Jungah Yoon ’19MM, on performing Reinecke’s Flute Concerto

Jungah Yoon

On April 26, flutist and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jungah Yoon ’19MM will perform Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Yoon about the challenges and rewards of performing such an important part of the flute repertoire.

Q: Why did you choose the Reinecke Flute Concerto as your competition piece?

A: The Reinecke Flute Concerto is unique in being the only flute concerto of the Romantic era, and many audience members will get to experience it for the first time. I feel a strong connection to this piece and believe that many aspects of it relate to my own life and personal experiences. When I perform this piece, I hope to share my story. I chose this piece especially because of the second movement, which is extremely nostalgic and heart-wrenching. Throughout the concerto, there are many passages of dialogue between the different voices—for example, between the solo flute, trumpet, and clarinet in the first movement, and a wonderful cantilena with the cello in the slow movement (or with the timpani, which features the same rhythm as the cello’s pizzicato passages). This rhythm sounds like a beating heart, or perhaps recalls a funeral march. The work encompasses a wide expressive scope, and it is an outstanding piece for the flute.

Q: Reinecke was a contemporary of Brahms and conducted several premieres of Brahms’ works. Do you hear the influence of this relationship in Reinecke’s Flute Concerto?

A: The Flute Concerto was written in 1908, and a key element to understanding the music is to consider its Romantic idiom, an old-fashioned style for its day. The work is rooted in the early 19th century language of Mendelssohn and Schumann, with whom Reinecke studied after settling in Leipzig in 1843, in stark contrast to the style and texture of some exemplary works composed during the same period—for example, Stravinsky’s Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) ballets. Reinecke’s concerto shows him at his best and provides a milder taste of the early 20th century.

The work is in three movements, all rather different in character. The opening Allegro molto moderato is the most symphonic of the three and reflects the influence of Brahms. The first measures seem to emerge and join in on an already existing thought. The slow movement, Lento e mesto (“slow and sad”), is in the style of a bel canto aria, recalling Bellini, or the young Donizetti. The orchestra recedes to an accompanimental role, clearly giving front stage to the flute-as-protagonist, who sings mournfully in B minor. The finale is more upbeat than its Moderato marking might suggest. Reinecke’s keyboard influences are apparent in the overall texture, in which melody and accompaniment are clearly delineated yet rhythmically and gesturally interwoven.

Q: What have been the challenges of preparing and performing this concerto?

A: Personally, the most important aspect of my preparation is feeling that I truly know the work inside and out. Although the process is different for every performance of it, and new challenges arise, I always try to place focus on shaping the various lines, feeling comfortable with the technical elements, and, above all, sharing an expressive story with the audience.

The Romantic language of the Reinecke Flute Concerto has a lot to offer in terms of the expressive writing in the strings and the many colors in the winds and brass. The most challenging aspect of performing this piece is to project above and amid these textures, not just in the literal sense of projecting into the concert hall, but also the deeper manner of projecting my story and emotions to the audience. In this spirit, I hope to connect with the audience in a meaningful way.

Q: In what ways does your mindset change when you’re a soloist?

A: I have come to think about my sound more than I used to in the past. Playing with a big ensemble means that I have to project through the texture even in the softest dynamics, and that my sound needs to be clean and focused. Therefore, it requires a lot more energy compared to when I am playing solo, and I need to be aware of the balance and interaction as a soloist with the many textures and instruments of the orchestra.

Q: What are your thoughts on working with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian, and on performing as a soloist with an orchestra of your peers?

A: I had the experience of working with Maestro Oundjian earlier this year, when we performed selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, for which I was principal flute. I was inspired by his expressive approach and flexibility, always engaging the orchestra to actively listen better. His passion carries through to the vibe of the orchestra and encourages us all to keep an open mind to music-making. I feel grateful for the opportunity to work with Maestro Oundjian again, and to play with the Yale Philharmonia.

This experience is so meaningful to me, especially since it is my first time playing as a soloist with an orchestra. I am so happy to share the stage with my wonderful colleagues and beautiful musicians, who are so supportive and always give me positive energy. Coming to Yale was my first time studying abroad, and this enriching community of peers made me feel comfortable and at home. I look forward to playing with them and am excited for the concert!

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a season-ending performance of Brahms’ First Symphony on a program that also includes Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jungah Yoon ’19MM, and Joan Tower’s Made in America, on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 12, 2019
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Pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner ’20AD to perform Mozart concerto with Yale Philharmonia

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner. Photo by Chris McGuire

On Friday, Feb. 22, artist-diploma candidate Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Sanchez-Werner about the concerto, studying with Boris Berman (the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano), performing with an orchestra of his peers, and more.

Q: How did you settle on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 for this performance, and why?

A: Even among Mozart’s many magnificent piano concerti, this one stands out. One of only two in a minor key, K. 466 is in D minor, the same key as Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s The Art of Fugue, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. When one hears that D-minor tonality, it’s natural to think of tremendous gravity of spirit. The piece has a second movement titled “Romanze,” a rare marking for Mozart, and the way the third movement ends, a surprise turn to D major that leads to a conclusion of unbridled joy, is nothing short of miraculous.

Q: Mozart wasn’t too much older than you are now when he composed and premiered this piece. Does that offer you any kind of perspective or insight into the music?

A: While the movie Amadeus is a little over the top, it is absolutely right in one way: We know that Mozart was as dynamic, free, and uninhibited a character as any. His music is synonymous with larger-than-life drama, mercurial wit, boundless love, tragedy, and youthful idealism, and it is a fallacy of epic proportions that his music is merely “pretty” or “beautiful,” as it is so often labelled, with understandable reverence. His music speaks to someone my age as it would to someone of any age. It is relatable to all.

Q: This concerto was composed and received its premiere 234 years ago. Today, there are umpteen recordings of the piece. Why is important for people to hear it performed live and what would you want the audience to know before hearing you play it?

A: I am deeply excited to have written my own cadenzas for this concerto, my first time doing so. A compelling reason to hear this performance live is that you will hear something new! Mozart often didn’t have time (or need) to write down his cadenzas, frequently improvising them in performance, and this D minor is indeed one of those concerti without a cadenza in his hand. This leaves a grand opening for pianists to choose what cadenzas they will play—the most common choice is to play Beethoven’s, but occasionally you will hear those of Brahms, Clara Schumann, or Hummel. But improvising or writing your own cadenza is such a daunting, wondrous, and personal statement, and as Robert Levin would argue, the most true to capturing the Mozartian spirit.

Q: Tell us about working with Prof. Boris Berman on the concerto and in general. How has he informed your approach to music-making?

A: Studying with Boris Berman has been a revelation. His enlivening musical concepts, and his thorough and enriching method of instilling them, has already had an indelible impact on my artistry. He wants pianists to be as informed about all walks of life as we are capable on the keyboard. I have memories of his whisking me away to the clavichord in his studio when I played him Bach, of his showing me videos of Spanish dancing and telling me saucy tales of young romance when I played him Debussy, of his discussing orchestration to emulate brass and wind instruments when playing Stravinsky. Since he has himself performed this concerto, we have shared great joy working on it together.

Q: What are your thoughts about performing alongside your peers (members of the Yale Philharmonia)?

A: This is something I am truly looking forward to. I’ve only been at Yale for a few months, but my wonderful colleagues have already made it feel like a second home. I’m also presently performing piano-trio repertoire with the concertmaster (Kate Arndt ’19MM), so playing with her for this concerto will be fun. Another Yale “peer” in the audience will be my mom—she lived in Trumbull College as part of the Class of ’77, one of the first, pioneering classes in which Yale accepted women. She has always enjoyed watching me perform, but I have a feeling she’ll enjoy this concert in particular.

Q: Beyond learning and practicing the notes, what goes into your preparation when studying a new score? (Is this concerto new to you?)

A: While I have performed several other Mozart concerti before, this is my first time with the D minor. Regarding my process of learning new concerti, I have made the switch to doing all of my practicing with the full score from the get-go (rather than only consulting it while practicing from a two-piano reduction, as I did when I was younger). This allows me to internalize the orchestration much earlier and better emulate the articulations and tone colors of other instruments.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the role of the artist in society?

