Schumann, Stravinsky and Petraškevičs: the season closing concert of Sinfonietta Rīga

On Saturday, 22 May, live from the Great Guild Hall, chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga will close its 15th anniversary season. Led by conductor Normunds Šnē, the orchestra will perform the ardent musical explorer Igor Stravinsky's concerto Dumbarton Oaks, the Symphony No. 2 in C major by the master of the Romantic era Robert Schumann, and, together with percussionist Guntars Freibergs, will present to the world Echoing Distances, the new chamber symphony for 34 instruments and solo percussion by Jānis Petraškevičs.

Replete with neo-classical musical imagery, the concerto in E-flat Dumbarton Oaks is dedicated to the revered American diplomat, patron of arts and philanthropist Robert Bliss and his wife Mildred Bliss, who commissioned the work for the couple's 30th wedding anniversary. According to Igor Stravinsky himself, the piece was composed in the tradition of Bach's Brandenburg concertos, with the influences of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and the Baroque era concept of Concerto Grosso most noticeable. But the Dumbarton Oaks estate in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, D.C., and the philanthropist couple Robert and Mildred Bliss are as important to the context of the concerto as Stravinsky's creative approach. A career diplomat with versatile interests, from 1912 to 1919 Robert Bliss resided in Paris, and it was there that he became enamored with art collecting. In 1920, the Blisses bought an estate in the District of Columbia, and named it Dumbarton Oaks. They enlarged and renovated the house in Colonial Revival style and brought their already extensive art collection and library to this new temple of enlightenment. In 1928, a music room designed by architect Lawrence Grant White was added to the Dumbarton house. Stravinsky's concerto premiered there ten years later. Health issues prevented the composer from participating in the premiere, and Nadia Boulanger, composer, conductor and teacher of numerous musical greats conducted it instead. In 1940, the Blisses gave the estate to Harvard University; it houses a research library, Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art collections and research institutes. In 1944 the Dumbarton name was also invoked in the arena of international politics as the delegates from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China met there for peace and security conference in which the idea and structure of the United Nations organization was finalized. Stravinsky visited the Dumbarton Oaks several times later, including for the first performance of his Septet which is dedicated to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Among others who have dedicated compositions to Dumbarton Oaks are Aaron Copland and Joan Tower.


After abandoning law studies, pianist and composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856) mostly expressed himself in chamber music genres. However, in his later years he wrote four symphonies, an opera, several overtures and concertos for soloists and orchestra. On his return from a concert tour in the Russian Empire, during which Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck made a stop in Riga as well, the composer suffered a severe nervous breakdown. The creative work put on hold, following a doctor's suggestion the Schumanns traveled to composer's childhood home in Dresden hoping to find some relief from the agonizing symptoms bothering the composer - manic depressive mood swings, apprehension of death, ringing in the ears, fear of metal instruments, insomnia and bouts of crying. Over a year Schumann's condition improved, and in autumn 1845 he began working on his Symphony No. 2 in C major, continuing to labour on it for the following year, developing and arranging the work for orchestra. Schumann's suffering and emotional turmoil is manifestly reflected in its dramaturgy: the symphony begins with a fierce battle against some ominous force in the first movement and ends with a triumphant victory in the finale, while the second and third movement dives in feverish anxiety and deep melancholy. This trajectory - from darkness into the light - is reminiscent of Ludwig van Beethoven's works, especially his epic Symphonies No. 5 and No. 9.

            Schumann's Symphony No. 2 was first performed on 5 November 1846 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. The symphony enjoyed much admiration in the 19th century, owing to the romantic spirit of the era - the audiences ascribed a particular metaphysical aura to the opus.


Along with these classic works, the season closing concert of Sinfonietta Rīga will also present contemporary metaphysical motifs with the world premiere of Echoing Distances, chamber symphony for 34 instruments and solo percussion by Jānis Petraškevičs. The composer says: "Like with all of my work, I see the musical matter of my new opus as a thinking, feeling being, that is - sound personified. Although the laws of music and inner structural logic is crucial for this work, it is still music whose idea stems also from outside the realm of music."

The composition has been commissioned by chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga, and the author has dedicated the work to master percussionist Guntars Freibergs.


Image: ©Hadi Karimi

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