Sunday 24 November 2019
THIS IS MARK’S FAREWELL CONCERT
Tonight’s concert will be Mark’s last as the KPO’s principal music director. He joined us 17 years ago at the inspired suggestion of Margaret Whittall, our for-mer leader. As I remember it, we didn’t have an extended audition period, we just knew that he would be an excellent fit, combining a larger than life person-ality with superb musicianship and interpretive skills.
His first concert was modest in terms of scale – necessarily so because the or-chestra was small, not the full symphony orchestra you see today. There was a bassoon concerto chosen, presumably, because Mark’s first instrument is the bassoon. There was Delius, reflecting his love of English music from the early part of the last century. And Mozart, one of his favourite composers, but one we have only rarely been entrusted to perform such is the stylistic perfection needed.
There have been 50 concerts since then, taking the orchestra on a journey through some of the most exciting music in the symphonic repertoire – Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Brahms amongst others. When we have performed Shostakovich, we have been in the hands of an internation-ally acknowledged master interpreter. His performance of Shostakovich’s 10th symphony in 2017 was particularly memorable for all involved.
Along the way, we have been privileged to play with a range of outstanding so-loists who have respected and enjoyed Mark’s musicianship and enthusiasm. Amongst them has been Melina Mandozzi who has performed with us regularly. She told us recently that KPO concerts were the place where she felt most free to express herself musically. That is some tribute.
Mark has always been meticulously prepared for rehearsals with bowings sorted out well in advance, derived from careful research in the archives of the Vienna and Berlin orchestras. It has been a rare victory for a front desk to negotiate even a single change to the bowing against that backdrop. It will be a wrench not to hear some of his favourite instructions to us in rehearsal: “more vodka, you are not playing Elgar”; “I want your bows to be rosin factories”; “it’s not what I want, it’s what the composer wants”; “if you can hear your partner, you’re not playing loudly enough”.
We wish Mark well. He has further professional Shostakovich and film score recording projects in the pipeline and the possibility of resuming his long-standing association with Kentish Opera.
In recognition for all he has done for the orchestra, we have made him our Con-ductor Emeritus.
Chris Thresh (KPO Chairman)
Ludwig van Beethoven
Overture “Fidelio” Op. 72b
It was appropriate and, perhaps, inevitable that the lives of Beethoven and Napo-leon should become intertwined. Each in his own field championed the ideals of liberty and equality, even if the spirit of fraternity between the two titans was strained to breaking point when Napoleon was declared Emperor in April 1804 – leading to the famous desecration of the dedication of the Eroica symphony. An Emperor, in Beethoven’s eyes, was the antithesis of a liberator; and Beethoven was driven by concepts of liberty that would brook no argument.
So the tale of Léonore, based on real events and transformed into a melodrama by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, was perfectly guaged to appeal to Beethoven as the basis for an opera. A young woman had disguised herself as a boy and managed to work her way into the forbidding state prison in Touraine, where she then freed her aristocratic husband who was a political prisoner. The allegory of oppression and the liberating power of pure feminine love was clear and Bouilly had to trans-late the action to seventeenth-century Spain in an attempt to avoid the wrath of the censors.
Beethoven worked tirelessly on his opera, which was named “Fidelio” (faithful one) because at least three others had written a “Leonora” already. As 1805 pro-gressed, and the Eroica was given its first performance, Europe braced itself for another eruption of revolutionary warfare. The first performance of Fidelio was fixed for 20 November. On 5 October Napoleon surrounded the Austrian army at Ulm. Two weeks later the Austrians surrendered. Salzburg fell and Vienna was in mortal danger. Beethoven meanwhile was rehearsing manically, fighting with everyone in sight and close to nervous collapse. On 13 November, the French van-guard entered the city. Napoleon took up residence at Schönbrunn Palace. One contemporary commentator summarised the disaster with typical Viennese ele-gance: “From the distance the thunder of war was rolling towards Vienna and this robbed audiences of the serenity necessary for the enjoyment of a work of art.” Another wrote that “the entry of the French into Vienna was an experience to which, at first, the Viennese could not become accustomed, and for a few weeks a most unusual silence reigned. The Court, the courtiers and most of the great landowners had left; instead of the usual ceaseless rattle of coaches lumbering through the streets, one rarely heard so much as a simple cart creeping by.”
The result was recorded in a diary entry for 20 November by Joseph Carl Rosen-baum:
“At the [Theatre] am Wien the first performance of Beethoven’s Grand Opera Fidelio or Conjugal Love in 3 Acts. … The opera contains pretty, ar-tistic and difficult music, a boring, not very interesting book. It was not a success and the theatre was empty.”
The theatre remained empty for subsequent performances, apart from a smatter-ing of occupying French officers who did not understand the language or the iro-ny of their being there; and it was swiftly withdrawn. There then followed for Beethoven a period of painful introspection and revision before the Fidelio that now stands as a monument of classical romantic opera emerged in its final form. Beethoven wrote three Leonora Overtures for the opera in its early form, each marvellous in its own way. By the time that the definitive version of the opera was ready in 1814, it no longer started with an aria in C minor, but with a duet in A major. It was therefore necessary to produce a new overture that would fit with the new key. The result was tonight’s “Fidelio Overture”. Unlike its Leonora predecessors, it does not draw on music or incidents from the opera; but it “vividly conveys a sense of tension, anxiety and the struggle ahead.” The initial libertarian fanfare is swiftly interrupted by music that almost smells of the perils of despotic imprisonment. The fanfare and perilous intervention are repeated, and then follows an allegro which gradually builds the hope that liberty will tri-umph. In 1823 the English magazine, Harmonicum, wrote that “the overture to the opera of “Fidelio” is a very eccentric composition, full of genius, and never fails to please the cognoscenti.” Fortunately, Beethoven’s is now recognised as a universal language, and the overture never fails to please. Period.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K.425
In 1781 Mozart’s employment with the irascible Archbishop Colloredo finally came to an end as he was unceremoniously kicked out of the palace while being abused as “Bursch” (fellow) and “Flegel” (clown) and other words that do not bear repeating. At the age of 26 he was therefore free: free of the chains of aris-tocratic employment and free from any vestige of an income. So he did what any footloose and fancy-free young genius on the make might do: he went to Vienna and took lodgings with the Weber family while composing a stream of master-works, including the Gran Partita K.361. The inevitable happened: having as-sured his anxious father, Leopold, that he had no intention of marrying, he led Constanza Weber to the altar on 4 August 1782.
Leopold was appalled; and to mollify him, Mozart resolved to present his wife to his disapproving father at the first opportunity. The young couple made the jour-ney back to Salzburg shortly after the birth of their first child on 17 June 1783, arriving in July and staying until late October. Though a musical success, the visit did not achieve its main object: neither Leopold nor Mozart’s sister Nannerl were reconciled to Wolfgang’s marriage or to his wife.
What happened next is best told by Mozart himself, in a letter to his father from the city of Linz, where they had intended to stop briefly. The letter is dated 31 October 1783:
“Right after we arrived the young Count Thun, the brother of Count Thun in Vienna, came up to me and informed me that his father had been ex-pecting our visit for 2 weeks and I should drive to his house directly be-cause he wanted us to stay with him. I said I could easily find an inn; but when we came to the city gate of Linz the next day, a servant was waiting for us to take us to Count Thun the Elder, where, in fact, we are staying at this moment. It is hard to describe the wealth of courtesies that are being showered upon us in this house. On Tuesday, that’s November 4th, I will give a concert at the theatre here. And as I didn’t bring one single sym-phony with me, I’ll have to write a new one in a hurry, for it has to be finished by that time. I must close now for I have to work at once.”
So we have it on the best authority that Mozart wrote tonight’s symphony in a maximum of four days. It was dedicated to the generous Count Thun, who might reasonably have felt he had got a bargain.
The symphony is the first by Mozart to start with a slow introduction, with mar-tial dotted rhythms doffing their cap to contemporary French style and wistful dialogue in the minor key. There follows a bustling Allegro, into which the prom-inent bassoon part occasionally projects a more pensive note. Some have sug-gested that one can hear echoes of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, while others say one can sense the spirit of Il Seraglio, which had first been performed the year before and was then his most famous piece. The slow second movement is in the form of a lilting Siciliano in 6/8 time, infused with an indefinable yearning and echoing horn-calls. Then a slightly galumphing minuet (reminiscent of Papa Haydn) gives way to a perfectly heavenly trio. Described by one writer as “demurely rustic”, listen for the oboe and violins an octave apart, playing a tune of liquid beauty in canon with the bassoon, who follows as if commentating on what has just been revealed. After the repeat of the Minuet, the final Presto brings one to a breathless conclusion, with a return of the dotted rhythms em-phasised by trumpets and drums.
