Hallam Sinfonia: Resurgence 2.0

Saturday 19 June, 7.30pm

Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, Sheffield

Jon Malaxetxebarria – Conductor

Hannah Thompson-Smith – Violin

Mozart

Marriage of Figaro Overture

Beethoven

Romance in F

Ives

The Unanswered Question

Haydn

Symphony no.104

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Marriage of Figaro Overture

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 Composed 1786 

Given its premiere on the 1st of May 1786, The Marriage of Figaro was written whilst Mozart was at the peak of his compositional powers. He had freed himself from the secure yet low-earning post of the Salzburg court, and travelled to Vienna where, having firstly liberated himself of dissatisfying employment under the Archbishop Colloredo (where it is said he was dismissed with a literal kick up the bum), he eventually found greater fame and fortune.

It was Count Orsini-Rosenburg, the director of Vienna's Burgtheater, that invited Mozart to write an opera buffa, who in turn found influence and inspiration in the works of Pierre Beaumarchais (who, incidentally, was rather a colourful character; as well as playwright, his occupations also included watchmaker, spy, horticulturist and arms dealer). Beaumarchais had already achieved success with Le Barbiere de Séville, which itself was turned into opera, firstly by Paisiello and then later (and more famously) Rossini, and its sequel Mariage de Figaro was of great interest to Mozart. He brought it to his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, who managed to sidestep the Austrian censors and gain favour from the Emperor by removing all overtly political references from the original's text - notably Figaro's climactic rant against inherited nobility.

The opera enjoyed modest success on debut, despite only having been given an inital run of 9 performances at the Burgtheater, not a patch on the regularity of future hit The Magic Flute. Mozart himself conducted the first two from the keyboard and it was largely deemed a success by both critics and the public, despite the presence of loud paid hecklers, likely employed by a rival librettist miffed not to have been given the gig himself. Any discomfort Mozart may have felt will surely have been eased by the pay packet of 450 florins - said to be three times as much as his yearly salary in Salzburg.

It's easy to see why The Marriage of Figaro (or Le nozze di Figaro) has become one of the true staples of the operatic catalogue. The bubbly, vivacious writing perfectly underpins the farcical twists and turns of the plot; the weaving of mistaken identities and emotional turmoils seemingly apparent in the agility of the very opening bars of the overture, which barely pauses for breath over the course of its brief 4-minute running time. The sense of mischief is further conveyed through gloriously cheeky chromaticisms and heavily accented cadence points, with its overall sense of shape and form, despite overall brevity, perfectly encapsulating Mozart's talents.

[Notes by Chris Noble]

 
 

Romance in F

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 Composed c.1798, Published 1805 

 

This work was published after his third symphony when Beethoven was in ill health, beginning to lose his hearing, and in romantic turmoil; Europe too was embroiled in war and Beethoven’s Vienna was occupied by Napoleon’s troops. The music itself however was composed when Beethoven was a relatively care-free twentysomething, recently established as Vienna’s greatest pianist and a notable composer of chamber music. the Romance No. 2 (composed before the Romance No. 1) may in fact be one of the earliest mature compositions for orchestral forces Beethoven made, perhaps intended for an early violin concerto which Beethoven never completed.  

The title ‘Romance’ here was a catch-all title of the period for works of this length and style, and not necessarily a description of it’s meaning or character. The piece does however certainly have a romantic air and our soloist Hannah Thompson-Smith sees in it ‘...Beethoven taking us through the dreaminess yet turmoil of love between two people, trying to come to some sort of answer or conclusion, which is eventually a happy one’. Beethoven was yet to meet Julie “Giulietta” Guicciardi by this point and she is the person thought most likely to be his ‘Immortal Beloved’ and the source of much of Beethoven’s romantic angst in later years. This piece then is perhaps a snapshot of a happier but no less ardent Beethoven who was contented, healthy, and at peace.

The Romance is in a slow tempo, and uses a Rondo Form (ABACA + coda), The A section is first stated by the violin (‘Pure and innocent’ says Hannah) and then taken up by the orchestra. The contrasting sections take us to more turbulent territory, occasionally flirting with minor tonalities and getting lost in remote harmonies, but the music rarely strays too far from the tone of the opening, and we end in contentment.

[Notes by Tom Davies]

 

The Unanswered Question

Charles Ives (1874-1954)

 Composed 1906/1908, Published (illegally) 1941 

 

During his lucrative career Charles Ives wrote groundbreaking works including ‘Work or Fight’ (1918), ‘The Amount to Carry: Measuring the Prospect’ (1912), ‘How to read the rate book’ (1920), and probably his most read pamphlet: ‘Life Insurance with Relation to Inheritance Tax’ (1918). Had he been reliant on his musical income (playing the church organ and a few self-published compositions) he would surely have been bankrupt, rather than the millionaire he became through his pioneering work in insurance. Almost none of Ives’ colleagues knew he was composing music in his spare time that was at least 50 years ahead of its time. It’s perhaps worth noting that the majority of The Unanswered Question was composed closer in date to Haydn’s Symphony 104 than the present day.

