Alberta Bair Theater
September 23, 2017 | 7:30 pm.
Concert Cues | 6:45 p.m.
Our 67th season opens with Montana Splendor featuring Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Montana’s own Eric Funk’s Symphony No. 2 Montana. The second half features the much anticipated return of
Andrew von Oeyen, performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Eric Funk‘s Symphony No. 2, Montana, was composed in 1991 and is one of nine symphonies composed by the Montana native. Funk writes for orchestras, concertos, wind ensembles, chambers, and chorale and vocals. His Emmy Award winning program 11th and Grant with Eric Funk can be seen on PBS. His latest project, the critically acclaimed PBS documentary, Violin Alone, featuring Hungarian violinist Vilmos Olah can also be seen on PBS.
Eric Funk will be working with the Billings Symphony Orchestra and teaching student workshops during his time in Billings. The details of the Student Workshops will be released closer to the concert date.
Andrew von Oeyen
Montana Splendor marks the much anticipated return of pianist Andrew von Oeyen, performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Von Oeyen debuted at the age of 16 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has since become one of the most sought after pianists the world over. His debut album with Warner Classics was released in January, 2017 and can be found on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and ArkivMusic. Andrew von Oeyen lives in Paris and Los Angeles.
While in Billings, Andrew von Oeyen will teach Master Classes the details of which will be released closer to the concert date.
Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2
Diane Boyer Jerhoff
Larry & Ruth Martin
Guest Artist Sponsor:
Lynn Marquardt & Jim Gutenkauf
Eric Funk Sponsor:
The Tippet Rise Fund of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation
2017-2018 Season Sponsor:
2017-2018 Host Hotel
Montana Splendor Program Notes:
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Festive Overture, op. 96
Shostakovich is often remembered for his monumental symphonies: works fraught with heavy political significance, frequently referring to contemporary upheavals and tragedies and conveying an enormous emotional impact. Alongside the drama and grandeur there is occasional humor, almost invariably of the sardonic variety: Shostakovich was one of the supreme masters of 20th century musical irony.
There were other sides to the composer’s musical persona, however. He was quite capable of writing light music (his jazz suites are entertaining examples), and, as a composer who thought of himself as the servant of a socialist state, there was also the inevitable need from to time to produce “official” music, i.e. music for various sorts of official occasions as well as music that was frankly intended as state propaganda.
One of the most successful of these pièces d’occasion and a classic example of art-on-demand is the ebullient Festive Overture. For a concert celebrating the 37th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, officials of the Bolshoi Theater found themselves without an opening work. A panic-stricken call was made just a few days before the concert to Shostakovich, who had accepted a position as musical consultant to the theater. Demonstrating a Mozartian level of facility, Shostakovich dashed off the work in three days, giving the parts, still wet with ink, to couriers who delivered them to copyists at the theater. The successful premiere took place on November 6, 1954 and the overture has been a popular favorite ever since, receiving frequent performances at official events such as the opening of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and the 2009 Nobel Prize ceremony.
Musicologist Lev Lebedinsky, a close friend of the composer, aptly described the overture as a “brilliant effervescent work, with its vivacious energy spilling over like uncorked champagne.” Like any good apéritif, this overture satisfies while it whets the appetite for something yet to come.
The Billings Symphony previously performed Festive Overture in October 1990, under the baton of guest conductor Timothy Russell.
Eric Funk (1949- )
Symphony No. 2, Montana (1991)
Commissioned by the Bozeman Symphony for their 25th season, Montana seeks to musically paint Montana’s noble and sometimes subtle landscapes in the classical symphonic form. Funk refers to it as “his Moldau,” referring to composer Bedřich Smetana’s tone poem which evokes the sounds of the great Bohemian river. Original titled The Bozeman Symphony, Symphony No. 2 was commissioned by said orchestra for their 25th season.
Tonight is the premier performance of this work by the Billings Symphony.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, op. 18
All his life, Rachmaninoff was prone to anxiety and depression, a condition often reflected in his sour expression—“a six-and-a-half-foot scowl,” Stravinsky called him. Family and friends knew a warmer, more outgoing personality, but they also encountered a crippling, dark side of his nature the public never saw. His lowest point—so debilitating that it nearly robbed us of some of the most popular music ever written—came in the last years of the nineteenth century, just as his career was getting started.
Rachmaninoff enjoyed great public success early on, both as a pianist and a composer. The brooding piano prelude in C sharp minor he composed in 1892, at the age of nineteen, immediately became his calling card and then his burden as audiences wouldn’t let him leave the stage until he played the work he eventually referred to dismissively as “it.”
It was the premiere of his First Symphony in Saint Petersburg in 1897, under the baton of Alexander Glazunov, that delivered Rachmaninoff’s creative confidence and momentum a severe blow. The performance must have been appalling—Rachmaninov called it “the most agonizing hour of my life.” In his opening-night review, composer César Cui wrote, “If there were a conservatory in hell, Rachmaninoff would get the first prize for his Symphony, so devilish are the discords he places before us.”
For the next three years, Rachmaninov wrote nothing—sketches for a new symphony were abandoned, and work on an opera, Francesca da Rimini, was shelved. He continued to perform, and even undertook a concert tour to London in 1898, but day after day he found that he was unable to compose. Finally, fearing that Rachmaninoff was trapped in a serious depression, his family urged him to consult Dr. Nikolai Dahl, a Parisian psychologist who sought to restore the composer’s self-confidence through hypnosis. In January 1900, he began to see Dahl, who was also a gifted amateur musician, and was given an immediate assignment to write a new piano concerto. (He had promised one to the London Philharmonic when he appeared with the orchestra in 1898.) Through a combination of enlightened discussion and rudimentary hypnosis (“You will begin your concerto…it will be excellent,” was one of the mantras), Dahl succeeded. “Although it may seem incredible,” Rachmaninoff wrote many years later, “this cure helped me. New musical ideas began to stir within me—far more than I needed for my concerto.”
Overcoming his writer’s block, Rachmaninoff also found a new voice as a composer—one with a perfect knack for unforgettable tunes, dazzling pianistic effects, an effortless flow of ideas, and a very suave sense of style. His close contemporary and antithesis, Igor Stravinsky, later called it a switch from a very young composer to a very old one. This was not meant as a compliment. In fact, written during the heyday of wild and radical new music by Debussy, Mahler, Stravinsky, Strauss, Ives, and Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff’s second concerto was proudly old-fashioned and, to the chagrin of his avant-garde contemporaries, it quickly became the most beloved concerto of the twentieth century.
The work’s popularity goes far beyond the concert stage; its melodies made ubiquitous through their use in movie soundtracks (most famously in David Lean’s 1945 Brief Encounter) and derivative works on the radio: The second theme of the Allegro scherzando made a fortune for Buddy Kay and Ted Mossman (and not a penny for Rachmaninoff) as “Full Moon and Empty Arms.” (The best-known recording was by a young Frank Sinatra in 1945, two years after Rachmaninoff’s death.) The Moderato theme (first introduced by the strings) is followed exactly in Muse’s 2001 song, “Space Dementia” and was also the basis for the 1941 Sinatra song, “I Think of You.” Perhaps most familiar to today’s audiences is the Moderato theme’s appearance in Eric Carmen’s 1975 ballad, “All By Myself.”
Carmen calls Rachmaninoff, “his favorite music,” and with its unabashed Romanticism and the virtuosity demanded of the soloist, this show stopper has become a perennial audience favorite.
BSO conductors have programmed Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece eight times since 1952; the last performance in September 2008 with pianist Valentina Lisitsa, under the baton of Anne Harrigan.