This year’s Nobel Prize Concert brings together world-renowned conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and acclaimed violinist Julia Fischer, together with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. On 8 December, works by Boccherini, Brahms, and Ravel were performed on the Konserthuset Stockholm stage. The audience also heard a work by the exciting young American composer Gabriella Smith (b. 1991). Recorded on December 8, 2023.
2023 Nobel Prize Concert Program
With start times in the video:
- 09:42 Boccherini: Quattro versioni originale della Ritirata notturna di Madrid (Arr. Luciano Berio)
- 20:53 Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major (Soloist: Julia Fischer)
- 20:53 1st Movement Allegro non troppo
- 44:27 2nd Movement Adagio
- 53:28 3rd Movement Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto
- 1:09:30 Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails
- 1:32:00 Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2
1. Quattro versioni originali della “Ritirata notturna di Madrid”
Quattro versioni originali della “Ritirata notturna di Madrid” is an arrangement by the Italian composer Luciano Berio (24 October 1925 – 27 May 2003) of a movement from Luigi Boccherini‘s Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid. The full title of the composition is Quattro versioni originali della “Ritirata notturna di Madrid” di Luigi Boccherini, sovrapposte e transcritte per orchestra (Four Original Versions from Luigi Boccherini’s “Withdrawal by Night in Madrid”, superimposed and transcribed for orchestra). This arrangement was composed in 1975.
“Quattro versioni originali della Ritirata notturna di Madrid” is a unique orchestral composition that intertwines the creativity of two renowned composers, Luigi Boccherini and Luciano Berio. The piece’s full title translates to “Four Original Versions of the ‘Withdrawal by Night in Madrid’ by Luigi Boccherini, superimposed and transcribed for orchestra,” revealing its intricate structure and creative process.
This composition originated from Luigi Boccherini, an Italian composer and cellist of the Classical era, known for his elegant and sophisticated style. Boccherini composed the piece as part of his “Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid” (Night Music of the Streets of Madrid), specifically as the final movement titled “Ritirata,” which depicts the night retreat sounded by the city garrison to signal the midnight curfew. The piece captures the essence of Madrid’s nocturnal atmosphere, with the music intensifying as the city watch approaches and then fading away as they pass by.
In 1975, Luciano Berio, an Italian composer noted for his experimental and innovative approaches, reimagined Boccherini’s work. Berio’s rendition, “Quattro versioni originali della Ritirata notturna di Madrid,” is an arrangement of this last movement. Berio, known for his interest in electronic music and modernist compositions, brought a contemporary perspective to Boccherini’s classical piece. He was commissioned by the La Scala Orchestra to create a short opening piece, leading to the birth of this unique orchestral arrangement.
Berio’s arrangement is a fascinating meld of classical and contemporary styles. It involves superimposing and transcribing four versions of Boccherini’s original composition for a modern orchestra. The instrumentation of this arrangement includes a diverse range of instruments: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, 3 percussion instruments, harp, and strings. This rich instrumentation allows for a vivid recreation of the original work while adding depth and modern texture to it.
The collaboration of Boccherini and Berio, though separated by centuries, in “Quattro versioni originali della Ritirata notturna di Madrid” offers a fascinating dialogue between classical and contemporary music. It stands as a testament to the timeless nature of music and the endless possibilities of reinterpretation and reinvention in the hands of different artists.
2. Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major (Soloist: Julia Fischer)
Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, is a cornerstone of the violin repertoire, renowned for its technical demands and profound musical depth. Composed in 1878, this work represents a fusion of the traditional concerto form with Brahms’ distinctive Romantic lyricism and complexity.
Brahms, a leading figure in 19th-century music, dedicated the concerto to his friend, the virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim. The collaboration between Brahms and Joachim was pivotal in the creation of the concerto. Joachim’s deep understanding of the violin and his technical prowess influenced Brahms’ composition. In fact, Joachim contributed significantly to the concerto’s solo violin part, particularly in advising Brahms on technical feasibility and idiomatic writing for the violin.
