Chang Plays Dvořák: Artistic Evolution 1_20_2020
From January 30th to February 2nd, the Sarasota Orchestra performs Antonin Dvořák as part of its Masterworks Series. The prodigious Sarah Chang honors the Orchestra with a violin solo. World-famous Ludovic Morlot is conducting. The concert also includes selections from the works of Leoš Janáček and Claude Debussy. Dvořák and Janáček, close friends in life, work together to structure the performance with themes of Moravian folklore. Debussy’s Ibéria is a lovely counterpoint to the Czech composers and highlights the skills of Morlot, a fellow Frenchman.
Ludovic Morlot is the Music Director for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington School of Music. Since he took up the mantle in 2011, the Seattle Symphony received two Grammy Awards and the distinction of Orchestra of the Year by Gramophone magazine in 2018. Additionally, Morlot was a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and appeared at the BBC Proms.
Sarah Chang was recognized as a child prodigy. She received the Gramophone magazine award for young artist of the year in 1993. Chang reached new heights of excellence in adulthood. She received the Avery Fisher Prize in 1999 and has toured with numerous orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Prague Philharmonia.
The program opens with Leoš Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen Suite. The suite is a condensed form of the music in the first and third acts of the opera bearing the same name. The Cunning Little Vixen tells the tale of a forester who attempts to possess a wild thing to no avail. The playful chase turns to tragedy as the vixen is shot by a poacher. The arrival of the vixen’s descendants after her death comforts the forester with the promise of a new life. The opera was inspired by Kamila Stösslová, Janáček’s valentine and muse. Forty years his junior and emotionally aloof, she was his vixen. Towards the end of his life, he wrote to her daily. Stösslová was by his side when he passed away in 1928.
The Cunning Little Vixen is unique among Leoš Janáček’s works because of its broad harmonic range. Janáček also employs short motifs from Moravian folk music. This evolution of style represents a triumph in Janáček’s development. Antonin Dvořák, another featured composer in the performance, no doubt aided this evolution with his advice to Janáček. Dvořák advised the younger Janáček, “I congratulate you on your further work. Just keep going, you are on a good path, but as I say, just a little more melody—don’t be afraid of it.” Although the two men had little contact, Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen was also influenced by Claude Debussy. His work with harmony inspired Janáček to experiment with his compositional style.
It makes sense, then, that Claude Debussy’s Images pour ochestre makes an appearance immediately after the Janáček piece. Iberia (no. 2), written between 1905 and 1908, is the specific section that sees performance. Spanish guitars supplant the Moravian folk tunes as Debussy’s Iberia (no. 2) graces the listener’s ears. Scenes of ebullient Spanish nights and festival days unfold as the orchestral composition plays. As with Janáček, Iberia represents an evolution in Debussy’s style. Through the use of incomplete harmonic progressions, Debussy gave himself a “modern” sound and renewed appeal with audiences.
Antonin Dvořák’s Legends and Violin Concerto follow on the heels of Iberia (no. 2) and also represents a transition in the life of an artist. Both pieces come from Dvořák’s “slavic period” (1878-1880) and exhibit extensive Moravian motifs. Legends is a series of ten short piano compositions. Dvořák drew inspiration from the works of Karel Jaromir Erben, a Czech poet and folklorist. The compositions received great praise from Dvořák’s contemporaries, including Johannes Brahms, upon its publication in 1881 and premiered the following year with the Prague Conservatory Orchestra.
Compared to the ease with which Legends was published, Violin Concerto was a significant undertaking for Dvořák. He began working on the composition in 1879, but it was not completed until 1882! The chosen performer for the piece, then-preeminent violinist Joseph Joachim, spent several years corresponding with Dvořák and refining the piece. The toil was well worth the effort. Violin Concerto is one of Dvořák’s masterpieces.
As Ludovic Morlot and Sarah demonstrate their skills through the performance of these pieces, they illustrate the evolution necessary for all artists. Leoš Janáček, Claude Debussy, and Antonin Dvořák all changed their compositional styles to reach greater heights of musicological achievement. Chang evolved from a child prodigy into one of the world’s greatest violinists. Morlot now looks to the next stage of his musical career as he finishes his tenure as Music Director at the end of the current season.
For tickets and more information on this concert visit www.sarasotaorchestra.org