June 15, 2015 -- When Assistant Director Maj. Michelle A. Rakers takes the stage with the Marine Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 20, it will commence the 14th annual Summer Orchestra Series. The series was initiated in 2002 by then-Director Col. Timothy W. Foley and the first performance took place on June 15 of that year. It was conducted by newly-selected, but not yet commissioned, Assistant Director Staff Sgt. Jason K. Fettig. “This series has given the orchestra significant opportunities to regularly perform together as a large group and to expand the ensemble’s repertoire, bringing new and interesting works and programs to our patrons,” now-Director Lt. Col. Jason Fettig said. “I am always eager to hear feedback from our enthusiastic audiences, and one of the most often repeated sentiments is that so many Marine Chamber Orchestra concerts offer the chance to hear great music that is not often played by other ensembles. They are also often quick to add that you can't beat the price of admission anywhere else in town!”
As a relatively new professional conductor, he was still in the early stages of expanding his knowledge of string orchestra repertoire and very flattered to be offered the opportunity by Foley to conduct the very first summer orchestra concert. “Our summer orchestra concerts largely feature music for strings alone, so I spent many months during my first year as an Assistant Director diving into every piece of music I could find,” Fettig said. “In the process, I came across several of the works that ended up on that program, including the wonderful Idyll by Leos Janacek and anchored by three gems from different periods in Mozart’s life.”
Maj. Rakers’ program takes a decidedly different turn on June 20 with Einojuhani Rautavaara’s An Epitaph for Béla Bartók; Felix Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin and Piano in D minor, featuring violin soloist Staff Sgt. Chaerim Smith and piano soloist Staff Sgt. Christopher Schmitt; and Béla Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, Opus 118.
Rautavaara has become Finland’s preeminent composer following the great Jean Sibelius. While his compositions have been influenced through the years by several styles, including the neo-classicism of Igor Stravinsky and the serialism of Arnold Schoenberg, his later works contain more of a neo-romantic quality infused with lyricism and traditional tonality. His 1954 work A Requiem in Our Time earned him international recognition when it won the Thor Johnson Contest for brass and percussion works. An Epitaph for Béla Bartók was originally composed for cello and piano in 1955, later rescored for string orchestra in 1969, and revised in 1986. This work is one of three musical tributes that Rautavaara dedicated to three legendary Hungarian composers, Bartók, Zoltán Kodaly, and Franz Liszt. According to some critics, An Epitaph for Béla Bartók is “warmer and more comforting” than anything Bartók himself wrote.
Felix Mendelssohn began taking piano lessons with his mother at age six and composed some of his best known works before the age of eighteen. The Concerto for Violin and Piano in D minor dates from Mendelssohn’s precocious early period. Mendelssohn was just fourteen when he wrote this double concerto and had already composed twelve string symphonies and several other concerti and chamber works by this time. The work was composed for Mendelssohn at the keyboard and family friend Eduard Rietz on the violin. It was first performed at the Mendelssohn home in 1823 for guests and then again for the general public later that same year but would be forgotten until a revival in 1957. Perhaps this piece was overshadowed by the fame of his beloved Violin Concerto in E minor, Opus 64, and his two well-known piano concerti. Nevertheless, the double concerto is a work that reveals Mendelssohn’s depth of talent not only as a composer but also as a concert pianist at an astonishingly young age.
Hungarian composer and pianist, Béla Bartók is now considered to be one of the greatest composers of his homeland, alongside Zoltán Kodály and Franz Liszt, and he is one of the founders of ethnomusicology, the study of the music of different cultures.
Bartók completed his Divertimento for String Orchestra, Opus 118 in 1939. The first movement follows a classical sonata model, the second is in three-part form, and the final movement is a rondo. Even with Bartók’s signature chromaticism and frequent shifts in harmony from major to minor, each movement remains essentially rooted in tonality. In the opening movement, the composer alludes to the Baroque concerto grosso, often pitting a group of solo instruments against the rest of the ensemble. The music carefully unfolds with a winding chromatic figure before suddenly becoming more insistent. The central section is highly suggestive of a funeral march, with a repeated bass and a climax complete with shrill and jolting trills in the upper strings. The finale of the work decidedly alleviates the despair and uncertainty of the previous movement. Although the melodies are entirely original, the entire movement bubbles with a rustic quality complete with a showcase of gypsy-like fiddle music. The Divertimento for String Orchestra has become a staple of the orchestral repertoire and stands as one of Bartók’s most concise and accessible works. It is also a shining example of a great composer in complete control of his craft.
The performance will take place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 20 at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria. The concert is free, tickets are not required, and free parking is available in the lot adjacent to the hall.
Program and notes