Kayhan Kalhor performs with emotionally charged “Silent City” paired with yet another passionate work that stirs the soul. Brahm’s Symphony No. 2 evokes optimism and hope with rich, yet joyful melodies.
Borodin – Overture to Prince Igor
Kalhor – Silent City
Kayhan Kalhor, kamancheh
Brahms – Symphony No. 2
Overture to Prince Igor
Born November 12, 1833, St. Petersburg, Russia
Died February 27, 1887, St. Petersburg, Russia
AT A GLANCE
Composed: Reconstructed from memory and orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov, summer 1887
Duration: 10 minutes
Alexander Borodin’s Overture to Prince Igor is a vibrant and dramatic work that introduces the composer’s unfinished opera of the same name. Borodin began work on Prince Igor in 1869 and continued to refine the score for over a decade until his death in 1887. The opera tells the story of Prince Igor of Novgorod-Seversky, a twelfth-century Russian ruler who goes to war against the Polovtsians, a nomadic people who were threatening his kingdom.
The Overture opens with a powerful and majestic theme played by the brass section, setting the stage for the dramatic events to come. The music then shifts to a more lyrical section, featuring a beautiful melody played by the strings. This theme is associated with the love interest in the opera, Igor’s wife Yaroslavna, and provides a contrast to the martial themes heard earlier.
As the Overture progresses, Borodin introduces a number of musical motifs and themes that will recur throughout the opera, including the Polovtsian dances, which will become some of Borodin’s most famous and beloved pieces. These sections are characterized by driving rhythms, colorful orchestration, and an exotic, Eastern European sound.
The Overture culminates in a thrilling finale that brings together all of the themes heard earlier in the piece. The brass section returns with a triumphant rendition of the opening theme, while the strings and woodwinds provide a counterpoint with the love theme. The music builds to a grand and powerful conclusion, leaving the listener with a sense of the epic drama and passion of Borodin’s opera.
Borodin’s Overture to Prince Igor is a masterful piece of orchestral writing, combining traditional Russian folk melodies with Western classical forms and techniques. It showcases the composer’s skill as an orchestrator and his ability to evoke a wide range of emotions and moods through music. The Overture remains a popular and frequently performed work, beloved by audiences around the world.
Born: November 24, 1963
AT A GLANCE
Duration: 23 minutes
One of Kayhan Kalhor’s well-received pieces, Silent City, was written in the response to Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack in 1988 on the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja. Silent City was composed by the prominent Iranian kamancheh virtuoso, Kayhan Kalhor for the Silkroad Ensemble in 2005. The ensemble’s musical collaboration memorializes the victims of Halabja in a performance that promotes the demand for justice through invoking the duty to remember. The Halabja genocide is often compared to the massacre of Hiroshima. This genocide, however, has been ignored by the West and used as a propaganda tool by both Iranian and Iraqi governments in the Middle East. In contrast, the Silkroad Ensemble’s performance of Silent City honors this tragedy through fostering a sense of intercultural hospitality as an exemplar of peaceful interactions.
In creating Silent City, Kalhor makes use of both improvisational and compositional styles. The improvised part forms the first and the largest part of the piece. It encompasses a group and a solo section. Kalhor describes the group-improvised movements in the Persian liner notes of Silent City:
“The compositional style in the first [three] sections of the piece is unusual and based on signs. In this style, each musician performs his own interpretation of the signs. The forms and the general direction of the piece are the only elements that have been determined and explained, components such as tempo, rhythm, range and combining choices are naturally variable in each performance and depend on the musician.”
In his 2011 interview on Silent City, Kalhor emphasizes that the improvised movements are based on certain rules. These rules are, however, not explicitly determined. For him, the indeterminacy of those elements makes the piece more interesting and gives them the liberty to perform it differently each time. In Kalhor’s view, the improvised part in Silent City provides one with the opportunity to employ his tasavor (imagination). The piece would not blossom well if the musicians did not have enough courage to do improvisation. Kalhor employs an eloquent “picnic” metaphor to elaborate upon the contribution of the musicians in this piece:
“There are moments that someone is playing a very high harmonic… something very unusual and he thinks he is helping in that way. It is like going to a picnic. You bring sandwiches, I bring drinks, someone else brings eggs, and someone brings bicycles or whatever…It works like that. Ultimately what we do is that we all eat together. If you do not want to take part in it or you have fears or you don’t agree with it or believe in it, naturally the result of the work won’t be successful.”
Excerpted from, Silent City: A Commemoration of Halabaja’s Tragedy
By Mehrenegar Rostami
Symphony No. 2
in D major, Op. 73
Born: May 7, 1833, Hamburg
Died: April 3, 1897, Vienna
AT A GLANCE
Composed: Brahms began working on his first symphony in 1856 and returned to it periodically over the next 19 years. He wrote the bulk of the music between 1874 and 1876.
Premiered: November 4, 1876, in Karlsruhe, Germany, with Otto Dessoff conducting
Duration: 42 minutes
Brahms had been an early bloomer. He was barely out of his teens when Robert Schumann, unable to curb his enthusiasm, introduced him in the pages of Europe’s most influential music journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, as “the one…chosen to express the most exalted spirit of the times in an ideal manner, one who [sprang] fully armed from the head of Jove… [A] youth at whose cradle the graces and heroes of old stood guard.” Overnight, Brahms encountered the delight of fame and the dread of high expectations. The pressure all but stopped him before he could move on to larger-scale compositions than the piano works that had excited Schumann.
