Concert Program Notes



Beach Cities Symphony Concert Program Notes for June 16, 2023



Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Although Beethoven was familiar with Shakespeare’s plays, and considered it his duty to “grasp the thought of the best and wisest of every age,” the Coriolan Overture was not music inspired by Shakespeare’s Coriolanus of ca. 1608. Rather, it was music written for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 eponymous play based on the same historical Roman figure. The overture is Beethoven at his most explicit and dramatic, with a formal inevitability that is ultimately self-effacing—paralleling the unraveling and suicide of the play’s protagonist in Collin’s adaptation. Along the way, Beethoven employs three distinct devices correlating to the drama’s program. The first music heard is a series of octaves that erupt into increasingly tense and proximate chords, separated by ever-shortening silences. This is followed by a taut theme low and raw in the violins whose expansion of instrumentation is undercut by its “telescoping” (consecutively shortening) variations. The third feature is a nostalgic (or yearning!) second theme in the major, whose affirming, long phrases too give way to successive shortening and harmonic relocation. Yet the relationship of these features to one another—themselves characterized by tension, elision, and unnerving intervening silences—is not simply dramatic self-service, but fulfills sonata-allegro form. In this structural way, the Coriolan Overture can be viewed as a small-scale, traditional orchestral movement whose contents happen to be dramatic and follow a program. The ending, however, reveals a different concern. Representing Coriolanus’ descent despair and ultimate suicide (in the Collin case—Shakespeare has him murdered), Beethoven odd coda pulls back, a reversal of the telescoping that characterized the rest of the overture. The taut first theme is now partitioned, interrupted with intervening silences of increasing length, a dramatic augmentation of what was so successfully compressed earlier. There is no marked indication of a slower tempo, but a slight broadening can draw attention to the contrast of the elongating phrases. The orchestra ends with a series of soft pizzicati fading into obscurity, a formal self-effacement that now does seem inevitable.

—Notes by Dr. Pope

Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, 1st Mvmt
Violin Concerto in E Minor, 1st Mvmt
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, 1st Movement

Tonight’s Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) award winners play movements of beloved concertos by Grieg, Prokofiev, and Mendelssohn.

Written by a 24-year old Edvard Grieg, the Piano Concerto in A minor was completed in 1869. Jacqueline Chang performs the third movement, which is built upon the alternation of a lively folk dance and a rhapsodic lyrical theme. This is followed by the virtuosic first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, performed by Nathaniel Wong. Here, too, a drama unfolds between long, yearning melodies and shorter, angular fragments. There is a grotesqueness to some of the music, with long scalar buildups giving way to jarring cluster chords punctuated by castanets and strings being struck by the wood of the bow rather than the hair. Finally, Kevin Hu performs the iconic first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, a staple of the violin repertoire, whose technical challenges are rewarded with a range of interpretive possibilities. The interplay between the violin and the orchestra is particularly engaging, making it a piece favored by orchestras as well as soloists.

“NOCTURNES: I. Nuages II. Fetes
Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)

The nocturne genre is remarkably diverse, not least because a nocturne can be music that is envisioned for performance at nighttime—or music that aims to portray or evoke night and darkness. Debussy’s Nocturnes is a three-movement work completed in 1899. The work began a decade earlier as Three Scenes at Twilight based on poems by Henri de Régnier, but Debussy’s aesthetics and professional life developed considerably within this span, and the Three Scenes at Twilight was recomposed. Inspired by a series of James Whistler paintings of the same name, Debussy retitled his triptych Nocturnes. The first two movements, Nuages (“Clouds”) and Fêtes (“Festivals”) are frequently performed together. Performances of the all three movements are less frequent, as Sirènes (“Sirens”) requires a women’s choir in addition to the sizable orchestra. The music of Nuages is “grey,” hovering between meters and tonalities. The subdued blend of woodwinds, strings, and horns creates timbres that are “an experiment in the different combinations that can be achieved with one colour—what a study in grey would be in painting” (Debussy to Ysaÿe in 1894). This resonates with Whistler’s series of paintings (e.g. the “Nocturne in Gray and Gold”), which are limited in their color range. An English horn solo comes through the texture with brief music from another place and time. This melody returns several times throughout the movement and comes across as a sort of warning. However, it is an unfulfilled gesture in the first movement, which recedes into darkness. Fêtes, conversely, opens energetically in the strings with a dance rhythm similar to that of a tarantella. The woodwinds enter with the main lilting melody of the movement, grouped irregularly in bars of varying lengths. After a climax, the orchestra retreats, and a distant procession is heard, beginning with the plodding harp and low strings. Muted trumpets join, and Debussy slowly brings in more instruments. Soon the processional music is being played by the entire orchestra and juxtaposed with the opening dancelike music. The procession retreats, with the low strings and bassoon disappearing last. Then a final diversion in the form of an oboe solo, that disperses into melodic fragments handed between woodwinds. Low strings, timpani, and a suspended cymbal end the movement in darkness.

