Tuesday, June 22 at 7:30
Ed Landreth Auditorium
Young Artists Concerto Competition
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Tomasz Golka

Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op. 25                                                         Felix Mendelssohn

               1. Molto allegro con fuoco.                                                                             (1809-1847)

               2. Andante.

               3. Presto. Allegro vivace.

The music of Mendelssohn is like Steuben glass - pure, translucent, beautifully organized and always perfectly proportioned. Much has been said about Mendelssohn's rigorous and highly cultured education by his wealthy, sensitive and patriarchal father, and how he absorbed the traditions of his Jewish faith. Although it is true that his life cannot be separated from his music, and that his conservative instincts in a revolutionary age made him somewhat of an anachronism, it is also true that his unparalleled musical talent, evident so early in his life, made him one of the most natural musicians of all times. He was no musical specialist, yet he was one of the finest pianists of his day, often described by his contemporaries as having a quick-silver touch, that his fingers could sing. He was a musicologist and a scholar who spoke seven languages fluently and elegantly. He single-handedly rejuvenated and re-introduced to the Western World the music of Bach, whose music in Mendelssohn's time was grudgingly respected but almost totally neglected. By performing the almost never heard monumental St. Mathew Passion with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig , he created a musical revolution. He was a magnificent conductor with impeccable style and perfect ear. He was an equally superb violinist, therefore it is not surprising that he wrote a large amount of chamber music for a variety of instrumental combinations. In simple terms, he was a universal musical genius.

 

Mendelssohn began this concerto in Rome , in September 1830 and finished in Munich a year later. He was the soloist at the first performance in October 1831. At this concert he also conducted his own First Symphony and the Overture of his Midsummer Night's Dream. The King of Bavaria was present and at his request he also improvised on a theme of Mozart. So was Delphine von Schauroth, a lovely young pianist with whom Mendelssohn was infatuated at that time to such extent that he allowed her to compose one of the passages of this concerto. We do not know which one, so we just have to accept Mendelssohn's word.

 

This Concerto is a virtuoso showpiece. It has no cadenzas and it does not need any for the piano is used throughout to display the virtuosity of the pianist. No wonder that the most famous virtuoso of the day and an admirer of Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt played it often. The three movements are not separated by pauses but a fanfare of brass connects the first movement to the second and introduces the third. Throughout the piano's bravura highlights the musical content and brightens it with its fleet-fingered shine.

 


Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op. 11                                                            Frederick Chopin

               1. Allegro maestoso                                                                                         (1810-1849)

               2. Romanze: Larghetto

               3. Vivace

Frederick Chopin was born in Poland to a French émigré father and a Polish mother. He received his music education in Warsaw and his phenomenal talent became evident early. By 1828, in Vienna , the capital city of Austria one of the true musical centers of Europe , he was playing concerts with enormous success. His goal, however, was Paris and he emigrated to the French capital in 1831, where most of the great musicians of his time congregated. For the rest of his life Paris was his home base. Chopin played his debut there 1832. Mendelssohn, Hummel, Clementi, Liszt and many others of the most famous were present.

 

Although he spoke French, he considered himself a Pole and followed the events of Poland very closely. Much of his music contains Polish folk music and his fervent nationalism permeates his unique style. He composed almost exclusively for the piano, and unashamedly he declared that the piano was the source of all his inspiration. Only his weak physique limited his artistic success. He was of frail stature and fairly early contracted tuberculosis, the illness that caused his death at age 39.

