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Rush Hour: The Bach Variations: Violin Concertos in A minor and E major

This concert is now past.
Isabelle Faust
Location: Avery Fisher Hall (Directions)
Price Range: $29.00 - $67.00

Concert Duration

1 hour 15 minutes
Wed, Mar, 20, 2013
6:45 PM
The 2014-15 Season

Program (Click the red play button to listen)


Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42

Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42 (1725)

When Johann Sebastian Bach accepted the post of cantor at Leipzig's St. Thomas School and Church, one of the goals he set for himself was to compose cantatas for every Sunday and religious feast day of the ecclesiastical year. He created three such monumental annual cycles during his tenure. The present Sinfonia is the instrumental introduction to Cantata No. 42, "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" ("On the Evening of that same Sabbath") for the first Sunday after Easter, known alternatively as St. Thomas Sunday (as in "doubting Thomas") or Quasimodogeniti Sunday. And so, appropriately, the cantata tells of Jesus's appearance after his resurrection to St. Thomas and the other frightened Apostles, hiding behind locked doors. It is the only cantata of Bach's second cycle of church cantatas to be introduced by a Sinfonia, scored for a small soloist group of two oboes and bassoon and a larger group of string players. That has led some scholars to believe that the Sinfonia is a reworking or borrowing of a movement of a lost concerto grosso; but others feel that, given the perfect matching of the introduction to the ensuing cantata, Bach must have composed it specifically for this particular Sunday. Music commentator Craig Smith suggests that the Sinfonia is a depiction of the events of Easter, going so far as to say that the solo instruments represent the two Marys and Jesus on Easter morning. But no matter whether this interpretation is correct or not, there is no denying that Bach created serene, almost chamber music-like exchanges among the solo winds and between the winds and strings.

Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041

Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041 (1717-1723)

Johann Sebastian Bach worked at the Weimar court for 10 years (1708-1717) but was not enamored of his job as court organist and later Konzertmeister. But being passed over for a promotion was the straw that broke J.S.'s back. He had already repeatedly asked Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar to release him from employment; instead, as punishment, the Duke imprisoned Bach for nearly a month and then dismissed him. The composer had had his eye on a job at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen; and in 1717 he was successful at landing the position of Kapellmeister, the highest in the court's musical hierarchy, and continued his employment there until 1723. Enlightened, forward-looking, well-traveled, and worldly, Prince Leopold provided a stimulating and supportive atmosphere for the composer's prodigious talents. And Bach could finally write more than just religious cantatas. It is here that his three violin concertos — the present BWV 1041 in A Minor, BWV 1042 in D Minor, and the Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043 — were probably written, though there has been much scholarly speculation on that subject. Some put the creation date at 1730, and others place it much earlier, during the Weimar years. We may never know. The Concerto in A Minor is cast in the three-movement Italian Baroque style (fast-slow-fast); though while the Italians, like Vivaldi, had the soloist play in contrast to the ensemble, Bach integrates the players' music for a more cohesive sound. The counterpoint between soloist and orchestra in the opening Allegro is beautifully crafted; the second movement Andante is filled with long-breathed passages; and the high-energy, showy third movement is reminiscent of the lively gigues that we normally associate with Bach's orchestral suites. All in all, this concerto — no matter when it was composed — lets soloist and orchestra shine.

Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042

Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042 (1717-1723)

When Johann Sebastian Bach landed the job of Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen under his benevolent patron, music lover, and amateur violinist Prince Leopold, he set to work both learning and creating. His years there, 1717-1723, were not only productive ones in terms of his own work, but also years during which he absorbed and assimilated the artistry of the Italian masters. It should be remembered that throughout his life Bach never ventured outside the borders of his native Germany, but learned through copying (by hand, of course) or transcribing concertos by the likes of Corelli and Vivaldi for his own use (this practice was not considered plagiarism at the time, but rather the smart thing to do when you needed to produce a steady stream of works for weekly concerts). And Bach did not hesitate to plagiarize himself, too, recasting concertos from one instrument to another. For example, this E Major Violin Concerto was later reworked as the Harpsichord Concerto in D Major BWV 1054, also scheduled in our Bach Festival. It is not surprising then that Bach's output at Cöthen included many of his greatest concertos (e.g., the six Brandenburgs, two solo and one double violin concerto, and a number of harpsichord concertos). The E Major Concerto begins with a bold triad in that key that is then heard several times in various other keys in the first movement. The poignant Adagio is one of Bach's most sublime creations, with the solo violin exquisitely embroidering the underlying bass line. The last movement, Allegro assai, is cast as a rondo, in which five orchestral episodes alternate with four solo sections of increasing brilliance and virtuosity, with the last one leaving the listener quite breathless.

Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major

Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 (ca. 1725; rev. ca. 1729)

Scholars used to believe that Johann Sebastian Bach's four Orchestral Suites (aka "Ouvertures") were likely composed while he was still in the employ of Prince Leopold at the Anhalt-Cöthen court, and later revised and expanded to suit the larger numbers of musicians available to him. But more recent analysis seems to show that the Orchestral Suites were, in fact, composed in Leipzig, specifically for the Collegium Musicum, an association of professional musicians and university students, led by Bach, who gathered to make music at weekly concerts at Zimmermann's Coffee House and Garden. The Third Orchestral Suite features strings, continuo, two oboes, timpani, and three trumpets—the latter's presence usually signaling a festive occasion in Bach's compositions. As was his practice, a majestic "French Overture" (a substantial multi-part introductory movement) marks the beginning of this nearly symphonic Suite, with a rapid-fire fugue middle section, and a closing that repeats the opening music. The second movement, for strings and continuo alone, is the beautifully expressive Air, one of Bach's most beloved and famous melodies. So famous, in fact, that it was arranged by the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908) in 1871 under the name Air for the G String. (Pop culture fun fact: its fame, for better or worse, also propelled it into movies like Runaway Bride and Seven.) The remaining sections featured dance rhythms: a pair of ebullient Gavottes; a lively Bourrée; and a concluding Gigue. All in all, this most popular of the Orchestral Suites exudes a sense of occasion, refinement, and joy.


Bernard Labadie by Luc Delisle Entiere

Bernard Labadie is a noted specialist in Baroque and Classical repertoire, a reputation closely tied to his work with Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Québec, both of which he founded and continues to lead as music director. With these two ensembles he regularly tours Canada, the United States, and Europe, having made appearances at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Kennedy Center, London’s Barbican, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and the Salzburg Festival. Highlights of Mr. Labadie’s 2013–14 season include re-engagements with the New York and Malaysian Philharmonic orchestras; Kansas City, St. Louis, New World, Chicago, Melbourne, Swedish Radio, and Bavarian Radio symphony orchestras; and the Auckland Philharmonia, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, NDR Symphony Orchestra, and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, as well as a European tour with Les Violons du Roy. He made his Minnesota Orchestra debut in 1999, and regularly appears with North American orchestras including the Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, Houston, Montreal, St. Louis, San Francisco, Toronto, Utah, and Vancouver symphony orchestras; Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras; Handel & Haydn Society; and Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic orchestras. Internationally Mr. Labadie has conducted the Academy of Ancient Music, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, BBC Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Brussels Philharmonic, Hamburger Symphony, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Collegium Vocale Ghent, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Labadie has served as artistic director of L’Opéra de Québec and L’Opéra de Montréal. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2009–10 season with Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which he also led at the Cincinnati Opera in 2011. He has also conducted Handel’s Orlando with Glimmerglass Opera, Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Mostly Mozart Festival, and Mozart’s Lucio Silla with Santa Fe Opera. Mr. Labadie’s extensive discography includes recordings on the Dorian, ATMA, and Virgin Classics labels, including Handel’s Apollo e Dafne and a collaborative recording of Mozart’s Requiem with Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Québec (both of which received Canada’s Juno Award). The Canadian government has honored him as Officer of the Order of Canada, and his home province named him Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Québec. Bernard Labadie made his Philharmonic debut in December 2006 leading works by J.S. Bach, Corelli, and Handel. He last appeared with the Philharmonic in March 2013 during The Bach Variations: A Philharmonic Festival, when he led Bach’s Orchestral Suites Nos. 3 and 4 and Bach’s Violin Concertos in E major and A minor, with Isabelle Faust as soloist.

Learn more about Bernard Labadie



Isabelle Faust

Having founded a string quartet at the age of 11, violinist Isabelle Faust's early chamber music experiences imbued in her a fundamental belief that performing is a process of give and take, in which listening is just as important as expressing one's own personality.

Her victory at the 1987 Leopold Mozart Competition at age 15 brought the prospect of a solo career. However, the guiding principles instilled in her as a chamber musician remained strong and Ms. Faust constantly sought dialogue and the exchange of musical ideas. After winning the 1993 Paganini Competition, she moved to France, where she came to international attention with her first recording of sonatas by Bartók, Szymanowski, and Janáček.

In 2003 Ms. Faust released a recording of the Dvořák Violin Concerto. Her 2007 release of the Beethoven violin concerto also reflects her immersion in period performance practice. The list of composers whose works she has premiered extends from Olivier Messiaen to Werner Egk and Jörg Widmann. She is a fervent proponent of music by György Ligeti, Morton Feldman, Luigi Nono, and Giacinto Scelsi, as well as of forgotten works, such as André Jolivet's violin concerto. In 2009 she premiered works dedicated to her by composers Thomas Larcher and Michael Jarrell.

Isabelle Faust can be heard with pianist Alexander Melnikov in recordings for Harmonia Mundi. Their recording of Beethoven sonatas received the ECHO Klassik Award, a Gramophone Award, and a Grammy nomination. Her solo recording of Bach partitas and sonatas received the 2010 Diapason d'or de l'année.

Ms. Faust has appeared with orchestras and conductors including Claudio Abbado, Charles Dutoit, Daniel Harding, Heinz Holliger, Mariss Jansons, Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Boston Symphony Orchestra, BBC Orchestra, and Mahler Chamber Orchestra. She performs on the 1704 "Sleeping Beauty" Stradivarius, on loan from Germany's L-Bank Baden-Württemberg.

Learn more about Isabelle Faust

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