Friday, September 13, 2013

The Lost Genius of Hans Rott

Every once in a while you come across a musical work that is so powerful, so compelling--not only the music itself, but the story behind it as well---that it lodges in your subconscious and becomes something of a personal "mission" for you, the artist.
There is such a work, which the Northbrook Symphony and I will present in its first-ever Chicago-area performance on Sunday afternoon, September 22nd at Glenbrook North H.S. The composer is Hans Rott, a super-talented young Austrian, who wrote an amazing, full scale symphony for orchestra at age 22 (completing it in 1880), then suffered a nervous breakdown and died in total obscurity at age 25, having been confined to a mental institution outside Vienna for the last years of his tragically brief life.

Tragic indeed. And when, 
on September 22nd, you actually hear the amazing Symphony in E  Major of Hans Rott, I am confident that you will understand the immensity of the loss to the musical
world; if ever there was a case of "what if this guy had lived another twenty years?", this is it!  The promise of true greatness is emblazoned in ever single bar of this brilliant, youthful masterpiece.

Rott's Symphony in E has everything: a heroic sense of grandeur, magnificent waves of brass-laden orchestral sound that sweep you along, gorgeous melodies and exquisite harmony, a thrilling 
Scherzomovement, itself a bizarre fantasy on a series of Austrian folk-dance themes, and a massive finale that opens with distant chorales and horn calls and ends in an overwhelming, glorious "sunset" of orchestral beauty almost heartbreaking in its emotional impact, especially when you realize that you are listening to the final work of a super-charged --- but doomed--musical genius.

Even more astounding is the resemblance of much of Rott's Symphony to the much-more familiar, symphonies of his friend and fellow-classmate Gustav Mahler. One automatically assumes that Rott was imitating Mahler's monumental symphonies---until you check the actual chronology; in fact, Hans Rott died before his pal Mahler even started to compose his first symphony! For anyone who knows the symphonies of Mahler, the Rott Symphony is a revelation, like a bucket of ice-cold water in the face.

Hans Rott's Symphony has acquired a strong cult-like following, especially in Europe; there are currently five commercial recordings of this masterpiece available. So why has it never been performed anywhere near Chicago, which is known world-wide as a major "Mahler Town"? The
Chicago Symphony could knock this one out of the park! But no one in our area has touched it. Admittedly, it is a huge undertaking for any orchestra, very difficult to perform, and in need of major editing and detailed, time-consuming preparation before rehearsals begin. But all of this becomes insignificant in the face of Rott's incredible music; believe me--the final product will be worth all of the effort!

There will be a single performance only: Sunday, September 22ndat 4 pm in the Sheely Center at Glenbrook North High School. I urge you all to come---even if your interest or curiosity is slight---
to experience a most unique event: a celebration of the lost, youthful genius of Hans Rott, who died so tragically young and whose monumental Symphony in E Major will at long last be given a hearing
within the Chicago musical community.   


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This is the BIG ONE, ladies and gentlemen....

The first installation in our multi-year initiative "IN
MAHLER's SHADOW", which has already garnered

considerable media and critical attention, and which
is a standout example of the kind of venture that
recently won the NSO the "Programming of the Year"
award from the Illinois Council of Orchestras.

This blog entry will be a bit different from previous
ones; you will see that we are providing a LINK below,
which will take you to the Tuesday, April 30th article
in the Northbrook TOWER, in which I answered a number
of questions about the May 5th concert.

I would like to add a few details about the magnificent
Symphony No. 1 of Franz Schmidt, which we just rehearsed
in full on Monday (April 29th). What a thrill to hear
these joyous sounds come to life on our stage...and for the
first time anywhere in the Chicago area.

Anyone listening to the work will undoubtedly hear the
influence of other familiar composers---Schmidt was a
mere 25 years old when he finished the Symphony---
but let's face it--- even Mozart and Beethoven began their
composing activities by imitating the work of their

But Schmidt's Symphony, his first major work, is MUCH
more than a mere pastiche; it is an exceptionally strong,
beautifully constructed piece that almost seems to delight
in its own beauty, energy, and spirit.

