Program Notes for Stockton Symphony Reunions Series: Heartstrings

Friday | October 15, 2021 | 7:00 pm
Hutchins Street Square, Lodi
Sunday | October 17, 2021 | 2:30 pm
Grand Theatre, Tracy

Stockton Symphony
Peter Jaffe, conductor
Amaryn Olmeda, violin

George Walker

Lyric for Strings

Antonio Vivaldi

Violin Concerto in F minor, RV 297, “L’inverno” (Winter), from Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, op. 8, “The Four Seasons”
Allegro non molto

Amaryn Olmeda, violin

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky

Serenade for Strings, op. 48
Pezzo in forma di sonatina: Andante non troppo—Allegro moderato
Valse: Moderato—Tempo di valse
Élégie: Larghetto elegiaco
Finale (Tema russo): Andante—Allegro con spirito

Concert sponsors:
Stockton Symphony Board (Friday concert)
Alvarez Properties – Byron and Christine (Sunday concert)

Guest artist sponsors:
Earl Taylor, M.D. and Ms. Etoile Holmes (Friday concert)
Cose Family (Sunday concert)

Program Notes by Jane Vial Jaffe

George Walker, Composer
George Walker

Lyric for Strings
George Walker
Born in Washington, D.C., June 27, 1922; died in Montclair, New Jersey, August 23, 2018

George Walker’s long life consisted of a string of outstanding achievements. After graduating from Oberlin College as a piano and organ student, he studied at the Curtis Institute of Music—composition and theory with Rosario Scalero, teacher of Samuel Barber, and piano with Rudolf Serkin—and became the school’s first African American graduate. Walker was also the first black instrumentalist to give a recital—his debut—at New York’s Town Hall and to appear as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He toured Europe under the auspices of National Concert Artists (their first African American instrumentalist) and taught briefly before beginning his doctoral studies at Eastman. He was awarded both a Fulbright and a John Hay Whitney fellowship (the Whitney’s first composer), enabling him to study in Paris with the renowned Nadia Boulanger.

Walker taught at the Dalcroze School of Music, the New School for Social Research, Smith College (first black tenure recipient), University of Colorado, Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, and University of Delaware. His longest professorship was at Rutgers University (1969–92), where he chaired the music department.

Composing remained an equally important facet of Walker’s career, evidenced by over ninety published works to his credit, ranging from orchestral pieces and chamber music to choral works, songs, and piano pieces. Highlighting Walker’s remarkable list of awards and honors is the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in Music—he was the first African American composer so honored—for his Lilacs for voice and orchestra, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Walker also received commissions from myriad other organizations, such as the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Kennedy Center.

As recently as 2013 Walker was still having works premiered: his Movements for Cello and Orchestra that November with the Sinfonia da Camera led by Ian Hobson at the University of Illinois and his Bleu for Violin Unaccompanied at the Library of Congress the previous April. In 2012 the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra premiered his Sinfonia No. 4, “Strands,” a joint commission with the Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and National symphonies. That May he gave the commencement address at the Eastman School of Music, also receiving an honorary doctoral degree where he had already earned a doctorate as a student over half a century earlier. Later that month he received the prestigious Aaron Copland Award from ASCAP.

Lyric for Strings originated as the second movement of Walker’s String Quartet No. 1, written in 1946 after he graduated from Curtis and dedicated to his grandmother, who had recently died. Under the title Lament, the piece received its premiere that year on a radio concert of Curtis’s student orchestra conducted by Seymour Lipkin. The official premiere took place the following year at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., by the National Gallery Orchestra conducted by Richard Bales. Retitled at the request of the publisher, Lyric for Strings became one of the most frequently performed pieces by a living American composer.

The piece’s origin as a slow movement in a string quartet and its poignant strains tinged with Romanticism bring to mind Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings and the Curtis connection of both composers. Walker’s Lyric for Strings, however, stands beautifully on its own. Falling motives and sustained tones set a mournful mood at the outset. The motion increases with contrapuntal lines weaving their way over a sustained pedal tone until gentle chordal iterations briefly arrest the flow. The resumption of the entwined lyrical lines eventually comes to an impassioned peak, now with low, jabbing chordal interjections of utter anguish. As the passage ebbs and quiet chords sound again, the gentle earlier flow resumes. The piece concludes somberly yet with a sense of peace. —©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for strings

Portrait thought to be Antonio Vivaldi, c. 1723
Portrait thought to be Antonio Vivaldi, c. 1723

Violin Concerto in F minor, RV 297, “Winter” from The Four Seasons
Antonio Vivaldi
Born in Venice, March 4, 1678; died in Vienna, July 28, 1741

We know from Vivaldi’s own preface that he composed The Four Seasons long before their publication in 1725, but the precise date and place of composition may forever elude us. Possibly composed as early as 1716, these concertos appeared as the first of twelve making up his Opus 8 collection, which he dedicated to music-loving Bohemian Count Morzin. Vivaldi’s preface implies that he knew the count’s “virtuoso orchestra”—had the composer visited Prague? He wrote many of his instrumental works, including most of his 500 concertos, for his students at the Pio Ospedale Pietà, an orphanage and famous conservatory for girls in Venice, where he spent most of his career.

The Four Seasons spread Vivaldi’s fame far and wide in his own lifetime. Would he have been surprised to find that these concertos later achieved such ultra-popularity as to be played as restaurant background music, in television commercials, and for movie soundtracks? Though he might have been irritated at some of these applications, he might have been intrigued that their use in Alan Alda’s film The Four Seasons and on the Weather Channel actually relates to one of their most salient attributes—that of being program music, or music that tells a story. On the most basic level these works give a musical representation of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. But what makes them so innovative and memorable is the vividness and detail of Vivaldi’s programmatic description. The concertos were prefaced by four “explanatory sonnets”—presumably written by the composer—whose verses refer to points in the score through a system of keyed letters (see below). Reading the poetry in sync with the music illuminates what the images are, but it is the remarkable music with its myriad nuanced references to mankind’s relationship with nature that shows the height of Vivaldi’s artistry.

As a fascinating aside, Vivaldi’s sonnets recently helped paleo-ecologist/climatologist Ulla Kokfelt, who was working on climatic reconstructions from Venice and Po just following the “late maunder minimum” period (1675–1715, the culmination of a “little ice age”). She was able to draw certain conclusions because of the sonnets’ specificity and the fact that the concertos were probably written well before 1725.

One of Vivaldi’s great achievements was establishing the three-movement norm for the concerto, often using ritornello form for his fast outer movements. His programs for the Four Seasons, while occasionally shaping the form, more often fit admirably into his characteristic concerto models. Vivaldi found ritornello form perfect for depicting the sonnets’ contrasting images in the fast movements, and the slow movements particularly apt for setting the mood of an entire scene or succession of scenes.

Vivaldi’s depictions of shivering and of icy winds, of stamping feet and of chattering teeth are truly miraculous in Winter’s first movement. The slow movement’s peace by the fireside is shattered by the return of icy images in the finale. The Concerto comes to one of music’s most rousing conclusions as the howling winds wage war. —©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for strings

Winter’s “explanatory sonnet” appears below with the letters Vivaldi used in the original to demarcate distinct sections in the music.


Allegro non molto
A    Aggiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti
B    Al severo spirar d’orrido Vento,
C   Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
D   E pel soverchio gel batter i denti;  

E    Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento

F    Caminar sopra ’1 giaccio, e à passo lento
G   Per timor di cader gersene intenti;  
H   Gir forte[,] sdruzziolar, cader à terra
I     Di nuovo ir sopra ’1 giaccio e correr forte

L    Sin ch’ il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;  
M   Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
N   Sirocco[,] Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra. Quest’è ’1 yerno, mà tal, che gioia apporte.  

Allegro non molto
A    Frozen, shivering in the icy snow
B    pierced by cruel blasts of wind,
C   to run, stamping our feet at every step
D   teeth chattering with the cold;  

E    To spend quiet, contented days by the fireside while the rain outside drenches everyone;  

F    To walk on ice with slow steps,
G   for fear of falling, treading carefully;  
H   To go hastily, to slip and fall down,
I     to go again on the ice, and run swiftly

L    Until the ice cracks and opens;  
M   To hear coming out of bolted doors
N   Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds at war. This is Winter, yet it too brings joy.  

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky

Serenade for Strings in C major, op. 48
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka province, May 7, 1840; died in St. Petersburg, November 9, 1893

The task of composing something for the festivities celebrating the Silver Jubilee of Tsar Alexander II’s reign filled Tchaikovsky with repugnance. He agreed to do it only if given a very specific commission and an appropriate fee—“when it is a question of an order I am prepared to set an advertisement for corn plasters to music.” Ironically, the piece he wrote with such distaste in October and November 1880 turned out to be one of his most popular, the 1812 Overture. As a kind of antidote, he simultaneously worked on another piece that he originally intended as a symphony or string quintet, then a suite for string orchestra, but which he finally designated a serenade. On October 22 he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck, the patroness he never met:

I have written two long works very rapidly: a Festival Overture for the Exhibition and a Serenade in four movements for string orchestra. The Overture will be very noisy. I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merits in it. The Serenade, on the contrary, I composed from inner conviction. It is a heartfelt piece and so, I dare to think, is not lacking in real qualities.

Extremely anxious to hear the Serenade, Tchaikovsky was delighted and surprised by the private performance of it conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein on December 3 at the Moscow Conservatory where Tchaikovsky had taught. The public premiere on October 31, 1881, in St. Petersburg, conducted by Eduard Nápravník, was greeted enthusiastically, with the Waltz movement having to be encored. Anton Rubinstein, brother of Nikolai, who had been critical of all his former student’s works to date, gave the Serenade his unconditional approval and conducted it on several occasions.

