Share on Google+:
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra resumes its regular concert series this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, January 14 and 15) with a preview of the repertoire for its tour of Spain, which consists of appearances in Valencia on February 8, Madrid on February 9 and 10, and Oviedo on February 11. All three works on the program were written here in the USA, although only one of them is actually the work of an American composer.
Up next is Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35, which first saw the light of day right here in Mound City back in 1947. Jascha Heifetz was the soloist, and on the podium was the French-American conductor Vladimir Golschmann. Golschmann was music director of the SLSO from 1931 to 1958 (the longest-reigning SLSO music director to date) and made a number of recordings with the orchestra.
Korngold's name will be familiar to classic film fans. Born in Moravia in 1897, Korngold was a child prodigy hailed as a "musical genius" by Gustav Mahler. He composed his first ballet at age 11 and his most famous opera, Die tote Stadt, at 23. In 1934 director Max Reinhardt enticed Korngold to Hollywood to write the music for his lavish film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (well worth seeing, despite the many cuts in Shakespeare's text). He returned to Austria, but was drawn back to California in 1938 to write the score for The Adventures of Robin Hood. While he was there, Hitler's Anschluss of Austria took place, and Korngold became an émigré ("We thought of ourselves as Viennese," he would recall later. "Hitler made us Jewish.")
|Erich Wolfgang Korngold|
Closing the concerts is the Symphony No. 9 in E minor, op. 95, (“From the New World”) by Antonín Dvořák. The Czech master wrote it during a visit to America in the early 1890s, and while he never explicitly quotes any American folk material, there's still something about this music that strongly suggests America. From the flute theme in the first movement that seems to echo "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," to the second movement Largo that has (at least for me) always evoked the majestic solitude of the plains (Dvořák said he wrote it after reading Longfellow's "Hiawatha"), to the "bluesy" flatted seventh chords of the finale, Dvořák "New World" symphony just shouts "USA"—even if it does so with a strong Czech accent.
Some critics have complained of the symphony's structural weaknesses and its episodic nature. In his book Nineteenth-Century Romanticism in Music, for example, British musicologist Rey M. Longyear disses the composer's "labored attempts" at cyclic form and dismisses it as "one of [Dvořák's] weaker works."
|Dvořák with his friends and family|
in New York
I couldn't agree more. This tremendously appealing piece is one of the first classical works I ever encountered, and I've never lost my affection for it. If you've never heard it before, I'll bet it will strike you the same way.
The Essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist Gil Shaham on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., January 14 and 15. The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.