 

Charles Ives had an early, unique exposure to music which left its mark; His Father had been a union army band leader during the civil war and would perform musical experiments with his sons, instructing them to sing in one key, whilst accompanying them in another. The young Charles Ives would also listen to several of the Connecticut community marching bands rehearsing in the same space, and evidently enjoyed hearing the simultaneous melodies in conflict. He would return to that polytonal sound world repeatedly throughout his life, and it is evident especially in The Unanswered Question, although in a much less terrestrial style.

In The Unanswered Question the strings play quietly throughout representing “The Silence of the Druids – who know, see and hear nothing”. The trumpet several times intones “The Perennial Question of Existence” to which a woodwind quartet of “Fighting Answerers” initially try to respond usefully. This quartet eventually “realise futility and begin to mock ‘The Question'” until we are left in “Undisturbed Solitude”. 

Charles Ives left behind a fascinating catalogue of music including 6 Symphonies, two dozen orchestral sets and other works for orchestra, 2 string quartets, 4 violin sonatas, two dozen keyboard and organ works, 12 cantatas, and almost 200 songs that range in character from drinking songs (Son of a Gambolier - for piano, voice, kazoos, and optional symphony orchestra) to atonal dirges (The Majority). His experimental music often prefigured modernism by several decades, experimenting with extreme dissonance, tone rows, bitonality, quarter-tones, and polyrhythms.

[Notes by Tom Davies]

 

Symphony no.104 (D Major)

Franz Joseph Haydn (1735-1809)

 Composed 1795 

1. Adagio/Allegro

2. Andante

3. Menuet and Trio

4. Finale: Spirituoso

 

Confusingly nicknamed ‘the London Symphony’ this was the last of 12 symphonies Haydn composed on his sojourns in London. Haydn was newly freed from his tenure at the Esterházy court and lept at the opportunity given by Johann Peter Salomon to visit London, not least for the financial incentive. Haydn quickly became a London celebrity, and his music, his social life, and even his dinner choices became newsworthy events in the capitol.

 

The premier of this, his final symphony was fantastically well received by critics and public alike, the Times wrote:

 

‘...such a combination of excellence was contained in every movement, and inspired all the performers as well as the audience with enthusiastic ardor. Novelty of idea, agreeable caprice, and which combined with all Haydn’s sublime and wonted grandeur, have added consequence to the soul and feelings of every individual present.’ 

 

The symphony begins with a foreboding minor statement that foreshadows his pupil Beethoven (left behind by Haydn in Vienna). The characteristically slow, thoughtful introduction that follows seems introspective and almost funereal, but, soon enough Haydn relieves the tension with the unexpectedly light, airy, and major main theme of the movement. This first movement is Haydn showing London and the world his everlasting powers of using and developing a musical motif; all of this movement derives its material from that one theme, something Europe would not hear again perhaps so completely until Beethoven’s 5th symphony.

In a typically Classical balancing act the 2nd movement starts calmly in a major key and explodes into fits of passion in a minor key, mirroring the 1st movement. The theme here is repeated in several variations and it’s part of Haydn’s enduring charm that he has the ability to elevate his own light, almost childlike material into something charming, complex, and unexpected. 

Haydn’s 3rd movement is brimming with the same sense of the charmingly unexpected, full of odd pauses, hiccups, trills of laughter - there is a definite sense of revelry here that possibly sees Haydn out on the town in London. In his ebullient final movement, Haydn makes sole use of a melody which Haydn would have known as a Croatian folk tune, but which was apparently also used by London Peddlars to advertise “Hot cross buns!” and “Live cod!”.

[Notes by Tom Davies]

 

Jon Malaxetxebarria

Conductor

Born in Gernika in the Basque Country of Spain, Jon Malaxetxebarria’s career as a conductor is now established mainly in Spain and in the United Kingdom.

In Spain he has conducted many ensembles such as the Orquesta Radio Televisión Española, the Basque Country Symphony Orchestra, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Navarra Symphony Orchestra, Oviedo Filarmonía, Orquesta Sinfónica de Extremadura, the Orfeón Pamplonés and the Malaga Philharmonic. Since 2016 he has been Music Director of the Basque Youth Orchestra.

In the UK he has conducted Manchester Camerata, Liverpool Mozart Orchestra, Crosby Symphony Orchestra, Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallam Sinfonia, North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra and the Derbyshire City & County Youth Orchestra. He has been Music Director of Solihull Symphony Orchestra since September 2013.

As a keen advocate of new music, Jon performed the world premiere of Simon Dobson’s Trombone Concerto with Peter Moore and the RNCM Brass Band, broadcast on BBC Radio 2. Following his studies at Roosevelt University, Chicago, with Dale Clevenger, in 2010 Jon moved to Manchester to study orchestral conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM).

Upon completion of his studies he was awarded the Mortimer-Furber Prize in Conducting, and in 2011 was appointed as conductor of the Junior RNCM. Jon is Senior Lecturer in Conducting at Leeds College of Music, a position he assumed in 2014.

Jon’s recent and future engagements include a live broadcast with the Orquesta Radio Televisión Española, a concert with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra at the Musikaste contemporary music festival, and his work as Assistant Conductor for two opera productions at the Liceu (Barcelona) and the Teatro Real (Madrid).

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