, so don’t be afraid to say if you don’t like the taste. I’m not at all eager to write a bad No. 4.”
The last of Brahms’s symphonies, three of the movements are in a minor key, including the first. “Allegro non troppo” opens with melancholy with a falling 3rd and rising 6th. Clara Schumann wrote of this movement, “It is as though one lay in springtime among the blossoming flowers, and joy and sorrow filled one’s soul in turn.”
“Andante moderato”, also in a minor key, begins with an ominous theme in the horns before giving way to a somber yet elegant dance. “Allegro giocoso” is the only scherzo found in a Brahms symphony, but it is a lively dance in duple meter, rather than the typical triple meter.
The final movement of this symphony, back in E minor, makes such an impression that one of Brahms’s friends suggested he make it a standalone piece and write an alternate 4th movement. Brahms stood firm, but the impression remains. In a symphony marked by toil and struggle, the movement has glimpses of hope and triumph before ending in an emphatic E minor. Yet perhaps the clue to this hope offered in the finale can be found in the text of Bach’s Cantata 150: My days spent in sorrow, God ends nevertheless with joy.
CONDUCTING ON OCTOBER 14
Hailed by the Virginia Gazette as “a rock solid” and “animated” conductor, Chia-Hsuan Lin (pronounced “jah-shwen”) believes in the transformational power of symphonic music. Associate Conductor of the Richmond Symphony, Lin also resides in the Twin Cities, with guest appearances including the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Read more about this candidate.