OCTOBER (Sponsored by Rupert Music Foundation)
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5 in E minor
The Moldau (Smetana)
Vier Letzte Lieder (Richard Strauss) – Erica Eloff (soprano)
Alexander Fokkens (Conductor)
Friday 28 September 19:00 & Sunday 30 September 15:00
|Block A (Adult) – R310||Block B (Adult) – R260|
|Block A (Senior) – R260||Block B (Senior)- R210|
|Block C (Row P, Q, R) – R160|
Brooklyn Theatre (012 460 6033)
Greenlyn Village Centre
C/o Thomas Edison and 13th Streets
Over the last few years, soprano Erica Eloff has steadily built her career on the concert platform to become a sought after soloist and recitalist. Praised in the media for her vocal authority and technical control, and a voice that is bright and well-produced across its range with great power at the top, she is a passionate and deeply musical performer.
Erica’s wide-ranging repertoire includes all of the major choral compositions including several lesser known works. As an active chamber musician and passionate performer of Lieder and contemporary music, Erica has presented world premiers of works by American, Argentinian, English and South African composers, including works specifically written for her by composers James Wilding, Augusto Arias and Hannes Taljaard.
As winner of the London Handel Singing Competition, Erica had the privilege of collaborating with Laurence Cummings and the London Handel Players on several occasions, including performing Handel’s Messiah at St. George’s. Her operatic experience includes the roles of Farnaspe (Adriano in Siria), Flowermaiden (Parsifal), Giovanna (Ernani), Chloë (Gruta de Ninfas), Ottone (Griselda),Galatea (Acis and Galatea), Meleagro (Atalanta), Euridice (Orfeo ed Euridice), Ilia (Idomeneo), Fiordiligi and Despina (Cosi fan tutte), First Lady and the Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflöte), Violetta (La Traviata), Tatyana (Eugene Onegin), Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), Dido and Belinda (Dido & Aeneas), Frasquita (Carmen), Adéle (Die Fledermaus) and Adina (L’elisir d’amore).
Erica’s engagements for the 2017-18 season sees her reprise the title role of Floria Tosca at the Schlossfestspiele Schwerin (G. Puccini Tosca), as well as return to the role of The Queen of the Night (W.A. Mozart Die Zauberfloete) for Theater Lübeck. She continues her collaboration with Opera Settecento for various concerts, as well as joining The Hanover Band for their Christmas Messiah tour throughout the UK. For up to date information about the various chamber music recitals and concerts she participates in throughout the year, please visit her calender.
When not performing vocal pyrotechnics or occupying herself with music and all things musical, Erica runs a busy family shuttle service as part of her duties as Elastagirl, and spends a lot of time cooking, cleaning and listening to her children singing, rhyming, arguing and relaying all sorts of random facts.
“Everyone loves a winner. And, from the moment she began her final recital at the start of this year’s Handel Singing Competition, the South African soprano Erica Eloff looked and sounded the part… and I can’t wait to hear her again… She really inhabited each aria – and at the end was radiant with laughter as though she’d enjoyed every minute. We certainly did …” – Hilary Finch, The Times
Alexander Fokkens’ extensive experience, both local and international, his professionalism , and his intense passion for music have led him to become one of the most sought-after conductors in South Africa.
Committed to ensuring that performances under his baton are of the very highest calibre and level of musicality , Alexander’s artistic integrity , personality and energy on the podium , and his excellent rapport with musicians and singers alike , have made him popular with performers and audiences everywhere .
Since returning from the USA in 2005, Alexander has been involved in many different areas of classical music in South Africa , and he currently holds a number of posts .
In 2011 , he was appointed Artistic Director and CEO of the Free State Symphony Orchestra as well as Conductor of the Free State Youth Symphony Orchestra. He has been Music Director of the Symphony Choir of Cape Town since 2005 and holds the positions of General Music Director of the Swakopmund Musikwoche in Namibia (since 2010) and Musical Advisor to the Namibian National Symphony Orchestra (since 2013).
