Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 - Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
String orchestra version by Jeremy Liu
Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 54, is one of his great masterpieces. He had worked on several piano concertos earlier but had never completed them. He had also written a fantasy for piano and orchestra and tried to sell the one-movement piece to publishers, without success. Efforts over the next two years to revise the piece were also unsuccessful, and Robert’s wife Clara, herself an excellent pianist, urged her husband to expand it into a full concerto. In 1845 he added an Intermezzo and an Allegro vivace to complete it; it is the only piano concerto that Schumann finished.
The complete three-movement version premiered in Dresden in December 1845, with the composer as soloist. Less than a month later, on January 1, 1846 it was performed in Leipzig, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.
The first movement opens with a majestic orchestral introduction that prepares the piano's entrance. The solo piano presents the main theme, a soaring melody that evokes yearning and passion. It is a melody that begins with the notes C–H–A–A, which stand for CHiArA, the Italian version of Clara, Schumann’s wife’s name. During the first movement Schumann varies his main theme several ways; this first theme is developed and transformed as the piano converses with the orchestra. A second theme introduced by the strings is contemplative, contrasting with the opening theme's grandeur. The movement ends with a cadenza that some consider one of the most challenging in the piano concerto repertoire.
The second movement is a dreamy and introspective Adagio, featuring a lyrical and passionate melody for the piano. A brief and stormy middle section underscores the work's emotional depth and complexity and interrupts the gentle mood. The movement ends with a tender and haunting coda, in which the piano and the orchestra come together in a delicate and poignant harmony.
The final movement follows directly after the second, without a break. It is a lively and energetic rondo, with a vigorous main theme. The piano and the orchestra engage in playful conversation, with cascading arpeggios and rapid runs in the piano. A second, more tender and lyrical theme is introduced by the piano and later taken over by the strings. The coda is a jubilant and triumphant finale.
Despite its three movements, the work keeps the character of a unified, one-movement fantasy. The basic idea the work seeks to express is yearning and happiness between two loving people – in this case, Robert and Clara. As part of this tribute, the main theme of the first movement references the melody of Florestan’s aria from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. Like Beethoven, Schumann felt this theme expressed the intimate connection between loyalty and freedom.
Clara Schumann wrote after the premiere: "... how rich in invention, how interesting from the beginning to the end, how fresh and what a beautiful coherent whole!" Her sentiments may not have been entirely unbiased, but other listeners also hailed the new work in glowing terms. Schumann’s concerto may have influenced later composers. Some commentators think Grieg may have used this work as a model when composing his own piano concerto, also in A Minor. Like Schumann, Grieg employs a single powerful orchestral chord at the beginning, before the piano's similar entrance with a descending flourish. Rachmaninoff took Grieg's concerto as a model for his own first Piano Concerto, extending an interesting Romantic lineage.
Il tramonto (The Sunset) - Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
String orchestra version by Nurhan Arman
Respighi set a number of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poems to music, including three for mezzo-soprano and orchestra: Arethusa in 1910, Il tramonto in 1914, and La Sensitiva between 1914 and 1915. He also set Il tramonto for voice and string quartet, and it is often performed in that version. This string orchestration finds a happy middle ground between the two extremes.
The instruments begin dramatically, then settle into lyrical tranquility. The vocal part describes "One within whose subtle being...genius and death contended," narrating a Youth’s love for a Lady, their walk through a field, and the colors of the sunset. After a brief interval the nature theme returns before emphatic chords mark the moment the next morning when the Lady finds the Youth dead. Softer chords tell how she "died not, nor grew wild, but year by year lived on...."
A lighter texture with flowing lines carries through the rest of the composition and her life, with lower strings sometimes moving in parallel with the singer’s voice, an undertone of grief always with her. The Lady's last wish, to join the Youth in peaceful death, is sung with quiet lassitude before the violins conclude the piece in major mode to signal that her wish has been fulfilled. The song is in essence a miniature tone poem.
After Schumann - Rodney Sharman (1958 - )
Canadian composer Rodney Sharman lives on traditional Musqueam territory in Vancouver, Canada. He is the Victoria Symphony's Composer-Mentor-in-Residence, and has been Composer-in-Residence of Early Music Vancouver’s “New Music for Old Instruments”, the Victoria Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and Composer-Host of Calgary Philharmonic’s Festival, "Hear and Now". In addition to concert music, Sharman writes for cabaret, opera and dance. He sings, conducts, plays recorders and flutes. Sharman was awarded First Prize in the CBC Competition for Young Composers, the Kranichsteiner Music Prize (Darmstadt), the Dora Mavor Moore Award (Toronto), and the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.
Art can be a conversation between artists across time and space. Robert Schumann's music employs fragmentation, quotation, musical obsession and saturation alongside unexpected contrast. All these characteristics are present in this short meditation on Schumann’s enigmatic song, “Auf einer Burg”. I fragment the song, taking only its first two notes - so resonant and idiomatic when played on strings - creating a kind of fantasia on two notes through changes of colour, harmony, and scale degree. Ascending scales adapted from the song's piano part provide contrast, eventually layered and integrated into the piece. 'After Schumann' was commissioned by the Victoria Symphony and was premiered on March 24, 2022.
