Program Notes: Garrick Ohlsson and Kirill Gerstein
Garrick Ohlsson and Kirill Gerstein
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Bing Concert Hall
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Kirill Gerstein, piano
THOMAS ADÈS (b. 1971)
Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face, for two pianos, (1994-5/2015)
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Symphonic Dances, Op 45 (completed by 1720)
I. Non allegro
II. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
III. Lento assai – Allegro vivace
FERRUCCIO BUSONI (1866-1924)
Fantasia Contrappuntistica, BV 256b (1910/21)
Chorale Prelude 'Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr' –
MAURICE RAVEL (1875–1937)
La valse: poème chorégraphique (1919-20)
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: All patrons are required to wear a mask at this performance.
Born in London, U.K., March 1, 1971
Concert paraphrase on "Powder Her Face," for two pianos (1994-5/2015)
A triple threat as composer, conductor, and pianist, London-born Thomas Adès, now 50, has been fêted around the world by opera companies, symphony orchestras, music festivals, and those who honor with awards, commissions, and honorary degrees. He was artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival for a decade and was the youngest composer to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award. His three operas have been performed at leading opera houses. The chamber opera Powder Her Face was the first of them, in 1995, when Adès was 24. It has received over 300 performances and more than 50 productions since then. Its story of the life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, to a libretto by Philip Hensher, scandalized some and impressed many by dealing with topics as resonant today as in mid-20th century London. The British socialite’s scandal-ridden affairs, telling of sex and snobbery, serial seduction, and decadence are portrayed through a sequence of flashback scenes from her hotel suite. Adès portrays them with a brilliant kaleidoscopic score that pillages from far and wide. There’s Stravinsky’s Rake and Ravel’s Valses nobles, Berg, Britten, Noël Coward, Der Rosenkavalier, Porter and Gershwin, tango, cabaret. It’s a postmodern juxtaposing of disparate musical references. “Quotation is the wrong word,“ Adès says. “It’s robbery.”
The Concert Paraphrase was first written in 2009 as a virtuoso solo operatic paraphrase. The two-piano arrangement followed in 2015, as a textural expansion of the original. “That piece [the original] is obviously Tom exercising his capability of writing a 21st century take on the 19th century idea of the operatic paraphrase, just like Liszt wrote on music by Bellini, Wagner, or Verdi,” Kirill Gerstein says. ”I think the two-piano version shows what he’s able to hint at in the solo piano paraphrase, but it’s more fully developed.”
Thomas Adès writes: “For the Concert Paraphrase I have taken four scenes from my first opera, Powder Her Face, and freely transcribed them as a piano piece. The opera's libretto, by the novelist Philip Hensher, paints the portrait of a Duchess of a certain age at the end of the 20th century and the end of British aristocratic influence. In the opera the Duchess's grace and glamour are figured in the music by a certain virtuosity which encouraged me to feel that parts of the music would translate into a piano Paraphrase rather in the manner of Liszt or Busoni.
“The first scene is Scene One, my ‘Ode to Joy’, here the Duchess's perfume, ‘Joy’ by Patou. The second scene in the Paraphrase is Scene Five, ‘Is Daddy Squiffy?’ The third scene is Scene Four, the aria ‘Fancy being Rich!’ The Paraphrase ends with the Eighth and final scene of the opera and the aria ‘It is too Late,’ in which the dead Duke returns as Hotel Manager to evict the Duchess from the room in which she lives, and the closing Tango in which the room is made ready for the next occupant.”
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Born in Semyonovo, Russia, April 1, 1873; died in Beverly Hills, California, March 28, 1943
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (1940)
Whether by accident or design, the Symphonic Dances are Rachmaninoff’s valedictory opus: three substantial dance movements that embraces a lifetime’s musical experience. The composer weaves quotations from his own compositions into the fabric of the score—from the First Symphony, whose devastating première still haunted the composer almost a half century later, to the ever-present somber strains of the Dies irae, which recur throughout his music. When the score was first drafted, in tonight’s two-piano version, Rachmaninoff told Eugene Ormandy that, when orchestrated for the Philadelphia Orchestra, it was to be called Fantastic Dances. He also considered titling the movements ‘Noon,’ ‘Evening,’ and ‘Midnight’ as though reflecting a journey through life. Whether there is a program or not, Rachmaninoff certainly viewed the score as material for a ballet, having discussed it with Mikhail Fokine, a neighbor, while he composed on a large estate on Long Island in the summer of 1940. Fokine’s death ended the project, but the energy and rhythmic vitality in the score—particularly noticeable in this transparent two-piano version—bear witness to the idea. “I don’t know how it happened,” the 67-year-old composer commented after the première on January 3, 1941, as though surprised at the vigor of his half-hour score. “It must have been my last spark.”
