An American of Norwegian and Japanese descent, Joseph Swensen was born in Hoboken, New Jersey and grew up in Harlem, New York City. He currently holds the post of Conductor Emeritus of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, where he was Principal Conductor from 1996-2005. He is Principal Guest Conductor of the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, in Spain, and Artistic Partner of the Northwest Sinfonietta, in the United States. He has served as Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris from 2009-2012 and has held positions at the Malmö Opera (2008-2011), Lahti Symphony, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Swensen is the Starling Professor of Music, violin, at Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music. He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate from St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, and was invited to give a TEDx Talk with the title “Habitats for Music and the Sound of Math,” about music education and the developing brain, at the New York Institute of Technology. Joseph and Victoria Swensen are the founders of Habitat4Music, a non-profit organisation devoted to establishing participatory music education programs for children in underserved areas world wide.
Kolja Blacher was born in Berlin, the son of Baltic-German composer, Boris Blacher. He studied at the Juilliard School of Music with Dorothy DeLay and with Sandor Vegh in Salzburg. During the past five years, “Play-Lead” concerts have become the focus in Blacher’s artistic activities, both as a soloist and concertmaster. These projects are presented as "Concerts without a Conductor" comprising a mixture of chamber and orchestral music. From 1993 to 1999 Blacher served as the first concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado. He has recorded highly acclaimed Albums in collaboration with Claudio Abbado, with whom he has maintained close ties. In 1999 he took over a professorship for violin at the Hamburg University of Music and Theatre. Blacher held the position of professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg before returning to his hometown of Berlin, where he teaches at the Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler.”The artist performs on a 1730 “Tritton” Stradivari, generously on loan from Ms. Kimiko Powers.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Serenade No. 13, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, was composed in 1787, while Mozart was occupied composing the second act of his opera Don Giovanni. The piece “little night music,” as he entered the it into his handwritten catalogue of works, was shorthand and was never intended to serve as the work’s title. An account from Vienna in 1793 reads, “ During the summer months, if the weather is fine, one comes across serenades performed in the streets almost daily and at all hours… when, usually, everyone is hurrying home, one nevertheless soon discovers people at their open windows, and within a few minutes the musicians are surrounded by an applauding crowd of listeners who rarely depart until the serenade has come to an end.” Eine kleine Nachtmusik was Mozart’s last serenade, perhaps written as a commission for an outdoor gathering. It remains one of his most familiar and beloved works.
Pentagramm, written in 1974, is a piece for sixteen strings by Baltic-German composer, Boris Blacher. It was premiered in Berlin by the Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester on April 4, 1975, with Uni Segal. Blacher was born while his parents were living in the Russian-speaking community of Niuzhuang in Manchuria. As a young man, he went to Berlin to study architecture and mathematics, but after two years, he turned to music and studied composition with Friedrich Koch. His career was interrupted by National Socialism when he was accused of writing degenerate music and was dismissed from his teaching post at the Dresden Conservatory. His career resumed after World War II, and he became president of the Academy of Arts, Berlin. Blacher was married to the pianist Gerty Blacher-Herzog. They had four children including the German actress Tatjana Blacher and violinist Kolja Blacher. Biographer Josef Häusler describes Blacher's music as, ”playful in character, with an avoidance of brooding and tragedy. His ideal is a light, transparent texture with delicately traced and coloured ornamental lines; his best works are dominated by brightness of tone and an unobtrusive logic that reveals both agility of mind and a sure sense of formal proportioning.”
Mozart composed Divertimento in D major in Salzburg, in 1772. Having returned home from Italy for the second time, he composed three works for string instruments employing the new ideas he had absorbed during his travels. It is widely thought that Mozart was thinking of just one player to a part, which would make these charming scores an early effort at writing string quartets. However, the composers first accepted string quartets were composed months later. Thus, due to their divertimento designation and their instrumentation, calling for violins, violas, and basses, rather than the standard string quartet including cellos, they are most often performed by string orchestra.
Alban Berg wrote his Violin Concerto in the spring and summer of 1935. It is his last completed work. The premiere was given on April 19, 1936, in Barcelona, with soloist Louis Krasner and Hermann Scherchen conducting. The piece is dedicated to Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler and her second husband, architect Walter Gropius. The teenager had died of polio on April 22. Upon hearing the news Berg called Alma and asked if he could dedicate his new violin concerto ”to the memory of an angel.” Merely days after completing the orchestration, the composer himself suffered an insect sting that became infected and led to his death of septicemia in December 1935. Thus the concerto became a memorial for Berg as well.
The American violinist had approached Berg with a request for a violin concerto early in 1935, after attending a performance of Wozzeck in New York. Berg assumed Krasner wanted a virtuosic showpiece and responded, “You know, that is not my kind of music.” Krasner countered arguing that, “The attacking criticism of twelve-tone music everywhere is that this music is only cerebral and without feeling or emotion. . . Think of what it would mean for the whole Schoenberg movement if a new Alban Berg Violin Concerto should succeed in demolishing the antagonism of the “cerebral, no emotion” cliché and argument.” Berg shouldered the ordeal of portraying the struggle between life and death with a piece that unifies dissimilar musical materials. The language is based on an ordering of twelve pitches in a half-tone scale. He structured the work in two parts containing two movements each. Placed into its composition are both a Carinthian folk song and a Bach chorale, whose text Berg wrote into the score, “It is enough! . . . Goodnight now, O world! I’m going to my heavenly home . . . my great distress will stay below.”
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator