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THE MARIINSKY ORCHESTRA
VALERY GERGIEV, CONDUCTOR AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV, PIANO
DENIS MATSUEV, PIANO
Saturday, January 31 at 8pm
Sunday, February 1 at 2 pm
PROGRAM – JANUARY 31
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Behzod Abduraimov, piano
Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
PROGRAM – FEBRUARY 1
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Denis Matsuev, piano
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
The Mariinsky Orchestra
The Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre enjoys a long and distinguished history as one of the oldest musical institutions in Russia. Founded in the 18th century during the reign of Peter the Great and housed in St. Petersburg's famed Mariinsky Theatre since 1860, the Orchestra entered its golden age in the second half of the 19th century under the musical direction of Eduard Napravnik, whose leadership for more than a half century (1863-1916) secured its reputation as one of the finest in Europe. Numerous internationally famed musicians have conducted the Orchestra, including Hans von Bülow, Felix Mottl, Felix Weingartner, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Otto Nikisch, Willem Mengelberg, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Erich Kleiber, Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg.
Renamed the "Kirov" during the Soviet era, the Orchestra maintained its high artistic standards under the leadership of Yevgeny Mravinsky and Yuri Temirkanov. The leadership of Valery Gergiev has enabled the Theatre to forge important relationships for the Ballet and Opera to appear in the world's greatest opera houses and theatres. Since its US debut in 1992 the orchestra has made 17 tours of North America.
PROGRAM NOTES – JANUARY 31
By Aaron Grad
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (1921)
Months after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Prokofiev left Russia on an open-ended passport granted by the cultural commissar. With World War I raging to the west, Prokofiev traveled east through Siberia and Tokyo before entering the United States in San Francisco, where he was suspected of being a spy. He struggled to restart his career in New York, but he did have some luck in Chicago, where the resident opera company agreed to mount The Love for Three Oranges and the symphony claimed premiere rights for the Piano Concerto No. 3.
Prokofiev wrote the bulk of the concerto in 1921 while summering in Brittany, on the northwest coast of France. He had been spending more and more time in Europe, connecting with influential Russian expatriates in Paris including the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev and the conductor Serge Koussevitzky. Frustrated with the conservative tastes and career obstacles presented by the United States, Prokofiev eventually settled in Europe in 1922. This arrangement also proved temporary; in 1935, Prokofiev became the only major émigré artist to repatriate in the Soviet Union.
Even as he drew closer to Europe, Prokofiev kept American audiences in mind as he composed his Third Piano Concerto. He constructed an inviting and virtuosic showpiece, one that could hope to repeat the success of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto from 1909, also written for a US tour. Prokofiev performed the concerto many times in the course of his wide-ranging concert tours, including premieres in Chicago and New York in 1921 and Paris in 1922. He also made the first recording in 1932 with the London Symphony, forever preserving his incisive and unsentimental approach to the score.
When Prokofiev assembled the Third Piano Concerto, he incorporated various themes composed before he left Russia. The introductory passage, sketched in 1917, has the flavor of Russian folk music, with a solo clarinet intoning a modal melody. The fast body of the movement begins with the strings exchanging rising figures in constant motion, building to the piano’s entrance in a sparkling reinterpretation of the clarinet figures. The concerto’s wry streak emerges in the second theme, accentuated by the bony click of castanets.
Prokofiev developed this gift for ironic music early on, as demonstrated by the theme of the second movement, first drafted in 1913. The plodding first statement grows into a rich set of variations, led off by a solo episode from the piano. The second and third variations are driving and manic, while the fourth, in a tempo marked Andante meditativo, is haunting and sincere. The fifth variation elides into a restatement of the theme, peppered with double-time decorations from the piano.
The finale begins with another Russian-inflected theme, this one adapted from 1918 sketches for a string quartet. The woodwinds add a lyrical strain, and then the piano offers an ominous melody over oscillating accompaniment, which Prokofiev described as “more in keeping with the caustic humor of the work.” After a drawn-out and dreamy elaboration, the muscular opening figure returns for a final surge.
Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65 (1943)
Shostakovich survived a complicated relationship with Stalin and the Soviet establishment. Some days, the composer was a state hero to be lavished with prizes and accolades; other times, he was censured and threatened for the unpatriotic “formalism” and “grotesque” qualities in his music. The years of uncertainty tormented Shostakovich personally, but it also forced his compositions into a unique realm of multi-dimensionality, with layer upon layer of irony and hidden meaning.
Shostakovich’s three wartime symphonies demonstrate that complex tangle of art and politics. The Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”) from 1941 reacted to the Nazi siege of the composer’s home city, and its tone of struggle and ultimate triumph made it a patriotic hit. The Symphony No. 8 from 1943, also in C minor, fell short of a heroic conclusion, even though it did end in a major key. The Soviet tastemakers were disappointed in the new work, as they were hoping for another rallying cry like the Seventh Symphony, but they compensated by declaring the Eighth the “Stalingrad” Symphony, in memory of the more than one million casualties from the 1942-43 Battle of Stalingrad. (The party apparatus ultimately condemned the symphony in 1948, and it was not rehabilitated until after Stalin’s death.) Shostakovich’s final wartime symphony, the Ninth, was even more confounding; completed as the war ended in 1945, it was a svelte and cheery divertissement in the spirit of Haydn, a far cry from the expected ode to victory in the mold of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Shostakovich wrote the Eighth Symphony at the Composers’ Rest Home at Ivanovo, away from the turmoil of the front lines. He assembled the massive score in July and August of 1943, and dedicated it to the conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who led the November debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic.
The sweeping symphony progresses in five movements, with the enormous first movement comprising nearly half of the hour-long composition. It begins with a severe theme declaimed in low octaves, soon joined by a counterpoint from the upper strings. This grave introduction unveils a slow and ghostly melody, braced by echoes of the initial bass motive and other new material, until it builds to the movement’s first tremulous climax. Here the faster Allegro non troppo tempo takes over, bringing acerbic restatements of the dotted-rhythm material from the opening. Military band “oom-pahs” clash with biting dissonances, growing to a series of thunderous, percussive explosions. An English horn, emerging out of the melee over a hovering accompaniment, sings one of the most tragic melodies in the symphonic repertoire. The movement ends quietly, with echoes of the introduction transported to C major.
After such a profound opening statement, the second movement introduces wit and satire in music Shostakovich described as “a march with elements of a scherzo.” The snare drum and piccolo add militaristic pomp, and the general chortling and mechanical treatment of the material indicates a barely-veiled contempt for the trappings of war.
The final three movements connect without pauses in between. First is a churning Allegro non troppo, pierced by high squeals and low thuds. A drum roll ushers in the Largo, a dark passacaglia built on a theme that recalls the symphony’s first introduction. The Allegretto finale in C major begins with a bassoon solo, launching a strangely veiled and ambivalent conclusion to this dramatic symphony. By focusing on dry, airy sounds and individual voices, the finale seems to reject all groupthink and violence in favor of a private, pastoral reconciliation. © 2014 Aaron Grad.
PROGRAM NOTES – FEBRUARY 1
By Aaron Grad
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 [1874-75]
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
The piano concerto Tchaikovsky composed during the winter of 1874-75 was his first work for soloist and orchestra. Tchaikovsky was not a virtuoso pianist himself, so he arranged to play the score for a more accomplished soloist to get feedback on the piano part. It was natural that he enlisted Nikolai Rubinstein, the most eminent conductor and pianist in Moscow, and a fellow faculty member at the Moscow Conservatory. Rubinstein had been a staunch champion of Tchaikovsky ever since recruiting him straight out of the St. Petersburg Conservatory to come teach at the newly formed school in Moscow. When Anton Rubinstein (Nikolai’s older brother and Tchaikovsky’s former teacher) panned Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, it was Nikolai Rubinstein who ensured that the work got a proper hearing.
The situation that unfolded between Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein around the First Piano Concerto was unlike anything in their past, or in their future for that matter. Tchaikovsky played through his work-in-progress on Christmas Eve, and Rubinstein sat silent through all three movements. Writing years later to his patron Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky described the scene that followed the reading:
I summoned all my patience and played through to the end. Still silence. I stood up and asked, “Well?” Then a torrent poured from Nikolai Gregorovich’s mouth, gentle to begin with, but growing more and more into the sound and fury of Jupiter Tonans. My concerto, it turned out, was worthless and unplayable—passages so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written as to be beyond rescue—the music itself was bad, vulgar—here and there I had stolen from other composers—only two or three pages were worth preserving—the rest must be thrown out or completely rewritten.
