Candlelight Concert Society presents

Benjamin Grosvenor, piano

Saturday, May 5, 2018, 8:00 pm
Smith Theatre – Horowitz Visual & Performing Arts Center
Howard Community College

This performance is sponsored by David Zee

 

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816
Allemande
Courante
Sarabande
Gavotte
Bourrée
Louré
Gigue

 

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Pieces (Klavierstücke), Op. 119
Intermezzo in B minor
Intermezzo in E minor
Intermezzo in C Major
Rhapsody in E-flat Major

 

BRETT DEAN (B. 1961)
Hommage à Brahms
(played as interludes between the Brahms pieces above)
Engelsflügel
Hafenkneipenmusik
Engelsflügel

 

Intermission

 

CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L’après-midi d’un faune
(arr. Leonard Borwick/George Copeland)

 

ALBAN BERG (1885-1935)
Sonata, Op. 1
Mässig bewegt

 

MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la Nuit
Ondine

Le Gibet
Scarbo

DECCA, EMI / Exclusive Management: ARTS MANAGEMENT GROUP, INC., New York, NY 10019


Program Notes

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
FRENCH SUITE NO. 5 IN G MAJOR, BWV 816

Dances of Italian and French origin can be found in sonatas, arias, and concertos by Baroque composers from all parts of Europe. Most formally they appear in suites, which are essentially collections of dances. During the late Baroque period, the suite assumed a standard international format, consisting of four dances: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue, in that order. Other dances or non-dance movements could be inserted between the sarabande and the gigue, as for ex- ample the gavotte, bourée, and louré in Johann Sebastian Bach’s French Suite No. 5. The nickname “French” for this and the other five suites that were published with it did not come from Bach; it was an improvisation on the part of his publisher, who thought the name would give the collection some caché and enhance sales of the music. With their intricate, polyphonic, and stylized details, Bach’s dances are not music for dancing, nor were they intended to be. In Bach’s hands, the traditional dance rhythms become the background for an intricate tapestry of two to four voices that interact playfully and/or sublimely with one another.

Notes by Stephen Ackert


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
FOUR PIECES (KLAVIERSTÜCKE), OP. 119

Brett Dean (b. 1961)
HOMMAGE À BRAHMS

About the Composers

Like Brahms, a lifelong devotee of what we now call “early music,” Australian composer Brett Dean is keenly attuned to his musical heritage. In Carlo, perhaps his best-known work, he re-envisions the music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo in a modern idiom scored for strings, sampler, and prerecorded tape. The first movement of his violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing, entitled “Hamburg, 1854,” was inspired by the long-simmer- ing love affair between Brahms and Clara Schumann, and incorporates motifs from Brahms’s own works. Dean’s penchant for historical allusion is further demonstrated by his ongoing series of “homages” to various composers, so far including Bach, Brahms, Janáček, and Kurtág.

About the Works

Dean’s Hommage à Brahms is designed to be performed either independently as a set of three pieces, or—as on tonight’s program—interspersed with the four short character pieces that constitute Brahms’s Klavierstücke, Op. 119. The latter, composed around the summer of 1893, were Brahms’s last compositions for solo piano; he sent the Intermezzo in B minor to Clara as a thinly disguised valentine. Dean explains that he “drew particular inspiration from accompanying textures and figurations, as found in Brahms’s duo sonatas and lieder. Taking into account aspects of Brahms’s personal life—and specifically the long and complicated relationship he had with Clara Schumann—these homage-pieces emerge out of the idea of a line or part that’s absent, the person not by his side. It is music that grows out of accompanying figurations, yet takes on a life of its own.”

A Closer Listen

The three intermezzos in Brahms’s Op. 119 set are a study in contrasts. The first, in B minor, is harmonically advanced, even mildly dissonant, its delicately cascading arpeggios conjuring a mood of aching tenderness. The second intermezzo is in a more expansive A-B-A form, with agitated sections in E-minor flanking a graceful major-key waltz. The third intermezzo (in C Major) playfully meshes triple and duple meters, while the rhapsody evokes the robustly heroic style of Brahms’s youth. Dean’s three “inter- ludes” evoke Brahms’s sound world through characteristic figurations, timbres, gestures, and metrical patterns. For instance, the arpeggios of Brahms’s first intermezzo are echoed in the gossamer flutterings of Engelsflügel (Angel’s Wings), while the swirl- ing triplets of Dean’s Hafenkneipenmusik (Music for a Dockside Bar) recall the lilting waltz in Brahms’s second intermezzo.

Notes by Harry Haskell


Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
L’APRÈS-MIDI D’UN FAUNE
(arr. Leonard Borwick/George Copeland)

Claude Debussy‘s L’après- midi d’un faune, also known as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, is an orchestral tone poem inspired by an eponymous poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. The poem sets a scene in which a faun (a mythological forest-dwelling creature with features and proclivities of both man and goat) is distracted from a quiet afternoon’s rest by frolicking nymphs.

In an essay about the Prélude, Debussy wrote: “The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it. Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his dreams of possession in universal Nature.” Elements of this ‟free illustration” include flirtatious exchanges of runs among the woodwinds of the orchestra and occasional surging crescendos in the strings - suggesting that the faun’s desires and dreams are indeed passionate.

Both the poem, published in 1876, and the first public performances of Debussy’s musical response to it, presented in 1894, elicited shock on the part ofconservative readers and listeners and reaffirmed the reputation of both men as subtle iconoclasts. But it was in 1912 that two not-so-subtle iconoclasts, Serge Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes, and Vaclav Nijinsky, his principal male dancer, carried the eroticism of L’après-midi d’un faune to a level that ignited a firestorm of controversy. In their ballet using Debussy’s Prélude, Nijinsky danced the part of the faun. In so doing, he stepped far outside the limits of erotic suggestion on the legitimate stage, particularly in the final scene, in which his gestures suggested that the faun was masturbating on a scarf left behind by one of the nymphs.

As often happens in the world of the arts, Debussy’s sublime music has had a life after Mallarmé and Nijinsky. Today, the Mallarmé poem and Nijinsky’s scandalous production of 1912 are familiar only to aficionados of French poetry and ballet. The Prélude, on the other hand, is one of the most widely-recognized pieces of classical music, which most listeners enjoy from beginning to end without any thought of either the poem or Nijinsky’s bombshell.

Notes by Stephen Ackert


ALBAN BERG
SONATA, OP. 1

Written while Alban Berg was a student of Arnold Schoenberg in Vienna, Sonata, Op. 1 shows an apt student adopting and adapting some of the revolutionary techniques of his teacher to produce a unique work of his own. Published in 1910, as Berg was finishing his studies, the sonata consists of a single movement centered in the key of B minor, but presenting no stable tonality. Berg makes frequent use of chromaticism, whole-tone scales, and wandering key centers to move beyond the established concept of a sonata as a piece of music that presents contrasting sections or movements in related keys.

Debussy once suggested that Beethoven had carried the piano sonata to its limits, and subsequent composers would be better off abandoning the genre altogether. Berg’s approach to the sonata seems to say that it is still a viable undertaking for a composer, even without the traditional number and order of movements (which Beethoven had already transcended in his late sonatas) or the expected tonal key relationships. In Berg’s sonata, the form relies heavily on an idea that Schoenberg pioneered, which he called developing variation. In this approach, unity is achieved by deriving all aspects of a piece from a single idea. In the case of this sonata, that idea is the opening leitmotif, which begins with an ascending perfect fourth followed by an ascending augmented fourth, followed in turn by a pair of downward cascading major thirds.

Whether or not this work should bear a title other than Sonata is open to question, but there is little disagreement on the point that it is one of the most formidable first works ever written by any composer.

Notes by Stephen Ackert


MAURICE RAVEL
GASPARD DE LA NUIT

Another work to which the adjective formidable is often applied is Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit – but not because it was an impressive first effort, as was the case with the Berg Sonata, Op. 1. In composing Gaspard, Ravel was offering competition for a work composed some forty years before, which had gained a reputation as the most difficult work for piano written to date (Mily Balakirev’s Islamey, written in 1869). Not to be outdone, Ravel produced a suite with a final movement of such technical difficulty that pianists have ever since been debating which is more difficult–Islamey, or the Scarbo movement from Gaspard de la Nuit.

