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ClassicsOnline Home » LESHNOFF, J.: Symphony No. 1, "Forgotten Chants and Refrains" / Double Concerto / Rush (Wetherbee, Diaz, IRIS Orchestra, M. Stern)
“The music of Jonathan Leshnoff falls squarely in the middle of contemporary American romanticism…Though richly tonal, this is music quite distinct from anything else that’s out there at the moment.” (Strings Magazine, June 2009). On this second of three albums dedicated to Leshnoff’s orchestral and chamber music, two acclaimed American soloists bring to life his ravishing new Double Concerto, partnered here by his impressive First Symphony, a work which weaves tears and laughter into a haunting and ultimately life-affirming musical experience. The orchestral miniature Rush shimmers with pure kinetic energy.
By Robert R. Reilly
Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973):
Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
Symphony No. 1, ‘Forgotten Chants and Refrains’ • Rush
Composer Jonathan Leshnoff has firmly established himself at the vanguard of the American classical music world. Reflecting the growing number of performances of Leshnoff’s music, this recording is the second of three Naxos CDs devoted to Leshnoff’s work. The first disc featured his Violin Concerto with soloist Charles Wetherbee and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Markand Thakar conducting, and a third disc of chamber music is slated for upcoming release.
The Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra (2007) is chronologically the second result of the partnership between Leshnoff and conductor Michael Stern, who has championed his music since they first collaborated in 2004. On the heels of a performance of his recently completed Violin Concerto, Leshnoff was asked by violist Victoria Chiang to write another string concerto, this time for solo violin and viola. Interested in exploring the viola’s rich tessitura in conjunction with the challenge of writing for two soloists, Leshnoff completed the work in late 2007. The IRIS Orchestra and Michael Stern gave the première of the concerto on 29 March 2008, with Charles Wetherbee and Roberto Díaz as soloists. In addition to the IRIS Orchestra, the work was co-commissioned by a consortium which included the Duluth-Superior Symphony, Curtis Institute and the National Gallery of Art Orchestras with additional support from the Peabody Institute and Mr. Jeremiah German.
The concerto is a four-movement work unified by a single motive initially presented by the solo viola in the opening measures. This opening viola motive spreads to the solo violin and continues to expand into a pensive and climactic first movement. A rhythmic and energetic second movement follows structured in A-B-A-B-A form. Though the second movement, Scherzo, is based on new material, the viola motive from the first movement is superimposed upon the final “A” section. The third movement, Mysterious, opens with a texture similar to Bartók’s “night music”—ethereal and ghostly—and soon gives way to a simple song. Swelling to a dramatic high point, the song is brought to new intensity after which it promptly dissipates into silence. The Finale is virtuosic and kinesthetic, with gymnastic effects for the soloists and jocular orchestral writing. The final moments of the work bring back the viola motive and material that concluded the first movement.
The Symphony No. 1, ‘Forgotten Chants and Refrains’ (2004), was the first commissioned work that Leshnoff wrote at Stern’s request. First performed on a program that included Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the composer aimed to echo the humanistic message of that iconic work. Leshnoff searched for thematic material that spoke to all of humanity in an uplifting way, as he himself wrote:
“Tears and laughter are emotions shared by all people, even though many may perceive themselves as distinct from others. In today’s culture, where difference is so quickly emphasized, it is easy to forget that, despite our differences, we are made of the same human substance. Predictably, we will all react with similar human sentiment when happiness occurs or tragedy strikes.
“My symphony strives to weave this theme into a coherent, musical whole. I incorporate quotations of past composers of different times and places into my composition. One quotation is an excerpt from the liturgical work of Salomon Rossi—a Jewish composer of the 17th century in Mantua, Italy. Another is an excerpt from a Christian Mass by Guillaume DuFay, of the 15th century. Finally, there are Gregorian chants, which not only embody elements from Judeo-Christian music, but also resemble cultures that utilize chanting. I chose to incorporate melodies of many peoples to illustrate—in a musical fashion—that despite differences, we have the capacity to work together to create a world where consideration and respect reign, a major lesson in all of my religious studies. This, to me, is the “forgotten” lesson of all times.”
This five-movement work is structured in arch form where thematic and textural similarities are found between outer movements—in this case, movements 1 and 5 and movements 2 and 4. The center movement, itself, is shaped in an arch form with a fast section quoting Gregorian chants surrounded by plaintive adagios.
The orchestration requires a low chime, imitating a large church bell. At times, the trombones play liturgical themes from Gregorian chant, which are notated in a separate tempo from the orchestra. The work is dedicated to the former executive director of IRIS, Albert Pertalion, and to Michael Stern, who conducted the première with the IRIS Orchestra on 4 December 2004.
Rush (2008) was commissioned by Jeremiah German, a retired economics professor and long-time patron of Leshnoff’s work. German had asked Leshnoff to write several brief musical “moments” for solo piano, each lasting under two minutes. Pleased with the result, German challenged Leshnoff to incorporate some of these themes into an orchestral work. The result was Rush, the first of Leshnoff’s growing number of orchestral works under ten minutes.
The kernel motive of Rush is presented in the opening measure, furiously developed by every instrument group. The frenetic propulsion yields to a haunting clarinet solo over shimmering strings, before the orchestra’s kinetic energy returns, only to be thwarted at its climax by the solo harp. A final burst from the full orchestra ends the work.
Rush is dedicated to David DePeters who maintains parallel careers as a percussionist and the IRIS Orchestra Manager. Stern and the IRIS Orchestra gave the première on 31 January 2009.
The composer would like to thank David DePeters, John Roberts, and Barbra Fergus, without whose generous support this recording would not have been possible.
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LESHNOFF, J.: Symphony No. 1, "Forgotten Chants an...