Alison Beskin Ham, Flute
Ruobing Zhang, Piano
Saturday, March 14, 2020
National Opera Center, Marc A. Scorca Hall
Concerto No. 1 in G Major, K. 313 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Andante et Scherzo Louis Ganne (1862-1923)
- Ten Minute Intermission -
Night Soliloquy Kent Kennan (1913-2003)
Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, D. 802 Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
NOTES ON THE PROGRAM
Mozart – Concerto No. 1 in G Major, K. 313
Duration: Approximately 23 minutes
Mozart composed the Concerto No. 1 in in G Major in 1778, along with the Concerto No. 2 in D Major, in response to a commission from amateur flutist Ferdinand Dejean. In a letter to his father describing the commission, Mozart famously wrote, “ … you know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument that I cannot bear.” Nevertheless, the Concerto features charming and elegant melodies that suggest Mozart actually enjoyed writing for the flute. Scholars point to Mozart’s reluctance to admit he failed to complete Dejean’s full commission as the reason for his remarks. Today, both the G Major and D Major concerti are a staple of the flute repertoire and are required in every major orchestral audition.
The concerto is in three movements: Allegro maestoso (“Lively and majestic”) – Adagio ma non troppo (“Slow, but not too much”) – Rondo; Tempo di Menuetto (“Rondo in the tempo of a minuet”). The first movement opens with an orchestral introduction before the flutist enters with the theme, a boisterous four-bar phrase that recurs throughout the movement. Following the exposition (the opening passage of a Classical concerto that typically ends with a long trill into the tonic key), the flute introduces the second theme, which begins in the proximate key of D major and cycles through a “circle of fifths” (b minor – e minor – a minor – d minor) before returning to the home key of G major for the restatement of the theme. As the second movement opens, the flute enters with a pastoral melody above an “alberti bass” figure, a simple, arpeggiated accompaniment. Like the Allegro aperto from the Concerto in D Major, the central movement is a study in elegance and restraint, though with a brief interlude in the relative key of b minor which borrows from the second theme of the first movement. The final movement is in classic rondo form, with a crisp opening motif that repeats throughout the movement. The Rondo casts further doubt on the theory that Mozart disliked the flute, with joyous outbursts serving as a showcase for the instrument’s virtuosity.
Ganne – Andante et Scherzo
Duration: Approximately 7 minutes
The Andante et Scherzo is one of the lesser-known piece in the repertoire known as the “French Conservatory Pieces,” a set of compositions for flute and piano written for the annual flute competition at the Paris Conservatoire. Louis Ganne, a French conductor and composer who studied at the Paris Conservatoire under César Franck, composed the Andante et Scherzo for the competition in 1901 on commission from flute professor Paul Taffanel.
Although written in two movements, the Andante et Scherzo is performed without a break, with a flute cadenza (virtuosic solo passage) marking the transition between movements. The Andante features a recurring mid-register melody in the flute, marked as doux et simple (“soft and simple”). The theme is stated twice before the more whimsical central section featuring arpeggiated patterns and dynamic contrasts. The return of the original melody marks the transition to the flute cadenza, a more contemplative passage featuring wider dynamic contrasts and chromaticisms. The Scherzo (“joke” or “jest”) suddenly emerges, a playful and light-hearted dance with a melodic interlude reminiscent of the first movement. Typical of the French Conservatory Pieces, the Scherzo demands brilliant articulation and dexterity, serving its purpose as an audition piece while also charming the listener.
Kennan – Night Soliloquy
Duration: Approximately 4 minutes
Kent Kennan, an American composer, completed Night Soliloquy in 1936 during his final year as a Master’s student at the Eastman School of Music in upstate New York. Kennan won the prestigious Prix de Rome in music composition during the same year. Originally composed for flute, strings, and piano, the Night Soliloquy was transcribed by the composer for both flute and piano and flute and wind ensemble.
Night Soliloquy is a meditation on uncertainty. The opening piano chords, dissonant clusters reminiscent of tolling bells, repeat throughout the piece and provide a reminder that the fragmented melody remains unresolved. The undulating flute line wanders in and out of the gradually shifting accompaniment, searching unsuccessfully for a tonal center before intensifying to a fortissimo climax, a primal call where the flute is suddenly alone. A brief, cadenza-like passage in the flute ushers in the return of the haunting chords in the piano, with the opening flute melody transposed up one octave. The flute ends back where it began: on an F-sharp that fades into nothingness, back into the night.
