Russian conductor Eduard Schmieder leads the iPalpiti Orchestra of International Laureates in a concert Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Dana Ross)
July 24, 2016 3:45pm
Of all the death-haunted composers in history, Schubert and Mahler stand close to the top. Some of their most compelling music in this vein — Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-flat, the slow movements from Mahler’s 5th and 6th symphonies — transform our fears into something emotionally complex and ennobling, paradoxically becoming a source of insight and comfort.
For its 19th annual festival finale, the iPalpiti Orchestra of International Laureates celebrated life, love and death at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday night in a program of Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Schubert/Mahler.
Led by Russian conductor Eduard Schmieder, iPalpiti (Italian for “heartbeats”), consisting of 22 young professional string players from 18 countries, began with a solid account of Mendelssohn’s well-crafted early String Symphony No. 10. It was a fine warmup for what came next: the complete orchestral arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s evocative but seldom-performed “The Seasons,” a set of 12 short character pieces originally composed for piano in 1876.
The score, musical evocations of each of the 12 months, offered a rich showcase for the ensemble’s many gifts, including hushed pianissimo playing in “January: At the Fireside,” and breathtaking agility throughout. Alan Chapman, a host and producer of KUSC Classical radio, served as narrator, reading short Russian poems in English translation, prefacing each month with invigorating directness.
The slight tinge of melancholy in “October: Autumn Song” hardly prepared listeners for Mahler’s stunning 1894 arrangement for string orchestra of Schubert’s late String Quartet in D minor “Death and the Maiden” (D.810), which came after intermission. At the time, Mahler was working on his “Resurrection” Symphony. The kinship between the two composers — Schubert’s rather innocent reckoning with his own mortality and Mahler’s with his more modernist angst — came through viscerally in a rendition of moving depth and humanity by Schmieder and the ensemble.
Oddly, at around 41 minutes — the Busch Quartet’s famous 1936 version comes in at 33 minutes — Schmieder’s reading felt spellbindingly concise. Best of all, he delivered a magisterial, perfectly paced account of the second movement Andante. Schmieder made the larger ensemble sound string quartet-like, with transparent textures, and maintained the intimacy of chamber music, which is often lost in Mahler’s beefier version.
Enriching the score’s sonority, Mahler added a double-bass to the ensemble, played here by Brooklyn-born iPalpiti newcomer Levi Jones. Incidentally, the superb cellists were also new to the group, including Ofer Canetti (Israel-Austria) and Carl-Oscar Osterlind (Denmark).
Schmieder dedicated the festival, which ran July 7-24, to violinist, conductor, teacher and humanitarian Yehudi Menuhin, in honor of his centenary. Menuhin, who was born in the U.S. and died in 1999 at age 82, was one of Schmieder’s mentors and an early supporter of iPalpiti.
“Yehudi was a philosopher,” Schmieder told the audience after the Mahler/Schubert. “We talked about life and death.”
Menuhin once called young musicians “the connecting tissue of our humanity.” Schmieder echoed this abiding hope in his comments. All gloom was quickly dispelled when the conductor and iPalpiti offered a rousing encore, Carl Bohm’s “Perpetuum Mobile,” performed with Ferrari-like speed and nimbleness.
We would like to offer a translation from the review in the Almanac Panorama (Russian National Weekly):
Everything was so glorious and significant, beginning with the carefully thought-through program! How challenging it must be to combine in one concert Russian romanticism and sentiment with Gothic mysticism; how brilliant it is to unite two suffering souls—Tchaikovsky and Mahler—to elevate us listeners to the heights of human spirit!
The orchestra sounded almost crystalline, although “the veterans” were only a few, once more the reason to celebrate the Maestro!
It felt as if the conductor created music out of the air, the movements of his hands mesmerizing and commanding to both the musicians and the audience.
Eduard’s hand technique is amazing—this is a separate, big subject. The concert’s success is the absolutely appropriate result of the inspiration and selfless effort on the part of all the participants, on and off stage. We loved the printed festival brochure with its wonderful photos and very meaningful cover, not to mention its wealth of great information…
KUSC’s Alan Chapman, who was a Narrator in Tchaikovsky Seasons, sat with me in the 2nd half and after Schubert-Mahler after “WOW” continued, “all EMI recordings do not come even close to this”.