In the first dance, a crisp, driving march encloses a dreamy, languorous melody which Rachmaninoff spins out at great length. The march has something of Prokofiev’s sardonic quality and its chords are underlined by the Dies irae. The second dance starts uneasily, with strident, fanfare-like chords and three false attempts to get underway. When it arrives, there is a palpable disquiet and a restless beat to the waltz theme with a detached fin de siècle quality, not unlike that of Ravel’s La Valse. The finale is a more complex mosaic of Dies irae fragments, tolling bells, Lisztian diablerie, and Russian church music. Towards the end, where a new chant puts to end a battle between the Dies irae theme and a chant from his own Vespers, Rachmaninoff writes the word "Aliluya" on the score. His last composition ends with the words “I thank Thee, Lord.”
Born in Empoli, Italy, April 1, 1866; died in Berline, July 27, 1924
Fantasia Contrappuntistica, BV 256b (1910/21)
So identified did pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni become in the public mind with his Bach arrangements, that, during his 1915 American concert tour, his wife Gerda was introduced on more than one occasion as "Mrs Bach-Busoni!" Busoni did, indeed, make many transcriptions of Bach’s works, including the magisterial D minor Toccata and Fugue and imposing Chaconne from the Second Violin Partita. He also edited the solo keyboard works of Bach in his seven-volume Bach Edition. He transcribed and edited Mozart and Liszt, too. This aspect of his multi-dimensional skill as a musician derived from a belief that the future of music lay in distilling the essence of the past and, from it, creating a path forward as a composer.
Busoni’s finest instrumental work is his Fantasia Contrappuntistica which began as an attempt to "close the circle" on Bach’s incomplete final fugue, Contrapunctus XIV, of his final work The Art of Fugue. Busoni believed that Bach had planned this “on four fugue subjects, of which two are complete and the third begun.” Where the third tails off, Bach’s son, C. P. E. Bach, added a note to his father’s manuscript stating that Bach had died “over this fugue, where the name ‘BACH’ (the notes B♭, A, C, B♮) is brought in.” Busoni then begins work where Bach left off, composing “in the spirit,” if not the letter, of Bach. He expands Bach’s already formidable compendium of fugal techniques by altering the intervals, rhythm, and variation of the themes, in the process creating a new harmony for his own time through an independent polyphony of contrapuntal voices. His first version for solo piano was published in a limited printing as a Grosse Fuge, but then contrapuntally contradicted with a Fantasia Contrappuntistica, edizione definitiva (1910), again for solo piano. This was subsequently trimmed back, into yet another version. Finally, having come to the conclusion that it was “a disproportionate task for 10 fingers, whereas divided between 20, it would be easy and transparent for player and listener alike,” in 1921, Busoni reworked his magnum opus into its most coherent and musically rewarding form, for two pianos.
This opens with an imposing chorale prelude based on the 16th century Lutheran chorale Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (Honor be to God alone on high). Bach based six chorale preludes on this hymn. Busoni drew most of his from one of his earlier Elegies. Three fugues then follow the structure of Bach’s Contrapunctus XIV, in Busoni’s distinctive contrapuntal idiom. A rather sinister Intermezzo (marked occultamente) rises from the depths and into the first of three Variations on the Fugues already heard. A ruminative Cadenza then quietly gives way to the "missing" Fourth Fugue, which Busoni draws from Bach’s Contrapunctus I, adding a fifth subject of his own making. A serene echo of the opening Chorale, with disturbing undertones, evolves into the closing Stretta. Here, Busoni pulls out all the stops with three grand statements of the subject from Fugue 1 in a Fantasia that he initially imagined as “something between César Franck and the Hammerklavier, with a personal stamp.”