In addition to being known as formidable, Gaspard relates to a work previously played on this program an another singificant respect: it was inspired by French poetry. In this case, it was a collection of poems and stories by romantic poet Aloysius Bertrand (1807-1841), titled Gaspard de la Nuit — Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot (Gaspard of the Night – Fantasies in the manner of Rembrandt and Callot). Ravel selected two characters and a scene from the collection as inspiration for a three-movement suite. The first movement, titled Ondine, captures in sound the tender, seductive voice of Ondine, a water sprite who tries to entice mortals to join her in her underwater home, as well as the rippling movement of the water itself.

In the second movement, Le Gibet, Ravel begins with and dwells upon the sound of a bell, to which the poet alludes only in the last verse of the poem, in which he asks what was the sound he heard as he observed the grisly scene of a hanging. Was it the north wind? a sigh from the victim, not yet dead? one of the insects grubbing about the gibbet? No, it was a bell tolling from a city on the horizon.

Taking his cue from Bertrand‘s description of the frantic and flitting movements of a goblin named Scarbo, in the third movement Ravel indulges in the pianistic pyrotechnics for which the movement is famous – among them rapid repeated notes in both hands that test the action of even the finest pianos, prestissimo arpeggios in the left hand, and double- note scales in major seconds in the right hand, not to mention two terrifying climaxes that keep all ten fingers feverishly busy.

Notes by Stephen Ackert


Tonight’s Artists

Benjamin Grosvenor, piano

British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is internationally recognized for his electrifying performances and insightful interpretations. His virtuosic command over the most strenuous technical complexities underpins the remarkable depth and understanding of his musicianship. He is renowned for his distinctive sound, described as ‘poetic and gently ironic, brilliant yet clear-minded, intelligent but not without humor, all translated through a beautifully clear and singing touch’ (The Independent), making him one of the most sought-after young pianists in the world.

Benjamin first came to prominence as the winner of the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of eleven, and he was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms at just nine- teen. Since then, he has become an internationally regarded pianist and was announced in 2016 as the inaugural recipient of The Ronnie and Lawrence Ackman Classical Piano Prize with the New York Philharmonic.

Recent and future highlights include engagements with the Boston Symphony, Cleveland and Hallé Orchestras, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Filarmonica della Scala, the London, Melbourne, Singapore, Tokyo and Washington National Symphony Orchestras, and an appearance at the 2015 Last Night of the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop. Among his major recital dates are Vienna Konzerthaus, Théâtre des Champs Elysées Paris, Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall New York, Konzerthaus Berlin, Barbican Centre London, Musashino Civic Cultural Hall Tokyo, the Lucerne Festival, as well as his first tour of South America.

Benjamin has worked with numerous esteemed conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Chailly, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Alan Gilbert, Vladimir Jurowski, Andrew Litton, Kent Nagano, Gianandrea Noseda, Thomas Søndergård, Nathalie Stutzmann, Gabor Takacs-Nagy and Michael Tilson Thomas.

He enjoys incorporating chamber music collaborations into his schedule, including performances with the Escher, Elias and Endellion String Quartets, and chamber ensembles of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, and the New York and Naples Philharmonic Orchestras. Since the 2015-16 season Benjamin has been invited to participate in the prestigious “Junge Wilde” series by Konzerthaus Dortmund, where over the course of three years he’ll participate in multiple performances.

In 2011 Benjamin signed to Decca Classics, becoming the youngest British musician ever to do so. Benjamin’s fourth CD on the label, Homages (2016), which explores a number of works in which great composers pay tribute to their predecessors, was awarded a Diapason d’Or. The disc was described by BBC Music Magazine as “showing off his fluid virtuosity, musical sensitivity and fearless approach” and named Instrumental Choice of the month.

During his sensational career to date, Benjamin has received Gramophone’s Young Artist of the Year and Instrumental Awards, a Classic Brits Critics’ Award, UK Critics’ Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent, and a Diapason d’Or Jeune Talent Award. He has been featured in two BBC television documentaries, BBC Breakfast and CNN’s Human to Hero series. The youngest of five brothers, Benjamin began playing the piano aged 6. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he graduated in 2012 with the ‘Queen’s Commendation for Excellence’ and in 2016 was awarded a Fellowship. Benjamin has been supported since 2013 by EFG International, the widely respected global private banking group.