Beethoven & Shostakovich

Sunday, October 25, 2020 3:30 pm, Koerner Hall - 273 Bloor Street West

At current attendance limits this concert has sold out

To view livestream on October 25, 3:30 pm  

To view the concert anytime from October 26 to November 23 


Shostakovich in a 1931 interview: "‘There can be no music without ideology. The old composers, whether they knew it or not, were upholding a political theory. Most of them, of course, were bolstering the rule of the upper classes. Only Beethoven was a forerunner of the revolutionary movement. If you read his letters, you will see how often he wrote to his friends that he wished to give new ideas to the public and rouse it to revolt against its masters."

Maestro Nurhan Arman will lead Sinfonia Toronto in a program that juxtaposes two masterpieces by these great composers. The concert is a tribute to our front-line workers and health care providers

SAMAN SHAHI When we fall... 
SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony Op. 110a 
BEETHOVEN 'The Harp' Op. 74a

Program Notes
When we fall...  by  Saman Shahi (born 1987)
Saman Shahi is an award-winning composer, pianist, conductor and educator based in Toronto. He's active in classical music, new music, Iranian traditional music, rock and electronic music.  His compositions have been performed in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Saman's orchestral music has been performed by Windsor Symphony, Windsor Youth Symphony, Orchestra Toronto and Scarborough Philharmonic. His repertory as a composer includes orchestral works, operas, ballets and many works for choral, vocal and chamber ensembles.
Saman Shahi is an affiliate Member of the Canadian League of Composers, Associate Composer at the Canadian Music Centre as well as a SOCAN member. He is one of  co-founders and the Executive Director at ICOT, a 9 year old art organization that bridges cultures through music and art.  He also serves as a board member at the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects. 

"When We Fall..." was commissioned in 2012 by the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop as part of a mentorship program by the Canadian Music Centre and Canadian League of Composers for emerging composers. As a new graduate from the composition program at the University of Toronto, at the time Saman Shahi was immersed in music outside of the realms of academia. In this piece, his love and fascination for the music of Radiohead is apparent as the agitated rhythmic accompaniment patterns, against a yearning and unmeasured violin solo resembles Thom Yorke's voice. This early work reflects an honest and emotional response about disorder and failure. 

Chamber Symphony opus 110a                Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Orchestra version by Lucas Drew
In the summer of 1960 Shostakovich went to Dresden to work on the score for a
Soviet-East German film. He was overwhelmed by the still-evident results of the
1945 Allied firebombing that destroyed the city and killed more civilians than the
atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Within three days he composed a quartet
dedicated “In memory of the victims of fascism and war.”

The quartet is full of extra-musical symbolism, but there is continuing
controversy about how to interpret it. The work may be a doctrinaire Soviet
artist’s revulsion against fascism, a subtly-integrated protest against the Soviet
state, or a cry of anguish about totalitarianism of any kind. Shostakovich never
explained his intentions; he gave no indication, even, about whether he had
incorporated specific messages or was only expressing a general emotional state.
In view of his precarious position as the Soviet Union’s most famous and
honored composer and also at times the target of fierce criticism for “formalism”
and “decadence,” his reticence is unsurprising, especially about a work of such
tremendous strength.

The Quartet is in five movements played without pause. Its basic building block
is a four-note theme built on the German notation for an abbreviation of the
composer’s own name, turning DSCH into D-E-flat-B. The Quartet opens with a
fugal introduction of this motif, followed by a theme from the opening of his
First Symphony, the work that first brought him national success. These two
themes recur in a rondo-like structure along with a descending theme that
references his Fifth Symphony, the work that restored him to favor in 1937 after
the official denunciations that almost ended his career.

The first movement’s reminiscent mood is blown apart by the second, an Allegro
molto from which several iterations of the DSCH motif emerge. At a mid-
movement climax, the violins weep a theme from Shostakovich’s Second Piano
Trio, which was written in 1944. Shostakovich called this a “Jewish” theme,
saying: “Jewish folk music has made a most powerful impression on me... it can
appear to be happy while it is tragic. It’s almost always laughter through tears.
This close to my ideas of what music should be. There should always
be two layers in music. Jews were tormented so long that they learned to hide
their despair. They express despair in dance music.”

The third movement is a ghostly waltz-rondo in G minor and G Major at the
same time. The violins play the DSCH motif, but with a B-natural, the identity
note of the G Major scale, while the viola accompaniment stays with B-flat, the
identity note of the G minor scale. The musical insecurity created by this
schizophrenic hesitation between two versions of the same key is even more
unsettling than the avoidance of a clear key structure; it is a frequent element of
Shostakovich’s style. The third section of the rondo breaks the waltz rhythm by
changing to duple time, bringing in a march-like theme from Shostakovich’s
Cello Concerto No. 1, composed a year earlier.

