Summer 2022

AUG 5 | Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony

Gil Shaham holding a violin

AUG 5 | 8 PM

Immerse yourself in the sweeping drama of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, an epic work radiating the composer’s grand vision for American music. Dynamic conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya leads the program, which also features Tchaikovsky’s fearsomely difficult Violin Concerto performed by Gil Shaham—“the outstanding American violinist of his generation” (Time Magazine).


“Vltava” (“The Moldau”)
from Má Vlast (My Country)

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Gil Shaham, violin


Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”

GIL SHAHAM, violin
Gil Shaham walking through the city carrying his violin

Gil Shaham is one of the foremost violinists of our time; his flawless technique combined with his inimitable warmth and generosity of spirit has solidified his renown as an American master. The Grammy Award-winner, also named Musical America’s “Instrumentalist of the Year,” is sought after throughout the world for concerto appearances with leading orchestras and conductors. He regularly gives recitals and appears with ensembles on the world’s great concert stages and at the most prestigious festivals.

Highlights of recent years include the acclaimed recording and performances of J.S. Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin. In the coming season, in addition to championing these solo works, he will join his long time partner, pianist Akira Eguchi, in recitals throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

Shaham regularly appears with orchestras around the world, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, and San Francisco Symphony, as well as multi-year residencies with the Orchestras of Montreal, Stuttgart, and Singapore. With orchestras, Shaham continues his exploration of “Violin Concertos of the 1930s,” including the works of Barber, Bartok, Berg, Korngold, Prokofiev, among many others.

Shaham has more than two dozen concerto and solo CDs to his name, earning multiple Grammys, a Grand Prix du Disque, Diapason d’Or, and Gramophone Editor’s Choice. Many of these recordings appear on Canary Classics, the label he founded in 2004. His CDs include 1930s Violin Concertos, Virtuoso Violin Works, Elgar’s Violin Concerto, Hebrew Melodies, The Butterfly Lovers, and many more. His most recent recording in the series 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 2, including Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto and Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2, was nominated for a Grammy Award. His latest recording of Beethoven and Brahms Concertos with The Knights was released in 2021.

Shaham was born in Champaign-Urbana, IL, in 1971. He moved with his parents to Israel, where he began violin studies with Samuel Bernstein of the Rubin Academy of Music at the age of 7, receiving annual scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. In 1981, he made debuts with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic, and the following year, took the first prize in Israel’s Claremont Competition. He then became a scholarship student at Juilliard and also studied at Columbia University.

Shaham was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1990, and in 2008 he received the coveted Avery Fisher Prize. He plays the 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius, and lives in New York City with his wife, violinist Adele Anthony, and their three children.

Lidiya Yankovskaya holding a baton

Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya is a fiercely committed advocate for Slavic masterpieces, operatic rarities, and contemporary works on the leading edge of classical music. She has conducted more than 40 world premieres, including 16 operas, and her strength as a visionary collaborator has guided new perspectives on staged and symphonic repertoire from Carmen and Queen of Spades to Price and Prokofiev. Her daring performances before and amid the pandemic earned recognition from the Chicago Tribune, which praised her as “the very model of how to survive adversity, and also how to thrive in it,” while naming her 2020 Chicagoan of the Year.

In the 2021-2022 season, Yankovskaya made a trio of Texan debuts, leading performances of Carmen at Houston Grand Opera, a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and concerts featuring works by Gershwin and Dawson with the Fort Worth Symphony. Elsewhere, she debuted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, led The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Bang on a Can All-Stars in Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields at Carnegie Hall, and conducted concerts with the symphony orchestras of Elgin, Omaha, and Pasadena. At Chicago Opera Theater, she conducted the Chicago premiere of Mark Adamo’s Becoming Santa Claus and a concert version of Carmen, starring Jamie Barton opposite Stephanie Blythe.

Yankovskaya has recently conducted Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera, Pia de’ Tolomei at Spoleto Festival USA, Der Freischütz at Wolf Trap Opera, Ellen West at New York’s Prototype Festival, and the world premiere of Taking Up Serpents at Washington National Opera. As Music Director of Chicago Opera Theater, Yankovskaya has led the Chicago premieres of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick, Rachmaninov’s Aleko, Joby Talbot’s Everest, Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and the world premiere of Dan Shore’s Freedom Ride.

Yankovskaya is Founder and Artistic Director of the Refugee Orchestra Project, which proclaims the cultural and societal relevance of refugees through music, and has brought that message to audiences in New York, London, Boston, Washington, DC, and the United Nations. She has also served as Artistic Director of the Boston New Music Festival and Juventas New Music Ensemble, which was the recipient of multiple NEA grants and National Opera Association Awards under her leadership.

As Music Director of Harvard’s Lowell House Opera, Yankovskaya conducted sold-out performances of repertoire rarely heard in Boston, including Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the U.S. Russian-language premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden. Her commitment to exploring the breadth of symphonic and operatic repertoire has also been demonstrated in performances of Rachmaninoff’s Aleko and the American premieres of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei, Rubinstein’s The Demon, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchej The Immortal and Symphony No. 1.

An alumna of the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors and the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, Yankovskaya received Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards in 2021 and 2018. She has served as assistant conductor to Lorin Maazel, chorus master of Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Vladimir Jurowski, conductor of Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.


Vltava (The Moldau) from Má Vlast (My Country) (1874)
Bedřich Smetana
Born March 2, 1824 in Leitomischl, Bohemia.
Died May 12, 1884 in Prague.

