Songs of the Heart

Jessica Hung, violin soloist

Violinist Jessica Hung (b. 1986) has served as Concertmaster of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008. Previously, Jessica held the same title with the Annapolis, Ashland, Chicago Civic, Cleveland Institute of Music, and Northwestern University Symphony Orchestras, as well as the position of Assistant Concertmaster with the Akron Symphony Orchestra. She has also performed as Principal Second Violin of the Blossom Festival Orchestra, as Guest Concertmaster with the Sinfonia Gulf Coast, and as a substitute violinist with the major orchestras of Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.

Jessica’s upcoming solo engagements during the DPO’s 2015–2016 season include performances of Ravel’s Tzigane on New Year’s Eve and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on the Classical series in January.

Jessica has served as adjunct faculty at the University of Dayton. She has been an instructor for the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, the Centerville Schools Orchestra Program, and the Piano Preparatory School in Beavercreek. Jessica has also adjudicated for competitions of the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Chamber Music Yellow Springs.

Jessica’s appointments in Dayton came on the heels of intensive training with William Preucil, Concertmaster of The Cleveland Orchestra, and Stephen Rose, Principal Second Violin. In 2007, she received a Bachelor of Music with Academic Honors from the Cleveland Institute of Music. She began her undergraduate education at Northwestern University, where she studied with Gerardo Ribeiro.

Jessica’s passion for orchestral music-making was evident in her student days, when she attended such prestigious training festivals as the Schleswig-Holstein Orchestral Academy in Germany and the New York String Orchestra Seminar. She spent two summers at the Tanglewood Music Center, where she performed major symphonic works with the Boston Symphony Orchestra after winning mock auditions. Her orchestral endeavors have taken her to the renowned venues of Carnegie Hall in New York and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

Jessica gave her solo concerto debut with the Chicago Youth Concert Orchestra at age twelve. She has since appeared as a soloist with the University of Chicago Chamber and Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestras. For five consecutive seasons, Jessica had a special relationship with the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra: she held the unique title of Resident Soloist and appeared annually on subscription programs featuring works from the Romantic violin concerto repertoire.

Jessica’s prizes include the Northwestern University Thaviu String Competition, Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Scholarship Auditions, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Feinberg Youth Auditions. She studied viola with Helen Callus of the University of California at Santa Barbara and has taken first place at the Chicago Viola Society Solo Competition. Jessica performed in master classes for Gil Shaham, Ruggiero Ricci, Zakhar Bron, Mauricio Fuks, Malcolm Lowe, Atar Arad, Bruno Pasquier, Lars Anders Tomter, the Beaux Arts Trio, and the Takács and Tokyo Quartets.

Born in Kankakee, Illinois, to Taiwanese parents, Jessica grew up in the Chicago area and currently resides in Dayton with her husband, John, and their two cats, Nikki and Aeneas.

Susan Platts, mezzo-soprano

British-born Canadian mezzo-soprano Susan Platts brings a uniquely rich and wide-ranging voice to concert and recital repertoire for alto and mezzo-soprano. She is particularly esteemed for her performances of Gustav Mahler’s works.

In May of 2004, as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, world-renowned soprano Jessye Norman chose Ms Platts as her protégée from 26 international candidates, and has continued to mentor her ever since. With the generous support of Rolex, Ms. Platts recently commissioned a work for mezzo-soprano and orchestra from celebrated Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich: Under the Watchful Sky, comprised of three songs using ancient Chinese texts from Shi Jing(“The Book of Songs”) that explore the universal passions and tribulations of humankind, was premiered by the Québec Symphony under Yoav Talmi in November 2010.

Ms. Platts has performed at Teatro alla Scala, Teatro di San Carlo, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center as well as with the Philadelphia, CBC Radio, Cleveland and Minnesota Orchestras, Orchestre de Paris, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Montreal, Toronto, American, Detroit, Milwaukee, Baltimore and Houston Symphonies, Les Violons du Roy, Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, the Los Angeles and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras. She has collaborated with many conductors including Marin Alsop, Roberto Abbado, Leon Botstein, Sir Andrew Davis, Andreas Delfs, Christoph Eschenbach, Jane Glover, Eliahu Inbal, Jeffrey Kahane, Bernard Labadie, Keith Lockhart, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Roger Norrington, Peter Oundjian, Itzhak Perlman, Bramwell Tovey, Osmo Vänska and Pinchas Zuckerman. Ms Platts has appeared on many distinguished art-song series including twice for both the Vocal Arts Society at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Ladies Morning Musical Club in Montreal, the Aldeburgh Connection in Toronto, and both the Frick Collection and on Lincoln Center “Art of the Song” series in New York City.