A: Art is a cooperative affair, and musicians can and have contributed to a bold history of social engagement. I take pride in attempting to carry on such traditions of using music as a means of breaking down cultural and political barriers. As an example, in a cross-­cultural exchange for peace on U.N. World Day for Cultural Diversity, I played with the fearless Iraqi National Symphony in Baghdad. Raising funds for the Children’s Cancer Hospital, we performed music by American, Iraqi, and European composers for an international audience of diplomats, Iraqis of all ages, and U.S. soldiers. My hope is that the simple, yet meaningful process of our warmhearted collaboration and musical communication (since music is our common language) deepened the bond between two cultures. I have done similar work in Rwanda, France, Canada, and the United States and seek to do much more.

Q: What have you been reading lately?

A: After re-reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, written by the ever-illuminating Doris Kearns Goodwin, I have recently turned to her autobiographical memoir, Wait Till Next Year, which tells the story of her upbringing through the lens of her family’s devotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers. This is why I was delighted to find out after a recital I gave last week in Chicago, that the subsequent event in that arts series would be a talk by her. I wish I could’ve stayed and met her! Books by great historians are a fascination of mine.

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner will join Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia on Friday, Feb. 22, for a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, on a program that also includes Kodály’s Dances of Galánta and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60.

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Published February 19, 2019
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Yale Philharmonia to perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11

Commissioned by Soviet leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday—January 22, 1905—a day on which members of the working class approached the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg asking that working and living conditions be improved, composer Dmitri Shostakovich didn’t write his Eleventh Symphony until 1957, a year after the Hungarian Uprising. Hundreds had died in St. Petersburg a half-century earlier, and thousands, over the course of a few weeks in 1956, had been killed in Budapest, all at the hands of Russian/Soviet troops.

Shostakovich was a savvy enough artist to make sure that his Symphony No. 11 was appreciated by Soviet officials when it had its premiere, in Moscow, in 1957. Still, what most listeners hear, beyond the familiar revolutionary songs and military evocations that imbue the music, is a composer railing against tyranny and its costs.

Though Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg less than a year after the events of Bloody Sunday, he endured the oppression that gripped Russia/the Soviet Union for most of his life. Shostakovich spoke largely, and enigmatically, through his music; his Symphony No. 11 captures the struggle of the many against the power of the few.

In a recent conversation with Sergei Antonov, an assistant professor of history at Yale who specializes in Russia after 1800 and who grew up in the Soviet Union, Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian asked what led the working class, in January 1905, to rally at the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II.

“Petersburg,” Antonov said, “had this mystique of this wonderful sort of legendary city, but in many crucial ways it was just like any other late 19th/early 20th century city: poor transportation, poor hygiene and sanitation, a lot of labor turnover, a lot of risk, poor health care. So, all of those issues were, of course, real. And there was a pretty powerful labor movement. In other words, workers gathering together, going on strike, asking for economic conditions. And then if you add to this a political component … we get this pretty volatile kind of climate.”

On January 22 of 1905, the Russian Revolution began with an event that Shostakovich recounted, more than 50 years later, in his Eleventh Symphony.

“We have this extraordinary scene of the palace square, pre-dawn, this iciness in the air as if people are gradually approaching at the beginning of the symphony,” Oundjian explained. “And then you hear a trumpet fanfare, which is extremely ominous.”

“These horns were a signal to open fire for the troops,” Antonov said.

“The second movement begins and suddenly the atmosphere changes,” Oundjian said. “Suddenly, we are in the action of things.”

Bloody Sunday, as it has come to be known, resulted in hundreds of deaths and marked the beginning of the larger revolution which got traction in 1917 and led to the establishment, in 1922, of the Soviet Union.

Oundjian has called Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony “one of the most powerful pieces ever written,” saying, “It is really about the power of the human struggle and about human defiance.”

Peter Oundjian will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, “The Year 1905” on Friday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall.

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Published January 9, 2019
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Members of YSM community earn Grammy nominations

Missy Mazzoli. Photo by Marylene Mey

Grammy Award nominations were announced on Friday, Dec. 7, and several members of the Yale School of Music community made the list. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding musicians.

Composer Missy Mazzoli ’06MM was nominated in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category for her work Vespers for Violin, performed by Olivia de Prato. In the same category, faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis ’83MM received a nomination for his Violin Concerto, performed by violinist James Ehnes, conductor Ludovic Morlot, and the Seattle Symphony.

Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian was nominated in the Best Classical Compendium category for Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto, Oboe Concerto, Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, on which he conducted. The recording was produced by Blanton Alspaugh.

Conductor Martin Pearlman ’71MM was nominated in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo Category for Biber: The Mystery Sonatas, on which he conducted. The recording features violinist Christina Day Martinson and Boston Baroque.

Composer John Adams ’MUSHD received a nomination in the Best Opera Recording category for Adams: Dr. Atomic.

The Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry, which includes alumni violinists Liesl Schoenberger Doty ’11AD and Miki-Sophia Cloud ’08MM, was nominated in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category for Visions and Variations.

In the Best Orchestral Performance category, three nominations have ties to YSM. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s recording Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 11, conducted by Andris Nelsons, includes alumni violinist Sheila Fiekowsky ’75MM and cellist Owen Young ’87MM. The San Francisco Symphony’s recording Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, includes alumni violinists Gina Cooper ’87MM and John Young ’MM. And the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s recording Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1, conducted by Manfred Honeck, includes alumni violinists Irene Cheng ’94MM and Louis Lev ’90MM and alumni trombonist Rebecca Cherian ’81MM.

Published December 10, 2018
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Oundjian explores “Also sprach Zarathustra” with Nietzsche expert

Karsten Harries, left, and Peter Oundjian

Peter Oundjian has conducted Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra many times. Never, though, has he dived so deep into Nietzsche’s text, which inspired the tone poem. “It’s a very rare thing to have the opportunity to speak with someone who’s lived with Nietzsche your entire life,” he said to Karsten Harries on Saturday, during a discussion at Harries’ Hamden home. Harries, the recently retired Howard H. Newman Professor of Philosophy at Yale (Harries is also a Yale alumnus and now Professor Emeritus), taught courses on Nietzsche, among others, and on the philosophy of art and architecture. He is also impressively well-versed in music.

In program notes for the work’s 1896 premiere in Frankfurt, Strauss wrote: “I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray in music Nietzsche’s great work.”

“He chose which passages would suit his tone poem,” Oundjian, Principal Conductor of the Yale Philharmonia, said, paging through his score.

“There is a clear intellectual progression,” Harries said, a German-language copy of Nietzsche’s text in-hand. “He bends the Nietzsche text to his own ends.” Strauss, Harries pointed out, studied philosophy, aesthetics, and art history in Munich.

With a performance of Also sprach Zarathustra playing, Oundjian and Harries analyzed the music alongside Nietzsche’s text, discussing the notion of eternal recurrence—the idea that “time is a circle,” Harries said, paraphrasing from Zarathustra—and other elements of Nietzsche’s autobiographical narrative.

“It sounds completely like Wagner,” Oundjian said of the second section (“Von den Hinterweltlern”) of Strauss’ tone poem.

“Strauss is looking back,” knowing he has to distance himself from that, Harries said. “He thinks of Wagner as the Hinterweltlern (the “backworld”).” Similarly, Harries said, “Nietzsche clearly struggles with his proximity to Wagner.”

Just as the past is reflected in Strauss’ Zarathustra, the present and the future, and the conflict inherent in living with both in mind, is of importance in both Strauss’ and Nietzsche’s work. “To be human is to be open to the future,” Harries said. Joy, though, is only available in the present. To be human is also to engage with “the rabble,” he said, referring to Zarathustra’s descent from the mountaintop. Nietzsche’s famous line “God is dead” marks Zarathustra’s arrival at humanity.

As the recorded performance of Zarathustra arrived at “Das Tanzlied,” Harries gave Oundjian something to think about. While the music seems to offer a nod to the waltzes of Johann Strauss II (no relation), Harries dismissed that analysis. “I see very much the alpine element and the beer-hall element,” he said. Decades before he composed Zarathustra, Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony had captured his fascination with the mountains. As for beer, Strauss’ mother, Josephine, was part of the Pschorr (now Hacker-Pschorr) beer-making family in Munich. Oundjian hadn’t made those connections. Harries’ opinion, Oundjian said, was a “complete enlightenment for me.”

As the recorded performance came to an end, Oundjian, conducting the music (something Harries had said seemed a difficult undertaking), remarked, noting Strauss’ harmonic manipulations, “He can’t resist being a genius.”