The concerto’s premiere, performed by Joachim with Brahms conducting, was met with mixed reactions. While some praised its innovation and richness, others found it challenging and complex. Over time, however, it has gained universal acclaim and is now celebrated for its lyrical beauty and the skillful balance it strikes between the soloist and the orchestra.
What sets Brahms’ Violin Concerto apart is its symphonic scope. Unlike many concertos that primarily showcase the virtuosity of the soloist, Brahms integrates the violin and orchestra in a way that they engage in a continuous and intricate dialogue. This approach reflects Brahms’ mastery in orchestration and his deep understanding of both the violin and orchestral textures.
The concerto is also noted for its emotional range and thematic richness. Brahms employs a wide spectrum of emotions, from the dramatic and intense to the tender and introspective. The thematic material is not just melodically appealing but also structurally and harmonically complex, inviting both performers and listeners into a deeply engaging musical journey.
Furthermore, Brahms’ Violin Concerto is revered for its technical demands. It requires not only exceptional technical skill but also a deep interpretative understanding to convey its emotional and musical narratives. This concerto remains a favorite among violinists for its expressive potential and the unique challenges it presents.
1. Allegro non troppo
The first movement of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, is marked as “Allegro non troppo,” which translates to “fast, but not too much.” This movement is notable for its expansive and ambitious nature, blending dramatic intensity with lyrical beauty.
Opening with a lengthy orchestral exposition, this movement sets the stage for the thematic and emotional landscape of the entire concerto. The orchestra introduces the main themes, which are characterized by their grandeur and depth. Brahms, known for his skill in thematic development, weaves these themes into a complex tapestry of sounds, showcasing his mastery in orchestration.
When the violin enters, it does not merely restate the orchestral themes but transforms them, adding new dimensions and perspectives. This entrance is one of the most anticipated moments in the concerto repertoire, marked by a sense of grandeur and expressiveness. The solo violin part is technically demanding, requiring virtuosic skill and a deep understanding of the music’s emotional core.
The movement is structured in the traditional sonata form, commonly used in first movements of concertos and symphonies during the Classical and Romantic periods. This form involves an exposition of themes, a development section where these themes are explored and transformed, and a recapitulation where the themes return, often with some variations.
In the development section, Brahms showcases his skill in thematic transformation and development. The solo violin and orchestra engage in an intricate dialogue, exploring the themes in various harmonic and textural contexts. This section is both a technical and emotional challenge for the soloist, requiring not only virtuosity but also a profound interpretative insight.
The recapitulation brings back the main themes, now colored by the journey of the development section. Brahms’ treatment of the recapitulation in this concerto is notable for its creativity and the seamless integration of the solo violin with the orchestra.
The movement concludes with a coda that revisits the themes with a sense of resolution and culmination. The coda in Brahms’ first movement is particularly significant, as it brings a sense of closure to the vast emotional and thematic landscape explored in the movement.
The second movement of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, is an Adagio, playing a crucial role in the emotional narrative of the concerto. This movement stands in stark contrast to the first movement’s dramatic and expansive nature, offering a serene, introspective, and deeply lyrical experience.
Marked as “Adagio,” which means “slowly” in Italian, this movement is often regarded as one of the most beautiful slow movements in the violin concerto repertoire. It opens with a gentle, tender orchestral introduction, setting a mood of tranquility and reflection. The orchestration here is subtle yet expressive, creating a warm, enveloping sound that serves as the backdrop for the violin’s entrance.
When the violin enters, it does so with a theme that is both simple and profoundly expressive. This theme, carried by the violin, is notable for its lyrical quality and its capacity to convey deep emotion with a remarkable economy of notes. The violin line is rich in expressive nuance, demanding a high level of interpretive sensitivity from the soloist.
