Verdi, Shostakovich, Williams, Bach and Liszt

The Westwood Ensemble Piano and String Concert has a varied mix of composers. A baroque masterwork, two great Romantics, a mid-20th-century composer and living composer are featured.

Joe Green (Giuseppe Verdi) starts our program with the Prelude to the opera La Traviata. “The Fallen Woman” is the translation of the title and story is based on a novel by Alexandra Dumas The leading lady Violetta of the opera is described as an “a famed courtesan” mistress or prostitute in modern terms. Like in many other Italian operas the leading lady has consumption, tuberculosis or fragile health. The melodies in this short Prelude to the opera reoccur later in the show.

The Waltz No. 2 comes from a larger work called Suite for Variety Orchestra (Russian Jazz band) by Shostakovich. It dates from the 1950’s and this Waltz was used in the movie “Eyes Wide Shut”. Shostakovich is a very important 20th-century Russian composer. He led a very difficult life in Soviet Russia and feared for his own life, family and friends regularly. His music is most often dark, sarcastic or just plain quirky. This Waltz is in my view is the quirky style. It is originally for winds and strings, but this arrangement features strings only and the first main solo is by the viola rather than the original Saxophone. There is happier Shostakovich music, that is music he pretty was much forced to write by Stalin. It is not the real Shosty.

John Williams is well known for his movie scores and his own conducting of the Boston Pops. He is a master of 19th style romanticism in music. Williams owes a great debt to the composers before him such as Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Verdi. The Theme from Schindler’s List is one of best-known tunes. Here we feature our Concert Master Marthe Cox in this haunting melody.

Johann Sebastian Bach is one of greatest composers of all time. His influence on all music is profound. Almost all musicians study and play his music at one time or another. However, these days the orchestra works are no longer performed regularly by concert orchestras. These works now are most often done by early music specialists. It seems as if it has become somehow “Politically Incorrect” for the modern symphony orchestra to play these works. The great opening music of Disney’s “Fantasia” is Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue”. The Philadelphia Orchestra under conductors Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski did popular arrangements of Bach works for orchestra. Conductor George Solti of the Chicago Symphony recorded the Brandenburg Concertos. Leonard Bernstein conducted the young pianist Glenn Gould on black and white TV doing the first movement of this Keyboard Concerto in D Minor.
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What’s a Malediction? It’s a curse or a slander. It is not known what Franz Liszt meant by the title. The musical form of the piece might be called a Tone Poem or a one-movement Concerto. Liszt was a piano virtuoso and composer and a leader in the romantic school of composers. He knew personally all the leading figures of his time. His daughter married Richard Wagner and although he was Hungarian in birth he was known as the leader of the New German School of romantic composers. I have not found any record that piece has been performed in Kansas City on in the USA. This piece is unusual because it is for Piano and Strings only. This may be a Kansas City Premier performance.

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