Saturday, May 4, 2024 8 pm George Weston Recital Hall 5040, Yonge St.

VIVA VIOLINS

Bach ~ Vivaldi ~ Tchaikovsky

Beloved Tchaikovsky and four superb Sinfonia violinists in double concertos by Bach and Vivaldi 

SINFONIA TORONTO

NURHAN ARMAN Conductor

XIAOHAN GUO Violinist

MARCUS SCHOLTES Violinist

DAPHNE BOURBONNAIS Violinist

JOYCE LEE Violinist

BACH Double Concerto in D minor 

VIVALDI Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor

STANLEY GRILL Artemis, Her Silver Bow world premiere 

ARENSKY Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky

TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade

Tickets: Adult $52; Senior $40; Student $20

Program Notes

Double Concerto for Two Violins in D minor - Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)       

The Double Concerto for Two Violins in D minor is considered a prime example of the Baroque concerto grosso form, in which a soloist or small group of soloists, typically consisting of two or three instruments, alternate passages with a larger ensemble. Bach composed the piece in 1717 and brought it with him to Leipzig from his previous job in Cöthen. Seven years after arriving in Leipzig, he transcribed the piece for two harpsichords, to increase its utility. Eventually the original Cöthen version of the work was lost, but Bach specialists restored it from the harpsichord version.


The first movement is marked by incredible vitality and energy. As with most of Bach’s work, the instrumental writing is complex and intricate, featuring richly ornamented melodic lines interwoven using harmonic counterpoint. The two solo violins engage in a captivating conversation, each responding to the other with virtuosic runs, trills, and arpeggios. This epic battle of musical wits showcases the prowess of the two soloists as well as that of the orchestra.


The second movement is marked Adagio ma non tanto: “slow but not too much.” Here the orchestral instruments recede into the background, allowing the solo violins to take center stage. Their beautiful solo melodies are supported by a gentle accompaniment from the ensemble. The violins take turns playing the melody, then eventually layer their melodies atop each other, creating a lush soundscape. The third movement is marked Allegro and fully carries out the direction to play in a lively manner. This movement showcases Bach’s sense of humor and playfulness. The violins engage in a joyful dance, light and frothy, with the two soloists trading phrases back and forth. It is a fitting conclusion to one of Bach's most beloved works. 


Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor - Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)


Antonio Vivaldi was one of the most influential musicians of the late Baroque era, but only a few of his approximately 700 compositions were known or recognized as his during the two centuries after his death. In the mid-19th century several Bach manuscripts were authenticated as copies of pieces by Vivaldi, and further research gradually brought his life into focus and a burst of continuing popularity for his music from the 1970’s to today.


Vivaldi’s father was a respected musician and probably his son’s only teacher. Vivaldi became a brilliant violinist, but took holy orders in 1693 and was ordained 10 years later. He soon gave up saying Mass and devoted himself to music as director of instrumental music, staff composer, teacher, and violinist at a church-supported home for orphaned girls in Venice.


Vivaldi wrote around 500 concertos, mostly for the young musicians in the orphanage. They are brilliant showpieces that displayed the young players’ advanced technique.  Between 1705 and 1737, thirteen collections of his instrumental works were published in Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Venice, including 36 sonatas and 84 concertos, with opus number from 1 to 13 for each collection. The most popular was Opus 3, L’estro armónico, a group of 12 concertos that received fifteen printings between 1712 and 1751. “Harmonic Inspiration” or “Harmonic Invention” seems an apt title for a group of violin concertos running the gamut from one solo part to this double concerto and one other, concertos for three soloists and even one for four soloists.


Vivaldi was the first composer to use ritornello form regularly: repeating a theme as a recurring refrain in his fast movements. The orchestra, the ripieno group, plays the refrain in different but related keys in alternation with elaborations on it by the soloist(s).  This Concerto No. 8 in A minor, a concerto grosso with two solos violins, has three movements, in the typical fast, slow, fast order. The opening Allegro is emphatic and energetic, with many contrasts in texture between the solo violins and the ripieno.  The slow movement Larghetto e spiritoso features the solo violins in counterpoint.  The final Allegro is built on a descending scale. Bach later transcribed this concerto for organ.


Artemis, Her Silver Bow - Stanley Grill (1953 -       )

World premiere                                                             

Stanley Grill’s obsession with music first took the form of playing piano at every possible moment while growing up in New York in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and then music theory studies at the Manhattan School of Music streamed his energy into composing. His passion for medieval and Renaissance music has greatly influenced his writing - a contemporary expression of ageless techniques based on melody, modal harmonies, and contrapuntal, extended, interweaving lines. Two main themes permeate many of his works – music composed in an attempt to translate something about the nature of the physical world, and music composed to inspire and promote world peace. His music has been performed from Ecuador to Poland; Toulouse to Tokyo; Brooklyn to Vienna, by the New World Symphony, Camerata Philadelphia, Camerata Arkos, Duo+ Ensemble, Englewinds, Pandolfis Consort, the Umbria Ensemble, the Diderot Quartet, the Bronx Arts Ensemble and One World Symphony among others.


