YEFIM BRONFMAN PLAYS TCHAIKOVSKI

Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $200*
Concert dates
Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Artists
Kent Nagano, conductorchef d’orchestre
Yefim Bronfman, pianopiano
Dina Gilbert, OSM assistant conductor and second conductor (Ives)chef assistante de l’OSM et 2e chef d’orchestre (Ives)
OSM ChorusChœur de l’OSM
Andrew Megill, OSM chorus masterchef de chœur de l’OSM

Presentation of the concert

Ives, Concord Sonata, “The Alcotts” (3rd mvt) (arr. H. Brant) (approx. 7 min.)
Ives, Symphony no. 4 (approx. 30 min.)
-
Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor, op. 23 (approx. 32 min.)

 

 

In this two-part program conducted by Kent Nagano, assisted by Dina Gilbert, the bold musical style of Charles Ives takes centre stage with Symphony no. 4. Yefim Bronfman interprets Tchaikovsky in one of the repertoire’s best-loved concertos. Let your heart and mind be swept away in the magic of the moment.
 


Preconcert talk

November 17 - 7:00 p.m. - cancelled

At Foyer Allegro
(Maison symphonique de Montréal)
November 18 and 19 - 7:00 p.m.

Host: Georges Nicholson
Guests: Kent Nagano and Yefim Bronfman

Ours cheeses, privileged partner of talks and organ preconcerts

At first blush, the connections between Charles Ives and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky may seem few: one an early exponent of the American avant-garde, the other the epitome of European romanticism. Their overlapping lives mark a period of great transition in music and society, however, their shared determination to express elements of the personal and subjective through their distinctive idioms marks both composers as romantic at heart.

 

CHARLES IVES

Born in Danbury, Connecticut, October 20, 1874  ̶  Died in New York, May 19, 1954
Concord Sonata (excerpt), III. « The Alcotts » (arr. H. Brant)
Symphony no. 4

“There is a great Man living in this Country – a composer. He has solved the problem [of] how to preserve one’s self-esteem and to learn. He responds to negligence by contempt. He is not forced to accept praise or blame. His name is Ives.”

Thus did Arnold Schoenberg neatly sum up his admiration for an American composer who, like Schoenberg himself, had the courage to take up the cause of musical high modernism before its time. Charles Ives had his admirers among the connoisseurs (Elliott Carter, Henry Cowell, Aaron Copland); but his extravagantly avant-garde music and experimental techniques were received with equal part bewilderment and obliviousness by the musical establishment. Not until the mid-century, near his death, did he begin to receive a sort of recognition, which has since burgeoned to a widespread reverence and acknowledgement of his place as an American composer of the very first rank.

A persistent characteristic through Ives’ entire catalogue is his liberal use of quotation from preexisting musical works. Refusing to discriminate between categories of high- and low-brow, Ives’ material had its origins in marching band music, traditional hymns, patriotic songs and parlour tunes – in short, a compendium of musical signifiers for early-East Coast American town life. The composer’s unique use of layered disparate material combined with his embrace of dissonance and multi-tonality means that a familiar melody is often present just below the complex surface level of the musical texture. The uncanny coexistence of so many modes, tunes, rhythms and signifiers becomes a corollary of the plurality of the American musical experience.

The Concord Sonata, assembled from material written between 1911 and 1915, was intended by the composer as an “impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the minds of many with Concord, Massachusetts of over a half century ago.” As such, each movement of the solo piano work is named after a prominent resident (in order, Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts and Thoreau). Pianist John Kirkpatrick gave the first performance in 1938 in Connecticut, followed soon by a second in New York City in 1939, which the New York Times reviewed quite favourably. Though the praise was not quite unanimous (Elliott Carter wrote in Modern Music of the “paraphernalia of the overdressy sonata school”), it marked a watershed moment in Ives’ general renown as a composer. Each movement features quotations from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; and the third movement, heard tonight in a 1996 orchestration by Henry Brant, is based nearly entirely on the famous opening four-note motive. Other identifiable quotations appearing in this movement include excerpts from the missionary chant Stop That Knocking at My Door, Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata and Wagner’s Lohengrin (the “Wedding March”).

Written during the same period (1910-1920) the Symphony no. 4 is described by biographer Jan Swafford as “Ives’s climactic masterpiece.” It was first performed in its entirety in 1965 by Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra, 11 years after the composer’s death. The sheer size of the orchestra required to carry out a full performance, not to mention the complexity and difficulty of the material (the second movement requires two conductors!), means that it is only infrequently performed. The countless musical quotations are too many to name, but create an audible sense of familiarity that seems always on the point of vanishing, sometimes only to burst out in full marching-band optimism. Ives’ bold and confident use of multi-metrics and temporal dissynchronies (conflicting rhythms and tempos occurring simultaneously), as well as quartertone tuning (24 notes per octave) and unconventional instrumentation, make this work as provocative and contemporary today as it was nearly 100 years ago. The first movement, amidst a multiplicity of melodic themes, features a chorus singing the hymn Watchman, Tell Us of the Night. Requiring two conductors, the second movement achieves maximum dissynchrony before collapsing on itself and yielding to a violin rendition of the tune Beulah Land, accompanied by quartertone piano. A fugue of remarkable conventionality makes up the third movement, all the more striking for its intense contrast to the rest of the work. The Finale, for the composer, was “the apotheosis of the preceding content, in terms that have something to do with the reality of existence and its religious experience.” A reentry of the chorus (this time wordless) at the end marks a cyclical quality in this monumental work of early American modernism.

 

PIOTR ILITCH TCHAÏKOVSKI
Born in Votkinsk, Russia, May 7, 1840  ̶  Died in Saint Petersburg, November 6, 1893
Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor, op. 23

Who could mistake that thunderous group of three ascending chords, cutting an elemental swath across the piano’s entire range – low, middle, high – and the soaring orchestral melody that opens one of the most recognizable piano concertos ever? The first moments of Tchaikovsky’s 1874 Piano Concerto no. 1 are distinctive, to be sure, but they were not always such. Beginning as a series of arpeggiations, it was not until the Russian pianist Alexander Siloti suggested the massive solid chords, around 1880, that Tchaikovsky adopted the now famous introduction. In fact several changes were made to the solo piano part throughout the composer’s life, but not before he suffered the indignity of Nikolai Rubinstein’s scathing assessment of a first draft, resolving in that moment to publish the work “without altering a single note.” The 1875 premiere performance in Boston was not given by the snubbed Rubinstein (for whom the work had been intended), but by the no-less legendary Hans von Bülow. The concerto was a great success, despite a missed entry in the trombones, which prompted von Bülow to exclaim mid-concert, “The brass may go to hell!” Reception remained enthusiastic, culminating with the American pianist Van Cliburn’s 1958 recording, the first classical LP to “go platinum.” Notwithstanding that forceful beginning, the first movement takes up contrasting material, never returning to its opening gestures. The second movement is introduced by the simple elegance of a solo flute melody, which becomes the principal theme. A contrasting middle section is livelier, before dissolving back into the first theme. In the final movement, a fiery episode alternates with a lyrical one, which, in its last iteration, becomes triumphant. A firestorm of double-octave scales heralds the resounding close to this most iconic of piano concertos.

 

© Marc Wieser

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