Dvořák Under the Stars
Wednesday 17 February
MSO’s Sidney Myer Free Concerts have been a much loved tradition in the Orchestra’s calendar since the iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl opened in 1959.
This year, the Orchestra will perform popular classical works during the course of the series, starting with Dvořák Under the Stars.
So sit back and relax on your rug, break into that picnic, and enjoy the gorgeous sounds of the MSO!
Join us at the top of the hill to get your photo taken at the photo booth for your chance to win one of three FujiFilm Instax Polaroid cameras!
About the Artists
Joshua Weilerstein is currently Artistic Director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. This season he makes debuts with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and he will make his Barbican debut when he returns to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He will also return to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, and the Orchestre National de Lyon. With the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, he goes on tour in Germany, performing in Bremen, Hamburg, Hannover and Düsseldorf.
Born into a musical family, Joshua’s career was launched after winning both the First Prize and the Audience Prize at the Malko Competition for young conductors in Copenhagen. He then completed a three-year appointment as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then, he has steadily gained a growing profile, performing with many of the major orchestras in the United States and Europe.
Heading on the longest trip of my life for my debut with
MelbSymphony</a> this week. Can't wait to be in Australia for the first time!!</p>— Joshua Weilerstein (joshweilerstein) February 11, 2016
Melbourne pianist and composer Stefan Cassomenos is one of Australia’s most vibrant and versatile musicians. As the recipient of multiple prizes including the Second Grand Prize in the prestigious International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn 2013, he is in demand as a recitalist in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Recent engagements have included solo recitals in Zurich (Tonhalle), Leipzig (Gewandhaus), Bonn, Weimar, Ludwigshafen, Kirchheimbolanden, Malta, London, and throughout the UK. He has performed concertos with the Melbourne, Adelaide and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. Stefan’s compositions are regularly commissioned and performed throughout Australia.
Stefan Cassomenos, photo by Belinda Strodder
He is a founding member of acclaimed ensemble PLEXUS, which since launching in 2014 has commissioned over 100 composers and premiered 50 new works. Stefan is generously supported by Kawai Australia and the Youth Music Foundation of Australia.
About the Music
John Adams (born 1947)
Short Ride in a Fast Machine
On his graduation from Harvard University, American composer John Adams did what all good East Coast graduates did when seeking alternatives in 1971 – he drove to San Francisco where, while on the staff of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he discovered minimalism.
But while Adams admired the work of leading minimalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, he was interested in different applications of its techniques. Instead of the trance-like Eastern rhythms and mechanical repetitiveness of much early minimalism, Adams’ music began to establish much clearer directions with more clearly defined structures. He brought to minimalism a greater diversity of musical influences, embracing both ‘classical’ models and aspects of popular culture.
‘Adams was never a composer to play by the rules his predecessors had mapped out for him – even if those rules were all about opening up musical freedoms.’
Short Ride in a Fast Machine is one of Adams’ ‘occasional pieces’ written for performance in the outdoors. Of the title, the composer commented: ‘You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t.’
Adapted from a note © Anthony Fogg
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra first performed this work on 21 March 1991 with conductor Patrick Thomas, and most recently in 2013 under the baton of the composer.
Keen to learn more about John Adams? Read The Guardian’s guide to the contemporary composer and his music.
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Piano Concerto in F
Andante con moto
Stefan Cassomenos piano
Rhapsody in Blue, the music in which Gershwin first crossed the tracks separating jazz and popular music from ‘serious’ music, caused a sensation and a controversy. When all the dust had settled, the pungent, memorable tunes and rhythms were still there: the Rhapsody is likely to remain Gershwin’s most popular piece of instrumental music. But Gershwin composed it for Paul Whiteman’s big band, which played music which Whiteman, at least, called jazz. Rhapsody in Blue comes off best, many believe, in its original scoring for band rather than in the inflated orchestral version. Actually, the neophyte composer made neither scoring himself – he and Whiteman called in the services of the band’s arranger, Ferde Grofé. That was in 1924. Meanwhile, the jazz craze was sweeping America, and the quite venerable but still enterprising conductor of the New York Symphony Society, Walter Damrosch, had an idea which would at one stroke further his aim of encouraging American composers and bring some of the flavour of jazz into the concert hall. In the spring of 1925 his Society commissioned Gershwin to compose a concerto and to appear as soloist in seven concerts with the New York Symphony beginning in December of that year.
It is said that the brashly self-confident Gershwin, after accepting the commission, had to find out what a ‘concerto’ was. Be that as it may, Gershwin was determined to orchestrate the work himself. To that end he provided himself with a textbook of orchestration. His original title for the work was New York Concerto, and he began to write it in the Gershwin family home at 103rd Street; or, when that became too crowded with distracting friends and relatives, in the seclusion of a room at the nearby Whitehall Hotel.
Gershwin at his piano
Gershwin’s original plan for the concerto was expressed in his typically laconic style. The three movements were to be:
- More Rhythm
Because of the title ‘concerto’, much attention has naturally focused on how successful Gershwin was in meeting the conventional demands of form. However it is doubtful whether this way of approaching the concerto is much to the point. Gershwin biographer Charles Schwartz surely has it right when he comments: ‘Doing what came naturally to him, Gershwin created his own personal version of a concerto, though hardly one that would conform to textbook models.’
