The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will begin its 43rd season with a performance by guest artist Francisco Fullana, whose ties to music director Salvador Brotons go back two decades.
“Maestro Brotons was actually the first conductor I played with,” Fullana said. “I played Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto at the age of 9 for a school concert series with the Balearic Islands Symphony Orchestra.”
This 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, offering a spectacular performance of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. Today, 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 at the age of 15. He later attended Juilliard School where he obtained his BA and MA, which he followed with an Artist Diploma from USC Thornton School of Music. Fullana completed this with an Avery Fisher Career Fellowship in 2018. He has appeared in two recordings under the Orchid Classics label and another is due out in October.
Saint-Saëns wrote the Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor in 1880 when he was 44 years old. Dedicated to the legendary Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, the three movements of the concerto feature elements of French, Spanish and Italian motifs. Together with the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and La Havanaise, the Third Violin Concerto is considered to be Saint-Saëns’ most popular work for violin and orchestra.
“The Saint-Saëns is a wonderful piece,” said Fullana. “It is filled with many memorable passages. If I had to pick a favorite movement, that would be the second theme of the opening movement. It’s very sincere, beautiful, just magnificent music.
The third violin concerto is expected to 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 of this concerto is to balance the two greatest influences of its musical language: the French aesthetic and sound world of Saint-Saëns with the Spanish flavor that he added to it due to his friendship with Sarasate”, Fullana said. “But listeners can just get wrapped up in the intensity and emotional expression of Saint-Saëns – maybe even close their eyes at times.”
The main orchestral work that will be performed in this concert is Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor (“Tragic”). Schubert wrote it in 1816 when he was only 19 and worked as a schoolteacher. Scholars believe it may have been performed the same year by a private musical company in the Viennese home of composer and violinist Otto Hatwig, but the official premiere was in 1848, two decades after Schubert’s death.
Schubert was inspired by the stormy compositions in C minor by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
The slow introduction of Schubert’s Fourth Symphony is modeled on the depiction of chaos in Haydn’s opening The Creation. It sets the stage for the living 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’s unclear why he did this, but the work isn’t depressing. The symphony contains moving music and seems to aim for something higher. The second movement has a charming theme, and the menuetto of the third movement changes to a clearer major key and later to a cheerful Trio section. The finale is the longest and most complex of all the movements that Schubert composed until his famous “Unfinished Symphony”.
Brotons will also conduct the orchestra in Beethoven’s “Overture to Coriolanus”. He wrote it in 1807 at the age of 37 as stage music for a performance of the now obscure 1804 play of the same name by Heinrich Joseph von Collin – and not for Shakespeare’s work in similar title.
Beethoven’s composition succinctly conveys a story of personal tragedy and remorse. Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a 5th century Roman general, led successful campaigns against the enemies of Rome. 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 besieging the city, he rejected all the ambassadors until his mother and wife came begging him to stop. In a fit of regret and shame, he committed suicide.
Recognized from the outset for its dramatic and powerful music, the “Overture of Coriolanus” quickly became a staple of the orchestral repertoire. His emotional style should receive an exciting interpretation from Brotons and the orchestra.