Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Intermezzo SATURDAY Concert, 10/06/2012 @ 3pm

Michael Süssmann, violin
Signe Bakke, piano

Michael Süssmann is the Artistic Director of MusicaNord, a Norwegian concert society that produces about 130 concerts every year, and he performs as a solo artist throughout Europe, Asia and North America. He took up the violin at age 5, and made his concert debut at 7 as soloist with an orchestra in Bergen, Norway. In 1972, Süssmann attended the master class at the Royal Conservatoire de Musique in Brussels, where he studied with Andrè Gertler and Leon Ara. He was graduated with a first prize in 1976, and continued studies at the Zürich Musikhochschule with Ricardo Odnopossoff. Following a position with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, in 1980 Süssmann became concert master of Tromsø Symphony Orchestra, as well as the director of the string section at Tromsø Music School. Even though his solo career now allows him to freelance full time, Mr. Süssmann continues teaching at a music school in Os, Norway (near Bergen), and devotes a significant amount of his time providing talented young musicians with opportunities to perform in a professional environment. In addition to directing MusicaNord, Michael Süssmann is the founder and artistic director of the Bergen International Chamber Music Festival, and he is the chairman for the annual Ole Bull Prize. He recently released a recording of sonatas by Grieg and Thomas Tellefsen (1823-1874) on the ARENA label.
After winning Norway’s Youth Piano Competition at age 18, Signe Bakke studied at the Grieg Academy of the University of Bergen, where she now serves as associate professor. While pursuing graduate studies at Norges Musikkhøgskole (Norwegian Academy of Music) in Olso, she appeared as soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Her concert tours since have included performances in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Georgia and Azerbaijan. She has been a featured performer at various music festivals, including the Oslo Contemporary Music Festival and the Bergen International Festival. Signe Bakke's repertoire ranges from the Baroque era into the 21st Century, and she is much in demand as a collaborative artist. She frequently gives recitals at Edvard Grieg’s home, Troldhaugen, in Bergen, Norway, and she has recorded a number of CDs, including several featuring the music of Grieg and other Norwegian composers.
PROGRAM NOTES, by Edward Lein, Music Librarian

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) is Norway's most famous composer, and he remains among the most popular of all the 19th-Century Romantics. A virtuoso pianist, Grieg is perhaps best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16 (1868), as well as for the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, Op. 23 (1876). But Grieg was also a master of more intimate forms, and his originality is especially evident in his songs, many of which were composed for his wife, Nina Hagerup Grieg (1845-1935), and in the Lyriske stykker ("Lyric Pieces," 1867-1901) for piano solo, which earned him the nickname "Chopin of the North."

Grieg's personal favorites among his works included his three sonatas for violin and piano. As expressed in a letter written in 1900, he said they helped map his journey as a composer:

Last week I had the pleasure of performing my three violin sonatas with Lady Neruda-Hallé before a very discerning Danish audience and receiving a very warm response. I can assure you that we did very well and it had special significance for me, because these three works are among my very best and represent different stages in my development: the first, naïve and rich in ideas; the second, nationalistic; and the third with a wider outlook.
The "nationalistic" Sonata No. 2 in G major, Op. 13 (1867), incorporates elements derived from Norwegian folk music, including rhythms of the leaping springdans used in the outer movements. The Sonata was written during the three weeks while Grieg was on his summer honeymoon, which perhaps explains its unbridled optimism. However, the work does have some relatively gloomy flashes as well, because, as Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) observed when discussing this piece by his famous friend, "a Norway without tragedy is not a complete Norway."

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a quintessentially French composer, pianist and music critic whose own revolutionary music ushered in many of the stylistic changes of the 20th Century. Debussy is universally identified as the chief proponent of musical Impressionism, but he did not approve of that label and the associations he felt it harbored. But since his death, the term as applied to music has been redefined almost exclusively around the characteristics of some of Debussy's most famous pieces, so whatever negative connotations "Impressionism" once may have had have since evaporated.

In 1915 he began composing what he announced would be a series of six sonatas for various instrumental combinations, but he was only able to complete three of them before his death from cancer. The Violin Sonata, composed in 1917 after the disease had begun to take it’s toll, was Debussy’s last completed work. While the lush harmonies echo his previous compositions, the sparser textures and simpler formal structure anticipate aspects of the neoclassical trend that became increasingly popular in the years following Debussy’s death.

Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) was the most celebrated Scandinavian conductor during his lifetime, and his stature as a composer has not diminished among his countrymen. In addition to Norway, Svendsen lived variously in Germany, Italy, France, and England, but he spent the bulk of his professional life in Denmark as the music director of the Royal Opera in Copenhagen from 1883 until 1908, when failing health forced him into retirement.

Svendsen's father was a professional musician who taught his son both clarinet and violin, and Johan's talent afforded him the opportunity to study violin at the Leipzig Conservatory. But Svendsen developed problems with his hand soon after moving to Germany, so he switched his focus to composition. His primary teacher became Carl Reinecke (1824-1910), and the crowning achievement of Svendsen's final year of studies came when he was awarded the Conservatory's first prize in composition, in 1867. Demonstrating his special talent for orchestration, Svendsen's two symphonies and four Norwegian Rhapsodies were performed to great acclaim, and for a time he was even better known throughout Europe than was his friend Grieg. Composed in 1881, Svendsen's most famous work is the Romance, Op. 26, for solo violin with either orchestra or piano accompaniment.

At a time when it was fashionable to write programmatic music that illustrated specific scenes, poems, or stories, the great German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was recognized by his admirers as “Beethoven’s true heir” (Grove Concise Dictionary of Music) by demonstrating that established abstract formal procedures could be used to organize musical discourse without sacrificing the passion and deeply individualistic expression that defines 19th-Century Romantic music. Thus, Brahms joined Bach and Beethoven as one of the great “Three Bs” of classical music.

Contrasting with his lyrical first two violin sonatas, Brahms’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3, Op. 108 (1886-88) has four movements rather than three and assumes an almost symphonic scale. The choice of D minor as the central key harkens back to the stormy world of Brahms’s youthful Piano Concerto no. 1, Op. 15 (1859), especially in the tarantella-like final movement, and the demanding piano part often resembles a concerto—there is no question that both instruments are meant to share the spotlight. As was very often the case with his works including the piano, Brahms played the piano part himself for the premiere, so it is evident that in addition to being one of our most enduring composers he was also a virtuoso performer.

GRIEG: Romance. This piece is the 2nd movement from Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3, Op. 45, arranged for violin with cello ensemble by Ekkehard Hessenbruch. The arrangement begins with the violin entrance, at measure 45.

Performed by Michael Süssmann, violin, with the Engelberger Kammercellisten, at the 2010 Grieg in Bergen festival.

BULL: Ad Usum Amicorum, op. 20. From the concert in Gunnar Sævigsal (Bergen, Norway) on Sunday, April 29th, 2012, as part of a festival dedicated to the music of Hagerup Bull, hosted by the Grieg Academy.

Performed by Signe Bakke, piano; Sofya Dudaeva, flute; Ricardo Odriozola, violin; and Ivan Smilovski, cello.

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