Tchaikovsky let himself be bullied at times – by Balakirev, for example, during the composition of the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, and by the cellist Fitzenhagen, who later butchered the “Rococo” Variations. But with Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky stood his ground, vowing to “publish the work exactly as it stands.” He followed through on the pledge, although he later made emendations to the second and third editions in 1876 and 1889, after receiving the suggestions from soloists he had hoped to obtain from Rubinstein. With a premiere by Rubinstein out of the question, Tchaikovsky sent the score to the German conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, who loved the work and asked for a set of parts to take with him on an upcoming American tour. This is how it came to pass that the first great Russian piano concerto made its debut in Boston, in October 1875.
The concerto begins with an audacious introduction, heralded by a four-note horn theme and punctuated by the rest of the orchestra. The music abandons the proper home key of B-flat minor immediately, landing in D-flat. The piano enters with a majestic series of chords, providing accompaniment to a string melody that rivals any in Tchaikovsky’s catalog in terms of beauty and emotional impact. The notable (and sometimes baffling) aspect of this work is that this priceless introductory material never returns. Instead, the fast body of the movement strikes up a melody Tchaikovsky heard sung by a blind Ukrainian beggar.
The middle movement continues charming incongruities. It begins with a graceful flute solo over pizzicato accompaniment, flowing at a relaxed tempo marked Andantino semplice. Flecks of off-key harmonies prepare the antics of the manic contrasting section, speeding by at a breakneck prestissimo pace and quoting a popular French song. The finale also references outside music, with the bouncy main theme adapted from a Ukrainian folksong.
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100 
Of all the major artists who left Russia in the wake of the 1917 Revolution, Sergei Prokofiev was the only one who returned permanently, settling in Moscow in 1935. Theatrical endeavors dominated his first years as a Soviet composer, including the ballets Romeo and Juliet (1938) and Cinderella (1944), the opera War and Peace (1942), and film scores for Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1944). When he wrote his Symphony No. 5 in 1944, Prokofiev returned to a genre he had not touched since 1930. The Third and Fourth Symphonies were themselves adaptations of theatrical material, so in writing a “pure” symphony Prokofiev had to grapple anew with the difficulties of updating a tradition-bound form into the modern age.
Prokofiev also had to face the symphonic output of his younger rival, Dmitri Shostakovich. The Symphony No. 5 (1937), which restored Shostakovich to the good graces of the Soviet authorities after an earlier scandal, used an old Baroque convention of movements arranged slow-fast-slow-fast, a pattern that Prokofiev copied in his Fifth Symphony. Prokofiev also had to reckon with Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony No. 7 (1942), a thunderous and patriotic work that captivated Soviet audiences as well as allied supporters in Europe and the United States, and the bleaker but musically powerful Symphony No. 8 (1943).
Prokofiev composed the Fifth Symphony in 1944 at Ivanovo, a retreat outside of Moscow where the Soviet Union cloistered its top composers, providing safety during the war and quiet working conditions. In the month it took Prokofiev to draft the symphony, he shared the facility with Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian and Glière, among others. Prokofiev completed the orchestration in Moscow, and conducted the first performance himself on January 13, 1945. (The Soviet Army had just achieved a major victory over the Nazis, and Prokofiev had to wait to begin until celebratory cannon-fire died away.) Later that year, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra introduced the symphony to American audiences.
The first movement of the Fifth Symphony employs a traditional sonata form in a broad Andante tempo, and the music unfurls in long phrases of earnest melodies, supported by rich, brass-heavy scoring. In contrast, the Allegro marcato movement indulges in lively, playful humor, with themes and propulsive accompaniments reminiscent of Prokofiev’s dance music. The Adagio reinforces the serious, elegiac argument of the first movement, but superimposed rhythmic layers, frequent key changes and pulsing ostinatos keep the energy level up. The Allegro giocoso finale builds to an ecstatic coda, a fitting end for a work Prokofiev characterized as “a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit.” © 2014 Aaron Grad.