About this Recording
8.559159 - LAZAROF: Tableaux / Violin Concerto / Symphony No. 2
English  German 

Henri Lazarof (b

Henri Lazarof (b. 1932)

Tableaux for Piano and Orchestra • Violin Concerto • Symphony No. 2

 

Henri Lazarof is a true polymath with significant parallels to such eminent predecessors as Leonard Bernstein and Camille Saint-Saëns, both of whose breadth of knowledge in disparate fields embraced and exceeded their primary vocation as composers. Bernstein’s talents as a teacher are well known because of his televised broadcasts to children. Saint-Saëns lectured on astronomy. Henri Lazarof, in addition to being a frequently performed composer with commissions from the Seattle Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic and London Sinfonietta, has taught composition as well as French language and literature.

 

Lazarof was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on 12th April, 1932, and began his musical studies at the age of six. He graduated from the Sofia Academy in 1948 and studied at the New Jerusalem Academy of Music from 1949 to 1952 and with Goffredo Petrassi at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome from 1955 to 1957. In 1957 he moved to the United States and studied at Brandeis University on a full scholarship with Arthur Berger and Harold Shapero. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1959. While a student at Brandeis, his considerable skill in composition was put to immediate use, bringing him early recognition. In 1958, his String Quartet won first prize from Boston’s Brookline Public Library, and his Cantata received a commission from Brandeis University for its 1959 Arts Festival.

 

In 1959 Lazarof moved to California, where he still lives, and took a position as teacher of French language and literature at UCLA. Three years later he joined the University’s Music Department and eventually rose to the rank of Emeritus Professor. In 1963 he organized the Festival of Contemporary Music, which featured music and lectures by Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Leonard Stein. His international reputation received a boost in 1966 when he was awarded the first International Prize of Milan for Structures Sonores. In 1970-71, he completed seven major works while serving as artist in residence for the West German government in West Berlin. With the completion of his residency in Berlin, Lazarof returned in 1973 to UCLA, where he was named Artistic Director of its Contemporary Music Festival that year. Since that time works flowed from this diligent, hard-working composer who is always honing his considerable craft.

 

For many years Lazarof had been quite taken with the artwork of the great Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, the seminal figure in the evolution of abstract art. After an initially negative reaction to the non-representational quality of French impressionist painters at an exhibition in 1895, Kandinsky came far to exceed Monet and his colleagues in transcending the boundaries of realism. The child of musical parents, Kandinsky learned the piano and cello while young and had a profound feel for music. He once said that colour is the keyboard, the eyes the harmonies, the soul the piano with many strings. Like Scriabin, he posited a strong connection between colour and musical harmony, associating tone with timbre, hue with pitch, and so forth. He claimed to see colour when he heard music.

 

Kandinsky’s beautifully crafted abstract paintings manifest a rhythmic vibrancy that reflects his sense of a musical-visual nexus. Perhaps it is that musical quality of his art that reinforced Lazarof’s connection to Kandinsky’s works. A spur to the composer’s decision to translate his resonance to the artist came from pianist Alexis Weissenberg, who encouraged Lazarof to compose a “large orchestral work, a kind of fresco”. With the support of Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, which commissioned Tableaux, Lazarof travelled to Paris, Munich and New York City, where he viewed hundreds of Kandinsky’s painting. The resultant orchestral score is a bold, multi-hued tapestry of stunning instrumental colours, with textures ranging from the spare and intimate to the richly layered and voluminous.

 

The work is scored for piano soloist and a well-armed instrumentarium of quadruple winds, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, strings and a stunning array of percussion instruments including marimba, vibraphone and celesta. The opening and closing tableaux are for the piano alone and frame seven other sections ingeniously and contrastingly scored. Throughout the score a strong rhythmic presence impels the music forward, even during relatively quiet, sparsely textured sections. Though in general the harmonic vocabulary is spiky and at times acerbic, Lazarof makes effective use of consonance and lyricism, as in the opening of the sixth tableau.

 

The pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed the solo part in the world première of Tableaux on 8th January, 1990, with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony.

 

Lazarof composed his Violin Concerto between December 1985 and July 1986 in Zurich and Los Angeles. The work resulted from a commission from the Chamber Symphony of San Francisco and was dedicated to the composer’s son, David. By 1985 Lazarof had already composed nine concertos, each of which explores different combinations of orchestral sonorities in contrast with the various solo instruments. The Violin Concerto is scored for winds in pairs, strings, percussion, piano, celesta and harp and is conceived of as suitable for performance by full- or chamber-sized orchestras depending on the number of strings employed. The Concerto is laid out in three movements, leading one to assume a traditional format, yet the movement titles suggest something other than a typical fast–slow–fast format. Marked Aria, Scherzo and Epilogue, the successive movements show recurring thematic elements providing both unity and contrast as they travel through the various sections of the orchestra.

 

In 1990, Lazarof composed his Symphony No. 2, in two movements, in fulfilment of a commission from the Seattle Symphony, to whose musicians the new work was dedicated. Gerard Schwarz led the première on 23rd March, 1992.

 

The first movement opens with mysterious rising figurations led by the clarinet, creating a bubbling effect, though one with a certain degree of anxious expectancy. The ascending and pointillistic sonorities created by various percussion recall the opening eruptive figure in the finale of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, as well as the eerie passages accompanying the suicide by drowning of Wozzeck in Alban Berg’s eponymous opera, and even reach back to the eighteenth century “rocket theme,” as, for example, in the finales to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik and his Symphony No. 40 in G minor. (Whether consciously evocative of any of these predecessors, Lazarof’s music is a product both of its time and of the musical continuum through the ages.) Though activity is constant, even bustling in its strings-based polyphony, the prevailing harmonic pacing unfolds slowly, led by defining chords in the brass instruments. The frequent rising flourishes are parallelled by sudden crescendos, though both the dynamics and textures are lean and economical.

 

The second movement begins with low pedal in basses and timpani, contrasted by quiet commentary from the slow strings and winds. A sudden burst of energy from the brass leads to increased motion and expressive dissonance. Where the first movement is contrapuntal, here Lazarof concentrates on dramatic use of impact-generating block chords. Periodic reminders of the first movement come in the shape of rising flourishes, articulated as quiet echoes. After a series of wave-like accumulations of tension and release, interrupted by an extended quiet section, a serene chorale evolves from the aggressive harmonic material and brings the work to a pensive but not entirely restful close.

 

Steven Lowe

© 2003 Seattle Symphony


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