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UMS Concert Program, April 27, 1977: The Ann Arbor May Festival -- The Philadelphia Orchestra

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Concert: First
Complete Series: 4060
Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The University Musical Society
The University of Michigan
Eugene Ormandy, Music Director and Conductor William Smith, Associate Conductor
Soloist GARY GRAFFMAN, Pianist
Wednesday Evening, April 27, 1977, at 8:30 Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
AllRachmaninoff Program
"The Isle of the Dead," Op. 29
?Concerto No. 2 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18 Moderato Adagio
Allegro schcrzando
Gaky Graffman intermission
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 Non allegro
Andante con moto (tempo di valse) Lento assai; allegro vivace
Available on RCA Red Seal
First Concert Eightyfourth Annual May Festival Complete Programs 4060
by Richard Freed
"The Isle of the Dead," Op. 29......Sergei Rachmaninoff
In 1906, following two conspicuously successful seasons as conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Rachmaninoff took his wife and infant daughter to Dresden, where he would have more time to devote to his creative work, free from commitments as a performer. He and his family remained in Dresden for three years, returning to Russia only for the summers, and it was during the early part of that period that he composed two of his most successful works for orchestra, the Second Symphony and the tone poem The Isle of the Dead.
Rachmaninoff chose Dresden not only for its own appeal, but also for its proximity to Leipzig, a city whose musical activity and museums interested him; in one of those museums hung Arnold Bocklin's painting Die Toteninsel ("The Isle ot the Dead"). Bbcklin (18271901) was a Swiss Romantic whose melancholy style and sumptuously dark coloration struck an especially sympathetic chord in Rachmaninoff--who was not, however, the only composer to respond to Bocklin's work with music. (Max Reger, for one, composed a "Bbcklin Suite" of four shorter tone poems, one of them on this same painting.) This particular painting shows an island which is almost entirely cliff, rising awesomely from the water into a sunless sky; a portal has been carved through which the boat bearing a coffin may enter, and in the center, beyond the entrance, cypresses rise taller than the rocky sepulchre. The small boat making its way toward that grim portal bears a coffin across its bow, draped with wreaths; a solitary figure, shrouded in white, stands over it, and a single oarsman sits astern.
Curiously, it appears that Rachmaninoff did not see this painting until after he had composed his tone poem of the same name, under the inspiration of a blackandwhite sketch Bbcklin made after completing the painting. The music was composed in April and May 1907 and first performed, under the composer's direction, on May 1, 1909, in Moscow. During the twoyear interval Rach?maninoff did see the painting itself, and remarked: "If I had seen the original first, I might not have composed my We of the Dead. I like the picture best in black and white."
The music, in any event, seeks to evoke a mood more than to tell a story, though details of the visual image are reflected in it. The opening suggests the water quietly lapping against the shoreless cliffsidc. At length the horn breathes a lamentation; the undulating figure of the opening becomes more animated and the lamentation is taken up more poignantly by the oboe. The opening figure asserts itself still more energetically, and the lamentation takes the form of a brass chorale, its shape now recognized clearly as what was only hinted earlier: it was a variant of the Dies Irae, the ancient chant for the dead (which figures in several of Rachmaninoff's other works, from the earliest to the last).
The middle section corresponds to one of Rachmaninoff's great slow movements, reaching an emotional peak in the strings' soaring lyrical transformation of the lament theme. This rapturous effect is dispelled by a menacing orchestral irruption which leads to the concluding section, in which the insistent tread of the Dies Irae prevails in one form or another as other materials are reheard. Finally the melodic fragments dissolve, even the murmuring of the water is stilled, and darkness is complete: lamentation has ended, memory has vanished, and only stillness remains.
Rachmaninoff conducted performances of The Isle of the Dead with several American orchestras within a year of the premiere; the first recording of the work was made by The Philadelphia Orchestra under his direction in April 1929.
Concerto No. 2 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18 . . Rachmaninoff
Dr. Nikolai Dahl, to whom Rachmaninoff dedicated this Concerto, was godfather to the work in an unusually active sense. Rachmaninoff went into a period of depression that tied up his creative activity for nearly three years after the dismal failure of his First Symphony in 1897; toward the end of 1899 he consulted Dr. Dahl, whose specialty was treating such disorders through autosug?gestion and who was especially interested in Rachmaninoff since he himself was an accomplished amateur violinist and ardent chamber music player.
