Ode to Hope

These notes appeared in the printed program for distribution on November 19, 2017 at the Sandler Center for Performing Arts for the performance of “Ode to Hope” conducted by Daniel W. Boothe. All programs notes for this performance were written by Jo Marie T. Larkin.


Joyride

Michael Markowski (b. 1986)

Background

Joyride was written when the composer was a student at Dobson High School in Arizona. It was created as a concert opener to be performed by his school band for a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. This orchestral version was “reimagined” and transcribed by the composer for the Arizona Musicfest 2016 Young Composer’s Fanfare competition. The piece aims to blend elements of John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” with the well-known “Ode To Joy” theme from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Choral.”

What to Listen For

The piece begins with a rush of notes by the percussion that sound like a speeding locomotive train. Immediately the central theme of the work, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” is hinted by a horn fanfare. From there the music wisps into a frenzied kaleidoscope of various shapes, colors, and effects, each one juxtaposed against another to create a perpetual blur of energy. As the listener rides along, the “Ode to Joy” fragments become more and more pronounced until they dominate by the end as a glorious fanfare. The piece concludes as quickly as it began as the train-like percussion sounds give way to flourishing woodwind scales and a final concluding chord of punctuation.


Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2 in D Major , Op. 101

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

I. Allegro moderato  II. Adagio  III. Rondo (Allegro)

Background

Joseph Haydn wrote the second of his two surviving cello concertos in about 1783, when he had been running the Esterhazy musical establishment for more than two decades. Anton Kraft, the Esterhazy orchestra’s principal cellist from 1778 to 1790, was a noted virtuoso, and it has been widely presumed that Haydn wrote the Concerto for Kraft. It was even regarded by some as Kraft’s work, but the discovery, in 1951, of Haydn’s autograph on the musical score finally settled the issue of authorship. The solo part is very challenging, as it not only brilliantly exploits the resources of the cello, using double-stops, octaves, and high-register passagework, but also rewards the listener with music of extraordinary beauty and elegance. Haydn avoided acoustical muddiness in grand style: the cello spends a great deal of the concerto playing soprano, with many passages that a violin could play without transposing. Such a use of the instrument is doubly remarkable because the neck of the 18th-century cello was shorter than the modern cello neck, so Haydn was pushing the limits of the cello’s range, and making it sing and scamper. This sort of writing, though not unprecedented, was very much on the cutting edge for the 1780s.

What to Listen For

The tone of the first movement is leisurely and soothing, in the usual sonata form with the exposition played first by the violins and then repeated with the addition of the winds. After the soloist establishes the two main themes, the movement continues with the cello flying off into bravura passagework, eventually finishing with a cadenza and the reiteration of the first theme by the winds. In the second movement the soloist introduces the main theme in the dominant, A major. There is a brief tutti after which the soloist enters with an expansion of the second part of the main theme. The remainder of this movement features simple variations and a cadenza. The final third movement is the shortest movement of the concerto. This rondo begins with the main theme (the theme that keeps reappearing) played by the soloist. Some might compare this theme with the tune “Here we go gathering nuts in May.” This theme is repeated before a contrasting second theme is introduced by the soloist. As the rondo evolves and concludes, the coda uses the first theme to bring the work to its cheerful conclusion.


Symphony No. 5 in D Major, Op. 107 (Reformation)

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

I. Andante; Allegro con fuoco II. Allegro vivace III. Andante IV. Chorale: A Mighty Fortress is our God; Andante con moto; Allegro vivace; Allegro maestoso

Background

Mendelssohn was commissioned to compose this symphony to commemorate the establishment of the Lutheran faith. It was to be performed in a ceremony to be held on June 25, 1830, the three-hundredth anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, the formal document approved by Martin Luther. Unfortunately, the ceremony was impacted by the rising political tension spreading across Europe at the time and interest in using his symphony to mark this occasion also diminished. Antoine Habeneck planned a performance in Paris in the spring of 1832, but the musicians rejected the piece and refused to perform it. Mendelssohn was humiliated by this and developed enormous self-doubt about his own symphony. It was finally performed under his direction later that year in November, with the subtitle “Symphony to Celebrate the Church Revolution.”

However, Mendelssohn eventually withdrew the symphony from his catalogue and declared his intention to destroy it. It wasn’t published until 1868, as part of the posthumous edition of his complete works, when it was designated as the fifth of his five symphonies, although it was the second to be written.

What to Listen For

The piece begins solemnly, with a rising theme of Renaissance-like polyphony that is answered by a quiet fanfare of brass and woodwinds. Each fanfare increases in strength, as if to underscore the rising convictions of the early Lutheran movement. With unmistaken homage to the church, Mendelssohn includes hushed statements of the “Dresden Amen,” a serene sequence of rising chords (a setting of the word “Amen” that still appears in hymnals). The main body of the movement gives way to rapid, stern, and forceful declarations, including many extended virtuosic phrases by the strings. The second movement is a lively scherzo with a single rhythmic figure repeated in nearly every measure until the very last. The tune is one we now know as quintessential Mendelssohnian fleetness, offset by a genial waltz-like middle section. The third movement is a brief, gracious song for violins. Fragments of the “Amen” appear in the first violin melody, and the movement closes with a reference to the second theme of the first movement. At its final chord, a flute begins to sing Luther’s great hymn, “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God), unaccompanied at first and quickly drawing in more voices until it is richly harmonized and proudly proclaimed. The Finale is in 6/8 time and features prominent counterpoint in the development section. “Ein’ feste Burg” weaves through the development section and takes over by the end in majestic Bach-like splendor. It closes with loud organ-like chords–a hymnal cadence of affirmation and great hope.