Eric Paetkau, music director
Stéphane Tétreault, cello
We kick off our 89th season with a night of big bold music. Opening the evening is a work by Saskatchewan composer Laura Pettigrew, whose music is vivid and colourful and cinematic in scope.
Cellist Stéphane Tétreault made such a huge impression on us last season, that we literally couldn’t wait to have him back. This time he’ll be playing the richly romantic Dvorak Cello Concerto, which pairs perfectly with Brahms’ final symphony.
We complete our exploration of the Brahms symphonies in this special opening night experience. Brahms’ 4th is bursting with autumnal colours, and showcases the orchestra and the composer at full strength.
Dochas – Laura Pettigrew*
3 mins – SSO debut
Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104 – Antonin Dvorak
42 mins – last played by the SSO in April 1999
Symphony No. 4 in e Minor – Johannes Brahms
45 mins – last played by the SSO in March 2007
*denotes Canadian composer
In addition to innumerous awards and honours, Stéphane Tétreault recently received the 2018 Maureen Forrester Next Generation Award in recognition of his sensitivities with music, his enviable technique, and his considerable communication skills. In 2015, he was selected as laureate of the Classe d’Excellence de violoncelle Gautier Capuçon from the Fondation Louis Vuitton, and received the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award. Stéphane was the very first recipient of the $50,000 Fernand-Lindsay Career Award as well as the Choquette-Symcox Award laureate in 2013. First Prize winner at the 2007 Standard Life-Montreal Symphony Orchestra Competition, he was named “Révélation” Radio-Canada in classical music, was chosen as Personality of the Week by La Presse newspaper, and awarded the Prix Opus for New Artist of the Year. For three straight years, Stéphane was ranked amongst “CBC Radio’s 30 Hot Canadian classical musicians under 30”.
Chosen as the first ever Soloist-in-Residence of the Orchestre Métropolitain, he performed alongside Yannick Nézet-Séguin during the 2014-2015 season. In 2016, Stéphane made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Nézet-Séguin and performed at the prestigious Gstaad Menuhin Festival in Switzerland. During the 2017-2018 season, he took part in the Orchestre Métropolitain’s first European tour with Maestro Nézet-Séguin and made his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Stéphane has performed with violinist and conductor Maxim Vengerov and pianists Alexandre Tharaud, Jan Lisiecki, Charles Richard-Hamelin and John Lenehan and has worked with conductors Michael Tilson Thomas, Paul McCreesh, John Storgårds, José-Luis Gomez, James Feddeck and Kensho Watanabe amongst many other. He also participated in a number of masterclasses, notably with cellists Gautier Capuçon and Frans Helmerson.
His debut CD, recorded with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra and conductor Fabien Gabel was chosen as “Editor’s Choice” in the March 2013 issue of Gramophone Magazine. His second album with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone featuring works from Haydn, Schubert and Brahms was chosen as Gramophone Magazine’s “Critics’ Choice 2016” and recognized as one of the best albums of the year. In 2017, Stéphane partnered with harpist Valérie Milot and violinist Antoine Bareil for a third album dedicated to Trios for Violin, Cello and Harp.
“Tétreault’s disc charmed me from the off; this is just pure, lyrical, unadulterated playing of the highest order, with a maturity that belies his 22 years… I can’t wait to hear more from him.” (Charlotte Gardner, Gramophone) “His vibrato and tone are varied, his bowing techniques immaculate and his awareness of harmony and consequent shading omnipresent.” (Joanne Talbot, The Strad) “The solo playing is astonishingly mature not merely in its technical attributes but also in its warmth, brilliance and subtlety of colour and inflection.” (Geoffrey Norris, Gramophone)
Stéphane was a student of the late cellist and conductor Yuli Turovsky for more than 10 years. He holds a Master’s Degree in Music Performance from the University of Montreal.
Stéphane plays the 1707 “Countess of Stainlein, Ex-Paganini” Stradivarius cello, on generous loan by Mrs. Sophie Desmarais.
Dòchas: translated, means “hope” in Scottish Gaelic and is pronounced “dohchus”, with the “ch” sounding like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” and the “ò” an extended “oh”.