Seven Popular Spanish Songs - Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
String orchestra version by Nurhan Arman
These songs are a musical tour of Spain, each giving a glimpse into the lives and feelings of a certain region’s inhabitants, starting with two songs from Murcia. The first, El Paño moruno, “The Moorish Cloth,” warns young women to avoid the “stain” of illicit love affairs, and the second, the Seguidilla murciana, is quarrelsome, full of insults and acid banter.
The mood changes to dazed grief in the Asturiana from northern Spain. Hypnotic accompaniment figures evoke the numbness of profound sorrow. As a welcome contrast, the bright Aragonese Jota that follows is a whirling dance in triple time.
The Andalusian Nana is a lullaby, said to be one that De Falla’s mother sang to him when he was a baby. Its rocking rhythm is created by a syncopated accompaniment figure above a lazy, soothing pedal-point in the bass.
The Canción is a rollicking tune known throughout Spain, laughing at the tears, fears and peccadillos of lovers. The set ends with the flamenco-inflected Polo, a gypsy tune from Andalusia with rich sonorities supporting a darkly furious, melismatic melodic line.
Reminiscences - Amine Soufari (1987 - )
Amine Soufari was born in Laghouat, on the edge of the Algerian Desert. Now a pianist, guitarist, accordionist and percussionist, studied in Algiers and also developed a passion for composing and conducting. After arriving in France in 2014, he completed a degree in musicology and in 2015 a Master’s in Music Research and Creation, both at the University of Aix-Marseille. He also continued studies in choral conducting at the Conservatoire de Marseille where he was awarded the 2020 conducting prize. In 2022 he received the composition prize from the Conservatoire de Marseille.
Mr. Soufari explores varied musical horizons: traditional music from all shores around the Mediterranean, jazz and contemporary classical. He has been commissioned by the City of Aix-en-Provence, and regularly takes part in the Festival d'Art lyrique d'Aix en Provence. A digital colleague of Maestro Arman’s, he generously decided to contribute a new work to Sinfonia Toronto’s anniversary season.
Mezzosoprano Beste Kalender grew up in Antalya and Istanbul, Turkey. Opera became her dream at a very early age. She recalls an afternoon when she was either five or six years old: her parents were watching television and she saw “this lady in a huge, puffy red dress making this magnificent sound. I didn’t know it was opera, of course, but I pointed at her and said, ‘I want to be her.’”
Beste began singing in children’s opera choruses and attended both the State Conservatory and one of the country’s top schools, Bogazici University. She was determined to have an international career, for which she knew she would have to leave Turkey. After graduate research at the University of Toronto in music cognition & developmental psychology, Beste began to explore the festival circuit, working with Opera on the Avalon in Newfoundland, France’s Les Choregies d’Orange, and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.
Beste completed an Artist Diploma at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory in 2014, and by early 2015 she was taking part in the Emerging Artist Development Program at the Calgary Opera, where she was singing the role of Mercedes, when the original lead had to step out due to illness and Beste was asked to sing the role of Carmen with just an hour to prepare. “This she did, and with remarkable success…” (review)
Following her experiences in Calgary, Beste’s career has taken her across Canada, from Edmonton and Banff to Ottawa and Montreal. She made her US debut at Carnegie Hall in January 2017, and in that same year she was selected as “New Artist of the Month” by the prestigious magazine Musical America.
Beste has performed operatic roles and recitals in Belarus, France, Italy, Norway, Russia and Turkey. She has appeared in the Toronto Summer Music Festival, and has starred in a number of opera productions in Toronto, appearing in many roles at the RCM, with VOICEBOX Opera, and singing the title role of La Belle Hélène with Toronto Operetta Theatre. Next season she will star as Dorabella in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte with the Vancouver Opera Company.
Asked a typical journalist’s question about her preferences - contemporary music, recital, opera, standard repertoire - she responds, “As long as I can communicate with people through my music, I’m the happiest person in the world.”
Antonio Di Cristofano, pianist completed his piano studies in 1986 at the Conservatory “L.Cherubini” in Florence under the guidance of Antonio Bacchelli and has subsequently studied with Maestro Damerini. He has performed as a soloist with orchestras across the world including the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Toronto, Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México, the Prague Symphony, the Czech Philharmonic, the Vienna Mozart Orchestra and many others.
He has worked with numerous conductors including: Gianpiero Taverna; Franz Anton Krager; Ovidiu Balan; Marcus Bosch; Mario Ancillotti; Marin Alsop; Nurhan Arman; Christian Schulz; M. Zanini; Charles Olivieri-Munroe; Leoš Svárovský; and Alexander Chernushenko. He has appeared in festivals and concert halls throughout Italy and the rest of the world, including: the “Verdi Theatre” (Florence), “Teatro Politeama” in Palermo, Smetana Hall and Dvořák Hall (Prague), The Frederic Chopin Society (Warsaw), Leeum Auditorium (Seoul), Glenn Gould Studio (Toronto), the Moore Opera House (Houston) and the Newman Center (Denver).
In 2006 Di Cristafano made his acclaimed debut at Carnegie Hall and in 2007 performed in the Golden Hall at Musikverein (Vienna). He is often invited to judge international Piano Competitions across Europe and to teach at the Moscow Tchaikvosky Conservatory, the Summer Academy in Dubrovnik, Denver University, the SMC Academy in Seoul, the Thessaloniki Conservatoire and at many other universities across the United States.
Sinfonia Toronto now celebrating its 25th 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