MOZART & SHOSTAKOVICH

Saturday, March, 4 2023 8 pm ~ George Weston Recital Hall, 5040 Yonge Street


Rays of hope 

A brilliant young pianist in the famous ‘Elvira Madigan’ concerto, 

and a Shostakovich masterpiece 


SINFONIA TORONTO 

NURHAN ARMAN Conductor

SUNNY RITTER Pianist


Program

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

VANIA ANGELOVA Passacaglia world premiere

SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony in D major Op 83a 


Click here to watch pianist Sunny Ritter's interview 

Guest Artist Sponsorship: Edward Thompson & Meredith MacFarquhar 


In-person tickets: Adult $44; Senior $37; Student $17; Virtual: $17 

 For accessible seating: 1-800-708-6754 or boxoffice@tolive.com

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 Program notes


Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Orchestrated by Ignaz Lachner

With cadenzas by Maria Tipo


Completed in March 1785, this may be the best-known of all Mozart's piano concertos, thanks to having its lyrical second movement used as background music in the popular 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan.


In his all-too-short life, Mozart composed many piano concertos, starting at age 11 and continuing until just a few months before his death at 35. Mozart was famous for his pianistic skill. His playing "captivated every listener and established Mozart as the best keyboard performer of his day," according to critic Franz Niemetschek. While playing his concertos Mozart improvised his cadenzas; they were never written down. Modern pianists are therefore forced to either write their own cadenzas or use cadenzas written by others.


K. 467 is one of Mozart's most technically challenging concertos. His father Leopold called it "astonishingly difficult." Its difficulty lies less in the complexity of the notes than in the need to play them all smoothly and beautifully. Mozart’s mastery made this seem simple, as evidenced by contemporary newspaper accounts, but his letters show that great effort went into preparing for such “effortless” performances.


In this concerto the orchestra and soloist are equal partners, unlike many classical concertos where the soloist predominates and the orchestra accompanies. Additionally, unlike many concertos, this concerto is thematically unified. It gives the audience a coherent picture of an imaginary universe with a wide array of characters. The solo piano and the orchestra engage repeatedly in musical conversations as equals.


The famous second movement Andante makes us think of a tranquil dreamscape, broken up occasionally, by enigmatic dissonances. Some of the harmonic explorations are so daring that Leopold thought perhaps the copyist had made mistakes in the score, producing "wrong sounds." Surprising, almost harsh passages break up what is otherwise calm and relaxing music. By contrast, the concluding movement, Allegro vivace assai, is lighthearted and jolly. Here too the orchestra and piano converse with ease, good friends out for a night of fun. After the piano cadenza, the piece's main theme reappears, and the movement ends with a victorious flourish.


Passacaglia by Vania Angelova (1953 -     ) 

World premiere


Composer, pianist and conductor Vania Angelova obtained a doctorate in composition at the University of Montreal after completing a masters in piano with Professor Regina Horowitz, sister of the great Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz, as well as a masters in composition with Professor Igor Kovach in the former USSR.


Angelova’s oeuvre includes compositions for symphony and chamber orchestras, a wide range of chamber music, two oratorios, several orchestral suites, a capella and orchestral-accompaniment arrangements of ancient and modern choir music, and scores for seven movies. Her works have been performed in Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Ukraine.


Passacaglia is the final section of Angelova’s Polyphonic Miniatures Angelova’s most recent suite for string orchestra, from which other sections were premiered by Sinfonia Toronto in March 2022. 


Chamber Symphony in D major, Opus 83a by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Orchestral version by Nurhan Arman


Shostakovich’s interest in the string quartet came later in his musical development than for most composers, when he was 31; but this may be due to the fact that he did not regard them as a smaller form - his quartets are major works, actual symphonies composed for four instruments. Their large-scale architecture is imbues with the same depth and breadth of emotion as his full-orchestra works, and he fully explores the extreme potential of string quartet textures, using the instruments’ highest registers and special tonal effects to carry out complex structural designs such as thematic references between movements and intricate interplay between lines.


