The Oberlin Conservatory Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

CD CoverCD Cover photo: © Steve J. Sherman

Robert Spano, conductor
Pedja Muzijevic, piano
Recorded: January 26, 2007, in Stern Auditorium/
Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall, New York City.
Release: December, 2008

"A Stellar Performance of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra . . . "
– Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times


The Oberlin Conservatory Symphony Orchestra's concert at Carnegie Hall was presented with the generous support of Jolyon F. Stern (OC '61), President and CEO of DeWitt Stern Group, Inc.

Tae-Hee Im, Concertmaster
James Garlick
Evan Shallcross
Natalia Jenkins
Xi Hu
Sally Kintner
David Bogorad
Jing Qiao
Simon Bilyk
Leah Asher
Shi Mei Lee
Joseph Kneer
Hye-Youn Lee
Sarah Franklin
Ingrid Karlsdottir
Dagenais Smiley

Sarah Titterington, Principal
Jennifer Lang
Jeffrey Young
Erin Durham
Cassandra Bequary
Samantha Bounkeua
Vijeta Sathyaraj
Shawn LeSure
Carol Cubberley
Elena Gambino
Lisa Goddard
Allison Lint
Garrett Openshaw
Krista Solars

Elizabeth Breslin, Principal
Meredith Crawford
Rosalind Soltow
Sonia Oram
David Moss
Kyra Klopfenstein
Jesse Yukimura
Di Lu
Hannah Levinson
Jessica Dunn
Raphael Lizama
Caroline Curatolo
Merissa Moeller

Jeremy Ward
April Dannelly
Eleanor Bors
Ismail Akbar
Dorette Roos
Steuart Pincombe
Shigeko Landin
Mikala Schmitz
Mary Auner
Leah Metzler
Emily Knisely

Gerald Torres, Principal
Benjamin Bunte
Nishana Gunaratne
Eric Tillberg
Nicolaas Netherland
Kevin Kearney
Lewis Martinez
Emma Dayhuff


Esther Fredrickson
Martha Long H, M, B
Nelson Wong

Esther Fredrickson H
Nelson Wong B

Caroline Hayes
Allison Pickett M
Malia Smith H, B

Caroline Hayes H, B

Boris Allakhverdyan B
Sean Lucius
Jack Marquardt H

Sean Lucius B

Stephanie Patterson M
Max Pipinich B
Thomas Schneider H

Stephanie Patterson B

Wallace Easter
Nicolee Kuester
Jeffrey Staulcup M, B
Monika Marchol H

Avi Bialo H, B
Michael Brest M
David Matchim

Jeremy Buckler B
Benjamin Zilber H

Jack Madden

Clare Brennan

Zachary Crystal H, M
Konstantin Dobroykov B

Zachary Crystal
Konstantin Dobroykov
Jennifer Torrence
David Vohden

Jamie Famula H
Meredith Clark B

Yu-chi Chou H

Wallace Easter
Nathan Levin

Christine Haff-Paluck

Winds & Brass are listed alphabetically.
Superscripts indicate principal players:
H = Huang Ruo
B = Beethoven
M = Mahler

blue cathedral
Composer: Jennifer Higdon
Length: 10:34 (mp3 sample: 1:00) Play

Piano Concert No. 25 in C Major, K. 503
Allegro maestoso

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Length: 16:14 (mp3 sample: 1:00) Play
Piano Concert No. 25 in C Major, K. 503
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Length: 7:19 (mp3 sample: 1:00) Play
Piano Concert No. 25 in C Major, K. 503
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Length: 9:20 (mp3 sample: 1:00) Play

Concerto for Orchestra
I: Introduzione: Andante non troppo; Allegra vivace

Composer: Béla Bartók
Length: 9:21  (mp3 sample: 1:00) Play

Concerto for Orchestra
II: Giuoco delle coppie: Allegretto sherzando

Composer: Béla Bartók
Length: 6:20  (mp3 sample: 1:00) Play

Concerto for Orchestra
III: Elegia: Andante non troppo

Composer: Béla Bartók
Length: 6:18    

Concerto for Orchestra
IV: Intermezzo interrotto: Allegretto

Composer: Béla Bartók
Length: 4:13    

Concerto for Orchestra
V: Finale: Pesante; Presto

Composer: Béla Bartók
Length: 9:36    


Program Notes

JENNIFER HIGDON (b. 1962) blue cathedral (1999)

Commissioned by the Curtis Institute of Music

Premiere May 1, 2000, by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra; Robert Spano, conductor;

Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Thoughts on blue cathedral:

Blue—like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals—places of thought, growth, spiritual expression, serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Cathedrals are places of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge, and growth.