Alexander is committed to the education of young musicians and one of his undeniable strengths is that of discovering , inspiring , mentoring and developing young musical talent . Under his expert guidance, students in youth orchestras such as the Fargo Moorhead Area Youth Symphony in the USA (2001-2003), Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony (1999-2005) and Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (2006-2012) have excelled , and these orchestras have risen to new levels of performance.
He has been involved for many years with the University of Cape Town Orchestras , both before and after his time in the USA. He is currently the Music Director and Conductor of the University of Cape Town String Ensemble and Symphonic Band (2009 to present) , and is Resident Conductor of the University of Cape Town Symphony Orchestra (2006 to present).
His vision and unwavering dedication to the delivery of memorable performances have seen Alexander become an acclaimed guest conductor, both here and in the USA . Amongst others, he has conducted the Latien Weed Honours Orchestra in South Dakota, The Grinnell Symphony Orchestra in Iowa, The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Opera, JMI Orchestra, the Black Tie Opera Company, Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, South African National Youth Concert Orchestra, Free State Symphony Orchestra and Youth Orchestra , and the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa. He made his European debut in 2006 , conducting Joplin’s Treemonisha in La Turbie, France and in 2016 made his debut at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, London as well as The Welsh Millennium Centre ( Cardiff ), The Bois Gais Theatre ( Dublin, Ireland ), the Mayflower Theatre ( Southampton, UK ), The Hippodrome Theatre ( Birmingham, UK ) and The Lowry Theatre ( Salford, UK ) conducting the production of The Mandela Trilogy.
Many soloists have enjoyed appearing with Alexander , and some of those who have played or sung under his baton include John Owings, Curt Thompson, Pretty Yende, Koos Kombuis, Tumi Molekane, Leslie Howard, Anmari van der Westhuizen, Anton Nel, Pieter Schoeman and Samson Diamond, to name but a few.
Graduating from the University of Cape Town in 1998 with a BMus in Orchestral Studies (Double Bass) , Alexander then went to America and furthered his studies at Texas Christian University , where he obtained his Masters in Double Bass performance and completed 3 years of Additional Studies in Theory and Conducting. He has studied with world- renowned conductors such as Omri Hadari, Gerard Korsten and German Gutierrez , and has participated in Master Classes with Henry Charles Smith, William LaRue Jones, Jorge Mester, Joann Falletta, Leslie B Dunner and Ron Spiegelman.
Appearances in the near future include performances with the Free State Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Cape Philharmonic, Symphony Choir of Cape Town, and presentations in the USA where he will be resident from January until March 2017.
Alexander lives in Cape Town with his wife, pianist Margaret Foxcroft, and their four children.
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5 in E minor
With his fifth symphony, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky yet again demonstrated why he was one of the romantic era’s finest composers – but what kind of critical reaction did the work get, and how did it affect him? For much of his life, Tchaikovsky was inspired on both an emotional and financial level by his patron, Nadezhda von Meck – whom he quite astonishingly never met. Indeed, this was a condition of her patronage.
In the summer of 1888, Tchaikovsky wrote one of his many letters to her, in which he commented, “I don’t know if I have already written that I have decided to write a symphony. At first progress was very arduous, but now illumination seems to have descended upon me. We shall see!” The work in question was this, his Symphony No.5. It had been ten years since the fairly unsuccessful premiere of the Symphony No.4 – admittedly punctuated by the composition of the Manfred Symphony in 1885 – and Tchaikovsky worked painstakingly hard to ensure that his latest symphonic creation received a favourable response.
Sadly, the reaction to the four-movement Symphony No.5 was, at best, muted. Tchaikovsky felt incredibly dejected, even going so far as to distance himself from it for quite some time. After his death, however, the work grew in popularity, with audiences and critics alike acknowledging Tchaikovsky’s great skill as an orchestrator and his powerful evocation of the idea of fate throughout the symphony. Today, it stands as one of his most loved large-scale creations.
