SASO Opening Concert Features Borodin Symphony No. 2

Opening the 2013-2014 Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra season on October 5 & 6, features two well known works by Verdi and Borodin and a new concerto for cello. Resident conductor Linus Lerner has selected guest conductor Dimitar Karaminkov from Bulgaria to be on the podium for this first program. The major selection will be Borodin’s Symphony No. 2 in B minor.

Alexander Borodin was a physician and chemist professionally and was a musician as an avocation or serious hobby. As a scientist he was highly acclaimed and published. He was one of the first to accept women to medical classes and eventually founded a women’s medical college. The son of a Russian nobleman and a women not his wife, he was registered as the son of a serf, Porfiry Borodin. His father Luka Gedevanishvili did see that he received high quality education including piano lessons. Following his scientific training and establishing his career at the St. Petersburg Medical-Surgical Academy, he started advanced piano lessons at age 29 with Mily Balakirev who establishes a group of Russian composers, now known as “The Five.”

This was a time in music history when Nationalism introduces new ideas in composing. The established form of instrumental music is dominated by Beethovenism in symphonies, concertos, quartets, and other forms of chamber music. Nationalism is simply including folk songs, dances and other regional influences to compositions. In Scandinavia it would include Atterberg, Nielsen, and Sibelius but still following the Germanic forms as did the Slavic Dvorak but in the same area of Bohemia, Smetana and Bartok did not. In France there was a dramatic rejection of Beethovenism starting with Debussy. A loose group of six composers called “Les Apaches,” “hooligans,” and “Les Six” used the first theme in Borodin’s 2nd Symphony as symbolic of Nationalism. The members were Ravel, Delage, Vines, Stravinsky, de Falla, and Schmitt.

In Russian Nationalism comes a group of five composers who called themselves “Moguchaya Kuchka” the Mighty Handful. Founded by Balakirev in 1856, it includes Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin. Not only did they reject Beethovenism but all European influences. Their goal was to utilize folk songs, dances of Cossacks, music of lower classes, and lyrical peasant songs. The more exotic sounds are linked to the 5 tone or pentatonic scale. Another name for the group, and one that sticks to this day, is “The Five” or “Les Cinq,” a name given them by the French group “Les Six.” The Russian group however never used this label. Of the Five, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin did not always adhere to the anti-western dogma as in their symphonies they followed the Beethoven structure but otherwise used folk melodies. Due to time allocations of his medical career, Borodin did not compose a large number of selections.

After all the preceding preparation, we finally get to the Symphony No. 2 in B minor of Alexander Borodin. Yes the themes, melodies, and harmony are Russian Nationalism but the form and structures are European Germanic. The orchestra is traditional but with Oriental or Turkish percussion of triangle, tambourine, and cymbals. The traditional four movement(mvt) form is followed; Mvt.1, sonata form(introduction-exposition-recapitulation-developmentfinale). Mvt. 2 If Mvt 1 is not fast and furious, Mvt. 2 is a fast dance design.

Mvt 3, Then comes the emotional slow music. Mvt 4, Finale, usually a rondo but Borodin uses another sonata form. The 2nd. and 3rd Mvts can be reversed; slowfast or fast-slow depending on the composer.

Borodin opens Mvt. 1 with five 2 measure phrases consisting of a sustained chord not in rhythm followed by a 7 note fanfare of low brass in 4 time. These notes are engraved on Borodin’s grave stone. There are a variety of folk melodies, key and meter changes and an accelerating and dramatic ending. Mvt 2 is a very fast prestissimo in 1/1 time with a slower second theme in 2 time making the form ABA with a surprising quiet ending. The slow 3rd Mvt. opens serenely with clarinet-harp-horn followed by variations of melody and harmony creating the feel of Ancient Russia. The last, or 4th. Mvt., is sort of a combination of sonata and rondo form. The Slavic dance themes are in a mixed 3/4, 2/4, meter creating 5/4 time. The music demonstrates the Oriental gay/sad of Russian peasantry and has a very upbeat finale.

Also on the program are: Concerto for Cello by Roumi Petrova featuring soloist Kalin Ivanov and Overture to Nabucco by Verdi. On October 5 the concert will be performed at Desert View Performing Arts Auditorium in SaddleBrooke at 7:30PM and at 3:00 PM in Oro Valley at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on October 6.

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