Roll over Vivaldi? Daniel Hope to perform a retooled “Four Seasons” at Ravinia
When Max Richter was a child, he loved Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. But with time and and familiarity, that initial thrill faded as he heard the ubiquitous piece everywhere from supermarkets to elevators.
So Richter, a 46-year-old British composer known primarily for his film scores, decided it was time for Vivaldi to get a makeover. The result was Four Seasons Recomposed, a kind of postmodern reworking of Vivaldi’s classic.
“It was an attempt to rediscover it for myself, as a piece of music,” said Richter. “I wanted to fall in love again, really. That’s what I set out to do.”
Next Sunday, June 23, Daniel Hope performs Four Seasons Recomposed at the Ravinia Festival, with the Chicago Philharmonic and conductor Tito Muñoz. Hope has performed the work quite a few times, and has recorded it on Deutsche Grammophon, for the label’s ReComposed series. This performance marks Hope’s solo Ravinia debut; the British violinist previously performed at the festival as a member of the Beaux Arts Trio.
Fooling around with a masterwork is a concept that might seem offensive to some. “The idea of taking something like this and in a sense, messing with it, could be something people would object to,” said Hope, 39, who currently lives in Vienna. “If you look at the idea on paper, you might be forgiven for thinking, ‘Why would someone recompose something so great?’ But you realize that there is great reverence towards the original.”
Richter isn’t the first to retool Vivaldi’s inescapable quartet of concertos. The Four Seasons has spawned a host of versions and inspirations, from concertos by Philip Glass and Mark O’Connor to crossover versions by violinist David Garrett and the electric violin quartet Bond.
Richter approached Hope about playing the piece. “He asked me, and said, ‘I’d like to recompose The Four Seasons,’” Hope recalled. “I said, ‘What’s wrong with the original?”
But when Hope later saw the score, he was sold. “The minute I saw the sketches, I realized this was someone who was serious about what he was doing,” he said.
Because the work has tricky rhythms and patterns, and passages that are just barely different from the original, Hope performs it with music. “The simple reason is that I’ve been playing the original since I’m a little boy, and there are such subtle changes in the rhythms,” he said. Instead he plays it from an iPad, and uses a foot pedal to turn pages. The device creates its own new frame, literally. “The iPad gives it a recomposed feel,” said Hope.
Richter’s Four Seasons keeps Vivaldi’s essential structure of four short violin concerti, each with three movements. Richter adds an overture before “Spring,” the first concerto of the set. He borrows quite a bit of material from the original, and the work is filled with familiar melodies.
Sometimes, Richter utilizes looping, and layers familiar passagework for an intensification effect. In other sections, Richter takes little bits of Vivaldi’s thematic material and then moves further in his own direction, sometimes using repetition to give the work a minimalist quality.
Different movements have different amounts of original material, said Richter. “I haven’t done a note count, but within “Summer” it’s probably 50-50,” he said. “In other seasons I’ve taken away much more.” Richter’s version runs about 44 minutes, about the same as Vivaldi’s. In addition to solo violin, Richter’s scoring includes strings, electronics and harpsichord.
Hope has a particular fondness for the third movement of “Summer.” “It takes the whole storm element of Vivaldi and takes it a further dimension,” he said.
In the second movement of “Winter,” Richter places a romanticized version of Vivaldi’s theme over shimmering strings. “He pulls the theme out and places it a in different cosmos,” said Hope.
Hope is particularly excited to perform the piece outdoors. “I’m thrilled to play it in Ravinia, and to do it outside in the elements is a nice way of making music,” he said.
Is Vivaldi rolling over in his grave? Hope doubts it, since Vivaldi lived in a time when borrowing from other composers was the norm.
“He was such an outrageous figure, and there are descriptions of him playing live with women fainting because of the speed he would play and the scratchiness of his ponticello,” said Hope. “I’m sure he’d love it. He’d be actually thrilled, and combine it with his own Four Seasons.”
As for Richter, he did in fact fall in love all over again with Vivaldi. “Listening to the original now, I’m struck by just how fantastic it is,” he said.
Daniel Hope performs Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed 7 p.m. Sunday, June 23 at the Ravinia Festival. The program also includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Arvo Pärt’s Fratres. 847-266-5100; ravinia.org.