Early in 1874, Smetana began to suffer from severe headaches. This symptom came and went, and he noted no other physical problems until October. “One night I listened with great pleasure to Leo Delibes’ Le Roi l’a dit,” he reported. “When I returned home after the last act, I sat at the piano and improvised for an hour on whatever came into my head. The following morning I was stone deaf.” Smetana was terrified. He wrote to his friend J. Finch Thorne that a ceaseless rushing filled his head: “It is stronger when my brain is active and less noticeable when I am quiet. When I compose it is always in evidence.” He tried many unguents, ointments, and treatments during the ensuing months but they brought no relief—Smetana did not hear a sound for the last decade of his life. He continued to compose but withdrew more and more from the world as he realized he could not be cured, eventually losing his reason (in the margin of score of the 1882 D minor Quartet he scrawled, “Composed in a state of disordered nerves—the outcome of my deafness”) and ending his days in a mental ward.

It is one of the great ironies in 19th-century music that Smetana conceived the first melody for Má Vlast (My Country), the splendid cycle of six tone poems inspired by the land and lore of his native Bohemia, at the same time that he lost his hearing. Had he not been able to look to the example of the deaf Beethoven, he might well have abandoned this work, but he pressed on and completed Vyšehrad by November 1874 and immediately began The Moldau, which was finished in less than three weeks, on December 8th. Sárka and From Bohemia’s Woods and Meadows date from the following year; Tábor was finished in 1878 and Blaník in 1879.

The Moldau (Vltava in Czech) is the principal river of the Czech Republic, rising in the hills in the south and flowing north through Prague to join with the Elbe. Smetana’s tone poem seems to trace its inspiration to a country trip he took along the river in 1870, a junket that included an exhilarating boat ride through the churning waters of the St. John Rapids. The Moldau is disposed in several sections intended to convey both the sense of a journey down the river and some of the sights seen along the way, as Smetana noted in his preface to the score:

“Two springs pour forth in the shade of the Bohemian Forest, one warm and gushing, the other cold and peaceful. Their waves, gaily flowing over rocky beds, join and glisten in the rays of the morning sun. The forest brook, hastening on, becomes the river Moldau. Coursing through Bohemia’s valleys, it grows into a mighty stream. Through thick woods it flows, as the gay sounds of the hunt and the notes of the hunter’s horn are heard ever nearer. It flows through grass-grown pastures and lowlands where a wedding feast is being celebrated with song and dance. At night, wood and water nymphs revel in its sparkling waves. Reflected on its surface are fortresses and castles—witnesses of bygone days of knightly splendor and the vanished glory of fighting times. At the St. John Rapids, the stream races ahead, winding through the cataracts, hewing out a path with its foaming waves through the rocky chasm into the broad riverbed—finally, flowing on in majestic peace toward Prague and welcomed by the time-honored castle Vysehrad. [At this point, Smetana recalled the main theme of the complete cycle’s preceding tone poem, entirely devoted to depicting the ruined castle and its aura of ancient battles and forgotten bards.] Then it vanishes far beyond the poet’s gaze.”

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 35 (1878)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk.
Died November 6, 1893 in St. Petersburg.

In the summer of 1877, Tchaikovsky undertook the disastrous marriage that lasted less than three weeks and resulted in his emotional collapse and attempted suicide. He fled from Moscow to his brother Modeste in St. Petersburg, where he recovered his wits and discovered he could find solace in his work. He spent the late fall and winter completing his Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onégin. The brothers decided that travel outside Russia would be an additional balm to the composer’s spirit, and they duly installed themselves at Clarens on Lake Geneva in Switzerland soon after the first of the year.

In Clarens, Tchaikovsky had already begun work on a piano sonata when he heard the colorful Symphonie espagnole by the French composer Edouard Lalo. He was so excited by the possibilities of a work for solo violin and orchestra that he set aside the sonata and immediately began a concerto of his own. By the end of April, the composition was finished. Tchaikovsky sent the manuscript to Leopold Auer, a friend who headed the violin department at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and who was also Court Violinist to the Czar, hoping to have him premiere the piece. Much to the composer’s regret, Auer returned the piece as “unplayable,” and apparently spread that word with such authority to other violinists that it was more than three years before the Violin Concerto was heard in public. It was Adolf Brodsky, a former colleague of Tchaikovsky at the Moscow Conservatory, who first accepted the challenge of this Concerto when he premiered it with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1881.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto opens quietly with a tentative introductory tune. After a few unaccompanied measures, the violin presents the lovely main theme. The second theme begins a long buildup leading into the development, launched with a sweeping presentation of the main theme. A flashing cadenza serves as a link to the recapitulation. The Andante suggests the music of a Gypsy fiddler. The finale is imbued with the spirit of a fiery Russian dance.

Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, “From the New World” (1892-1893)
Antonín Dvořák
Born September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia.

Died May 1, 1904 in Prague.

When Antonín Dvořák arrived in New York in September 1892 to direct the new National Conservatory of Music, both he and the institution’s founder, Mrs. Jeanette Thurber, expected he would foster an American school of composition. He said, “I am convinced the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. They can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition in the United States.” The “New World” Symphony was not only Dvořák’s way of pointing toward a truly American musical idiom but also a reflection of his own feelings about the country. “I should never have written the Symphony as I have,” he said, “if I hadn’t seen America.”

The “New World” Symphony is unified by the use of a motto theme that occurs in all four movements. This bold, arching phrase is played by the horns as the main theme of the opening movement, having been foreshadowed in the slow introduction. Two other themes are used in the first movement: a sad melody for flute and oboe that exhibits folk characteristics, and a brighter tune resembling the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot for the solo flute. The second movement was inspired by the forest funeral of Minnehaha in Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, and the third by the dance of the Indians at the feast. The finale employs a sturdy motive introduced by the horns and trumpets after a few introductory measures in the strings.

©2022 Dr. Richard E. Rodda




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