Schubert – Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, D. 802
Duration: Approximately 19 minutes
The Night Soliloquy sets an appropriate tone for the Introduction and Variations, which is based on a lied (“song”) from Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Miller). Trockne Blumen (Withered Flowers)¸ song number eighteen of twenty in the cycle, is based on a poem by German poet Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), a contemporary of Schubert. Although Schubert produced many symphonic and chamber works, he is perhaps most well-known for his evocative vocal writing. The Introduction and Variations is one of the gems of the Romantic flute repertoire, having been arranged by the composer himself for the instrument.
Trockne Blumen, set in the key of e minor, is a meditative fantasy on death through the lens of romantic love. After a foreboding introduction, we hear a statement of the full song, a transcription of the original lied with a bit of additional ornamentation. The seven variations that follow each make unique technical and musical demands on the performers, varying from extreme virtuosity in variations I and V to expansive lyricism in Variation III. The final variation, the only variation set in a major key, is more bombastic than cautiously optimistic, as the text would suggest. With a nod towards the European operatic transition, Schubert leaves us with an image of a triumphant, yet perhaps melodramatic, suitor.
The full text of the song is copied below, with the English translation by Richard Wigmore:
All you flowers
that she gave to me,
you shall be laid
with me in the grave.
you all look at me,
as though you knew
what was happening to me!
All you flowers,
how faded and pale you are!
All you flowers,
why are you so moist?
Alas, tears will not create
the green of May,
nor make dead love
Spring will come,
and winter will pass,
will grow in the grass.
And flowers will lie
on my grave –
all the flowers
that she gave me.
And when she walks
past that mound
and ponders in her heart,
‘His love was true.’
Then, all you flowers,
come forth, come forth!
May is here,
winter is over!
Program notes by Alison Beskin Ham
ABOUT THE PERFORMERS
Alison Beskin Ham holds degrees in music from Princeton University and the Royal Academy of Music in London, as well as a law degree from the University of Virginia. Having played music since the age of five and flute since the age of eight, Alison enjoys devoting her life to music while balancing other professional commitments. Alison appears regularly with the Association of Classical Musicians and Artists in New York City, with whom she recently had her Carnegie Hall premiere with the ACMA orchestra at Zankel Hall. Alison looks forward to returning to Carnegie Hall in a duo performance with clarinetist Gary Mayer (originally scheduled for March 21st; rescheduled with date T.B.D.). Alison is also an active volunteer with the Music Ministry of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, where she collaborates with choir and organ in sacred music for services and other concerts.
Alison’s primary teachers have included Candace Keach (Macon Symphony), Carl Hall (Atlanta Symphony), Kate Hill (Royal Academy of Music) and Vincent Lucas (Orchestra de Paris). During her undergraduate and graduate musicology studies, Alison received grants to study the musical traditions of Victorian London and conducted research at the Royal Albert Hall, Royal College of Music, the Barbican and the British Library. Alison also has experience as a volunteer public radio broadcaster with WCPE (North Carolina) and WPRB (Princeton).
In between rehearsals, Alison works as an attorney at a Manhattan corporate law firm advising companies and executives on mergers and acquisitions.
Ruobing Zhang has made a name for himself as a pianist, singer, and martial arts specialist, winning serious accolades in all fields. He continues to study voice and piano in New York and is currently in his last year at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Matti Raekallio (piano) and Doc White (voice). Additionally, he is a rising voice coach and director, highly sought after in both the musical theater and pop fields. He was crowned gold prize at the 2017 Water Cube Vocal Reality Show in China, where he was selected as the winner among 5,000 contestants. In the past year, Mr. Zhang has directed the musicals “In the Heights” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Rent” by Jonathan Larson. Currently, he is working on “Mamma Mia.”
At the age of 14, he performed Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 at the World Piano Competition’s “Go for the Gold” concerto competition, winning first place and the Grand Prize for levels 9-12. During that same year, Mr. Zhang competed in the 2012 US Youth Talent and Art Competition, receiving both first place and Grand Prize. He has also won a slew of other international competitions and has also appeared on FOX, NBC, CBS, and ABC’s Good Morning America.
In the summer of 2017, he attended the following summer festivals on a full scholarship: Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal Academy, Classical Singer Competition and Convention, and Chautauqua Institution. Two years ago, he was honored to have the privilege of recording his debut classical album under China’s most celebrated record label, China Record Corporation.