FWCO Fall Concert
November 12, 2022 at 7:30 p.m.
Birchman Baptist Church
A La Breve
FWCO Music Director Kurt Sprenger opens the 2022-23 season with an evening of musical discoveries.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonies, seldom heard in concert halls today, are the works of a young composer seeking out his own unique musical voice. His Symphony No. 3 is reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s early symphonies, a wellspring of lyrical melody but also the composer’s farewell to the musical form.
Two thrilling works by the Bulgarian Pancho Vladigerov and Japan’s Yasushi Akutagawa will make a case for two composers whose music belongs in concert halls everywhere.
VLADIGEROV – Vardar Rhapsody
AKUTAGAWA – Music for Symphony Orchestra
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV – Symphony No. 3 in C
Kurt Sprenger, Music Director
Fort Worth Civic Orchestra
Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978)
Vardar Rhapsody, Op. 16
Vladigerov’s music is seldom heard now outside his native Bulgaria. In the West, where his name goes largely unrecognized, it’s variously spelled Pancho, Pantscho, Vladigerov, Wladigeroff, Vladiguerov and Vladigueroff. Widely admired in the old Soviet Union, he was a member of the jury that awarded Van Cliburn the gold medal at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. And geographically, an island and a strait off the Antarctic Peninsula are named after him.
Bulgaria’s great nationalist composer was born in Switzerland and received his musical education in Germany. Vladigerov’s father was a Bulgarian politician, his mother a medical doctor from a distinguished Russian Jewish family. His grandfather was mathematician Leon Pasternak; his uncle, the Russian painter Leonid Pasternak; his first cousin, the Russian novelist Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago. In 1920, stage director Max Reinhardt invited Vladigerov to join the Deutsches Theater Berlin where he was music director for a dozen years, composing the music to Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, Strindberg’s Dream Play and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. On the eve of the Nazi rise to power, he made the fateful and potentially lifesaving decision (for a Bulgarian with Jewish roots) to join the faculty of the Bulgarian State Academy of Music in Sofia.
Pancho Vladigerov’s body of music – strongly infused with the folkloric strains and irregular rhythms of Bulgarian dance – is deeply appealing. He was an exuberant orchestrator who composed in all genres: symphony, opera, chamber and keyboard. There’s scarcely an ounce of deep emotional introspection in his music, but his art is a joyous and jubilant celebration of national pride. His Bulgarian Rhapsody “Vardar” (named for Macedonia’s largest river) is Vladigerov’s most popular work. He composed it in 1922 for violin and piano and re-scored it for full orchestra in 1928. The main theme is a Balkan anthem, A Single Cry Is Heard, written in the spirit of Macedonian folksong by his teacher Dobri Hristov. In fact, Vladigerov didn’t learn until years later that it was Hristov original composition, believing it to be a genuine folksong. The rhapsody’s anthem sections bookend an extensive dance episode that erupts with dervish velocity.
Yasushi Akutagawa (1925-1989)
Music for Symphony Orchestra
Yasushi Akutagawa isn’t Japan’s most famous composer. That distinction belongs to his near contemporary, Tōru Takemitsu. He isn’t even Japan’s most eminent Akutagawa. His father was the celebrated short story writer, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, whose Yobu no naka (“In a Grove”) became the basis for Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1950 film, Rashōmon. And in contemporary culture, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa is also the name of the young mafioso warrior in the Japanese anime series Bungo Stray Dogs.
Nevertheless, Yasushi established a lasting place for himself on Japan’s cultural landscape. Like Russia’s Mighty Five and France’s Les Six, Akutagawa and fellow composers Ikuma Dan and Toshiro Mayuzumi formed their own national collective, Sannin no kai (“The Group of Three”). He wrote numerous works for the concert hall, but his large body of work as a film composer put him at the heart of post-war Japanese cinema in partnership with some of its most important directors: Where Chimneys Are Seen (Heinosuke Gosho, 1953), Gate of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1953), Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959). His opera Orpheus in Hiroshima (1967) was a collaboration with novelist (later, Nobelist) Kenzaburō Ōe.
Akutagawa’s musical affinities were strongly aligned with the Soviet School, as his Music for Symphony Orchestra (1950) attests. He crossed illegally into the Soviet Union to meet his musical heroes in 1954; Japan and the USSR had no diplomatic relations. He established warm friendships with Shostakovich, Kabalevsky and Khachaturian (Prokofiev had died a year earlier), all of whose influence can be heard in the circus-like Music for Symphony Orchestra. The work is in two parts – a quietly sassy andantino with a melancholy central section, followed by the shock of a raucous galop that could easily back a Keystone Cops reel.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Symphony No. 3 in C, Op. 32
The young members of The Russian Five began their musical careers as dilettantes who’d prepared themselves for other careers. Rimsky-Korsakov had been a naval cadet; Cesar Cui, a military engineer; Modest Mussorgsky, an imperial guard; Alexander Borodin, a laboratory chemist. Only their mentor, Mily Balakirev, could lay claim to any kind of formal musical training – and even at that, his preparation and abilities were weak.
Among them, it was Rimsky-Korsakov who demonstrated his intuitive gifts as an orchestrator early on. The future teacher of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Glazunov and Respighi had attended opera and symphony concerts in St. Petersburg as a naval academy student and evidently absorbed some tricks of the trade. Composer Alexander Dargomyzhsky, nearing the end of his life, asked the young cadet to complete his grand opera, The Stone Guest. Years later, Rimsky would complete works by his friends Mussorgsky and Borodin after their untimely deaths.
In 1871, Rimsky-Korsakov took a position at the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a teacher of orchestration, but he was well aware of his limitations in music theory. Even his young bride, Nadezhda, had more formal musical training, but she gave up her composition career to become his lifelong musical partner and his sharpest critic. A few years earlier, he’d scratched out a first symphony in the impossible key of E-flat minor. Twenty years later, he recast it in the far friendlier key of E minor, to the relief of future generations of orchestra players. At Tchaikovsky’s suggestion, Rimsky took a three-year break from composing to teach himself the rudiments of harmony, counterpoint and conducting, and he eventually rewrote nearly everything he’d composed before 1874.
That was the year of his Third Symphony, though its scherzo dates back to 1862 and its trio section from his 1872 honeymoon in Italy. The first movement opens with a lyrical introduction that accelerates into a robust exposition that could have been written by Tchaikovsky. The exotic imagery of Scheherazade is a million miles away. The scherzo’s sprightly 5/4 meter was a novelty at the time but would become a common Russian lilt in the writings of Tchaikovsky and Borodin. The tranquil andante has the feel of a mellow waltz in 6/8 time. It leads, without break, into a propulsive finale with faint echoes of Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” Symphony, composed two years earlier, which had made a deep impression on the Mighty Five. Rimsky bids his farewell to the symphonic form at the end with an extravagance of triumphant brass and bold accelerando.