Chopin wrote two Piano Concertos when he was barely 20 years old and while he was still living at Warsaw . Although the e-minor has a lower opus number than the f-minor, the f-minor was composed a year earlier but published a year later, thus the discrepancy. Both works are concertos with orchestra instead of concertos and orchestra. Piano was the instrument par excellence of the romantic age. Chopin wrote almost exclusively for the piano. Franz Liszt, possibly the greatest virtuoso of the piano and a close friend of Chopin, paid tribute to his friend by declaring that Chopin, more than anyone else, found the soul of the piano. The orchestra score of these concertos are often criticized as subservient to the piano. This is too harsh. The orchestral introduction of this e-minor concerto is well scored and sets the mood for what follows. For Chopin the orchestra served as a superb canvas for the piano to draw on; to paint and design the music with the colors of the brilliance of his beloved instrument. Indeed it requires a superb conductor and a sensitive group of orchestra players do justice to this music, to highlight the inimitable colors of Chopin's piano. Much has been said about the instantly recognizable, unique tone of Chopin, about his silver-garland ornamentations and his unfailing sense of harmonic structure. But more than that, in this concerto Chopin gives us, as on a silver platter, some of his most beloved melodies and Polish dance-tunes. Chopin's piano, even at its most virtuoso-pianistic passages, sings with the voice of angels and it can dance, as in the last movement, with the light-footed brilliance of a ballerina. All said, this concerto is for virtuosos only and for that exclusive small group of pianists who can make the piano sing.


Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat major, Op.73                                            Ludwig van Beethoven
               1. Allegro                                                                                                             (1770-1827)

               2. Adagio un poco mosso.

               3. Allegro.

Beethoven revolutionized music like no composer before or since. He freed music from its eighteenth century “classical” restraints and pointed the way to music's greatest century, the Romantic Age. In the true spirit of the French Revolution he openly proclaimed the primacy of the individual and that of the artist, the creator. This son of a court musician, Beethoven, who lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was barely eighteen, who had to struggle with illnesses and constant financial and family crises, who was forced to realize at age 28 that he will be deaf within a few years, gave humanity a treasure trove of great music. “O men who consider me, or describe me as quarrelsome, peevish or misanthropic, how greatly you wrong me!…I had to cut myself off and live in solitude…I could not find it in myself to say to people ‘Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf!'….I came near ending my life – only my art held me back….Oh God, you look down on my soul, and you know that it is filled with love of humanity…Oh my fellow men, when you read this some day, reflect that you have done me wrong and let him who is unfortunate comfort himself with the thought that he has found someone equally unfortunate who, despite all the burdens placed on him by nature, did all which was in his power to earn a place among the worthy artists and human beings”. These heartbreaking words from his premature last will, the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, written in 1802, reveal a lonely soul who will not be defeated by fate. His numerous sketchbooks are documents of an immense creative struggle to reach a self-imposed perfection. He kept these throughout his life, jutting down ideas as they came to him, mercilessly altering, adding, transforming, cutting and discarding. Looking at these tormented pages, we see his soul, the soul of a searching, restless creative genius who had to write music to communicate with his fellow man, because fate denied him the means to do it with words. In this process Beethoven transformed himself into a monumental, heroic elemental force, paralleled only by a very few in the history of mankind. His music has been accurately described as the voice of humanity, trying to communicate with God.

 

Beethoven composed this, his fifth Piano Concerto, in 1809 in Vienna while the city was under siege and ultimately conquered by Napoleon and the French army. It maybe far fetched but no lesser figures such as Alfred Einstein hear “military” music in the first movement of this concerto, others speculate that Beethoven was obsessed with the key of E-flat major, his “heroic” key because simultaneously he composed other masterworks in the same key (Quartet Op.74, Piano Sonata Op. 81) but whatever the case may be, this concerto is a shiny, brilliant, large scale work of heroic proportions. By that time Beethoven was fully aware that he will be deaf in no time, cannonballs were flying around and Beethoven had to find shelter in the basement of his brother's house, and yet he was able to compose such glorious, optimistic music as this Concerto. The first movement opens with three triumphant chords and on each of them the piano displays virtuoso short cadenza-like passages as if announcing to the audience that here I am, watch out for who I am. Then, as the dialogue between the piano and the orchestra continues, the tension rises until the inevitable return of the opening chords and the piano responses that announce the triumphant recapitulation. It is not an accident that the second movement is a gentle, lilting understatement and it is a stroke of genius that Beethoven puts it in c-flat major that he conveniently writes out in b-major. At the end, as the note drops a semitone, we have a moment of frozen expectation, waiting for the unknown. It turns out to be the rambunctious, energetic theme of the closing Rondo. This closing movement is an irresistible elemental force that brings this glorious concerto to a triumphant end.

