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Inside the Music

Program Notes: Dvořák Symphony No. 8

Pacho Flores seated on the edge of a red couch, holding a trumpet.
Pacho Flores | Credit Juan Martínez

On March 21 and 22, 2024, the Minnesota Orchestra presents Dvořák Symphony No. 8, with Domingo Hindoyan conducting music by Roberto Sierra, Pablo de Sarasate, Arturo Márquez and Antonín Dvořák, with trumpet player Pacho Flores as soloist in his own adaptation of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) and Arturo Márquez’s Concierto de Otoño for Trumpet and Orchestra.

The performances take place at Orchestra Hall on Thursday, March 21, and Friday, March 22, 2024. The March 22 performance will be broadcast live on Twin Cities PBS (TPT-2), with Ariana Kim serving as broadcast host, and will be available for online streaming on the Orchestra’s website and social media channels. It will also be broadcast live on stations of YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio, including KSJN 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities.

Program Notes

Roberto Sierra
Born: October 9, 1953, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico

Premiered: February 28, 2001

Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos, titled after the lively partner dance from Spain and Portugal, is what the composer calls a “super-fandango” drawing on his fascination with other composers’ fandango music mixed with his own Baroque-style musings, contemporary sonorities and imaginative orchestration.

Contemporary American composer Roberto Sierra—who hails from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico—is among the most prominent composers ever to come from the island, with an array of awards to his credit including the 2021 Latin Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition and the Tomás Luis de Victoria Prize in 2017. His music has earned two Grammy nominations and two additional Latin Grammy nominations. Across his four-decade career, his works have been performed by major orchestras and ensembles across the U.S. and Europe and at major festivals including the BBC Proms. Commissions have come from institutions such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Orquesta de Castilla y León. He studied composition in both Puerto Rico and Europe, including with György Ligeti at the Hochchule für Musik in Hamburg, Germany.


Sierra composed Fandangos on a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra, which premiered the work under the baton of then-Music Director Leonard Slatkin on February 28, 2001. Slatkin, who founded the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest and served as its artistic director from 1980 to 1989, brought Fandangos to Orchestra Hall for a program in November 2002. Over two decades passed before the Minnesota Orchestra performed any of Sierra’s music again—with Fandangos appearing on a May 2023 concert in Austin, Minnesota, as part of the ensemble’s Common Chords residency week. The composer provided the following note in the score:

“Antonio Soler’s Fandango for keyboard has always fascinated me, for its strange and whimsical twists and turns. My Fandangos is a fantasy, or a ‘super-fandango,’ that takes as its point of departure Soler’s work and incorporates elements of [Luigi] Boccherini’s Fandango and my own Baroque musings. Some of the oddities in the harmonic structure of the Soler piece provided a bridge for the incorporation of contemporary sonorities, opening windows to apparently alien sound worlds. In these parenthetical commentaries, the same materials heard before are transformed, as if one would look at the same objects through different types of lenses or prisms. The continuous variation form over an ostinato gave me the chance to use complex orchestration techniques as another element for variation.”

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, suspended cymbal, castanets, 2 cencerros, cowbell, tambourine, tamtam, tom-toms, wood block, vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, triangle, harp and strings 

Program note by Carl Schroeder.

Pablo de Sarasate
March 10, 1844, Pamplona, Spain
Died: September 20, 1908, Biarritz, France

Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), transcribed for Trumpet and Orchestra by Pacho Flores
Premiered: ca. November 1878 (original version for violin and orchestra)

A riveting lament, embellished with an array of trills and dramatic ornamentation, leads to a furious, brilliant and breathtaking conclusion in the soloist’s own trumpet transcription of a showpiece originally spotlighting violin.

As the opening serving of a two-course musical meal for trumpet and orchestra, soloist Pacho Flores delivers his own transcription of a virtuoso showpiece best known in its original form spotlighting violin: Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs). The Spanish Romantic-era violinist-composer was known in his day primarily as a performer, but he also enjoyed success as a composer, rising to fame in the generation just after Niccolò Paganini. His music, Zigeunerweisen in particular, is yet more evidence that the composers who have written most perceptively and virtuosically for violin have also been violinists—among Western composers, Vivaldi, Mozart, Sibelius, Bruch, Paganini and Wieniawski come to mind.