Coming to the writing of this piece at a unique juncture in my life, I found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. When I began blue cathedral, it was the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death, so I was pondering a lot of things about the journey we make through life and then in death. I had a lot of very crystal-clear images in my head that contributed to the composition process. I imagined a traveler on a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky (therefore making it a blue color). The traveler would at first float down the aisle, passing giant pillars, which would reflect the sun at prismatic angles. Along the way the traveler would pass stained glass windows in which the figures would be moving about, speaking and singing. I imagined that there would be some sort of otherworldly music sounding throughout, along with distant bells ringing periodically. The journey up the aisle would carry the viewer/listener closer to the altar, which would be a large, magnificent scene like heaven, open and welcoming. I wanted the music to sound like it was progressing into this constantly opening space, feeling more and more celebratory, moving from introverted to extroverted awareness. As the journey progresses, the individual would float higher and higher above the floor, soaring towards an expanding ceiling, where the heart would feel full and joyful. A sense of fullness would fill the traveler and the thoughts would become again more introverted in the awareness of peace and closure.

This piece represents the expression of the individual and the whole of the group—our journeys and the places our souls carry us.

—Jennifer Higdon


Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 (1786)

The C Major Concerto, known as No. 25 (K. 503), marks the end of an impressive series of piano concertos that Mozart wrote for his public concerts in Vienna between 1784 and 1786. It has sometimes been compared to his “Jupiter” Symphony as the “Jupiter” of his concertos; in fact, it is comparable in its grandeur to Mozart’s last symphony (1788), with which it shares the key of C major. (Although Mozart wrote two more piano concertos after K. 503, these were written for special occasions after the concerto series had been discontinued.)

This concerto begins with a fanfare not unlike several other symphonic openings by Mozart (including the “Jupiter” Symphony). However, there are two circumstances that make this opening unique: first, the fanfare is exceptionally long (the first phrase spans 16 measures instead of the customary eight); second, the music immediately digresses from C major to C minor. This contrast between jubilant fanfares and darker minor-mode episodes informs the entire movement, whose imposing length is proportionate to the size of the opening phrase.

The second movement, Andante, is a sonata form without development, a structure found in many of Mozart’s slow movements. The movement is in two nearly equal halves, built upon the same thematic material. Commentators have drawn attention to the great rhythmic contrast between the first two melodic ideas: the first involves slow quarter notes and even slower dotted halves, while the second introduces 16th and 32nd notes. The themes are wonderfully tender and delicate, and their effect is greatly enhanced by the orchestration, replete with exquisite woodwind solos.

The theme of the third movement, Allegretto, is almost identical to the gavotte from the Idomeneo ballet music (K.367), written in 1781. The basic mood is quiet and serene; as in the first movement, there are some unexpected forays into the minor mode. The central episode adds a touch of Romantic sweetness to the movement. On the whole, this finale is perhaps less playful than most others; one can imagine Mozart smiling through his tears. The concerto ends with some extended closing phrases, matching the long fanfares with which the work began; it is a fitting conclusion for a concerto in which everything is done on a grandiose scale.

—Peter Laki

BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945) Concerto for Orchestra (1943)

Bartók was 59 years old when he immigrated to the United States with his second wife and former pupil, Ditta Pásztory-Bartók. His adjustment to the new environment was made difficult, even traumatic, by several factors. Bartók, who had been the foremost musical celebrity in his native Hungary, became an émigré composer who, although not entirely unknown in the Western Hemisphere, was far from being a household name and had to start a new struggle to relaunch his career.

