An Evening With
Yo-Yo Ma

October 5, 2014

Heitor Villa-Lobos
“Embolada” from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro on March 5, 1887 and died there on November 17, 1959. He has been recognized as the most important composer of 20th-century Brazilian art music. His popularity derives largely from his special ability to combine aspects of his indigenous culture with elements from the storehouse of historical Western music, most notably that of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Bachianas Brasilieras No. 1 is an excellent example. The work was composed in stages in 1930. The most famous of the nine works with this title is No. 5, which was performed by the Winston-Salem Symphony with soloist Elizabeth Pacheco Rose during the 2011-12 season. Scored for a minimum of eight cellos, divided into multiple parts, this performance of “Embolada” from Bachianas Brasilieras No. 1 is being given for the first time by the Winston-Salem Symphony.

The Winston-Salem Symphony’s program notes are also available in larger print for you to print at home and bring with you to the concert!

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The celebrated Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos described his set of nine pieces entitled Bachianas Brasilieras as an “homage [to] the great genius of Johann Sebastian Bach… [who I] consider a kind of universal folkloric source, rich and profound… linking all peoples.” In point of fact, the suite-like works inspired by the Baroque master are a marvelous blend of idiomatic Brazilian musical idioms with Bachian harmonies and counterpoint. The opening movement of Bachianas Brasilieras No. 1 is entitled “Embolada,” a dance/song from north-eastern Brazil that features rapid one-note to a syllable execution. Often associated with a kind of poetic battle popular, often of a satirical comment on current events in Brazilian culture, Villa- Lobos applied this idiom and title to many of his vocal and instrumental works. The lush timbre of the cello ensemble, a scoring shared by the more famous “Aria-Cantilena and Embolada” of Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5, creates a warm sensuality that is unforgettable to those whose ears are charmed by this music.

Program Note by David B. Levy, © 2014

Dmitri Shostakovich
Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917), op. 112

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich, one of the Soviet Union’s greatest composers, was born in Saint Petersburg on September 12, 1906 and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. Although he composed in a wide variety of genres, he is best known for his fifteen symphonies, works that stand among the finest examples of the genre from the mid-twentieth century. His Symphony no. 12, a work dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Lenin, was composed between 1960 and 1961 and first performed on October of 1961 by the Leningrad under the baton of Yevgeny Mravinksy. It is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling on piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, (off-stage brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones) timpani, percussion, and strings. This concert marks its first performance by the Winston-Salem Symphony.

The era following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 was a time of transition for Dmitri Shostakovich. It has been surmised that the composer’s Tenth Symphony represents, especially in its ferocious second movement, a savage caricature of “Uncle Joe.” The “thaw” under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, a politician who renounced at least some of Stalin’s more severe policies, paved the way for Shostakovich to resuscitate some of his earlier works that had been denounced by Soviet officialdom. In August of 1954 he was declared the “People’s Artist of the USSR.” Two years later he received the “Order of Lenin.” A few years later, Shostakovich was allowed to travel abroad, visiting England (where he met Benjamin Britten) and, in November 1959, the United States. Some of the composer’s finest works appeared in those years—the autobiographical Eighth String Quartet, and the First Cello Concerto, a work commissioned by the great virtuoso, Mstislav Rostropovich. Indeed, the premiere recording of the Cello Concerto was made with Rostropovich joining Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, all under the supervision of the composer. Even as the politburo activated five-year plans and Premier Khrushchev was threatening to “bury” the West, Shostakovich became the artistic poster boy of a seemingly resurgent Soviet culture. But lying underneath the surface lay the composer’s musical signature, four notes derived from the German nomenclature for the initials D – S (=E-flat) – C – H (=B-natural), i.e., D. SCHostakovich. He uses this motto in the Tenth Symphony, Eighth Quartet, and Cello Concerto, and whenever this motto appears, the composer is sending out a warning that things are not as well as they may seem. Ever nervous that officialdom might turn against him, as it had done in the 1930s, Shostakovich took a risk by using the motto so prominently in high profile compositions.

Perhaps by way of demonstrating his appreciation for his new-found artistic freedom, or perhaps as a ruse to keep officialdom happy, Shostakovich authored a series of works in the late 1950s in various genres, including film music, which gave the impression of his whole-hearted endorsement of “socialist realism.” It was from this milieu that the Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies emerged. Symphony no. 11 (“The Year 1905”) and Symphony no. 12 (“The Year 1917”) represented a pair that reflected the origins of the Soviet Revolution (January of 1905 was marked by the “Bloody Sunday” massacre of protestors in St. Petersburg). They also mirror each other structurally by having titled movements that are played without any pause between their movements. Ostensibly, the Symphony no. 12, is a portrait of the founder of the Revolution and the Soviet Union’s first Premier, Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). The titles of the first two movements reflect important markers in Lenin’s life, although the music can’t truly be said to be biographical in nature. The first movement, “Revolutionary Petrograd,” quotes two primary themes that continue to resonate throughout the entire work and, according to the composer’s plans, a representation of Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd and his meeting of its working class citizens. It begins with a mournful theme in the cellos and basses that is derived from a revolutionary folk song whose words read “shame on you tyrants.” A second important theme is a Polish song, “The Warsaw March” (also used in the Eleventh Symphony). Much of the main body of this movement, however, is brutally loud and incredibly fast—perhaps a reflection of the angry mood of the proletariat. The second movement represents “Razliv,” the place near Petrograd where Lenin had his headquarters. The composer quotes an earlier work, “Funeral March for the Victims of the Revolution.” The brief third movement, “Aurora,” is named for the cruiser that fired the first salvo at the Tsar’s Winter Palace, and serves as a bridge to the finale, entitled “The Dawn of Humanity,” in which the mournful themes heard near the start of the symphony are transformed into a forced jubilation.

