Zubin Mehta and Leonidas Kavakos
Passacaglia, op. 1
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra “To the Memory of an Angel”
Leonidas Kavakos violin
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, op. 70
When the American violinist Louis Krasner asked Alban Berg to write a violin concerto for him in February 1935, the composer told the musician he should be prepared for a long wait. But then everything changed: the death of the 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler from her marriage to Walter Gropius, both shook Berg deeply and unleashed his creative powers, with the result that he composed the work within a few weeks. With this concerto, entitled “To the memory of an angel”, he created not only a musical monument to the young girl with whose family he was acquainted, but also wrote his own requiem. Shortly after its completion, Berg died. The piece, based on a twelve-tone row, affectionately, intimately and expressively describes Manon’s youthful innocence, her joie de vivre and her tragic death that finds its catharsis and exaltation in the quotation from the Bach chorale “Es ist genug!” (It is enough). “Berg invites us all to surrender ourselves to something that is bigger than us,” says Leonidas Kavakos, the soloist of the programme who, since his Philharmoniker debut in 2003, has performed not only the violin concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, but also the major concertos of the 20th century with the orchestra.
Anton Webern’s Passacaglia from 1908, which opens the programme, was also written in the wake of death, namely of his own mother. In this work, based on Baroque formal models, Webern – a student of Arnold Schoenberg like Berg – successfully combines lyrical and dramatic moods with strict counterpoint. The second part of the concert features Antonín Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony, which the Czech composer wrote in 1884/1885 at the invitation of the Philharmonic Society of London. Dvořák was then at the height of his fame. With its late Romantic, Slavic folk idiom, he delighted the music world; in England too, his music was enormously popular. In contrast to his previous works, the Seventh in D minor stands out less for its popular character than for its passionate, turbulent and dramatic atmosphere. Consequently, it is seen as Dvořák’s most personal symphony. Zubin Mehta, conductor of this programme and long-time associate of the orchestra, last performed the Seventh Symphony in Philharmoniker concerts in 1966.
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