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Matt Irwin

Sidney Myer Free Concert Program: Summer Carnival

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Summer Carnival

Saturday 20 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, with works by Dvořák, Barber and Tchaikovsky featuring in the Summer Carnival concert.

So sit back and relax on your rug, break into that picnic, and enjoy the gorgeous sounds of the MSO!

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Photo Booth

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!

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About the Artists

Joshua Weilerstein

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.


Joshua Weilerstein

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.

The Sidney Myer Free Concerts mark Joshua’s debut with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

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Dale Barltrop

Brisbane-born violinist, Dale Barltrop, is Concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the newly appointed 1st violinist of the Australian String Quartet. He returns to Australia this year after 18 years in North America. Barltrop has served as Concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra since 2009 and prior to that, as Principal Second Violin of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra in the U.S. He has appeared with all of these orchestras as soloist and director.

Barltrop has also appeared as Concertmaster of the Australian World Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle, guest director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, ACO2 and the Camerata of St John’s chamber orchestra in Brisbane. He has performed at numerous music festivals across North America, including Mainly Mozart, Festival Mozaic, Music in the Vineyards, Yellow Barn, Kneisel Hall, Tanglewood and the New York String Seminar. He was a grand prizewinner at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and winner of the violin division of the American String Teachers Association National Solo Competition.


Dale Barltrop

Barltrop began his violin studies in Brisbane, made his solo debut with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at the age of 15 and was Concertmaster of both the Queensland and Australian Youth Orchestras. He moved to the United States in 1998 to attend the University of Maryland and continued his studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music. His teachers have included William Preucil, Gerald Fischbach, the members of the Guarneri Quartet, Elizabeth Morgan and Marcia Cox.

A passionate educator, Barltrop has served on the faculties of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music and the Vancouver Academy of Music. He has also taught at the University of British Columbia, National Orchestral Institute in Maryland, Australian National Academy of Music and Australian Youth Orchestra.

Barltrop performs on a violin crafted by JB Guadagnini, Turin, 1784. It is on loan from Ngeringa Arts and was purchased through the generosity of Allan J Myers AO, Maria J Myers AO and the Klein Family.

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About the Music

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Carnival Overture, Op.92

Dvořák’s career is an inspiring reminder that greatness can grow from unlikely beginnings. An innkeeper’s son from the provinces of Bohemia, Dvořák first followed his father’s wish that he should train for the butcher’s trade. But music won out, and he went to Prague to become an orchestral string player and composer. His first great international success introduced the national flavour he would contribute to the world’s music. The Moravian Duets for voices attracted the attention of Brahms, who recommended Dvořák to his own publisher. This was good business: the Slavonic Dances, in their versions first for piano duet, then for orchestra, took Europe by storm.

Writing now for an international audience, Dvořák had major successes which have kept their place in the repertoire ever since. His Seventh and Eighth Symphonies and Symphonic Variations were especially associated with England, where he achieved immense popularity, even with his Stabat Mater and Requiem, works of a devout Catholic which conquered Protestant-dominated England. Invited to teach in the USA, he composed there his New World Symphony, full of a glowing nostalgia for his homeland, and on his return the Cello Concerto which is by common consent the greatest of all. Dvořák confirmed his standing, along with Smetana, as the major Czech composer of the 19th century.
Dvořák’s love of the music of his great predecessors Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms led him to recreate classical forms with a fresh content. Vigorous liveliness, fresh colours, and folk inspiration never let us forget that he called himself a ‘humble Czech musician’.


Antonín Dvořák

Written in 1892, the Carnival Overture is one of three in a series originally known collectively as Nature, Life and Love – the more customary titles In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello came later. This triptych shows Dvořák’s essential Romanticism in his adherence to the cult of Nature and his delight in celebrating his ethnic musical roots. Where the first piece celebrates the emotions of the individual contemplating nature, the landscape of the Carnival overture is quite definitely populated. The opening suggests a rural carnival in full swing and the piece as a whole is dominated by boisterous dance rhythms. There are, however, reflective moments. Significantly, after the first statement of the dance music, Dvořák inserts one such passage where the clarinet recalls the theme associated with nature from In Nature’s Realm. It is as if the quiet contemplation of nature makes possible the energy and joy of the carnival spirit.

