Opening Night: Joshua Bell, Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Sat, June 21, 2014, 8:30pm

Overview

“I can’t wait to come back to Caramoor. Making music in such a beautiful atmosphere, with one of my favorite orchestras in the world, is such a treat.” – Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell, violin; Cristian Macelaru, conductor; Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Two dramatic and colorful works —Sibelius’ Violin concerto, in the hands of Joshua Bell, and Ligeti’s Concert Românesc—shimmer and dazzle at Caramoor’s Opening Night. Bizet’s Symphony No. 1, written at age 17, is a boisterous masterpiece of sophistication beyond the composer’s years.

Ligeti / Concert Românesc
Sibelius / Violin Concerto in d, Op. 47
Bizet / Symphony in C


The concert was broadcast live on Classical 105.9 WQXR and Classical 90.3 FM Ossining and via live stream at www.wqxr.org.

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Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Now in its 40th season, Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) is one of America’s foremost and most versatile orchestras, regularly collaborating with the world’s greatest artists and performing approximately 70 concerts each year—including its Carnegie Hall Orchestra Series, Chamber Music Series at The Morgan Library & Museum and Brooklyn Museum, and summer residency at the Caramoor Music Festival. OSL has commissioned more than 50 new works; given more than 150 world, U.S., and New York City premieres; and appears on more than 90 recordings, including four Grammy Award-winning albums and seven releases on its own label, St. Luke’s Collection. Pablo Heras-Casado is the orchestra’s Principal Conductor.

 

Joshua Bell
Often referred to as the “poet of the violin,” Joshua Bell is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists. He continues to enchant audiences with his breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty, and charismatic stage presence. His restless curiosity, passion, universal appeal, and multi-faceted musical interests have earned him the rare title of “classical music superstar.” Recently named the Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Bell is the first person to hold this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958.

Equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and orchestra leader, Bell’s 2013 summer highlights include performances with the Israeli Philharmonic and at Eastern, Brevard, Tanglewood and Mostly Mozart festivals. As the featured soloist he will tour for the Inaugural Season of the National Youth Orchestra of the U.S.A. with Valery Gergiev to New York, Washington, D.C., London, Moscow and St. Petersburg; with the Australian Youth Orchestra in Australia and Europe; and with the San Diego Symphony to China. He performs a South American recital tour with pianist Alessio Bax and a European tour with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Bell guests with the Houston, Dallas, St. Louis symphonies, and Carnegie Hall’s season opening gala with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In 2014 Bell reunites with his beloved Academy of St Martin in the Fields, directing Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th Symphonies and recording the violin concertos of Bach. He will also perform the Brahms concerto with the legendary Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Paavo Järvi, and the Sibelius with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A U.S. recital tour with Sam Haywood, a performance at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra and dates with the Los Angeles Philharmonic round out the season.

An exclusive Sony Classical artist, Bell has recorded more than 40 CDs since his first LP recording at age 18 on the Decca Label. In October, 2013 Sony will release Musical Gifts From Joshua Bell and Friends, featuring collaborations with Chris Botti, Kristin Chenoweth, Chick Corea, Gloria Estefan, Renee Fleming, Placido Domingo, Alison Krauss and others. Recent releases include The Beethoven 4th and 7th symphonies with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under Bell’s leadership as music director; French Impressions with pianist Jeremy Denk, featuring sonatas by Saint-Saens, Ravel and Franck, At Home With Friends, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, The Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as The Red Violin Concerto, The Essential Joshua Bell, Voice of the Violin, and Romance of the Violin which Billboard named the 2004 Classical CD of the Year, and Bell the Classical Artist of the Year. Bell received critical acclaim for his concerto recordings of Sibelius and Goldmark, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and the Grammy Award winning Nicholas Maw concerto. His Grammy-nominated Gershwin Fantasy premiered a new work for violin and orchestra based on themes from Porgy and Bess. Its success led to a Grammy-nominated Bernstein recording that included the premiere of the West Side Story Suite as well as the composer’s Serenade. Bell appeared on the Grammy-nominated crossover recording Short Trip Home with composer and double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, as well as a recording with Meyer of the Bottesini Gran Duo Concertante. Bell also collaborated with Wynton Marsalis on the Grammy-winning spoken word children’s album Listen to the Storyteller and Bela Flecks’ Grammy Award recording Perpetual Motion. Highlights of the Sony Classical film soundtracks on which Bell has performed include The Red Violin which won the Oscar for Best Original Score, the Classical Brit-nominated Ladies in Lavender, and the films, Iris and Defiance.

