Ibragimova's BSO Debut | CRB

Ibragimova's BSO Debut

Saturday at 8pm, in a 2016 Boston Symphony Orchestra concert, violinist Alina Ibragimova is the soloist in Haydn's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Concerto funèbre, and Vladimir Jurowski conducts symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven.

Saturday, January 23, 2021
8:00 PM

Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
Alina Ibragimova, violin

HAYDN Symphony No. 26, Lamentatione
HARTMANN Concerto funebre, for violin and strings
HAYDN Violin Concerto No. 1
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 2

Recorded on Feb. 20, 2016, at Symphony Hall in Boston

This concert is no longer available on-demand.

Vladimir Jurowski previews the concert and reveals hidden musical links among the pieces on the program (transcript below):

Alina Ibragimova tells WCRB's Brian McCreath why she chose Hartmann's Concerto funebre for her debut recording several years ago, and the importance of Bach's music to her musical life (transcript below):

Transcript of the interview with Vladimir Jurowski:

Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Vladimir Jurowski, who has returned to the Boston Symphony for the first time, I think, since 2012. It's great to have you back. Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with me today.

Vladimir Jurowski [00:00:10] Thank you. It's a pleasure.

BMcC [00:00:12] This program is built around Beethoven and Haydn. But there's one element that makes it not normal, and that is Karl Amadeus Hartmann. And I wonder, from your perspective, do these other pieces, the symphony and concerto by Haydn and the symphony by Beethoven, do they sound in some way different or do we experience them differently because of this Hartmann concerto also on the program?

VJ [00:00:33] Most certainly. But I also would like to point out that all of the works on tonight's program are somehow different from what you expect the tradition to be.

[00:00:53] The symphony of Haydn is one of the early examples of his symphonic output, and it's quite unusual mainly in its structure, because it lacks the final movement. It's got the Allegro, the Adagio second movement, and the Minuet. But there is no Finale. And it's also unusual in that Haydn is deliberately quoting old church songs from the book of chorales.

[00:01:32] And the title of the symphony, Lamentatione - which, as far as I'm aware was not given by Haydn himself, it came by later - has to do with its main theme, or, better to say, the main theme of the second movement, being a borrowing from the book of Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, while the first movement is, according to some sources, replaying the Golgotha story.

[00:02:14] So the symphony was obviously designed to be performed in the church, possibly during a Good Friday service. And so those quotes of the chorales and the generally oppressed tragic mood of the symphony, I think, correlates beautifully with the tragic mode of the Hartmann concerto, who also quotes two songs: a church song, a chorale, a Hussite Czech "Chorale for God's Warriors," it was called; and then at the end, it quotes the revolutionary song from the times of the Russian Revolution of 1905, which is called "Immortal Victims."

[00:03:14] So the first part of the evening is very dark.

BMcC [00:03:19] But the second part is, by contrast, very light, isn't it?

VJ [00:03:23] The second part is very, very light. And again, there are interesting parallels between the two works. The concerto was written probably in the first year of Haydn's tenure at Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy's court, and it was written specially for Luigi Tomasini, the concertmaster of the orchestra, a famous violinist and a composer himself. And the concerto is deliberately emulating the older type of solo concerto, which is basically borrowed from Italian baroque sources, mainly Vivaldi. So here is Haydn, playing with old formulas, filling them with new life.

[00:04:23] And in the symphony, we've got Beethoven, trying to be a faithful successor of Haydn in taking over the symphonic tradition, but someone who also can't help bringing in lots of, lots of new ideas. In a way, it's an absolutely revolutionary symphony, many details which we can discuss now. But, um, interesting is also that the main theme of the Haydn Concerto, first movement, is practically a literal quote of the second theme of Beethoven's Second Symphony, first movement. It's exactly the same sequence of notes.

BMcC [00:05:18] That's fantastic. I did not know that.

VJ [00:05:20] It's a coincidence, but a lucky coincidence. And when when it comes to the Second Symphony, we're usually prone to describe it as vital and vivacious and full of mischief and youthful zeal and ardor. I can also sense the real notion of struggle, and even torment, because Beethoven was writing it in the year when he started losing hearing. And by the end of the year - the symphony was already composed - but by the end of the year, he wrote his famous Heiligenstadt Testament. So you could imagine the artistic invention was the only escape from his daily worries, sorrows, and troubles.

[00:06:21] But the raw moments in the symphony, when the pain is bursting through, in the opening introduction, there is a motive which resembles almost a twin motive of the first theme of the Ninth Symphony, which was yet to be composed another 22 years later. And also, in the Coda,  one of the features of the symphony, those incredibly long, extended Codas, which didn't exist in the Haydn-esque or Mozartian tradition, he basically turns Codas into a second development. And in those Codas, you have an incredible sequence of chords, which seems to, to be wanting to blow up the tonal system and go out into the open space of free atonality. And he does the same thing again in the second movement. And it feels as though, it was more than just a healthy, youthful humor he was applying. It was a matter of life and death.