Composer’s notes for Artemis, Her Silver Bow: We are living through dark times. My recent work has been written largely in response to the events of the day, music composed as reminders that we can be better. In between pieces, feeling rather like composing music in the face of it all is akin to fiddling while Rome burns, I was pleased to open my email to read a request from Nurhan Arman, conductor of Sinfonia Toronto, to compose music for the Sinfonia’s 25th anniversary season next year. For that, I would pen cheerful, buoyant music! The world needs it, I suppose.


The title came, like most thoughts do, via a stream of associations. A 25th anniversary is a silver anniversary. Yeats’ famous line, golden apples of the sun, silver apples of the moon, popped into mind - but that phrase has already been taken for music far more renowned than this will be! Silver, that bright metal, is also associated with Artemis, goddess of the moon, who carries a silver bow, shooting silver arrows. As I composed the music, images of the goddess, silvery beams of light flitting through woods as she hunts and the twang of her bow string turned into music.


Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky - Anton Arensky  (1861–1906)

                                                                                                                                   

Russian composer, pianist and professor Anton Arensky grew up in a wealthy and musical family;  by the time he was nine he had written several songs and piano pieces. In 1879, his family moved to Saint Petersburg, where he studied composition under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  After earning his degree from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1882, Arensky joined the faculty at the Moscow Conservatory, where his students included Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin.  


Arensky returned to Saint Petersburg in 1895 to serve as the Imperial Choir's conductor. However he left this job in 1901 to live off a comfortable pension and work as a pianist, conductor, and composer for the rest of his life. At the age of only 44 he entered a sanitarium in the Grand Duchy of Finland, which was then part of the Russian empire, and passed away from tuberculosis. According to Rimsky-Korsakov, drinking and gambling had undermined his health. 


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the largest musical influence on Arensky's works. Although many of Arensky’s pieces have now been recorded, for many years his music was neglected on the erroneous assumption that it therefore lacked a distinctive personal style.


His work Tchaikovsky Variations on a Theme for String Orchestra, Op. 35a, based on one of Tchaikovsky's Songs for Children, is especially well-known. It is a re-worked and expanded version of the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35. This string quartet was written as a memorial in 1894, the year after Tchaikovsky’s death.  The slow movement got such positive reviews at its premiere that Arensky quickly transformed it into a stand-alone string orchestra composition.


In Arensky’s composition, Tchaikovsky's theme is followed by seven variations mainly in the key of E minor and a final coda. Throughout the work, Arensky preserves the purity of the original theme while also incorporating his own personality and style.  For instance, in Variation II, the theme is first heard in the lower strings, then moves upward. In Variation III, the first violins play the theme in the key of E major, not E minor. Some variations are played more slowly than the original movement, while others are played more quickly. In these ingenious ways and others driven by harmonic ideas and varied textures, Arensky gives us a new appreciation of his own composing talents as well as Tchaikovsky’s.


Serenade for Strings in C major -  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)    

Tchaikovsky was a solidly romantic and nationalistic composer, but he adored Mozart, whom he once called "the Christ of music." Tchaikovsky wrote that a performance of Don Giovanni he attended when he was 10 was what first showed him music’s power to express deep emotion. 


In September 1880 Tchaikovsky was working on his bombastic 1812 Overture, and perhaps needed to balance it with something more delicate. He decided to write an orchestral serenade as an homage to Mozart's serenades. Inspired by his love of Mozart’s music, he completed this work very quickly, and was much more satisfied with it than the 1812 Overture.


 He wrote to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck, "The overture will be very showy and noisy, but will have no artistic merit because I wrote it without warmth and without love. But the Serenade, on the contrary, I wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart." Later he also told von Meck, "I am violently in love with this work and cannot wait for it to be played."  The Serenade was premiered in St. Petersburg in 1881 and became a hit immediately. Tchaikovsky was gratified to receive congratulations on it from one of his living idols, the pianist and composer Anton Rubenstein.


This first movement, Pezzo in forma di Sonatina, moves from a measured Andante introduction into a simple four-note theme that develops into vigorous scale passages in the Allegro which show off the varied tone colors available within the strings alone. The rapid passagework is brilliant but not forced or too prominent; it complements and supports the flowing movement of the Allegro theme.


The second movement Waltz is Tchaikovsky's 19th-Century replacement for the minuet movements in Mozart's serenades. Each string section takes their turn to play the waltz melody poised against rhythmic lines in the other sections. As with waltz sections in some of his symphonies too, this movement resonates with Tchaikovsky's ballets. And in the next century this movement and parts of the rest of the work were used by George Balanchine for his 1936 Serenade. Balanchine later expanded his ballet to include Tchaikovsky's entire Serenade, but with the second and third movements reversed. 