Seeking opportunities to increase violin repertoire, Bell has premiered new works by Nicholas Maw, John Corigliano, Aaron Jay Kernis, Edgar Meyer, Behzad Ranjbaran and Jay Greenberg. Bell also performs and has recorded his own cadenzas to most of the major violin concertos.

In 2007, Bell performed incognito in a Washington, DC subway station for a Washington Post story by Gene Weingarten examining art and context. The story earned Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize and sparked an international firestorm of discussion. The conversation continues to this day, thanks in part to the September, 2013 publication of the illustrated children’s book, The Man With the Violin by Kathy Stinson illustrated by Dušan Petričić from Annick Press.

Bell has been embraced by a wide television audience with appearances ranging from The Tonight Show, Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, and CBS Sunday Morning to Sesame Street. In 2012 Bell starred in his sixth Live From Lincoln Center Presents broadcast titled: One Singular Sensation: Celebrating Marvin Hamlisch. Other PBS shows include Joshua Bell with Friends @ The Penthouse, Great Performances – Joshua Bell: West Side Story Suite from Central Park, Memorial Day Concert performed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and A&E’s Biography. He has twice performed on the Grammy Awards telecast, performing music from Short Trip Home and West Side Story Suite. He was one of the first classical artists to have a music video on VH1 and he was the subject of a BBC Omnibus documentary. Bell has appeared in publications ranging from The Strad and Gramophone to Time, The New York Times, People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, USA Today, The Wall St. Journal, GQ, Vogue and Readers Digest among many.

Growing up with his two sisters in Bloomington, Indiana, Bell was an avid computer game player and placed fourth in a national tennis tournament at age 10, and still keeps his racquet close by. At age four, he received his first violin after his parents, both mental health professionals, noticed him plucking tunes with rubber bands he had stretched around his dresser drawer handles. By 12 he was serious about the instrument, thanks in large part to the inspiration Josef Gingold, his beloved teacher and mentor. Two years later, Bell came to national attention in debut with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His Carnegie Hall debut, an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a notable recording contract further confirmed his presence.

In 1989, Bell received an Artist Diploma in Violin Performance from Indiana University where he currently serves as a senior lecturer at the Jacobs School of Music. His alma mater honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award, he has been named an “Indiana Living Legend” and is the recipient of the Indiana Governor’s Arts Award.

Bell has received many accolades: In 2013 he was honored by the New York Chapter, The Recording Academy; in 2012 by the National YoungArts Foundation, 2011 the Paul Newman Award from Arts Horizons and the Huberman Award from Moment Magazine. Bell was named “Instrumentalist of the Year, 2010 by Musical America and received the Humanitarian Award from Seton Hall University. In 2009 he was honored by Education Through Music and received the Academy of Achievement Award in 2008. In 2007 he was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize and recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2005.

Bell serves on the artist committee of the Kennedy Center Honors and the Board of Directors of the New York Philharmonic. He has twice performed before President Obama and returned to the Capital to perform for Vice President Biden and President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping.

Bell performs on the 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin and uses a late 18th century French bow by Francois Tourte.

 

Cristian Macelaru, conductor 

Winner of the 2014 Solti Conducting Award, Cristian Măcelaru has established himself as one of the fast-rising stars of the conducting world. With every concert he displays an exciting and highly regarded presence, thoughtful interpretations and energetic conviction on the podium. Of his March 2013 appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sun-Times exclaimed: “Mǎcelaru is the real thing, displaying confidence without arrogance and offering expressiveness without excess demonstration.”

Recently appointed Conductor-in-Residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Mǎcelaru has conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in subscription concerts three times in recent seasons, including on his own January 2014 program and having stepped in unexpectedly to replace Jaap van Zweden in April 2013 and Pablo Heras-Casado in December 2013. He came to public attention in February 2012 when he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a replacement for Pierre Boulez in performances met with critical acclaim.

The 2014-15 season will see Cristian Măcelaru make his official Carnegie debut on a program with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Replacing the orchestra’s Chief Conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Mr. Măcelaru will have the honor of conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in Denmark and on a German and U.S. tour in January and February 2015. The 11-concert project, which includes the Carnegie appearance, celebrates the 150th anniversaries of the composers Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius and features Anne-Sophie Mutter and Ray Chen as violin soloists.

Mr. Măcelaru returns on subscription to both Chicago and Philadelphia in the 2014-15 season and has subscription debuts with the Toronto, Baltimore, Houston, St. Louis, Seattle, Detroit, Milwaukee and Indianapolis symphony orchestras in North America; the U.K.’s Hallé Orchestra and Bournemouth Symphony; and the Hague’s Residentie Orkest in the Netherlands.