Sarasate’s credentials as a violinist were formidable, earned at a very young age in spite of his origins in the musical outskirts of Pamplona, the Basque city known for its annual Running of the Bulls. As is usually true with prodigious musical talent, one of his parents was a musician—in this case, his father, a violinist and military bandmaster who taught 5-year-old Pablo the basics. Perhaps his biggest career break came when his playing caught the attention of Spain’s Queen Isabella, who sponsored Sarasate’s enrollment at the Paris Conservatory at the tender age 12, and gave him a 1724 Stradivarius violin. As a teen, Sarasate quickly rose to fame as a fearless virtuoso with an unmatched technique that won not only ardent fans, but major competitions in Europe as well. This launched an international touring career that brought him to America twice and regularly to London, where he took audiences by storm. Not since Paganini had a fiddler caused this kind of sensation. He inspired a number of important composers to write pieces for him, among them Max Bruch, Édouard Lalo and Camille Saint-Saëns.

Early in his career, Sarasate began to perform his own works: extended, virtuosic fantasies based on themes from popular operas of the day. His fantasies on Georges Bizet’s Carmen and Charles Gounod’s Faust are bravura pieces that only the most gifted virtuosos need attempt. Regarding Sarasate’s idiomatic writing for the violin, the playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw may have said it best when he declared that though there were many composers of music for the violin, there were but few composers of violin music.


Sarasate’s best-known work is Zigeunerweisen, evoking the fire of Romani life. Written in 1878 and recorded by nearly every major violin virtuoso since, it has become a staple for violinists, often as a concert encore. In today’s performance, it is heard in modified form in which Pacho Flores has masterfully transcribed the violin part for trumpet—one virtuoso soloist tipping his cap to the other. Zigeunerweisen begins with about seven minutes of slow, soulful melodies, leading into a spectacular two-minute dash for the finish line—extremely demanding of the performer—that leaves audiences breathless.

Instrumentation: solo trumpet with orchestra comprising 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, triangle and strings

Program note by Michael Adams.

Arturo Márquez
Born: December 20, 1950, Álamos, Mexico

Concierto de Otoño for Trumpet and Orchestra
Premiered: September 7, 2018

Composed in 2018 specially for Pacho Flores, the Concierto de Otoño (Autumn Concerto) calls for four types of trumpet, merging Latin musical styles with the traditional fast-slow-fast concerto form, opening with an Afro-Cuban dance-infused dialogue between soloist and orchestra, continuing with a love song told in continuous variations, and concluding with a blazingly brilliant rondo.

Today’s orchestral composers are faced with a conundrum: ever-increasing amounts of new music must compete with centuries of familiar repertoire for space on concert programs, making it difficult for a work to become widely popular. Arturo Márquez, one of today’s most highly regarded Mexican composers, has not one but two runaway hits to his credit—the Danzón No. 2 and Conga del Fuego Nuevo (Conga of New Fire), both of which were heard at Orchestra Hall during the 2019 Sommerfest focused on music from Latin countries. This week’s performances bring the Minnesota premiere of a more recent work by Márquez: the trumpet concerto Concierto de Otoño (Autumn Concerto), featuring Pacho Flores, the same soloist who delivered the world premiere with the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico in 2018.


Márquez is known for absorbing musical forms and styles of his home country and incorporating them into his original compositions. “What I do,” he remarked while describing Danzón No. 2, “is to take up the spirit of the rhythm and the harmony and the melody and transport it to the concert hall.” Among his many honors, he has received grants from the Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico, the French Government and the Fulbright Foundation. In 2006 he became the first musician to receive the Medalla de Oro de Bellas Artes (Gold Medal of Fine Arts), the highest honor given to artists by Mexico’s government.

Concierto de Otoño, which was composed specifically for Pacho Flores, is cast in three movements, shining a spotlight on an instrument that has long been associated with various forms of Latin music dating to the fusion of European, African and Indigenous styles in the Americas. “The trumpet is the queen in the heart of Mexico,” Márquez comments. “We find it in practically every form of popular musical expression; it is the Mexican cry of joy and of sorrow. It is also foundational in Latin American concert music, and my Concierto de Otoño is a compilation of all those feelings, colors, and consolations.”

More specifically, the concerto spotlights four instruments from the trumpet family: the commonly heard trumpet in C in the first movement; both the flugelhorn and cornet in the second; and the more brightly toned trumpet in D in the finale. Márquez composed the work between January and June of 2018 on a joint commission from four orchestras: the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Hyogo PAC Orchestra of Japan and the Oviedo Filarmonía of Spain. Flores gave the concerto’s initial performances with these four orchestras between September 2018 and August 2019.


Annotator John Henken has offered a description of Concierto de Otoño that is abbreviated here:

SON DE LUZ. “Son of Light (the son is an Afro-Cuban dance genre) is a darkly dramatic dialogue for trumpet (in C) and orchestra in classic sonata form, exploring and resolving the encounter with ‘new horizons of peace and reconciliation.’”

BALADA DE FLORIPONDIOS. “The middle movement…is a song without words in tribute to ‘el amor brujo’ (‘love, the magician,’ as the phrase is often translated in reference to the famous dramatic work by Manuel de Falla, but also ‘enchanting love’). It develops as a set of continuous variations, like a chaconne, crooned by the soloist first on flugelhorn, then soprano cornet (in F).”

CONGA DE FLORES. “The finale is another Cuban dance with the soloist back on trumpet (in D). It is an absurdly difficult, blazingly brilliant monothematic rondo, with a place for an improvised cadenza. It evokes the spirits of Haydn, Chopin and Rafael Méndez, the legendary Mexican American musician known as ‘the Heifetz of the trumpet,’ in homage to Pacho Flores’ own dazzling breath control and double-tonguing technique.” 

Instrumentation: solo trumpet in C, trumpet in D, cornet and flugelhorn with orchestra comprising 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, snare drum, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, claves, congas, guiro, maracas, tambourine, xylophone, chimes and strings

Program note by Carl Schroeder, with musical description by John Henken.

Antonín Dvořák
Born: September 8, 1841, Mühlhausen, Bohemia (now Milevsko, Czech Republic)
Died: May 1, 1904, Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic)

Symphony No. 8 in G major, Opus 88
Premiered: February 2, 1890

Dvořák’s Eighth is full of luminous melodies and unexpected harmonic shifts. The second movement alludes to the funeral march of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, but lighter elements prevail in a whirlwind finale that is delightfully Czech.

In the summer of 1889, Antonín Dvořák took his family to their summer retreat at Vysoka in the countryside south of Prague. There, amid the rolling fields and forests of his homeland, he could escape the pressures of the concert season, enjoy the company of his wife and children, and indulge one of his favorite pastimes: raising pigeons. 


Dvořák also composed a great deal that summer. On August 10 he completed his Piano Quartet in E-flat major, writing to a friend that “melodies pour out of me,” and lamenting: “If only one could write them down straight away! But there—I must go slowly, only keep pace with my hand, and may God give the rest.”

A few weeks later, on August 25, he made the first sketches for a new symphony, and once again the melodies poured out: he began the actual composition on September 6, and on the 13th the first movement was done. The second movement took three days, the third a single day, and by September 23 the entire symphony had been sketched. The orchestration was completed on November 8, and Dvořák himself led the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in Prague on February 2, 1890. From the time Dvořák had sat down before a sheet of blank paper to the completion of the full score, only 75 days had passed. 


ALLEGRO CON BRIO. “Symphony in G major,” says the title page, but the beginning of this work is firmly in the “wrong” key of G minor, and this is only the first of many harmonic surprises. It is also a gorgeous beginning, with the cellos singing their long wistful melody. But—another surprise—this theme will have little to do with the actual progress of the first movement. We soon arrive at what appears to be the true first subject, a flute theme of an almost pastoral innocence (commentators appear unable to resist describing this theme as “birdlike”), and suddenly we have slipped into G major. There follows a wealth of themes; one observer counted six separate ideas in the opening minutes of this symphony. Dvořák develops these across the span of the opening movement, and the cellos’ somber opening melody returns at key moments, beginning the development quietly and later blazed out triumphantly by the trumpets at the stirring climax.

ADAGIO. The two middle movements are just as free. The Adagio is apparently in C minor, but it begins in E-flat major with dark and halting string phrases; the middle section flows easily on a relaxed woodwind tune in C major in which some have heard the sound of cimbalom and a village band. A violin solo leads to a surprisingly violent climax before the movement falls away to its quiet close.

ALLEGRETTO GRAZIOSO. The third movement opens with a soaring waltz in G minor that dances nimbly along its 3/8 meter; the charming center section also whirls in 3/8 time, but here its dotted rhythms produce a distinctive lilt. The movement concludes with nice surprises: a blistering coda, Molto vivace, whips along a variant of the lilting center section tune, but Dvořák has now transformed its triple meter into a propulsive 2/4. The movement rushes on chattering woodwinds right up to its close, where it concludes suddenly with a hushed string chord.

ALLEGRO MA NON TROPPO. The finale is a variation movement—sort of. It opens with a stinging trumpet fanfare, an afterthought on Dvořák’s part, added after the rest of the movement was complete. Cellos announce the noble central theme (itself derived from the flute theme of the first movement), and a series of variations follows, including a spirited episode for solo flute. But suddenly the variations vanish: Dvořák throws in a Turkish march full of rhythmic energy, a completely separate episode that rises to a great climax based on the ringing trumpet fanfare from the opening. Gradually things calm down, and the variations resume as if this turbulent storm had never blown through. Near the end comes lovely writing for strings, and a raucous, joyous coda—a final variation of the main theme—propels this symphony to its rousing close.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings

Program note by Eric Bromberger.