BPO Musician Portraits with JoAnn Falletta

The BPO and JoAnn Falletta have partnered with Buffalo Toronto Public Media to present “BPO Musician Portraits with JoAnn Falletta,” a four-part musical showcase of television specials on WNED PBS featuring select musicians from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. These intimate concerts, introduced by JoAnn Falletta, feature performances from principal cellist Roman Mekinulov and pianist Eric Huebner, cellist Feng Hew and violinist Shieh-Jian Tsai, harpist Madeline Olson, and BPO concertmaster Nikki Chooi.

These half-hour broadcasts will air each Monday from June 15 through July 6 at 7:30pm on WNED PBS. Check local listings for station information.

“BPO Musician Portraits with JoAnn Falletta” is funded in part by Cindy and Francis Letro, proud supporters of Buffalo Toronto Public Media and The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Broadcast Schedule

Monday, July 6, 7:30pm

Nikki Chooi, violin, BPO concertmaster

BACH  Chaconne
MASSENET  Meditation from Thaïs
TCHAIKOVSKY  Excerpts from Swan Lake
Program Notes
by Edward Yadzinski

Johann Sebastian Bach
German composer and organist
born: 1685, Eisenach; died: 1750, Leipzig

Partita No.2 in D minor
Chaconne

For the power of spiritual expression and the poetic blend of science and art, the music of Bach is unsurpassed. While Bach is perhaps best known for his great oratorios and cantatas, his catalog also contains a wealth of instrumental work – concertos, sonatas, suites, etc. One of his most revered works among the latter is the Partita No.2 in D minor for unaccompanied violin, written in about 1720. In five movements, the piece was composed during the time Bach served as Kapellmeister at the court of Cöthen from 1717 through 1723, under the sponsorship of Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. The last movement of the Partita in D minor has become known around the world as “The Bach Chaconne,” one of the jewels of the violin repertoire.

For reference, the chaconne first appeared about 500 years ago as a folk dance in Spain. In general, a bright, triple-meter melody in a minor key was replayed in a series of variations. But by the time the dance reached Germany in the Late Baroque, the chaconne had taken on a serene, spiritual character, exemplified by the poignant allure of Bach’s setting.

Jules Massenet
French composer
born: 12 May 1842, Montaud; died: 13 August 1912, Paris

Meditation from Thaïs

While most of his 32 operas enjoyed considerable popularity in his own lifetime, Massenet is known today for just three works – his operas Manon (1882) and Werther (1892) and the immensely popular instrumental miniature known as the Meditation from Thaïs, for violin solo and orchestra.

Composed in 1894, Massenet’s Thaïs is an opera in three acts and seven scenes; the storyline concerns the ages-old conflict between worldly, carnal love and the calling of religious faith. Set in Egypt in the early years of Christianity the libretto features the opposing morality of Athanaël, a devoted monk, and Thaïs, a beautiful courtesan in the wanton city of Alexandria. Trying to lure Thaïs away from the cult of Venus, Athanaël approaches her directly. But Thaïs is far more than willing to greet him, intent on making a conversion of her own. When they meet, Thaïs appears in her most alluring attire, bent on seduction. But Athanaël is resolute and remains unmoved, even as Thaïs is radiant and determined. But this is opera – in Act II she discovers her faith in contrite meditation. And in the next act Athanaël succumbs to carnal desire for Thaïs. When strange voices tell him that Thaïs is soon to die in faith, Athanaël rushes to her side and confesses his passionate love as she expires in divine sublimation.

Thaïs’ prayerful reverie is represented by an exquisite setting for solo violin over sustained harmonies. In the opera the music is heard twice, first as an interlude before the second scene in Act II at the moment of Thaïs’ conversion, and again when she expires before the final curtain.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky
Russian composer
born: 25 April 1840, Votkinsk; died: 25 October 1893, St. Petersburg

Swan Lake
Suite for Violin

Tchaikovsky’s magnificent catalog hints at a composer whose heart was always in ballet theater, whether for the Bolshoi stage per se or the concert hall. We note that, even in Peter Ilich’s purely instrumental works, his lyrical or technical phrases always seem to belie a storyteller’s manner – which served the music well in his many tone poems and subjective symphonies. To this we add that his three great ballets – Swan  Lake of 1876, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcrackerwere written in close tandem to his three most important symphonies, Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

The storyline of Swan Lake concerns a beautiful maiden, Odette, who has been placed under an evil spell by Rothbart. She appears as a maiden only from midnight until dawn, but must exist every day as a swan on a lake in the Black Forest. To break the spell, Prince Siegfried pledges his eternal love, but is tricked into betrayal by Rothbart. Unwittingly, Siegfried offers his heart to Odile, the sorcerer’s daughter, who appears exactly like Odette, but dressed in satin black. When the ruse is revealed, the heartbroken Odette sacrifices herself to a storm on the lake, followed by Siegfried in despair. United at last, their spirits are escorted in triumph by swans into the great beyond.

The score for Swan Lake features the violin in diverse roles, including the well-known portrait of Odette in the famous pas de deux.