Mariss Jansons, a close friend of the Berliner Philharmoniker, will present an extraordinarily colourful programme with Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” and Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 2; Frank-Peter Zimmermann is the soloist. In different ways the works convey a shared message: namely, that unconditional modernity and sensuous magic in sound are by no means mutually exclusive.
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor
Frank Peter Zimmermann Violin
Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2
In his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Béla Bartók succeeded in weaving a dense network of relationships between tone colours; continuous transitions are juxtaposed with direct contrasts. The arrangement of the instrumentalists, targeting spatial sound effects, emphasises the great significance of the orchestral sound: the score states that the strings, split into two quintets, are to be placed to the left and right of the podium so that the two groups converge in the contrabasses at the extreme end of the semicircle, while the middle of the podium is reserved for the percussion. Mariss Jansons has selected Bartók’s “masterpiece” (Paul Sacher) for his guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker, as well as the Second Suite from Maurice Ravel’s “Symphonie choréographique” Daphnis et Chloé, which Igor Stravinsky called “one of the most beautiful products of all French music”.
Between these two pieces, Frank Peter Zimmerman will perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s emotionally charged Second Violin Concerto, a work which Shostakovich wrote for David Oistrakh’s 60th birthday. However, the composer had miscalculated by one year so that the successful première took place in Moscow on 26 October 1967 when Oistrakh was 59 years old...
In 1936 the Swiss conductor and musical patron Paul Sacher commissioned Béla Bartók to compose a work for the tenth anniversary of his Basle Chamber Orchestra. In keeping with the occasion, it was to be splendid and impressive but not too demanding technically. In a letter to Sacher of 27 June 1936 Bartók wrote that he was “thinking of a piece for strings and percussion (that is, besides the strings, piano, celesta, harp, xylophone and percussion)”; this instrumentation should present no problems. Fulfilling the wish that the work not be too complicated would be more problematic: “Technical difficulties will, in all probability, be avoidable, but to avoid rhythmical difficulties is not so easy. Once you write something new, that in itself, just because of its unusual nature, proves to be a problem for the performers.”
According to Bartók’s own analysis of the work, the elaborately structured first movement (Andante tranquillo) is “strictly executed” and forms an expansive crescendo-decrescendo arch introduced by the muted violas. It is a chromatic (fan) fugue, in which the entries of the theme follow two circles of fifths moving in opposite directions: the even-numbered entries (nos. 2 to 12) move upwards and the odd-numbered entries (nos. 3 to 11) downwards. After the remotest key (D sharp/E flat) has been reached in both directions – the “climax of the movement” – further entries of the theme follow in inverted form until they return to the principal key in pianissimo. The theme of the first movement is, so to speak, the “leitmotiv” of the entire composition; it is taken up repeatedly and quoted in both the third and fourth movements. In keeping with the principles of classical sonata form, the second movement is an animated, incisive Allegro. Bartók uses the string orchestra as a double chorus here; the harp and piano serve both supporting and solo functions. The alternation between plucked and bowed passages in the divided string sections is characteristic. The following Adagio is in the bridge form so typical for the composer: “ABCBA. A part of the theme of the first movement appears between each section.” Extremely atmospheric, mysterious night music charged with tension emerges from noise-like sonorities and sounds of nature in the xylophone and timpani until they are joined by the strings. The finale (Allegro molto) offers a striking contrast – a rondo full of musical exuberance and exciting accents, in which the influence of Hungarian folk music is heard most clearly.
Dmitri Shostakovich composed his First Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 77, which he dedicated to David Oistrakh, in 1947. On the advice of his violinist friend the premiere was postponed, because in February of 1948 the composer and several of his colleagues were (again) fiercely attacked for their “formalist” style and tendencies “alien to the Soviet people”. The concerto was consigned to a drawer for several years and was not premiered until 1955 in Leningrad, with the dedicatee as soloist and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky. Another twelve years passed before Shostakovich composed a second concerto, again for Oistrakh. This composition was intended as a present for the violinist’s 60th birthday, but the composer was confused about the dates, since Oistrakh was only 59 in 1967. Shostakovich corrected his mistake and composed the Sonata for violin and piano “in honour of the 60th birthday of D[avid] F[yodorovich] Oistrakh” the following year.
The Violin Concerto op. 129, in the unusual key of C sharp minor, is the antithesis of its “friendlier” predecessor in A minor. It follows the traditional three-movement structure. The opening Moderato begins with sombre quavers in the low strings (minor second and fourth) and an expressive theme in the solo violin that is taken up by the woodwinds and strings. An agitated Più mosso section follows, which then leads into the Allegretto. The solo cadenza appears before the coda. The Adagio second movement, “with its striding air character, a model of reflective musical poetry” (Karl Schumann), opens with sustained notes in the basses and the solo violin. The soloist launches into cantilenas with a grand entrance, intensifying to passionate vehemence. After a brief cadenza in the middle of the movement the solo horn provides an open-ended conclusion, connecting the second movement to the third, which is preceded by a slow introduction (Adagio). The finale, in rondo form, has burlesque characteristics and gives the soloist an opportunity to display his brilliance in the extended solo cadenza. Despite its vitality and in view of the propulsive principal theme, one should not be mistaken about the character of this movement. It is not elated, exuberant or cheerful but rather defiant, even sarcastic and caustic in places.