Earlier in the conversation, Oundjian had asked Harries, somewhat rhetorically and pointing to the Zarathustra text, “Is it possible that he could express all this musically?”

“I would argue that he was a very astute reader of Nietzsche,” Harries said.

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Strauss’ Nietzsche-inspired tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA, on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Woolsey Hall.

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Published November 12, 2018
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Pianist Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA, on performing with the Yale Philharmonia

Sophiko Simsive. Photo by Marco Broggreve

Asked about Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, which she will perform with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA does not get into musical details. “I’ve been trying to think in a more abstract way,” she said, explaining, “I like to relate to pieces on a personal level.” Simsive described herself as “a musician that always tries to identify the emotion in a piece” and wants the audience to feel that though her performance. “I feel very strongly about this piece,” she said. “I want to bring out my personality and I’m trying to bring out the story I’m trying to tell with it.”

While Simsive has long been familiar with the concerto, it was not until she played a piano arrangement of the orchestra part, for a March 2017 recital here at YSM by Dong Won Lee ’18MM, that she started “thinking deep and really getting my hands on” the piece.

Just hours removed from her first rehearsal with the Philharmonia, Simsive said, “I feel very much part of the orchestra.” Thursday’s concert in Woolsey Hall, she said, will be a high point of her time here at Yale, largely because she will be performing alongside colleagues. “I feel completely like I’m playing at home,” she said.

At the first rehearsal, Simsive said a few words to members of the Philharmonia. “I felt so grateful for the opportunity to play with the Yale Philharmonia. I wanted to let them know that for me it felt like playing chamber music with each and every one of them.” Simsive has worked with many musicians in the YSM community and pointed out that she played piano, celeste, and organ as a member of the Philharmonia in September.

As the soloist on Thursday’s concert, Simsive is looking forward to sharing a bit of herself with the Woolsey Hall audience. “I can tell a lot of different stories,” she said, “but they have to feel something—and that something is my life at Yale.”

Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall. The program also includes Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra.

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SOPHIKO SIMSIVE

Published November 12, 2018
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Yale Philharmonia to perform Shakespeare-inspired program

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

Programming a Yale Philharmonia concert is always about providing context for each piece. To open the 2018-2019 Philharmonia season, Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian has put together a program of repertoire inspired by the words and works of Shakespeare: Berlioz’s Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, based on the Bard’s Much Ado About Nothing; Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, which uses text from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to celebrate the power of music; and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. “There is a lot of extraordinary music that was inspired by arguably the greatest poet of all time,” Oundjian pointed out, explaining that “it’s the element of curiosity and adventure that make this kind of program so interesting.”

The challenge members of the Philharmonia have taken up with this program is, in Oundjian’s words, “to basically sound like many different orchestras in one evening. You need to be able to be many, many characters and describe many scenes.” For the Berlioz, he said, the musicians “need sheer virtuosity.” The Serenade to Music, for which the Yale Glee Club and the Yale Voxtet will join the orchestra, is intense in its serenity and introspection. (Reportedly, Rachmaninoff, who performed on the same program in 1938 that featured the premiere of the Serenade to Music, was reduced to tears by the piece’s beauty.) “This piece is magical,” Oundjian said, looking forward to collaborating with the Glee Club and Voxtet. “It’s a thrill to hear wonderful vocal groups. There’s nothing more immediate or direct than the singing voice.”

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, “one of his absolute masterpieces,” Oundjian offered, carries the listener from the tender to the tragic. For this performance, the Philharmonia will use Oundjian’s arrangement of the composer’s ballet score, whereas most orchestras perform one of the three concert suites that Prokofiev created. “The order of events, in the suites, is not respected,” Oundjian explained. “(Prokofiev) didn’t try to make the suites chronologically correct.” In creating his arrangement, Oundjian sought to offer a symphonic expression of the ballet. “I wanted people to be able to follow the story,” he said. The Philharmonia will tell that story, and those being told by Berlioz and Vaughan Williams with inspiration (and words) from the Bard.

Members of the Philharmonia, Oundjian said, are “extremely sensitized to deep human emotions. They’ve had to find a way to connect with deep human emotions because they play an instrument.” Together, they are able to convey and express what a composer—three composers, in the case of this program—sought to share with concertgoers. They enjoy the process of putting a program together and letting it take on a life of its own on stage in Woolsey Hall. “By the time the concert comes, there’s a camaraderie that they’ve discovered in a very short time,” Oundjian said. “There’s absolutely a sense of discovery and spontaneity.”

