What to expect from Firebird in February

Firebird makes a welcome return to St John the Evangelist in Oxford with the generous support of the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation following the orchestra’s hugely successful 2017 sell-out début. Let’s find out more…

Firebird’s programme promises some of the finest classical music in the repertoire. Opening with Mozart’s spellbindingly energetic overture to his comic opera, The Magic Flute, we will be immediately transported to a fairy-tale land of magical instruments, serpents and sorcerers in Mozart’s timeless classic.

From the Sydney opera House 2012 production of The Magic Flute

Next we dive headlong into Tchaikovsky’s magnificent and much loved Concerto No.1 for Piano and Orchestra. Firebird’s Artistic Director Marc Corbett-Weaver will be the piano soloist, pitted against the full weight of the symphony orchestra under the baton of George Jackson.

Marc Corbett-Weaver
Marc Corbett-Weaver

The work in the second half of the concert must be one of the best-known compositions in classical music. With its opening notes among the most recognisable in history, Beethoven’s mighty 5th Symphony has been described by ETA Hoffman as ‘one of the most important works of the time’.

The Beethoven Monument on the Münterplatz in Bonn

We may never be sure what Beethoven was trying to express with this piece – was it his belief in the belief in the French Revolution? Or was he railing against fate and his increasing deafness? Whatever this music is trying to say this is certainly turbulent music from a turbulent man living in a turbulent age, and will ensure that this will certainly be a Firebird night to remember.

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 2019
St John-the-Evangelist, Oxford @ 6pm

Generously sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation

Mozart Overture to Die Zauberflöte K. 620
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1in Bb minor, Op. 23
Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

George Jackson conductor
Marc Corbett-Weaver piano

It’s October, it’s time for Egmont!

Beethoven’s majestic Egmont Overture opens Firebird’s 2018/19 Season in truly monumental form on 9 October at St George’s Hanover Square.

Mount Egmont

Our cover image is of Mount Egmont – also known as Mount Taranaki – in New Zealand and it sums up the epic spirit behind this opening concert to the season.

We start the programme with Beethoven’s great overture to Egmont, premiered in 1810 as the opening of a sequence of ten incidental pieces to Goethe’s play celebrating the life and heroism of 16th-century Count of Egmont.

Beethoven
Beethoven

Next is Bruch’s exquisite Violin Concerto No.1. Said to be the most beautiful of all violin concertos, it showcases the instrument with dazzling, virtuosic passages, passionate melodies and capturing the essence of pure romance.

Bruch

And then two amazing pieces by a composer who achieved worldwide recognition for his music. Dvořák’s evocative Song to the Moon will be followed by his magnificent 8th Symphony. Inspired by the Bohemian folk music he so loved, the score was dedicated to no less than Emperor Franz Joseph.

Dvorak
Dvorak

And in addition to our magnificent symphony orchestra we present two formidable soloists with Belgian violinist Leonard Schreiber and soprano Verity Wingate, conducted by our very own George Jackson whose fame across Europe grows almost daily.

Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate
Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate

EGMONT IN OCTOBER

Beethoven Egmont Op. 84
Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor op.26
Dvorak Song to the Moon from Rusalka Op.114
Dvorak Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op.88, B.163

George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano

Firebird 2018/19 season launch in pictures

Our 2018/19 season got off to a brilliant start with our launch event at the Gladwell and Patterson gallery in Knightsbridge. Here are some pictures from the night.

Beethoven’s mighty Egmont

How did a story about a 16th century nobleman become the music which inspired a 20th century Revolution? Find out more…

Goethe declared that it was the work of ‘a remarkable genius’,E.T.A. Hoffmann prised the music for its poetry, and as the soundtrack for a Hungarian film Overture it won the 1965 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Palme d’Or.

Lamoral d'Egmont
Lamoral d’Egmont

We are talking about Beethoven’s epic Egmont Op.84. Premiered on 15 June 1810, this sequence of ten incidental pieces was composed for full symphony orchestra, soprano soloists and male narrator.

