Henri Lazarof (b. 1932)
Tableaux for Piano and Orchestra Violin Concerto Symphony No. 2
Henri Lazarof is a true polymath with significant parallelsto such eminent predecessors as Leonard Bernstein and Camille Saint-Sa?½ns, bothof whose breadth of knowledge in disparate fields embraced and exceeded theirprimary vocation as composers. Bernstein's talents as a teacher are well knownbecause of his televised broadcasts to children. Saint-Sa?½ns lectured onastronomy. Henri Lazarof, in addition to being a frequently performed composerwith commissions from the Seattle Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic and LondonSinfonietta, has taught composition as well as French language and literature.
Lazarof was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on 12th April, 1932, andbegan his musical studies at the age of six. He graduated from the SofiaAcademy in 1948 and studied at the New Jerusalem Academy of Music from 1949 to1952 and with Goffredo Petrassi at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome from1955 to 1957. In 1957 he moved to the United States and studied at BrandeisUniversity on a full scholarship with Arthur Berger and Harold Shapero. Hereceived his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1959. While a student at Brandeis,his considerable skill in composition was put to immediate use, bringing himearly recognition. In 1958, his String Quartet won first prize from Boston'sBrookline Public Library, and his Cantata received a commission from BrandeisUniversity 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. Threeyears later he joined the University's Music Department and eventually rose tothe rank of Emeritus Professor. In 1963 he organized the Festival ofContemporary Music, which featured music and lectures by Luciano Berio,Karlheinz Stockhausen and Leonard Stein. His international reputation receiveda boost in 1966 when he was awarded the first International Prize of Milan forStructures Sonores. In 1970-71, he completed seven major works while serving asartist in residence for the West German government in West Berlin. With thecompletion of his residency in Berlin, Lazarof returned in 1973 to UCLA, wherehe was named Artistic Director of its Contemporary Music Festival that year.Since that time works flowed from this diligent, hard-working composer who isalways honing his considerable craft.
For many years Lazarof had been quite taken with the artworkof the great Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, the seminal figure in theevolution of abstract art. After an initially negative reaction to the non-representationalquality of French impressionist painters at an exhibition in 1895, Kandinskycame far to exceed Monet and his colleagues in transcending the boundaries ofrealism. The child of musical parents, Kandinsky learned the piano and cellowhile young and had a profound feel for music. He once said that colour is thekeyboard, the eyes the harmonies, the soul the piano with many strings. LikeScriabin, he posited a strong connection between colour and musical harmony,associating tone with timbre, hue with pitch, and so forth. He claimed to seecolour when he heard music.
Kandinsky's beautifully crafted abstract paintings manifesta rhythmic vibrancy that reflects his sense of a musical-visual nexus. Perhapsit is that musical quality of his art that reinforced Lazarof's connection toKandinsky's works. A spur to the composer's decision to translate his resonanceto the artist came from pianist Alexis Weissenberg, who encouraged Lazarof tocompose a \large orchestral work, a kind of fresco". With the support of GerardSchwarz and the Seattle Symphony, which commissioned Tableaux, Lazaroftravelled to Paris, Munich and New York City, where he viewed hundreds ofKandinsky's painting. The resultant orchestral score is a bold, multi-huedtapestry of stunning instrumental colours, with textures ranging from the spareand intimate to the richly layered and voluminous.
The work is scored for piano soloist and a well-armedinstrumentarium of quadruple winds, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones,tuba, timpani, strings and a stunning array of percussion instruments includingmarimba, vibraphone and celesta. The opening and closing tableaux are for thepiano alone and frame seven other sections ingeniously and contrastinglyscored. Throughout the score a strong rhythmic presence impels the musicforward, even during relatively quiet, sparsely textured sections. Though ingeneral the harmonic vocabulary is spiky and at times acerbic, Lazarof makeseffective use of consonance and lyricism, as in the opening of the sixthtableau.
The pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed the solo part in theworld premi?¿re of Tableaux on 8th January, 1990, with Gerard Schwarz and theSeattle Symphony.
Lazarof composed his Violin Concerto between December 1985and July 1986 in Zurich and Los Angeles. The work resulted from a commissionfrom the Chamber Symphony of San Francisco and was dedicated to the composer'sson, David. By 1985 Lazarof had already composed nine concertos, each of whichexplores different combinations of orchestral sonorities in contrast with thevarious solo instruments. The Violin Concerto is scored for winds in pairs,strings, percussion, piano, celesta and harp and is conceived of as suitablefor performance by full- or chamber-sized orchestras depending on the number ofstrings employed. The Concerto is laid out in three movements, leading one toassume a traditional format, yet the movement titles suggest something otherthan a typical fast-slow-fast format. Marked Aria, Scherzo and Epilogue, thesuccessive movements show recurring thematic elements providing both unity andcontrast as they travel through the various sections of the orchestra.
In 1990, Lazarof composed his Symphony No. 2, in twomovements, in fulfilment of a commission from the Seattle Symphony, to whosemusicians the new work was dedicated. Gerard Schwarz led the premi?¿re on 23rdMarch, 1992.
The first movement opens with mysterious rising figurationsled by the clarinet, creating a bubbling effect, though one with a certaindegree of anxious expectancy. The ascending and pointillistic sonoritiescreated by various percussion recall the opening eruptive figure in the finaleof Mahler's Sixth Symphony, as well as the eerie passages accompanying thesuicide by drowning of Wozzeck in Alban Berg's eponymous opera, and even reachback to the eighteenth century "rocket theme," as, for example, in the finalesto Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik and his Symphony No. 40 in G minor. (Whetherconsciously evocative of any of these predecessors, Lazarof's music is aproduct both of its time and of the musical continuum through the ages.) Thoughactivity is constant, even bustling in its strings-based polyphony, theprevailing harmonic pacing unfolds slowly, led by defining chords in the brassinstruments. The frequent rising flourishes are parallelled by suddencrescendos, though both the dynamics and textures are lean and economical.
The second movement begins with low pedal in basses andtimpani, contrasted by quiet commentary from the slow strings and winds. Asudden burst of energy from the brass leads to increased motion and expressivedissonance. Where the first movement is contrapuntal, here Lazarof concentrateson dramatic use of impact-generating block chords. Periodic reminders of thefirst movement come in the shape of rising flourishes, articulated as quietechoes. After a series of wave-like accumulations of tension and release,interrupted by an extended quiet section, a serene chorale