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program of music inspired by Shakespeare on Friday, September 28, at 7:30 pm, in Woolsey Hall.

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Published September 20, 2018
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Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian on Mahler’s Ninth Symphony

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

On Friday, April 6, the Yale Philharmonia will perform Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in Woolsey Hall. We spoke with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian about the piece and the context in which it was composed.

Q: What is worth thinking about as an audience member listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony?

A: One thing that is pretty clear is that it has so much finality in it. Maybe we can even think of it as the final statement in what we might call the traditional language of classical music. This idea that it’s almost a prophecy of what’s to come is I think essential to understanding and listening to the Ninth Symphony of Mahler. He’s (also) taking you on a journey of contradiction, which is so important to Mahler’s whole world, because he had so many areas in which he was conflicted. Is he a conductor? Is he a composer? Is he cosmopolitan? Is he provincial? All these things tore him apart his whole life. His religion and hiding the fact that he was Jewish — so many things created this feeling of enormous conflict inside him. And so I think that in some ways the Ninth Symphony doesn’t need so much explaining, because it’s so accessible at the beginning and you realize that you are in between a kind of sense of fear and terror and great tenderness, and that it is a struggle to understand the meaning of life and the meaning of love, particularly.

Q: What is the story of this piece?

A: There’s a lot of death that is referred to in this music, and there’s very good reason for that. In his own personal situation, the fact that he’d just lost his daughter. The fact that he had this heart arrhythmia — there’s kind of a description of that uneven heartbeat at the opening. So there’s all of that, but there is also this death that a lot of people talk about, which is that tonality was ending and Mahler knew it.

Q: To what degree do you work with the members of the Philharmonia to get on the same page about the history and background of the work? 

A: I approach this a little bit like a director approaches a play. I think that they should come with some understanding of their role and certainly with the ability to play it. Part of what I enjoy (about) working with these wonderfully talented students is to engage them in discussion (about) the concepts and the philosophies behind it and the history and particularly that moment in Mahler’s life and how special it was.

Q: What are the challenges that an ensemble faces with this piece?

A: What we have to do is apply an incredible discipline to be able to play together while also allowing ourselves to have extremely spontaneous energy. That’s one of the things I value most about being on stage, that this is the moment and we’re going to lay it all out there. It doesn’t mean we lose discipline, but we take an enormous amount of risk. And that can be risk of great virtuosity and the risk of making yourself extremely open and vulnerable to very profound and tragic kind of feelings, which will only be projected into the concert hall and shared with our public if we all are in touch with those feelings.

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Published March 28, 2018
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Violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM, on being a soloist with an orchestra of his peers

Josip Kvetek ’18MM

When violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM played Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola on a recital here at YSM last year, it wasn’t with an eye on performing the piece with the Yale Philharmonia, which he’ll do on Friday, Jan. 26. “It’s not very serious music,” Kvetek said, explaining that the Paganini sonata is a fun piece of music, a quirky sonata that just happens to be, in the words of principal conductor Peter Oundjian, “probably the most difficult piece ever written for viola.” After Kvetek’s recital performance last year, his teacher, Ettore Causa, suggested that he enter the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, which Kvetek won in April 2017.

The sonata, Kvetek said, is “not standard repertoire for viola.” Paganini, he explained, “commissioned a piece from Berlioz” to be played on a five-string viola. Berlioz, in response, composed Harold in Italy, an orchestral piece with viola solos. “Paganini didn’t like the first draft of the piece,” Kvetek said, “so he decided to write his own piece.” The result is “a sonata for solo instrument and orchestra, which is very odd.”

Kvetek will perform the piece on a standard viola, an instrument without an added E string, which means “I have to play with an improvised thumb position” to execute passages in the instrument’s upper register. In terms of interpretation, Kvetek said, “it’s very simple, harmonically and melodically. It’s just simple from every angle.” Still, it’s a piece that can easily feel like blocks of virtuoso passages arranged without much cohesion. “It starts becoming 50 little tasks,” Kvetek said, “and not one, coherent story. The part that helps with that is it’s very operatic. It’s much easier if you let go of the classical way of thinking.”

