Concert Notes

Bramwell Tovey Conducts J. Strauss and Tchaikovsky

Festive Overture, Op. 96
Dmitri Shostakovich
b. St. Petersburg, Russia / September 25, 1906
d. Moscow, Russia / August 9, 1975

Shostakovich composed this exciting and merry piece in 1954, for a concert marking the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Once the last-minute request arrived, he set to work immediately. “The speed with which he wrote was truly astounding,” said an eyewitness. “When he wrote light music he was able to talk, make jokes and compose simultaneously, like the legendary Mozart. He sat there scribbling away and the couriers came in turn to take away the pages while the ink was still wet.”

Program Notes © 2018 Don Anderson

Pura Vida
Bryn Hutchinson
b. Surrey, BC / Nov 11, 1998
d. Delta, BC / July 6, 2016

Bryn Hutchinson was a grade 12 student at Langley Fine Arts School when he composed Pura Vida as his graduation piece for the school’s music program. Bryn was a member of all four senior music ensembles at Langley Fine Arts, performing with the concert band, jazz band, orchestra, and choir, but also revelled in the creative challenge of composing original works.

Pura vida, or “pure life,” is the motto of the Costa Rican people, who value quality of life above material goods. During a visit in 2015, Bryn became fascinated by the tension between the Central American country’s need to industrialize and its commitment to preserving the natural environment. His love of percussion and rhythmic anomalies is reflected in the complex time signatures incorporated into this composition. Bryn died two weeks after graduation and never heard Pura Vida performed, but as testimony to his legacy, his fellow students worked to ensure that his music would not be lost, and in 2017, the Fine Arts orchestra and director Rob Goddard performed the world première of Pura Vida in Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, BC.

Program Notes © 2018 Marian Buechert

Shalimar Variations for Piano and Orchestra (World Première)
Bramwell Tovey
b. Essex, England / July 11, 1953

This work is a set of variations on the famous Kashmiri Song of 1902 by Amy Woodforde-Finden (1860-1919) which although it is hardly known nowadays, became an incredibly popular song internationally in the first half of the 20th century. The lyrics are a variant of a poem by Adela Florence Nicholson (1865-1904) who wrote under the male pseudonym of Laurence Hope. Both Ms Woodforde-Finden and Ms Nicholson lived in India under the British Raj.

Pale hands I loved, beside the Shalimar.

Where are you now?
Who lies beneath your spell?

Pale hands, pink tipped,
like Lotus buds that float

On those cool waters where
we used to dwell,

I would have rather felt you round my throat,

Crushing out life, than waving me farewell! 

Woodforde-Finden’s melody is exquisite. Its harmonies travel in unexpected directions and embrace the passionate agenda of the text giving great opportunities for variation. A central Adagio provides a focus on the darker moments of the song.

Program Notes © 2018 Bramwell Tovey

Four Dances
Johann Strauss, Jr.
b. Vienna, Austria / October 25, 1825;
d. Vienna / June 3, 1899

Josef Strauss 
b. Vienna, Austria / August 20, 1827
d. Vienna, Austria / July 22, 1870

DancesThe Blue Danube Waltz is Johann, Jr.’s most beloved composition. The first version (1867) featuring a male chorus singing a feeble text, was a flop. It was only after its début in Paris in purely orchestral form, that it began its triumphant career. It has long been considered a second Austrian national anthem, and it traditionally appears as the second-last item at the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Concert. Part of its popularity flows from the poetic nature of the opening and closing sections, the first like a shimmering sunrise over a peaceful river valley.

Strauss composed Perpetual Motion, a frisky “musical joke,” in 1861. It consists of variations on a cheeky theme that keeps coming round and round. It also gives numerous musicians of the orchestra brief solo passages in which they can display their virtuosity.

Josef, Johann, Jr.’s younger brother, became a musician only reluctantly. Nevertheless, he proved himself a master of composing ballroom dances. In his thirties, Johann, Jr. made frequent trips to Russia. He conducted ten summer concert seasons in Pavlovsk, near St. Petersburg. For the Pavlovsk season of 1869, he suggested to Josef that he compose a pizzicato polka, a piece in which the string players pluck their instruments throughout. Josef balked, but Johann’s offer to compose it together with him brought him onside. The première audience demanded that it be played no fewer than nine times.

Strauss paid tribute to a favourite Viennese beverage in the zesty Champagne Polka, which premièred in Pavlovsk in 1858. The middle section quotes a popular tavern song of the day: What do I care, whether I have money or not! 

1812 Overture, Op. 49
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky          
b. Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia / May 7, 1840;
d. St. Petersburg, Russia / November 6, 1893

This is the ultimate festival piece: stirring, spectacular, unmarred by inappropriate subtlety. It was commissioned by the organizers of a major exhibition of industry and arts, scheduled to be held in Moscow in 1881. Tchaikovsky’s publisher informed him that they were offering a choice of items: an overture to open the exhibition, or pieces to enhance two other events that would be taking place at the same time: Tsar Alexander’s silver jubilee, and the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Tchaikovsky reluctantly agreed to take on the job. Settling on the dedication of the cathedral as his subject, he knocked off the 1812 Overture in a week. “It will be very loud and noisy,” he wrote to his patroness, Madame von Meck, “but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merits in it.”

His conception originated in the cathedral’s being built to commemorate the events of 1812. The music recreates a battle that took place that year, near the Russian town of Borodino. This was a turning point in the French invasion under Napoleon. Soon afterwards, his troops were forced to withdraw from the country. The overture begins with a solemn Russian folk song, God, Preserve Thy People. A vivid depiction of the battle follows. A group of folk songs represents the Russian side; La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, the other. After the Russian forces have prevailed, Tchaikovsky has the orchestra thunder out both the Russian folk tunes and God Save the Tsar, the Russian national anthem at the time that he composed the overture.


Programme Notes © 2018 Don Anderson

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