2012-13 highlights included her London and Berlin debuts, in John Adams’ Nixon in China (BBC Symphony) and her staged-opera debut in the role of Florence Pike in Britten’s Albert Herring at Pacific Opera Victoria. In addition she performed Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony; and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. 2013-14 brings her Vancouver Opera debut as Florence Pike, Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the Louisville Orchestra, Mahler’s Rückertlieder with the Chicago Philharmonic, Beethoven #9 with the Calgary Philharmonic and Vancouver Symphony, Mahler #2 with the Acadiana Symphony and Evansville Philharmonic, Elijah with the Harrisburg Symphony and Mahler #8 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Ms. Platts has recorded Das Lied von der Erde for Fontec Records with Gary Bertini conducting the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra, a CD of dramatic sacred art songs with pianist Dalton Baldwin, Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the Smithsonian Chamber Players and Santa Fe Pro Musica for Dorian Records and Brahms Zwei Gesänge with Steven Dann and Lambert Orkis on the ATMA label. Her first solo disc of songs by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms on the ATMA label enjoyed considerable critical acclaim.

John Pickle, tenor

Tenor John Pickle is quickly making a name for himself, most recently for his portrayals of Erik in Der fliegende Holländer, a role in which he debuted with Los Angeles Opera. Of a recent performance as the jilted hunter with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, the Kansas City Star raved, “Pickle’s emotionally wrought characterization drove this (performance) even harder home than usual.” In recent seasons, Mr. Pickle also enjoyed performances as Erik with Utah Festival Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre.

Favorite engagements from recent seasons also include Canio in Pagliacci with Michigan Opera Theatre; Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera and Don José in Carmen with Opera Tampa; Radames in Aida with Dayton Opera; Turiddu and Canio in Opera Delaware’s double-bill production of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci; and the title role in Candide with Fresno Grand Opera.

Mr. Pickle is an established talent on symphonic concert and recital stages throughout the country. He made his Houston Symphony debut as the tenor soloist in Mahler’s 8th Symphony conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Additional recent concert engagements include the tenor solo in Verdi’s Requiem with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Lima Symphony; the tenor soloist in a Night of Verdi Hits concert with the Santa Barbara Symphony; and Missa Solemnis with Utah Festival Opera. 

He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2008 performing Schubert’s Mass in G Major and the Mozart Requiem conducted by John Rutter, and performed the Mozart Requiem in the famed hall again in 2012. Additionally, he performed Verdi’s Requiem with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra; Händel’s Messiah with Greater Trenton Choral Society; Beethoven’s Mass in C Major with New Jersey Choral Society; Orff’s Carmina Burana with Cobb Symphony Orchestra and Long Bay Symphony; Bach’s St. John Passion with Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra; Bach’s Mass in B Minor with Gotham City Baroque Orchestra; and Gabriello Chiaramantesi/Un Cantore in Giordano’s rarely performed La cena delle beffe with Teatro Grattacielo in Alice Tully Hall.

Previous engagements include performing Cavaradossi in Tosca, Erik in Der fliegende Holländer, Calaf in Turandot, and a Gala Concert for Mobile Opera; Tybalt in Roméo et Juliette with Opera Grand Rapids; Rodolfo in La bohème for Baltimore Concert Opera; the Duke in Rigoletto with Center City Opera Theater; Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rodolfo in La Bohème, and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Opera Southwest; Kaspar in Amahl and the Night Visitors with Little Orchestra Society at Avery Fisher Hall; and Judge Danforth in The Crucible with Utah Festival Opera. Of a performance as Rodolfo, critics raved: “John Pickle brings a resilient, wonderfully placed sound and a sensitive musicality to Rodolfo that embraces each nuance of this rich score with an enviable mix of delicacy and strength.”

Felix Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, tympani and strings

This work was last performed by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in November 2012 with Virgil Boutellis-Taft, violin soloist, and Neal Gittleman conducting.

The vagaries of Felix Mendelssohn’s reputation are a superb illustration of how fleeting success can be. He certainly appeared destined for success. Brought up in a cultured and nurturing family of scholars and financiers, he excelled as a student of music and, while still a teenager, composed works of such elegance and sophistication that the noted critic Charles Rosen could justly describe him as “the greatest child prodigy the history of Western music has ever known.”

Mendelssohn’s work was not confined to composition. He was also an important scholar of music, particularly German music. Beginning in 1829 with a revival performance of what was then an obscure work by a largely forgotten composer, the St. Matthew Passion of J. S. Bach, Mendelssohn devoted himself to conducting performances of exemplary music by German masters. After a series of such concerts in 1841, Robert Schumann was so moved that he wished that “all Germany could have attended.”

