KSO Season 58 2013-2014

Unless otherwise stated, all concerts take place at St. John's, Smith Square and are conducted by Russell Keable.

Tuesday 15 October 2013
Bartók: Dance Suite
Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
John Adams: Harmonielehre

Monday 25 November 2013 at Milton Court
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
Piano: Nikolai Demidenko
Bruckner: Symphony No. 3

Monday 20 January 2014 at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Mussorgsky: St John's Night on the Bare Mountain (original version)
Liszt: Totentanz
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique 

Saturday 15 March 2014, with guest conductor Jacques Cohen

Programme to include

Walton: Symphony No. 1  

Monday 12 May 2014 at Milton Court
Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead
Debussy: La Mer
Lutosławski: Symphony No. 3 

 Monday 23 June 2014
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet - Fantasy Overture
Kodály: Dances of Galánta
Nielsen: Symphony No. 2  

Dvořák: Symphony No. 7

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

  1. Allegro maestoso
  2. Poco adagio
  3. Scherzo: Vivace – Poco meno mosso
  4. Finale: Allegro

Duration: 35'
Publisher: Public Domain
KSO performed: 2013, 1999

Older readers may just be able to recall a time when there were London evening newspapers other than the Evening Standard. Unless there are any Methuselahs present tonight, however, it is unlikely any would remember the Pall Mall Gazette. The Gazette was founded in 1865, and became successful enough that it absorbed a lesser paper, the Globe, in 1921 before being itself merged with a rival in 1923 - ironically enough, the Standard.  It took its name from the fictional newspaper in Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis, and over its lifetime printed the work of many notable writers. In turn it became referenced itself in fiction, appearing in Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and The Time Machine.

One scoop the newspaper secured in 1886 was an interview with Antonín Dvořák, who was in England for the first performance of his oratorio St. Ludmilla. In it Dvořák talked of his upbringing and his approach to composition. Asked by the (anonymous) interviewer what he thought of the English, then widely considered to be an utterly unmusical species, Dvořák replied, “So far as my experience of English audiences goes I can only say that people who had not a good deal of love for music in them would hardly sit for four hours closely following an oratorio from beginning to end, and evidently enjoy doing it. As to their being good musicians, I judge them by the orchestras who have played my compositions under my own direction, and it has struck me every time. With regard to music it is with the English as it is with the Slavs in politics--they are young, very young, but there is great hope for the future.”

Perhaps here Dvořák had found a reason for the extraordinary enthusiasm for his music in England.   Since his Stabat Mater had been performed there in 1883 there had been an explosion of enthusiasm for his music. Following the similarly sudden success of his Slavonic Dances in 1878, this firmly established Dvořák as an international figure.

The road to this success had been a long one.  As he related in his interview with the Gazette, Dvořák came from humble beginning: his father was a butcher and innkeeper (“which two occupations generally go together with us in Bohemia”). When he was 10 he was sent to the village of Zlonice to be educated at a German-speaking school, as was the custom for Czechs in the Austrian Empire. At the same time he began to teach himself the violin.  In Zlonice he was given rudimentary music lessons, enough to enable him to play his fiddle with street musicians when he returned home for the holidays.  His parents were supportive of his musical ambitions, and despite their poverty managed to arrange for him to attend the Organ School in Prague. When he finished his studies in 1859, Dvořák began a decade of graft as a musician in dance bands and pit orchestras in Prague.

By 1874 Dvořák was married and settled in the post of organist at the church of St Vojtěch.  He applied for the Austrian State Stipendum, a grant given to artists.  He was awarded grants for four years running, but more importantly made the acquaintance of Johannes Brahms, who was one of the judges. Brahms wrote to the publisher Simrock recommending Dvořák as a publishing prospect. With the approval of Brahms (who soon became a close friend) and the imprint of Simrock behind him, Dvořák’s stock rocketed, and in 1884 the butcher’s son was on his way to England.  He was made an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society, which also commissioned him to write a new symphony, his seventh.

His seventh to be composed, perhaps, but it was not known as such during his lifetime.  Although four of his previous six symphonies had been performed, Simrock had published only one, the sixth, as “Symphony No.1” .  When he took the new symphony on, therefore, Simrock numbered it as Dvořák’s Second (and subsequently issued the fifth as “No. 3”). Simrock nearly did not publish the symphony at all, after he and Dvořák fell out over the difference between the fee Simrock was prepared to pay and the fee Dvořák felt he was due. The dispute was eventually resolved in Dvořák’s favour, but the issue flared up again a few years later, which would lead to his next symphony being published by the English firm of Novello & Co.

