Pelléas and Mélisande – suite, Op. 80
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Rhenish”), Op. 97
About the event
“Emotional rollercoaster with a happy ending”―perhaps this would be the best description of our program featuring the tragic story of Pelléas and Mélisande, Saint-Saëns’s occasionally impetuous cello concerto exploring polarized emotions and finally a Schumann symphony inspired by positive experiences. The concert will be conducted by Gergely Madaras, whose international renown is shown by his selection as artist of the month in September 2019 by Mezzo TV, which even shot a documentary about him. Alisa Weilerstein, known for her powerful, hypnotic cello playing, will perform the solo. Her interpretation of Saint-Saëns’s concerto was described in the New York Times as “technically flawless and deeply expressive: her vibrato saturated with meaning, her lyricism slinking and menacingly enigmatic”.
Belgian Nobel Prize laureate Maurice Maeterlinck’s Symbolist drama Pelléas and Mélisande has made an enormous impact on several composers of the time. Debussy, Schoenberg and Sibelius all based works on the story, though Gabriel Fauré beat them to it. The ordinarily slow composer completed the incidental music for a London production of the play in one and a half months, and recycled his music in a four-movement suite in 1899. The first movement evokes the mystical forest where Golaud, represented by the horn, discovered Mélisande. After a spinning song filled with oboe and horn solos comes a musical depiction of the bliss of the title characters. The work concludes with the death of Mélisande — this heart-rending movement was also played at Fauré’s funeral.
Around 1870, Saint-Saëns conducted several pieces by Liszt―no wonder he came to be greatly influenced by his colleague. The Cello Concerto in A minor consists of a single movement containing three distinct sections, which share interrelated motifs in a manner reminding one of Liszt’s thematic transformation. The first movement begins with one short chord from the orchestra, followed by the cello theme, which is picked up by various instruments throughout the movement. The same theme also opens the finale. The first and last movements frame a subtle minuet. The technically challenging and virtuosic composition was regarded by both Rachmaninov and Shostakovich as the best cello concerto of all time.
Schumann’s appointment as Düsseldorf’s music director helped him recover from a difficult period in his life. He was inspired to write the symphony after a happy trip with his wife to their new home and called it “a piece of life in Rhineland.” Though he later discarded the explicit program, the nickname “Rhenish” stuck. The nature music of the first movement opening with a heroic theme is followed first by a scherzo with a ländler (German folk dance) and a drinking song and then by a slow movement with static harmonies and restrained orchestration. The solemn fourth movement inspired by the Cologne Cathedral and infused with trombones eventually yields to a light but spirited finale with a dance feel.
Did you know? Fauré’s suite premiered in London on June 21, 1898 (conducted by the composer), Saint-Saëns’s cello concerto was first performed in Paris on January 19, 1873 (soloist: Auguste Tolbecque, conductor: Édouard Deldevez), the first night of Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony was in Düsseldorf on February 6, 1851 (conducted by the composer); the Festival Orchestra last played the suite in Budapest on November 30, 2014 (conductor: Robin Ticciati), Rhenish Symphony in São Paulo on May 8, 2011 (conductor: Iván Fischer), and will be performing the cello concerto now for the first time.
Contemporary events French painter Henry Matisse painted The Pink Wall in 1898 / The War of the Worlds, a novel by English Writer H. G. Wells was published in 1898 / in 1898, French composer Ernest Chausson was working on the last movement of his string quartet when he died in an accident; the composition was completed by Vincent d’Indy / in 1873, The Three Emperors’ League, as it is called, was formed by the monarchs of the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the German Empire / A Season in Hell, a volume by French poet Arthur Rimbaud first appeared in 1873 / French painter Éduard Manet painted The Railway in 1873 / in September 1851, the first secondary school final examinations were held in Hungary / Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s book entitled On my Work as an Author was published in 1851 / the first night of Rigoletto, the opera of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was in Venice on March 11, 1851