Program notes by Stephen Seleny

 

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Tuesday, June 22 at 7:30
Ed Landreth Auditorium
Young Artists Concerto Competition
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Tomasz Golka

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18                                                    Sergei Rachmaninoff

          1. Moderato. Allegro. Maestoso. Tempo primo                                              (1873-1943)

          2. Adagio sostenuto. Piu animato. Tempo primo.

          3. Allegro scherzando. Moderato. Tempo primo.

                    Presto. Moderato. Tempo primo. Maestoso. Risoluto.

Much has been said about the mesmerizing quality of Rachmaninoff's piano playing. That he was a giant at the piano is undisputed but only those who had the unique fortune to hear him in person can attest to power of his personality. The writer of these notes – as a young student of music – heard one of his unforgettable concerts. Whatever he played, be it Schumann, Chopin or his on compositions, imprinted the indelible impression that it cannot and should not ever be played any other way but his.

 

As a composer Rachmaninoff was no less intense. His music, even at its most radiant as in this Concerto, has a brooding quality that consistently captivates the audience. Yet, he constantly doubted his creating powers to such extent that after the failure of his First Symphony, in 1897 he started to drink excessively and was unable to compose for the next three years. He tried to escape his self-imposed depression by playing excessive number of concerts. After the success of his first Piano Concerto (which he composed earlier) with the London Philharmonic, on the impulse of the moment, Rachmaninoff promised a “better” Concerto for his next concert. Doubting his creative powers he fell into deep depression. He wanted to keep his promise but he was unable to pick up his pen. Fortunately for him – and for us - he encountered Dr. Dahl, a pioneering psychiatrist whose specialty was to treat alcoholics through hypnosis. He succeeded. After months of treatment Rachmaninoff never again picked up a glass of wine for the rest of his life and within a few months he completed his C minor concerto. The last two movements were completed first. The firs movement gave the composer the most trouble, to such extent that in a letter to one of his friends, a few days before its first performance, he wrote: “…I consider the whole movement ruined and from this minute it has become positively hideous for me. I am simply in despair”! Although Dr. Dahl was able to cure Rachmaninoff's alcoholism, his depressive tendencies reappeared periodically.

 

Rachmaninoff was wrong. The C minor Concerto became a huge success at its premiere, with the composer as the soloist and it still is one of the most popular. It is superfluous to analyze this concerto – it is so well known. It is one of those works of art where everything fits and is perfect on its own term. Its broad lyricism, its melodies, its exquisite orchestration has an instant appeal to today's audiences that seems to be saturated with the infantile, mechanical drumbeat-noise of “today's music”. It is true that Rachmaninov captivates with his pianistic virtuosity that embellishes the rhapsodic variety of his music but above all he captures his audiences with his unashamed, heart warming, over-heated romanticism that is the complete opposite of today's impersonal milieu.

 

Piano Concerto A minor, Op. 56                                                                       Robert Schumann

          1. Allegro affetuoso                                                                                               (1810-1856)

          2. Intermezzo: Andantini gracioso – Allegro vivace.

Schumann suffered mental imbalance throughout his mature life. He was either independent of others or urgently needed their friendship. He invented the imaginary personalities of Florestan and Eusebius as representatives of his split personality and composed jewels of piano-solo masterworks around them. It is a curious twist of his creative genius that his longest piano work, this a-minor concerto, is built on variety instead of conflict. Its all-overriding lyricism moves this concerto forward and gives the audience nearly 40 minutes of intimate enjoyment.

 

In 1840, after much tribulation and against many obstacles, Schumann married Clara Wieck, a celebrated piano virtuoso and Robert's one and only real love and partner for life. He composed a Fantasia for piano and orchestra in 1841 for her that was performed by Clara at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig but it received no public notice. Four years later Schumann composed two additional movements and with the Fantasia, as the first movement, it became the concerto we know today. At the first performance in Dresden in 1845, Clara was the soloist. Although at first the concerto was less than an overwhelming success, within a couple of years, as Clara immersed herself in the subtle nuances and mastered its difficulties completely, it became a favorite concerto of the German audiences. It is still one of the most loved piano concerto, all over the world.