As is the case with many of Shostakovich’s works, conflicting narratives exist that have generated controversy about the composer’s sincerity in writing works that express some ideal of “socialist realism.” The biting sarcasm of the music, often quite ferocious as we hear in many episodes of the Twelfth Symphony, belie any notion that the work is an unequivocal tribute to Lenin. Perhaps we will never know the truth about what the composer had in mind. What we do know, is that Shostakovich, in his fifteen symphonies, emerged as the most compelling exponent of the genre in the often turbulent twentieth century.

Program Note by David B. Levy, © 2014

Antonin Dvořák
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, op. 104

The Czech master Antonin Dvořák was born in Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, on September 8, 1841; and died in Prague, May 1, 1904. His Cello Concerto, universally acknowledged to be the supreme masterpiece of its genre, was composed between November 1894 and February 1895. The composer revised it in June 1895 and it received its premiere in London on March 19, 1896. It is scored for 2 flutes (piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings. The last Winston-Salem Symphony performance of this work took place during the 2004-05 season.

Only the Symphony no. 9 (“From the New World”) surpasses Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in popularity. This magnificent concerto, along with the composer’s Symphony no. 7, represents the Czech master’s work at its finest. It is indeed the cello concerto par excellence, a work that prompted Dvořák’s friend and colleague Johannes Brahms to write in admiration that had he known that such a concerto for this instrument were possible, he “would have written one long ago!” The closest Brahms came to acting on this statement was his composition of a “Double” Concerto for Violin and Cello.

The work stems from the period between November 1894 and February 1895, a time at which Dvořák resided at a brownstone on E. 17th Street in New York City (one block removed from where the author of these notes grew up!). The building, alas, was destroyed a few years ago to make room for an ever-expanding neighborhood medical center. The street, however, was renamed “Dvořák Place.” The famous Czech musician was serving at the time as the Director of the fledgling National Conservatory of Music.

One of the most significant influences on Dvořák’s Concerto was the Concerto no. 2 by Victor Herbert, a work he heard performed by Herbert himself in New York. Dvořák also admired the work of two other cellists—the American Alwin Schroeder in Boston and the Czech Hanuš Wihan, to whom the Cello Concerto is dedicated. Dvořák, upon his return to Prague, presented the work to Wihan. The virtuoso was dissatisfied with many aspects of the work and suggested numerous revisions including the interpolation of a cadenza near the end of the finale. The composer rejected nearly all of these. One important revision, however, stemmed from the composer himself. In 1865 the composer became the piano teacher for two sisters, Josefina and Anna Čermáková, the latter of whom was to become Dvořák’s wife. Indeed, the composer in that year penned a Concerto for Cello and Piano in A for his colleague Ludevít Peer. His sister-in-law Josefina became especially fond of one of Dvořák’s songs composed in the winter of 1887-88, Lasst mich allein (“Leave me alone”), op. 82, no. 1. When she fell gravely ill during the composition of the Cello Concerto, Dvořák decided to include a quotation of the melody of the song in the second movement. Upon her death in May 1895, he added a reminiscence of the tune in the finale as well (played by a solo violin), adding a moving personal touch to the work. The Cello Concerto received its first performance in London on March 19, 1896, with Leo Stern as soloist. A letter of protest from the composer, written in English, survives in which he argues for the engagement of Wihan to perform it.

Although the work is scored for large orchestra, Dvořák succeeds in never obscuring the soloist. Intense drama, soaring lyricism, virtuosity, and adventuresome harmonic episodes live happily side by side, with no one element overshadowing the others. The essential unity of the three movements is strengthened by the use of thematic recall (cyclic techniques). One of the most memorable modern performances of the work took place in London during the spring of 1968 when the Russian virtuoso, Mstislav Rostropovich, was engaged to play it in the aftermath of the incursion of Soviet tanks in the streets the Czech capital city during the historic “Prague Spring.” Shouts came from the audience as the master took his seat—“Play it for the Czechs!” By all accounts, it was a performance for the ages.

Program Note by David B. Levy, © 2004/2014

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