Alas, his reputation suffered after his untimely death in 1847 at the age of 38. He was dismissed by George Bernard Shaw for his “kid-glove gentility, his conventional sentimentality,” and Friedrich Nietzsche, while praising Mendelssohn’s “happier soul,” could only concede that he was a “lovely incident in German music.” And Mendelssohn’s Jewish heritage led the Nazis to further denigrate his music, to the point that his statue in front of the Leipzig Conservatory, the institution he had founded and that had done so much for German musical life, was removed and destroyed.

Nevertheless, despite harsh appraisals and statuary insults, Mendelssohn’s music has continued to delight concert audiences, and his Violin Concerto in E minor has been particularly popular: orchestras regularly program the piece, and violinists consider it an essential part of the repertory.

The Violin Concerto had a long and troubled birth. Mendelssohn began working on the concerto in 1840; he told his friend the violinist Ferdinand David that the still-nascent work would not leave him alone. But he struggled to complete it. Scholars have suggested that Mendelssohn always found the concerto a difficult form, not because of its technical demands as a composition, but because the concerto—as a concert piece—demands virtuoso performance, and virtuoso performance can too often devolve into mere gymnastics, impressive displays of dexterity without a shred of artistry.

Nevertheless, Mendelssohn persisted, regularly consulting David about the piece. It was finished in 1844 and premiered in early 1845 with David as the soloist and was an immediate success. 

Although Mendelssohn is rarely discussed as an innovative composer, the Violin Concerto has several distinctive features. The first movement opens with the almost immediate entrance of the soloist, unlike the typical practice of the early nineteenth century. And the first movement ends with a presto coda that crescendos into a forte chord, out of which emerges a solo bassoon, leading without break into the lyrical second movement. Pianists in particular and music lovers in general may hear the second movement as reminiscent of some of Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words.” The last movement opens with a moody discussion between soloist and orchestra, before settling into an almost absurdly cheerful rondo that leads into a grand finale.

–Dennis Loranger, Lecturer in Music and Literature, Wright State University

Gustav Mahler
Das Lied von Der Erde

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, mandolin, tympani and percussion, 2 harps, celesta and strings 

This work was last performed by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in April 1994 with Isaiah Jackson conducting.

In 1908, when Mahler began work on Das Lied von der Erde, his life was in a shambles. The previous year his oldest daughter, Maria, just five years old, had contracted diphtheria and died. Mahler, a vigorous man who loved to cycle, swim, and mountain climb, had been diagnosed with a bad heart and was forced to curtail activities that he felt kept him not only physically but spiritually healthy. His wife, Alma, miserable over the death of their first-born, withdrew from him emotionally. And although he was successful as a conductor in Vienna, anti-Semitic journalists did everything they could to drive him from the podium.

In the midst of this personal and professional turmoil, Mahler took solace in a small book of poetry, Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute). Die chinesische Flöte was a collection of Chinese poetry, translated into German, with melancholy texts that fitted completely with Mahler’s own mood. He found such inspiration in their world-weariness that he sketched out a work built around them in the summer of 1908 and finished Das Lied in the following summer.

Like many of Mahler’s works, Das Lied von der Erde calls for a substantial orchestra that includes—beside the standard winds, brass, and strings—a large percussion section, two harps and, most surprisingly, a mandolin, all of this vast musical armature supporting two vocal soloists: an alto and a tenor. And like many of his works, Das Lied only rarely uses this enormous apparatus all at once; instead, he deploys the instruments as sets of varied chamber ensembles to convey the varied moods of the text.

Although entitled “the Song of the Earth,” and although singing dominates the sound, both critics and Mahler himself saw Das Lied von der Erde as a symphony, albeit in six movements, rather than the traditional four of the Classical symphony. The first movement accordingly is more or less in sonata allegro, complete with exposition, development, and recapitulation although—because it is a song—Mahler includes a refrain. The second movement, “The Lonely One in Autumn,” is a slow piece, the voice asking whether love will ever shine again, with the chilly violins apparently answering in the negative. The third and fourth movements, “Of Youth” and “Of Beauty,” each have a reminiscent quality about them, remembering both love and loss, or, as music critic Theodor Adorno said, expressing “unfettered joy and unfettered melancholy.”

As people sometimes do in melancholy situations, the singer of the scherzo-like fifth movement, “The Drunken Man in Spring,” resorts to strong spirits to boost his own mood, and if the bright moon fades into the black firmament, then he will drink again. The last movement, “The Farewell,” blends together the words of Chinese poets and Mahler himself. The very last lines of Das Lied von der Erde are Mahler’s own, a light of hope amidst his woes:

The dear Earth blossoms forth everywhere

in spring and grows green again!

Everywhere and eternally the horizon

shines blue and bright!

Eternally, eternally, eternally…

–Dennis Loranger, Lecturer in Music and Literature, Wright State University