Brahms Reimagined

Monday, February 11, 2013 7:30 p.m.
Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium

Tickets available from Ticketmaster.

Brahms

As a featured partner in the San Antonio Symphony’s 2013 Brahms Festival, the YOSA Philharmonic will collaborate with the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio  for a program of Brahms, transcribed and reimagined. Here are some notes on the program, written by YOSA Music Director Troy Peters.

Sheng: Black Swan

Born in Shanghai, Bright Sheng (born 1955) studied piano with his mother from age four before attending the Shanghai Conservatory. In 1982, he immigrated to the United States, becoming a protégé of Leonard Bernstein. He subsequently acquired another champion in Gerard Schwarz, who invited Sheng to serve as composer-in-residence at the Seattle Symphony from 1992 to 1994. Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, Black Swan is a 2006 transcription for orchestra of a solo piano piece by Johannes Brahms, the Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2. This song-like intermezzo, completed in 1893, conveys a feeling of serenity and deep tenderness, offset by the autumnal tone that pervades its central episode.

Brahms: Choral Works

In 1858, Brahms became the conductor of a women’s choir in his hometown of Hamburg. Struck by the relative paucity of appropriate repertoire, he wrote his first published choral work, a poignant Ave Maria with organ accompaniment. Less than a year later, he arranged the organ part for orchestra, adding some lovely woodwind lines. For the same women’s chorus, Brahms wrote four songs with the unusual accompaniment of harp and two horns in 1860. The Lied von Shakespeare, a melancholy song of unrequited love from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is the second of this set. In the summer of 1886, while vacationing in Thun, Switzerland, Brahms wrote an especially beautiful set of five songs for low voice and piano, inspired by his fondness for a young contralto named Hermine Spies. Brahms loved the melody of the first song, Wie Melodien zieht es mir, so much that he reused it in his Second Violin Sonata. More recently, California organist and conductor Brad Slocum arranged this song for chorus. Much lighter in character, Neckereien is an 1863 setting of a Moravian folk poem. Brahms’s original version for a quartet of solo voices transfers well to a larger chorus.

Brahms-Parlow: Hungarian Dances No. 5 & 6

Brahms was barely 20 years old when he accompanied the showy violinist Eduard Reményi on an 1853 concert tour around central Europe and fell in love with the propulsive Hungarian gypsy-style numbers that were Reményi’s specialty. For years afterwards, Brahms entertained party guests with piano improvisations on Hungarian gypsy melodies; by 1869, he finally gave in to his friends’ urging that he write some down and publish them. The Hungarian Dances (originally for piano four-hands) turned out to be a goldmine for Brahms and his publisher. After Brahms orchestrated three of the dances, his publisher commissioned other musicians (like the military bandmaster, Albert Parlow) to make orchestral arrangements of the remaining 18.

Brahms-Schoenberg: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor

Brahms also displayed his love of Hungarian gypsy music in the finale of his great G minor Piano Quartet. (A piano quartet, by the way, is not four pianos, but an ensemble of violin, viola, cello, and piano.) Completed in 1861, the quartet was premiered with Clara Schumann at the piano; Clara was the great love of Brahms’s life, the widow of his recently deceased friend and mentor, Robert Schumann. The music is passionate and expansive, with tremendous expressive range, one of the great masterpieces of romantic chamber music. Later, in the late 1930s, the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg was living in Los Angeles, where the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was German conductor Otto Klemperer. After Schoenberg proposed that he might orchestrate the G minor Piano Quartet to create a large-scale symphonic work, Klemperer introduced the new orchestration in 1937. Schoenberg claimed that he intended to “remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he lived today,” but many listeners raise an eyebrow at the occasional appearance of xylophone or muted brass, moments that pull the music squarely into the 20th century.

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