Did Shostakovich really believe, when composing the String Quartet no. 4, that it would ever be performed?


But what could have hinder a performance? Conventionally this quartet, opus 83 in D major, completed on the 27th December 1949, seems above reproach. In structure it returns to a traditional four movement format. Its duration is normal, about 24 minutes, and the Quartet is dedicated to the memory of Shostakovich's close friend Pyotr Vladimirovich Vil'yams (1902 - 1947) who was an uncontroversial Russian stage designer and a painter noted for his portraits, one of which was of Shostakovich himself.


The problem with the Fourth Quartet lies not in its structure, its length or dedication: it lies in its content. To understand why we must follow what had occurred, both in Shostakovich's life and in international politics, in the months leading to Quartet's composition.


Between the writing of the Third Quartet and the Fourth, Shostakovich's music had been denounced in a new crack-down in Soviet ideological correctness. The result was a virtual ban on performances of his works and his dismissal, in 1948, as professor in the Moscow and Leningrad Conservatories. With the loss of employment and performance revenues, Shostakovich's finances became dire. He took commissions to compose film music and sought opportunities to demonstrate his commitment to Socialist Realism. The first step on the road to redemption occurred when he submitted a seven-movement oratorio entitled The Song of the Forests, opus 81, celebrating 'The Great Stalinist Plan for Remaking Nature', a fifteen-year project for planting trees to protect southern Central Asia from drought. The oratorio fulfilled the requirements of Socialist Realism and was consequently an outstanding success, winning the Stalin Prize.


The use of folk music was another standard way to fulfil the requirements of Socialist Realism and avoid the charge of 'Formalism'. Folk music had the virtues of being accessible, traditional and melodious. Shostakovich had developed a particular interest in Jewish folk music. This had begun in 1943 when he was orchestrating Venyamin Fleishman's opera Rothschild's Violin and he had incorporated distinctive Jewish intonations into the fourth movement of his Second Piano Trio opus 67, composed in 1944. The Trio had been a success winning the Stalin prize (category two) in 1946 and it was not one of the works which, by order of the censorship board in February 1948, had been eliminated from the repertory.


But what was the aesthetic attraction of Jewish music for Shostakovich? Solomon Volkov quotes Shostakovich as saying:


This quality of Jewish folk music is close to my idea of what music should be. There should always be two layers in music. Jews were tormented for so long that they learned to hide their despair. They express their despair in dance music. All folk music is lovely, but I can say that the Jewish folk music is unique.


Although the accuracy of Volkov when quoting Shostakovich is often challenged he is generally regarded as correctly representing the composer's sentiments. Also the musicologist and biographer of Shostakovich, Laurel E. Fay, confirms his affinity to Jewish intonations:


The inflected modes of Jewish music went hand in hand with his own natural gravitation towards modes with flattened scale degrees. Shostakovich was attracted by the ambiguities in Jewish music, its ability to project radically different emotions simultaneously. 


Thus using Jewish musical idioms in his compositions seemed to Shostakovich a plausible way to retain his artistic integrity while fulfilling his 'public' promises to write politically acceptable music.


Why was Jewish music politically acceptable? Partly because Soviet Jewry had integrated well into communist society. Indeed many prominent members of the communist parties, that had taken control of countries in eastern Europe following the occupation by the Red Army, were Jewish. At this time communism appealed to many Jews. Not only had the Soviet Union's victory over Hitler's Germany saved many of them from the Nazi extermination camps, but communism seemed to offer an international political alternative to a people who had traditionally suffered in European nationalist regimes.


Moreover Stalin was supporting Jewish organisations at home and abroad. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which had been formed during the war to gain the support of Jews outside the Soviet Union in their struggle against the Nazis, was still receiving official backing. Furthermore on the international stage the USSR had used its new seat at the United Nations to support Zionism and advocate the creation of a Jewish State in the Middle East.


Aware of the personal consequences of composing a politically ill-advised work, but confident that the Jewish idioms would be acceptable, Shostakovich started work that August on a song-cycle entitled From Jewish Folk Poetry. It was completed in October 1948.


But Stalin's latent anti-Semitism was about to surface, spurred on by the change in international politics. Stalin might have supported the foundation of Israel to block any British influence in the Middle East, but it was now becoming clear that the State of Israel was not going to be a Soviet ally in the intensifying Cold War. Furthermore the enthusiasm on the Moscow streets, which had greeted Israeli Ambassador Golda Meir on her visit on 11th September 1948, must have caused Stalin to fear that the city, traditionally known as the third Rome, might soon become a second Jerusalem.


Stalin's reaction was swift. On September 21st 1948 Pravda published an article by Ilya Ehrenburg indicating clearly the change of line on Zionism. From January 1949 articles began to appear in Pravda attacking 'cosmopolitans without a fatherland', 'unpatriotic groups of theatre critics', 'rootless cosmopolitans', 'persons without identity' and 'passport-less wanderers'. Yiddish schools and theatres were shut down, Yiddish newspapers banned and libraries closed.


By the beginning of 1949 Shostakovich realised that his song-cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry was not going to renew his fortunes and he abandoned any attempt to have it publicly performed.


But in February 1949 his chances to regain acceptance dramatically changed. Much to his surprise he received a phone call from Stalin. The infallible leader informed Shostakovich personally that he had decided that the composer was to be an official Soviet spokesman at the 'Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace' to be held in New York. During the conversation, and despite his inherent nervousness, Shostakovich was able to convey the inconsistency of a composer representing a state in which his music was effectively banned. On 16 March 1949, four days before Shostakovich departed for the USA, the order of the previous year banning the works of formalist composers was cancelled on Stalin's instructions.


While in New York Shostakovich attended a concert in which he heard, and liked, Bartók's Sixth Quartet. Whether or not influenced by the indigenous folk music of eastern Europe that inspired many of Bartók's compositions, Shostakovich began, on his return from the USA in April 1949, to compose the Fourth Quartet completing it on the 27 December of that year. This Quartet, especially in its final movement, evoked Jewish folk music.


It seems strange that Shostakovich, having only recently abandoned attempts to have the song-cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry performed, would again employ 'Jewish' intonations in this new quartet. He knew that the circumstances, that had allowed his Second Piano Trio to be a success, were past. Both absolute music and music with words had to conform to the prevailing ideology, that is why his First Violin Concerto (1948) had not been performed. His new quartet was yet another example of non-programmatic chamber music. What Stalin's Soviet Union demanded was music that fulfilled the requirements of 'Socialist Realism'. So had Shostakovich begun to compose deliberately just 'for the drawer'; to write music that could not risk being performed?


No, from what followed it is clear that he was not composing 'for the drawer': he intended to have his Fourth Quartet performed. He might have been emboldened by his attendance at the Congress in New York where, despite provocation, he had stuck loyally to the Party line. Perhaps he now felt he was back in favour and could take the risk. Whatever his motivation was, Shostakovich wanted the piece performed.


He gave the score to the Beethoven Quartet and they started rehearsing the Fourth Quartet on 10 February 1950. On 15 May, almost five months after its work's completion, the Beethoven Quartet performed the work in the presence of the head of the music division of the Committee for Artistic Affairs, Alexander Kholodilin. Also present were some other composers, Shostakovich and his wife Nina. The piece was played twice. This was the decisive moment. On hearing the Fourth Quartet this selected audience became acutely aware of Shostakovich's insensibility to the dire political reaction the piece would provoke. Their advice convinced him to withhold the quartet.


So Shostakovich clearly intended this work to be performed immediately after its completion. It was only when the prevailing circumstances prevented this, that the score was put away; it had to wait for better times; it had to wait until Stalin died.


From the start of the first movement there is a sense of the strange and exotic. The key of D major traditionally evokes power and glory. For 18th century composers this was a specially bright key because the trumpets of the time were tuned to D major. Yet the quartet commences with the four string instruments combining to produce a sound reminiscent of wailing bagpipes. The music, which is Eastern in flavour with a slight indication of hidden grief, first rises sharply into a dissonant chaos but then subsides into a more gentle and harmonious world which anticipates the second movement . This next movement, in F minor, is more straightforward: a slow waltz explicitly wistful, sad and nostalgic which has a persistent two-note accompaniment and terminates in F major.