The interaction between the solo violin and the orchestra in this movement is one of intimate dialogue rather than virtuosic display. The orchestral accompaniment provides a supportive and sympathetic backdrop to the violin’s melodic lines, with woodwinds often taking a prominent role in this interplay. The use of woodwinds adds a unique color to the texture, enhancing the movement’s introspective character.
Throughout the movement, Brahms explores various shades of emotion, from tender warmth to moments of poignant intensity. The harmonic language is rich and complex, typical of Brahms’ style, providing a lush harmonic foundation for the melodic lines.
Structurally, the movement adheres to a simple ternary form (ABA), a common structure for slow movements. This form allows Brahms to present the main theme, explore a contrasting section, and then return to the main theme, each time enriching and deepening its emotional impact.
The movement concludes with a return to the tranquil mood of the opening, bringing a sense of closure that is both peaceful and reflective. The ending is typically understated, fading away gently, leaving a lingering sense of contemplation and serenity.
3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace
The third and final movement of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, is a vivacious and spirited finale that brings the concerto to a thrilling conclusion. Marked “Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace” – which translates to “joyful and playful, but not too lively” – this movement is characterized by its rhythmic vitality, folk-like themes, and exuberant energy.
After the introspective and serene second movement, the third movement serves as a dramatic contrast, bursting forth with a sense of joy and jubilation. The movement opens with a lively orchestral introduction that immediately sets a cheerful and energetic tone. This introduction lays the groundwork for the thematic material that the solo violin will soon take up and elaborate upon.
When the violin enters, it does so with a theme that is both catchy and technically demanding. The theme has a dance-like quality, reminiscent of Hungarian or gypsy music, a style Brahms was particularly fond of and often incorporated into his compositions. This folk influence is evident in the rhythmic drive, the use of vibrant, syncopated rhythms, and the spirited melodies that define the movement.
The solo violin part in this movement is particularly challenging, requiring a blend of technical virtuosity and musicality. The violinist must navigate through rapid passages, intricate double stops, and brisk, playful melodies, all while maintaining the movement’s spirited character. Brahms’ writing here showcases the violin’s capabilities, both in terms of agility and expressiveness.
Structurally, the movement follows a rondo form, a common choice for final movements in concertos. In this form, a principal theme (the rondo theme) alternates with contrasting sections, allowing for a variety of musical ideas and moods to be explored. Brahms skillfully weaves these contrasting sections with the recurring rondo theme, creating a cohesive and dynamic musical journey.
The orchestration in this movement is bright and robust, with the orchestra playing a more prominent and active role compared to the second movement. Brahms uses the full palette of the orchestra to complement and contrast with the solo violin, adding depth and color to the overall texture.
As the movement progresses, the energy and excitement build, leading to a virtuosic and triumphant conclusion. The finale is typically marked by a dazzling display of technical prowess from the soloist, coupled with the full force of the orchestra, culminating in a jubilant and satisfying conclusion to the concerto.
3. Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails
Gabriella Smith’s “Tumblebird Contrails” is a distinctive and evocative piece of contemporary music, commissioned by the Pacific Harmony Foundation and premiered in 2014 by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop. The work represents a vivid auditory reflection of Smith’s own experience and her profound connection with nature.
The composition, approximately 12 minutes in length, showcases an expansive orchestration. It utilizes 3 flutes (with the third doubling as a bass clarinet), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, a tuba, timpani, and strings. Additionally, it incorporates a diverse range of percussion instruments including a drum set, snare drum, bass drum, suspended cymbal, assorted metal objects, and a tam-tam. This rich and varied instrumentation allows Smith to create a textured soundscape that is both intricate and immersive.
The inspiration behind “Tumblebird Contrails” is deeply personal and rooted in Smith’s experiences with nature. Describing the piece, Smith recounts a moment while backpacking in Point Reyes, California, where she was captivated by the natural sounds of the Pacific Ocean.
