Friday night the DSO performs a concerto that captures the courtship and marriage of an award-winning composer and his violinist wife.
It’s not every couple that preserves the memories of their courtship and marriage with a commemorative concerto.
But then not every couple possesses the prodigious talents of award-winning Philadelphia-based composer David Ludwig and his violinist wife, the internationally acclaimed Bella Hristova.
Ludiwig’s Violin Concerto will be performed on Friday evening at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington when the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) presents “The Bells of May,” the final concert of its 2015-2016 “Season of the Bells” Classics Series. Hristova will solo.
“There couldn’t be a more exciting way to end a symphony season,” DSO Executive Director Alan Jordan said. “I take personal pride in this work as David and I hatched the idea a few summers ago in Vermont.”
The concerto is a commission from an eight-orchestra consortium, including the DSO. The work received its world premiere at the VSO, the consortium leader, in mid-March followed by another performance in early April by the Kansas City Symphony. The concerto will be presented by each orchestra in the consortium during the next three seasons.
Ludwig knew immediately when he met Hristova that he wanted to marry her—that happened in August—and that he wanted to write music for her. Not just any kind of music but something that would speak to her artistry and celebrate their new life together.
“There are only a few concertos written for first performances by their spouses,” writes Ludwig in the program notes for the concerto’s world premiere. “And I don’t know of any that are motivated by the idea of marriage, as this one is.”
The semi-programmatic work celebrates partnership, empathy and communion as it imagines the before, during and after of a traditional wedding ceremony. The first movement which suggests the “dance” of courtship opens with a loud crash, a recognition of the trans formative power of love and commitment. The second movement “Ceremony” represents the wedding ritual itself, while the finale “The Festival” captures the way people attempt to walk home after a great party.
Along the way the piece references several wedding tunes as well as traditional Eastern European melodies and dances. (Both Ludwig and Hristova have Eastern and Central European backgrounds. Ludwig is the grandson of pianist Rudolf Serkin.)
The piece also contains a touching tribute to the father Hristova never knew, Soviet-era composer Yuri Chichkov. Ludwig tracked down a rare copy of the violin concerto Chichkov wrote decades ago and incorporated an excerpt from that work into the second movement of his own concerto.
The piece is a challenging one to perform, especially for the soloist.
“It’s rhythmically very complex in complicated odd meters with measures that aren’t symmetrical or that kind of lope in a way that more traditional Western music never does,” said DSO Music Director David Amado who will conduct. “I’m pretty sure that’s got to be a hats off to his bride.”
Hristova says she feels quite comfortable with the piece. “I feel like it fits my technique very well,” she said. “I love the meaning behind it but when I’m performing, I have to pull back a little bit and just treat it as a performance rather than get too emotional.”
Ludwig said the concerto owes much to Hristova, whom he credits as being his best editor. “She was an enormous help and helped make the writing for the violin really idiomatic,” he said. “Actually if you look at concerto history, so many have been written that way to the point where some of the great concertos have a violinist as part of the credits.”
Both Ludwig and Hristova have distinguished musical backgrounds.
A member of the Curtis Institute of Music faculty, Ludwig holds additional degrees from Oberlin Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music and the Julliard School. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
Ludwig has composed works for Jennifer Koh, Jonathan Biss, Benjamin Beilman, eight blackbird, the Borromeo Quartet, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the Philadelphia Orchestra and many others. In 2014, he scored the film “Cymbeline” starring Ethan Hawke and Ed Harris and looks forward to additional projects in cinema.
Born in Bulgaria, Hristova began violin studies at age six. She entered Curtis in 2003 and received an Artist Diploma from Indiana University in 2010. Hristova is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including a 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant. She has performed extensively both here and abroad. Her most recent recording” Belle Unaccompanied” features works by both contemporary composers.
Both Ludwig and Hristova would like to see the concerto achieve a life of its own in the contemporary violin repertoire but not at the expense of a deeper response.
“I hope the audience is moved,” Hristova said. “David said in Kansas City he saw a couple put their arms around each other during the second movement and that’s always something very sweet to see.”
“That’s a good starting-off point,” Ludwig said. “But ultimately for me, I want people to take away meaning whether or not they know what the piece is about. I want it to make an impression on them.”
The concert will close with Symphony No.11 of Dmitri Shostakovich, the musical remembrance of the Russian revolution of 1905 and a fitting end to the “Season of the Bells.”
Again, as in each of the five Classics Concerts of the 2015-2016 DSO season, the concert will feature sounds of the “Bells of Remembrance” onstage, this time four bells: C, G, A# and B. A number of the bells will be stationed outside The Grand Opera House, ready to be rung by concertgoers.
The large, refurbished church bells, assembled as a memorial project by Brother David Schlatter to honor victims of the 9-11 attacks, have tolled at observances around the country, but are housed here in Delaware.
What: “The Bells of May” final concert in the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s Classics Concert SeriesWhere: The Grand Opera House, 818 N. Market Street, WilmingtonWhen: Friday, May 6th, 7:30p.m., pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m.For more information and to purchase tickets: www.delawaresymphony.org