Guest-conducting highlights of the 2013-14 season included a subscription debut with the National Symphony Orchestra and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, a European debut stepping in at the last minute with the Gothenburg Symphony, and concerts in his home country to lead the National Radio Orchestra of Romania in Mozart’s Requiem. In March 2014,
he returned to Chicago where he led overwhelmingly successful subscription appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, his third season in a row as a replacement for Maestro Boulez. His 2014 summer season commences with an opening concert for the Caramoor Festival with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Joshua Bell as soloist. Other summer appearances include festivals in Vail, Mann Center, Chautauqua and Saratoga Springs.

Cristian Măcelaru made his first conducting appearance at Carnegie Hall in 2012, leading a work on a program alongside Valery Gergiev in a Georg Solti Centennial Celebration. In 2010, Mr. Mǎcelaru made his operatic debut with the Houston Grand Opera in Madama Butterfly and led the U.S. premiere of Colin Matthews’s Turning Point with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra as part of the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival.

In addition to being appointed the 2014 Solti Fellow, Cristian Măcelaru previously received the Sir Georg Solti Emerging Conductor Award in 2012, a prestigious honor only awarded once before in the Foundation’s history. He has participated in the conducting programs of the Tanglewood Music Center and the Aspen Music Festival, studying under David Zinman, Murry Sidlin, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Robert Spano, Oliver Knussen and Stefan Asbury. His main studies were with Larry Rachleff at Rice University, where he received master’s degrees in conducting and violin performance. He completed undergraduate studies in violin performance at the University of Miami.

An accomplished violinist from an early age, Mr. Măcelaru was the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Miami Symphony Orchestra and made his Carnegie Hall debut with that orchestra at the age of nineteen. He also played in the first violin section of the Houston Symphony for two seasons.

Cristian Măcelaru formerly held the position of Resident Conductor at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he was Music Director of the Campanile Orchestra, Assistant Conductor to Larry Rachleff and Conductor for the Opera Department. A proponent of music education, he has served as a conductor with the Houston Youth Symphony, where he also conceptualized and created a successful chamber music program. As Founder and Artistic Director of the Crisalis Music Project, Mr. Măcelaru spearheaded a program in which young musicians perform in a variety of settings, side-by-side with established artists. Their groundbreaking inaugural season produced and presented concerts featuring chamber ensembles, a chamber orchestra, a tango operetta, and collaborations with dancer Susana Collins, which resulted in a choreographed performance of Vivaldi/Piazzolla’s Eight Seasons.

Cristian Măcelaru currently resides in Philadelphia with his wife Cheryl and children Beniamin and Maria.

 

György Ligeti/1923-2006/Concert Românesc

György Ligeti was born in Dicsöszentmárton, Transylvania (Rumania), on May 28, 1923, and died in Vienna on June 12, 2006. He composed the Concert Românesc in 1951, completing it that June. The authorities refused to allow a performance because it contained an F-sharp in the context of a passage in F Major.  (There was a private performance, but no “premiere.”) The official first public performance took place under the direction of Thor Johnson at the Peninsula Music Festival in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, August 21, 1971. The score calls for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes (second doubling English horn), two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns (the third seated at a distance from the others and fulfilling an echo function), two trumpets, suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, small snare drum (tuned high), bass drum, and strings.

In his early years, Ligeti’s career was pressed between the demands of two tyrannical regimes: Hitler’s when he we was studying in the early 1940s; then—after internment in a labor camp—as a student at the Academy of Music in Budapest between 1945 and 1949. There, the newly installed regime with its Soviet orientation required composers to turn out quantities of choral music based on Hungarian folk themes and to avoid musical experimentation. Ligeti composed scores aimed at placating the powers that be, but also pursued the examples of Bartók and Stravinsky, though these he kept carefully secret at the time.

The Rumanian Concerto was one of his first orchestral works, a score that paid homage to the kinds of folkloric music that Bartók had composed. It is therefore ironic that the score was deemed too avant-garde (because of a single note, so it was said) to reach performance for another twenty years.

In the meantime Ligeti had fled Hungary during the uprising in October 1956. He promptly began to study the leading musical styles of Western Europe and to compose in the first stage of his more advanced style. Though he dismissed most of the pieces of his Hungarian period, he retouched some of the older works, including this colorful score. During his early grades in school the family lived in a Hungarian-speaking environment in Transylvania and he encountered Romanian folk music. Like earlier composers from that part of the world, he absorbed the sound and language of the world around him, and drew on it for the basic material of his work.

