Simon Rattle and Daniel Stabrawa
27 Feb 2016
Sir Simon Rattle
Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast), Symphonic Fragments from the Ballet-Pantomime (18 min.)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, op. 61 (25 min.)
Daniel Stabrawa Violin
Les Boréades, orchestral pieces from the opera, arranged in form of a suite by Sir Simon Rattle (33 min.)
Daniel Stabrawa in conversation with Rainer Seegers (12 min.)
With Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast), Albert Roussel created one of the most richly colourful ballet scores of the 20th century – a brilliantly orchestrated ballet-pantomime in which the microcosm of insects becomes an ironic mirror image of human life. The premiere of the impressionistic, shimmering masterpiece on 3 April 1913 was Roussel’s first great success – no wonder that the former student of Vincent d’Indy soon created a version for the concert hall that Sir Simon Rattle has placed at the beginning of this concert.
Following this, Daniel Stabrawa, 1st Concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker, plays the second violin concerto by his countryman Karol Szymanowski, considered among the greatest creative talents of Polish music history of the 20th century. The work, in which the rich texture of the orchestra part provides a virtually kaleidoscopic diversity of timbres due to the use of constantly changing instrumental groups, is influenced by the folklore music traditions of the High Tatra, which are inextricably combined with Szymanowski’s own composing.
After the interval, Sir Simon presents a work that he introduced as his very own trademark during the 18 years he was in Birmingham, and that he conducted in Berlin for the first time in early November 1993: an arrangement of his own of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s last Tragédie lyrique Les Boréades, not premiered in concert until more than 200 years after it was composed. Rehearsals were held for the work, which Rameau composed at the age of 80 in the penultimate year of his life, and with the most prominent singers of the Paris Opéra of the time. But the premiere announced for the spring of 1764 did not materialise. The reasons for this could have been the libretto, which glorifies égalité and fraternité, as well as the extreme difficulties that the score offers, not only in the vocal parts.
Dances and Concertos from France and Poland
Listening to Fleas Coughing: Le Festin de l’araignée op. 17 by Albert Roussel
Perhaps it was the early loss of his familial roots that prompted Albert Roussel to pursue a naval career before devoting himself to the study of music. Born in 1869 and orphaned at the age of eight, Roussel was brought up by various relatives who recognized his musical talent and encouraged him with organ and theory lessons. After attending the elite school at the Collège Stanislas in Paris he took the entrance examination, not – like Claude Debussy before him or Maurice Ravel a little later – at the Conservatory but at the naval college. He then went to sea as a sailor for seven years and studied music theory on his own during voyages to the Far East. In winter 1893/1894 Roussel used an extended shore leave to study harmony with Julien Koszul in Roubaix in northern France. Koszul encouraged the 25-year-old naval lieutenant to trade the sea for music and study composition with Vincent d’Indy at the newly founded Schola Cantorum in Paris.
Roussel’s unusual position as a composer is not only due to his career detour via the seven seas but also his fascination with exotic themes. He became famous above all for his ballet-pantomime Le Festin de l’araignée(The Spider’s Feast) op. 17. During the composition of the work in December 1912 Roussel informed the conductor Jacques Rouché, to whom it was dedicated, about several of the characters in the insect drama, which was based on Jean-Henri Fabre’s Souvenirs entomologiques (Entomological Memories): “In addition to the spider, which is depicted through mime as well as dance, there are also the sophisticated dances of the mayfly and the butterfly.”
Roussel’s ballet, a microcosm in which ants and a praying mantis also appear, had its premiere on 3 April 1913 at the Théâtre des Arts in Paris and is still one of Roussel’s most frequently performed works.
From the Tatra Mountains: Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, op. 61
When Poland regained its independence in 1918 there were attempts to redefine its national cultural identity. The late works of Karol Szymanowski, the first important Polish composer after Frédéric Chopin, from 1920 until his death also reveal the clear formulation of a modern national musical style combining Polish folklore and 20th-century technical innovations in composition. After leaving his position as director of the Warsaw Conservatory Szymanowski took up permanent residence in the Tatra mountain resort of Zakopane in 1932. He had travelled there in previous years to study the musical folklore of the Gorals, the inhabitants of the Tatra Mountains. At dances and musical entertainments he attended with his friend, the poet Mieczysław Rytard, the violin playing of a frail old farmer named Bartuś Obrochta made a strong impression on the composer. Rytard described how important it was for Szymanowski “to decipher these strange, primitive melodies”, despite the “schnapps that was an indispensable part of such occasions. ... When Bartuś was asked to repeat several notes, Karol was ... astonished at certain changes in the original melody that were different each time ... ‘His playing is actually a kind of improvisation,’ Karol said.”