The Seventh (as we may now definitively refer to it) is a self-consciously epic work by a composer highly aware of his position as both an internationally renowned composer and a representative of his people’s nascent national identity.  From its brooding opening though its lyrical and fiery middle movements  to its noble yet tragic conclusion it reflects the time of its creation, and the struggles of the Czech people to establish a voice and a nation for themselves. Yet it also looks wider: Dvořák takes many cues from Brahms, whose third symphony had recently been unveiled, and which influence can be heard particularly strongly in the second movement.   The note he scribbled on the sketch for this movement, “From the sad years”, refers to the Czech longing for independence, but also to more personal concerns.  The recent death of his mother was still at the front of his mind, but this must also have brought back memories of the previous decade, hen in the pace of two years his three eldest children all died in infancy.  Perhaps this sharp demonstration of the fragility of life spurred Dvořák to play his part in the rebirth of his nation. “Twenty years ago we Slavs were nothing,” he told the Gazette. “Now we feel our national life once more awakening, and who knows but that the glorious times may come back which five centuries ago were ours, when all Europe looked up to the powerful Czechs, the Slavs, the Bohemians, to whom I, too, belong, and to whom I am proud to belong.”

Matthew Taylor: Storr

Matthew Taylor (b. 1964)

Duration: 15'
Publisher: Peters Edition
KSO performed: 2013
“The Old Man of Storr” (or “Storr”) is a collection of rock formations which lie high on the Totteridge peninsular on the Isle of Skye. It is one of the most impressive and best loved sights on the island noted particularly for its highly distinctive craggy outcrops, appearing like jagged, giant teeth protruding from the ground. But equally spectacular is the massive expanse of barren terrain just below these cliffs known as “The Sanctuary”.
I was so struck by the beauty, majesty and grandeur of Storr after my first ascent that I felt compelled to compose a symphonic poem on the subject, even if the precise character, scoring and overall architecture of the piece still remained unclear at this early stage.
When my old friend Tom Hammond approached me with the idea of commissioning a new work for the Essex Symphony Orchestra he suggested a piece which might provide a parallel, in a general sense, with two other works  which conjure specific landscapes, The “Needles” Overture and “Blasket Dances” . The choice of “Storr” seemed obvious.
The work is cast in four continuous sections and last about 13 minutes. The opening is slow and spacious but becomes increasingly reflective and lyrical as it continues, suggesting the first impressions of Storr in the midst of ever- changing cloud formations seen from a distance and at ground level. It leads directly into a second fast section which evokes a steep ascent through forestry with sudden flickers of sunlight and occasional glimpses of bright sky. The texture of the music is very light and transparent but nonetheless highly charged and active, perhaps resembling something of the mood of a Mendelssohn scherzo. Eventually a climax is reached which marks the opening of the third part. There is a more deliberate, striding momentum here conveying large open spaces on a plateau which soon relaxes into an extended flute solo - distant bird song . The final section, another ascent, takes the form of a vigorous fugue introduced by cellos. This last climb is perhaps the most strenuous part of the journey, but there is nonetheless a great sense of expectancy as the summit of Storr is now very close, even if we are more fully exposed to the elements. But we are rewarded with magnificent vistas when reaching the peak where the music culminates on a huge string chord stretching over many octaves clearly outlining the tonal centre of E.
Storr was commissioned by the Essex Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by the PRS Foundation and The Britten Pears Foundation. It was first performed by the Essex Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tom Hammond in Christchurch , Chelmsford, Essex on Saturday 3 March 2012.
It is dedicated to Charles and Jo Warden, my wife’s parents who were the first to introduce me to the glories of Skye. The full score was composed between March and August 2011.
The performance tonight is the London premiere.
© Matthew Taylor 2011

Lyadov: Eight Russian Folk Songs

Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914)
Eight Russian Folk Songs, Op. 58

  1. Religious Chant. Moderato
  2. Christmas Carol “Kolyada”. Allegretto
  3. Plaintive Song. Andante
  4. Humorous Song “I Danced With The Gnat”. Allegretto
  5. Legend Of The Birds. Allegretto
  6. Cradle Song. Moderato
  7. Round Dance. Allegro
  8. Village Dance Song. Vivo

Duration: 15'
Publisher: Public Domain
KSO performed: 2013 

If Lyadov is remembered at all now, it is generally as the composer who failed to come up with the goods for Diaghilev, thus paving the way for a young upstart called Igor Stravinsky to make his name.  This is rather unfair.  Although Diaghilev certainly considered Lyadov for the job, there is little evidence that he got as far as asking him about it, and none that Lyadov ever received such an offer.  A good story often wins out against facts, however, and so Lyadov’s place in history remains as the composer too lazy to write The Firebird.

Nevertheless, it remains true that Lyadov never managed to complete any of the larger scale works that he began. It all began so brightly for him.  He was born into a musical family: his father was a conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre. He entered the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1870 aged only 14, initially to study piano and violin, but soon joining Rimsky-Korsakov’s composition class. Unfortunately his appalling attendance record at lectures led to his expulsion in 1876, although he did manage to secure re-admittance two years later in time to graduate.  Thereafter he held a number of teaching posts at the Conservatory, and was considered a talented pianist and conductor, as well as a sympathetic teacher.

If he had indeed inherited a family trait of lack of concentration and slack approach to work, his meagre output is at least as much due to an intense self-criticism and lack of confidence in his own ability.   His great strength was as a miniaturist, evident in his piano pieces and orchestral tone poems. In the late 1890s he developed a growing preoccupation with Russian folk song, and eventually published several volumes of tunes that he had collected for the Imperial Geographical Society.  Some of these he arranged for orchestra, and this suite of eight finely-crafted miniatures was completed in 1906.