Concert Prep

Concert Prep: Opening Night with Joshua Bell!

Albany Symphony Orchestra

David Alan Miller, Music Director

Palace Theater; Albany, NY

Saturday, September 6th 7:00PM

Clint Needham: The Body Electric

Edward Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme “Enigma” Op.36

Max Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 in G-minor Op.26

                      Joshua Bell, Violin

After three months with nothing more than Fourth of July Pops gigs and other light morsels, the concert season returns with a bang in Albany, where Joshua Bell kicks things off! Let’s take a look at what’s going to be in store for this concert.

The season kicks off with a relatively new composition by our newly minted Composer Educator Clint Needham. The Body Electric was inspired by the Walt Whitman poem I Sing the Body Electric (found here), and uses lines from the poem in lieu of traditional tempo markings like allegro and adagio. The whole thing starts off marked “The Body Electric,” then switches to “A Divine Nimbus Exhales” partway through, before “The Body at Auction” represents the final segment. These sections follow a fast-slow-fast format, and feature extensive special effects playing by the strings. For example, you’ll hear lots of harmonics, created by lightly touching the string without full weight. This creates a ghostly, half-sound as demonstrated here –

Another special effect is the use of what’s called sul ponticello, or literally playing over the bridge. This creates a chromium, metallic sound, as demonstrated below.

When we get to the end, make sure to listen to how the harp and violins play together – it’s a really fascinating effect!

Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is famous for the ninth variation, titled “Nimrod” (found at the 14:20 mark above), but there’s so much more great music here that it’s a real treat to play the entire set, and not just the “best of” highlight. the Enigma Variations really show off Elgar’s ability to disguise the pulse. Try checking in with the music every so often to find the beat – I bet that it’s more difficult than you might think! For example, variation ten (20:35 above) sounds like it has three beats to the measure, and it does. However, the music doesn’t begin on beat one – the first two beats are empty, which creates a little ambiguity around 20:50. Variations two (4:18), four (6:30), and seven (10:55) are particularly noteworthy for their rhythmic trickery.

If you’re looking for a prototypical romantic violin concerto, you’ll find no better example than Max Bruch’s First Concerto. This one’s got everything that you might expect – a sombre opening theme with lots of flair from the soloist, an elegiac second movement where the soloist gets to show off just how deeply he feels the music, and a radiant finale where the composer really challenges the soloist – “can you do this? Yes? OK, well what if I write this, can you play that too? You can?! Wow, that’ll sound really cool!”

So what differentiates the romantic concerto from the from the classical concerto? The biggest difference is in just how central the soloist is. In the classical concerto, the orchestra will typically introduce the main thematic material, and then the soloist will embellish it. Not so here, as the soloist enters after just a few bars, and takes on most of the major thematic materials himself – no extra frills, no unnecessary exposition, and not much more than accompaniment from the orchestra. There’s virtually nothing between soloist and audience here. What a great feature piece for Joshua Bell!


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