I chose the title based, in part, on my ancestral roots (Scottish, Irish, English, German, French, and so many more) and to express what all immigrants coming to a new country have, that being hope—for peace, for kindness, for the opportunity to build a life for their families, and hope for the future. Given the current global unrest and turmoil, with a large percentage of the world’s population facing uncertainty, financial instability, homelessness, war, death, destruction, and literal hopelessness and despair, I felt it was important through my work to musically and emotionally portray and express hope, that to move forward, to exist, to believe, we must have hope(!), which my ancestors had when they immigrated to Canada over 150 years ago. Born and raised in Canada, a proud Canadian, a descendant of immigrants, I represent the fifth generation of Pettigrews.
Cello Concerto in B minor
In 1865, early in his career, Dvořák started a Cello Concerto in A major (B. 10). The piece was written for Ludevít Peer, whom he knew well from the Provisional Theatre Orchestra in which they both played. He handed the cello score (with piano accompaniment) over to Peer for review but neither bothered to finish the piece. It was recovered from his estate in 1925.
Hanuš Wihan, among others, had asked for a cello concerto for quite some time, but Dvořák always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but totally insufficient for a solo concerto. According to Josef Michl, Dvořák was fond of the middle register, but complained about a nasal high register and a mumbling bass. In a letter to a friend, Dvořák wrote that he himself was probably most surprised by his decision to write a cello concerto despite these long held reservations.
Dvořák wrote the concerto while in New York City for his third term as the Director of the National Conservatory. In 1894 one of the teachers at the Conservatory, Victor Herbert, also a composer, finished his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30, and premiered it in a series of concerts, commencing on 9 March. Dvořák heard at least two performances of the piece and was inspired to fulfill Wihan’s request in composing a cello concerto of his own. Herbert had been principal cellist in the orchestra that premiered Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony on 16 December 1893. Herbert’s middle movement was in B minor, which may have inspired Dvořák to write his concerto in the same key. It was started on 8 November 1894 and completed on 9 February 1895.
After seeing the score, Hanuš Wihan made various suggestions for improvement, including two cadenzas, one at the end of the third movement. But Dvořák accepted only a few minor changes and neither of the cadenzas. The third movement was a tribute to his sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, née Čermakova, who had written him a letter in November 1894 saying she was seriously ill. Specifically, the slow, wistful section, before the triumphant ending, quotes his song “Leave Me Alone (Kéž duch můj sám)”, Op. 82, B.157, No. 1, a favorite of hers. She died in May 1895, after which the concerto was further revised.
Dvořák wrote to his publishers:
I give you my work only if you will promise me that no one – not even my friend Wihan – shall make any alteration in it without my knowledge and permission, also that there be no cadenza such as Wihan has made in the last movement; and that its form shall be as I have felt it and thought it out.
The finale, he wrote, should close gradually with a diminuendo “like a breath … then there is a crescendo, and the last measures are taken up by the orchestra, ending stormily. That was my idea, and from it I cannot recede”.
Hanuš Wihan first privately performed the concerto with the composer in Lužany in September 1895. Although he had rejected most of Wihan’s suggested changes, Dvořák still very much wanted Wihan to premiere the work publicly and had promised him that role. An account of the sequence of events whereby it did not happen is given by Clapham. Francesco Berger, Secretary of the London Philharmonic Society, wrote to Dvořák in November 1895 to invite him to conduct a concert of some of his works in London. Dvořák agreed and proposed to conduct the premiere of his Cello Concerto with Wihan as soloist. Berger proposed the date 19 March 1896, but that date was not convenient for Wihan (it may have clashed with concert dates for the Bohemian Quartet, to which Wihan was already contracted). The Philharmonic Society insisted on the date and hired the English cellist Leo Stern without consulting Dvořák. The composer then at first refused to come for the concert. “Berger was horrified and greatly embarrassed,” as the concert had already been advertised. Clapham conjectures that Wihan released Dvořák from his promise. Stern traveled to Prague to prepare his performance under Dvořák’s supervision. By early March, all was agreed, and the premiere took place on 19 March in Queen’s Hall, London, with Dvořák conducting. The cello played by Stern was the 1684 “General Kyd”, one of only about 60 cellos made by Stradivarius.