A few things to listen for:

1st Movement --

a.) stately, Baroque-like introduction, complete with antiphonal
brass fanfares

b.) a rousing, vigorous main Allegro, closely resembling
Strauss' Don Juan in its melodic outline and martial rhythm

c.) Schmidt's trademark "fantasy" music--- light, mysterious
and shimmery, leading to

d.) an absolutely gorgeous lyrical tune, which Schmidt will
bring back often in the course of this movement

e.) a thrilling conclusion, which brings back the best of
the romantic material from the beginning of the work.

2nd Movement

The slow Movement which combines two main elements:

a.) a long clarinet melody in Schmidt's best Hungarian/gypsy-like
mode, dark, alluring and intense (Schmidt's parents were both
Hungarian)  and

b.) a lovely "woodland" choral of four horn and bassoons, answered
by forest murmurs and bird-song; it's like Humperdinck's famous
opera channeled into a grand symphonic fantasy.

These two elements alternate to produce music that is stunningly

3rd Movement

The Scherzo

a.) in the style of an Austrian laendler, a quick, waltz-like
folk dance, that is alternately charming, vigorous, and somewhat
sardonic in character. 

b.) the music grows calm, and Schmidt's unique, "mystical" harmonies
takes us into the central section of the Scherzo...

c.) the TRIO---- which is to me the highlight of the entire symphony..
an exquisite, tender lullaby in the Hungarian style, which must be heard
to be appreciated. And it flows directly into....

d.) Schmidt's loving tribute to Vienna, Mozart, and Schubert, a radiant
pastoral section that is as lovely as any music that I know.

e.) The Scherzo returns, and concludes in a fleeting, magical coda
in Schmidt's best "fantasy" mode.

4th Movement

Here's a Finale that really "Stands up to" the previous three movements!

a.) A rare example of Germanic-Neo Baroque music--robust and joyous,
followed by

b.) several beautifully-crafted contrapuntal episodes, which introduce us

c.) Schmidt's grand, life-affirming chorale tune, with the woodwinds and
horns imitating the sound of a grand cathedral organ (and pointing the
way to Schmidt's substantial output for that instrument)

d.) The neo-Baroque delights continue in a Gigue, a sprightly dance whose
melody is a transformation of the opening tune of this finale..

e.) all of which is whipped up into a flurry of excitement as the BIG
MOMENT approaches.....the one we've all been waiting for:

f.) the return of the Grand Chorale Melody, now resplendent in the
full orchestra.

g.) The music briefly dissipates into more of Schmidt's striking
"fantasy" sound, before its final burst of energy, propelling
us to the triumphant conclusion.

And all of this in 45-minute Symphony by a 25-year old composer...
who existed literally and figuratively "In Mahler's Shadow" and, as far
as I am concerned, is worthy of standing proudly in the full light of day
alongside his more famous counterpart.

Please check out the TOWER article/link.

I hope to see you on Sunday, May 5th, at 4 pm.

BRAHMS, and SCHUBERT----all living and working in Vienna,
and all writing in a distinctly HUNGARIAN you will



Monday, April 1, 2013

The Path to Romanticism

It's essentially a continuation of our February concert of Rameau, Arne, Mozart
and Haydn, picking up where we left off with more Mozart, and ending with
the thrilling Symphony No. 8 of Beethoven (which replaces the Mendelssohn
Symphony No. 8 which was originally scheduled).

And, yes.....this may be our best concert ever.

The music is loaded with historical and stylistic details that criss-cross throughout
the program. The opening work is a Gavotte (French folk dance) by G.B. Martini,
an Italian who happened to be one of the young Mozart's teachers. It's a delightful
work that many musicians recall from their student days, since there have been
many different arrangements of it over the years. The orchestration we are
playing is by a French composer, to which I have added some extra woodwinds
and horns for a more "rustic" sound.

We are also performing a French art song by another Martini--Jean Paul, who was
really German, though he lived and worked in France.  It may be confusing,
but there's no need to be concerned: the music is gorgeous. AND, as a matter of
fact, the song  -- titled Plaisir d'amour ("The pleasures of love") has something very
special about it which I think most of you will recognize immediately. I won't give
it away now, but I think most of you will experience one of those "hey, I think I
know that tune!" moments when you hear it.

In addition to the novelty of the music itself, Plaisir d'amour will be performed in
a brand-new version which I wrote especially to complement the exquisite singing
of our guest artist, the lovely and extremely talented young soprano Melinda
Alberty. I will only say that the quality of her singing is something rare indeed.