The story begins with an account of thelife and heroism of 16th-century nobleman Lamoral, Count of Egmont and Prince of Gavere

In 1787 it became a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which exalted the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression.

Egmont was a general and statesman in the Spanish Netherlands just before the start of the Eighty Years’ War. His execution helped spark the national uprising that eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands. 

At the time of the composition the Napoleonic Wars were in full flow as the First French Empire had extended its domination over vast swathes of Europe. Although formerly an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven was outraged over his decision to crown himself Emperor in 1804, furiously scratching out his name in the dedication of the Eroica Symphony

In the music for Egmont, Beethoven expressed his own political concerns through the exaltation of the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression. 

Turn the clock forward to 1956 and the Hungarian Uprising, and it is Beethoven’s stirring music to Egmont which inspired a nationwide revolt against the Marxist-Leninist government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies. 

A decade later and János Vadász film Overture won the 1965 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Palme d’Or, uses the complete Egmont Overture as the soundtrack for what is often considered one of the most influential short films in film history and described as ‘among the most ingenious pairings of music and image in the history of the festival.’

The Overture is one of Beethoven’s most powerful and expressive works and the culmination of his middle period as a composer, and it is this very Overture which will open Firebird’s 2018-2019 season on 9 October.

Egmont in October

Tuesday 9 October 2018
St George’s Hanover Square

Beethoven: Egmont Op.34
Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 Op.26
Dvorak: Song to the Moon
Dvorak: Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88, B.163

George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano

Dvořák the Bohemian

What does the word ‘Bohemia’ conjure up for you? Associations of wildly romantic eastern European castles? Or impoverished artists living in 19th century Paris? Or maybe ‘Bohemia’ the Raja King of Punjabi Rap?…

Triptych

The next concert from London Firebird on Tuesday 9 October features two musical masterpieces by a true Bohemian composer – Anton Dvořák. The ancient Kingdom of Bohemia became a state within the Habsburg Monarchy from 1526. But when Dvořák was born there in 1841 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the predecessor of the modern Czech Republic. 

Dvořák
Dvořák

Dvořák achieved worldwide recognition for his music. He was well known for including rhythms and note patterns derived from the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. But his reputation was to spread far wider across the world firstly with an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, followed by a position as professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory and then to the USA as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City.

Dvorak’s Song to the Moon comes from the very beginning of his opera Rusalka in which the lead character – as a nymph – sings to the moon…

O moon high up in the deep, deep sky,

Your light sees far away regions,

You travel round the wide,

Wide world peering into human dwellings

This magical work will be sung by rising star Verity Wingate

Verity Wingate
Verity Wingate

Dvořák’s 8th Symphony draws its inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák so loved. The score was composed on the occasion of his admission to Prague Academy and he dedicated the work to ‘the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election.’

Manuscript of 8th symphony
Manuscript of 8th symphony

Dvořák composed his 8th Symphony at his beautiful country residence in central Bohemia at Vysoká u Příbramě. He wanted to make his 8th Symphony stand out from the stormy romantic 7th Symphony. saying it would be ‘different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way.’

Vysoká u Příbramě
Dvořák’s signature

Its turbulent fanfare is worth waiting for opening with a glorious fanfare of trumpets. Conductor Rafael Kubelik once said in a rehearsal: ‘Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance,’ This will be the concluding work in this magnificent programme conducted by George Jackson.

George Jackson
George Jackson

Egmont in October

Tuesday 9 October 2018
St George’s Hanover Square

Beethoven Egmont Op.34
Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 Op.26
Dvorak Song to the Moon
Dvorak: Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88, B.163

George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano

The Most Beautiful of all Violin Concertos

It may be one of the most popular – and most beautiful – of all violin concertos but the composition of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto was no easy matter…

Bruch had already had some musical successes when the 26-year-old composer began work on the concerto in the summer of 1864.

