Tonight is a tale of two traditions and three soloists.
The program begins with European works from the Classical era, and concludes with music from Latin cultures, including works from Puerto Rico and Spain. Our soloists are virtuosos on three different string instruments: violin, cuatro, and guitar. We thank them for the generous way in which they have partnered with the Landmarks Orchestra, and for their leadership in Boston’s musical community.
The 1816 premiere of Giacomo Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was a standout achievement in his career, even within a string of extraordinary successes. By 1816, he was already the most performed composer in operatic history. Audiences lapped up his music like champagne, to which his sparkling creations were often compared. The Barber of Seville was composed in just under three weeks. It was his seventeenth opera, out of a catalogue that eventually grew to forty. Its overture—which he also used in two other operas—was an instant hit, and has long since become a cornerstone on the symphonic repertoire.
Mariana Green-Hill has contributed to the Boston musical scene in extraordinary and unique ways: as soloist, chamber musician, pedagogue, and institutional leader. She has been a featured artist and collaborator with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra for many years, most recently leading the members of the Four Strings Academy at the Hatch Shell on August 2. Tonight, she introduces an important work by a fascinating and unjustly neglected composer.
Joseph Bologne—subject of the 2022 feature-length film Chevalier—was one of the most broadly gifted figures of the 18th century. Born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to a wealthy French planter father and an islander mother whom he enslaved, Joseph was sent to school in Paris at the age of seven. He quickly excelled in virtually everything, including music, dance, horsemanship, and fencing. According to Antoine La Boëssière’s 1818 treatise on fencing, “At fifteen [Bologne’s] progress was so rapid, that he was already beating the best swordsmen, and at seventeen developed the greatest speed imaginable.” Winning a contest against a renowned master, Bologne was appointed gendarme in the royal guard by King Louis XVI. He assumed his father’s noble suffix, becoming the “Chevalier de Saint-Georges.” Bologne was also one of the greatest violinists of his day. Among other honors, in 1773 he assumed the directorship of the Concert des Amateurs, one of the leading orchestras in Europe. His compositions range from chamber music to concertos and symphonies to stage works, many of which, including tonight’s concerto, were for his own use as soloist. His performances were said to astound and enrapture the public. When the French Revolution erupted, Bologne’s ties to the court—including his closeness to Marie-Antoinette—were subject to scrutiny and litigation, serving to undermine his career.
When Wolfgang Amadè Mozart needed a symphonic work to introduce in Vienna on short notice, he wrote to his father in Salzburg, requesting that he send a serenade composed a few months earlier for a ceremony elevating his friend, Sigmund Haffner, to the nobility. When the score arrived in the post, Mozart was astonished at its quality, and didn’t recall a note of it, he had composed it in such haste. He had written the serenade for entertainment purposes, as background music. For the Viennese, he refashioned it as a symphony, making it both grander and more compact. He dropped two movements—an opening march and one of two minuets—and added flutes and clarinets. The opening gesture of the first movement, with its two-octave leap and athletic rhythm, sets the tone for the whole symphony, a work of power and vigor. The second and third movements combine a constant pulsing vitality with Mozart’s most lyrical symphonic writing to date. The final movement, marked Presto, recalls the dazzling bustle of his overture to the Marriage of Figaro. When Mozart sent the original serenade to his father, he included an instruction that the finale should be played “as fast as possible.”
Fabiola Méndez—the renowned Puerto Rican cuatro player, singer, and composer—is gifted with tremendous musical versatility. Her musical roots are in both Puerto Rico and Boston. Though still in her twenties, she is already a revered performer. Her recordings on the cuatro have drawn raves and awards from around the world. She performs two works with the Landmarks Orchestra tonight, both Puerto Rican folk tunes. Here is her description of them:
“An aguinaldo is a gift. This is a folk piece from Puerto Rico that is traditionally played to start festivities, especially around the holidays (music symbolizing the gift musicians offer to their communities). This particular melody is from the center region of Puerto Rico, in a town called Orocovis—hence the title, Aguinaldo Orocoveño.”
“The seis is another traditional form of Puerto Rican folk music. There are more than one hundred and fifty variations of seises in Puerto Rico. Each one is characterized by a main melody, from which cuatristas take inspiration to improvise and create a variation of lines throughout the whole piece. The Seis Chorreao is one of the fastest seises, creating an opportunity for the cuatrista to play fast scales up and down the neck of the instrument, and for audiences to dance along.”
We are thrilled to collaborate for the first time with renowned Boston-based artist Zaira Meneses. Soloist, chamber musician, and prize winner in international competitions, she has become a favorite on international recital series and festivals. Ms. Meneses is a highly regarded pedagogue, serving on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music and at the Walnut Hill School. She is also co-founder of Boston GuitarFest, along with her spouse, and fellow classical guitarist, Eliot Fisk. Together they have recently established the Eliot Fisk Guitar Academy, which provides a cross-disciplinary musical education to students of all ages and backgrounds.
Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo was blinded by childhood diphtheria from the age of 3. He credited his lifelong love of music to that apparent misfortune. And his life was a long one; he lived to the age of ninety-eight. Along with his twentieth-century contemporaries Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, and Enrique Granados, Rodrigo developed a distinctly Spanish musical style, one influenced by his French musical education but rooted in traditions dating back centuries on the Iberian peninsula: Spanish folk music and dance, vocal stylings connected to North African traditions, and echoes of traditional flamenco art. Rodrigo composed the Concierto de Aranjuez in 1939, inspired by the beauty of the gardens at the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, originally built in the 16th century by Philip II. The composer described the work as evoking the gardens’ “fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains.”