Later, Ligeti himself explained that he had heard many of these melodies while transcribing music from wax cylinders at the Folklore Institute in Budapest. Many of the melodies he worked with remained in his memory to be used in the Concerto. “However,” he noted, “not everything in it is genuinely Romanian as I also invented elements in the spirit of the village bands … The peculiar way in which village bands harmonized their music, often full of dissonances and ‘against the grain,’ was regarded as incorrect. In the fourth movement of my Romanian Concerto there is a passage in which an F-sharp is heard in the context of F Major. This was reason enough for the apparatchiks responsible for the arts to ban the entire piece.”

The first two movements come from a Ballet and Dance for two violins, composed in 1950. The second movement follows the first without a break as a lively, infectious dance. The third movement is more elaborate, beginning with two horns (one echoing from a distance), both played “natural” horns, offering tones that sound somewhat out of tune, though they consist of the horn’s natural harmonic series. The finale is again lively and somewhat more “modern” in sound. Ligeti’s biographer Richard Steinitz describes this delicious flavor as “a sort of Keystone Kops meets Beijing Opera on the plains of Transylvania.”

 

Jean Sibelius/1865-1957/ Violin Concerto in d, Op. 47

Jean (Johan Julius Christian) Sibelius was born at Tavastehusmeenlinna), Finland, on December 8, 1865, and died at Järvenpää, at his country home near Helsingfors (Helsinki), on September 20, 1957. He began work on his violin concerto in 1902, completed it in short score in the fall of 1903, and finished the full score about New Year 1904. After the first performance, in Helsingfors on February 8, 1904, with Viktor Novaček as soloist and with the composer conducting, Sibelius withdrew the work for revision. In its present form it had its premiere in Berlin on October 19, 1905, with Karl Halir as soloist and Richard Strauss on the podium. The orchestra consists of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, all in pairs; four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

A failed violin virtuoso is responsible for what has surely become the most popular violin concerto composed in the twentieth century. Though he knew he would never play it himself, Sibelius poured into the concerto all his love for the instrument and his understanding of its peculiar lyric qualities.

In September 1902 he wrote to his wife that he had just conceived “a marvelous opening idea” for a violin concerto, and if he was speaking of the way that the work actually begins in its finished form, “marvelous” is indeed the term to apply: against a hushed D-minor chord played by the strings of the orchestra, tremolo, the soloist enters delicately on a dissonant note, yearning as it leans into the chord. The magic begins already during the first few seconds of the piece.

But it takes more than a wonderful opening idea to generate a large-scale work. Sibelius struggled with it for years. He drank heavily. He even virtually insulted the German violinist, Willy Burmester, who had encouraged him to write such a piece. In the 1890s, when Sibelius was beginning to make his mark as a composer, Burmester had spent some time as the concertmaster in Helsingfors, and he had become an early champion of the budding composer. While working on the concerto throughout 1903, Sibelius kept Burmester apprised of his progress, and when he sent him the completed work, Burmester was enraptured “Wonderful! Masterly!” he wrote. “Only once before have I spoken in such terms to a composer, and that was when Tchaikovsky showed me his concerto!” At one point Sibelius mentioned dedicating the work to Burmester, too.

The violinist proposed to premiere it in Berlin in March 1904, where his fame as a soloist would have guaranteed something of a splash. But Sibelius found himself in a fiscal emergency (and also perhaps unsure of himself, one of the consequences of his heavy drinking), and he scheduled a concert of his works in Helsinki, with the new concerto as its centerpiece. But Burmester was unable to appear at that time. Instead, Sibelius made a choice that guaranteed failure, by offering the premiere to an undistinguished violin teacher named Viktor Novaček. (As difficult as the work is now, it was even more difficult in its first version.) Neither soloist nor orchestra was up to the demands of the piece, and one of the leading critics, Karl Flodin, a long-standing supporter of Sibelius, wrote that the concerto was “a mistake.”

Nonetheless, Burmester wrote to Sibelius, generously overlooked the slight to himself, and offered again to play the piece in October 1904, nobly promising, “All my twenty-five years’ stage experience, my artistry and insight will be placed to serve this work … I shall play the concerto in Helsingfors in such a way that the city will be at your feet!” But Sibelius was determined to revise the work before allowing another performance. He dawdled with the changes and finally brought himself face to face with his revisions in June 1905, when his publisher told him that he had gotten the concerto scheduled in a prestigious concert series directed by Richard Strauss. But by this time, Burmester’s schedule was full and he was not available. The solo part was given to Karl Halir. After the second slight, Burmester never played the piece that he had been the prime mover in bringing to creation.

