By Jacob Stockinger
Here is the official announcement of the 2017-18 season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra:
The 2017-18 season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) presents nine programs that invite audiences to “listen with all your heart” and “feel the emotion, power and majesty” of great classical music.
Subscriptions are available now, and single tickets for all concerts go on sale to the public Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.
For more information about tickets and ticket prices plus discounts for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:
MSO music director John DeMain, who will be marking his 24th season with the MSO, has created an exciting season that features favorites combined with firsts.
Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad): “I must point out two monumental firsts: the MSO debut of the great violinist Gil Shaham, renowned and sought after the world over, whose appearance Madison has waited for for many years; and the Madison premiere of the Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek, a gargantuan work for chorus and orchestra with a prominent role for our “Colossal Klais,” the Overture Concert Organ.”
Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays; 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.
The 2017-2018 subscription series concerts begin on Sept. 15, 16 and 17 with “Orchestral Brilliance”—proudly presenting the Madison Symphony Orchestra performing the Johann Sebastian Bach/Leopold Stokowski version of the organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony and Hector Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” with MSO principal viola Christopher Dozoryst (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) as soloist. (You can hear Leopold Stokowski conduct his own transcription of the work by Bach, which was used in Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
“From the New World” on Oct. 20, 21 and 22 features the return of beloved pianist Olga Kern (below), a gold medalist in the Van Cliburn competition, performing Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, and the MSO performing Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.
On Nov. 17, 18, and 19 “Troubadour: Two Faces of the Classical Guitar” features sensational guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin (below) playing two works, one by American composer Chris Brubeck, and the other by the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo, with the MSO performing two Suites—Manuel DeFalla’s The Three-Cornered Hat and Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid.
The cherished kickoff to the holiday season, “A Madison Symphony Christmas,” returns on the first weekend in December — the 1, 2, and 3. Guest artists Emily Pogorelc, soprano, and Eric Barry, tenor, join John DeMain, the MSO, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below), Madison Youth Choirs and Mount Zion Gospel Choir on stage for the family-friendly celebration.
The MSO season subscription continues in 2018 with the long awaited appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below) with the MSO—“Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky” on Jan. 19, 20 and 21. This program features works by three of the most popular Russian composers of all time— Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
“Richly Romantic” concerts take place on Feb. 16, 17 and 18 when one of MSO’s favorite cellists, Alban Gerhardt (below), returns performing the lyrical William Walton’s Cello Concerto, and the MSO presents Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.
Spring arrives April 13, 14, and 15 with “String Fever” featuring Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Spring, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich (below) performing the Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.
The season finale, “Mass Appeal,” takes place on May 4, 5 and 6. Star of NPR’s From the Top, pianist Christopher O’Riley (below), will open the program with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22. The MSO premiere of the monumental Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek features the Overture Concert Organ and the Madison Symphony Chorus, along with soloists Rebecca Wilson, soprano, Julie Miller, mezzo-Soprano, Roger Honeywell, tenor, and Benjamin Sieverding, bass.
The MSO’s 17-18 season includes the popular multimedia production of Beyond the Score®, “Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations,” featuring live actors and visuals in the first half, with the entire work performed in the second half. Joining the orchestra are American Players Theatre actors James Ridge (below), Colleen Madden and Brian Mani, along with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland of Wisconsin Public Radio as the Narrator. This single performance takes place on Sunday, March 18, 2018*.
NOTE: *Advance tickets for Beyond the Score® are available only to MSO 17-18 season subscribers prior to single tickets going on sale to the general public on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Beyond the Score®
ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 92nd season in 2017-2018 and its 24th season under the leadership of music director John DeMain.
The MSO has grown to be one of America’s leading regional orchestras, providing Madison and south central Wisconsin with cultural and educational opportunities to interact with great masterworks and top-tier guest artists from around the world.
Find more information at madisonsymphony.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Renee Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) — too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?
What would Janet say?
Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?
I am speaking of Janet Yellen (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.
But let’s localize the issue.
The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:
And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.
Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?
We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.
Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?
If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.
Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.
But should he?
It makes one wonder.
Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)
Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.
The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.
Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.
When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.
Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.
Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.
Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.
In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?
Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.
SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.
Well, these are just some brain droppings.
The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?
Do they contribute to the wealth gap?
Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?
Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?
In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?
And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?
Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?
Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?
Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Spring break has begun at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at most public schools in and around Madison.
