Beethoven Fifth Symphony

Wed, July 24, 2024 6:30 pm

PROGRAM

Grant Park Orchestra

Eric Jacobsen, conductor

 

EDVARD GRIEG

Holberg Suite
Prelude
Sarabande
Gavotte and Musette
Air
Rigaudon 


NATHALIE JOACHIM

Cocoon (World Premiere)


LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Symphony No. 5
Allegro con brio
Andante con moto
Allegro
Allegro 

LOCATION

Jay Pritzker Pavilion


RUN TIME

Approx. 70 minutes


SPONSORS

This concert is generously sponsored by Capital One.  
 
The world premiere by Nathalie Joachim is graciously supported 
by the Robert and Isabelle Bass Foundation, Inc. 

MEET THE ARTISTS

Eric Jacobsen

Conductor

Just 40 years old and already well-established as one of classical music’s most exciting and innovative young conductors, Eric Jacobsen combines fresh interpretations of the traditional canon with cutting-edge collaborations across musical genres. Hailed by the New York Times as “an interpretive dynamo,” Eric, as both a conductor and a cellist, has built a reputation for engaging audiences with innovative and collaborative programming.

Eric joined the Virginia Symphony Orchestra as Music Director in 2021, being named the twelfth music director in the orchestra’s 100+ year history. Recent and upcoming projects include a recording project of Dvorak and Coleridge-Taylor with Gil Shaham, and a world premiere of a new mandolin concerto by Chris Thile.

Eric is in his eighth season as Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, as he continues to pioneer the orchestra’s programming and community engagement in new and exciting directions. The 22-23 season saw the return of the Resonate Festival, a unique blend of old and new orchestral and chamber works, performed in standard and more intimate concert formats. Featuring Artist-in-Residence Anthony McGill, one of the most poetic clarinetists ever, in what will be a truly remarkable and inspiring set of concerts.

Eric is also artistic director and co-founder of The Knights, the uniquely adventurous NYC-based chamber orchestra. The ensemble, founded with his brother, violinist Colin Jacobsen, grew out of late-night music reading parties with friends, good food and drink, and conversation. As conductor, Jacobsen has led the “consistently inventive, infectiously engaged indie ensemble” (New York Times) at venues throughout New York City and surrounding areas, at major summer festivals, and on tour nationally and internationally. Under Jacobsen’s baton, The Knights have developed an extensive recording collection, which includes the critically acclaimed albums Azul, with longtime collaborator Yo-Yo Ma, as well as a recent album featuring Gil Shaham in performances of the Beethoven and Brahms Violin Concertos.

A frequent guest conductor, Eric has established continuing relationships with the Colorado Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Oregon Bach Festival, and the Dresden Musikfestspiele. This season’s engagements also include concerts with the Omaha Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, and Grant Park Festival.

Eric brings joy, storytelling, and a touch of humor to what he describes as “musical conversations” that delight audiences around the world, including those who do not traditionally attend classical music concerts. Jacobsen is married to Grammy-Winner singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan and they have a five-year-old daughter, Ivy Jo.

PROGRAM NOTES

 

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)  

Holberg Suite (From Holberg’s Time), op.40 (1884)  

Scored for: strings

Performance time: 21 minutes 

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 9, 2018; Jeremy Black, leader 

Edvard Grieg is practically synonymous with Norwegian music. The most prominent Scandinavian composer of his generation, he brought Norwegian folk music to the masses. While the Holberg Suite is not explicitly based on any Norwegian folksongs, it was written to honor a seminal figure in Norwegian literature, Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754). Several commissions sprung out of the bicentennial celebrations of Holberg’s birth in 1884. Grieg’s contributions included a cantata for low voices and Fra Holbergs Tid (“From Holberg’s Time”), now commonly referred to as the Holberg Suite. Holberg and Grieg were both born in Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway. An icon of the Scandinavian Enlightenment, Holberg was most known for writing comedies and satire, earning him the moniker “the Molière of the North.” 

To capture the sound world of Holberg’s time, Grieg turned to the form of a French baroque dance suite. Originally scored for piano, the Holberg Suite proved such a success that Grieg rearranged it for string orchestra shortly after the premiere. The arrangement for strings is now the most frequently played version. Writing for string orchestra was popular in the 1880s, with notable Serenades for Strings by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky appearing around the same time. Enchanted with the rich array of colors a large group of strings afforded, Grieg specified the Holberg Suite be played by the entire string section of a symphony orchestra and not a smaller string or chamber ensemble.  

The suite opens with the “Praeludium,” a movement thrumming with optimism. An elegant violin melody soars over a softly galloping accompaniment, imitating the constant repetition needed to sustain tones on a harpsichord. The “Sarabande” is a stately baroque dance in triple meter characterized by stable four-bar phrases. Grieg adds textural contrast with a poignant cello trio in the B section. The middle section of the pastoral “Gavotte” features a musette, a rustic dance traditionally accompanied by the drone of a bagpipe. Grieg deploys the full richness of the string section in the solemn “Air.” The exquisite melody is ornamented with stylistic turns, and suspensions in the underlying harmonies create tension by delaying harmonic resolution. Finally, the “Rigaudon” is a merry folk dance in duple meter. A solo violin and viola introduce the spritely melody over lightly plucked accompaniment, while the elegiac middle section evokes the seriousness of the previous movement. 