[00:07:50] I found somewhere a description of various composers trying to verbalize their attitude towards certain keys, because, you know, that around 1800 the equal temperament hasn't broken through yet. And although the temperament was generally approaching equal, but the tonalities did sound differently, they still had the different demands of pure intervals in them. And so when Beethoven was asked what D major was for him, he said, three things: one was "march," which is something you would expect from a D major, but the other two things were rather unexpected. One thing was "Sehnsucht": "longing." And the third thing was "pain.".

BMcC [00:08:58] With D major?

VJ [00:08:59] Yes. So D major for Beethoven, particularly for Beethoven of that period, is not an easy key.

BMcC [00:09:09] But that's really fascinating, because D major, in other composers works, I wouldn't think that at all.

VJ [00:09:17] No, and then if you look at Haydn's D major, I mean, look at the end of the first movement of the symphony which were playing in the first half, the Lamentatione. That's another interesting, highly interesting feature about that symphony, is that, usually in the symphonies of that era, Haydn and Mozart, equally, the exposition is always repeated, and then the developing section and the recapitulation are also repeated as a second chunk. So that comes from the baroque A-B forms, where A was played twice, and B was played twice. However, in this first movement, he only repeats the exposition, because, apparently, if you follow the events of the Gospels, at the end of the, um, well, it's actually not the end. It's past the recapitulation. So it is the point of the golden cult following the Greek tradition. Between the first and the second subject in the recapitulation, there is something like a fermata, and then the second theme comes back instead of the parallel key, here, the second theme comes back in the major version of the main note, which means from D minor, he jumps into D major.

[00:11:00] Which is presumably describing the miracle of the resurrection. And because a miracle of resurrection can happen only once, he doesn't repeat it. So the first movement of this otherwise very tragic symphony ends in the most glorious D major. And I must say that his D major does sound like a divine epiphany, while Beethoven's D major is a victory hard won.

BMcC [00:11:43] That's wonderful. That is wonderful. What a great, what a great preview. Vladimir Jurowski, thank you for taking some time to talk with me about all of it here today.

VJ [00:11:50] Pleasure.

Transcript of the interview with Alina Ibragimova:

Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB. I'm with Alina Ibragimova, who is here in Boston at Symphony Hall for the first time, and it is a great pleasure to talk with you. Thanks for taking a few minutes with me.

Alina Ibragimova [00:00:09] Thank you. It's great to be here.

BMcC [00:00:11] I'm really curious about the Karl Amadeus Hartman concerto that you're playing, partly because it is one that you played very early on in your career. I think it might have been your first solo recording, which is not what most people would sort of debut on a major label with. What is it about this piece that drew it to you so long ago to make it such a prominent part of how you introduced yourself to the wider world?

AI [00:00:36] Well, I loved the piece already. When I was at school, I played in the orchestra and there was another girl playing the solo part. And, so when you're at school and, you know, you rehearse things a lot and so you get to know it, and when it came that I was going to do my first recording, I that's what I thought of because I record for Hyperion and they're known for their sort of unusual composers sometimes, unusual projects. And yeah, that was something I wanted to do very much.

BMcC [00:01:12] It's an unusual piece, but it's also one that I can imagine changes for you over time. I don't know if I'm correct about that. How do you feel your playing of it or your way through it has changed since those early days of playing it in public?

AI [00:01:31] Well, I guess, you know, you grow up, you play a little slower [laughs]. But yeah, I think the more I play it, of course it's natural that the changes, but it's also great to work with different groups. And that recording I did without a conductor. But this now it's great to work with Vladimir and the Boston Symphony over the last few days on this. It's quite tricky, but we will weather.

BMcC [00:01:58] Yeah, it's tricky, but what has been your experience in playing it over the years and what you have heard from people in the audience? I mean, I can't believe that most people go into concert halls knowing this piece like they might the Mendelssohn or the Tchaikovsky or something else you might play. What is it that people tell you afterwards about the experience of hearing you play this piece?

AI [00:02:20] Well, it's tough. I mean, it's written in a difficult time. And it depicts a difficult time. So, I think that's the kind of heaviness you feel, like the kind of heaviness you feel with Shostakovich or you know ... and I think that comes across for sure. It's quite relentless in many ways, this piece.

BMcC [00:02:48] Yeah. Emotionally powerful. Yeah.

AI [00:02:50] Yeah. And I mean at the same time it's beautiful, it's not just, you know, showing what a bad world it is, but there is some hope there as well.

BMcC [00:03:04] Well, one of the other early recordings that you made was maybe a little bit audacious, which was the solo violin works of Bach. And that's something that a lot of people wait for a while to really get around to. In fact, many people do the opposite of what you've done. You've just recorded the concertos. And I might think that...

AI [00:03:24] You start with concertos?

BMcC [00:03:24] Yeah. That you might start with concertos and go to these solo pieces later. But tell me just about, first of all, how Bach first arrived in your life, we'll put it that way.

