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2018-2019 Season / Masterworks / Brahms’ First
All performances at 7:30pm at Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater

LAWRENCE LOH | conductor

SCHUBERT: Rosamunde: Overture, D. 644
BRUCH: Concerto for 2 Pianos, Op. 88a, A-flat minor
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, C minor

This concert offers a rich feast of Austro-German music spanning nearly a century. It opens with Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture—alternately lyrical and energetic, but consistently imaginative in its handling of orchestral color. As our closer, we offer the final installment of our long-running Brahms cycle, the titanic First Symphony. In between, twin sisters, Michelle and Christina Naughton return to the Symphoria stage to perform Concerto for Two Pianos by Max Bruch. Since it was lost for over fifty years, it’s less familiar than the rest of the program. But with its disarming interplay between the two pianists and its profusion of ear-catching melodies, it’s apt to inspire love at first hearing.


The Bond, Schoeneck & King Pre-Concert Talk will be held in the Banner Room on the lower level of the Civic Center, beginning at 6:30p.m.



Symphoria has arranged a concert shuttle, which departs from the move theater entrance at Shoppingtown Mall at 6:15pm and 6:30pm.   The shuttle drops patrons off at the entrance to Crouse Hinds Theater, and departs promptly after the concert ends.  The shuttle is free of charge.

Brahms’ First

7:30pm | Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater

Symphoria has paid insufficient attention to Franz Schubert (1797–1828)—and we begin to make up for that by opening tonight’s concert with his Rosamunde Overture. Originally composed for incidental music to a play called The Magic Harp, it was later recycled to introduce yet another, Rosamunde. Although both plays have been forgotten, their joint overture lives on as Schubert’s most popular orchestral work aside from his last two symphonies. The reasons will be clear as you listen. Schubert tried his hand at opera a few times, without success. But —with its soulful lyricism, its splashes of high drama, its Rossinian energy, and its expert orchestration—this overture suggests that, had he lived longer, he might well have had success in that area as well.

If we’ve been remiss with respect to Schubert, however, we’ve not been inattentive to Johannes Brahms (1833–1897). In fact, tonight’s concert completes Symphoria’s multi-year cycle of his four symphonies, the first complete symphony cycle since the orchestra was founded. It might seem odd to conclude with his First Symphony (completed in 1876) rather than with the culmination of the set, the Fourth. Still, the First has long been the most beloved of the symphonies, and in its own way, it’s a culmination, too. As is often recounted, the young Brahms—quickly promoted, especially by Robert and Clara Schumann, as the heir to Beethoven—found himself struggling to live up to his reputation. Writing a symphony in the shadow of Beethoven was especially daunting, and although he began this symphony in 1862, it wasn’t until 15 years later (when he was older than Mozart, Schubert, or Mendelssohn were when they died) that he managed to finish it.

It was worth the wait: no other first symphony in the repertoire up to that point has the maturity, confidence, and gravitas of this one. Yes, there are echoes of Beethoven. In fact, the main theme of the finale has such a strong resemblance to its equivalent in the Beethoven Ninth (which will close our season on May 18) that the Brahms First was often called “the Beethoven Tenth.” As conductor Larry Loh reminds us, however, the First is “quintessentially Brahms in its tension and grandeur.” Certainly, the strikingly ominous introduction to the massive first movement (with its throbbing timpani) is unlike anything in Beethoven, and it leads to a movement whose concentrated agitation is moderated, but never fully relieved, by the lighter material that weaves in and out. The two middle movements are gentler and smaller in scale—indeed, the bucolic third would not be out of place in one of Brahms’s Serenades. But the finale (the only movement to include trombones) is the grandest of all. As Larry says, the extended introduction of the finale has a nod to Beethoven “in how much dialogue there is before the main theme”; but the music itself takes up the tension of the first movement, drawing us in inexorably to a terrific thunderclap on the timpani. This is followed up by a glorious horn call, which “brings us to a different place,” as Larry puts it, and ushers in the triumphant main theme that completes the symphony’s trajectory from darkness to light by taking us down a path of unequalled affirmation.

Between these repertoire standards, we’re offering something you probably haven’t encountered before, the Concerto for Two Pianos (1915) by Max Bruch (1838–1920). Bruch’s position in the repertoire is complex. On the one hand, he’s a familiar composer; on the other hand, beyond a few beloved pieces (the First Violin Concerto, the Scottish Fantasy, the Kol Nidre), most of his output remains virtually unknown. The Double Concerto, in fact, remained doubly unknown—not simply buried in his catalog, but physically lost. It was originally conceived as a suite for organ and orchestra; Bruch, however, adapted it as a concerto for two pianos to fulfill a request by American duo-pianist sisters Ottilie and Rose Sutro. The work was beyond their capacities, however; so before premiering it in 1916 Philadelphia, they radically rewrote the score. The original manuscript only turned up half a century later, when it was finally reconstructed by Nathan Twining and Martin Berkofsky.

The work turns out to be a splendid addition to the repertoire; as our soloists Michelle and Christina Naughton put it, “It’s one of those pieces you wish were played more often.” What’s it like? If you remember their dazzling performance of the Poulenc Double Concerto three years ago, you can prepare yourself for this one by imagining something nearly exactly the opposite. The Poulenc is marked by Gallic wit; the Bruch, as the Naughtons say, is “very not French.” The eclectic Poulenc darts among a wide variety of idioms, including some drawn from non-western music; Bruch is solidly in the Germanic tradition. In contrast to Poulenc’s cool neo-classicism and its traditional three movements (fast-slow-fast), Bruch offers an unapologetic romanticism and an odd four movement structure.

