Music Director Brett Mitchell and your Colorado Symphony are joined by Angelo Xiang Yu, for his highly-anticipated return to Denver as featured soloist on Tchaikovsky’s colorful Violin Concerto — a piece initially considered so difficult to perform that the premiere was delayed after Tchaikovsky’s first two soloists declined the invitation. The program begins with one of Verdi’s finest symphonic introductions, incorporating the “Fate” motif that plays such a large role in La forza del destino, while Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra concludes the affair with an ever-changing instrumental panoply complete with a percussion-only fourth movement that will leave you spellbound.
Repertoire & Program Notes
The length of this performance is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. This includes one 20-minute intermission.
VERDI Overture to La forza del destino
JENNIFER HIGDON Concerto for Orchestra
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda:
Giuseppe Verdi (1813--1901) | Overture to La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny)
Giuseppe Verdi was born on October 10, 1813 in Le Roncole, near Busseto and died on January 27, 1901 in Milan. He composed La Forza del Destino, his 22nd opera, in 1861-1862 and oversaw its premiere on November 17, 1862 at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg. The score calls for woodwinds in pairs plus piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, two harps, and strings. Duration is about 8 minutes.
La Forza del Destino is set in 18th-century Spain. Alvaro has accidentally killed the father of his beloved, Leonora, during the lovers’ attempted elopement. Separately, they flee. Leonora’s brother, Carlo, swears vengeance on both her and their father’s murderer. Leonora first seeks refuge at a convent, and then goes to live as a hermit in a cave. Carlo and Alvaro meet during a military encounter, and Carlo discovers the true identity of his adversary just after Alvaro is carried away, wounded. Alvaro joins the Church as a monk, but he is followed by Carlo who enrages Alvaro to the point of a duel. They fight near Leonora’s cave, interrupting her prayers, and she goes to see what is causing the commotion. As she emerges from her cave, the lovers recognize each other, and Alvaro cries that he has spilled the blood of yet another of her family. She rushes off to help her fatally wounded brother, but Carlo, with his last bit of strength, stabs Leonora, and she dies in Alvaro’s arms.
For this melodramatic tale, Verdi provided one of his most richly expressive scores. The Overture, utilizing several themes from the opera, reflects the strong emotions of the work, though it does not follow the progress of the story. It opens with a stern summons of six unison notes, after which appears the agitated theme that Verdi intended to represent Fate. This motto recurs throughout both the Overture and the opera as a symbol of the workings of destiny on the principal characters. The brief introduction is followed by an expressive, lyrical melody for woodwinds over pizzicato string accompaniment (sung later in the opera by one of Alvaro’s fellow priests) under which are heard the mutterings of the Fate theme. The violins then give an impassioned phrase from Leonora’s Act II prayer. The Fate theme reappears in a menacing guise before the woodwinds sing a reminder of the priest’s melody. Another of Leonora’s themes, given by clarinet over a rustling harp background, is interrupted as the brass intone a chorale. Leonora’s melody continues in a slower setting for full orchestra and is then treated to another variation in staccato eighth notes combined with the Fate motive. An energetic coda brings this stirring Overture to a close.
Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) | Concerto for Orchestra
Jennifer Higdon was born on December 31, 1962 in Brooklyn, New York. She composed her Concerto for Orchestra in 2001. It was premiered on June 12, 2002 by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch. The score calls for three flutes (third doubling piccolo), three oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano (doubling celesta), harp, and strings. Duration is about 35 minutes. The last performance of Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra took place on January 26 & 27, 2007, with Jeffrey Kahane conducting.
Jennifer Higdon, born in Brooklyn, New York on New Year’s Eve 1962 and raised in Atlanta and Tennessee, is one of America’s foremost composers. She took her undergraduate training in flute performance at Bowling Green State University, and received her master’s and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Pennsylvania; she also holds an Artist Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her teachers have included George Crumb, Marilyn Shrude, David Loeb, James Primosch, Jay Reise, and Ned Rorem in composition, Judith Bentley and Jan Vinci in flute, and Robert Spano in conducting. Higdon joined the composition faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1994 after having served as conductor of the University of Pennsylvania Orchestra and Wind Ensemble and Visiting Assistant Professor in music composition at Bard College; she now holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies at Curtis. She also served as Karel Husa Visiting Professor at Ithaca College in 2006-2007 and Composer-in-Residence at the Mannes College for Music at The New School in 2007-2008. Her distinctions include two Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Among her recent projects is the opera Cold Mountain, with a libretto by Gene Scheer based on Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel, which premiered at Santa Fe Opera in 2015.
Of her Concerto for Orchestra, composed in 2001 on a commission celebrating the centenary of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Higdon wrote, “The Concerto for Orchestra is truly a concerto in that it requires virtuosity from the principal players, the individual sections, and the entire orchestra. Surprisingly, the first movement was the last to be composed. It took the actual writing of the other four movements to create a clear picture of what was needed to start this virtuosic tour-de-force. The movement begins with chimes and timpani sounding together followed by a quick entrance by the strings in energetic scale patterns. The music then moves up through the winds and finally adds the brass. This movement is primarily tutti [all together] in its use of instruments, but there are small chamber moments in recognition of the fact that it takes many individuals to make the whole of an orchestra.
“The second movement, for strings alone, is like a scherzo in character, written in a jaunty rhythm and tempo that celebrate the joyous sound of strings. The movement begins with everyone playing pizzicato [plucked] and then slowly integrates an arco [bowed] sound, first through soloists, and then with all of the players. It continues to romp through to the end, where a pizzicato snap closes the movement.
