An Evening of Fantasy

Saturday, November 11, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m. | Santander Performing Arts Center

Reznicek

Overture to Donna Diana

Rózsa

Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello & Orchestra

  • Eric Wyrick, Violin
  • Andre Gaskins, Cello

Ravel

Mother Goose Suite

Strauss

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

Join the Reading Symphony Orchestra for a playful night of music! Soloists Eric Wyrick and Andre Gaskins collaborate with the orchestra for Miklós Rózsa’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello & Orchestra, Op. 29, a fiery work that builds on Hungarian folk themes. Also on the program are Reznicek’s bubbly Donna Diana Overture, Ravel’s magical and delicate Mother Goose Suite, and Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, a colorful tone poem that chronicles the misadventures of a German folk hero.

About the Soloists

Eric Wyrick
Violinist Eric Wyrick has been Concertmaster of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra since 1998. He is an established leader/member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and is currently an Artistic Director with that ensemble. He has performed as a soloist with orchestras such as the Danish Radio Orchestra, is an active chamber musician, and has made several television appearances on PBS and the BBC.

Andre J. Gaskins
Principal Cellist of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Andre J. Gaskins enjoys a diverse musical career as cellist, conductor, composer, and music educator. He makes regular appearances across the United States and internationally. Mr. Gaskins was nominated for the 2004 Grammy Awards. In addition to performing, he has composed original music for short films, documentaries, and commercials.

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Overture to Donna Diana…………………. Emil Nikolaus von Rezniček (1860-1945)
Composed in 1894
Premiered on December 16, 1894 in Prague.

The comic opera Donna Diana by Austrian composer and conductor Emil Nikolaus von Rezniček is set in Barcelona at the close of the 19th century. Don Caesar tries to fan the flames of Princess Diana’s love by feigning indifference. The ruse works, but only after a series of comic complications. The sparkling Donna Diana Overture sets the mood for this Spanish romp by the use of a whirling dance rhythm resembling that of the zapateado. The broadly heroic melody that is used for contrast will be remembered by many as the theme song used in the days of media yore for the program chronicling the exploits of “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”

 

Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29 …………………….. Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995)
Composed in 1958-1963
Premiered on September 22, 1966 in Chicago, conducted by Jean Martinon with violinist Victor Aitey and cellist Frank Miller as soloists

Among the remarkable community of expatriate musicians who gathered in Los Angeles after being driven out of Europe by World War II were cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and violinist Jascha Heifetz. Hungarian-born Miklós Rózsa, who had established himself as one of Hollywood’s finest composers after emigrating to America in 1940, wrote a successful violin concerto for Heifetz in 1953, and five years later Piatigorsky, a close friend, fellow faculty member at USC and frequent performance partner of Heifetz, approached the composer with what Rózsa recalled was the cellist’s “‘vonderful plan’ — to write a concerto for him and Heifetz, a double concerto.” Rózsa agreed to this “vonderful plan” — Heifetz and Piatigorsky were the world’s foremost practitioners of their instruments at that time — taking care to give each virtuoso an equal share in the musical proceedings. Despite Rózsa’s efforts to please both virtuosos in the Sinfonia Concertante, the only part of the score they ever performed together was the variations movement, which they premiered in a reduced scoring for chamber orchestra at their Heifetz–Piatigorsky Concert in Los Angeles on September 29, 1963; RCA recorded the single movement soon thereafter. The complete Sinfonia Concertante was finally heard, in its original scoring, at a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert on September 22, 1966, with violinist Victor Aitey and cellist Frank Miller conducted by Jean Martinon.

The musical spirit of Rózsa’s native Hungary pervades the Sinfonia Concertante, as do the dramatic qualities that made him one of the preeminent composers of Hollywood’s golden age. The opening movement follows traditional sonata form, with a vigorous main theme and a more lyrical subsidiary one, an expansive development section that draws on both subjects and culminates in a duo-cadenza of rising intensity, and a compressed recapitulation of the exposition’s materials that reverses the themes to close the movement with the same drive with which it began. The second movement comprises a set of variations on the long, Hungarian-inspired melody introduced by the cello at the outset. The seven variations vary from dance-like to thoughtful, from lighthearted to passionate, and almost seem to invite imagining them as musically rich accompaniments to a film of several short scenes showing different but related characters and locales. The sonata-form finale is a showcase for virtuosity, not just for the soloists but also for Rózsa’s ability to forge his folk dance-inspired themes into an effective symphonic form.

 

Suite from Mother Goose…………………………………….. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Composed for piano in 1908; orchestrated in 1911
Premiered on January 28, 1912 in Paris, conducted by Gabriel Grovlez

Ravel’s Mother Goose began in 1908 as a set of piano pieces for the young children of friends. In 1911, he made a transcription of the original five movements as an orchestral suite and then wove a ballet around them by adding a prelude, an opening scene and connecting interludes. The tiny Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty depicts the Good Fairy, who watches over the Princess during her somnolence. Hop o’ My Thumb treats the old legend in Perrault’s anthology of 1697. “A boy believed,” Ravel noted of the tale, “that he could easily find his path by means of the bread crumbs he had scattered wherever he passed; but he was very much surprised when he could not find a single crumb: the birds had come and eaten everything up.” Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas portrays a young girl cursed with ugliness by a wicked fairy. The tale, however, has a happy ending in which the Empress’ beauty is restored. In the Conversations of Beauty and the Beast, the high woodwinds sing the delicate words of the Beauty, while the Beast is portrayed by the lumbering contrabassoon. At first the two converse, politely taking turns in the dialogue, but after their betrothal, both melodies are entwined, and finally the Beast’s theme is transfigured into a floating wisp in the most ethereal reaches of the solo violin’s range. The introspective Fairy Garden is Ravel’s masterful summation of the beauty, mystery and wonder that pervade Mother Goose.

 

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28 ……………………..Richard Strauss  (1864-1949)
Composed in 1894-1895
Premiered on November 5, 1895 in Cologne, conducted by Franz Wüllner

The “Till Eulenspiegel” from which Strauss’ tone poem sprang was a well-known character of German folklore, a “rude mechanical” born in Brunswick in 1283, according to the account of 1515 by the Franciscan monk Thomas Murner. Olin Downes wrote of this impish character, “Till, they say, was a wandering mechanic who lived by his wits, turning up in every town and city. He made himself out to be whatever the situation required — butcher, baker, wheelwright, joiner, monk, or learned metaphysician. He was a lord of misrule, a liar and villain, whose joy it was to plague honest folk and play foul jests upon them.”

“Eulenspiegel” in German means “owl-mirror,” and it is generally agreed that the name of this legendary rascal, who both embodies and exploits human foibles, alludes to a German proverb: “Man sees his own faults as little as an owl recognizes his ugliness by looking into a mirror.” When asked to elucidate his music, Strauss wrote to Franz Wüllner, the conductor of the premiere, “By way of helping listeners to a better understanding, it seems sufficient to point out the two Eulenspiegel motives, which, in the most manifold disguises, moods, and situations, pervade the whole up to the catastrophe, when, after he has been condemned to death, Till is strung up to the gibbet. For the rest, let them guess at the musical joke which the Rogue has offered them.” The two motives that Strauss mentioned occur immediately at the beginning of the work — a “once upon a time” phrase played by the strings, and a bounding horn theme. Unlike the historical Till, who reportedly died in bed of the plague, Strauss sentenced his scoundrel to swing for his crimes amid threatening rolls on the drums and great blasts from the trombones. The closing pages, however, revive the impish specter of the physically departed Till, as if to say that his insouciant spirit remains always evergreen.