The treatment consisted of daily sessions from January through April of 1900, during which Dr. Dahl more or less hynotized Rachmaninoff, repeating to him over and over again: "You will begin to write your concerto. . . . You will work with great facility. . . . Your concerto will be of excellent quality . . ." Before the year was out Rachmaninoff performed the second and third move?ments of his Second Concerto at a concert conducted by his cousin. Alexander Siloti, and on November 9, 1901, he played the work in full with the Moscow Philharmonic.
Complete selfconfidence was elusive even then. Less than a week before the premiere Rach?maninoff was tormenting himself with doubt about the new concerto. To Nikita Morozov, who had
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Again, an appropriate climax is given to a very active concert season with the traditional May Festival--and at the same time anticipation of another season is created with the current announcement of our 99th year of presentations. Continuity depends upon the faithful support of large and enthusiastic audiences. For such loyalty and support we are most grateful.
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undertaken an analysis of the work, he wrote that in playing through the first movement "it only now becomes clear to me that the transition from the first theme to the second is not any good, that as it stands now the first theme is not the first theme but an introduction, and that no fool will believe when I begin to play the second theme that that is the beginning of the Concerto. I feel the whole first movement is spoiled, and from this minute on it is repulsive to me. I am simply in despair. And why did you start with this analysis of yours five days before the performance!!!"
Despite these misgivings, the Concerto was a huge success. Less than a year after the premiere Siloti played the solo part in St. Petersburg with Arthur Nikisch conducting, and they then took the work on a very successful European tour. In 1904 the Concerto won for Rachmaninoff the first of his two Glinka Prizes (the second came four years later, for the Second Symphony), and by then it had already established itself with audiences everywhere. It remains to this day the most popular concerto composed in this century.
Like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff knew how to create a good tune; themes from both of the outer movements of this Concerto were adapted for popular songs in the 1940s (when the genre still existed). The firstmovement theme became Think of You, while the big theme in the finale (not actually invented by Rachmaninoff, but given to him, he said, by the aforementioned Morozov) was fitted out with the immortal verses of Full Moon and Empty Arms. Neither text, fortunately, is likely to intrude itself into the minds of today's listeners.
Between these outer movements, both filled to the brim with striking color and rhythmic effects as well as melodic abundance, is a slow movement that must be reckoned one of the most exalted products of Rachmaninoff's inspiration. The delicacy of the scoring, the tasteful balance of the various elements, and the unforced genuineness in this Adagio soslcnuto (in E major) add up to expressiveness on the most intimate, and perhaps downright poetic, level.
As the exquisite Adagio is no mere interlude, the dramatic outer movements are no mere frame for it. The measure of Rachmaninoff's genius is in the even and sustained level of this remarkable work's appeal, from the first bar to the last.
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45..........Rachmaninoff
From the Third Piano Concerto onward (a work composed for his first American tour in 1909), all of Rachmaninoff's major works for orchestra were introduced in the United States, where he was also most active as a pianist and conductor in the fortyfive years following his departure from Russia. Most of these works were in fact introduced by The Philadelphia Orchestra, for which the Symphonic Dances were composed in 1940. The first performance of this work was given by the Orchestra on January 4, 1941, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy, to whom the score is dedicated.
Rachmaninoff did not actually take up residence in America until 1935, and most of the work on his Third Symphony, which he began that year, was done at his summer home in Switzerland. The only work he composed fully in this country was his last, the Symphonic Dances, which fol?lowed the Third Symphony after a hiatus of four years in his creative activity and which may be the finest of all the music he wrote for orchestra without a solo part for piano. Rachmaninoff him?self was a little surprised to have produced such a work at that time. "I don't know how it hap?pened," he remarked; "it must have been my last spark." And so it was, ior the composer died two years after the premiere of the Symphonic Dances, without attempting any further composition.