That means that the active concert life at the UW and other local presenters has taken a short break or intermission.
And that, in turn, means that I can catch up on some things – comments, reviews, non-local stories – that got pushed aside to make way for the ever busier schedule of live classical music events in the Madison area.
One of the things that I meant to blog about earlier is the lesson that I received from a couple of outstanding local events: The lesson that it takes more than talent, good stage nerves and playing the right notes to make a professional career in music.
One similar expression of that came recently from a blog by pianist Stephen Hough (below), who has performed several time sin Madison, from his comments about his life between concerts and from comments by his readers. Here is a link:
And you can Google to find other stories about life behind the scenes for concert musicians. That was one reason the recent movies “A Late Quartet” (below) and “Quartet” were so enjoyable.
I also posted about this when the acclaimed pianist Jeremy Denk. (Denk, below) returns to Madison on April 11 to perform Bartok, Liszt, Bach and Beethoven in a Mills Hall recital for the Wisconsin Union Theater series.)
Denk came here and lectured at the UW School of Music, gave a blog panel, and performed a massive recital of Charles Ives and J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations at the Wisconsin Union Theater two seasons ago. He performed this despite having his computer, with many notes for his acclaimed blog (“Think Denk”) and terrific lectures, stolen from backstage.
But Denk gamely went on as of nothing happened and delivered the goods in spades. I don’t know if I could have summoned that kind of concentration after that kind of upsetment. In fact, I am almost certain I could NOT have.
This semester I can think of two other examples, although I am sure there are more I don’t know about.
On Feb. 9 the acclaimed and unconventional Brooklyn-based freelance chamber orchestra The Knights (below) and pipa virtuoso Wu Man played an outstanding concert (below) marking the Chinese New Year in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which is closed for renovation.
Yet they arrived only 70 minutes before they went on stage.
They had unexpectedly caught a last-minute flight out of New York, despite a snowstorm (or snow “event” as TV weather forecasters have taken to calling it) and went to Milwaukee, where a chartered bus picked them up and brought them to Madison.
But it all happened so fast and unpredictably. So unsure were things that even the presenters were making contingency plans for cancelling the event.
But they all arrived and went on stage where they stood to play Debussy, Stravinsky and Milhaud as well as a pipa concerto by American composer Lou Harrison and a pipa work composed by Wu Man. Via cell phone, the players en route had asked that cookies and milk be provided after the concert for them (they hadn’t eaten or had a chance to rest) and for the rest of the audience.
That happened, and the music combined with the socializing make for an unforgettable event.
That kind of devotion, of going with flow no matter how discouraging, is what being a professional musician is all about. No excuses were made. The Knights and Wu Man just kept their composure, put the music first and played their hearts out – and the audience, including The Ear, was most grateful and appreciative.
Also in February, the distinguished German cellist Alban Gerhardt performed a terrific and terrifically difficult Prokofiev piece (the “Sinfonia Concertante”) with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain, who himself turned in a terrifically vital performance of Beethoven’s rarely heard Symphony No. 4.
But Gerhardt (below) too faced obstacles that turned out to be a demonstration of his cool professionalism.
Normally, he said, it takes about 12 hours to get from his home in Berlin, Germany to Madison. But he was rerouted due to airplane difficulties, and it took him twice as long –- about 24 hours – as normal.
In fact, he was late for his won first rehearsal. But he came directly from the airport and wandered into Overture Hall and picked up where someone else had started on his place. That was on Thursday night. Then came the actual performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday -– and he performed up to the level we all expected and that had been advertised by the symphony.
But travel and fatigue weren’t the only problems.
Add in some personal heartbreak. The Transportation Security Authorities at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C broke his $20,000 cello bow (below) in some careless manner while they inspected and then closed his cello case. He later discovered they had also damaged his cello.
The incident even made national and international news. Here are links:
That kind of unexpected loss has to hurt, especially when so much of the life of a touring musician is based on routine and things going as planned.
But neither the travel delay nor the broken bow – he borrowed one from a symphony cellist – interfered with his absolutely first-rate performance.
Talk about remaining cool, calm and collected!
Anyway, both concerts were wonderful events that I did not review because space was needed for other previews. (Each would have received a rave.) But I did want to praise not only the performances, but the sheer perseverance of great and thoroughly professional musicians who are anything but temperamental divas.