Part of the problem was that Brahms was such a harsh self-critic. He honed his material until he was satisfied and held himself to tough standards. Consider: He composed more than twenty – possibly as many as thirty – string quartets besides the three he published. (He burned the others.) Ultimately, through the fusion of hard work, reflection, and inspiration that makes for genius, Brahms recovered from Schumann’s prophecy and fulfilled his promise in songs and piano music and chamber works and choruses. He approached the orchestra more deliberately, producing two serenades, a piano concerto, and his German Requiem before retreating exclusively into more intimate forms.
Meanwhile, the music world expected him to write a symphony. Come on, he said: “You have no idea what it’s like to hear the footsteps of a giant like that behind you”– the giant being Beethoven, whose echoing footsteps forced Brahms to question if he could ever do anything on a par with the author of nine symphonies that seemed to define the limits of what music could express.
But while Brahms was keeping the press at bay with his talk about the giant, he was busy trying to hear his own symphonic voice. When he was forty, he introduced the Variations on a Theme of Haydn. For all its generosity of spirit, this is an exercise in how to create and arrange sonic shapes. The Haydn Variations marked the first time in a decade Brahms had used the orchestra, and the first time in fifteen years – since his Serenade No. 1 – that he had written a purely orchestral work for a sizable ensemble. The forty-five works between the serenade and the variations had established Brahms as one of Europe’s leading composers – and the leading composer among those who embraced the traditional ideals of abstract music as opposed to music drama and tone poems. Brahms’s First Symphony, fourteen years in the writing, was instantly recognized as the greatest symphony of the past half-century, since Beethoven’s Ninth had first been heard in 1824.
Brahms knew now that he could get it right. In four months, he turned out a second symphony during a pleasant summer at the Austrian lakeside resort of Pörtschach. The First Symphony is an epic. The Second, as musicologist Reinhold Brinkman has said, is an idyll. When it was unveiled at the end of 1877, the public loved it.
About Kayhan Kalhor
Kayhan Kalhor is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso on the kamancheh (spiked fiddle), who through his many musical collaborations has been instrumental in popularizing Persian around the world and is a creative force in today’s music scene. His performances of traditional Persian music and multiple collaborations have attracted audiences around the globe. He has studied the music of Iran’s many regions, in particular those of Khorason and Kordestan, and has toured the world as a soloist with various ensembles and orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de Lyon. He is co-founder of the renowned ensembles Dastan and Masters of Persian Music. Kalhor has composed works for Iran’s most renowned vocalists Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri and has also performed and recorded with Iran’s greatest instrumentalists. He has composed music for television and film and was featured on the soundtrack of Francis Ford Copolla’s Youth Without Youth in a score that he collaborated on with Osvaldo Golijov. John Adams invited him to give a solo recital at Carnegie Hall as part of his Perspectives Series and he has appeared on a double bill at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, sharing the program with the Festival Orchestra performing the Mozart Requiem. Kayhan is an original member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project for whom he continues to compose for and tour with. His compositions appear on all of the Ensemble’s albums. His most recent albums include Silent City, collaboration with Brooklyn Rider and I Will Not Stand Alone with santoor player Ali Bahrami Fard. Kayhan has been nominated for three Grammys and in 2017 was awarded a Grammy with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2017).
Kayhan Kalhor, born in Tehran, began his musical studies at the age of seven under Master Ahmad Mohajer. A child prodigy on the kamancheh, he was invited at the age of thirteen to work in the Iranian National Radio and Television Orchestra, where he performed for five years. At seventeen, Kalhor began working with the Shayda Ensemble of the Chavosh Cultural Center, the most prestigious arts organization at the time in Iran. While performing with Shayda, he continued studying the Iranian classical repertoire (radif) with different masters. In 1978 Kalhor went to Rome to study Western classical music and continued his studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he received a degree in music. He has composed works for Iran’s most renowned vocalists, including Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri and has performed and recorded with many of Iran’s greatest artists. In 1991 he co-founded Dastan, the renowned Persian classical music ensemble, and in 1997 he formed Ghazal ensemble with Shujaat Husain Khan. His commissions include works written for the Kronos Quartet and for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, with whom he continues to compose for as well as tour. In 2002 he was nominated for a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award; In 2005 he was awarded the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (“German Record Critics’ Award”); five of his recordings have been nominated for Grammys and in 2017 he was awarded a Grammy.
Originally from Sheffield, England, Jameson Cooper began playing the violin at age six. At 13 he joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and later became concertmaster of the National Youth Chamber Orchestra. He studied at The Royal Northern College of Music, where he earned a Graduate of Music Degree with Honors and a Professional Performance Diploma. Cooper first came to the United States as a participant in the Aspen Music Festival. Since then, he has studied with Dorothy DeLay, Masao Kawasaki, and Roland and Almita Vamos.
He earned masters degrees in Violin and Conducting from Kent State University, where he later served as Assistant Professor of Violin and Viola at the University’s Hugh A. Glauser School of Music. He has performed as soloist with orchestra, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States and Europe. In the 2001-02 season, Jameson played in the Audubon Quartet in its Beethoven Quartet cycle series.
Cooper has recorded Icelandic music for Musart, and an disc of new music for solo violin by Kent State University composers on Centaur Records. His most recent album features music by Prokofiev for violin and piano, with pianist and Indiana University South Bend colleague Ketevan Badridze on Afinat Records. Jameson has given masterclasses at Oberlin Conservatory, Virginia Tech, Michigan State University, and Morningside College, and regularly serves as judge for the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition Senior Strings Division.
He is a founding member and first violinist of the Euclid Quartet, with whom he has won numerous national and international chamber competition prizes and performed to critical acclaim across the country. Commercial recordings of Cooper’s playing with the quartet include Hugo Kauder’s string quartets 1-4, the complete quartets of Bartok, and an upcoming disc of Dvorak and Wynton Marsalis.
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