Welcome and Thank You for Watching
Whilst we are unable to come together with audiences at our Barbican home, we are pleased to continue releasing a programme of online content and streamed broadcasts, making music available for everyone to enjoy digitally in the coming weeks. A warm welcome to the numerous conductors and soloists joining us, among them many firm friends and regular collaborators with the Orchestra. We are delighted also to welcome back members of our family of conductors.
It is a pleasure to invite you to watch and listen today online, and we extend thanks to our broadcast partner Marquee TV for streaming this concert. I hope you enjoy the performance, and look forward to welcoming you back in person when we are able to re-open our doors.
Three tales from the 20th century: power, passion and pure beauty, in music by Bacewicz, Schreker and Strauss.
What a difference half a century makes. Franz Schreker wrote his sensuous, shimmering Chamber Symphony in the Vienna of Klimt and Freud. Grażyna Bacewicz, in post-war Poland, was working in a very different world, and writing music of uncompromising personality and power. Richard Strauss, meanwhile, remembered a happier age in what might be the greatest of all oboe concertos.
Our soloist today is the LSO’s Principal Oboe, Juliana Koch – and with a scaled-down LSO conducted by Duncan Ward, it will feel as poignant as a piece of great chamber music. Strauss dedicated the concerto ‘to the spirit of the immortal Mozart’, and it is the perfect foil both to Bacewicz’s punchy Music for strings, trumpets and percussion, and Schreker’s gorgeous excess.
Thursday 25 February 2021
Bacewicz, Strauss & Schreker
Bacewicz Music for strings, trumpets & percussion
Strauss Oboe Concerto
Schreker Chamber Symphony
Duncan Ward conductor
Juliana Koch oboe
London Symphony Orchestra
This performance is broadcast on Marquee TV. Available to watch for free for seven days from Thursday 25 February 2021, then on demand with a subscription.
Recorded at LSO St Luke's on 11 February 2021 in COVID-19 secure conditions.
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Music for strings, trumpets & percussion
✒️1958 | ⏰22 minutes
Grażyna Bacewicz wrote Music for strings, trumpets and percussion in 1958. The title suggests a homage to Bartók, whose Music for strings, percussion and celeste was popular in 1950s Poland. Bacewicz’s work is scored for string orchestra, five trumpets, celeste, xylophone, side-drum and timpani. She modelled it on the Baroque concerto grosso (in which the musical material is passed between full orchestra and a group of soloists rather than a single soloist), as she did her Concerto for Orchestra (1948). However, Music for strings, trumpets and percussion is more experimental than the earlier piece. This may reflect Bacewicz’s increasing engagement during the 1950s with Western European avant-garde music.
The first movement is characterised by astringent harmonies, energetic syncopated rhythms and contrasting textures, including the delicacy of solo strings at the second theme’s opening and the blaze of trumpets and timpani in the coda. The two main themes are heard in reverse order in the unconventional recapitulation.
The second movement opens with the hushed sound of violins playing sul tasto (on the fingerboard) and a duet for viola and double-bass. Following a wistful cello solo, the music becomes increasingly animated, then fades away in the haunting final section, with its eerie muted trumpets, celeste chimes and muted string trills.
The rhythmically vital finale features virtuoso parts for the side-drum and the xylophone – the first time this instrument has been used – and brings the work to a spirited conclusion.
The work had its premiere at the 1959 Warsaw Autumn festival, conducted by its dedicatee Jan Krenz. In 1960 it won Third Prize at the UNESCO International Tribune of Composers in Paris. It remains one of Bacewicz’s most admired works.
Note by Kate Hopkins
5 February 1909 – 17 January 1969 (Poland)
Born to a Polish mother and Lithuanian father in 1909, Grażyna Bacewicz started her musical studies from an early age with violin, piano and theory lessons taken at home alongside her siblings. She showed prodigious talent, giving concerts from the age of seven – accompanied by her brothers – and writing her first piece, Preludes for piano, at 13.
In 1928 Grażyna went to Warsaw to study violin, piano and composition. On graduating, Karol Szymanowski, a professor at the conservatory, encouraged her and other young Polish composers to go to Paris to further their studies under the leading teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger. Splitting her time between France and Poland, she developed as both a composer and a performer. In 1936 she became Principal Violin of the Polish Radio Orchestra, using the opportunity to hear many of her own works performed.
During World War II, Bacewicz remained in Warsaw looking after her young family and continuing to compose, sometimes giving secret underground concerts in the occupied city to premiere her works. After the war she returned to her birthplace of Łódź and became a professor at the State Conservatory of Music.
Bacewicz was still performing and recording as both a violinist and pianist at this time, however her own music was getting more and more attention through a series of significant prizes and commissions. The decision to focus solely on composing was all but made for her following serious injuries she suffered in a car accident 1954.
