The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will kick of its 43rd season with a performance by guest artist Francisco Fullana, whose connection with music director Salvador Brotons stretches back two decades.
“Maestro Brotons was actually the first conductor I ever played with,” Fullana said. “I performed Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto when I was 9 for a series of school concerts with the Balearic Islands Symphony Orchestra.”
That early collaboration must have cemented a special bond between the two artists. Almost 10 years ago, the Spanish virtuoso made his debut with the Vancouver orchestra under Brotons, delivering a spectacular performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. Now the 31-year-old violinist is back, this time to play Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3.
Fullana first learned the concerto at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid as a 15-year-old. Later he went to The Juilliard School where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which he followed with an Artists Diploma from the USC Thornton School of Music. Fullana topped that off with an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2018. He has been featured in two recordings under the Orchid Classics label and has another scheduled for release in October.
Saint-Saëns wrote the Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor in 1880 when he was 44 years old. Dedicated to legendary Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, the concerto’s three movements have elements of French, Spanish and Italian motives. With the “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” and the “Havanaise,” the Third Violin Concerto is considered Saint-Saëns’ most popular work for violin and orchestra.
“The Saint-Saëns is a wonderful piece,” Fullana said. “It is filled with many memorable passages. If I had to select a favorite movement, it would be the second theme of the opening movement. It is very heartfelt, beautiful, just gorgeous music.”
The Third Violin Concerto should sound terrific on Fullana’s violin, the 1735 Mary Portman Guarneri del Gesu violin, which is on loan from Clement and Karen Arrison through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.
“The main challenge in this concerto is balancing the two biggest influences in its musical language: Saint-Saens’ French aesthetic and sound world with the Spanish flavor that he added to it due to his friendship with Sarasate,” Fullana said. “But listeners can simply allow themselves to be wrapped in Saint-Saens’ intensity and emotive expression — maybe even close their eyes at times.”
The main orchestral work that will be performed at this concert is Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor (“Tragic”). Schubert wrote it in 1816 when he was only 19 years old and working as a schoolteacher. Scholars think that it may have been performed that same year by a private musical society at the Vienna home of composer and violinist Otto Hatwig, but the official premiere took place in 1848, two decades after Schubert’s death.
Schubert drew inspiration from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven’s stormy C-minor compositions.
The slow introduction of Schubert’s Fourth Symphony is modeled after the representation of chaos in the overture to Haydn’s “The Creation.” It sets the stage for the lively allegro, which may have been derived from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 18. Schubert also cited Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, which was one of his favorite works.
The nickname “Tragic” was given by Schubert. He wrote it on the first page of the original manuscript. It is not known why he did this, but the work is not a downer. The symphony contains music that is stirring and seems to strive for something higher. The second movement has a lovely theme, and the third movement’s menuetto moves to a brighter major key and later to a cheerful Trio section. The finale is the longest and most intricate of all the movements that Schubert composed until his famous “Unfinished Symphony.”
Brotons will also lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture.” He wrote it in 1807 when he 37 years old as incidental music for a performance of the now obscure 1804 play of the same name by Heinrich Joseph von Collin — not for Shakespeare’s similarly titled work.
Beethoven’s composition succinctly conveys a story of tragedy and personal remorse. Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a Roman general from the 5th century, led successful campaigns against Rome’s enemies. But his political aspirations were unsuccessful and he was exiled. In revenge, he became a traitor and led an army of his former enemies to attack Rome. While he besieged the city, he rejected all ambassadors until his mother and wife came to beseech him to stop. In a fit of regret and shame, he committed suicide.
Recognized right away for its the dramatic and powerful music, the “Coriolan Overture” quickly became a staple of the orchestral repertoire. Its emotional style should receive an exciting interpretation from Brotons and the orchestra.