Letter to the Audience
– about iPalpiti and the orchestral ensemble program
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” – Ludwig van Beethoven
Music is a gift that enables us to muse without words. “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”
– Leo Tolstoy
The name of the orchestral ensemble, iPalpiti – THE HEARTBEATS – is a spiritual child of my belief in music as a reflection of the psyche and the soul, as a manifestation of the divine. Genuine music comes from within; it comes from the heart. I perceive the art of music-making as a poetic idiom, a fascinating inspiration, and a cultural component to express a broader spectrum of emotional, intellectual, and philosophical experience.
I impart these principles in my interaction with iPalpiti.
An ancient Jewish work of mystical lore identifies three dimensions of human experience that the Divine reveals in the world: space, time, and soul. All of these elements are essential to music.
True music contains multiple levels of meaning, a potential of a greater dimension. A composer is a vessel who absorbs and translates the highest impulses into music, often with a more complex meaning than at first appearance. Nowadays, we are admonished repeatedly to find a fixed and certain meaning in a work of art. And yet, all interpretation is relative, no matter how impartial the artist may try to be. There is no art in absolute exactness; it survives poorly in a changing world.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the minds, flight to the imagination, and life to everything”
“Imagination is greater than knowledge because knowledge is limited…”
– Albert Einstein
If a “correct” interpretation were to be found, only one performer and no critics would be needed. The opportunity to experience a new view of a familiar work should be cause for celebration. At a time when the spiritual dimension of the creation and re-creation of music is evaporating, it is our intention to replenish souls with loving energy, beliefs, and ideas by infusing music with positive spirit.
“To love alone can music ever yield, and love is melody”
– A.S. Pushkin
We have selected the compositions for tonight’s program in the hope of inspiring you, the listener, to explore the interconnections among the pieces as you discover the immeasurable potential of these beautiful works of art.
“Tradition is nothing but laziness”
– Gustav Mahler
Given the current obsession with “authentic” performance practice, you might be surprised at our equanimity to offer on tonight’s program two masterworks of great composers arranged by other composers: Seasons, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, originally composed for piano solo, and Death and the Maiden, by Franz Schubert, originally composed for string quartet.
To understand our purpose, one must look at these re-creations in the light of our artistic mission to act as a “purveyor” of music. As creative artists, we believe that our duty to the music is far from delivering an exact reproduction of the notes in the printed score. We see it as a matter of being faithful to the composer’s intentions.
The size of the halls in which music was performed increased inordinately during the 19th and20th centuries. Listeners nowadays prefer not to hear a solo piano recital or a string quartet in one of the larger concert halls. Our decision to perform these piano and quartet compositions in orchestral versions is an attempt to compensate for the changes in performing conditions, and to bring immortal music not only to exclusive, but to wider audiences as well.
Todays’ attempts at “period” performances of classical works might seem merely symptomatic of a particular stage in musical history. On the other hand, the belief that there is only one historically correct way of performing the music of any period is certainly a mistaken one. After all, music only exists through the perception of the listener, at the moment it is heard. It must therefore always be tied to the present and cannot be reproduced in the same way time after time. As Kurt Blaukopf has said, “it is still not generally recognized that reproducing the original sounds is no guarantee of producing the same effect as when those sounds were first heard.” Even if we use period instruments and perform in the very rooms whose acoustics the composers had in mind, we are still faced with the question once asked by Wilhelm Furtwängler, “ Can we be sure that people today hear in the same way as people did hundred and fifty years ago?”
Toward the end of the Romantic period, an era before the existence of radio and television and when the gramophone industry, still in its infancy , was incapable of reproducing much more than mechanical noises , it was common practice to seek out forms of musical entertainment that seem strange to a modern listener. Above all, there existed arrangements of every conceivable kind, often significant reductions of massive orchestral scoring. The opposite has happened since time of Hans von Bülow; chamber music has been “enlarged” so it could be performed in huge concert halls. And for this reason I introduce to you tonight -with admiration and love – the program I title as LIFE CYCLES:
Schubert Death and the Maiden
in orchestral versions with the purpose of popularizing the works by making them familiar to a larger audience with the conviction that in “enriched” and enlarged sonority, their multiple expressive possibilities would acquire a new dimension. Both Gustav Mahler and the arranger of the Seasons aimed at enriching the texture of the works by means of the enlargement of the variety of timbres.
