Check it out
What: St. Louis Symphony
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 17; a pre-concert talk by conductor David Robertson starts at 6 p.m.
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis
Tickets: $55-$99 general, $27.50-$49.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787
The St. Louis Symphony will be in residency at UC Davis for several days next week, with the highlight being a concert by the full orchestra at the Mondavi Center at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 17. The concert will feature music by Viennese composers of distinctly different eras over a span of some 133 years — the Symphony No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1803), a famous set of variations by Johannes Brahms (1873) and the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg (1936).
The St. Louis Symphony, one of the nation’s oldest and best-regarded orchestras, is no stranger to Mondavi’s Jackson Hall — they performed here in April 2010 under conductor David Robertson, who will conduct Sunday’s upcoming concert as well.
Robertson is a busy man: He toured Europe with the St. Louis Symphony last September, he conducted Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” at the Metropolitan Opera last October, he is leading the St. Louis Symphony on a California tour this month, he will conduct three concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as three concerts with the New York Philharmonic during April and he will conduct three concerts with the San Francisco Symphony in late May/early June.
The soloist for the St. Louis Symphony’s Mondavi program will be a new face for local audiences — James Ehnes, who was born in the Canadian province of Manitoba, began studying the violin at age 4 and went on to study at the Juilliard School. His current season includes appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England. As a recording artist, Ehnes has won a Grammy Award, as well as six of Canada’s Juno Awards.
Ehnes is noted for his interpretations of 20th century and contemporary music; he’s recorded works for violin by the likes of Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Béla Bartók and John Adams. So Ehnes should be very much in his element when he assays the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg, a member — along with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern — of the Second Viennese School, which radically altered the musical landscape of the early 20th century.
Berg’s violin concerto manages to combine lyrical moments within the 12-tone system of composition, and the musical patterns in the piece are tightly organized. Scholars in recent decades also have “decoded” musical references to events in the composer’s personal life. The Violin Concerto also was the last piece Berg finished; he died of an infection stemming from an insect sting not long after he finished work on the score.
Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Haydn” is a popular standard — Brahms takes a modest chorale that traditionally was attributed to Haydn, though modern scholars have disputed the association, and then transforms the chorale’s central musical figure again and again, changing the rhythm, texture and color as the focus shifts from one section of the orchestra to another.
Beethoven’s Second Symphony was written when the composer was in his early 30s, and personally distressed because he was having more and more problems with his hearing, and realizing there would be no cure. But whatever personal anguish the composer was experiencing is not evident in this music, which is frequently energetic and cheerful.
While the Second Symphony is still modeled to a degree on the late symphonies of Josef Haydn, under whom Beethoven briefly studied, Beethoven is starting to make changes — where the clever and courteous Haydn would have composed a danceable minuet for the third movement, the more impulsive Beethoven inserts a pungent scherzo, and the final movement conveys a kind of nervous energy and drive that forecasts Beethoven’s music in years to come.
As one writer has put it, the Second Symphony is “music that Haydn would have understood, but couldn’t have written.”
Tickets for the March 17 performance are $55-$99 general, $27.50-$49.50 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787. There will be a 6 p.m. pre-concert talk, featuring conductor David Robertson in conversation with Don Roth, the Mondavi Center’s executive director.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8055.