The revisions to the Violin Concerto were far more drastic than simply touching up details of the scoring, such as composers usually undertake after a first round of rehearsals and performances of a new piece. Referring to what he considered the flaws in the work as his “secret sorrow,” Sibelius insisted that the revision would not be ready for two years (though in the end, he accomplished them in about a month once he really set to work). Sibelius evidently took Flodin’s critique of the first version very much to heart. He greatly reduced the amount of sheer virtuosic display in the solo part. The first movement had contained two solo cadenzas, the second of which was possibly inspired by Bach’s works for unaccompanied violin; it disappeared in the revision. He also shortened the finale. Only the slow movement, which met with general favor at the premiere, remains substantially unchanged. (It is always extremely interesting to hear an alternate version of a standard repertory work, because it gives us an insight into the composer’s own thought processes; fortunately we can now make a direct aural comparison between the two versions of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, because the original version has now been recorded by violinist Leonidas Kavakos with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Osmo Vänskä.) The original version was more dramatic, more rugged, closer perhaps to the spirit of Beethoven, and certainly more virtuosic. The final version of the concerto, which has become established as one of the handful of most popular violin concertos of all time has more of a lyric quality without denying itself a strong symphonic development in the opening movement, a heartfelt song in the slow movement, or the wonderful galumphing dance (“evidently a polonaise for polar bears,” as Donald Francis Tovey once wrote) in the rondo of the finale.

 

Georges Bizet /1838-1875/Symphony in C

Georges Alexandre César Léopold Bizet was born in Paris on October 25, 1838, and died in Bougival, near Paris, on June 3, 1875. He began the Symphony in C on October 29, 1855, and completed it before the end of November, but the work remained unpublished and quite unknown until sixty years after the composer’s death, when the attention of Felix von Weingartner was drawn to the manuscript in the Paris Conservatoire. Weingartner conducted the first performance in Basel, Switzerland, on February 26, 1935. The symphony is scored for flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

For years after his early death, Bizet’s reputation was at the mercy of two extremist schools, one of which found in him the greatest genius of French music while the other insisted that he was little more than a hack with a bit of talent. He had composed Carmen, one of the most popular operas ever written, yet his stock fell so low among musicians that when the manuscript of his unknown early symphony turned up in 1933, no one would so much as look at the manuscript. When it was finally performed, it was hailed as a delicious youthful masterpiece.

It is hard to imagine how this wrongheaded view of Bizet had developed. Considering that his composition teacher, Jacques Halévy declared him ready—at age fifteen!—to enter the competition for the Prix de Rome, it is clear that he had no common talent. But nothing could prepare us for the extraordinary outburst of music that came just four days after his seventeenth birthday, when he began the Symphony in C, a work of such early‑rising genius that we can only call up the names of Mozart, Schubert, and Mendelssohn to find a comparison at the same age. The work proves at once that Bizet was precociously gifted. He seems to have thought of the symphony as an exercise in symphonic composition, based on Gounod’s symphony. This might explain why he never sought performance or publication, though the freshness and brilliance of his work surely deserved it.

The first movement is built of thematic ideas that reflect that classical tradition—arpeggios of common triads—but the verve and energy, not to mention occasional unexpected surprises of phrasing, mark the hand of one who is more than a mere imitator. The slow movement introduces in the woodwinds a little rhythmic figure that we’ll hear much more of. This works around to the main key and yields to an oboe solo blossoming with exotic little decorative turns. A soaring secondary melody in the violins builds to a fortissimo climax and dies away in a fugue‑‑an academic gesture at this point, though its conclusion neatly ties together a number of thematic strands. The wonderful Allegro vivace of the third movement is the most finished and mature movement in the symphony, abundantly exuberant in expression. The risk Bizet runs in using the main part of the scherzo theme in the Trio as well is that of exhausting the listener with not enough evident variety of material, but he brings it off with great verve. The last movement, another Allegro vivace, rushes along with a perpetual‑motion theme followed by the march-like rhythmic figures of the transition. The secondary theme begins sounding like the most whistle-able tune in the symphony, but its continuation is deceptive in its harmonic ingenuity, and in that respect it is pure Bizet.

It is astonishing that after turning out so masterful a symphony, however much it may have derived from the study of another composer’s work, Bizet should not have written another. It was not for want of trying. He turned out the first symphony in a month, and then spent eleven years, on and off, trying to write another, which became his suite Roma (he called it “my symphony” for years, but finally realized that it was just not symphonic). And he began and abandoned two symphonies during his years as the Prix de Rome winner. Finally Bizet simply realized—and confessed as much to Saint‑Saëns in his later years—that he simply required the theater and theatrical situations to fire his inspiration. But in the meantime he had produced the one delightful symphony that—even if only privately—marked his coming of age as a composer.