TLES SHAMGONOVICH KAZHGALIEV was born into a musical family; his mother was a concert pianist and his father a prominent conductor. His works include several ballets, numerous film scores, and multiple concertos, operas, and popular songs. Kazhgaliev won several state-sponsored awards during his lifetime, including the coveted Lenin Komsomol Prize. In recent years, his work has earned acclaim throughout Europe and the United States.
Kazhgaliev's unfinished ballet, The Steppe Legend, is based on the 14th Century Kazakh poem Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu—a tale of young lovers who, unable to marry, finally unite in death. Kazhgaliev developed his Symphonic Suite "The Steppe Legend" from four sections of the ballet. Tonight's program begins with the Suite's first movement—a lovely, romantic Adagio—and ends with the Suite's finale.
The Adagio's initial string tremolos, supporting slowly undulating chords in the winds, evoke a nocturnal landscape, as do playful chirps and trills in the flute and clarinet. Within this tone-picture, a searching, improvisatory melody in the cellos and horns hints at the human passions that soon predominate. The violas and cellos now introduce a yearning melody beneath gently burbling harp and piano figuration. The flute soon offers a sweetly voiced countermelody, forming a tender duet between high and low voice—perhaps between Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu. The duet builds, and the violins take the melody, soaring higher and higher as the instrumentation thickens in chords of longing and hope, until the full orchestra erupts in an impassioned cry, answered by heartbroken wails in the trumpet. Murky, ambiguous harmonies leave the outcome in question for a bit, but calm soon prevails, and themes from the Adagio's beginning lead to a reposeful variant of the central melody in the clarinets and a gentle major-key resolution.
LOWELL LIEBERMANN'S Violin Concerto was commissioned by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for violinist Chantal Juillet, to whom the concerto is dedicated. Juillet premiered it with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York, on August 16, 2001. Minnesota Public Radio hailed the concerto as "unabashedly emotionally engaging music" and the Philadelphia Inquirer anticipated that the concerto might achieve "a popularity not enjoyed by any other violin concerto since the Barber."
The concerto is in three movements, played without pause. It is a true virtuoso work, abounding in cadenzas for the soloist and demanding considerable endurance and agility. It also requires tremendous sensitivity in its almost operatically lyrical writing. Indeed, the second movement—dedicated to the memory of music critic John Ardoin, a close friend of famed soprano Maria Callas—makes overt reference to bel canto melodic gestures.
The concerto begins quietly, with atmospheric figuration in the harp and piano and mysterious sonorities in the bassoons. The solo violin enters with a dramatic melody containing two motifs that will be prominent throughout the concerto: a fourth followed by a half-step; and a scale fragment. After a passionate build, the theme moves into the orchestra, culminating in a powerful solo cadenza. The orchestra returns with a dark lullaby-like passage, which the soloist elaborates on as the orchestra presents a warm, anthemic melody that turns the violin's initial motif upside-down. A second brief cadenza leads to a mournful orchestral exploration of the bassoon motif, resolving peacefully as the violin rises gently to its upper reaches, accompanied by ethereal scales in the orchestral strings. A quiet chorale appears in the flutes and trumpets as the violin descends from these heights, continuing in the winds as the violin builds to two more cadenzas. A final appearance of the lullaby theme and hushed scales in the violin bring the movement to a peaceful conclusion.
The second movement's luxurious opening melody highlights the scale fragment motif, accompanied by quiet harp arpeggios and subtle movement in the violas. As the theme moves to the horns, the violin continues with an ornate descant. The eloquent, spacious writing is suggestive of idyllic contentment—but it is a fragile contentment; a turn toward minor leads to a turbulent cadenza. Material from the first movement now returns in full force, beginning with a dance-like rendition of the violin's initial theme. A noble brass chorale leads to a bel canto clarinet melody that the composer has likened to a "mini mad scene." The violin once again responds with a descant, and the horns reprise the movement's opening, breaking off at a peak of exaltation. The brass chorale returns and builds, culminating in a towering chord that announces the finale.
The violin introduces the finale's main theme with wild double-stops in a vigorous march rhythm, punctuated by brief orchestral chords. The scale motif is prominent—as is the bassoon motif, cleverly disguised as a puckish figure high in the flutes. As strings and soloist continue in a delightful romp, the clarinet enters with a cheerful tune: a rhythmically modified version of the violin's first-movement theme. The march returns in the orchestra, accented by military snare. The violin responds with a cadenza that seems about to sink into melancholic contemplation of the lullaby—but the orchestra intervenes, transforming the lullaby into a series of celebratory dances that bring this tour de force to a rousing conclusion.
Chamber Concerto No. 1 is dedicated to Scott Nickrenz, who was director of the Spoleto Festival's chamber music series from 1978 to 2003. Nickrenz was eager for Liebermann to compose a piece for violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet with the same instrumentation as Ernest Chausson's Concert for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet. The Spoleto Festival U.S.A. commissioned the piece, which Bell and Thibaudet premiered with the Ridge Quartet on May 28, 1989. The Washington Post praised the concerto as "brilliant, melodious, heartwarming music" and noted that the composer "had to take many bows before the audience would stop applauding."