The awards continued and she became an established musical figure in Poland and beyond, including becoming the first woman vice-president of the Union of Polish Composers and serving on many international competition juries, before her death in 1969.
Composer profile by Tim Oldershaw
✒️1945 | ⏰26 minutes
1 Allegro moderato
3 Vivace – Allegro
Some listeners find it disconcerting to discover that Strauss’ Oboe Concerto was written in 1945, so soon after the ending of World War II. This is emphatically not music that holds a mirror up to its times. It is all the more striking as Strauss had just poured out feelings of grief and rage spectacularly in his most recent large-scale work, Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings. In contrast the Oboe Concerto seems generally untroubled, pervaded by contented lyrical contemplation.
Several writers have described it as ‘Mozartian’, and praised its elegant restraint. It comes as the culmination of a series of works, beginning with the Second Horn Concerto of 1942 and the two wind sonatinas, which follow a more or less Classical model. Strauss later summed up these works, with a touch of light irony, as ‘superfluous absolute music’. Perhaps Strauss was acknowledging an element of escapism – a therapeutic retreat into ‘absolute’ musical craftsmanship (i.e. music that isn't ‘about’. anything as such) and Mozartian Classicism in terrible times.
Although the concerto is cast in three movements, these flow into each other so naturally that the listener is more likely to experience the work as a single continuous lyrical outpouring. This is in fact one of the most challenging aspects of the work for the soloist – the first solo demands 56 bars of almost uninterrupted playing, as though the melodic line emerged in a single huge phrase – breathe too obviously and the effect is ruined. Even in the vivace finale the dialogues between oboe and orchestra tend to be in longish melodic phrases, rather than the quick-fire exchanges beloved by Mozart in so many of his concerto finales. The oboe rouses itself for a final canter to the finishing post, but the prevailing impression is of tenderness, autumnal warmth, and pain – if not transcended, then at least temporarily forgotten.
Note by Stephen Johnson
11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949 (Germany)
Richard Strauss was born in Munich in 1864, the son of Franz Strauss, a brilliant horn player in the Munich court orchestra. Strauss had his first piano lessons when he was four, producing his first composition two years later, but he did not attend a music academy. His formal education ended at Munich University, although he continued with his musical training at the same time. Following the first public performances of his work, he received a commission from Hans von Bülow in 1882 and two years later was appointed Bülow’s Assistant Musical Director at the Meiningen Court Orchestra, the beginning of a career in which Strauss was to conduct many of the world’s great orchestras, in addition to holding positions at opera houses in Munich, Weimar, Berlin and Vienna. While at Munich, he married the singer Pauline de Ahna, for whom he wrote many of his greatest songs.
Strauss’ legacy is to be found in his operas and his magnificent symphonic poems. Scores such as Till Eulenspiegel, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben demonstrate his supreme mastery of orchestration; the thoroughly modern operas Salome and Elektra, with their Freudian themes and atonal scoring, are landmarks in the development of 20th-century music, and the neo-Classical Der Rosenkavalier has become one of the most popular operas of the century. Strauss spent his last years in self-imposed exile in Switzerland, waiting to be officially cleared of complicity in the Nazi regime. He died at Garmisch Partenkirchen in 1949, shortly after his widely celebrated 85th birthday.
Composer profile by Andrew Stewart
✒️1916 | ⏰27 minutes
Although Schreker was best known in his lifetime for his operas – including Der ferne Klang (1912) and Die Gezeichneten (1918) – his Chamber Symphony is now his most regularly performed work. He wrote it in 1916 to a commission from the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts for their centenary celebrations. It received its premiere at the Academy in March 1917 and thereafter quickly entered the repertory.
The Chamber Symphony is scored for eleven solo strings, seven woodwind and brass instruments, piano, harmonium, harp, celeste, timpani and percussion. Like Strauss’ Don Juan (1888) or Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande (1903), it is written in a single, continuous movement divided into sections. However, unlike the Strauss and Schoenberg works, it is a piece of absolute music, with no clear narrative. Its sections can be roughly divided into Introduction, Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo, and a final section that recalls earlier thematic material.
In 1918 Schreker wrote to the music critic Paul Bekker of his desire to use orchestral instruments to create ‘a dematerialised array of ever-changing colours’. The Chamber Symphony is the perfect representation of this ambition. It is a lusciously scored work in which the melodic and rhythmic themes and the instrumentation are in a perpetual state of metamorphosis. The richly chromatic – yet not atonal – harmony evokes the Wagner of Tristan and Isolde and the Schoenberg of Verklärte Nacht, while the prominence Schreker gives to high woodwind recalls Mahler’s symphonies.
Among the work’s most striking elements are the magical opening scored for shimmering celeste, harp, harmonium, piano and flute; the rich, dark textures of the Adagio section; the opening folk-like melody for oboe and flute in the Scherzo; and the thematic reminiscences of the final section, evocative of the end of Wagner’s opera Parsifal in its rapt intensity.
