HPO Composer Festival pays tribute to master Felix Mendelssohn
From afar, he was a born master.
A child prodigy to the max, he made his private piano debut at age nine, composed chamber and orchestral masterpieces as a teenager, and became a sought-after conductor and musical director who initiated a revival of Bach. A true Renaissance man, he was also an accomplished painter and a classic. He traveled widely and dated Goethe and Hegel, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Contemporaries showered him with enthusiastic praise. “Twelve years – promises a lot”, wrote Beethoven. “Bach is reborn”, proclaimed Liszt. “Enormously, extraordinarily, superbly, prodigiously talented”, raves Berlioz. “The Mozart of the 19th century”, greeted Schumann. But like Mozart and Schubert before him, he too died in his prime, most likely from a subarachnoid hemorrhage from a cerebral aneurysm, at the age of 38.
That, of course, is Felix Mendelssohn, the subject of this year’s Hamilton Philharmonic Composers’ Festival which will take place online, free of charge from February 22-27, culminating in a scheduled in-person performance with ticket. Saturday, March 19 of the ‘Violin Concerto’ featuring soloist Susanne Hou as well as ‘Echoing Mendelssohn’, a new work by HPO composer Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins, with Gemma New returning to conduct the HPO at the FirstOntario Concert Hall.
“The HPO occasionally programs Mendelssohn and because our audience loves it, we thought it was time to hear more, dive into his great story and celebrate his impressive contributions,” said Abby Richardson-Schulte, composer. in residence at the HPO.
Mendelssohn’s Deep Dive begins Tuesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. with Richardson-Schulte giving a 90-minute music appreciation talk on Zoom titled “Mendelssohn and the Romantic Era: Legacy and Legacy.”
“It’s going to be about Mendelssohn and the romantic aesthetic of his time, with Beethoven getting the ball rolling,” Richardson-Schulte said. “From there, we explore some of these post-classical tendencies and set the stage for Mendelssohn.”
Musical excerpts from Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms will be played, Richardson-Schulte will also answer questions from participants and Martins will talk about his piece. Registration is required on hpo.org for this co-presentation with the Hamilton Association for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art (HAALSA).
Richardson-Schulte will hold another talk, “Rise to Fame in the Romantic Era,” via Zoom on Thursday, February 24 at noon, co-presented with the Hamilton Public Library, registration required at hpo.org. The one-hour talk will be repeated on Friday, February 25 at 2 p.m. via Zoom, co-presented with the Burlington Public Library, registration required at BPL.on.ca.
“It will be more of an overview and exploration of the Romantic period as a whole, revolving around the rise of composers and performers,” Richardson-Schulte said. “We will discuss the effect of widespread public music production with public concert halls, which are no longer controlled by courts (royal and princely). I’ll talk about wild singer-songwriters, Paganini and Liszt and their fandom, and how they changed the nature of performance. Stories from Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Tchaikovsky will shed light on how composers found their way. The importance of Félix’s sister, Fanny, and the influence of Clara Schumann are part of the story.
The interviews above will also address Mendelssohn’s religious identity.
“The Mendelssohn family’s conversion from Jewish to Christian is a fascinating subject considering how the work of Felix’s philosopher grandfather, Moses, helped Jews in German society,” Richardson-Schulte said.
On Thursday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m., HPO’s Concertmaster Stephen Sitarski will lead a one-hour “Mastering Mendelssohn’s String Music” workshop focusing on the slow movement opening solo of the “Violin Concerto.”
“We’ll start by removing all expression from this melody, then we’ll reconstruct it taking into account vibrato, changes, bowing choices, colors, phrasing and tempos,” Sitarski said.
Selected recordings of this tune will be played to examine how the style of performing Romantic-era music has changed over the past century.
“It’s an open, interactive discussion that sparks ideas about the expressive choices each musician can make,” Sitarski added.
Registration is required at hpo.org.
On Sunday, February 27 at 2 p.m., the festival’s pre-recorded “Romantic Era Community Recital,” which features 21 local musicians performing 18 pieces, as well as the HPO Brass Quintet performing Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” can be viewed for free on HPO’s . YouTube channel and Facebook page.