Nimrod David Pfeffer, conductor (Dorman's Concerto)
Stravinsky: Pulcinella Avner Dorman: Concerto for violin and cello Elgar: Enigma Variations
This concert series could be dubbed “All in the Family”: the two soloists, Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth, are a couple and the three composers whose works are being performed are descendants of musical families. Igor Stravinsky’s father was a bass singer at the Marinsky Theater, Elgar’s father was an organist and violinist and Avner Dorman’s father, Zeev Dorman, was Principal Bassoon of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as conductor and Head of the Buchmann-Mehta Music School. At the beginning of his career, Elgar wrote arrangements for peripheral ensembles and was, among others, the Resident Composer of the County Lunatic Asylum in Powick. Avner Dorman began his career, among others, as an arranger for the IDF and was the Resident Composer of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. And only Stravinsky was “forced” to study law before becoming a professional composer. One of those responsible for the launch of Stravinsky’s career as a composer was the impresario Sergei Diaghilev.
There is a tendency to view the professional relationship between Diaghilev and Stravinsky through practical, almost commercial “glasses”, but it is possible that the devastation and grief following World War I prepared the hearts (of both creators and audience) to desire a less gloomy past, something anchored in a previous period. In 1919 Diaghilev approached Stravinsky and suggested he write music for a ballet based on 18th century music, and when he presented the composer with an Italian manuscript from the 18th century, supposedly written by Pergolesi, Stravinsky discovered how much he loved this music. Originally, Stravinsky was supposed to orchestrate and arrange the materials, but someone like Stravinsky would not suffice with merely arranging a work, and even though the composed work made use of the bass and melodic lines of Pergolesi (as well as of other composers of the material, including Domenico Gallo, Count Wilhelm van Wassenaer and Carlo Ignazio Monza), Stravinsky’s handling of the material was very unique: unexpected rhythmical breaks, bold harmonies, mischievous orchestration and surprising musical contexts that produced a neo-classical work, a style that served Stravinsky in his next creative period. Pulcinella began its musical path as music for a comic ballet, based on characters from commedia dell’arte. The premiere on the 15th of May, 1920 was highly successful. One can assume that the audience, who expected of the composer of The Rite of Spring to produce a “harsh” work, was required to modify their expectations, but even today one cannot resist the charm of this music. In 1922, the composer himself arranged an orchestral suite from the ballet and revised it in 1949, which is the version we will hear in this concert.
The rich and melodious symphonic music and the Cello Concerto of Edward Elgar have made him the most prominent English representative of European Romantic music of the late 19th century, and to the most outstanding British composer of his time. Elgar was a “romantic” composer at a time of dramatic changes in aesthetics and in the way music was thought of and written. He was a distinctly English composer, during the years in which music lovers in Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Budapest were enthusiastic about the innovative works of Debussy and Stravinsky, of Webern, Berg and Schoenberg, and of Bartok and Kodaly.
Elgar’s music is considered, justifiably, “English” music. Despite refraining from direct quotes of folk music, Elgar was inspired by the English landscape and culture. Perhaps the fact that he “came from the people” was what gave his works a unique musical flavor and made it so popular. He was active for many years in communities of music lovers, who functioned as avid performers and consumers of music. Elgar did not require any folk music quotes, since he was the people to a large extent, and the fact that he succeeded through his talent to cross the boundaries of class and to make his way to the heart of the musical scene in England and around the world, gave his country an extraordinary composer and cultural hero. Even though there were voices in England (especially of the puritans of the English Musical Renaissance, whose members, headed by music critic John Alexander Fuller Maitland, have long since been forgotten), who viewed Elgar as a low class composer, whose works were not distinguished enough, at the height of his career he received much respect and admiration from musicians and music lovers across the British Isles.
Elgar’s father was a well-known musician in the small town of Worcester, and Elgar lived and breathed music from infancy. He replaced his father as organist of the St. George’s Church, he headed the amateur musicians’ association in Worcester and played the violin in the local philharmonic orchestra. He conducted a wind orchestra, played bassoon in a woodwind quintet, taught violin and became resident composer of the Powick County Lunatic Asylum. During that period he learned how to created music that spoke to and answered the musical needs of peripheral music lovers.
Elgar’s first large scale success was in 1899 when he completed his “Variations on an original theme for orchestra”. Elgar’s testimony about the compositional circumstances of the work, known as Enigma Variations, shed light on his lifestyle during this period. According to him, at the end of a tiring day of teaching violin, he sat at the piano and improvised variations on the theme while attempting to characterize each variation by speculating how it would be played by each of his friends. These improvisations led to an extensive work, which was premiered in London under the baton of Hans Richter, and has aroused since its premiere much interest and enthusiasm around the world. Enigma Variations received a series of renditions in England and Europe immediately after its second performance, which was conducted by the composer.
Elgar’s impressive legacy has been meticulously preserved. He was one of the first composers to understand the immense significance of the gramophone, and in 1914-1933 recorded many of his works. One of those recordings from 1932 was of his Violin Concerto, performed by the 16-year-old Wunderkind, Yehudi Menuhin.
Interestingly, in the tumultuous period of aesthetic battles that characterizes the composers who were active at the time, it seems that Elgar’s music was very popular among his colleagues. Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov praised the Enigma Variations after hearing it in St. Petersburg, and it was also appreciated by Strauss and Mahler.
There is little enigmatic about the circumstances of the composition of the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello by Avner Dorman. The work was written for Pinchas Zukerman’s 70th birthday, in a joint commission of the Boston Symphony, the Adelaide Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Canadian National Arts Centre. “It’s a great honor to receive such a birthday present, a work written for me, with Amanda [Forsyth, my wife] at my side.”, said Zukerman in an interview to a Boston newspaper. He continued, “One of the dreams I would like to fulfill is to expand the very limited repertoire of double concertos for violin and cello”. Zukerman relayed that he met Dorman when the latter was a young student and after the premiere he described the work as exceeding his expectations. “I consider this work a dialogue between the violin and the cello, and in a way one can understand from it that the soloists are a couple,” says cellist Amanda Forsyth. “At times it sounds like an argument, when the cellist’s rashness challenges the more ‘cultured’ tone of the violin, but eventually (almost as in real life) our musical dialogue ends in cooperation.” “We hope,” say the soloists, “that this birthday present will become a staple of the repertoire written for this ensemble…”