Illustration: Mark Millington
RICHARD STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Vier Letzte Lieder
Some great artists – Mozart or Schubert for example – seem destined to die young, leaving a bitter aftertaste of promise unfulfilled. Others – such as Sibelius – burnt out, sinking into a bleak creative silence with the approach of later middle age. But there are those who continued to blossom into old age – Richard Strauss was one of these. Strauss’s last years, however, were overshadowed by the appalling devastation of his homeland during the Second World War. His 15th opera, Capriccio, was finished in August 1941, and he knew it would be his last, telling his colleague Clemens Krauss: ‘Isn’t this D flat major the best conclusion to my theatrical life- work?’. In 1943 the theatre that had hosted the premières of so many of his operas – the Nationaltheater in Munich – was destroyed by Allied bombs, followed shortly afterwards by other treasured cultural monuments. In the spring of 1945 Strauss’s horror at the tragic whirlwind Germany was reaping found expression in the Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings; and after the collapse of the Third Reich, he and his wife went into voluntary exile in Switzerland, where he had to undergo the humiliation of appearing before a denazification tribunal (he had unwittingly allowed himself to become a puppet of the Nazi government in the early 1930s, when he was briefly appointed Director of the Reichsmusikkammer, and then hastily removed from office when he refused to forego his collaboration with the Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig).
In the early summer of 1948 the 84-year-old composer heard that his reputation had been cleared, and he was free to return home to Garmisch. But by now his health was failing, and he was forced to stay in Switzerland to undergo an operation. During that summer he worked on four orchestral songs, which were to be his swansongs. The first, Im Abendrot (At Gloaming), to a text by Eichendorff, was finished on 6 May; and the remaining three – all to words by Hermann Hesse – between 18 July and 20 September. The last song – appropriately enough – was entitled September. Strauss never set pen to paper again. In August 1949 his heart began to fail, and he died peacefully on 8 September, telling his daughter-in-law, Alice: ‘Dying is just as I composed it in Tod und Verklärung’.
Strauss never heard the Four Last Songs, which were first performed in the Royal Albert Hall by Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler on 22 May 1950. Later the same year they were published in the order dictated by Universal Edition’s editor, Dr Ernst Roth (to whom Im Abendrot is dedicated) and in which they are most often sung today, beginning with Frühling (Spring) and ending with Im Abendrot. Over the past 64 years they have achieved iconic status among music-lovers and they have been performed and recorded by the greatest sopranos of the age, including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman, Lucia Popp, Gundula Janowitz and Karita Mattila. The beauty of the poems is matched by incomparable orchestration – rich, glowing, but sufficiently restrained to support and enfold the voice. In the Four Last Songs, Strauss bade farewell to
his three great musical loves: the soprano voice, the violin and the horn. The horn melody that introduces the coda of September and the luminous violin that ushers in the third verse of Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep) rank among the greatest orchestral solos of all time. All four songs are irradiated from within by the imagery of the setting sun and the awareness of approaching death, but there is nothing here of the bleak despair of Schubert’s late songs. Strauss and his life’s companion – his beloved wife Pauline whose voice inspired many of his greatest works – go hand in hand gently into the twilight, choosing not to ‘rage against the dying of the light’. Frühling is an ecstatic setting of one of Hesse’s most romantic poems, praising the beauties of spring; while in September, the sun, like the ageing composer, longs to close ‘its great, wearied eyes’. Beim Schlafengehen (setting a poem written during the First World War while Hesse was undergoing an emotional crisis) expresses the weary soul’s desire to live forever in the ‘magic circle of night’. Finally, Im Abendrot depicts an elderly couple who have come through life’s joys and sorrows together. Now, with tired eyes, they gaze at the sunset, while overhead two larks – portrayed by gentle flute trills – rise into the darkening sky. ‘Is this perhaps Death?’ they ask, to an echo of the ‘transfiguration’ theme from Tod und Verklärung.
© Wendy Thompson
Bedřich Smetana (1824‐1884)
Throughout the nineteenth century, feelings of nationalism swept across much of Europe. People hungered not only for political freedom but also for cultural experiences that would reflect their ethnic heritage. Nowhere were these sentiments stronger than in Bohemia, the birthplace of Smetana. (Although Bohemia is now the Czech Republic, it was part of the Austro‐Hungarian Empire in the early 1800s.)