Melinda will also perform two concert arias by Mozart, one of which will actually
end the program; why? Because Mozart himself wrote it for a singer (actually his
sister-in-law) to sing as a direct address to the audience as the final number on
a concert---so we will honor the tradition. It's unbelievably lovely music, and will
be sung directly to you.

Did I mention that we are playing TWO COMPLETE SYMPHONIES---one by
Mozart and one by Beethoven?! The Symphony No. 34 by Mozart is perhaps
my favorite of all of his works in this form and, not surprisingly, it is not that
well-known.  It's in 3 (not 4) movements---the second, a lovely serenade for
strings only, and a brilliant finale that seems to me a sentimental tribute to his
early visits to Italy, where he studied with G.B. Martini. Very few, if any, of our
players are familiar with it, but after two quick work-throughs in rehearsal,
they are playing it as if they have known it all their lives.

Then there's Beethoven's rollicking Symphony No. 8, one of the "lesser" of
his output (yeah, right....) and the one in which he seems to be looking back
very lovingly but very humorously at the classical era of Mozart and Haydn.
Fascinating, especially since he himself was primarily responsible for the
demise of the classical style, as his own music became ever more bold
and dynamic....leading us into the Romantic style which dominated the

As always, I will introduce the works from the stage and demonstrate
various features of the music for you before we play. This concert has all
the makings of a truly memorable event: a combination of delightful music,
a first-rate vocal soloist, and the fascinating historical framework which
makes it all so much more compelling. addition to everything
I have mentioned in this column...there just might be one more surprise
that won't be listed on the program; you'll have to stick around at the
end of the concert to find out what it is. And you will be glad you did.

I look forward to seeing all of you this Sunday at 4pm; bring a friend--
or two---or four!

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, February 17, 2013

COUNTDOWN to our February 17th Concert - Post #4 Final

Haydn  ~ Symphony No. 95 in C minor

Franz Josef Haydn is known as the "father" of the Symphony, since it
was he who took the various stylistic elements of his time and
essentially codified them into the familiar, 4-movement Symphonic form that became the standard for the next century.

And what wonders his 104+ symphonies contain! They are a vast treasure
trove for the musical world to revel in. Yet very few of his works are heard
at your standard symphonic concert any longer, which is a true pity.

But not at the NSO--- we play a Major Haydn Symphony every season and,
for some of us, it is the highlight of the year. Mozart's music may provide
a loftier experience, but Haydn's are more fun ---pure enjoyment from
beginning to end. And it shows in our performances.

The great #95 was written at the beginning of Haydn's big super-star
residence in London in 1791, during which time (over the course of
two lengthy residencies) he would compose his final twelve symphonies,
known as a group as the "London" symphonies. And #95 is my favorite of
them, and I've waited a long time to perform it.

It's the only one of the "London 12" that begins by immediately launching
into its opening Allegro, without a slow introduction---and a stormy and
dramatic one it is. But the contrasting secondary theme is light and
graceful--utterly charming. In fact, years ago, I must have walked
around for a whole two weeks with this melody in my head, without being
able to remember what it was; it's that catchy.

The symphony continues to amaze and delight throughout, with its graceful,
song-like variation second movement followed by the shadowy and fleetingly
tragic Minuet in C minor...which changes to the Major key for the trio section
in which Haydn awards the wide-ranging melody to the solo cello (expertly
performed, as you will hear, by the NSO's Dan Klingler).

And then there's the fourth movement, my favorite of all of Haydn's symphonic
finales, since I feel it is the most unique and special---- for reasons we will
demonstrate at the concert itself. Let's just say that the Latin inscription
which Haydn wrote on the final page of his works -- Laus Deo--- ("Praise
God") is particularly appropriate here in this finale.

See you at the Concert---- 4 pm on Sunday.
Thanks for reading,


Friday, February 15, 2013

COUNTDOWN to our February 17th Concert - Post #3

Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-Flat, K. 450

Imagine hearing the young wunderkind Mozart himself, playing
one of his own brilliant piano concertos.....something which occurred
often during the Lenten season (that is, during February and March)
in Vienna, during the 1780's.  Impossible to go back into time for such
an event, I realize.