 

This concerto is not a virtuoso show piece. “My concerto is a compromise between a symphony and a concerto and a huge sonata. I find that I cannot write a concerto for the virtuosi” wrote Schumann. There is only one cadenza for the first movement and Schumann wrote it out to prevent any improvisation by the soloist. Although it is difficult, it is not a virtuoso exhibition. Neither is the piano part of this concerto – and therein lays this Concerto's supreme difficulty. Whereas in most so called “virtuoso concertos” the well trained fingers will almost carry the pianist, in this concerto every note requires complete control by the pianist. None of the notes are ornamental, each are integral to the musical structure and text. You will scarcely find a pianist who will not confess that in the entire piano repertoire this concerto by Schumann is one of the most difficult to perform

The first movement opens with an exclamation but immediately the woodwinds take up a languid main theme that will become the subject of a profusion of rhythmic changes, alterations of keys, tempos and moods. To quote the musicologist Sir Donald Tovey, the second movement is “the very center of Schumann's most intimate and tender vein; childlike in its gently playful opening, while in its sustained, singing second theme it attains a beauty and depth that transcendent any mere prettiness, though the whole concerto, like all Schumann's deepest music, is recklessly beautiful”. The third movement follows without a break, bringing in a theme that is ingeniously formed from the main theme of the first movement, thereby reinforcing the unity of the concerto. This concluding movement moves with inexorable force, through its code to its expected conclusion and when it is over - if well performed - you will yearn for more!

 

 

Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, Op.58                                                   Ludwig van Beethoven

          1. Allegro moderato                                                                                               (1770-1827)

          2. Andante con moto.

          3. Rondo: Vivace.

By any means this G major Concerto of Beethoven is the most difficult for the pianist, conductor and the orchestra. It requires not only sublime technique from the pianist but also superior musical intellect. Then and only then, with the cooperation of a refined orchestra and a masterful conductor will the magic of Beethoven's music captivate the audience. Since its inception, the difficulties of this Concerto were apparent. Ferdinand Ries left a memo of what happened when the pianist Stein was scheduled to play the first performance of this Concerto: “Stein was an experienced pianist, older than I. He accepted the assignment to play this new Concerto. However, as he too, was unable to master the score, he came to Beethoven the day before the performance and asked to play the other, in C minor”. Consequently, Beethoven played the piano part himself in March 1807 (before its publication) and again in December 1808.

 

The first ideas for the Concerto appear in a sketch-book from 1805 that contains ideas mainly for the Opera Leonore (Fidelio, as we know it today) and for the 5th Symphony. By comparing Beethoven's sketches for the themes of this Concerto and that of the 5th Symphony, we have a fleeting glimpse into his creative process; both themes are built on repeated chords, one dramatic one lyrical. It was completed by 1806, for we know that Beethoven tried to publish it unsuccessfully in 1806.

 

Whereas the above historical facts are items of curiosity, it is much more astounding that Beethoven was able simultaneously to create such masterpieces as his 4 th and 5 th Symphonies, the first two Rasumovsky Quartets, the Appassionata Sonata, his only Opera, the Fidelio and this Concerto. Each is unique and a breakthrough toward a new style. The very opening of this G-major concerto was a novelty: The piano opens the Concerto alone, stating the main theme, followed by an extended orchestral exposition. This is music full of boiling tension, yet the genius of Beethoven transforms it into an essay of supreme lyricism. The brilliant piano texture is indivisible from the velvety tone of the orchestra and although the piano's cadenza, fully written out by Beethoven, seems to strike a virtuoso tone, it is an integral part of the movement. The second movement's dialogue between the dark, foreboding, threatening orchestra and the pleading, teardrop-soliloquy of the piano is the dramatic highlight of the Concerto. As the pleading tone of the piano becomes more and more urgent, painful and finally breaks into a formless sobbing and the persistent dark refrain of the orchestra sinks into a shapeless form, the intensity of the tension is resolved in the last few bars. What a miraculous moment! It has been said that Orpheus in the Underworld inspired Beethoven to write this magic but no Greek drama can match these five minutes of music. From this darkness emerges the playful music of the closing Rondo. Its tonal ambiguity, its Mozartean ebullience and its dancing abandon create a contrast that is another divine moment and a much needed resolution for this unique Concerto.

Program notes by Stephen Seleny

 

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