ASPEN MUSIC FESTIVAL: MacMillan, Bartok; CANCELLED due to pandemic
Place & Time
Benedict Music Tent
Aspen CO United States
August 5, 2020
5:30 PM

JAMES MACMILLAN: Viola Concerto (U.S. Premiere)
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123


Robert Spano conductor
Lawrence Power viola

Additional Information

“No musician today better equipped to play than the minstrel-like Power” (Financial Times). “Power seduces you permanently.”(Trouw). “Power is something more: a profound musical personality, his every phrase new and noteworthy.” (Sunday Times). The Aspen audience was wowed by the British-born musician’s artistry two seasons ago when he played the Bartók Concerto. He returns for the U.S. premiere of James MacMillan’s 2013 concerto which he dedicated to Power. The piece has received critical acclaim; the Daily Observer called it “a major contribution to the repertoire.” You’ll hear soaring passages for the soloist and bold orchestral colors, with the bright timbres of harp, xylophone, vibraphone, and tubular bells contrasting with mellow string sounds. Surprising and unconventional effects include an explosive opening to the lyrical slow movement, a solo flute in the finale reminiscent of the Japanese shakuhachi, and the viola’s disappearance during the work’s close.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, his most popular work, was also his last. It was commissioned as a showcase for the Boston Symphony Orchestra while the composer was in a New York hospital suffering from leukemia. This opportunity revitalized Bartók, and in only two months, the work was complete. By using the word “concerto,” Bartók meant that the individual sections of the orchestra were often treated soloistically. The first movement is heavily influenced by the folk themes and rhythms of Bartók’s native Hungary, which near the end are played backwards, forwards, and upside down. In the second movement, subtitled Presentation of Couples, pairs of wind instruments and muted trumpets are each given their own theme, which later return embellished by additional instruments. A haunting elegy is followed by an intermezzo which is rudely interrupted by Bartók’s thumbing his nose at Shostakovich, whom he considered overrated. That’s according to Bartók’s son, who said his father happened to hear a broadcast of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony and was inspired to parody it. The clarinet plays a march tune from the symphony and is met by jeers from the trombones. The tune is repeated in the style of a German band with a final parody by the tuba. The splendid finale with its brass fanfares and intricate fugue brings the work to a thrilling conclusion.

Be swept away by a mesmerizing soloist and revel in the color and power of the orchestra with this invigorating program.

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