 

Nathalie Joachim 

Cocoon (Festival Commission) 

Scored for: three flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings

Performance time: 5 minutes 

World premiere performance 

A cocoon by definition is something that envelops or surrounds an object in a protective or comforting way. It can also be the act of retreating from the stressful conditions of public life into a cozy private world. A way of quietly disappearing with hopes of returning renewed. This work is a sonic invitation into these dualities – the quiet power found by secluding oneself with restorative intentions and the violent energetic shifts that accompany necessary growth. The short work is an expression of expansion, beginning in a delicate space held together by extremes – a contemplative song in the low strings and clarinets that calls forth a sparkling melody in the piccolo and celesta. It feels utterly lonely and warm all at once. Then the violins begin to unfurl a broadening that continues to shimmer as it glides forward towards a newly found heartbeat in the percussion section and building chorales and rally cries in the brass and woodwinds. A sudden interjection of a tutti section showcasing high pitched kinetic energy with rhythmic mayhem in the drums leads to the works’ smoothly cinematic and triumphant peak. This comforting arrival ultimately gives way to one final moment of uncomfortable chaos
before settling into reassured reflection. Cocoon in many ways is about process, in life and in music. It’s about embracing ease and disorder all at once, and trusting that what awaits on the other side is usually well worth it.

– Natalie Joachim, composer

 

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)  

Symphony No.5 in C minor, op.67 (1807)  

Scored for: three flutes including piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, three bassoons including contrabassoon, two French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings

Performance time: 31 minutes 

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: August 26, 1936; Dino Bigalli, conductor 

Fate knocking at the door. In Morse code, “V” for “Victory” (conveniently also the Roman numeral for five). However you hear the famous opening motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, those first four notes have embedded themselves in our collective psyche, becoming the most recognized figure in all classical music. Because the opening is so well known, it is easy to forget just how innovative Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was at the time. With his Third Symphony, Eroica, in 1803, Beethoven had forged a new “symphonic ideal” to which generations of composers would aspire. This new symphonic model was characterized by unprecedented scope, thematic evolution across movements, and a sense of a heroic journey from darkness into light. After changing the game with Eroica, Beethoven solidified this idea with his Fifth Symphony.  

Beethoven began sketching the Fifth Symphony in 1804, shortly after completing Eroica. He returned to it sporadically over the coming years during a period of intense creative productivity, completing the majority of it in 1807 and finishing it in early 1808. In the interim, he had also composed his Fourth Symphony, Violin Concerto, and Fourth Piano Concerto, among other works. To showcase his new compositions, he organized a benefit concert on December 22, 1808, at the Theater an der Wien. The all-Beethoven program featured a staggering four hours of music, including the premieres of the Fifth Symphony and the highly contrasting Sixth Symphony (Pastoral). The concert was not an unmitigated success, partially due to its length and unfamiliar music, but also because the theater’s heating system was broken, leaving patrons shivering in their seats.  

The Fifth Symphony was revolutionary in several ways—“revolutionary” being the key word. Beethoven was inspired by the egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution and the triumphant music that emerged from it. These feelings became complicated when Napoleon declared himself emperor and invaded Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars. Plus, Beethoven relied on patronage from members of the aristocracy, so any affinity he might have had for the revolutionaries had to be expressed covertly. Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner argues that the opening theme derives from Luigi Cherubini’s Hymne du Panthéon, echoing the rhythm and melodic outline of the lyrics that translate to, “We swear, sword in hand, to die for the Republic and for the rights of man.” 

Musically, the opening is unusual in that it starts with a downbeat of rest. Then, the first three eighth notes act as an anacrusis to the long note marked with a fermata. Who else would open a piece with such a short figure only to halt it as soon as it’s begun? Also revolutionary is how this motif pervades practically the entire Allegro and lurks under the surface in the subsequent movements. The shortness of this musical idea, paired with the limited harmonic scope of the first movement, adds to the feeling of compression. While the Andante provides consolation and respite with a flexible treatment of a Classical theme and variations, a militaristic affect sneaks in during brief brass interludes. 

The drama of the first movement returns in the Scherzo, and almost immediately, we are reminded of the rhythm of the opening with a declamation in the brass. After a vigorous fugato in the Trio section, the Scherzo returns as expected, but Beethoven does not let it run its natural course. Instead, he takes the listener through a tunnel, the melody groping around in the dark before finally emerging into the daylight of C major as the finale begins. The triumphant finale is made even more brilliant with the addition of trombones (the first time trombones appeared in any symphony), piccolo, and contrabassoon. Though now we are accustomed to these sounds, it would have been more shocking to an early-nineteenth-century audience. At the end of the development, we hear strains of the Scherzo version of the opening motif, making it clear that the finale is the inevitable resolution of the struggle that preceded it.  

 

Program Notes by Katherine Buzard

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