But after 18 months a letter to his former teacher revealed that ‘My violin concerto is progressing slowly – I do not feel sure of my feet on this terrain. Do you think that it is very audacious to write a violin concerto?’

Joseph Joachim

And after its first performance in 1866 the dissatisfied composer withdrew it and he sent the manuscript to the great virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim for his comments. Joachim replied with a detailed list of proposals for the work’s improvement but Bruch responded with another list of diffident queries and suggestions. 

Still insecure about his work, Bruch sent the score to the violinist Ferdinand David who had previously advised Mendelssohn on his Violin Concerto and his conductor friend Hermann Levi. 

After rewriting the concerto ‘at least half a dozen times’ it was eventually completed to his satisfaction and given its premiere in January 1868 in Bremen with Karl Reinthaler as conductor and Joachim as soloist.

The score’s manuscript was dedicated to Joseph Joachim in ‘respect’ although this was crossed out by Joachim and substituted with ‘friendship’.

So at last the concerto was completed and it was quickly taken up by all the great violinists of the day and played so often that it overshadowed everything else Bruch wrote. As a result he was often pigeon-holed as something of a one-hit wonder – even though he was to go on to write two more violin concertos.

Rathausturm Koeln – Nicolaus August Otto – Max Bruch

In the end, he could not even bear to hear it. What is worse, he had unwisely accepted a one-off payment for the work from his publishers and so missed out on a fortune in royalties.

Nevertheless, this concerto has become one of the most popular in the repertoire acting as a profound showcase for the instrument and orchestra with its dazzling, virtuosic passages, impassioned melodies and so effectively capturing the essence of pure romance.

Bruch’s famous Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26 is part of an action-packed opening concert to Firebird’s 2018/19 Season. With violinist Leonard Schreiber and conductor George Jackson, 9 October at St George’s Hanover Square should be a definite date in your diary.

Leonard Schreiber
  • Beethoven: Egmont Op. 34
  • Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1
  • Dvorak: Song to the Moon
  • Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, B. 163
  • George Jackson conductor
  • Leonard Schreiber violin
  • Verity Wingate soprano

BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE

Egmont in October

Mount Egmont

Mount Egmont – also known as Taranaki – stands in New Zealand as one of the most majestic volcanic cones in the world at 2518 metres (8261 ft).

Beethoven’s equally majestic Egmont Overture opens Firebird’s 2018/19 Season in truly monumental form on 9 October at St George’s Hanover Square.

  • Beethoven: Egmont Op. 34
  • Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1
  • Dvorak: Song to the Moon
  • Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, B. 163
  • George Jackson conductor
  • Leonard Schreiber violin
  • Verity Wingate soprano

Beethoven’s Egmont actually has nothing to do with Mount Egmont but is a set of pieces from 1787 based on a play by Goethe. The subject is the life and heroism of 16th-century nobleman Lamoral, Count of Egmont.

33 year-old Belgian violinist Leonard Schreiber will be the star of the show with Bruch’s beautiful Violin Concerto. Dating from 1886 this is considered to be one of the most popular concertos ever composed.

Dvorak’s Song to the Moon comes from the very beginning of his opera Rusalka in which the lead character – as a nymph – sings to the moon…

O moon high up in the deep, deep sky,

Your light sees far away regions,

You travel round the wide,

Wide world peering into human dwellings

Rusalka

Dvořák’s cheery and lyrical 8th Symphony draws its inspiration more from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved. 

The score was composed on the occasion of his admission to Prague Academy and dedicated To the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election.

Dates for your Diary

Opening Concert of the 2018/19 Season

Tuesday 9 October 2018
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Firebird Returns to Oxford

Sunday 10 February 2019
St John-the-Evangelist, Oxford

Generously sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation

Spring Concert

Thursday 14 March 2019
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Summer Concert

Tuesday 11 June 2019
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Dvorak

Dvořák’s New World

What’s the connection between Czechoslovakia, Native American Indians and the Moon?

