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VÄNSKÄ CONDUCTS SEASON PREMIERE LIVE: SERENADES AND STRINGS

Livestream and broadcast performance without in-person audience.

Osmo Vänskä conducts the works by Montgomery and Tchaikovsky

This program series is made possible in part by a generous lead gift from
Kathryn and Charles Cunningham.
 

Sponsored by TCF Bank.

Artists

Program

    • Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
    • Serenade No. 12 in C minor, K. 384a [388]
      • I. Allegro
      • II. Andante
      • III. Menuetto in canone
      • IV. Allegro
        • John Snow, oboe
        • Julie Gramolini Williams, oboe
        • Gabriel Campos Zamora, clarinet
        • David Pharris, clarinet
        • Fei Xie, bassoon
        • J. Christopher Marshall, bassoon
        • Michael Gast, horn
        • Brian Jensen, horn
    • ca. 22’
    • Jessie Montgomery
    • Strum
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 7'
    • Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    • Serenade in C major for Strings, Opus 48
      • I. Pezzo in forma di sonatina: Andante non troppo – Allegro moderato
      • II. Walzer: Moderato – Tempo di valse
      • III. Elégie: Larghetto elegiaco
      • IV. Finale (Tema Russo): Andante – Allegro con spirito
        • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 29'

Profiles

Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Since becoming the Orchestra’s music director in 2003, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has led the ensemble on several major international tours, including historic tours to Cuba and South Africa and six visits to Europe. His recording projects with the Orchestra have met with great success, including a disc of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony issued in summer 2020. In January 2020 Vänskä began a new tenure as music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also the honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Vänskä, who began his music career as a clarinetist, has recorded Bernhard Henrik Crusell’s three Clarinet Quartets and Kalevi Aho’s Clarinet Quintet for the BIS label and is in the process of recording several duos for clarinet and violin which he has commissioned with his wife, violinist Erin Keefe.

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Minnesota Orchestra

The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 and led since its centennial by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, is recognized for distinguished performances around the world, award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts, educational engagement programs, and commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of the future. The Orchestra tours regularly throughout Minnesota and nationally, and has also toured abroad in Australia, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South Africa. It performs a wide variety of music at nearly 175 concerts in a typical year, primarily at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. It is beginning its 2020-21 concert season with a series of six Friday night concerts in Orchestra Hall featuring smaller ensembles of Minnesota Orchestra musicians performing for TV, radio and online audiences.

At Home Video Collection

Program notes

  • Serenade No. 12 in C minor, K. 384a [388]

    Wolfgang Amadè Mozart

    • Born
      January 7, 1756
      Salzburg, Austria
    • Died
      December 4, 1791
      Vienna, Austria

    Serenade No. 12 in C minor, K. 384a [388]

    • Composed
      ca. July 1782

    In Mozart’s time, a serenade was typically a light-spirited piece of chamber music composed for a court festivity or other public occasion; in short, party music. Thus it comes as a surprise that the Serenade No. 12 is in the somber key of C minor. Its scoring, however, is typical of the serenade genre: a wind octet—pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns. (Just one of each wouldn’t suffice; social events featuring serenades often took place outdoors, where the sound had to carry.)

     

    Truth to tell, Mozart’s C-minor Serenade is a serenade in name only, since its four movements unfold like a symphony, though cast for only four pairs of instruments. It is hardly festive or typical of a serenade, for Mozart omitted the customary marches and extra dance movements. The composer referred to it as “night music,” a term applied to much social music of the times—but its somber mood and powerful expression would surely have subverted the expectations of nobles dining and drinking in elegant gardens.

     

    A class by itself

    With its lofty tone and serious thoughts, this work is in a class by itself. It dates from July 1782, when Mozart was busy with the premiere of The Abduction from the Seraglio. Suddenly he received a letter from his father, asking him to compose a symphony for a friend’s ennoblement. The composer responded with a single Allegro movement, stating: “I could do no more because I had hurriedly to write a serenade, but only for wind instruments.” The serenade in question seems to have been this work in C minor. The purpose for which Mozart wrote it remains a mystery, though it may have been requested by one of the Princes Liechtenstein.

     

    Of special interest is the minuet, set as a canon of chasing melodies. Oboes present the melody one measure ahead of the answering bassoons and two octaves above; clarinets and horns supply the harmony. The trio, which turns to the major key, is a canon whose answer is played upside down. All in all, there is something Beethovenian about this music. What did noble guests think of it? Were they relieved by the all’s-well-that-ends-well close? Vienna’s first great freelance musician was never meant to be a servant, and this C-minor Serenade asserts his autonomy.

     

    What’s in a name?

    An editor’s note on Mozart’s name:

     

    Although Mozart’s full name is usually rendered today as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a moniker cemented in popular culture thanks in part to the 1984 film Amadeus, the composer actually referred to himself—and signed his name—most often as Wolfgang Amadè Mozart. In fact, “Amadeus” did not appear in the original records of his name, entered at baptism as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. As he aged, the multilingual Mozart became partial to Amadè, the French equivalent of Theophilus, and he seems to have used the Latin form, Amadeus, only rarely and apparently in jest, as when he signed some letters in mock Latin as “Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus.” Within a generation of Mozart’s death, however, the name “Amadeus” had prevailed due to its use in a stream of influential biographies. Recent years have seen a resurgence of “Amadè” among some scholars and musicologists—on the grounds that it was Mozart’s preferred name—and the Minnesota Orchestra has followed their lead.