Just over eight years later, at the age of 35, Mozart was dead and buried in a pauper’s grave. But still to come were another five symphonies, the great piano concertos, quartets and quintets, Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, Don Giovanni¸ The Mag-ic Flute, the Requiem and much much else besides. Astonishing genius.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4, in E Minor
There is, as Tom Stoppard pointed out, an art to the building up of suspense. In 1884, when Brahms started work on his fourth symphony, he was recognised by all with ears to hear as one of the greatest composers. His third symphony had been a triumphant success; and he was at the peak of his powers. But the worm of doubt had begun to gnaw at his confidence. He was 51: was he past it? He wrote the fourth over two years, rather than his usual one: was this consummate mastery, or just that his creative powers were waning?
We can see the nagging progression of his doubts as the time for performance approached. On 29 August 1885 he wrote to his close musical friend Elizabeth Von Herzogenberg including the manuscript of the first movement:
“Will you allow me to send you a piece of mine, and would you have time to glance at it and send me a word about it? Generally speaking, my piec-es are, unfortunately, pleasenter than I am and people find less in them that needs putting right! The cherries in this part of the world never grow sweet and are uneatable – so if the thing is not to your taste don’t hesitate to say so. I am not at all eager to write a bad No. 4 ….”
Elizabeth’s first reply, on 6 September, hedged her bets:
“The movement from the symphony has already been heaving many sighs and groans under my unskilled hands. …. There are still quite a lot of passages where I still get quite lost…. .”
On 31 September she wrote again, encouragingly but in terms that cannot have soothed Brahms’ nerves:
“Now I already know it much better, that precious E minor movement; I have so often played it over either in my mind or on the piano … that we have become quite intimate friends already. … I now have such a definite sense of the hills and valleys in this movement that I have lost the impres-sion that it is complicated; or rather I have changed my mind about the complications being a defect, as I was inclined to think at first.”
Brahms replied on 10 October, sending her the full symphony arranged for two pianos:
“Do let me hear something about it soon! Please, please! I am still doubtful whether I should bother the public with it. …. And now thank you very much indeed for your dear letter – I needed it badly. For I am much more diffident about my work than you think ….”
At about the same time, Brahms arranged to play the symphony through in the two-piano arrangement to a few selected friends and supporters, including Max Kalbeck (who was to be his biographer) and the celebrated critic Hanslick (who championed Brahms as vehemently as he excoriated Bruckner). He told Kalbeck that he had “thrown together a bunch of polkas and waltzes” but something quite else emerged. If he was hoping for encouragement, he got nothing of the kind. At the end of the first movement, there was a deafening silence until Hanslick said “I feel like I’ve just been beaten up by two terribly intelligent peo-ple.” Brahms ploughed on, but at the end there was more silence. The next day Kalbeck took his life-long friendship in his hands and tried to persuade Brahms to withhold the piece, possibly issuing the last movement as a free-standing work. As he arrived he was greeted with the words:
“Of course I noticed you did not like the symphony yesterday, and that hurt. If my music doesn’t please people like Billroth, Hanslick or you, who is it supposed to please?”
Brahms refused to hold back the work. But his confidence was severely shaken. He wrote to his publisher:
“I haven’t the ghost of an idea whether I’ll let the thing be printed. … You’d be insane to invest a groschen in it.”
He had promised the premiere to the Duke of Meiningen’s wonderful Court Or-chestra, and set off for rehearsals as the guest of the Duke. At first the complexi-ties seemed overwhelming, but gradually the musicians came round. He was clearly still in a state of some uncertainty when he wrote to Clara Schumann:
“I came here a few days ago and am rehearsing the new symphony. I have worked long and hard at it, thinking of you all the time, and wondering whether it might prove a very doubtful pleasure for you. … As the piece pleases musicians (and does not entirely displease me) I can’t exactly re-fuse to let Bulow [the Meiningen orchestra’s chief conductor] travel around a bit with it.”
The symphony was performed for the first time on 25 October 1885 with Brahms conducting. Far from disappointment, each movement was applauded and there was an ecstatic ovation at the end. So great was the success that the Duke stayed behind and was given the privilege of hearing the last two movements again. It was then toured by the orchestra with Bulow conducting, to great and immediate success. When the great violinist Joseph Joachim performed it in Ber-lin, the Herzogenbergs were there and Elizabeth wrote post haste that the per-formance was “overpowering, beyond all we had imagined.” Joachim declared it to be his favourite of Brahms’ four symphonies. Only the premiere in Vienna was greeted coolly. Hanslick wrote of Brahms’ “deep well”. But both he and Vienna were eventually converted. And the symphony has stayed as a central pillar of the symphonic repertoire ever since.
