Thursday, June 3, 8 pm accessible until  July 2

Never before released archival video -  Dazzling displays for the entire orchestra - 20th century masterpieces by virtuoso composers 

PROKOFIEV Chamber Symphony No. 1 op. 50a
SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony op. 118a
Generously sponsored by The Rotary Club of Toronto

Program Notes

To download the program booklet for this concert click  here

Chamber Symphony op. 50a by Sergei Prokofiev   (1891-1953)
Orchestral version by Nurhan Arman                                             

During his lifetime, Prokofiev did not produce much chamber music, and only wrote two string quartets. He preferred larger works and bigger sounds. When he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov he was asked to transcribe a Beethoven sonata for string quartet. "I felt the urge to score it for a full orchestra," wrote Prokofiev, "… a string quartet seemed lacking in tone-colour-possibility because we weren't able to get the maximum out of it"

"Before starting work on the String Quartet No. 1 in B minor, Opus 50," Prokofiev wrote in his autobiography, "I studied Beethoven's quartets, chiefly in railway carriages on my way from one concert to another… Perhaps this explains the somewhat 'classical' idiom of the first movement of my quartet." But, it is interesting to note, what seemed so "classical" to Prokofiev then, appears to us, over sixty years later, as almost archetypically Prokofiev in style. According to Prokofiev, the quartet has "two distinctive features, first, the finale (the most significant movement, Prokofiev believes) is the slow movement and, secondly, the key of B minor is just a half tone below the limits of the cello and viola range. This involves a number of difficulties in writing the music." After hearing the Quartet performed in Moscow on 5 October 1931 performed by the Roth String Quartet, Soviet composer Nikolay Miaskovsky (1881-1950) wrote of his friend's work in a letter to critic Boris Asafyev (1884-1949): "…The composition is completely free of effects, something quite surprising for Prokofiev… There is true profundity in the sweeping melodic line and intensity of the finale. This movement strikes deep…"

Chamber Symphony op. 118a by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) String orchestra version by Nurhan Arman    

When Stalin died on March 5, 1953 Shostakovich and other Russian composers felt an oppressive weight start to lift. A gradual loosening of official attitudes toward the arts began to allow increasingly open and personal artistic expression. Shostakovich composed steadily in the two decades until his death, producing masterpieces in two disparate streams which evince important aspects of his life while still remaining indisputably products of the same creative genius. After being awarded the title of “People's Artist of the USSR” in 1954, he continued to contribute to public life with works like his Symphony No. 11 - “The Year 1905" in honour of Lenin, and cantatas, film music and patriotic marches and choruses in popular styles. But he also wrote many profound and personal works, including most notably his Symphonies No. 13, "Babi Yar," based on Yevtushenko's poem about the massacre of 70,000 Jews near Kiev in September 1941; No. 14, on poems about death; the stark, overwhelming No. 15; his First Violin Concerto; and his last ten string quartets. Like Beethoven, Shostakovich used string quartets to express his innermost feelings, embedded within structures of symphonic depth. 

Shostakovich wrote his String Quartet Opus 118 in the summer of 1964 at the Soviet composer’s retreat in Dilizhan, Armenia, during a period of relaxation and optimism. Vassily Shirinsky, first violinist of the Beethoven Quartet who gave its premiere in Moscow in November, wrote that it "is one of Shostakovich's most joyous and optimistic works. Neither the tempestuous second movement and the sorrowfully brooding third, nor the dramatic collisions in the development section of the finale can affect the generally bright and jubilant mood of this Quartet."

The opening movement is a quiet one, with a main theme of descending arpeggios and a morose second theme introduced in the cello’s low register. Many of this movement’s motifs re-appear in later movements, albeit in altered forms - a unifying tactic Shostakovich favoured, and often used much more obviously. The second movment Allegretto is a fierce scherzo, assaulting listeners with violent dynamics, tense harmonies and inescapable rhythmic momentum. Harking back to the Baroque, the Adagio is a passacaglia, eight variations and a coda based on an expansive theme sung by the cello in its first bars. 

The finale, following without a pause, combines three themes in a large-scale sonata form: a march-like tune played by the viola, a lyrical motive also introduced by the viola above a bare, monotonous drone in the other instruments, and an expressive melody in all three lower lines under a pizzicato, mandolin or balalaika type accompaniment in the first violin. All three weave together in the sonata’s development before a sudden, lovely surprise - a dramatic and beautiful reappearance of the passacaglia theme from the previous movement. The tranquil spirit of the passacaglia tempers the finale’s rhythmic energy and prepares the way for the return of its lyrical second theme and then one last surprise: the themes of the first movement are recalled and die away to bring this magnificent work full circle to a satisfying close.

Sinfonia Toronto   now in its 22nd season, has toured twice in Europe, in the US, South America and China, receiving glowing reviews. It has released four CD’s, including a JUNO Award winner, and performs in many Ontario cities. Its extensive repertoire includes all the major string orchestra works of the 18th through 21st centuries, and it has premiered many new works. Under the baton of Nurhan Arman the orchestra’s performances present outstanding international guest artists and prominent Canadian musicians.  

Maestro Nurhan Arman has conducted throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada and the US, returning regularly to many orchestras in Europe. Among the orchestras Maestro Arman has conducted are the Moscow Philharmonic, Deutsches Kammerorchester Frankfurt, Filarmonica Italiana, St. Petersburg State Hermitage Orchestra, Orchestre Regional d’Ile de France, Hungarian Symphony, Arpeggione Kammerorchester, Milano Classica and Belgrade Philharmonic.

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