Innocence (photo: Carlin Ma)

Saturday, February 8, 2025 • 7:30 p.m.

Harmonia Orchestra
William White, conductor
Katherine Goforth, tenor


Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)
Overture to Der Freischütz

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

— intermission —

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 26

About the Concert

Gustav Mahler was so enchanted by The Boy’s Magic Horn, a collection of Romantic German folk poems, that he set 14 of them for voice and orchestra , incorporating some into his early symphonies. The innocence of childhood in these songs stands in contrast to the innocence of a guileless artist, Dmitri Shostakovich, whose symphonies were deeply influenced by those of Mahler. Shostakovich’s multi-layered fifth symphony publicly served as a form of atonement to the Soviet government, which had found him guilty of artistic sins.

About the Soloist

Katherine Goforth

American vocalist Katherine Goforth shares the “thrilling tenor power” (Opera News) of her “noble, colorful and iridescent vocal sound” (Magazin Klassik) in vivid character portraits and heartfelt performances that “[do] not hold back” (The New York Times). Katherine is the recipient of Washington National Opera’s inaugural True Voice Award for transgender and non-binary singers and the Career Advancement Award from the fourth Dallas Symphony Orchestra Women in Classical Music Symposium. Based in Portland, she has appeared extensively as a soloist with Pacific Northwest-based arts organizations, including Portland Opera, Bozeman Symphony, Walla Walla Symphony, Yakima Symphony, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Opera Bend, Opera Theater Oregon, Sound Salon, Artists Repertory Theatre, Fuse Theatre Ensemble and Pink Martini. Katherine was a member of the International Opera Studio of Oper Köln, received her Bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, her Master’s degree from the Juilliard School, and attended the Franz-Schubert-Institut, Britten Pears Young Artist Programme, Heidelberger Frühling Liedakademie, Georg Solti Accademia, and Boston Wagner Institute.

Program Notes

Carl Maria von Weber
Overture to Der Freischütz

Weber was born in Eutin, near Lübeck, Germany, on November 18, 1786, and died in London on June 5, 1826. He began composing his opera Der Freischütz during 1817 and completed it in 1821, with the first performance taking place in Berlin on June 18 of that year. The overture calls for pairs of woodwinds, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.

Weber himself described the plot of Der Freischütz as follows: “An old hunter in the service of a Prince wants to give his loyal assistant, Max, the hand of his daughter, Agathe, and also appoint him his successor. The Prince agrees to this, but there exists an old law that requires the young man to undergo a severe shooting test. Another malicious and dissolute hunter’s assistant, Kaspar, also has his eye on the girl but has sold himself to the Devil. Max, who is otherwise an excellent shot, misses everything during the time immediately preceding the shooting test and, in his despair, is enticed by Kaspar into making so-called ‘free bullets,’ of which six invariably find their way home, but in return for which the seventh belongs to the Devil. This is meant to hit the poor girl and thereby plunge Max into despair and suicide, etc. However, heaven decrees otherwise; at the shooting test Agathe falls but so does Kaspar—the latter as the victim, the former only from fright.”

Weber’s overture encapsulates the overall arch of the action into a brilliant tone poem that employs musical material from the opera. English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, writing in a program note for an April 1932 performance he conducted, called the overture “a typical product of the Teutonic romantic movement of the early nineteenth century. The story …&8202;leaves a modern Anglo-Saxon audience, alas!, cold. But we must remember that out of this farrago evolved the great supernatural music dramas of Richard Wagner. … The dramatic tension engendered by tremolando strings and heavy drum notes, which we find in the introduction of this overture, became almost a bad habit with Wagner at tragic situations.” This slow introduction establishes the opera’s sylvan setting, the work’s opening bars yielding to an extended passage for four horns that Richard Taruskin has called “an unprecedented and electrifying effect that forever changed the nature of orchestral horn writing.” There follows an eerie passage derived from the second-act “Wolf’s Glen” scene, during which the magic bullets are cast. Weber wrote that this music “had to be a dark, gloomy color—the lowest register of the violins, violas and basses, particularly the lowest register of the clarinet, which seemed especially suitable for depicting the sinister.”

The tempo shifts to molto vivace as Weber presents a melody from Max’s first-act aria in which the hero laments being ensnared by sinister powers. The tonality modulates from C minor to E♭ major as solo clarinet introduces a theme taken from the finale of Agathe’s Act II aria in which she expresses her thanks for Max’s safe return. (“There can be little doubt,” Vaughan Williams wrote, “that if Weber had not written [this melody] Wagner would never have thought of Tannhaüser’s song in praise of Venus. Whether this is a subject for rejoicing or regret is a matter of individual taste.”) An extended development intermingles the themes of Max and Agathe, with the Wolf’s Glen music returning briefly before a blast of C major opens the coda, its jubilant harmonies foreshadowing the opera’s ultimately happy conclusion.

Dmitri Shostakovich
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 26

Shostakovich was born September 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg, and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975. He composed his fifth symphony between April 18 and July 20, 1937, in St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad), where the first performance was given on November 21 of the same year under the direction of Yevgeni Mravinsky. The work is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, E♭ clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani; snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano (doubling celesta) harp and strings.

Shostakovich was forced to “voluntarily” withdraw his fourth symphony by the Soviet authorities after a single rehearsal; the fifth symphony is the composer’s response to that act, a work that — on the surface — told the authorities what they wanted to hear. It opens with an arresting dotted rhythm that will pervade the first movement, which unfolds as a series of interrelated episodes that alternate tragedy and anguish with moments of serene beauty. The third movement will have a similar plan, so between the two Shostakovich inserts a scherzo that is equal parts Cossack dance and Mahlerian ländler, with biting harmonies and grotesque humor emphasized by the occasional insertion of an extra beat into the 3/4 meter. After the slow third movement dispenses with the brass entirely, emphasizing strings (the violins divided into three sections instead of the usual two) and episodes for solo woodwinds and horn, the brass come roaring back in the finale, a D-minor march that begins slowly but soon accelerates. After a slower central episode, timpani leads into a reprise of the march theme, resulting in a D major finale that was for many years believed to be a conclusion of genuine celebration. But in his 1979 memoir, Testament, Shostakovich relates that the rejoicing is forced, “as if someone is beating you with a stick and saying, ‘Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing.’ ”