At the safe distance of the twenty-first century it is hard to imagine the pangs that Brahms endured during the symphony’s gestation. But in one sense Hanslick was right: Brahms had invested the symphony with all his intellect, skill and craftsmanship and it was not until the orchestral colours began to shine through that the whole could truly come to life. One modern commentator has referred to “the sense of uncompromising intellectual complexity and refinement of this music.” Familiarity means that we can think of Brahms’ musical language as al-most conventionally 19th-century: but that is because, with this work, Brahms defined the mature language of the symphonic tradition he had inherited from Beethoven. In an essay written in 1947, Arnold Schoenberg took this symphony as the epitome of what he called “Brahms the Progressive”, referring to the music emerging from “a simultaneous and indivisible combination of inspiration and intellectual skill” as Brahms works his magic, using simple fragments as building blocks.
The first movement starts with the violins providing a theme built around de-scending thirds but appearing as “alternating sighs and leaps”. The music gathers energy until a mini-fanfare introduces the noble second subject on the cellos and the horns, with off-beat chords accompanying. As the movement develops it generates ever-increasing tension, developing the opening sequence of the movement and peppered by interruptions based on the rhythm of original mini-fanfare, until crashing chords of E minor at last bring it to a conclusion. The mood changes utterly as two horns utter what might almost be a call to pilgrims to come to prayer. It hovers between E minor and C major before miraculously settling into E major. Once again the movement is like a great arch, containing some of Brahms’ most passionate and profound orchestral writing as the second subject twice forms the fulcrum, before it subsides once more. The third move-ment is a rumbustious Scherzo with dramatic leaps and shifts of key, with a con-trasting and lyrical second theme introduced by the violins with whistling flute and piccolo darting about. The overwhelming sense is of a “tremendous momen-tum”. But then comes another startling change of mood. Eight chords are de-claimed, which form the basis for 30 variations in the form of a Passacaglia or Chaconne. The theme is a conscious tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach, being based upon a chaconne in that master’s cantata No. 150. But the rest is pure Brahms, such that it seldom if ever feels like a set of variations in the traditional sense: the effect is of an organic whole that leads inevitably to its climactic con-clusion. No happy endings – solidly ending in E minor, it is sometimes thought to have a valedictory air. But, fortunately for us, there was still much to come be-fore Brahms’ deep well ran dry.
A final word: the incandescently wonderful recording by Carlos Kleiber with the Vienna Philharmonic remains by a country mile the greatest interpretation known to man, though there are many other fine versions.
Jeremy Stuart Smith—November 2019
CONDUCTOR – Mark Fitz-Gerald
Mark Fitz-Gerald studied at the Royal College of Music, where his professors included Norman Del Mar, winning all the major prizes for both orchestral and operatic conducting. From 1983 to 1987 he was Artistic Director of the RIAS Jugendorchester (West Berlin) where his innovative Filmharmonic Concerts received much acclaim.
Since then, he has performed the specialised task of accompanying silent films live with orchestra, with much success throughout the world. His performances of the Trauberg/Shostakovich classic New Babylon (1929) received much critical acclaim. And, with the help of Irina Shostakovich and Krzystof Meyer he restored the complete score to another Trauberg/Shostakovich film, Odna (1929/31), con-ducting the world première in Holland. He later conducted the work in Paris and at the Barbican Centre with great success.
In 1986 Mark was appointed Music Director of Kentish Opera, with whom he has conducted many successful productions. He has assisted regularly at the Vienna Staatsoper, as well as the Vienna Kammeroper, and in 1992 he made his debut at the Volksoper with The Cunning Little Vixen. Mark has worked regularly as guest conductor with orchestras such as the Frankfurt Radio Sym-phony Orchestra and the Comische Oper Berlin, and has made guest appear-ances with leading orchestras such as the LPO and the Northern Sinfonia.
Mark is a much recorded artist, particularly of film music. His 2008 CD of Shos-takovich’s Odna was a Naxos best-seller. Other acclaimed world première Shostakovich recordings have been issued since then, including the first ver-sion of the Ninth Symphony. At the request of Naxos and the DSCH centre, Mark reconstructed and recorded the score to the 1955 film Ovod (The Gadfly) from the original manuscript and Russian film soundtrack. Recently, he has restored and recorded two more Shostakovich scores: Love and Hate and The Bedbug. These were released on the Naxos label in October 2019.
Mark appears regularly at the international silent film festival in Pordenone, . In 2016 he conducted, to wide acclaim, his reconstruction of Mortimer Wil-son’s vast 1924 score for the Douglas Fairbanks film The Thief of Bagdad. A second public performance with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, rec-orded by Hessischer Rundfunk ,took place in Frankfurt in April in preparation for issue on CD and DVD.