In June 1932 Szymanowski travelled to Paris, where he took part in a festival of Polish music and met his violinist friend Paweł Kochański. Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto had been dedicated to Kochański, and he persuaded the composer to write another contribution to the genre: “Paweł provoked and simply squeezed out of me a whole (second) violin concerto.” He composed the Violin Concerto No. 2, op. 61, in only four weeks during that summer. The orchestration and fair copy of the score were not completed until September 1933, however; Kochański composed a solo cadenza for the work. The Warsaw premiere on 6 October 1933, conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg, was the last appearance in Poland of the violinist, who was seriously ill with cancer.
The optimistic basic motif of the work is an inverted, ascending cuckoo call that forms a simple theme, played four times in succession. The one-movement concerto revolves cyclically around this idée fixe, which, although it is not an original folk melody, captures the playing style of the Goral musicians in its simplicity and spirit. Szymanowski constantly presents the melody in a new light with almost imperceptible changes, in four different tempos and characters. Wistfully lyrical violin cantilenas at the beginning are transformed into rhythmically pronounced stamping, which is reinforced by the percussion like the energetic, driving melodic variants after the solo cadenza, now with four ascending notes. This is the upbeat to exuberant dance music in the style of the mountain farmers, which disappears briefly in a lyrical dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, only to be brought to a brilliant conclusion with an all-out effort by the brass.
Gone with the Wind: the Opera Les Boréades by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau did not live to see his last opera, Les Boréades (The Descendants of Boreas), which he composed in 1763 at the age of 80, performed on the stage. Was it because of Rameau’s death on 12 September 1764 or a subversive libretto extolling “the highest good, freedom”? A staged performance of the tragédie lyrique was a long time coming; the complete opera was not presented until 1982, at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The instrumental suite from the work, with an overture and a dozen numbers comprising dances, entr’actes and airs, has been played frequently, however, in varying order.
In 1653 the 15-year-old King Louis XIV had generated tremendous enthusiasm for dance among the French aristocracy with his spectacular appearance as the character of the rising sun in the Ballet de la Nuit (Ballet of the Night) – which earned him the nickname “the Sun King”. A recently appointed court composer and later court music director who danced with him, Jean-Baptiste Lully, not only created the new music theatre genres of the tragédie lyrique, opéra-ballet and (together with Molière) comédie-ballet but also the instrumental ballet suite, which was still extremely popular in Rameau’s day. Most of the dances were originally folk dances which were not introduced at the French royal court until the 17th century. In stylized form, people danced the rigaudon from southern France and the gavotte, a folk dance of the mountain dwellers of Provence, who were called “gavots”. They became popular in dancing rooms and on the opera stage in slightly animated four-four metre with one or two notes as an upbeat and were only eclipsed in popularity by the minuet, whose moderate pace in three-four metre became the musical symbol of the nobility and its refined lifestyle. Significantly, this social dance disappeared from the dance floor after the French Revolution and took its place as the standard third movement in the symphony.
Rameau’s music for Les Boréadesloses none of its fascination in the form of an orchestral suite thanks to its programmatic theme of the passions, represented by winds and storms. A thorough understanding of the complicated romantic turmoil surrounding Queen Alphise – who actually loves Abaris but is pressured by the sons of Boreas, the god of the north wind – is not necessary. The cold north wind already blows threateningly during the three-part overture, with its hunting music – a foretaste of the energetic storm music of the entr’acte Suite des vents(Suite of the Winds). More gentle west winds blow with better weather in the cheerful Airs and Gavottes pour les Heures et les Zéphirs(for the Hours and Zephyrs).
Daniel Stabrawa was born in Kraków and studied at the academy of music in his home town under Zbigniew Szlezer. He won prizes at several international competitions and became concertmaster of the Kraków Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1979. He joined the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1983, and became one of their three first concertmasters three years later. He has appeared as a concert soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker on many occasions playing, among others, the violin concertos by Prokofiev, Mozart and Beethoven. In 1994, he performed the first violin concerto by Karol Szymanowski under the direction of Mariss Jansons, a work which had not been heard with the orchestra since 1955. More recently, he was the orchestra’s soloist in Jenö Hubay’s Third Violin Concerto in December 2011 (conductor: Iván Fischer), and in December 2012, with the music for violin and orchestra by Rudi Stephan, conducted by Kirill Petrenko.
In 1985, Daniel Stabrawa and three of his colleagues from the orchestra founded the Philharmonia Quartet, whose first violinist he has been ever since. This highly regarded ensemble regularly performs in the Chamber Music Hall of the Philharmonie and in major concert halls worldwide. Other chamber music partners are Yefim Bronfman, Murray Perahia, Emmanuel Ax, Rafał Blechacz and Nigel Kennedy, and his wife Elzbieta Stepien-Stabrawa who he has performed with since his early youth. Daniel Stabrawa is also active as a conductor: For example, he was artistic director of Capella Bydgostiensis in Bydgoszcz for nine years. From 1986 to 2000, he also taught at the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Orchestra Academy; he continues to tutor at master classes and also judges at various competitions.