AI [00:03:35] Uh, with difficulty. [laughs]

[00:03:39] No, I started playing Bach when I was at school and I remember finding it really hard. I had a sort of sense of what I wanted, but really couldn't, um, couldn't find it. It was, I really remember it being a struggle. I remember standing in the practice room and being frustrated. And it really took me some time to, um, to find the balance between the globality of the personal things, the style, the, you know, it really took time. And eventually I started learning the baroque violin as well. So that helped a lot. And so it was over a few years that I, I don't know, developed a certain style for it.

BMcC [00:04:27] Well, and your recording of the solo works, I think, was met by a lot of people with a sort of astonishment at how original it felt to hear these works played by you. And maybe I'm hearing something that connects to that, that your struggle to really figure out how to deal with Bach led to a particular voice with with his music.

AI [00:04:50] Well, I guess so. I mean, I, I try not to listen to other recordings generally when I'm learning something, just to find what I want in the score. I guess with Bach there's so much there that it just, it took time. But now of course I play differently again, you know, from the time when I recorded, it's a work in progress, really, all your life.

BMcC [00:05:16] Yeah. The concertos that you've just recorded, was there a way that you were approaching these works that, uh, you might not have earlier on?

AI [00:05:27] Um, well, my sort of hesitancy, because I thought about recording them for a long time, but, um, I didn't want to make the disc that's the sort of combination that so many people have done already. So I wanted to do something different. And then, Jonathan Cohen, the director of Arcangelo, he came up with this program of doing the harpsichord, uh, transcriptions as well. And suddenly I thought, yeah, well that would be great. And Arcangelo, the group that we recorded with, they're a relatively new group, they've only existed a few years. And I know a lot of the players from other places they've played in and it's a great energy, we've had so much fun.

BMcC [00:06:16] They don't sound like a new group at all. They sound like they've been playing together all their lives. And thanks for pointing out the fact that three of them are keyboard concertos transcribed. And what was the process of working those out? I mean, were they someone else's transcriptions? Did you do them did you work with Jonathan? And how did those kind of come together?

AI [00:06:38] Well, I mean, people play them occasionally. They don't know for sure whether they would have been played on the violin or not. You know, in those days, concertos were played on different instruments and so I don't know. I mean, the biggest one is the D minor, of course, that's a ... It's  quite a mountain. I mean, look, we don't know if that would have been ever played on a violin. But it works.

BMcC [00:07:11] So, your personal history is really interesting because you were born sort of in the middle of Russia, and you moved very early, I think, really young to Moscow and then on to Britain. And so there's a way that people like to talk about musicians in the classical world that has to do with nationalities. We sort of identify, we categorize, we sort of make assumptions, right? And I wonder, from your perspective, because you've been in Britain now for a long time, do you find that kind of thing helpful? Do you find it annoying? Do you not think about it at all? How do you describe your relationship with the nationalities that, kind of, we might think, make up who you are?

AI [00:07:51] Um, well, I don't know. I wonder what someone feels when they haven't left their birthplace for their whole lives, you know? I left young and I go back, but I also, you know, I wasn't born in England. I'm not totally, really English either. So, it's hard to say what my nationality is.

[00:08:22] I don't know. I'm nostalgic about Russia. I have a home in England, you know. So when someone says I'm a Russian violinist, of course that's a little bit true. So that's fine. If I'm British, also kind of true, with a strange name perhaps for a British person. [laughs]

BMcC [00:08:41] [laughs] They've done that before too. But do you sort of feel like there are elements of your playing, the way that we hear you play, that reflect those aspects of your background? Or do you not think about it that way? It's fine if that's not how you think of it at all.

AI [00:08:58] Well, I mean, look, I, I went to school in England, studied with the Russian teacher and the German teacher and the Serbian teacher. I have no idea.

BMcC [00:09:09] So it's almost not even a useful conceit. It doesn't really help too much. You are simply Alina, the violinist, and that's how that goes.

AI [00:09:18] I guess. I don't know.

BMcC [00:09:20] Just one more question. Tell me about the instrument that you play. Because many times a violinist of the kind of career that you have is playing a Strad or a Guarneri or something, but you play one by a maker - and I'll admit I'm not a violinist, so I don't know all the different makers - but this isn't one I've heard of before. Tell me why this violin makes sense for you.

AI [00:09:39] Well, it's quite a rare maker, Anselmo Bellosio. There aren't actually that many around. He was from Venice. Uh, it would have been made in 1780-something, we don't know the exact year. I've had it now for ten years. I'm very happy with it. It's got all golden warmth and it's powerful and it, I don't know, after a while it becomes your voice, really. And occasionally I play with the idea of, what if I go and see a del Gesù, and I do, and I see, I don't know, I try 10, 15 of them sometimes, and, I don't know, I come back to my little Bellosio and I'm very happy.

BMcC [00:10:24] And how did it strike you when you played in the hall here for the first time?

AI [00:10:28] Oh, it's a beautiful hall. Really, really great. You can do so many things, and I feel that the orchestra really knows how to use its full potential. They really know what to do. 

BMcC [00:10:40] Alina Ibragimova, thank you very much for talking with me today.

AI [00:10:43] Thank you.