Born in 1841, Czech composer Anton Dvořák achieved worldwide recognition for his music. He was well known for including rhythms and note patterns derived from the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. His reputation spread far and wide across Europe with an honorary degree presented from the University of Cambridge, and the offer of a position as professor of composition and instrumentation at the Prague Conservatory

However, everything was to change in 1892 when Dvořák and his family were to head to the United States where he took up a position as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music” and engage in it, much as he had used Czech folk idioms within his music. 

Dvořák and his family

Dvořák and his family

The ethos of the Conservatory was rather unusual in that it took students who were both male and female, and black and white. One such African-American student was Harry T. Burleigh who sang traditional spirituals to Dvořák. 

Harry T. Burleigh

Harry T. Burleigh

Shortly after his arrival in America Dvořák wrote a series of newspaper articles encouraging people to consider African-American and Native American music as a foundation for the growth of American music. 

‘I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.’

In 1893, Dvořák was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write Symphony No.9, ‘From the New World’. At its premiere at the Carnegie Hall in New York, the end of every movement was met with thunderous clapping and was one of the greatest public triumphs of Dvořák’s career.

Title Page Symphony no 9

Title Page Symphony no 9

 

In an article published in the New York Herald Dvořák explained how Native American music had been an influence on this symphony:

‘I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour.’

Dvořák wrote that he would not have composed his American pieces as he had, if he had not seen America being inspired by the “wide open spaces” of the prairies he may have seen on his travels across the country.

Moonwalk one

Moonwalk one

And as for the Moon, on July 20, 1969 the whole world stopped when a man who grew up on a farm without electricity announced: ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ It was Astronaut Neil Armstrong – the first man on the moon – who took with him a tape recording of the New World Symphony during the Apollo 11 mission.

The New World Symphony has been described as one of Dvořák’s greatest triumphs. It is by far his most popular symphony, and one of the most popular symphonies of all time. So it is only fitting that it should be included in the exciting programme of music Firebird Flies to the States.

All That Jazz

Marsha Hammel’s oil painting Rehearsing the Gershwin Songbook captures the spirit of the jazz age as this new wave of music swept through the early 20th century United States and which will be brought to life as part of Firebird’s all American evening on 12 June…

A highlight of the concert will be the music of George Gershwin and his evergreen favourite Summertime from his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.

This song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard in its own right and was described as ‘without doubt … one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote…’

George Gershwin

American composer and pianist George Gershwin was born in 1898 and his compositions span both popular and classical genres. However, when Gershwin moved to Paris with the intention of studying with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger she refused to work with him. As a result he wrote one of his most famous works An American in Paris.

Returning to New York he embarked on his contemporary opera Porgy and Bess, his piano concerto inspired Rhapsody in Blue and many Broadway theatre works with his brother Ira Gershwin. After moving to Hollywood his career took him in to the world of the movies with numerous film scores to his credit.

Later in the programme Firebird’s Artistic Director Marc Corbett-Weaver will be the solo pianist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Australian conductor Michael Thrift will direct the London Firebird Orchestra in a performance of this thrilling work which effortlessly bridges the worlds of classical and jazz music.

Rhapsody in Blue received its premiere as part of a 1924 New York concert entitled An Experiment in Modern Music performed by Paul Whiteman and his band with Gershwin playing the piano. It has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works.

Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel

Gershwin was also influenced by the music by the French composers of the early twentieth century including Maurice Ravel. He, in turn was so impressed with Gershwin’s music he commented:

“Personally I find jazz most interesting: the rhythms, the way the melodies are handled, the melodies themselves. I have heard of George Gershwin’s works and I find them intriguing.”

But when Gershwin approached Ravel as a prospective teacher, Ravel replied “You should give me lessons.”

