Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857)
Glinka’s mid Nineteenth-century operas were the inspiration for succeeding generations of Russian composers in that the reach of his music challenged the dominance of western European composers. When I was at the University of Michigan in the mid-1970’s, Mstislav Rostropovich visited Ann Arbor as a guest conductor and cellist for a concert with the University Orchestra. He had left the Soviet Union only a few years prior, and not being in total command of English, employed a Russian-speaking student to help him find the right words during orchestra rehearsals. While working on the Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, he stopped before the big cello/viola tune and huddled with the translator, after which he asked the players to make it “sound like sirloin steak.”
Steven Errante (1953 - )
During those college years in the 1970’s, I was immersed in the rather insular world of avant-garde music, where there was an attitude that quality and audience-appeal were inversely related. When I graduated and entered the real world, I began to realize that this approach meant I wasn’t communicating with my audience, and so when violinist Steven Bjella asked me to write a sonata for violin and piano, I decided to write from the heart without worrying about being at the cutting edge of music history. Last year, Bjella asked me to orchestrate the piano part of the sonata and the result is what I’ve titled Lyric Concerto, since it has less of an emphasis on pyrotechnics than the typical concerto.
The first movement is a kind a slightly off-kilter waltz. The second begins with a somber saraband rhythm but gradually progresses toward a more peaceful resolution. The third is based on an insistent long-short-short rhythm (also coincidentally a feature of the Glinka overture), and with the distance of some years since its composition, I can hear myself finding my inner Brahms and Rachmaninoff. Tonight’s performance is the premiere of this version.
Firebird Suite - 1945
Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
Igor Stravinsky rocked the musical world in the early 1900’s with his three big ballets- The Firebird, Petroushka, and The Rite of Spring. The first of these still shows the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov and sometimes even Tchaikovsky, but Stravinsky was nonetheless clearly taking music in a new direction. The original 1910 Firebird ran to 45 minutes and was written for a huge orchestra that included 3 harpists and 6 percussionists. Stravinsky’s 1945 suite (at least partly motivated by trying to regain copyright) is written for a smaller orchestra, and much of the shimmering effects of the original are replaced by a leaner, drier sound that reflected the changes in Stravinsky’s musical sensibility over the intervening 35 years. I like both versions, but since we performed the earlier one back in 2000 I thought it might be interesting to hear the composer’s later take on the material.