And then this past week, the up-and-coming New York-based pianist Shai Wosner (below) stepped in a again — the second time in three years — to substitute for Anne-Marie McDermott as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He got the call Tuesday afternoon and by Friday night was in Madison, had rehearsed the scheduled work (Mozart’s great Piano Concerto in C Minor) and delivered a first-rate performance.
Do you know of similar stories to share with readers and non-musicians or especially amateur musicians who might reassess whether they really ever wished to be professional touring concert artists?
The Ear wants to hear.
UPDATES and ALERTS: The Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a two-day two-for-the-price-of-one ticket sale for this weekend’s concerts if you mention the promotional code word CELLO either in person or on the phone at the Overture Center box office or use it on-line. The two-day sale started on Tuesday and ends at midnight tonight. Also, on Thursday, tomorrow, at noon, on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “The Midday” with host Norman Gilliland (88.7 FM in the Madison area), cellist Alban Gerhardt will be the guest.
By Jacob Stockinger
In deep winter, it will be welcome to feel the scented warm air of Spain as evoked in Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole.”
And then there is the chance to hear a rarely heard Beethoven symphony – the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, the last movement of which was recently named an ideal piece of classical music for an exercise workout. This symphony usually falls in the shadows of its predecessor (No. 3 “Eroica”) and successor (No. 5). But it is great music nonetheless.
Yet perhaps the biggest draw remains something of a curiosity –- Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante (or Cello Symphony), which is not often heard in live performance or recordings.
Also appealing is the cello soloist: the German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), who has played in Madison several times.
Gerhardt is outstanding and is known not only for his exceptional tone and musicianship, but also for his emotionally direct and outgoing playing that connects with audiences.
He is, in short, an unabashed and unapologetic extrovert, as he demonstrated in the email Q&A he recently gave to The Ear and which he wrote on the road between concert stops in Saarbrucken and Brussels.
The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $16.50-$78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information, visit:
For very informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen, visit:
And here is a link to Gerhart’s own well-organized and illuminating website about his biography, concert dates, repertoire, photos, music in schools and other activities (it is also available in German):
Here is the email Q&A with cellist Alban Gerhardt in two parts. Yesterday he discussed his huge repertoire and his hectic life as a professional cellist on the road and in the recording studio as well as his view of the Prokofiev. Today, he discusses how he came to the cello, what he thinks of Madison and his views about the best ways to educate young people about music and to involve new audiences of adults.
You have played several times in Madison, dating back to a Debut Series when you were starting out, I believe. Do you have an impression of the symphony, Madison audiences and the classical music scene in Madison, and what are they?
That’s true, I have been to Madison a couple of times, first with Rina Dokshitsky, my Israeli pianist back then, and I remember how loved the intellectual feeling with the university right in the center.
Somehow it felt rather European with all the benefits of a US city – and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that the Madison Symphony (below) is the one daring to schedule the Prokofiev as they have a wonderfully trained audience that knows a lot about music and won’t be scared away from a piece it might not have heard of before!
When you were young, was there for you an Aha! Moment – perhaps a certain piece or performer – when you knew you wanted to become a professional musician and a cellist?
Actually I always knew I wanted to be a musician and didn’t know there was any other profession, as my parents were both musicians, and their friends were. For the longest time, I didn’t meet any non-musicians.
Maybe it was New Year’s 1980-81, me just having played the cello (below) for two years, when I was allowed to play with my father, my teacher and some of his colleagues of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the Schubert Quintet (for two cellos, two violins and viola). It was such a strong sensation that since that day I have been disappointed by all the following New Year’s parties, because nothing has ever come close. To experience chamber music of such quality (I am talking about the piece, not our performance) made me believe that music was indeed my religion and my vocation.
Do you have your ideas about how music education should be done today and about how to attract younger audiences?
Since there is so much more distraction for not only young people, we do need to think of a way to keep the appeal of classical music alive. It’s hard to compete with all these cleverly thought up video and computer games, play stations, TV, the Internet. Even for people who love classical music, it can be tough to get them into a concert as they can see everything online these days — for free!
We musicians have to make a point of how much more fulfilling a live concert experience is than just a recording or a video of a concert. But we also must make sure that we do create in the moment we are playing, and not just going through the motions while avoiding any kind of risk.
The most beautiful review I ever received was in San Diego. The journalist wrote that he felt I was playing with an urgency as if some terrorists had put the gun to my head to play for my life.