The fact that the premiere was no great success was the fault of neither the composition nor its interpreters but extra-musical circumstances, since it took place during a gala concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. It is not difficult to imagine that the audience came more out of political obligation than genuine musical interest.
Maurice Ravel’s ballet music for Daphnis et Chloétakes us to a completely different world, a 20th-century dream of Greece. It is based on a romance written by the Greek author Longus in the third century AD and tells the story of two young people living as shepherds on an island in the Aegean Sea, whose love is put to a severe test. Pirates abduct Chloé and her friends, although they take refuge in a sacred grotto. Only through the intervention of the god Pan and the forces of nature he unleashes are the kidnappers put to flight. Chloé is freed and returns to her beloved Daphnis.
The fact that the music was composed at all is due to the choreographer Michel Fokine and the director of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. Fokine discovered the novel by chance at a St Petersburg bookstore in 1904 and drafted a ballet scenario with which he was able to gain the support of Diaghilev, who in turn commissioned Ravel to compose the music in 1909. Fokine initially dreamed of presenting the resurrected music of ancient Greece for the first time in a modern theatre with Daphnis et Chloé. During his discussions with Ravel, however, it became clear to him that such a “resurrection” was hardly possible in the absence of information about the music of antiquity.
Ravel explained: “My intention was to compose a vast musical fresco, less concerned with archaism than with faithfulness to the Greece of my dreams, which is similar to that imagined and depicted by French artists at the end of the 18th century.” The composer arranged two suites for use in the concert hall, the second of which quickly became popular. These “symphonic fragments” – the original title – give a brief overview, so to speak, of the ballet, presenting the important stages and highlights of the story, from the delicate daybreak and sunrise (Lever du jour) to the tender flute pastorale (Pantomime) to the wildly ecstatic closing dance (Danse générale).
Mariss Jansons has been chief conductor of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks since 2003. From 2004 until March 2015, he held the same role with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, where he remains conductor laureate. Born in Riga in 1943, he initially studied violin, piano and conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory, then in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky, and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan. In 1971, he won the Herbert von Karajan International Conducting Competition in Berlin. In the same year, Yevgeny Mravinsky took him as his assistant to the Leningrad Philharmonic where he maintained ties, continuing to appear with them frequently as a guest conductor until 1999. From 1979 to 2000, he was chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra which he transformed into a top international orchestra. After a period as principal guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1992 and 1997, he then took over the direction of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (until 2004). In addition, Mariss Jansons has worked with all major orchestras worldwide and has regularly conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1976; he last appeared with the orchestra in June 2012 directing works by Smetana, Martinů and Dvořák. For nearly 30 years, from 1971 until 2000, Jansons was also professor of conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The artist’s numerous awards include the Hans von Bülow Medal of the Berliner Philharmoniker (2003), and “Conductor of the Year” (Royal Philharmonic Society London, 2004), as well as honorary memberships of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and of the Royal Academy of Music. In 2006, Mariss Jansons was awarded the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia’s highest state honour, and in 2010 the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art. In 2013, he received the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize as well as Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First Class.
Frank Peter Zimmermann was born in Duisburg in 1965 and was only five when he had his first violin lessons. By the age of ten he had made his debut performing one of Mozart’s violin concertos, and two years later he won a first prize at the “Jugend musiziert” Competition. After studying with Valery Gradov, Saschko Gawriloff and Herman Krebbers, he began his international career in 1983 and quickly rose to the very top of his profession. He now appears as a soloist with all the world’s leading orchestras and with all its most eminent conductors. He has been artist in residence with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (2010/2011 season), the New York Philharmonic, the Bamberger Symphoniker and the Rheingau Musik Festival. Zimmermann has given the first performances of three new violin concertos: Matthias Pintscher’s en sourdine with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Peter Eötvös in 2003; Brett Dean’s The Lost Art of Letter Writing, premiered with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 2007 under the direction of the composer; and Augusta Read Thomas’s Juggler in Paradise in January 2009 with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under the direction of Andrey Boreyko. Among Frank Peter Zimmermann’s chamber partners are the pianists Piotr Anderszewski, Enrico Pace and Emanuel Ax; with the violist Antoine Tamestit and the cellist Christian Poltéra he founded the Trio Zimmermann in 2007, together they have appeared at the festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and the Rheingau Musik Festival. Among the awards that the violinist has received are the 1994 Rhineland Music Prize and the 2002 Music Prize of the City of Duisburg. In 2008 he was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Federal German Order of Merit. Frank Peter Zimmermann made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1985 and since then has returned on numerous occasions; most recently he was heard in May 2014, when he performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G major.