Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
Program Notes: Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) is often considered the founder of Russian classical music. Before him, the Russian musical scene was imported heavily on Europe and based on German tradition. Glinka broke with this and infused his music with Russian folk melodies and the diversity found in the expansive Russian empire. His two operas, A Life of the Tsar and Russlan and Ludmilla, laid the groundwork for all the great Russian composers to follow who built upon the idea of producing home-grown Russian music with its own unique style and interpretation. The opera’s initial premiere in St. Petersburg met with mixed reception, partly because of the Italian opera craze sweeping the musical scene in Russia. However, its premiere in Moscow at the Bolshoi Theatre was a resounding success and it has been performed more than 700 times at the Bolshoi since it premiered. While not popular as staged work in the United States, it is perhaps one of the most thrilling and notoriously difficult orchestral overtures in the repertoire. With a myriad of scales in the opening section, it grows into a frenzy of Russian folk and nationalistic pride, racing to end in a glorious and resounding finale.
“The Letter Scene” from Eugene Onegin
Katherine Saik, soprano
Program Notes: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) In “The Letter Scene” from Eugene Onegin (1879) Act I, Scene 2, Tatyana, a young and innocent country girl who dreams of living in the city, writes a letter to Onegin, who had visited her family’s house earlier. The letter describes the yearnings and desire of a young girl, which ultimately is not well received by Onegin, who later warns her that she should not be so open with her love and feelings. After much discourse between friends and lovers, the opera ends with Tatyana marrying a prince, and a remorseful Onegin (who realizes what he has lost in Tatyana) is left alone having been rejected this time by Tatyana, who remains loyal to her husband. How the tables have turned.
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
Program Notes: Like many musicians, Rachmaninoff had to balance his life as piano soloist, composer and conductor. He often doubted his abilities as a symphonic composer, sometimes lamenting that his engagements as a conductor were a hindrance to time spent writing. After the disastrous premiere of his first symphony, it was some time before Rachmaninoff took pen to paper and began work on his second symphony. In true form, he was unsatisfied with its initial draft, but after a set of revisions he conducted the premiere to much critical acclaim. Written during a time of political uncertainty, the symphony captures the many flavors of imperial Russia, as well as referencing Russian folk melodies as well as the well-known plainchant “dies irae.” The final movement is a fine example of Rachmaninoff’s grand orchestral writing with sweeping strings and triumphal brass.