Born in Ciboure, France, March 7, 1875; died in Paris, France, December 28, 1937
La valse: poème chorégraphique (1919-20)
La valse is a disturbing work, a product of the disturbing times in which Ravel worked on it. He began the score before the First World War as a symphonic poem to be called Wien (Vienna). “It is a grand waltz,” he wrote at the time, “a kind of homage to the memory of the great Strauss—not Richard—the other, Johann!” La valse only took its final form in 1920, when both Vienna and the world around Ravel himself were very different places. By 1920, Imperial Vienna had forever been changed, and Ravel's attitude towards its ideals had been shaped by events in Europe. He dropped the original title of the piece and reworked its music as a "choreographic poem." He no longer referred to his score as an apotheosis of the Viennese waltz. All the surface charm of the Straussian waltz appears to be present in La valse. But there are unsettling undertones and snatches of uneasy tension that couldn’t have been written before the war. The fantastic and fatal whirling seems to speak of narcissism and the end of an era. The typical Viennese "lift" to the music seems ironic. The very bones of the waltz are laid out in front of us, picked over and fall apart, even as we listen. Diaghilev commissioned La valse from Ravel for his Ballets Russes. But he rejected the music with a perceptive comment: “It’s a masterpiece,” he said. “But it isn’t so much a ballet as the portrait of a ballet, a painting of a ballet." One side of the canvas is an impressionist representation of the waltz; the other is expressionist. Ravel himself completed the two-piano version while still working on the orchestration of the piece.
— Program notes © 2022 Keith Horner. Comments welcomed: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artists
Since his triumph as winner of the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, pianist Garrick Ohlsson has established himself worldwide as a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. Although long regarded as one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Frédéric Chopin, Mr. Ohlsson commands an enormous repertoire, which ranges over the entire piano literature. A student of the late Claudio Arrau, Mr. Ohlsson has come to be noted for his masterly performances of the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, as well as the Romantic repertoire. To date he has at his command more than 80 concertos, ranging from Haydn and Mozart to works of the 21st century, many commissioned for him. In 2018/19 season he launched an ambitious project spread over multiple seasons exploring the complete solo piano works of Brahms in four programs to be heard in New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Los Angeles, London, and a number of cities across North America.
A frequent guest with the orchestras in Australia, Mr. Ohlsson has recently visited Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Hobart as well as the New Zealand Symphony in Wellington and Auckland. In February 2020 he accomplished a seven city recital tour across Australia just prior to the closure of the concert world due to Covid-19. Since that time and as a faculty member of San Francisco Conservatory of Music he has been able to contribute to keeping music alive for a number of organizations with live or recorded recital streams including a duo program with Kirill Gerstein with whom he will tour the U.S. in winter 2022. With the re-opening of concert activity in the U.S. in summer 2021, he appeared with the Indianapolis and Cleveland orchestras, in recital in San Francisco, Brevard Festival, and 4 Brahms recitals at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. The 21/22 season began with the KBS orchestra, Seoul followed by Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle symphonies, BBC Glasgow and European orchestras in Prague, Hamburg, Lyon, and St. Petersburg. In recital he can be heard in Los Angeles, Houston, Kansas City as well as Poland, Germany, and England.
An avid chamber musician, Mr. Ohlsson has collaborated with the Cleveland, Emerson, Tokyo, and Takacs string quartets, including most recently Boston Chamber Players on tour in Europe. Together with violinist Jorja Fleezanis and cellist Michael Grebanier, he is a founding member of the San Francisco-based FOG Trio. Passionate about singing and singers, Mr. Ohlsson has appeared in recital with such legendary artists as Magda Olivero, Jessye Norman, and Ewa Podleś.
Mr. Ohlsson can be heard on the Arabesque, RCA Victor Red Seal, Angel, BMG, Delos, Hänssler, Nonesuch, Telarc, Hyperion, and Virgin Classics labels. His ten-disc set of the complete Beethoven Sonatas, for Bridge Records, has garnered critical acclaim, including a GRAMMY® for Vol. 3. His recording of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3, with the Atlanta Symphony and Robert Spano, was released in 2011. In the fall of 2008 the English label Hyperion re-released his 16-disc set of the Complete Works of Chopin followed in 2010 by all the Brahms piano variations, Goyescas by Enrique Granados, and music of Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Most recently on that label are Scriabin’s Complete Poèmes, Smetana Czech Dances, and ètudes by Debussy, Bartok, and Prokofiev. The latest CDs in his ongoing association with Bridge Records are the Complete Scriabin Sonatas, Close Connections, a recital of 20th-Century pieces, and two CDs of works by Liszt. In recognition of the Chopin bicentenary in 2010, Mr. Ohlsson was featured in a documentary The Art of Chopin co-produced by Polish, French, British, and Chinese television stations. Most recently, both Brahms concerti and Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto were released on live performance recordings with the Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies on their own recording labels, and Mr. Ohlsson was featured on Dvorak’s piano concerto in the Czech Philharmonic’s recordings of the composer’s complete symphonies & concertos, released July of 2014 on the Decca label.
