MARTIN MAJKUT

CONDUCTOR

HAPPY NEW YEAR! BELOW ARE MY NOTES FOR THE RVS'S JANUARY CONCERT. WE PRESENT A BEAUTIFUL PROGRAM OF WORKS BY JOHANNES BRAHMS, CLARA WIECK-SCHUMANN AND ROBERT SCHUMANN. 

Here we go, the Omicron pivot! We are so disappointed not to be able to share our January program with you live. This music begs to be performed in front of people. We will miss you as much as you will miss us! You are the not-so-secret ingredient of our success. Frankly, it simply is not as much fun performing without you. I refuse to lose faith, however. My hope is that we will be able to present our March and April concerts – both using massive forces – without much of a limitation. Meanwhile, I wish you a smooth and uninterrupted viewing experience with our Love Triangle Journey. 

 

Academic Festival Overture is one of my favorite pieces of music. Johannes Brahms had a curious attitude towards receiving honorary doctorates – namely, he was in the habit of turning down the offers, including one that came from Oxford. It was not until a university in the German town of Breslau came around that he acquiesced (in an ironic twist, Breslau is now known as Wrocław, and lies in Poland).

 

The academic authorities expected a work of dignity and stateliness but Brahms’s subversive attitude towards awards and accolades manifested itself once again. His Overture is based on student tunes, most of them drinking songs. Just imagine the faces of the august faculty members when they realized what they were listening to! On the other hand, the student body had to have a good day at the ceremony. The work ends with a fortissimo statement of Gaudeamus igitur, a tune that in many corners of continental Europe fills the role that Pomp and Circumstance serves in the Great Britain and the U.S.A.

 

Clara Wieck started working on her Piano Concerto at the age of 14. Sadly, it remains her only surviving composition featuring an orchestra. We can speculate on “what ifs:” What if she lived in an era that was more open to women composers? What if she prioritized composition over her busy concertizing schedule? What if she decided against dedicating her creative powers to the preservation of legacy of her husband Robert? What if she was not raising eight children by herself? 

 

Clara’s Concerto offers answers to none of these questions but one thing is obvious from the get go: she was a monster of a pianist! The solo part is exceptionally difficult. The piece shows affinity for styles of Chopin and Hummel. The piano part dominates, with the orchestra cheering the soloist on. It is a colorful, varied and confidently written work. It takes a true virtuoso to bring it to life successfully. I found a perfect match in Vijay Venkatesh, who has made this Concerto one of his specialties!

 

Along with Mozart’s Jupiter, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 is my favorite symphony in C Major. Schumann was studying works of J. S. Bach prior to writing this symphony and, indeed, the influence shows. Instruments often follow their own independent lines, creating a splendidly rich harmonic landscape. The architecture of the piece is majestic as well. Themes from earlier parts of the symphony reappear in the final movement. More than cameos, they are reworked to fit the new context. Apart from the drop-dead gorgeous elegy of yearning that is the third (slow) movement, the mood of the symphony remains jubilant. 

 

Schumann suffered from bouts of depression and illness when working on the music. This work thus stands as a testament to the indefatigability of human spirit. Our psyche is as powerful as it is deeply mysterious in its workings. And yet, you do not need to know any of this when listening to Schumann’s Second Symphony. You can just close your eyes and let its buoyant spirit make you feel like you conquered the world. 

 

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Brighten up your holidays with this sweet rendition of Sugar Plum Fairy, produced in December 2020 with my Queens Symphony musicians.