The concerto's melodic warmth and playful rhythms belie an extraordinary unity of form and content. Melodic elements and compositional structure alike take the shape of an arch. The violin's first melody, for example, traces an inverted arch: a descent and an ascent. A climactic moment in the concerto's second section consists of three notes rising, then falling. Structurally, the concerto consists of three themes, a passacaglia, and the recapitulation, in reverse, of the three themes.
Quiet figuration high in the piano accompanies the violin's initial melody. The piano's three-against-four rhythm and its Lydian and augmented harmonies evoke a pleasant dreamlike atmosphere. The violin reiterates its melody several times with subtle changes, as if sifting through a kaleidoscope, before returning to its initial form in a higher transposition. The music builds, and the piano plays a joyous canon on the theme.
Virtuosic passages in the piano and violin lead to a sharply accented march with emphatic melodic leaps and rapid repeated notes. The orchestra interjects gruff double-stops and running scales, culminating in a powerful unison statement heralding the return of dreamlike material in the piano, over which the violin plays a yearning rising melody answered by an inverted arch. This leads to one of the warmest passages in the concerto: a cheerful pianistic setting of this theme, answered by each orchestral string part in turn.
The passacaglia follows, almost austere at first, with a traditional ground bass in the low strings. As the violin enters with a melody combining its initial music and the march, though, it becomes clear that the passacaglia will provide a framework through which to explore the concerto's themes from every conceivable angle—by turns contemplative, striving, grand, vigorous, rhapsodic, and tender. Culminating in explosive cadenzas for both soloists, the passacaglia eventually fades in a pizzicato statement in the lower strings, and the piano returns with a delicate recapitulation of earlier themes. This builds to a soaring apotheosis for both soloists, leading to the march and, finally, to a peaceful conclusion right back where the concerto began.
SERGEI PROKOFIEV was one of the 20th century's most renowned composers. His symphonies, chamber music, and ballets are cornerstones of the repertoire, and his Peter and the Wolf has offered children worldwide their first taste of orchestral music. It is especially fitting that his work is featured on tonight's program; Prokofiev had a special connection to Kazakhstan, having composed arrangements of five Kazakh songs in 1927 and having lived in Almaty (Kazhgaliev's home city) in 1943.
Prokofiev's Classical Symphony is scored for Mozart's orchestra: double rather than triple winds, no lower brass, and no percussion other than timpani. Its first movement has the structure and key relationships of a traditional sonata-allegro movement. Its third movement is a gavotte—a dance favored by Rameau and Bach. The symphony even begins with a Handelian fanfare of arpeggios.
Yet there is no mistaking this symphony for Mozart or Haydn. Its nervous energy is all Prokofiev—full of motoric rhythms and obsessive focus on thematic fragments. Just notice how the violin seems to get "stuck" to two neighboring notes immediately after the first measures—and how that "stuckness" becomes one of the first movement's most important motifs! Notice, too, how the movement's elegant second theme features a leap of two octaves, rather than the more modest single octave we might find in a true Classical piece. Prokofiev remains an enfant terrible even as he invokes the spirit of his forbears.
The second movement suggests formality, with its measured staccato accompaniment and sustained melody. But a clipped leaping figure at the end of each phrase offers a friendly wink—and, tellingly, Prokofiev elaborates on this wink almost to excess in transition to the second theme: a series of hushed turns in the bassoons beneath staccato chords in the upper strings, from which emerges one of the most tender, heartfelt melodies of the entire symphony.
The gavotte is eminently danceable, with weightless upbeats and heavy metric accents. A spirit of aristocratic elegance pervades the outer sections, whereas the middle section's drone bass evokes a rustic charm, amplified by an oboe melody suggestive of a shepherd's piping.
The finale is a mad dash, with arpeggios, scales, and repeated notes zipping past as quickly as the ear can catch them. Brief unexpected detours through distant keys add bursts of color as the music makes its way from phrase to phrase with barely a single minor-key triad dampening its high spirits.
KAZHGALIEV'S Kyz Kuu depicts a romantically charged horse-riding game. A woman speeds her horse past a man's horse. Once she passes him, he races to catch up. If he does, he wins a kiss; if the woman reaches the finish first, she chases him back to the starting line, lashing at him with her horsewhip as they go.
Kazhgaliev's galloping rhythms and bracing harmonies capture the festive atmosphere right away. A bright melody, answered by bold chords, suggests the contest between woman and man as they race. Topsy-turvy syncopations show the man lunging to reach the woman. We hear his determined striving in a bluesy trombone call, answered warmly by the same melody in the strings and winds. The musical tension mounts—the man must be on the verge of catching up—then breaks off in a barrage of percussion; the horse has lost its footing! But not for long: the musical themes come back, and a joyous full-orchestra announcement of the bluesy melody builds to a triumphant cadence, with fluttering trumpets suggesting whinnying horses.