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Masterworks

2018-2019 Season / Masterworks / Stravinsky’s Petrushka
All performances at 7:30pm at Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater
1819MW2WOSNER(1)

LAWRENCE LOH | conductor
SHAI WOSNER | piano

 

PROGRAM:
DUKAS: The Sorcerer's Apprentice
SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto, Op. 54, A minor
STRAVINSKY: Petrushka (1911 version)

 

Indulge your imagination as Symphoria offers three beloved works with a streak of fantasy. The concert opens with Dukas’s compact yet highly eventful Sorcerer’s Apprentice, based on Goethe’s supernatural poem about a young man’s disastrous attempt to use magic he doesn’t understand. This showpiece is sometimes treated as a work for children, but as tonight’s performance will demonstrate, it’s actually a sophisticated display of musical color. In fact, it was a major influence on Stravinsky, whose ballet Petrushka closes the concert. A depiction of love, jealousy, and murder, Petrushka too inhabits a fairy-tale world. With its vital folk-song underpinnings and its brilliant orchestration, it’s one of Stravinsky’s most viscerally appealing works; and even though the main characters are all puppets, it’s one of his most touching, too. In between these two spectaculars, we have Schumann’s poetic Piano Concerto, an outpouring of love that, like most of Schumann’s music, has its own, more intimate, connections to fantasy.

 

For this concert we welcome and celebrate those in our community who work in the legal profession, including attorneys, judges, paralegals, clerks, and assistants. For more information please call the box office at (315) 299-5598 ext. 201.

 

PRE-CONCERT EVENT

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.

 

REMINDER: This concert is on FRIDAY, October 5, as opposed to our typical Saturday concerts.

 

SHUTTLE

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.

 

This performance is presented with generous support from

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Stravinsky’s Petrushka
10.05.18

7:30pm | Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater
Listen on Spotify!

Tonight’s concert features two popular orchestral spectaculars, with the most graceful of the great romantic piano concertos snuggled between them. We open with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, composed in 1897 by Paul Dukas (1865–1935). Despite its familiarity, the work unfortunately suffers under a double misconception—that’s it’s a piece for children by a one-work, light-music composer. Yes, many of us first learned the piece as kids, perhaps through Walt Disney’s Fantasia, where the role of the hapless apprentice was taken by Mickey Mouse (indeed, that’s how Rachel Koeth, principal of the all-important bassoon contingent in this piece, first encountered it). But Dukas didn’t intend the music for youngsters; in fact, the first New York Philharmonic performance was conducted by Gustav Mahler, who thought it worthy to stand next to Bach and Brahms. And while The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, along with the opening fanfare to the ballet La Peri, is his most frequently played work, Dukas did, in fact, produce other significant music. Audience appeal was never his motivator, however, and the result was a handful of connoisseur works (including a first-rate symphony and the opera Ariane and Bluebeard) that reveal a refined, perfectionist bent. Like Ravel, in his maturity he refused to publish anything that didn’t meet his highest standards.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is nominally based on poem by Goethe, but the basic story goes back at least as far as Lucian two thousand years ago. It’s a tale of over-reach and of the familiar experience where attempts to solve a problem only make things exponentially worse. In this case, a lazy apprentice to a sorcerer copies one of his master’s spells to animate a broom—represented by a jaunty tune on the bassoons—so that it will fetch water. The spell works only too well, as the broom won’t stop when its job is done. Seeing the flooded house, and unable to reverse his spell, the apprentice, at a huge orchestral climax, destroys the broom with an axe. The respite (clearly represented by a moment of silence) is only brief, however, as each piece of the original broom turn into new broom, which brings even more water into the house. At the work’s second climax—which, as conductor Larry Loh points out, is especially exciting because it’s “anticipated for so long”— the sorcerer returns, solves the problem, and (at least as Fantasia represented it) gives the apprentice a swift whack with a musical gesture that brings the work to a startling close.

Among those composers strongly influenced by Dukas is Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), and we close our concert with Petrushka (1911), one of the three large-scale ballets for the Ballets Russes that still serve as the foundation for Stravinsky’s reputation. Not as romantic as its predecessor The Firebird, nor as aggressively modernist as the soon-to-come The Rite of Spring (which Symphoria performed last year), Petrushka straddles the Russian and French musical traditions, offering, among other things, a riot of Russian folk tunes clothed in brilliant and transparent French-inspired orchestration.

The ballet’s story (included on an insert in the program book) gives the composer opportunity to show off the full range of his artistic prowess: bustling crowd scenes, intimate portrayals, earthy realism, fairy-tale fantasy, boisterous carnival spirits, and murderous rage, with a poignant ending as the ghost of the brutalized puppet Petrushka (the Russian equivalent of Punch) gets the last word. And Stravinsky takes full advantage with a score that’s as richly varied as anything he ever wrote. To add to the audience’s pleasures, it offers its share of piano virtuosity as well. The work started out as a fantasy for piano and orchestra, and the traces of those origins can still be heard, especially in the second scene. As Claudia Hoca, the orchestral pianist in tonight’s performance, points out, “It’s a huge challenge, very difficult and soloistic”—one of the most demanding orchestral piano parts in the repertoire. It’s especially difficult, she notes, with respect to rhythm, both in the piano part itself and in the tricky coordination with the rest of the orchestra.

At the time it was introduced, Petrushka was mildly scandalous for its use of bitonality (juxtaposition of two different keys at the same time). Nowadays, though, it’s more notable for the brilliant way it draws you into the magic world than for any shock value that remains. In 1947, Stravinsky rescored the ballet for smaller orchestra, but we offer the more spectacular and more rambunctious 1911 version tonight. As Larry points out, when Stravinsky wrote the original version, he was “only thinking of the music”—only thinking of the best way to create the colors in his mind. “It’s pure, unadulterated Stravinsky trying to create this sound world.” In the simplified revision, he was constrained by pragmatic and economic considerations, and the music suffers.