“The third movement allows each principal player a solo before it moves into section solos. The winds are highlighted first, followed (after a tutti) by the strings, and then by the brass. Each solo has its own unique material, some of which is utilized in the tutti sections of the movement.
“The fourth movement is a tribute to rhythm and to the percussion section of the orchestra (harp, celesta, and piano are included in this movement). Since this piece was completed at the beginning of the 21st century, it seemed fitting to have a movement that highlights the one section of the orchestra that had the greatest amount of development during the preceding century. Ironically, the opening of this movement is the quietest and stillest part of the entire work, which is not what one might expect from percussion. The movement opens with bowed vibraphone and crotales [small, thick cymbals of definite pitch], opening the way for the percussion to move through many of its pitched instruments (as well as collaborating with the harp and celesta, which are percussive in their nature). Eventually the musicians move to non-pitched percussion, which is emphasized by the movement’s tempo speeding up at key moments. This progression in the tempi will carry this movement from an extraordinarily slow start (quarter note = 42 [beat per minute]) through to the fifth movement, which continues the progression of increasing tempi, arriving ultimately at quarter note = 160-180. These tempo increases occur at specific moments, usually covering two measures, and are meant to resemble the effect of an old Victrola being cranked up.
“The fifth movement, which begins with the entrance of the violins, highlights the entire orchestra and has its rhythm set up through an ostinato [repeated figure] in the percussion that has been carried over from the previous movement. The various sections of the orchestra converse in musical interplay throughout, while the tempo continues to increase. This speeding-up occurs to such an extent that a primary theme stated within the first minute of the movement eventually comes back notated in rhythmic values that are twice as long, but with the increased tempo it sounds exactly the same as at its initial appearance.”
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) | Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia and died on November 6, 1893 in St. Petersburg. He composed his only Violin Concerto in March and April 1878. It was premiered by Adolf Brodsky and the Vienna Philharmonic on December 4, 1881, Hans Richter conducting. The score calls for woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 32 minutes. Vadim Gluzman was the soloist and Hannu Lintu conducted the last performance of the concerto on March 4 & 5, 2011.
In the summer of 1877, Tchaikovsky undertook the disastrous marriage that lasted less than three weeks and resulted in his emotional collapse and attempted suicide. He fled from Moscow to his brother Modeste in St. Petersburg, where he recovered his wits and discovered he could find solace in his work. He spent the late fall and winter completing his Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onégin. The brothers decided that travel outside Russia would be an additional balm to the composer’s spirit, and they duly installed themselves at Clarens on Lake Geneva in Switzerland soon after the first of the year.
In Clarens, Tchaikovsky had already begun work on a piano sonata when he heard the colorful Symphonie espagnole by the French composer Edouard Lalo. He was so excited by the possibilities of a work for solo violin and orchestra that he set aside the sonata and immediately began a concerto of his own. By the end of April, the composition was finished. Tchaikovsky sent the manuscript to Leopold Auer, a friend who headed the violin department at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and who was also Court Violinist to the Czar, hoping to have him premiere the piece. Much to the composer’s regret, Auer returned the piece as “unplayable,” and apparently spread that word with such authority to other violinists that it was more than three years before the Violin Concerto was heard in public. It was Adolf Brodsky, a former colleague of Tchaikovsky at the Moscow Conservatory, who first accepted the challenge of this Concerto when he premiered it with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1881.
The Concerto opens quietly with a tentative introductory tune. A foretaste of the main theme soon appears in the violins, around which a quick crescendo is mounted to usher in the soloist. After a few unaccompanied measures, the violin presents the lovely main theme above a simple string background. After an elaborated repeat of this melody, a transition follows which eventually involves the entire orchestra and gives the soloist the first opportunity for technical display. The second theme begins a long buildup leading into the development, launched with a sweeping presentation of the main theme. The soloist soon steals back the attention with breathtaking leaps and double stops. The sweeping mood returns, giving way to a flashing cadenza as a link to the recapitulation. The flute sings the main theme before the violin it takes over, and all then follows the order of the exposition.
The Andante begins with a chorale for woodwinds that is heard again at the end of the movement to serve as a frame around the musical picture inside. On the canvas of this musical image is displayed a soulful melody for the violin suggesting a Gypsy fiddler. The finale is joined to the slow movement without a break. With the propulsive spirit of a dashing Cossack Trepak, the finale flies by amid the soloist’s show of agility and speed.
©2019 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Brett Mitchell, conductor
Angelo Xiang Yu, violin
Preludes & Talkbacks
Join Alexandra Siso, a graduate student from the University of Colorado - Boulder, for a deep-dive into the music of this weekend's performance.
There will be a Talkback on Saturday, November 23, 2019.
Transportation & Parking
Boettcher Concert Hall is at the southwest end of the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC) located at 14th and Curtis Streets in downtown Denver. It's easy to find and there are two large parking garages available within walking distance: the DPAC Garage and the Colorado Convention Center Garage. Please arrive early to ensure ease of parking and an on-time arrival. With numerous other events happening at the DPAC all the time, parking fills up quickly. Late arrivals will be seated during the first available break. We strongly encourage alternate forms of transportation.
Find directions, a map, garage information, construction updates, and more:
FAQ - Know Before You Go!
Have questions about what to wear, when to clap, or if you can bring the kids?
If you don’t see the answer to your question, feel free to contact Colorado Symphony Concierge Rob Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Box Office at 303.623.7876.