The Philadelphians on WRTI: Salonen Conducts “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – Beyond “A Space Odyssey”
Join us Sunday August 15 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday August 16 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 hear Esa Pekka-Salonen conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in Richard Strauss’s symphonic poem Also Zarathustra sprach, and two works by Béla Bartók – his Concerto for viola, with soloist CJ Chang, and the pantomime ballet The Miraculous Mandarin.
The concert originally aired on WRTI in 2019.
It is a stimulating program, led by one of the world’s most distinguished musicians. Richard strauss himself led Also Zarathustra sprach with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1921, on the second of his two visits to America. He based this daring symphonic poem on the brilliant, confusing and disturbing philosophical meditation of Friedrich Nietzsche.
The unforgettable opening, which represents the sunrise seen from a mountain top, deploys the organ with a magnificent effect, and hearing this iconic work performed with Verizon Hall’s Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ ringing the opening chord is a treat.
Nietzsche’s extraordinary book, written between 1883 and 1885, unfolds like a poetic story. It is an elusive piece of philosophical literature, consisting of some eighty titled proclamations, each ending with the words “thus spoke Zarathustra”, the Greek name for Zoroaster, the ancient Persian mystic. Strauss was deeply drawn to Nietzsche’s book, which itself is quite musical in several ways. Nietzsche, after all, was a musician and composer himself, and some of his compositions can be found online. Strauss admired Nietzsche’s musicality and also understood his sense of irony.
Strauss prefaced the score with the opening of Nietzsche’s book, the Prologue, which tells about 30-year-old Zarathustra leaving his homeland to philosophize in the solitude of a mountain cave. After ten years, he wakes up one morning and addresses the rising sun, believing that he has achieved wisdom, and that it is time for him to come back down to join humanity.
Strauss brilliantly captures the Dawn in one of the most effective overtures in all orchestral music, with organ, double basses, and contrabassoon establishing a fundamental pedal point, made even more famous after Stanley Kubrick used it in his film. 1968: 2001: The Space Odyssey.
When Bela Bartok died in September 1945, he left a concerto for viola commissioned by the violist William Primrose. And although no definitive version of the work exists, this concerto has arguably become the most played viola concerto in the world today.
After Bartók’s death, his family asked the composer’s friend, Tibor serly, to review the sketches of the concerto and to prepare it for publication. Even though a draft was ready, it took Serly years to put the sketches together into a complete piece. In 1949, Primrose finally unveiled it at a premiere with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. For nearly half a century, the Serly version enjoyed great popularity among the viola community, even though it faced accusations of inauthenticity.
Then, in the 1990s, several revisions appeared, and in 1995 the composer’s son, Peter Bartók, published a revision and facsimile of the original manuscript, paving the way for an intensified debate on the authenticity of multiples. versions. This debate continues as Bartók’s violists and scholars search for the definitive version of this final work by Hungary’s greatest composer.
This replay of Bartok’s Viola Concerto brings the principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra to the limelight at Verizon Hall – Choong Jin Chang, or, as it is known, CJ Chang. A native of Seoul, Korea, he made his violinist debut at the age of 12 with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra as the grand prize winner of the Yook Young Korea National Competition.
At 13, he moved to the United States to attend the Juilliard School of Music. He then studied in Philadelphia at the Esther Boyer College of Music at Temple University and at the Curtis Institute of Music, from which he obtained degrees in violin and viola. Her main teachers were Jascha Brodsky and the former principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Viola Joseph dePasquale. Bartok’s Viola Concerto is a very important work for this wonderful violist, and his performance is not to be missed.
The Miraculous Mandarin is, frankly, one of the scariest pieces of music ever written. Shockingly violent and erotic at the same time, Béla Bartók’s “grotesque pantomime” ballet was greeted with whistles, stomping and boos when it premiered in Cologne, Germany in 1926. The ballet’s plot, based on a story by Hungarian writer Melchior Lengyel, involves three thugs who harness the powers of seduction of a beautiful young woman to lure men into their den, where the victims are robbed. The thugs force the girl to stand at the window and dance provocatively. In Bartók’s score, this seductive dance, musically represented by the solo clarinet (and solo clarinet Ricardo Morales will do the honors), occurs three times.
The first two men who are lured into the trap are thrown out of the room when the thugs realize they have no money. Then, the exotic Mandarin enters. While the Mandarin is entertained by the girl’s dance, the thugs steal it. They attempt to kill the Mandarin, suffocate him with a pillow, and stab him, but to their horror, he remains alive. Finally, when the thugs release the mandarin, he kisses the beautiful young woman and, his desire fulfilled, he dies. There are times when Bartók’s score evokes the relentless terror and sense of anticipation one can get from watching a horror movie. But there are also moments of irony and dark humor.
During the intermission, Susan Lewis from WRTI interviews Esa Pekka- Salonen, and the end Bliss Michelson speak with CJ Chang.
Read the detailed concert program notes.
R. Strauss: Also Zarathustra sprach
Bartok: Concerto for viola and orchestra
CJ Chang, viola
Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert shows, every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming online at WRTI.org and on the WRTI mobile app! Listen again Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2.