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Saturday, 19 October 2013 12:24

Symphony Preview: After the ball + Video

Yo-Yo Ma Yo-Yo Ma
Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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As I wrote in a previous post, there are two St. Louis Symphony concerts this weekend: the regular concert series on Friday and Sunday with Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu on the podium and Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma as the soloist; and the annual "Red Velvet Ball" fundraiser concert on Saturday night with David Robertson conducting and celebrity cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the solo spot. Here's a preview of the latter.

The two big events of the evening will, of course, be the cello concertos.  They represent a nice balance of styles and should show off both the instrument and Mr. Ma's talents nicely.

Haydn circa 1770
Painting by
Ludwig Guttenbrunn

The first is Haydn's Concerto No. 1 in C major, Hob. VIIb/1 ("Hob." refers to the definitive catalog of over 750 Haydn works by Dutch collector and musicologist Anthony von Hoboken).  It's an early work, written somewhere around 1761-65 (when Haydn was in his 30s) and apparently intended for Haydn's friend Joseph Franz Weigl, who was the principal cellist of Prince Nicolaus's Esterházy Orchestra at the time. Judging from the difficulty of the solo part, Weigl must have been quite the virtuoso.  He might also have played the ensemble cello part as well since the score has only one cello line, marked either "solo" or "tutti" ("all," indicating the orchestral part).

Haydn wrote only two cello concertos, and two decades would elapse before he produced another one.

Fun Fact: The concerto was lost until 1961, when a copy turned up in the Prague National Museum.

The second (and longer) solo work another Cello Concerto No. 1.  This one, in A minor is the Op. 33 of the prolific French romantic master Camille Saint-Saëns.  Like Haydn, Saint-Saëns was in his 30s when he wrote this in 1872.  Also like Haydn, he wrote it for a specific performer: the Belgian cellist, viola de gamba player, author, and instrument maker Auguste Tolbecque.  It, too, is a work that demands a great deal from the soloist—which makes it very popular with top-drawer soloists like Mr. Ma.

Camille Saint-Saëns
(Tully Potter collection)

Unlike the Haydn concerto, this one unfolds in one long movement, running around 20 minutes.  It breaks up into three sections, with two fast end movements bracketing a more lyrical "Allegretto," but they're all closely related thematically.  The concerto ends with an appropriately flashy finale.

Fun Fact: Like Haydn, Saint-Saëns wrote only two cello concertos, and he let quite a bit of time elapse between them.  His second concerto was written in 1902, three decades after the first.

The concert opens with the overture to Franz von Suppé’s 1866 operetta Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry).  It's one of his most popular pieces, so even if you don't recognize the name it's a safe bet you'll recognize the music—especially the "galloping" tune that follows the slow introductory fanfare.

Suppé's grave
at the Zentralfriedhof

Suppé is a classic example of the composer who achieved fame and fortune in his lifetime, only to slide into obscurity afterwards. Although he wrote thirty operettas and hundreds of other works, mostly for the stage, Suppé is represented these days almost entirely by a handful of overtures—at least on this side of the Atlantic. Some of his operas still see the light of day in Europe, particularly in his native Austria. Fortunately his Requiem and some of his stage works are available on CD for those curious as to what the rest of his music sounds like.

Fun Fact: The overture's opening fanfare was the theme for the afternoon movie series Men at War on (if my memory is correct) channel 4 (KMOV) here in St. Louis in the 1950s.  As you might guess from the title, the series featured old war movies, mostly from WW II.

In between the two concertos is the overture to Zampa, an 1831 opéra comique by French composer Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold.  An opéra comique is not a comic opera, by the way, but a musical theatre piece in which there is spoken dialog between the arias.  It's an ancestor of operetta and, for that matter, American musicals.

Hérold by
Louis Dupré, 1830

The plot of Zampa is a farrago of the sort of improbable coincidences that Gilbert and Sullivan loved to lampoon in their operettas, complete with an absurdly supernatural ending that's an obvious reference to Mozart's Don Giovanni.  The opera itself fell out of favor in the early 20th century but the rousing overture is still a concert favorite.

Fun Fact: In his time, Hérold was very successful and even earned the French Legion of Honor in 1828.  Today he's remembered only for the Zampa overture and, to a lesser extent, the ballet La fille mal gardée (The Wayward Daughter) from the year in which he got his Legion of Honor.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

The concert takes place after the Red Velvet Ball fundraiser on Saturday, October 19th.  The black tie ball begins at 7:30, the concert at 8:30.  Tickets are available for both the concert and for the whole gala package, which includes preferred seating, cocktails, dinner and dancing.  For more information:

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