Opening Night 2021
Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791)
Overture to the Marriage of Figaro
Composed in 1786 (Pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, horns, timpani, and strings.)
Written as a comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro has long been celebrated as one of the operatic greats. Based on a 1784 play by Pierre Beaumarchais entitled La folle journée, the opera tells of servants Susanna and Figaro successfully marrying after thwarting the advances of their employer Count Almaviva. The opera is set in Seville, Spain a few years after The Barber of Seville. At the beginning of any good opera, the opera composer relies on the pit or house orchestra to set the stage for the play through its overture.
The overture was developed in the 17th century as an instrumental introduction to ballet, opera, or oratorio. By the Romantic period, composers were writing overtures so they could be played independently from the great work itself. Mozart was ahead of his time in this regard.
Mozart looked to his overtures as the second most important part of the play aside from the climactic moment of the third or fourth act. They set the tone for all that is to follow. The Marriage of Figaro’s overture is rather fast with a presto tempo. In case you’re wondering what happens after the overture—well we’ll leave that to the opera company, but we can tell you it involves a lot of singing!
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Violin Concerto No. 3
Composed in 1880 (solo violin, two flutes [doubling on piccolo] pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.)
They say that imitation is the best form of flattery. Saint-Saëns wrote his third concerto to partly embody the style of contemporary Pablo de Sarasate. Compared to his colleague, Saint-Saëns was more concerned with his form and ways to orchestrate a piece on the piano. He lacked depth in his composition, focusing more on brilliant melodic lines and elegance. Sarasate’s premiere of the work dazzled with elements of technical lyricism that, to this day, continue to win over audiences to Saint-Saëns’ music.
After experimenting with the structure of his first two violin concertos, Saint-Saëns returned to the traditional fast-slow-fast structure with his third concerto. The first movement is comprised of many half-steps and a brisk Allegro. Jumping right into the action, this concerto omits an orchestral introduction, which can normally last three to five minutes before the solo instrument/voice enters. It must seem like an eternity to those waiting to join in. The movement progresses with sweet expressive second themes in triplet form.
The second movement is a rocking barcarolle, with woodwind solos embracing a breezy motif. Eventually, the winds will trade-off to the strings as the soloist drives delicately onward.
Finally, Saint-Saëns introduces some Spanish flair in the final movement, an ode to his time spent in Spain while writing the piece. The concerto concludes with the contrast between hushed and sweet strings and insistent Spanish flair.
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2
Composed in 1901-1902 (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets and trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings)
When your mom or dad tells you that you did a good job, you might shrug it off thinking “of course I did, I’m your child.” When an outsider or someone with some subject knowledge tells you that you did a good job, for some reason it seems to resonate more. Sibelius’s friend Baron Axel Carpelan, who penned the name for Sibelius’s most famous work Finlandia wrote to the composer after its premiere:
“You have been sitting at home for quite a while, Mr. Sibelius, it is high time for you to travel. You will spend the late autumn and winter in Italy, a country where one learns …balance and harmony…a country where everything is beautiful – even the ugly. You remember what Italy meant for Tchaikovsky and Strauss.”
Sibelius took the advice to heart and traveled to Italy where he penned the first notes of his second symphony. As a modern-day symphony, it has been pointed out that he drew inspiration and ideas for his symphony from the music of Beethoven. Correlations between the large exuberant finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 can show some similarities. Many listeners note the composer was trying to make a statement about Finnish independence. Many still refer to the work as the “Symphony of Independence,” penned at a time of Russian sanctions of the Finnish language and culture. Sibelius never confirmed or denied his intentions, stating only that his second symphony “is a confession of the soul.”