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Andrew Sords

Program Notes for Concerti

April 24, 2007 at 6:10 PM


When I play concerti with orchestra, I so rarely get the chance to present my own program notes, as I can typically do in a recital setting. I am in the process of researching the Mozart K. 301-306 sonatas, Grieg, Franck, and some showpieces, and I came across some notes from 3 years ago when I had my first opportunity to write the background for a concerto performance.

Three years ago (March and April 2004), I played the Saint-Saens b minor Concerto with Liza Grossman conducting the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, a collaboration that is still very vivid in my memory. It was a learning process and nostalgic at the same time, as I began lessons with Liza about fifteen years ago. She is now heard on CD/DVD from Malibu to London, and is quickly building a name for herself and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. In rehearsing for the the Saint-Saens performances, Liza had a stipulation for me: I must write my own program notes. In poring over several essays on Saint-Saens, the concerto, and the violin world in the 1880's, I quickly discovered that I really didn't have any background information on the concerto to help solidify any sort of an interpretation I was gathering at that time. So, thanks to Liza's insistence, I was able to grow and mature with the piece with extensive research and listening to many interpretations. Below are the notes. Enjoy! :)

Camille Saint-Saens (1835 - 1921)

Violin Concerto, no. 3, op.61 in B minor
conducted by Liza Grossman

Born in 1835 in Paris, Camille Saint-Saens is the most renowned French composer of the 19th century. His violin compositions are standards of the virtuoso repertoire. His most famous works for the instrument—Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and the Third Concerto in B minor—were each instant successes, featuring saucy Iberian themes, virtuosic tricks, and powerful climaxes. The Concerto is also popular as a debut vehicle, and such artists as Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, and Pinchas Zukerman all made Cleveland Orchestra debuts with the piece.

Dedicated to the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, the B minor Concerto has elements of French, Spanish, and Italian motives. The first movement, representing an easygoing, Parisian feel, quickly became popular with the audiences due to its "poetic atmosphere and compelling melodiousness" (George Bernard Shaw). The movement is in A-B-A-B-A form, with sentimental phrases sandwiched between pyrotechnical exploits. The original opening melody, played for the first thirty bars on the violin’s lowest string, the Ging, returns to launch the coda, driven by an ever increasing crescendo and tempo, utilizing every position on the instrument.

The second movement, based off of a simple Siciliano melody, is very much chamber music between the solo violin and principal winds, as the phrase is handed back and forth between the oboe, flute, clarinet, and violin. The rhythmic pulse is leisurely, the mood is always uplifting, and the soaring melodies demonstrate the vocal qualities of the instrument. The violin concludes the movement with arpeggios in artificial harmonics.

The third movement begins with a rhapsodic, cadenza feeling, leading to a sensuous, energetic Spanish theme that is reminiscent of the dedicatee’s (de Sarasate) own music. The movement is fast-paced until the orchestral violins introduce the secondary melody, which is the only lapse in the spirited pulse. The tension and virtuosity increase until the coda, marked Presto. The movement finishes with a dynamic flourish, bringing the concerto to a heroic ending.

Pablo de Sarasate premiered the concerto in 1881, and the concerto was published the following year. I first learned this concerto when I was 14 in Vermont, and again in the summer of 2003. It has always been one of my favorites due to it's accessibility and rich themes. The concerto shows off many palettes of the instrument, and is ultimately a rewarding piece.
I would like to dedicate this performance to twelve years of inspiring guidance and friendship from Ms. Liza Grossman.

~Andrew Sords March, 2004

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