The third movement recapitulates its themes and winds down with the Cello
Concerto’s five-note motif and its three-note martial accompaniment heard last.
The first violins stretch this theme out, all alone, leading into the fourth
movement, when they are suddenly overtaken by the rest of the orchestra, who
have re-cast the three-note accompaniment into a menacing unison attack.
These violent attacks are repeated at intervals throughout the fourth movement.
They may be fate knocking at the door, gunfire, or the explosions of bombs
dropped by the aircraft one can hear in the pianissimo droning of the first violins.
The droning morphs into the first four notes of the dies irae, which are, not
coincidentally, the same notes of the DSCH motif in a different order. The dies
irae is followed immediately by a Russian funeral anthem, “Tormented by the
weight of bondage, you glorify death with honor,” in the lower strings. The
violent attacks transformed from the Cello Concerto theme recur; then, over a
low drone in the cello and viola, the violins play a Russian revolutionary song,
“Languishing in prison,” just before the cello sings an aria from Shostakovich’s
opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the work that triggered the first official criticism
of Shostakovich.

After a last attack by the transformed Cello Concerto theme, the first violin
chants the dies irae again and turns it back into the DSCH theme. The fifth
movement builds a fugal elegy on the original motif, mourning for all the
complex history that has gone before.

String Quartet No.10, Opus 74a “The Harp”  by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)  Orchestra version by Nurhan Arman                       
Even compared with other years in Beethoven’s often turbulent life and times,
1809 was especially eventful. Beethoven had to choose between a position 
offered by Napoleon’s younger brother Jerome, newly created King of
Westphalia, and a counter-offer from three of Vienna’s highest-ranking nobles.
Beethoven accepted the Viennese offer, but two months later Napoleon’s army
arrived at the gates and the nobles who had promised to support him fled the city.
The city resisted surrender this time, unlike the quick capitulation of 1804, which
precipitated a day of fierce bombardment. Beethoven hid in the basement of his
brother’s house with pillows over his ears, trying to avoid the din that could push
his already-failing hearing into complete deafness. Vienna surrendered the next

In spite of political turmoil and the absence of his patrons, Beethoven completed
three major works during this period – interestingly, all in the noble key of E-flat
major: the Fifth Piano Concerto, the “Emperor;” the piano sonata called “Les
Adieux,” or “Lebewohl” after one of his three patrons; and this String Quartet
Op. 74, dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, another of the patrons.
The first movement’s slow introduction remains calm in the face of two loud
interruptions. The main body of the movement and the coda feature pizzicato
(plucked) accompaniment passages that have given the work its “Harp”

The Adagio unfurls elegant variations on its main rondo theme, suggesting the
direction Beethoven would take in the subline slow movements of his late
quartets. The robust Scherzo recalls his dramatic Fifth Symphony; it is powered
by a similarly insistent four-note rhythmic motif of short-short-short-long.
The finale is a gracious theme and six variations, contrasting muscular energy
with tranquil interludes, and closing with an extended, brilliant coda. The quartet
was premiered at Prince Lobkowitz’s palace in the fall of 1809, after the French
left and Austrian nobles returned to Vienna.

Sinfonia Toronto now in its 22nd season, has toured twice in Europe, in the US, South America and China, receiving glowing reviews. It has released four CD’s, including a JUNO Award winner, and performs in many Ontario cities. Its extensive repertoire includes all the major string orchestra works of the 18th through 21st centuries, and it has premiered many new works. Under the baton of Nurhan Arman the orchestra’s performances present outstanding international guest artists and prominent Canadian musicians.  

Maestro Nurhan Arman has conducted throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada and the US, returning regularly to many orchestras in Europe. Among the orchestras Maestro Arman has conducted are the Moscow Philharmonic, Deutsches Kammerorchester Frankfurt, Filarmonica Italiana, St. Petersburg State Hermitage Orchestra, Orchestre Regional d’Ile de France, Hungarian Symphony, Arpeggione Kammerorchester, Milano Classica and Belgrade Philharmonic.

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Burge: Flanders Fields Reflections
Mendelssohn: Symphony for Strings no 7 in D minor
Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite
Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in A flat major, Op. 118a
Williams: Hook
Barry: Dances with Wolves
Broughton: Triptych
Lau: Joy

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