     

    Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and 2 horns 

     

    Program note by Mary Ann Feldman.

  • Strum

    Jessie Montgomery

    • Born
      1981
      New York City; now living there

    Strum

    • Premiered
      April 2006

    With increasing frequency, the works of American composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery are carving out a place in the orchestral repertory. Among them is Strum, originally composed in 2006 in the time after Montgomery’s graduation from the Juilliard School and before she earned a master’s degree at New York University. It has been performed numerous times in its various iterations for string quintet, string quartet and string orchestra, and more than ten different performances can be viewed on YouTube. In 2015 Strum became the title track of Montgomery’s debut album of music for strings, and tonight it receives its first performance by the Minnesota Orchestra.

     

    A New York success story

    A native of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Montgomery is among the foremost composers of her generation, and her works are regularly brought to life by leading soloists and ensembles around the globe. Active as a composer, violinist and educator, for two decades she has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which was founded by Aaron Dworkin and supports young African American and Latinx classical musicians. She currently serves as composer in residence for The Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s premier performing ensemble. In addition, she is a graduate fellow in music composition at Princeton University. This past summer, the Mannes School of Music in New York appointed her to its composition and violin teaching faculties, effective in the 2020-2021 academic year.

     

    Recent commissions have come from leading musical ensembles and organizations including the New York Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, National Choral Society and ASCAP Foundation. This fall her work Banner was the first work heard in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s season opening concert, one of many recent and upcoming performances of her music. Last season her works were scheduled to be performed by major orchestras such as London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony, the Dallas Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. In addition, last October the Minnesota Orchestra played her work Starburst in concerts at North Community High School and Orchestra Hall. Montgomery’s Strum, in its original form, was commissioned by Community MusicWorks and premiered in April 2006. Six years later the composer expanded it for string orchestra in the version shared tonight.

     

    Words from the composer

    Click here to watch Jessie Montgomery introduce Strum.

     

    Montgomery offers these additional comments on the work:

     

    Strum is the culminating result of several versions of a string quintet I wrote in 2006. It was originally written for the Providence String Quartet and guests of Community MusicWorks Players, then arranged for string quartet in 2008 with several small revisions. In 2012 the piece underwent its final revisions with a rewrite of both the introduction and the ending for the Catalyst Quartet in a performance celebrating the 15th annual Sphinx Competition.

     

    “Originally conceived for the formation of a cello quintet, the voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound. Within Strum I utilized texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinati that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece. Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement, the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.”

     

    Instrumentation: string orchestra

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • Serenade in C major for Strings, Opus 48

    Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    • Born
      May 7, 1840
      Votkinsk, Russia
    • Died
      November 6, 1893
      St. Petersburg, Russia

    Serenade in C major for Strings, Opus 48

    • Premiered
      December 3, 1880 (private performance); October 30, 1881 (public performance)

    In the fall of 1880, Tchaikovsky set to work simultaneously on two very different pieces. One was the Serenade for Strings; the other was the 1812 Overture. The composer loved the first of these, but had no use for the second.

     

    To his benefactress, Madame Nadezhda von Meck, he wrote: “I have written two long works very rapidly: the festival overture and a Serenade in four movements for string orchestra. The overture will be very noisy. I wrote it without much warmth or enthusiasm; and therefore it has no great artistic value. The Serenade on the contrary, I wrote from an inward impulse: I felt it; and I venture to hope that this work is not without artistic qualities.”

     

    In a way, the two pieces are opposites, for the Serenade—lyric, open, relaxed—is everything the bombastic 1812 Overture is not, and it comes as no surprise that Tchaikovsky had such fondness for this music.

     

    The music: Tchaikovsky at his friendliest

    pezzo in forma di sonatina: andante non troppo–allegro moderato. Tchaikovsky intended this work’s opening movement as an homage to one of his favorite composers: Mozart. Although Tchaikovsky called the composition a serenade and specifically set the first movement in sonatina form—both of which suggest an absence of rigorous formal development—this music is nevertheless beautifully unified. The powerful descending introduction quickly gives way to the Allegro moderato, based on two subjects: a broadly-swung melody for full orchestra and a sparkling theme for violins. Tchaikovsky brings back the introductory theme to close out the movement.

     

    walzer: moderato–tempo di valse. Waltzes were a specialty of Tchaikovsky, and this movement is one of his finest. It gets off to a graceful start, grows more animated as it proceeds, then falls away to wink out on two pizzicato strokes.

     

    elégie: largetto elegiac. The third movement, titled Elegie, begins with a quiet melody that soon grows in intensity and beauty. The mood here never becomes tragic—the Serenade remains, for the most part, in major keys—but the depth of feeling with which this Larghetto elegiaco unfolds makes it the emotional center of the entire work.

     

    finale (tema Russo): andante–allegro con spirito. The finale has a wonderful beginning. Very quietly the violins play a melody based on a Russian folk tune, reputedly an old hauling song from the Volga River, and suddenly the main theme bursts out and the movement takes wing. The Allegro con spirito theme is closely related to the introduction of the first movement, and at the end Tchaikovsky deftly combines these two themes to bring one of his friendliest compositions to an exciting close.

     

    Instrumentation: string orchestra

     

    Program note by Eric Bromberger.

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