Bartók was ill equipped for such a struggle. He was not prepared to make any compromises. He was not interested in university positions because he did not believe in teaching composition. He did concertize a little as a pianist, mainly in a two-piano duo with his wife and a few times as soloist in his Second Piano Concerto, yet his main ambition throughout this period was to continue his research in ethnomusicology. Having learned about Milman Parry’s collection of recordings from Yugoslavia, preserved at Columbia University, he devoted many hours to transcribing these recordings. He received a grant to do this work, but the grant ran out before Bartók could finish the project. It was also at this time—late in 1942—that Bartók’s health first began to deteriorate, with fevers, pain, and weakness, but with no immediate diagnosis (the first signs of the leukemia that would claim his life in 1945).

The situation was grave indeed when one day Bartók, lying in a New York hospital, received an unexpected visit from Serge Koussevitzky, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koussevitzky commissioned a new orchestral work in memory of his wife and left a check for half the amount of the commission on the composer’s bedside table. (He and everybody else took great pains to conceal from Bartók the fact that the idea of the commission had come from two of the composer’s friends, violinist Joseph Szigeti and conductor Fritz Reiner; had Bartók known this, the commission would have seemed to him a form of charity that he might even have turned down.)

The commission quite literally gave Bartók, who had composed virtually nothing for the last two years, a new lease on life. Work on the score proceeded rapidly, thanks in part to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which arranged for Bartók to spend the summer months of 1943 at a private sanatorium in Lake Saranac, New York. Bartók’s health improved, he gained some weight (going from 87 pounds to 105), and the full score of the Concerto for Orchestra was completed by October 8.

The first movement opens with a slow introduction whose chains of ascending fourths, played by cellos and basses, create the impression of a world being born out of primeval chaos. The tempo gradually increases and reaches Allegro vivace; the fast section is dominated by two themes, both of which, like the theme of the introduction, are built on ascending fourths. This energetic music is only temporarily interrupted by a lyrical interlude in which the oboe and the harp seem to carry on an intimate conversation.

The second movement, Giuoco delle coppie (Game of Pairs), opens and closes with a brief snare drum solo. The five pairs of wind instruments play their themes in parallel intervals; we hear, in turn, two bassoons in sixths, two oboes in thirds, two clarinets in sevenths, two flutes in fifths, and finally, two muted trumpets in major seconds. After a chorale-like middle section, the “game of pairs” returns in a varied form.

The third-movement elegy, one of Bartók’s most tragic slow movements, is a powerful expression of the composer’s homesickness. By contrast, the fourth-movement Intermezzo interrotto shows Bartók’s irrepressible sense of humor. The composer told his pupil, pianist György Sándor (1911–2005), a little story he had associated with this movement: A young man serenades his sweetheart. He is surprised by a gang of drunkards who smash his instrument. Despite the pain he feels, he continues his serenade.

There are some clues in the movement, however, that reveal a meaning running much deeper than the story would suggest. Many people think that the beautiful cantabile melody played by the violas is a rhythmically modified version of a popular Hungarian operetta melody—“Hungary, you are beautiful...”— and it is quite obvious that the real subject of the movement is Bartók’s nostalgia for his native land. And since the time was 1943, it is equally obvious what caused the disruption of the idyll. This disruption has caused a great deal of commentary because Bartók appeared to be parodying a prominent passage from Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”), which had recently created a major sensation in the United States. In his recent book, My Father, Bartók’s younger son Peter tells the story of how Bartók listened to the radio broadcast of Shostakovich’s Seventh and objected to what seemed endless repetitions of the same theme. (The similarity to the song “Da geh ich zu Maxim” from Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow was probably not intended by either Bartók or Shostakovich.)

It should be noted that the Shostakovich melody, variously referred to as the theme of war or fascism, had its own sarcastic overtones that Bartók either missed or ignored. Moreover, its function in the symphony was to “interrupt” peaceful life, just as its Bartókian parody interrupted a peaceful serenade.

The finale belongs to the type of last movements inspired by the spirit of folk dance Bartók used at the end of many of his major works. After the opening horn fanfare, the violins start a perpetual motion in rapid 16th notes that runs through almost the entire movement. In the central section, a large-scale fugato (a section based on imitative counterpoint) unfolds. After a recapitulation, which includes a brief lyrical episode in a slower tempo, the work ends with a powerful climax.

—Peter Laki