The Concerto in F is in fact a string of highly effective melodies, involving a certain amount of repetition (including reminiscences of the first movement in the third), not much development, and some quasi-symphonic linking passages between the big tunes. The anxious care Gershwin gave to this work was surely due to his sense that he was attempting music which would have to stand the test of durability and repetition, not the ephemeral success of a Broadway show. By that test he succeeded: the Concerto in F is certainly the most often played American concerto and one of the most frequently heard concertos of the 20th century.
Among the Carnegie Hall premiere’s mixed audience of jazz buffs, classical elite, and Damrosch’s worshipful following of society ladies, there were those who were shocked, those who were puzzled, and those who were disappointed – because the concerto was not as musically raffish as Rhapsody in Blue. Critic Samuel Chotzinoff caught the reaction which has endured: ‘Of all those writing the music of today … Gershwin alone expresses us.’ The original title, New York Concerto, is an apt indication of its character: ‘a mixture of New York musical vernacular and the concert hall’ (Schwartz). Gershwin’s own program note makes no claims about the form of the piece, but gives a good description of its contents:
‘The first movement employs the Charleston rhythm. It is quick and pulsating, representing the young, enthusiastic spirit of American life. It begins with a rhythmic motif given out by the kettledrums, supported by other percussion instruments, and with a Charleston motif … The principal theme is announced by the bassoon.
‘Later, a second theme is introduced by the piano. The second movement has a poetic nocturnal atmosphere which has come to be referred to as the American blues, but in a purer form than that in which they are usually treated.
‘The final movement reverts to the style of the first. It is an orgy of rhythms, starting violently and keeping to the same pace throughout.’
© David Garrett
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra first performed this concerto at the official opening of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on 12 February 1959, with conductor Alfred Wallenstein and soloist Andor Földes. The Orchestra’s most recent performance took place at the 2009 Myer Bowl concert, with Oleg Caetani and John Chen.
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70
Scherzo (Vivace) – Trio (Poco meno mosso)
From out of the darkness of a deep, sustained bass note, violas and cellos wind their way ominously towards the light, rising to a peremptory three-note tattoo, repeated, each time more insistently, till it ends without hope on a stabbing chord.
Thus, in a mere six bars, Dvořák sets the mood at the outset for the most powerful and serious of his nine symphonies. It cost the composer greater effort than any of his other symphonies. In December 1884 he wrote to a friend: ‘Wherever I go I have nothing else in mind but [my new symphony], which must be capable of stirring the world, and God grant that it may!’
On one hand, he wished to impress the Philharmonic Society of London (which had commissioned it on his first visit to England in March 1884 and since elected him to honorary membership). On the other, he frankly sought to create a work which emulated the strength and beauty he had admired in the Third Symphony of his great friend and mentor Brahms on its premiere at the end of 1883.
Dvořák keenly sought unqualified commendation from Brahms, for the latter was not only a staunch advocate, but also a stern critic of any carelessness he found in the younger composer’s work. Brahms had told Dvořák he looked forward to the new symphony being ‘quite different’ from its predecessor.
Dvořák wrestled besides with a spiritual struggle stemming from his failure to win recognition at home as a composer of Czech operas and from his acute artistic need, love of country notwithstanding, to win recognition and success internationally. In the defiant tone of the Seventh Symphony we sense the composer choosing determinedly to strike out on his own. In its gloomy power and grandeur, Karel Hoffmeister (a student, later professor, in the Prague Conservatorium of which Dvořák himself was successively Professor and Director) finds the composer ‘at his loftiest, and yet most remote from his truest and most characteristic self’. Today’s listener, however, with the benefit of greater distance than Hoffmeister enjoyed, readily recognises in the Seventh a characteristic profile of the composer’s largest self.
The grimness of Dvořák’s main first movement theme and its related ideas is moderated by a gentle, conciliatory second theme introduced by flute and clarinet, but the movement ends in brooding resignation.
To the slow movement Dvořák brings a prayer for serenity and consolation, in the course of which the pent-up anguish of all his doubts and uncertainties bursts forth. From the catharsis of anguish comes an elevated calm which lifts the heart and brings the movement to a tender conclusion.
The scherzo has much of the character of a furiant, but, far from being a simple and sunny Czech dance, it soon becomes dour, its rhythms pounding aggressively. The dreamlike central trio evokes a pastoral scene, with trilling birdsong and distant hunting horns.
The finale cries poignantly for help. Searching for direction, we gradually find ourselves swept up in the irresistible propulsion of a surging march. As a sense of real confidence develops, cellos and decorative violins introduce a broad, warm-hearted second subject – the first sign of happiness in the symphony and also, as Dvořák biographer Šourek suggests, Dvořák’s first use of a melody with national colouring. All now sweeps forward to a solemnly exultant conclusion in the major mode.
The composer personally conducted the first performance of his Seventh Symphony in St James’s Hall, London, on 22 April 1885. Public and critics gave it a mixed reaction, but this did not dampen his habitual self-confidence as he wrote home:
‘The symphony was immensely successful, and at the next performance will be a still greater success.’
The turning-point seems to have been a pair of performances which Hans von Bülow conducted in Berlin in 1889: so ecstatic was Dvořák that he pasted a portrait of Bülow on the title page of the score above an inscription: ‘Slava! – Glory be to you! You brought this work to life!’
Adapted from a note © Anthony Cane
The Melbourne Symphony was the first of the Australian state orchestras to perform this work, in 1947 under Rafael Kubelik. The Orchestra’s most recent performances were in May 2012, with conductor Andrew Grams.
Want to experience more beautiful music under the stars at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl? Join us at the next two concerts in our Sidney Myer Free Concert series – Summer Carnival on Saturday 20 February and Tang of the Tango on Saturday 27 February.