Now in the second year of YSM’s master of music degree program, studying with Causa, and with Steven Tenenbom while Causa is on sabbatical, Kvetek has done his share of playing with the Yale Philharmonia as a member of the orchestra’s viola section. On Jan. 26, he’ll be out front, next to guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who’ll lead a program that also includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version) and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Performing as the soloist with an orchestra of his peers is “a little bit more stressful,” Kvetek said, “because you do know all the people. The benefit is that they’re very supportive and very helpful in the process. Everybody is hoping or cheering that you play the best you can. It becomes much easier to play in that environment.” The stress, he said, comes from wanting “to present yourself well” in front of one’s peers.

Given the operatic nature of the Paganini sonata, Kvetek said, “The majority of it is on me to deliver a performance that other people can follow.” Part of that responsibility, to be sure, falls on Solzhenitsyn, with whom Kvetek hasn’t worked. Basing his impressions on YouTube videos, Kvetek described Solzhenitsyn as an expressive conductor, which “will help me connect with the orchestra and will help bring this piece together.” Because there’s no “prescribed way of how you perform” the Paganini, Kvetek said, “It’s up to me to play it just the way I want to play it.”

On Friday, Jan. 26, guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program that includes Stravinsky’s spellbinding Firebird Suite (1919 version), Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s inventive and affecting Symphony in D minor.

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Published January 18, 2018
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Ignat Solzhenitsyn, on “Firebird” and working with young musicians

Ignat Solzhenitsyn

Principal conductor Peter Oundjian has said that guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who’ll lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version, from the composer’s ballet score) on Friday, Jan. 26, “particularly wanted to do this piece with our students.” Solzhenitsyn recently pointed out that it’s “one of the very, very greatest orchestral paintings in our repertoire and a piece that, of course, is predicated upon the limitlessness of imagination.” Imagination, Solzhenitsyn said, is most fertile and open to influence during one’s youth. The Firebird Suite “is really a piece that, more than anything, is for young people,” he said. “It will showcase the Yale Philharmonia to beautiful effect.” The orchestra, in turn, will provide a capable vehicle for the stuff of Stravinsky’s imagination — and for the Russian legend that the composer explored — which will no doubt inspire the Woolsey Hall audience, just as it has long captivated audiences around the world.

With Solzhenitsyn, who serves as principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Yale Philharmonia will also perform Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Kvetek recently said that the Paganini is “not standard repertoire for the viola,” and that while it’s “very simple, harmonically and melodically,” it’s not a piece that on its own tells “one coherent story.”

“The part that helps with that,” Kvetek said, “is it’s very operatic.” Kvetek “nailed it,” Solzhenitsyn agreed, saying the Paganini is a show piece, one that’s very difficult for the soloist. What makes it fun, Solzhenitsyn said, is the very notion that Paganini, a virtuoso violinist, produced such a piece for the viola. “Charm, wit, teasing, easy grace — those kind of words inform this work,” he said.

Asked about the Franck being a piece that’s gone in and out of favor with orchestras, Solzhenitsyn bristled. “It’s a concept I still have trouble wrapping my head around,” he said, pointing to the obvious fact that “the intrinsic worth of ‘X’ has nothing to do with if it’s popular or not, or has very little to do with it.” He’s among those who don’t understand why the Franck symphony is not performed more frequently, give that it is, undeniably, a “touchstone of the Romantic symphonic repertoire.”

“The beauty, the power, the innocence, the honesty of this music, I think, speaks for itself,” Solzhenitsyn said.

Seeing Solzhenitsyn on the podium will be a new experience for members of the Philharmonia. And working with Yale students, for Solzhenitsyn, will present a different opportunity than the experiences he’s had leading ensembles of more seasoned musicians. A collective sense of wonder and discovery that is at times diminished in a professional ensemble, he said, is right there, in all its glory, for everyone to see in a young ensemble.

On Friday, Jan. 26, guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program that includes Stravinsky’s spellbinding Firebird Suite (1919 version), Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s inventive and affecting Symphony in D minor.

DETAILS & TICKETS
WATCH A PREVIEW VIDEO

Published January 17, 2018
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