Mr. Noseda Goes to Washington

Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda has been named Music Director of the National Symphony.
Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda has been named Music Director of the National Symphony. (photo from the Washington Post)

 

The National Symphony Orchestra has announced that Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda will succeed Christoph Eschenbach as its seventh music director. Noseda has developed a reputation as one of the world’s finest opera conductors. Early in his career, he was the first foreign-born principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre. Currently, he serves as principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic and music director of the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy. Between 2002 and 2011 he was music director of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester (UK).

The National Symphony, the resident orchestra at Washington’s Kennedy Center, has yet to meet its full potential in terms of visibility on the national stage. It will be interesting to see what Noseda’s tenure brings.

Here are a few of Gianandrea Noseda’s recordings:

Overture to The Marriage of Figaro

Let’s start off with a sparkling and energetic live concert performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492. This recording features Spain’s Orquestra de Cadaqués. Noseda has been the chamber orchestra’s principal conductor since 1994.

Overture to The Bartered Bride

Here is Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s (1824-1884) overture to the comic opera, The Bartered Bride, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Listen to the vibrant, hushed energy of the overture’s opening and notice the dialogue between voices. The opera is full of Bohemian folk influences. At moments you might be reminded of the music of another Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák (about twenty years Smetana’s junior).

A successful opera overture grabs our attention and draws us into the impending drama. By the final note, we should be in a different state of mind than when we entered the theater. Smetanta’s overture seems to do that, spectacularly.

Two Korngold Opera Excerpts

We’ll finish with two seldom heard opera excerpts by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). (If you want to hear more of Korngold’s music, visit past Listeners’ Club posts here and here). The first is an achingly beautiful lament: Ich soll ihn niemals, niemals mehr sehn from the 1937 three-act opera, Die Kathrin, Op. 28. Its scheduled premiere in Vienna in 1938 was cancelled by the Nazis due to Korngold’s Jewish ancestry. The second excerpt is the haunting Ich ging zu ihm from the three-act Das Wunder der Heliane, written in 1927.

Renée Fleming is accompanied by Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra:

  • Find Gianandrea Noseda’s recordings at iTunes, Amazon.
  • Watch Noseda rehearse Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead with the Gothenburg Symphony.

Nature in the Key of F

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The key of F major has long associations with nature and calm pastoral scenes. As flowers bloom and the pollen count soars, let’s finish out the week with four pieces in F major which evoke images of a springtime pasture:

Bach’s Pastorale in F Major

Historians believe that bagpipes may have predated ancient Rome. On hillsides in southern Italy and beyond, shepherds played Zampogna (Italian bagpipes). You can hear echoes of the Zampogna in J.S. Bach’s Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590, written for organ around 1720. The first movement features gently rolling triplets in 12/8 time. The melody rises above an extended drone with two-voice imitative counterpoint frequently joining in thirds. Three dance movements follow: an Allemande, Aria, and Gigue.

Helmut Walcha made this recording at the Church of Young Saint Peter Protestant in Strasbourg in 1970:

Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

How delighted I will be to ramble for awhile through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo that man desires to hear.

-Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s symphonies are a strange study in moderation. The odd numbered symphonies (3, 5, 7, and 9) are heroic and epic in scale. The equally profound, but less well known, even numbered works (No. 4, 6, and 8) are more classical and introspective.

This sense of compositional “yin and yang” played out between 1804 and 1808 as Beethoven simultaneously sketched the powerful and ferocious Fifth Symphony and a radically contrasting work which encapsulated the poetry of nature: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68. The two symphonies were published within weeks of each other in the spring of 1809 and were first performed on the same program. The Sixth Symphony was inscribed with the programmatically descriptive title, “Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Live.”

The Pastoral Symphony retreats into a bucolic world of bird calls, bubbling brooks and rustic folk dances. It’s music brimming with joy and gratitude at nature’s life-sustaining bounty. The outer movements are filled with open fifths, suggesting raw, natural elements and infinite possibility. (This is the first sound we hear at the beginning of the first movement). Motives develop over long periods of time with unbridled expansiveness (1:43). Listen to the multiple rhythmic layers in the strings beginning around the 5:35 mark. Also notice the prominence of the oboes with their pastoral connotations.

Here is Paavo Jarvi conducting the Bremen German Chamber Philharmonic:

  1. Pleasant, Cheerful feelings awakened in a person on arriving in the country. Allegro ma non troppo 0:00
  2. Scene by the brook. Andante molto mosso 12:10
  3. Merry gathering of country folk. Allegro 23:48
  4. Thunderstorm. Allegro 28:51
  5. Shepherd’s Song. Happy and thankful feelings to the deity after the storm. Allegretto 32:20

Berlioz’s Scene in the Country

The third movement (Scene in the Country) of Hector Berlioz’s turbulent Symphony fantastique (1830) transports us to the quiet solitude of the pasture. In the opening and closing of the third movement, there’s a haunting sense that time is standing still. There’s also a spacial element: the dialogue between oboe and English horn evokes two distant shepherds. Listen for the idée fixe (the hero’s leitmotif which runs throughout the piece) at 8:17.

Here is an excerpt from Berloz’s program notes:

One evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds in the distance dialoguing with their ‘ranz des vaches‘; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind, some causes for hope that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier colouring. He broods on his loneliness, and hopes that soon he will no longer be on his own … But what if she betrayed him! … This mingled hope and fear, these ideas of happiness, disturbed by dark premonitions, form the subject of the adagio. At the end one of the shepherds resumes his ‘ranz des vaches’; the other one no longer answers. Distant sound of thunder … solitude … silence …

This is the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eliahu Inbal:

Blaník from Smetana’s Má vlast

Blaník is one of six symphonic poems that make up Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast (“My Homeland”). If you know any music from Má vlast, it’s probably The Moldau.

This music is inspired by a legend involving a huge army of knights asleep inside the mountain, Blaník. In the country’s darkest hour, when four hostile armies attack from all directions, it is believed that St Wenceslaus’ army will awaken and fight.

You can listen to the entire piece here. Here is the pastoral excerpt: