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Our Gala Concert with Yo-Yo Ma will be – by far – the most high-profile and highly anticipated concert along the Gulf Coast for 2024. Yo-Yo Ma is that rare performer whose passions reach far beyond the concert stage. He lives his life as a continuous exploration of new ideas, collaboration with musicians of all genres to bring people together. Yo-Yo Ma is very selective about where he plays. He seeks connections with communities, and we are lucky he wants to come to Mobile.
His multi-faceted career is testament to his enduring belief in culture’s power to generate trust and understanding. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, collaborating with communities and institutions to explore culture’s role in society, or engaging unexpected musical forms, Yo-Yo strives to foster connections that stimulate the imagination and reinforce our humanity.
“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something then you’re more willing to take risks…” – Yo-Yo Ma
Scott Speck, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Opus 64
Edward Elgar – Cello Concerto in E Minor, Opus 85
“There’s a reason why Yo-Yo Ma is a household name. He is one of the greatest artistic spirits of our generation. Nobody emerges unchanged from an encounter with Yo-Yo or his music making. When he first joined us in 2005, it was a milestone not just for the Symphony, but for the city. Now we have another milestone – to be one of the very few places in the world (and the only city our size) to welcome him three times.
Yo-Yo Ma playing the Elgar Cello Concerto with the MSO will be one of the Gulf Coast’s most important musical events of the year. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this unforgettable occasion. Can’t wait to see you there!” – Scott Speck
Program Notes by Sarah Ruddy, Ph.D.:
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
BORN May 7, 1840 | Votkinsk, Russia
DIED November 6, 1893 | St. Petersburg, Russia
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky suffered frequent bouts of depression and self-doubt throughout his career. The months in 1888 when he composed his Fifth Symphony were bookended by such emotions. He wrote to his patron and to his brother that he worried that he was played out as a composer, that his imagination had dried up, that he had nothing left to express in his music. Yet when he finally escaped to his vacation home and set pen to paper, Tchaikovsky was able to complete the symphony in less than four months. Unfortunately, after some poor reviews of the premiere, Tchaikovsky returned to his depressed state.
The Fifth Symphony is in cyclic form, meaning its theme returns in more than one movement. Beethoven mastered this convention in works such as his fifth and ninth symphonies, causing many Romantic composers — including Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Brahms, and Liszt — to take up the challenge. It has been speculated that the theme of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth — like that of Beethoven’s Fifth — represents fate. This idea derives from a short musing in Tchaikovsky’s notebook when he started sketching the symphony: “…a complete resignation before fate, which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate.”
At the outset of the introduction to the first movement, the clarinets present the fate theme in a minor key, with somber orchestral accompaniment, suggesting something like a funeral march. The theme returns in the second movement when trumpets and timpani twice rudely interrupt otherwise warm, passionate music. When the low, ominous theme sounds at the end of the third movement in the clarinets and bassoons, it is in stark contrast to the stately waltz that had preceded it. In the fourth movement, the theme is finally in a major key, seemingly emerging out of darkness. By the end of the piece, it sounds triumphant.
One contemporary critic wrote that “if Beethoven’s Fifth is Fate knocking at the door, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth is Fate trying to get out.” As Tchaikovsky mused in his notebook, he was resigned to fate and had accepted it. Perhaps it was this resignation that unlocked his imagination and set him free to compose.
This piece is scored for 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpan, and strings.
Elgar, Cello Concerto
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85
BORN June 2, 1857 | Broadheath, United Kingdom
DIED February 23, 1934 | Worcester, United Kingdom
In reaction to the onset of World War I, Edward Elgar ceased nearly all composing. Four years later, as the war neared its end, he was devastated by the destruction it had caused, he was financially insecure, and he and his wife were both suffering through illness. In the summer of 1918, Elgar finally found the solution to one of those problems: he received a diagnosis of severe tonsillitis and underwent surgery in London. His daughter Carice wrote that, following the surgery, “he was in a great deal of pain for several days… but nevertheless he woke up one morning and asked for pencil and paper.” For the first time in a long time, Elgar composed. The notes he put down on paper that day would become the main theme of the first movement of his Cello Concerto.
Elgar composed the Cello Concerto between August 1918 and August 1919, bringing in cellist Felix Salmond near the end of the process to help work out the solo part ahead of its premiere. It was to be performed at Queen’s Hall in London in October 1919 to open the London Symphony Orchestra’s first season after World War I. According to sources involved in the rehearsals, Albert Coates — the newly hired conductor of the London Symphony — monopolized the rehearsals, leaving very little time for Elgar and Salmond to prepare the orchestra. And so the premiere was a disaster. Critic Ernest Newman wrote that “never, in all probability, has so great an orchestra made so lamentable an exhibition of itself.”
After this regrettable premiere, the work languished until cellist Jacqueline du Pré recorded it in 1965 with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, who had played in the cello section at the work’s premiere. Since then, it has become one of the most often played cello concertos.
Many consider this work a sort of requiem, a remembrance of the simpler and happier times that were washed away by the War. The concerto opens with a declamatory cello solo before the main theme is heard, played starkly at first by the violas. The work closes in a similar fashion. After fading away into what seems like a devastating conclusion, the declamation from the introduction sounds again, followed by a short return of the first theme of the final movement. Taken together, these elements create a brutal ending. Between the declamatory opening and the abrupt ending of work, the soloist’s part sounds reflective and uncertain. There is nothing of the heroism or virtuosity that is typical of the concerto form.
It seems Elgar felt that this work was a sad ending to his life as a composer rather than a triumphant return to composition. Though he still had fifteen years left to live, this would be his last major work. In the entry of his personal composition catalog, he wrote next to it: “Finis. R.I.P.” And near the end of his life, Elgar wrote to a friend, referring to the main theme of the first movement: “If you ever hear someone whistling this melody around Malvern Hills, that will be me.”
This piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings, and solo cello