Like many of his countrymen, Smetana grew up in the shadow of Germanic culture and politics. His family spoke German, he was first inspired musically by the Viennese masters, and as a young man he is even reported to have said, “With God’s help and grace I shall one day . . . be a Mozart in composition.”
Upon finishing school, Smetana moved to Prague, where he began earning a modest living as a piano teacher and composer. After participating in the unsuccessful Revolution of 1848, Smetana felt uncomfortable with the growing rift between Germans and Czechs in Bohemia, and as a result, accepted a teaching position in Sweden. Following the defeat of the Austrians by Napoleon III in 1859, however, the composer returned to Prague once again. With the Austrians gone, the climate was more favorable for Czech musicians, and Smetana now had a clear vision for his life and work. He changed his given name from Friedrich or Frédéric to Bedřch and began to consciously write works that reflect his ethnic heritage.
In 1874 the composer described one of his recent travels: “Today I took an excursion to the St. John Rapids where I sailed in a boat through huge waves . . . . The view of the landscape was both beautiful and grand.” Smetana’s trip inspired his famous symphonic poem The Moldau, which depicts Bohemia’s main river as it flows through the countryside. Part of a cycle of six symphonic poems entitled Má Vlast (My Country), this orchestral work was written in three weeks shortly after Smetana became deaf, but its fresh, optimistic mood gives no hint of the composer’s anguish and despair.
In many ways The Moldau is the epitome of quintessential Romanticism. There is a beautiful melody, and the entire work is filled with such programmatic associations as drama, nationalism, and nature. In the preface to the score the composer penned the following:
The composition depicts the course of the river, beginning from its two small sources, one cold the other warm, the joining of both streams into one, then the flow of the Moldau through forests and across meadows, through the countryside where merry feasts are celebrated, water nymphs dance in the moonlight; on nearby rocks can be seen the outline of ruined castles, proudly soaring into the sky. The Moldau swirls through the St. John Rapids and flows in a broad stream toward Prague. It passes Vyšehrad [where an ancient royal castle once stood], and finally the river disappears in the distance as it flows majestically into the Elbe.
Smetana realized that the music for such a program would not fit within the confines of a “true” symphony. As a result, he turned to the newer, more flexible genre—the symphonic poem. The Moldau is thus in one movement, not several, and there is no sonata form in which contrasting themes are developed through tonal exploration and presented again toward the end. Instead, new thematic material occurs in each scene of the story. In the hands of a lesser composer, the result might have been a mere series of vignettes. With Smetana, however, all the sections “flow” (pun intended) seamlessly from one to the other, and a truly magnificent river theme periodically recurs, melding together the various parts to create a unified composition.
Smetana takes advantage of the expanded orchestra of the nineteenth century. He uses relatively new instruments, such as the triangle, cymbals, and harp, for “magical” moments in the moonlight, while the lower brasses and shrill piccolo add excitement to the passage through the rapids.
Toward the end of the work, a feeling of triumph emerges as the music changes from minor to major. We realize that the Moldau is not just a river. It’s a symbol of nationalist yearnings that can instill immense pride but sometimes stir audiences to violent political demonstrations. It’s no wonder that when the Nazis occupied Bohemia during World War II, performances of Smetana’s The Moldau (as well as the remainder of Má Vlast) were banned in Prague, the composer’s home city.
Ironically, scholars have traced the “river theme” back to a Swedish folk song, one that Smetana probably heard during his one‐year teaching stint in Sweden. After the symphonic poem became well known, this melody appeared in a collection of Eastern Romanian songs and was later fitted to the words of Tikvatenu (“Our Hope”). The resulting hymn was Hatikvah, which was eventually adopted by the First Zionist Congress and became the national anthem of the State of Israel in 1948. According to Richard Taruskin:
The Moldau theme, with its Czech manifestations, can thus be looked upon as a stage in the history of a melody as it passed from Swedish origins to its Israeli destination. But of course, even this characterization is misleading. There are no origins and no destinations in such histories, only stages.
© Dr. La Wanda J. Blakeney