One area in which Rachmaninoff, almost alone among Russian composers, never worked was that of the ballet. He was delighted with Fokine's ballet to hi Rhapsody on a Theme o) Paganini, but said that he had no choreographic use in mind when he composed the Symphonic Dances. This does not rule out the idea of programmatic significance, however. Rachmaninoff originally thought of giving an individual title to each section of this triptych--"Midday," "Twilight" and "Midnight," symbolizing three stages of life-but decided to let the tempo markings suffice, and that decision seems quite in keeping with the essentially symphonic nature of the work.
In the first of the Dances (Non allegro) there are, as in the Fourth Concerto, syncopated sections which may or may not represent conscious allusions to jazz, but the notion is reinforced by the conspicuous presence of the alto saxophone. Rachmaninoff had never written for that in?strument before, and before undertaking to fit it into his orchestral fabric he sought the advice of Robert Russell Bennett, the celebrated Broadway orchestrator. The movement, more striking for its rhythmic strength than for its themes, is in sonata form.
Andante con moto (Tempo di valse) is the heading of the second movement, which comes from a world somewhere between the Valsc triste of Sibelius and the gently nostalgic concert waltzes of Glazunov but displays a sense of fantasy entirely Rachmaninoff's own. The evocation of a gradually nocturnal mood is quite successful.
The final movement, after a brief introductory Lento assai, is a dramatic Allegro vivace whose dark events are more than intimated by the prominent citation of the Dies Irae, the traditional chant for the dead, which Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Saint Saens used in various descriptive works and which Rachmaninoff himself had quoted or alluded to in his Paganini Rhapsody and First Symphony as well as The Isle of the Dead.
International Presentations -1977--78
Choral Union Series Hill Auditorium
Beverly Sills, Soprano.........Friday, September 23
Philharmonia HungaricaPeters.......Sunday, October 23
Lazar Berman, Pianist.........Thursday, November 3
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestrade Waart . . Friday, November 11 National Orchestra of BrazilKarabtchewsky . . Sunday, November 20
Rudolf Serkin, Pianist........Wednesday, January 18
Leontyne Price, Soprano........Wednesday, January 25
Moscow Philharmonic OrchestraKitaienko . . . Monday, February 27 Baltimore Symphony OrchestraCommissiona .... Sunday, March 19 Bavarian Symphony OrchestraKubelik.....Saturday, April 8
Choice Series Power Center
Murray Louis Dance Company.......Monday & Tuesday,
October 17 & 18
George Shearing Quintet.......Wednesday, October 19
The Hoofers--A Jazz Tap Happening.....Saturday, October 22
The Pennsylvania Ballet.....Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
November 14, 15, 16
Ballet Folklorico Mexicano.......Saturday, November 19
Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Ballet . . . Thursday, Friday, Saturday, The Pittsburgh Ballet December 15, 16, 17
Jose Molina Bailes Espanoles......Wednesday, January 11
Rossini's Barber oj Seville--Canadian Opera Company . . Sunday, January 15 Hungarian Folk Ballet & Gypsy Orchestra . . . Tuesday, January 17
Eliot Feld Ballet........Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
February 20, 21, 22
Nikolais Dance Theatre........Tuesday & Wednesday,
March 21 & 2'2
Chamber Arts Series Rackham Auditorium
Beaux Arts Trio..........Wednesday, October 12
Suk Trio.............Tuesday, October 25
Concord String Quartet........Sunday, November 6
Freiburg Baroque Soloists.......Thursday, November 17
Camerata Orchestra of SalzburgJanigro .... Friday, January 20 French String Trio & Michel Debost, Flutist . . . Friday, February 3 Orpheus Chamber Ensemble & The Festival Chorus . . Saturday, March 25 Amadeus String Quartet.........Thursday, April 6
Debut Recital Series Rackham Auditorium
Murray Perahia, Pianist........Thursday, October 27
Mirella Freni, Soprano.........Tuesday, November 8
Aleksander Slobodyanik, Pianist......Saturday, February 25
KyungWha Chung, Violinist........Thursday, March 23
Asian Series Rackham Auditorium
Penca (The Art of SelfDefense) and
Topeng Babakan (Masked Dance), West Java . . Saturday, November 12
Thovil, Sri Lanka..........Wednesday, March 1
Okinawan Folk Dancers.........Tuesday, March 28
New brochure available; series ticket orders for above now being accepted and filled in sequence.
May Festival 1978
The Philadelphia Orchestra (four concerts).....April 2629
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