July 5 & 7 2024 : Alisa Weilerstein Plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto

May 8, 2024

FO1 July 5 and 7
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Alisa Weilerstein, cello HOLD

Anna Clyne, Masquerade 5’
Dvorak, Cello Concerto 40’

Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 4 “Italian” 27’

Anna Clyne 

When the BBC Proms asked the British composer Anna Clyne to write a concert opener for the festival in 2013, she found inspiration in a fabled slice of London history: the 18th century concerts held in the city’s pleasure gardens. These were leafy after-hours hot spots where commoners could rub shoulders with aristocrats, and all came to escape the noise and grime of city life. For a shilling or two, visitors would be entertained by lion tamers, fortune-tellers, exotic dancers, acrobatics, fireworks, and masquerades. The most famous of the Rococo gardens, at Vauxhall, closed in 1859, after some two centuries in operation on the south bank of the River Thames. 

The imagery of an entertainment park, with its mélange of activities, suited Clyne, whose music has often taken after disparate art forms. Her orchestral work Night Ferry explores the idea of voyages and “enchanted worlds” while drawing inspiration from Schubert. The cello concerto DANCE was prompted by a Rumi text while her Color Field was inspired by a Mark Rothko painting. 

Written for the Last Night of the Proms, the famously boisterous, flag-waving celebration at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Masquerade naturally summons a carnival atmosphere—not unlike that of Dvorak’s Carnival Overture or Stravinsky’s Petrushka. For her main theme, Clyne says she imagined a chorus “welcoming the audience and inviting them into their imaginary world.” The second theme is based on “Juice of Barley,” an Irish drinking song dating back to the 17th century. This all collides in an atmosphere of tipsy, delirious pandemonium.  

“Combined with costumes, masked guises, and elaborate settings, masquerades created an exciting, yet controlled, sense of occasion and celebration,” Clyne concludes. “It is this that I wish to evoke in Masquerade.” 

Antonín Dvořák 
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104

It was Victor Herbert, the composer of 43 operettas, including Babes in Toyland, who prompted Dvořák to write what would become the most celebrated cello concerto of all time. In 1894, Dvořák was living in New York and teaching at the fledgling National Conservatory of Music when he attended the premiere of Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto, with the composer as soloist with the New York Philharmonic. Herbert was a fellow teacher at the conservatory and principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera.  

Up until this point, Dvořák had significant misgivings about writing a work for cello and orchestra. He felt that the instrument’s upper range was too nasal and thin and its lower register too rumbly to project over an ensemble. He had resisted requests from his friend Hanuš Wihan, the cellist of the Czech String Quartet, to write him a concerto. Though it’s hard to know why Herbert’s score prompted Dvořák’s change of heart, it made a deep enough impression that eight months later he embarked on his own concerto, with Wihan as dedicatee. 

Wihan was a prickly collaborator. He made several revisions to the concerto and even inserted a 59-measure coda into the finale, which Dvořák soundly rejected. But another individual played an even larger role in the work’s outcome. While Dvořák was writing the second movement, he received word that his sister-in-law Josefina Kaunitzová was seriously ill. Some 30 years earlier, she had been a piano student of the composer’s, and he harbored a deep crush on her. The feelings were never returned, and Dvořák instead married her younger sister Anna. But some of the old affection lingered and, as a tribute, he quoted one of Josefina’s favorite melodies, “Kéž duch můj sám” (Leave me alone), from his Four Songs, Op. 82, in the second movement. After Dvořák returned home to Bohemia came the news of Josefina’s death, and he immediately revised the coda of the concerto to incorporate one last reminiscence of her favorite tune. 

Even without the backdrop of Josefina’s death, the Cello Concerto is, according to the writer Michael Steinberg, “a work of dark and troubling eloquence,” and marked by a mood of homesickness for his Czech homeland. After a fiery orchestral introduction, the first movement is broad and expansive, especially notable for the yearning second theme introduced by the solo horn. The music is richly developed by the soloist who at times is called to play in a “quasi-improvisatory” manner, before the movement concludes with a brilliant grandioso climax. The second movement radiates emotional warmth, with Josefina’s favorite song dominating the middle section. The rondo finale is rousing and dance-like, but a coda brings a moment of serene contemplation amid the boisterous high spirits. 

Felix Mendelssohn
Symphony No. 4 “Italian” 

In his early twenties, Felix Mendelssohn began to chronicle his extensive travels in a series of colorful orchestral works. Scotland yielded the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony, while Italy was responsible for the Symphony No. 4. Scored with crisp élan, the Italian Symphony is the ultimate road trip postcard, capturing the country’s Mediterranean sunshine, artistic riches, and glorious natural scenery. 

As Mendelssohn’s Italian journey got underway, he stopped first in Weimar to meet with Goethe, himself past age 80 and putting the finishing touches on Part Two of his colossal Faust. The two artists had developed an unlikely friendship starting when Felix was a 12-year-old prodigy; now, they spent many hours together, with Mendelssohn introducing his latest music and Goethe perhaps recalling the Italy of his own youthful travels. Another four months passed before Mendelssohn finally arrived in Venice, on October 9, 1830. His letters describe encounters with the paintings of Titian and other Renaissance masters, walks through the verdant hill country outside Florence, and a winter in Rome, where he met Hector Berlioz for the first time and experienced the revelry of carnival season. After exploring Naples and Milan, the composer headed north over the Alps once again. 

The Allegro first movement begins with a call to adventure, the bracing violin theme underscored by chattering woodwind figures, and capturing the swagger of a young man eager to see the world. As the composer himself observed, “What I have been looking forward to all my life as the greatest happiness has now begun, and I am basking in it.” He later added, “The whole country had such a festive air that I felt as if I were a young prince making his entry.” 

The chaste Andante may have been suggested by a religious procession that Mendelssohn witnessed on the streets of Naples. The third movement veers closer to a Classical-style minuet than a post-Beethovenian scherzo, its distant horn calls suggesting the woodland glades of Mendelssohn’s own A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The composer labeled his minor-key finale a saltarello—a fast and jumpy Italian folk dance—though some believe it resembles a tarantella, once prescribed as a cure for a tarantula’s bite. 

Mendelssohn led the 1833 premiere of his Italian Symphony in London’s Hanover Square Concert Rooms, but he was never quite satisfied with his musical travelogue, and, after extensive tinkering, he withdrew it from publication. After his premature death in 1847, the piece was finally published and welcomed into the repertoire. 

 —Brian Wise

Plan Your Festival Visit


Visiting Boulder

The Festival performs in beautiful Boulder, Colorado — a breathtaking location full of nature, culture, cuisine, art, and more.

Learn About Our Educational Programs


Festival Fellows

Meet the Festival Fellows: eight aspiring professional musicians who receive coaching and performance opportunities through the Festival and its guest artists.

Center for Musical Arts

This excellent community music school is also the educational arm of our organization.