Adapted from notes by David Garrett and Gordon Kerry
© Symphony Australia

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra first performed the Carnival Overture on 8 September 1941 with conductor Bernard Heinze, and most recently in 2014 under Benjamin Northey.

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Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Violin Concerto, Op.14

Presto in moto perpetuo

Dale Barltrop violin

In 1939, Virgil Thomson penned the somewhat acid observation that only five ‘standard’ American composers could ‘live on their take from commissions and performances’. Samuel Barber was one of this handful. The previous year, his international reputation had been assured with the broadcast performance, by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, of the hugely successful Adagio for Strings. Rich in melody, lush in tone, Barber’s music is synonymous with the elegant and dignified patrician demeanour of American Romanticism, true to its conservative self and intently personal in outlook.
Barber’s notes for the first performance of his Violin Concerto contain no hint of the tortured background of the piece:

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra … is Mr Barber’s most recent work for orchestra. It is lyric and rather intimate in character and a moderate-sized orchestra is used: eight woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, percussion, piano and strings.

The first movement begins with a lyrical first subject announced at once by the solo violin, without any orchestral introduction. This movement as a whole has perhaps more the character of a sonata than concerto form. The second movement is introduced by an extended oboe solo. The violin enters with a contrasting and rhapsodic theme, after which it repeats the oboe melody of the beginning. The last movement, a perpetual motion, exploits the more brilliant and virtuoso characteristics of the violin.

Listening to the work today, one is struck by the chasm that seems to exist between the first two movements together and the finale. The Allegro and Andante are suffused by almost-Mozartean lyricism, nearly devoid of brilliant passagework, whilst the Presto finale has the violin solo sawing away at full pelt, with only two moments in which to draw breath. This discrepancy has been the source of some controversy regarding the true nature of the work’s genesis.

Barber’s Violin Concerto was commissioned in 1938 by industrialist and philanthropist Samuel S. Fels for his protégé, the Russian prodigy Iso Briselli, who had travelled to Philadelphia in 1924 as a 12-year-old to attend the Curtis Institute of Music. The arrangements seemed simple enough: Barber would receive $1,000 for the concerto – $500 as down-payment, the rest on delivery. Barber used part of Fels’ commission fee to travel to Switzerland and by the end of the summer of 1939 had managed to send the first two movements to Briselli. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland, Barber fled first to Paris and then back to the USA, where he completed the concerto in July 1940.
Even before its first performance, the Concerto was mired in controversy. In his 1954 biography of the composer, Nathan Broder claimed that Briselli had rejected the finale as ‘too difficult’. This seems unlikely. For his debuts in New York and Philadelphia, Briselli had played concertos by Paganini and Beethoven, and his early recitals, comprising showpiece repertoire by Tartini, Sarasate, Wieniawski and Ysaÿe, were universally lauded.

Thirty years later, when Briselli was interviewed by the writer Barbara Heyman for her biography of Barber, the violinist offered another explanation. Although he believed the first two movements were ‘beautiful’ and he was eager to see the finale, he was disappointed that, compared to the first two movements, it seemed ‘too lightweight’. However the publication in 2010 of correspondence between Samuel Fels and Barber offers yet a third version of events and appears to suggest that it was not Briselli who rejected the work because its third movement was too difficult, but his teacher of the time, Albert Meiff, who found that it was insufficiently ‘violinistic’.

Consequently, a private reading of the movement was arranged for a small audience at the Curtis Institute. A gifted student, Herbert Baumel, had two hours to learn the piece but managed to toss it off and Barber received the balance of his commission fee. The first public performance of the Concerto was given by Albert Spalding with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy on 7 February 1941.

Even after its premiere – reviews reported ‘an exceptional popular success’ with ‘a storm of applause showered on both soloist and composer’ – Barber was still dissatisfied with some aspects of the work’s structure and orchestration. In 1948, he made some revisions and it is in this revised form that the work is performed today.

Adapted from a note by Vincent Plush © 2003/2013

Morton Gould conducted the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s first performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto, on 5 March 1977 with soloist Robert Cooper. The Orchestra’s most recent performance took place in 2013 with conductor Xian Zhang and soloist Sarah Chang.