After the London performance, Stern again played the solo part in what may have been the second public performance, in Prague on 11 April 1896, and later again in London. In December 1896 and during 1897-1898 the concerto was performed by a few cellists and conductors in England and the United States, including Stern in Chicago in January 1897. Wihan went on to perform the concerto with great success, first in January 1899 at The Hague, and later for the first time under Dvořák’s baton in Budapest on 20 December 1899. Despite there having been so many public performances before Wihan’s first, he and Dvořák remained firm friends.
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor
Brahms’s Fourth Symphony was written in 1885 when he was fifty-two and starting to think of retirement and the time that remained. The symphony is a summation of its composer’s learning and technique, but for all its complexities it cuts as close to the heart as music can. One imagines that this is the work Brahms always wanted to write, a work in which form and function are balanced, in which technique opens new paths to expression, allowing him to voice his deepest convictions about all the unnamables that shape destiny. If any of Brahms’s music conveys a world view, this is it.
Listen to the first sighs in the strings. The voice is at once resigned and searching and its broad phrases are transformed for a moment into a nervous figure in the winds before growing into a lament of deep yearning. Throughout this movement, the nervous and the keening will alternate, and they fuse in the odd episode that sounds as though Brahms had entered the world of the tango, where dance steps offer a staccato accompaniment to long languid lines. By the end of the movement, all this has changed. A chapter that began with music saturated in regret has taken on resolve. The broad probing phrases of the opening bars are compressed into projectiles of energy, gathering momentum until they erupt in a cataclysmic climax.
The summons of a horn call begins the Andante moderato, outlining a figure that the winds take up, a pacing, tentative melody of closely spaced intervals, a melody that fails to range far from where it starts—we are still recovering from the upheaval in which the first movement ended. Soon, however, the possibilities of warmth in this theme are revealed, and the high strings enter to transform carefully ventured steps into a high-temperature flow of gloriously confident forward movement. Staccato bursts end this, but their energy dissipates quickly, and in their place comes one of Brahms’s most miraculously expansive creations. Even when those staccato jabs are later reprised in a more tortured form, the answer is the same. The opening movement was tragedy on an epic scale. The second movement is the response, offered in more human proportions. The great song at the heart of this Andante serves as a calmative to the stunned and anguished music that precedes it.
The aggressively upbeat scherzo seems initially out of place, given what comes immediately before and after, and yet it is utterly apt. We need some relief from the unremitting seriousness of the first two movements, and here Brahms supplies it. His humor, though, also has a crueler side. For this happy music will be followed by what, in 1885, was the most uncompromising, pessimistic conclusion ever heard in a symphony.
In his first two symphonies, Brahms had followed Beethoven’s model, ending each of those works in the affirmative. In his Third Symphony, he made an entirely novel ending, choosing to finish quietly. He followed that venture into new territory by going even farther in the Fourth Symphony. Here, in the finale, he wrote music not simply personal and not simply contemporary, but music that looked into the future, toward a century that would validate his apprehensions.
The irony is that Brahms’s vehicle for conveying this vision was an ancient musical form. Brahms the traditionalist was fascinated with the music of Bach and Handel. In his studies of the Baroque he familiarized himself with forms such as the passacaglia, a set of variations over a recurrent bass. He was especially taken with one he found in a cantata listed in the Bach catalogue as No. 150, a cantata whose very title lends meaning to this movement of the symphony, Nach Dir, Herr, verlanget mich—“I long to be near you, Lord.” Brahms was no conventional churchgoer, and though he may not have acknowledged any one deity as “Lord,” he had a sense of powers beyond the human. On the theme from Nach Dir, Herr—the eight chords that begin the finale—he builds his case: thirty-two variations that define a world. Brahms presents a constantly evolving drama, one that wastes no time covering ground already explored but that continues its explorations ever more deeply. He offers no happy ending—in fact, the end comes almost before we know it. As in life. And if we never know whether Brahms nears his “Lord,” whoever or whatever that might be, the answer is not important. The road is filled with detours and washed-out bridges, and we only hope we can negotiate the obstacles with grace. We may discard schedules and itineraries, but we don’t quite abandon the conviction that one day we may arrive at the destination. As we head there, we can be grateful for a traveling companion like Johannes Brahms.