The Four Seasons (Op. 37b) is a famous piano cycle composed by P. I. Tchaikovsky; it consists of twelve pictorial pieces. The idea of a cycle and the titles for each piece belonged to N. M. Bernard, the publisher of the Nouvelliste magazine with which Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky had collaborated since 1873. Around November 1875, Bernard commissioned Tchaikovsky to write a piano cycle. Bernard’s letter has not survived, but its content is easy to reconstruct from the composer’s response on November 24, 1875:
I am in receipt of your letter. Thank you very much for your generous willingness to pay me such a high fee. I will do my best to please you and not to fail your expectations. Shortly I will be sending you the first piece, and maybe even two or three at once. Barring any unexpected interference, the project should progress expeditiously, for I feel quite inclined to work on small piano pieces these days. Yours, Tchaikovsky. I will keep all your titles.
It is clear, then, that the titles for these pieces—these petite musical narratives—were suggested to the composer by the publisher. On December 13, 1875, Tchaikovsky wrote to Bernard:
This morning, or maybe even yesterday, two first pieces were mailed to you. Not without trepidation have I dispatched them: I fear that you may find them long and poorly written. I implore you to please express your honest opinion so I can keep it in mind when composing the next pieces… If you find the second piece not to your liking, please let me know… If you wish me to rewrite the Pancake Week, please do not stand on ceremony and let me know. Be assured that by the deadline, that is, by January 15th, I will submit to you another variant. You pay me such an awe-inspiring fee that you have every right to demand changes, additions, reductions, and rewrites.
But the pieces apparently satisfied Bernard, because they were published in due time in the issues for which they had been announced and exactly as they appeared in the manuscripts. In the Nouvelliste the pieces acquired poetic epigraphs. This was apparently Bernard’s idea. It is not known whether Tchaikovsky knew about the added epigraphs in advance, or whether their choice had been discussed with him, but since all editions during Tchaikovsky’s lifetime included the epigraphs, it is safe to assume that in one way or another, the composer approved of them. At the end of 1876, Bernard published the pieces as a music book with the French title Les Saisons (as was fashionable in Russia at that time), The Four Seasons. This was the first time that the entire cycle was given a name, and once again it was done by Bernard. The book’s cover depicted twelve images, corresponding to the twelve months of the year. The Seasons inspired many arrangements, including for symphony orchestra, solo piano and solo violin with symphony orchestra, and even for two guitars.
Schubert: Quartet D. 810 Death and the Maiden Schubert was a poet of unfulfillable longing, of human vulnerability, of the excruciating sweetness of the yearning to be at peace. He said, “I feel myself to be the most unfortunate, the most miserable being in the world. Think of a man whose health will never be right again, and who from despair over the fact makes it worse instead of better, think of a man, I say, whose splendid hopes have come to naught, to whom the happiness of love and friendship offers nothing but acutest pain, whose enthusiasm (at least, the inspiring kind) for the Beautiful threatens to disappear, and ask yourself whether he isn’t a miserable, unfortunate fellow. My peace is gone, my heart is heavy. I find it never, nevermore…so might I sing every day, since each night when I go to sleep I hope never again to wake, and each morning merely reminds me of the misery of yesterday.”
This string quartet, completed in 1824 (at the age 27) is one of Schubert’s most tragic works. The entire composition is suffused with an inner sense of despondency, for merely autobiographical reasons. As his correspondence reveals, the composer was already gravely ill, confronted by an early death. Thoughts of his own mortality lie behind the poetic subject itself: he composed the lied [song] Death and the Maiden in 1817 on the poem by the German poet Matthias Claudius; that theme is quoted explicitly only in the 2 nd movement of the quartet, but it gives the title to the entire composition. The Maiden implores Death to pass her by, whilst Death tries to persuade her to sleep in his arms.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts, – William Shakespeare
Follow us, Dear Listener. Talent is a mission and must be repaid to the Creator through people. The most beautiful things in the world can only be felt with the heart.
“It is only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible for the eye.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
We are in accord with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who said, “it is the union of hearts which constitutes their felicity.”
These inspired young musicians from various countries, the members of iPalpiti, are united in their hope of bringing beauty into your life through celestial sound, vital rhythm, and eternal emotional energy. May we all be blessed by the touch of higher harmony!
And long will people fondly call to mind my story
About the kindly feelings which my lyre awoke
That in my cruel age, I sang of Freedom’s glory
And mercy for the fallen spoke.
[From a poem by Alexander Pushkin]
Founder of iPalpiti
Laura H. Carnell Professor of Violin
Artistic Director for Strings, Temple University, Philadelphia .