The composition seeks to emulate these auditory experiences, from the “keening gulls and pounding surf” to the “sizzle of sand and sea foam in receding tides.” Smith aimed to capture the “constant ebb and flow of pitch to pitchless, tune to texture,” and the dynamic movements of ravens playing in the wind. This vivid imagery is reflected in the piece’s structure and thematic material, embodying the fluidity and unpredictability of nature’s soundscape.
The title of the piece, “Tumblebird Contrails,” is a nonsensical phrase inspired by Jack Kerouac, chosen by Smith to encapsulate the sound and feel of her composition. This title reflects Smith’s creative approach to composition, where the naming is as imaginative and unbound as the music itself. The piece stands as a testament to Smith’s innovative spirit and her ability to translate her environmental experiences into a complex and engaging musical language.
Gabriella Smith’s background and influences further enrich the understanding of this piece. Born in Berkeley, California, Smith grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and developed an early interest in music and nature. She began studying violin at the age of seven and soon started composing. Her passion for wildlife and ecology, alongside her experiences in outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, greatly influenced her musical perspective.
Notably, she volunteered for five years in a research project focusing on wild songbirds, which likely contributed to her keen ear for natural sounds and their musical translation. Smith was mentored by renowned composer John Adams in his Young Composers Program and received her education from the Curtis Institute of Music and Princeton University, with sojourns in various international locations further enriching her artistic growth.
4. Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2
Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2” is a brilliantly orchestrated and evocative work, epitomizing the lush harmonies and impressionistic style that Ravel is renowned for. Originally composed in 1912, this piece is extracted from Ravel’s larger work “Daphnis et Chloé,” which is a choreographic symphony for orchestra and wordless chorus, and is his longest composition. This ballet, in three main sections, encompasses a narrative and musical journey that lasts just under an hour.
The Suite No. 2, specifically, is highly celebrated and was issued in 1913. It represents essentially Partie III of the whole ballet. Ravel himself described the music in his formal titling of the suites as “Fragments symphoniques de ‘Daphnis et Chloé’ (Lever du jour-Pantomime-Danse générale),” which translates to “Symphonic Fragments from ‘Daphnis and Chloé’ (Daybreak-Pantomime-General Dance)”.
The Suite No. 2 is about 18 minutes long and features an extensive orchestration, including a variety of woodwinds (3 flutes with the 2nd and 3rd doubling as piccolos, alto flute, 2 oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet), brass instruments (3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba), a range of percussion instruments (antique cymbals, bass drum, castanets, glockenspiel, low snare drum, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, and wind machine), as well as 2 harps, celesta, and strings. This rich orchestration creates a texture that is both complex and vividly impressionistic.
The Suite opens with a depiction of the sun rising over a pastoral landscape, constructed around a simple ascending sequence derived from a horn solo. The suite’s narrative, as described by Ravel, starts with a tranquil scene where Daphnis lies before the grotto of the nymphs, and day gradually breaks with bird songs and the arrival of herdsmen.
The story progresses through a series of emotional and musical scenes: Daphnis and Chloe miming the story of the nymph Syrinx and the god Pan, a melancholy flute tune played by Daphnis, Chloe’s dance to the flute melody, and culminates in a joyous and tumultuous general dance. This sequence of scenes within the suite demonstrates Ravel’s ability to create a narrative flow and emotional depth through his music
- Quattro versioni originali della “Ritirata notturna di Madrid” on Wikipedia
- Violin Concerto (Brahms) on Wikipedia
- Tumblebird Contrails on the Los Angeles Philharmonic website
- Daphnis et Chloé on Wikipedia
- Gabriella Smith’s official website
- Schumann: Piano Concerto [Martha Argerich, Zubin Mehta] - February 18, 2024
- Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata [Božo Paradžik, Mira Wollmann] - February 17, 2024
- C.P.E. Bach: Flute Concerto in D minor, Wq. 22 [Andras Adorján, Bach Collegium München] - February 16, 2024