A native of White Plains, N.Y., Garrick Ohlsson began his piano studies at the age of 8, at the Westchester Conservatory of Music; at 13 he entered The Juilliard School, in New York City. His musical development has been influenced in completely different ways by a succession of distinguished teachers, most notably Claudio Arrau, Olga Barabini, Tom Lishman, Sascha Gorodnitzki, Rosina Lhévinne, and Irma Wolpe. Although he won First Prizes at the 1966 Busoni Competition in Italy and the 1968 Montréal Piano Competition, it was his 1970 triumph at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, where he won the Gold Medal (and remains the single American to have done so), that brought him worldwide recognition as one of the finest pianists of his generation. Since then he has made nearly a dozen tours of Poland, where he retains immense personal popularity. Mr. Ohlsson was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in 1994 and received the 1998 University Musical Society Distinguished Artist Award in Ann Arbor, MI. He is the 2014 recipient of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance from the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music, and in August 2018 the Polish Deputy Culture Minister awarded him with the Gloria Artis Gold Medal for cultural merit. He is a Steinway Artist and makes his home in San Francisco.
Pianist Kirill Gerstein’s heritage combines the traditions of Russian, American, and Central European music-making with an insatiable curiosity. These qualities and the relationships that he has developed with orchestras, conductors, instrumentalists, singers, and composers, have led him to explore a huge spectrum of repertoire both new and old. From Bach to Adès, Gerstein's playing is distinguished by its clarity of expression, discerning intelligence and virtuosity, and an energetic, imaginative musical presence that places him at the top of his profession.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Gerstein is an American citizen based in Berlin. His career is similarly international with world-wide performances ranging from concerts with the Chicago and Boston Orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Royal Concertgebouw, Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, London Symphony Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, to recitals in London, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, and New York. A long-time believer in the role of teaching, Kirill Gerstein is currently on the faculty of Kronberg Academy and Professor of Piano at Berlin’s Hanns Eisler Hochschule. Under the auspices of Kronberg Academy, his series of free and open online seminars entitled Kirill Gerstein invites is now into its fifth season, featuring conversations with leading musicians, artists, and thinkers. Guest speakers to date have included Ai Weiwei, Andreas Staier, Brad Melhdau, Thomas Adès, Iván Fischer, Alex Ross, Elizabeth Wilson, Simon & Gerard McBurney, Robert Levin, Reinhard Goebel, Simon Callow. Emma Smith, Deborah Borda, Rafael Viñoly, Sir Antonio Pappano, and Samuel Jay Keyser.
Over the last year, Gerstein’s decade long relationship with Thomas Adès resulted in the release of two recordings: the world première of Adès’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra written especially for Gerstein released by Deutsche Grammophon; and a compendium of Thomas Adès’s works for piano on myrios classics. Both discs garnered an impressive series of accolades which included a 2021 International Classical Music Award, a 2020 Gramophone Award and three GRAMMY Award nominations. In May 2021 in Amsterdam, Gerstein premièred another new concerto written especially for him, this time by the Austrian composer Thomas Larcher, co-commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, and Vienna Konzerthaus.
Kirill Gerstein’s latest release is a recording of Mozart Four-Hand Piano Sonatas with his mentor of 17-years, Ferenc Rados, for myrios classics. He first collaborated with the label in 2010 and, through the partnership has been able to realise many thoughtfully curated projects including Strauss’s Enoch Arden with the late Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire; Downfall), recorded shortly before the actor’s death in February 2019; Busoni’s monumental Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo; and The Gershwin Moment with the St Louis Symphony, David Robertson, Gerstein’s jazz mentor Gary Burton and Storm Large. Gerstein has additionally recorded Scriabin with the Oslo Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko for LAWO Classics; and Tchaikovsky with Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic as part of The Tchaikovsky Project released by Decca Classics.
Born in 1979 in Voronezh, Russia, Kirill Gerstein attended one of the country’s special music schools for gifted children and taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. Following a chance encounter with jazz legend Gary Burton in St. Petersburg when he was 14, he was invited as the youngest student to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied jazz piano in tandem with his classical piano studies. At the age of 16, Gerstein decided to focus on classical music completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees with Solomon Mikowsky at New York’s Manhattan School of Music, followed by further studies with Dmitri Bashkirov in Madrid and Ferenc Rados in Budapest. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, First Prize winner at the 10th Arthur Rubinstein Competition and an Avery Fisher Career Grant holder. In May 2021, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
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