However, you can experience something similar at Sunday's concert,
as young master Roger Shen takes charge of the proceedings as soloist
in one of Mozart's most delightful, tuneful concertos---a work which
Mozart himself premiered as soloist in 1784.

I will let each of you discover what lies ahead in terms of the pianistic
excellence on this program. The work itself is one of those Mozartean
miracles, every note of which is perfectly conceived and crafted.

The first movement begins with a jolly, jaunty tune played by oboes and
bassoons, which indeed gives the impression that the local town pipers
are on parade. This is only a precursor to the wondrous things which
follow, as the seemingly unstoppable flow of Mozart's genius continues.
The lyrical second movement is both simple and exquisite-- the orchestral
strings play a gorgeous, hymn-like melody, which the pianist then repeats
and embellishes. That's basically all that happens in this movement....
and that's all you'll need to float off into Mozart's own vision of heavenly

The finale is, again, full of delights that could have only come from Mozart's
youthful font of genius---there are comic sequences, a miniature
bird-song exchange between flute, oboe and piano and at the very last minute, 
a coda in which Mozart turns the entire orchestra and piano into a brisk and
articulate military marching unit, as the music concludes in a burst of festive

Mozart himself wrote to his father of the difficulty of this concerto, stating that
this was a work to make the pianist "sweat". It is indeed a mighty challenge
for a young soloist -- or any soloist (Leonard Bernstein considered it Mozart's
most difficult!). But I must say that, having rehearsed this great work in
detail with young Mr. Shen, you will definitely hear a performance of great
technical and expressive achievement. You might even imagine that you are
in the presence of the the young Mozart himself, as Roger Shen's ten fingers
duplicate exactly what Mozart had written for himself to play ....way back
in March, 1784.

Thanks for reading.


Countdown to the Concert of Sunday, February 17th - Post #2

Arne - Symphony No. 4 in C minor

The attitude of England toward its own 'home-grown" composers has
been curious...over the course of 200 years (roughly 1700 to 1900),
the Brits have treated their native composers somewhat harshly, preferring
instead to import composers from other countries (Handel, Mendelssohn,
Dvorak, and..of course, Haydn, whom we will hear from later in our

Thomas Arne was a prolific and popular English composer whose contribution
to his country's own "classical" era was remarkable. He was known primarily as
a composer of stage works, many of which were produced at London's Drury
Lane Theater. His instrumental output is rather small, and his FOUR SYMPHONIES
are dated as a group from 1767.

This in itself is interesting, since Arne's 4th Symphony is a rather surprising work
in that it clearly points ahead some 35 years to the late classical or even the early
Romantic period. It's first movement is rather dark and stormy, with marvelous
contrasts in dynamics and texture.

The middle slow movement is also noteworthy for its austere beauty; during
certain passages, the music seems to "hover" as the gentle voices of flutes
and oboes gradually emerge and form themselves into lovely melodic phrases.
The Finale is light and gracious, and very "sweet" in its sound. And yet, there are
frequent reminders of the somewhat wistful, dark sound of the first movement,
prior to the symphony's vigorous and joyous conclusion.

Was it possible that Arne knew any of Haydn's early symphonies...some of which
are also dark and dramatic? It's not likely, since Haydn's strikingly bold early
scores were brand new when Arne composed his 4th. It's possible that Arne
was a more original and forward-looking composer than he is given credit least that's the impression created by this wonderful work.

I would guess that Sunday's performance of Arne's 4th Symphony will be
a Chicago-area first; the only performing version available was published in
1973, and I doubt that there's been any particular rush to play it.  So,
as usual, the NSO is providing audiences an opportunity to hear an overlooked
but deserving work brought to life in performance---if only for its
brief "15-minutes" of fame (the approximate length of the symphony).

Thus far, the NSO has performed Arne's 1st and 2nd symphonies, leaving
only #3 for a future date. I love doing the "second-tier" works of this period,
providing that they have something uniquely beautiful about them. Arne's
4th is definitely in that category, and I can assure you that our performance
will be a superbly crafted and extremely committed one--- like everything
else the NSO does.  We approach this work as if it's the greatest piece known
to man.....because for the 15 minutes in which we are performing it, it is.

Thanks for reading; see you Sunday!