The second movement ends in a gentle pianissimo, leading to the third movement Elegia. Like the first two movements, the Elegy is developed from a scale passage, this time rising in steadily increasing fervor. The lower strings carry much of the singing melody which is more reflective than mournful. This movement is a beautiful example of the kind of the openly emotional, highly lyrical writing for which Tchaikovsky is so beloved. 


The Finale is subtitled Tema russo and includes two authentic Russian folk tunes; both had been catalogued by the composer and musicologist Mily Balakirev. The first tune, a slow song sung by Volga carters, is the content of the Andante introduction to the movement. The second tune is a lively folk dance. Tchaikovsky underlines this theme’s village origins here and there with pizzicato (plucked) octaves that mimic the sound of balalaikas. A third sweeping motif appears over the vigorous dance, creating contrast and grandeur that blossom into an audible impression of the vast Russian landscape. The first movement’s Andante theme returns, seemingly to round out the entire work, but Tchaikovsky wittily transforms the descending portion of what had been a stately motif into the throbbing downward scale of the dance to conclude the Serenade in bravura style.                                                                                             

 Biographies


XIAOHAN GUO, Violinist ~ Born in Shenyang, China, Xiaohan Guo began her violin studies at the age of six, winning many awards in numerous youth competitions. Continuing her musical education, she enrolled at the Shenyang Conservatory at the age of 13. In 1998, she pursued her Bachelor’s Degree, majoring in violin, at the Shanghai Conservatory subsequently receiving first prize in the 2001 Mozart Violin Concerto Competition, whereby receiving an invitationto perform the Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Shanghai Youth Symphony Orchestra. Upon graduation she joined the Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, having the honor of performing with outstanding musicians such as Itzhak Perlman, Seiji Ozawa and Mstislav Rostropovich. She has been a student of Mrs. Eleonora Turovsky at University of Montreal since her arrival in Canada in 2004, completing her Master’s Degree and is now undertaking her Doctorate program. During her studies she was a winner of several bursaries. Xiaohan has given many solo and chamber music recitals at Chapel de Bon-Pasteur and University of Montreal, as well as being a guest soloist with I Musici de Montreal Chamber Orchestra with Waxman ’s Carmen Fantasy.    


MARCUS SCHOLTES ~ Canadian violinist Marcus Willem Scholtes has a Doctor of Music degree in Violin Performance from Indiana University where he studied with renowned pedagogue Mimi Zweig. He holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and an Honours Bachelor of Music degree from McGill University, Montreal. Dr. Scholtes currently teaches at the Wilfrid Laurier University String Academy and has also been professor of String Pedagogy. He has performed internationally at music festivals in Canada, the USA, and Europe and has attended the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme in Suffolk, England. He has toured with the Aldeburgh World Orchestra in 2012, in Germany and Holland before playing at the BBC Proms as part of the 2012 London Olympiad. He has participated in the Aldeburgh String Residency Programme in 2010 and 2012, and was again invited to join the Residency as part of the Britten Centenary concerts in 2013.


JOYCE LEE, Violinist ~ Joyce Lee was a fellow and co-concertmaster in TŌN (The Orchestra Now) in New York until moving to Toronto. She has served as concertmaster for various orchestras in the past, including the Chung Chi Orchestra of CUHK, the Pro Arte Orchestra of Hong Kong and the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Hong Kong. She also performed internationally at the Pacific Music Festival and in the Asian Youth Orchestra. Joyce earned an M.M. in Violin Performance at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she received a B.A. in Music from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and then an FTCL post-graduate certificate from Trinity College London. In 2014, Joyce earned the Western Instrument Scholarship First Prize in the 7th Hong Kong Students Open Music Competition. She also won the Golden Prize in the violin open class in the Hong Kong Bauhinia Cup String Competition. In the same year, she was awarded the Dr. T. H. Yip Memorial Scholarship of the E & R Foundation.  In addition to violin, Joyce studied orchestral conducting with Choi Ho Man. She conducted the CUHK Student Orchestra as well as the APSKT Alumni Symphony Orchestra in 2015. Outside her musical career, Joyce enjoys cooking, making desserts, and watching Korean television dramas.


DAPHNE BOURBONNAIS, Violinist ~ Born in Rimouski, Québec, Daphné completed her master’s degree at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, where she also obtained a Chamber Music Diploma. Daphné has played with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Orchestre de la Francophonie and l'Orchestre Symphonique de l’Estuaire. She has toured across Canada, Spain and South Korea.  A new music enthusiast, Daphné loves to work with contemporary composers. She enjoys exploring different facets of the impact that music can have on everyone. 


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