The glowering and highly contrapuntal opening Andante sostenuto is dominated by a theme Bruch heard in a funeral procession while he was in Capri. The pianos announce it straight away, and it serves as basic material for the whole movement. It may seem like a very extended introduction, since it leads directly to the second movement; but that movement, surprisingly, begins with a poignant slow introduction of its own before turning into an Allegro molto vivace that neatly interleaves the rollicking with the intimate. A beguiling slow movement follows, before the two-part finale, which opens with a reworking of the Capri theme before leading to a brilliant, virtuosic close. On the whole, the concerto is fairly serious, yet it’s far from severe. All four movements are stamped with the melodic genius that’s a Bruch trademark. Unfamiliar as it is—as the Naughtons say, “It will be a fresh experience for everyone,” including the orchestra—you may well find yourself humming it at intermission.

One thing the Bruch does share with the Poulenc (indeed, with most two-piano concertos) is a disarming interchange between the two soloists. It’s a balanced interchange, too: rather than having primary and secondary roles, the Naughtons point out, “the parts are distributed pretty equally.” With a laugh, they offer a “random speculation” about that. Many two-piano concertos (for instance, the Mozart K. 365, the Mendelssohn E-Major, and this one) are written for siblings, and they have to be constructed in such a way as to avoid sibling rivalry. Whether or not that’s true, anyone who was here for the Poulenc will know to expect that tonight’s cooperative give-and-take will be …well, unrivaled.

Peter J. Rabinowitz

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Artist Information:

Michelle & Christina Naughton

Christina and Michelle Naughton have been hailed by the San Francisco Examiner for their “stellar musicianship, technical mastery, and awe-inspiring artistry”. The Naughtons made their European debut at Herkulesaal in Munich, where the Süddeutsche Zeitung proclaimed them “an outstanding piano duo”. They made their Asian debut with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, where the Sing Tao Daily said of their performance “Joining two hearts and four hands at two grand pianos, the Naughton sisters created an electrifying and moving musical performance.” An appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra led the Philadelphia Inquirer to characterize their playing as “paired to perfection,” while the Saarbrücker Zeitung exclaimed “this double star could soon prove to be a supernova.” They have captivated audiences throughout the globe with the unity created by their mystical musical communication, as featured by the Wall Street Journal in their own words “There are times I forget we are two people playing together.”

In February of 2016 the Naughtons released their debut record on the Warner Classics label titled “Visions,” featuring the music of Messiaen, Bach and Adams. The album received much critical acclaim with The Washington Post hailing them as one of the “greatest piano duos of our time."

Highlights from the Naughtons’ 2015-2016 season included performances presented by the New World Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall, at the Classic Festival and the Bonlieu Scène Nationale in Annecy, France, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and at the Grand Teton Music Festival. In addition to recital tours of Latin America and China, the sisters appeared with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Orquesta Sinfonica do Estado Sao Paulo, the Netherlands Philharmonic, l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the Frankfurter Opern- and Museumsorchester and the Atlanta Symphony.

Previous orchestral engagements include appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Houston, Milwaukee, New Jersey, North Carolina, Nashville, Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland, Toledo, Delaware, El Paso, Napa Valley, Wichita, Tulsa, Gulf Coast, and Madison Symphonies; the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Cleveland’s Red Orchestra, Chicago’s Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra, and Erie Philharmonic; as well as with ensembles such as the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Royal Flemish Philharmonic in Belgium, Solistes Europeens Luxembourg, Hamburg Chorus, Kiel Philharmonic, and Norddeutsche Philharmonie Rostock. Past and future seasons feature collaborations under the batons of conductors such as Stephane Deneve, Edo deWaart, Charles Dutoit, JoAnn Falletta, Giancarlo Guerrero, Emanuel Krivine, Cristian Macelaru, Andres Orozco-Estrada, and Leonard Slatkin.

Christina and Michelle’s recitals have included venues in America such as the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, New York City’s Naumburg Orchestral Concert Series at the Historic Naumberg Bandshell (Central Park) and Le Poisson Rouge, the Schubert Club in St. Paul, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Wharton Center, and many others.

European recital highlights for the Naughtons include the Parc Du Chateau de Florans at France’s La Roque d’Antheron Festival, the Sociedad de Conciertos de Valencia in Spain, Zurich’s Tonhalle, Prague’s Strings of Autumn Festival, Klavierfestival Ruhr, and many others.

Recital engagements in Asia and South America have included appearances at the Beijing Forbidden City Concert Hall, Shenzhen Concert Hall, Wuhan Qintai Concert Hall in China, Pallacio de las Bellas Artes, Biblioteca de Luis Angel and Sala Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The Naughtons recorded their first album in the Sendesaal in Bremen Germany; which was released worldwide in Fall 2012 by label ORFEO. The album has been praised by Der Spiegel Magazine for “stand(ing) out with unique harmony, and sing(ing) out with stylistic confidence’, and described by ClassicsToday as a “Dynamic Duo Debut”.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey to parents of European and Chinese descent; Christina and Michelle are graduates of Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, where they were each awarded the Festorazzi Prize. They are Steinway Artists and currently reside in New York City.

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