Schoenberg

Gershwin is also reputed to have approached the modernist Arnold Schoenberg for composition lessons only to be met with: “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Gershwin is also reputed to have approached the modernist Arnold Schoenberg for composition lessons only to be met with: “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

So George Gershwin was forced to create his own unique and distinctive voice in the early 20th century. We can only guess what his early death at the age of just 38 deprived us of.

Gershwin’s great music is only part of what is on offer in this magnificent concert at St Paul’s Covent Garden which concludes Firebird’s 2017/18 Season. Join us for a feast of delights from the Land of Opportunity performed by this sensational orchestra under the baton of Australian conductor Michael Thrift – a perfect way to spend a summer’s evening.

Vancouver Olympics

Music from the New World

We have a great opportunity to hear masterworks from the United States with Firebird’s all American evening as the concluding concert in the 2017/18 Season. We investigate more about this exciting music from the other side of the pond…

We might often associate the music of the United States with genres such as Blues, Jazz and Bluegrass. But the Classical world is full of of some of the music exciting music ever written with music by Dvorak, Copland, Barber, Bernstein and Gershwin.

Extract - Dvorak

Extract – Dvorak

Anton Dvorak wrote his ninth symphony in 1893 while he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. His symphony has become so popular that astronaut Neil Armstrong took a recording of the work to the moon on the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission.

The second movement has also become famous as the theme tune for the 1973 ‘Hovis’ ad. The nostalgic amongst you can click on this image to watch it again:

Aaron Copland’s dramatic Fanfare, performed by brass and crashing percussion was written in 1942 for the Cincinatti Symphony Orchestra. It was inspired in part by a famous speech made earlier that year by the vice president of the USA, Hanry A Wallace proclaimed ‘the dawning of the Century of the Common Man.’

Since then the music has been adapted and appeared in a diverse range of occasions including HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 2004 procession during the opening of the Scottish Parliament, Emerson Lake & Palmer’s 1977 ‘Montreal’ version and as the main leitmotif in John William’s theme from Superman in 1978:

Samuel Barber’s soul-searching Adagio for Strings is an arrangement of the second movement of his String Quartet, op11. It was performed for the first time in 1938 as part of a radio broadcast with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Alexander J. Morin wrote that that it ‘rarely leaves a dry eye.’

Extract - Barber Adagio

Extract – Barber Adagio

It is played today at many important funerals and memorial occasions but was also performed in Vancouver in 2010 for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics (pictured above).

Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 operetta Candide is based on Voltaire’s 1759 satirical novella telling of the misadventures of Candide, a naive, simple, and pure-hearted young man, and his sweetheart, Cunégonde.

Candide

The Overture has became a very popular curtain-raiser and orchestral piece independantly of the operetta. Brilliantly scored with tremendous vitality with a level of energy similar to John Adam’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

Two works by George Gershwin complete the programme with his evergreen favourite Summertime from his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described as ‘without doubt … one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote…’ The song is also recognized as among the most covered songs in the history of recorded music with over 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers.

George Gershwin

George Gershwin

The major item in the programme will be Gerswin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Firebird’s Artistic Director Marc Corbett-Weaver at the piano. The piece received its premiere as part of a 1924 New York concert entitled An Experiment in Modern Music performed by Paul Whiteman and his band with Gershwin playing the piano. It has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works.

Rhapsody in Blue cover

Firebird Flies to the States

Tuesday 12 June 2018 7.30pm
St Paul’s, Covent Garden
Conductor: Michael Thrift

Copland Fanfare for the Common Man
Barber Adagio for Strings
Bernstein Overture to Candide
Gershwin Summertime
Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
World Première Winner Firebird Composer of the Year
Dvorak Symphony no.9 ‘From the New World’

We’ll be packing the audience in as usual at the delightful venue of St Paul’s Covent Garden so make sure you book your tickets now to be sure of the best seats.