Note by Kate Hopkins
23 March 1878 (Monaco) – 21 March 1934 (Germany)
At one time hailed by contemporary critics and audiences as the future of German opera, Franz Schreker enjoyed musical success rivalled only by his contemporary Richard Strauss. But by the end of his lifetime, Schreker's concerts were boycotted by the public and his music blacklisted by the authorities. This suppression would obscure his work to future generations.
Schreker was born in 1878 to a Catholic aristocratic mother and a Bohemian Jewish father, who worked as official court photographer in Monaco. After his father’s death, the family moved to Vienna, where Schreker took up training as a violinist, before switching to composition. He founded the Vienna Philharmonic Choir there, staying on as its director for 12 years before his star began to rise. Major successes came with a series of well-received operas including Der ferne Klang (1903–12), Die Gezeichneten (1911–15) and Der Schatzgräber (1915–18), and Schreker developed a reputation as a leading composer in the interwar period.
Sadly, these golden days would not last. As more experimental composers began to garner public attention (Schoenberg, Weill, Brecht) and American jazz developed an international audience, Schreker found his music falling out of vogue. More seriously, anti-Semitism was on the rise in the Weimar Republic, and when the Third Reich ascended to power, his work was banned (labelled ‘degenerate music’). He lost his position as Director of the Musikhochschule in Berlin in 1932, and the following year lost his post as professor of composition at the Akademie der Künste. Schreker suffered a serious stroke in 1933 and died four months later in Berlin at the age of 55.
Schreker’s music faded from public consciousness in the years that followed, no doubt largely due to Nazi suppression. It is only in recent years that his works have begun to enjoy a revival.
Composer profile by Joe Hardy
British conductor Duncan Ward has established himself as one of the most exciting and versatile conductors of his generation and enjoys working regularly with some of the world’s leading ensembles and opera houses. Duncan is Chief Conductor Designate of philharmonie zuidnederland, a position he will take up in September 2021 for an initial three season contract. In January 2020, he was appointed by Festival d’Aix-en-Provence as Music Director of the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra, a position which he holds until 2023.
Recent highlights have included engagements with Staatskapelle Dresden, London Symphony Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Aurora Orchestra, Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Finnish Radio Symphony, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Gürzenich Orchester. At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, Duncan gave the German premiere of Brett Dean’s acclaimed Hamlet at Oper Köln.
From 2012–14 he was Conducting Scholar of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Academy, to which he was appointed on the recommendation of Sir Simon Rattle. From 2015–2017, he was Principal Conductor of Sinfonia Viva – one of the UK’s most dynamic ensembles. He also held the post of Associate Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
Plans for the 2020/21 season include debuts with the Moscow Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya, Musikkollegium Winterthur, Bochum Symphoniker & NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic. In addition, he will make return visits to the Münchener Kammerorchester, Royal Northern Sinfonia and, at the beginning of 2021–22, Oper Köln for a production of Salome.
Also an accomplished composer – winner of the 2005 BBC Young Composer of the Year – Duncan is now published by Peters Edition. His works have been performed by the Swedish Radio Symphony, LSO and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Also passionately involved in music charity projects across India, South Africa and closer to home with Streetwise Opera, he had the rare privilege to personally study Indian classical music with the late great sitarist Ravi Shankar.
Juliana Koch is principal oboe of the London Symphony Orchestra and laureate of the ARD International Music Competition 2017. Since September 2018 she has taught as Professor of Oboe at the Royal College of Music in London.
In her debut concert at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2019, Juliana performed Strauss' Oboe Concerto with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Other solo engagements include appearances with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks at the Philharmonie im Gasteig (Munich), the Münchener Kammerorchester, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Hungarian National Philharmonic.
Juliana is an active chamber musician and has performed at many prestigious festivals around the world, including Musica Viva’s Huntingon Estate Music Festival in Australia, Lucerne Festival, Bachfest Leipzig and Paavo Järvi’s Pärnu Music Festival. She has appeared in recital performances in the Bamberg Konzerthalle, NDR Hannover and Deutschlandfunk Köln.
At the ARD international Music Competition 2017 Juliana won the second prize, audience prize and the Osnabrücker Musikpreis – no first prize was awarded.
After finishing her studies, Juliana first played as principal oboe with the Royal Danish Orchestra at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen and with Filarmonica della Scala at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, before joining the London Symphony Orchestra in 2018. She has been invited all over the world as guest Principal Oboe with some of the most renowned orchestras, including the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. She has worked with many of the world’s leading conductors, including Sir Simon Rattle, Bernhard Haitink, Kirill Petrenko, Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly, Pierre Boulez, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Valery Gergiev.
Juliana plays a Marigaux M2 Oboe.
Julian Gil Rodriguez
Laure Le Dantec
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Thank You for Watching
© Mark Allen
© Mark Allen