Selby and Richard McRae Foundation SHINING START

7:29 PM, Saturday, October 12, 2019
Thalia Mara Hall


A sparkling diamond anniversary opener heralds MSO's 75th season with a blast -- from at least 25 brass players joining the orchestra onstage in Janáček's powerful "Sinfonietta".  What follows are blasts from the past in stellar selections from our first concert in 1944.  To close, young violinist William Hagen dazzles in Tchaikovsky's beloved concerto.

Cash bar in the lobby prior to the concert and at intermission.

Pre-concert lecture by Dr. Timothy Coker on the mezzanine level, 6:45-7:15pm.

Leo Janáček                           Sinfonietta             

Johann Strauss, Jr.                 On the Beautiful Blue Danube*

Jean Sibelius                          Finlandia, Op 26*


Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky         Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
      William Hagen, violin

*performed at the first concert by MSO on Thursday, October 19, 1944 in the Victory Room of the Heidelberg Hotel, Theodore Russell, Conductor.

Leo Janáček:  Sinfonietta

The array of brass players and tympani that open the five-movement Sinfonietta set the tone perfectly for our celebration of the MSO's Seventy-Fifth Season. Composed in 1926 when Janáček was at the height of his fame (he was seventy-two, a late bloomer), it has the spirit of a heady nationalism, and its original dedication was to the Czechoslovak Army. For Janáček, it was an expression of the “contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory.” Influenced by his Czech predecessors Dvorak and Smetana, Janáček was nonetheless a true original. We hear this immediately in the Fanfare's opening melody, with its shifting modes and slightly off-kilter character that sticks in the ear, so that its reappearance fifteen minutes later in the last movement brings to us a feeling of closure. Each of the five movements is scored for a different combination of instruments, sometimes idiosyncratically put together. The five movements are meant to be descriptive evocations of Janáček's hometown of Brno.

Johann Strauss, Jr.: On the Beautiful Blue Danube

What other work so effectively portrays the elegance and romance of the nineteenth-century Viennese aristocracy? The power of music to evoke a time and place is truly mysterious. Even as we hear the introductory notes foreshadowing the main melody, our minds seem to involuntarily conjure up visions of perfectly ordered beauty, elegant clothes, and brightly lit ballrooms, with couples swirling round in circles. And yet, all this is accomplished with a deceptively simple recurring rising arpeggio in triple meter. But in order to truly evokeOld Vienna,one must understand the Viennese waltz rhythm—a rhythmically distorted ‘lift’ on the second beat (slightly early), followed by a delayed third beat. If that seems simple, it’s not, for native Viennese endlessly criticize those who don’t “get” this special quality in the music. Marianne Tobias writes that England was at first reluctant to take up the waltz, already the rage all across Europe. The London Times reported, “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the waltz was introduced at the English court. It is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance. We feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to such a fatal contagion." according to Tobias, “Vienna was the generator and hotbed of waltzing and waltzes, and sensual pleasure was rampant and addictive." Although we think of this as “The Beautiful Blue Danube waltz,” it is actually five different waltz melodies linked together. Every New Year’s Eve you can tune into MPB for the Vienna Philharmonic's quintessentially Viennese performance of this much-loved masterpiece, familiar to musicians and non-musicians alike.

Jean Sibelius:  Finlandia, Op. 26

On Thursday, October 19, 1944, the Victory Room of the Heidelberg Hotel was filled with the sounds of Finlandia, in the inaugural concert of the Jackson Symphony. The conductor was Theodore Russell, chair of the music department at the Mississippi State College for Women, and on the faculty of both Millsaps and Belhaven. The overflow audience of 500 gave it a long, enthusiastic ovation, and our orchestra was born. (Read more about the history of the orchestra on the MSO web pages at Many listeners will recognize the main melody as “Be Still My Soul,” a hymn that sets the 1752 poem of Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel to Sibelius’ music.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky:  Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

In this day and age when young competition violinists regularly toss off fiendishly difficult contemporary works for memory, it is hard to believe that this concerto was once considered unplayable, and by no less than the great violinist Leopold Auer. Auer later changed his mind, even assigning it to his students Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman. (Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, now the warhorse of all warhorses, was also called “unplayable” by Nikolai Rubinstein, for whom it was written.) Both works are now staples in the repertoire of every violinist and pianist. It seems to be a truism that, if a work is truly great, its apparent technical difficulties will be overcome in time, and the limits of technique will expand to encompass the new work, as happens in every generation.

The critic Eduard Hanslick was not kind in his early review of the concerto:

The Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely not an ordinary talent, but rather an inflated one, with a genius-obsession without discrimination or taste. Such is also his latest, long, and pretentious Violin Concerto. For a while, it moves soberly, musically, and not without spirit. But soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and asserts itself to the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played; it is pulled torn, drubbed. The adagio is again on its best behavior, to pacify and to win us. But it soon breaks off to make way for a finale that transfers us to a brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian holiday. We see plainly the savage vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell vodka. Friedrich Vischer once observed, speaking of obscene pictures, that they stink to the eye. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear.

It has been said that this beloved concerto was the only good thing to have come from a bad marriage. Tchaikovsky’s marriage to the young Antonina Milyukova, a former student who proclaimed her love for him, lasted barely nine weeks. In her he had seen an opportunity to ward off the rumors circulating about his homosexuality. But the only deep relationship Tchaikovsky ever had with a woman was one conducted entirely in letters. Remarkable as it may seem, he never met Nadezhda von Meck face-to-face, but she became his dear friend, someone in whom he could always confide, and she supported him financially for years. As he emerged from what he described as emotional hell with Antonina, he wrote to Nadezhda of his need to get back to composing. “My heart is full. It thirsts to pour itself out in music.” Soon after putting the finishing touches on his Fourth Symphony, and the opera Eugene Onegin, he “poured [himself] out” in the music of the extraordinarily beautiful Violin Concerto.

Concert Calendar

July 2020
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