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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Andante – Allegro con anima
Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza
Valse (Allegro moderato)
Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace

After completing his Fourth Symphony (1877), Tchaikovsky wrote to his former pupil Sergey Taneyev: ‘I should be sorry if symphonies that mean nothing should flow from my pen.’ He insisted that the Fourth definitely followed a ‘program’, even though, like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on which he had partly modelled the work, it could not be expressed in words. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Tchaikovsky’s own Fifth Symphony, composed in summer 1888, likewise could not ‘mean nothing’, and even if a precise meaning will probably never emerge, Tchaikovsky did leave clues as to the direction of his thoughts.

Fate and providence were certainly on his mind, having in mid-1887 spent two distressing months at the bedside of a dying friend. Later in his sketchbook he verbally outlined a first movement whose slow introduction began with ‘total submission to fate’, followed by an Allegro that introduced ‘murmurs, doubts, laments, reproaches’ before considering succumbing to ‘the embrace of faith’. He described this as ‘a wonderful program, if only it can be fulfilled’. Although no irrefutable evidence links this plan directly with the 1888 symphony, the Fifth’s main theme does lend itself to a musical personification of grim fate (in its minor form) and of beneficent providence (in its major form), and a journey from the first to the second is a plausible program, if not for the opening movement (which ends in the minor), then for the whole work.

The main theme (played at the outset by solo clarinet) also pays homage to the man Tchaikovsky called ‘the father of Russian music’, Mikhail Glinka. He borrowed the germinal first eight-note phrase from Glinka’s opera A Life for the Czar, where it opens the second half of a melody sung in succession by all three principal characters in the first act trio. But Tchaikovsky develops Glinka’s melodic fragment (first sung to the words ‘Do not turn to sorrow’) into an entirely new motto theme whose subliminal transformations and literal reprises bind the symphony’s four movements together. The first transformation is into the dance-like theme of the Allegro con anima announced by clarinet and bassoon.
The horn melody in the second movement is one of the most beautiful in all of Tchaikovsky’s music. He actually scribbled on a sketch of this melody (in French): ‘I love you, my love!’ But it is more than just a love theme; it, too, is subtly related to the motto (of the motto’s first eight notes, it is a varied reworking of the last five). This connection is made explicit when the undisguised motto returns, portentously with trumpets and kettledrums, just before the reprise of the love theme.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky called the third movement a ‘waltz’, a modestly understated example compared with his great ballet waltzes, but one whose easy mood makes it a perfect structural foil to the slow movement’s passionate intensity. It may well be significant that he crafted the tune out of snippets of a Tuscan folksong, called La Pimpinella, that he heard in Florence in 1877, sung by (as he noted) a ‘positively beautiful’ young (male) street-singer. Certainly significant, the waltz tune also audibly echoes the rhythm of the preceding movement’s soulful horn theme, of which it is essentially a faster, lighter reworking. The same rhythm also reappears in the sinuously exotic subsidiary tune introduced by the bassoon. But only once does the motto itself intrude on this pleasant reverie, from clarinets and bassoons, right at the movement’s close.

The motto returns fully, in major mode, as a solemn march, introducing the fourth movement, sumptuously scored with all the violins playing down low in unison with the cellos, passing next to the woodwinds, before trumpets and kettledrum signal the imminent Allegro vivace. Tchaikovsky energises the motto’s second, falling-scale element to create a new minor-key theme that launches further transformations and combinations of germinal fragments, underpinned by the quick tick-tock of bassoons, kettledrums and basses, plateauing out on a brilliantly shrill major-key woodwind chorus. Winding down and then up again through more furious returns of the minor-key theme, a massive climax builds, breaking back into the now almost unbearably splendid march, the motto’s apotheosis capped at the last possible moment by a trumpet reprise of the first movement’s Allegro theme.

© Graeme Skinner 2014

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra first performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 on 9 May 1942 under Bernard Heinze, and most recently in February 2015 with Benjamin Northey.

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Want to experience more beautiful music under the stars at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl? Join us at the last concert of our Sidney Myer Free Concert series – The Tang of the Tango on Saturday 27 February.