Tchaikovsky wrote to Madame von Meck that the Serenade’s first movement “is intended to be an imitation of [Mozart’s] style, and I should be delighted if I thought I had in any way approached my model.” There may be a hint of Mozart in some of the movement’s textures and in the second theme with its busy sixteenth notes. The lighter, non-symphonic musical language of the Serenade as a whole also forms a connection with Mozart’s serenades, which were intended for various social occasions. One might also hear Schumann in the first theme of the first movement (after the stately introduction), and perhaps Johann Strauss, Jr., in the Waltz, but foremost one hears the unmistakable stamp of Tchaikovsky.

The glorious introduction shows just how elevated a simple descending scale can become with inspired harmonization and thematic elaboration. The rich phrase is heard twice here, returns to close the movement, and reappears near the end of the Finale. Tchaikovsky may have framed his first movement with the solemn Andante as a recollection of the typical march movements that often opened eighteenth-century serenades. In keeping with the lightness of the serenade tradition Tchaikovsky used an elegantly simple structure for this first movement: the Pezzo in forma di sonatina consists of an exposition and its recapitulation with no formal development section.

Tchaikovsky’s second movement shows his special affinity for waltzes. Its initial phrase demonstrates again how ingeniously a scale can be employed, this time in ascending direction. The Élégie also adopts a rising scale for its opening, presenting it four times, each with a different ending. Toward the end of the melodically expansive middle section, the muted strings impart a darkened atmosphere that continues through the return of the opening and into the wistful Andante introduction of the Finale. The removal of the mutes at the start of the Allegro con spirito gives added brightness to this cheerful Russian theme.

Along The Green Meadow

Tchaikovsky subtitled his Finale “Tema russo” especially with a view toward performances outside of Russia. In it he uses not just one but two Russian folk songs, ones he had already arranged as piano duets in 1869. The introduction consists of a transcription of No. 28, “A kak po lugu” (Along the Green Meadow), and the movement’s main theme is based on No. 42, “Pod yablonyu zelyonoyu” (Under the Green Apple Tree). (See examples.) The thirteen measures that Tchaikovsky added to the end of the first folk song emphasize the similarity between this tune’s end and the beginning of the second folk song. The grand return of the introduction of the first movement toward the end of the Finale serves not only to unify, but to point out (with just a touch of humor?) its similarity to the Russian main theme.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for strings

Guest Artist

Amaryn Olmeda

Violinist Amaryn Olmeda has been dazzling audiences with her bold and expressive performances across California and internationally in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. In 2021 Amaryn was awarded first prize and the audience choice award at the 24th Annual Sphinx Competition, Juniors Division, and was selected to be an NPR From the Top Fellow with an appearance on the show in the fall of 2021. In 2020 Amaryn was featured as the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra’s Debut Artist at their New Year’s Concert Series in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley, which earned her a nomination for the San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards.

Amaryn has been a featured soloist with the Classical Tahoe Orchestra, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Auburn Symphony, Music in the Mountains Orchestra, Merced Symphony, Solano Symphony, MIM Youth Orchestra, Sacramento Youth Symphony Academic Orchestra, and the Sacramento Youth Symphony Premier Orchestra. She has also been a featured musician at the McAllister Honors Recital at the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles.

The 2021–22 concert season brings performances with the Stockton Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Auburn Symphony, and recitals in New York City and San Francisco. Amaryn has also been invited as a full-scholarship recipient to the prestigious Morningside Music Bridge Summer Music Institute at the New England Conservatory of Music.

In addition to the Sphinx Competition, Amaryn won first prize in both the Auburn Symphony Young Artists and Music in the Mountains Young Musicians Competitions, as well as the Classical Music Masters Competition at the Harris Center for the Performing Arts, the Pacific Musical Society Competition in San Francisco, and the Sacramento Youth Symphony Academic Orchestra Concerto Competition. She was also the first-prize winner of the Regional and State Solo Competition of the American String Teachers Association; the Merced Symphony Young Artist, Diablo Valley and Holy Names College, and Solano Symphony Young Artist Competitions; and the United States International Music Competition at Stanford University.

Amaryn enjoys bringing music to her community by performing in school tours with the Sacramento Youth Symphony, Auburn Symphony, and the Oakland Symphony. She is the featured soloist with the Sacramento Philharmonic and VITA Academy in a video production created for Sacramento elementary schools featuring music of composer Joseph Bologne. She has performed as a soloist with orchestras for hundreds of her peers in Northern California. She has also performed at the Davis Community Church Weekly Luncheons for the Homeless, the Children for Children Showcase Concert to benefit Child Advocates of Nevada County, the Keaton Raphael Child Cancer Organization, as a soloist with the Sacramento Chamber Music Workshop nursing home tours, and at the End of Watch Benefit Concert, honoring fallen police officers of Sacramento.

In addition to being a soloist with orchestras, Amaryn loves playing chamber music, composing, painting, and gardening on her family’s hobby farm in Northern California. Amaryn is a Pre‑College student and a Joseph Chan Scholarship recipient at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, studying violin with Ian Swensen. She also studies applied music theory with Hiro David in New York.

For her Stockton Symphony concerts, Amaryn will perform on a violin made by Pietro and Giuseppe Guarneri, c. 1710, on loan by Bryan Campbell Fine Bows & Instruments in San Francisco.