He had already suffered health problems by early 1811, and traveled to the spa in the Bohemian town of Teplice, where work on the symphonies went on during that summer. Both symphonies were finished the next year, and together they more or less demark the end of an era. From that time on, until the end of his life in 1827, Beethoven the man, and his musical works underwent significant changes. His health underwent further deterioration, with debilitating family squabbles and failures in personal relationships all contributing to the change. While there were great works still to be written, the flow of inspiration was lessened, his social isolation increased, and the style of his composition took on a new, abstract quality.

—Notes by Dr. Geoffrey Pope


Jacqueline Chang, Pianist

Kevin Hu, Violinist

Nathan Wong, Pianist

Our Annual “Artist of the Future” Concert takes place June 16, 2023 – in conjunction with the Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) at El Camino College at 8pm.

Jacqueline Chang began piano at the age of three and currently studies with Mihyang Keel. Jacqueline has completed Advanced Level of the Certificate of Merit program and has notable achievements including winning first prize at the CAPMT Sonata/Sonatina Competition in 2019, garnering multiple awards from Southern California Junior Bach Festival and the Southwestern Youth Music Festival throughout the years (including first prize in American Music category and second prize in the Duet category, and performing at Carnegie Hall as a result of being a winner of the American Protégé Competition.

Nathan Wong is a freshman at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. He began piano studies at the age of five and shortly thereafter also began taking violin lessons. Upon entering middle school, Nathan shifted his focus solely to piano through the Certificate of Merit program and completed CM Advanced Level with State Honors by age thirteen. In addition to being a winner of the MTAC Artists of the Future Competition, Nathan also won 2nd place in the Chopin Etude category at the Southwestern Youth Music Festival (SYMF) last summer. Nathan is passionate about sharing classical music with the community at large and is currently serving as a student volunteer and member of the Music Students’ Service League (MSSL) South Bay Chapter. Nathan is currently studying with Joseph Keel.

When not at the piano, Nathan can be found excelling at the shortstop position for his high school baseball team and rooting for the New York Yankees. Nathan’s other interests include traveling, spending time with friends, and creative writing, for which he recently published a dystopian short story titled “Don’t Look Back”.

Kevin Hu, 15, is a freshman at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School and also the incoming concertmaster for the Pen High Symphonic Orchestra. Kevin is deeply grateful to Mr. Elmer Su for being a dedicated mentor who has nurtured his violin studies since the age of 5. He has been an active member of the Palos Verdes Regional Symphony Orchestra since the age of 6.

Over the past few years, Kevin has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT) for both the Concerto State Finals and Contemporary State Finals. He was also a winner in MTAC’s Voice, Orchestra, Chamber, and Ensemble (VOCE) Regionals for both the junior and intermediate categories and is a MTAC Scholarship Audition Winner also for all age categories. Throughout the past years, Kevin has won numerous awards from the Southwestern Youth Music Festival (SYMF) and from the American Strings Teachers Association (ASTA). Most recently, he was announced the gold medalist in the Southern California Junior Bach Festival (SCJBF) – Complete Works Audition and selected to perform with the Beach Cities Symphony Orchestra as a winner of MTAC’s Artists of the Future. Besides his musical pursuits, Kevin also enjoys hanging out with friends, listening to K-pop, and taking nature walks.

Noah Liao, violin student of Elmer Su, was chosen as first alternate.


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