On the surface, the 1845 Piano Concerto by Robert Schumann (1810–1856) could hardly be more different from the works that flank it. Lyrical where they are rhythmically vital, abstract where they are programmatic, “poetic and gentle” (in the words of tonight’s soloist Shai Wosner) where they are extroverted, it’s easily the most personal of the great Romantic piano concertos. It’s a reflection of Schumann’s passion for his wife, composer-pianist Clara Schumann, who inspired, encouraged, and first performed the work; and as Shai puts it, there’s nothing brash about it. Yes, there are some virtuoso parts, but “they don’t dominate.” The opening is typical, he says: it has “a brilliant beginning, but a few seconds later, we get a lyrical and touching theme. Right from the start, you get the idea that that is what the piece is about. Not the brash stuff, but this more melancholic aspect.”

And yet, for all the superficial differences from the Dukas and Stravinsky, the Schumann offers continuity with the rest of the program as well as contrast. Just as Petrushka has its origins in a one-movement fantasy, this concerto too started out, in 1841, as a one-movement fantasy for piano and orchestra. More important, as Shai puts it, Schumann had an abiding interest in fairy-tales and the fantastic; and “he was almost always influenced by some sort of a literary impulse. Even in pieces like the Concerto that are, on paper, abstract, there is a narrative of some sort, and a world of fantasy that’s always there. So it’s a really cool combination.”

Peter J. Rabinowitz

Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org

 

Artist Information:

Shai Wosner

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity, and creative insight. His performances of a broad range of repertoire-from Beethoven and Schubert to Ligeti and the music of today-reflect a degree of virtuosity and intellectual curiosity that has made him a favorite among audiences and critics, who note his "keen musical mind and deep musical soul" (NPR's All Things Considered).

In the 2016-17 season, Mr. Wosner launches a new solo recital series, Schubert: The Great Sonatas, which continues his critically acclaimed engagement with the composer's music. Described as a "Schubertian of unfaltering authority and character" by Gramophone, Mr. Wosner performs Schubert's last six piano sonatas over two concert programs, comparing the pieces to "six thick novels, rich with insight about the human condition." He performs the series this season in Israel, with performances in the U.S. and Japan scheduled for the 2017-18 season.

Beyond Schubert, Mr. Wosner has also been praised for inventive pairings of classical and modern masters. His latest recording, featuring concertos and solo works by Haydn and Ligeti with the Danish National Symphony conducted by Nicholas Collon, was released in June on the Onyx label to wide acclaim and was named "Concerto Choice" (September 2016) by BBC Music Magazine. His earlier Onyx releases have also explored links between stylistically contrasting composers, including an album of solo works by Brahms and Schoenberg and an album of works by Schubert and Missy Mazzoli.

Such juxtaposition is also a central feature in Mr. Wosner's joint program with the Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon in London, in which he performs concertos by Ligeti and Mozart and solo works by Chopin, Glass, Hindemith, and Nancarrow. Other concerto appearances in the 2016-17 season include Mr. Wosner's return to the Berkeley, Columbus, Fresno, Jacksonville, North Carolina, and Jerusalem symphonies, as well as a performance of the Berg Chamber Concerto in Germany with violinist Veronika Eberle and the Kammerakademie Potsdam.

The music of Beethoven is also a major focus for Mr. Wosner this year in recital, chamber, and concerto performances. In addition to performing the composer's last three piano concertos with various orchestras in the U.S., he continues two Beethoven collaborations: Bridge to Beethoven-a recital series with violinist Jennifer Koh-and the complete works for cello and piano with Ralph Kirshbaum. Among the Bridge to Beethoven performances this season is a program in Philadelphia featuring the local premiere of Vijay Iyer's Bridgetower Fantasy. In New York, Mr. Wosner and Ms. Koh also perform a recital of works by Beethoven, Debussy, Fauré, and contemporary composers György Kurtág and Kaija Saariaho.

In addition to his Onyx releases, Mr. Wosner's discography includes a duo recording with Ms. Koh, titled Signs, Games + Messages, on the Cedille label. Weaving traditional Central European folk music with 20th-century modernism, the recording features works by Bartók, Janácek, and Kurtág, including the latter's duet piece for which the album was named.
Mr. Wosner is a recipient of Lincoln Center's Martin E. Segal Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award-a prize he used to commission Michael Hersch's concerto Along the Ravines, which he performed with the Seattle Symphony and Deutsche Radio Philharmonie in its world and European premieres. He was in residence with the BBC as a New Generation Artist, during which he appeared frequently with the BBC orchestras, including conducting Mozart concertos from the keyboard with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He returned to the BBC Scottish Symphony in both subscription concerts and Proms performances with Donald Runnicles and appeared with the BBC Philharmonic in a live broadcast from Manchester's Bridgewater Hall.

Widely sought after by colleagues for his versatility and spirit of partnership, Mr. Wosner has collaborated as a chamber musician with numerous artists, including Martin Fröst, Lynn Harrell, Dietrich Henschel, Cho-Liang Lin, Christian Tetzlaff, and Pinchas Zukerman. He has also collaborated with leading chamber ensembles, including the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet in The Schubert Effect recital series.

Born in Israel, Mr. Wosner enjoyed a broad musical education from a very early age, studying piano with Emanuel Krasovsky as well as composition, theory, and improvisation with André Hajdu. He later studied at The Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax. Mr. Wosner is on the faculty at the Longy School of Music in Boston.

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