The third movement of the Fourth Quartet is not a scherzo but a dreamy allegretto in C minor gently reminiscent of the mechanical perpetual motion in other works of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Along with the two proceeding movements, its tonal ambiguities prepare the way for the concluding movement into which it flows without a pause.


However the heart of the quartet, and one of the highlights of the whole cycle of quartets, is this remarkable fourth movement. Here the sadness of the second movement and the vitality of the third abruptly fuse to produce the violent, wailing and screaming tones of a danse macabre. The blatant use of Jewish motifs produces a finale full of breathtaking excitement and heart-rendering lamentation. The wailing violin combines with the pulsating foot-stomping rhythm to produce an unforgettable blend of elation and grotesque horror. Here, as in the second piano trio, is the image of death; of Jews being forced to dance on their own newly-dug graves at Treblinka. This is remarkable, nightmarish music: music only for those who cannot dream at night.


The Fourth Quartet finally received its première on December 3rd 1953 in Moscow, nine months after Stalin's death and one month after the fifth symphony had first been performed.


By that time things had slightly eased, at least temporarily. Beria, Stalin's head of the secret police, was quickly executed and Khrushchev's ascent to power had begun. Now after the harsh years of Stalinism a thaw could be felt which allowed works like the Fourth Quartet to be performed. But Shostakovich, although recognizing that the times had changed, remained cynical. He wrote to his young friend Edison Denisov: "Edik, the times are new but the informers are old."


The autographed manuscript of the Fourth Quartet is kept at the Glinka Museum in Moscow.


Biographies


Sunny Ritter, Pianist - began her professional training with Aya Kaukal and was accepted to Vienna’s University of Music and the Performing Arts (MDW) at just seven years old. While living in Canada, she was on full scholarship at the Royal Conservatory of Music in the studio of Dr. Michael Berkovsky, receiving additional coaching from Coral Solomon-Berkovsky. Currently, she is studying with Pietro De Maria at the Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg.


Since her first gold medal at six-years old, Sunny has triumphed at more than twenty-five international piano competitions in Austria, Germany, Italy, Romania, Russia, Spain, France, and Canada. She swept up First Prize and all special prizes at the Steinway Klavierspielwettbewerb and received the 5,000 EUR Grand Prize at the Mihaela Ursuleasa International Piano Competition. Recently, she won First Prize at the Paris International Music Competition, as well as Austria’s Goldene Note for the nation’s best rising-star pianist. Competing underage, she has garnered prizes in the senior categories of the Premio Colafemmina, and Toronto’s 2020 Kiwanis Festival, which she won; at just ten years old, she broke the record set by Glenn Gould as the youngest top-prizewinner in the festival’s history. 


In 2018, Sunny made her orchestral début in Bucharest and Vienna. She gave her first solo-recital the same year in Ottawa and has since performed solo and orchestral concerts in renowned venues on both sides of the Atlantic, such as: Hamburger Laeiszhalle; Wiener Rathaus, Schubert Saal of the Konzerthaus, Schloss Laudon, Starmania Studio, Austria’s Chopin Festival, the Mozarteum, Salzburg; at Toronto’s St. Andrew’s, (her Koerner Hall début was cancelled owing to Covid); Sant’Antonio and Palazzo de Mari in Italy; Auditorium Berlioz in France. Highlights of this season include performances with Sinfonia Toronto, as well as her débuts at the Goldner Saal of the Wiener Musikverein and at the Großer Saal of the Wiener Konzerthaus, following her success at the inaugural edition of CLASSICALIA. 


Sunny loves the piano because it’s a kind of magic: These keys unlock hearts.


Sinfonia Toronto now in its 24th 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.


Sinfonia Toronto respectfully acknowledges that we work in the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee peoples