While I despise any kind of insincerity on stage, any kind of empty “show-gesture”, there is a need to bring real and true emotion onto the stage – there needs to be real heart-blood, not just the image of it.
Also musicians need to enjoy what they are doing. Sometimes I look into the faces while attending a concert and musicians often look so serious, sometimes even bored or empty, and this easily translates into the audience. We have to show why music written 100, sometimes 200 years ago, is still relevant — but we also have to play music written today and make a strong case for why today’s music is for everybody and not for only a few chosen ones.
I learned in the US the importance of going into schools and introduce my cello, what I do with it and what it means for me. Music classes in the schools are essential, should be seen as important as learning science, math, history or languages.
It is also very important for young people (below) to experience the beauty of an acoustic instrument, a real live performance, possibly from somebody who can draw their attention and who can also talk to them in their language, not just a speech over their heads. I love doing this, never stopped and want to intensify efforts in that direction. (Below is a photo of a violinist in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.)
Also, I love to perform at public places for free, to bring music to people who have maybe always thought that classical music stinks and who might be pleasantly surprised that it is quite a magic thing.
When I played all Bach suites (an excerpt from Suite No. 6 with Alban Gerhardt is below in a YouTube video) at the main train station in Berlin (slightly amplified), one lady told me that she had never listened so intensely to any kind of music as she needed to concentrate so much to block out all the other noises. This way the public space in which I performed became like a concert hall, created by the concentration of the 200-plus people listening with all their concentration. Quite an experience!
UPDATES and ALERTS: The Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a two-for-the price of one ticket sale to this concert if you mention the promotional code word CELLO either in person or on the phone at the Overture Center box office or use it on-line. The sale started today and ends at midnight Wednesday. Also, on this Thursday at noon, on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “The Midday” with host Norman Gilliland (88.7 FM in the Madison area), cellist Alban Gerhardt will be the guest.
By Jacob Stockinger
In deep winter, it will be so welcome to feel the scented warm air of Spain as evoked in Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole.”
And then there is the chance to hear a rarely heard Beethoven symphony – the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, which was recently named an ideal piece of classical music for exercising and workout. This symphony usually falls in the shadows of its predecessor (No. 3 “Eroica”) and successor (No. 5). But it is great music nonetheless.
Also appealing is the cello soloist: the German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), who has played in Madison several times. Born in 1969, he started piano and cello lessons at 8.
Gerhardt is outstanding and is known not only for his exceptional tone and musicianship, but also for his intense and emotional but outgoing playing that connects with audiences.
He is, in short, an unabashed and unapologetic extrovert, as he demonstrated in the email Q&A he recently gave to The Ear and which was written on the road between concert stops in Saarbrucken and Brussels.
The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $16.50-$78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information, visit:
For very informative and accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen, visit:
And here is a link to Gerhart’s own well-organized and illuminating website with his biography, concert dates, repertoire, photos, music in schools and other activities (it is also available in German):
Here is my email Q&A with cellist Alban Gerhardt in two parts. Today, he discusses his huge repertoire and his hectic life as a professional cellist on the road and in the recording studio as well as his view of the Prokofiev work. Tomorrow, he will discuss how he came to the cello, what he thinks of Madison and his views about the best ways to educate young people about music and to involve new audiences of adults.
What are your current and future plans in terms of concertizing, recordings and other projects?
As always, the repertoire at hands is quite diverse — last month it was the Friedrich Gulda Concerto in Brussels, and now in Brussels, but with an orchestra from Germany, I am playing Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo” Variations.
After my Prokofiev performance in Madison, I was supposed to perform the Elgar Concerto in Minneapolis, but the orchestra is unfortunately locked out by management, so these concerts got cancelled. That is good for me, as it gives me a few extra days at home in Berlin before playing the Dvorak Concerto in Dublin and the Schumann Concerto in Zürich.
After a couple of recitals I will play Britten’s gorgeous Cello Symphony in Madrid, Walton’s Cello Concerto in Spokane, Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto in Nurenberg, the sixth Bach solo suite at Sir John Eliot Gardiner‘s Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall (below) in London (quite an honor for me as the only cellist to be asked by the one of the world’s foremost Bach specialists to play the greatest of all Bach) — and this is only until April.
After that I am not counting as I try to live more in the moment. Recording projects there are plenty as my label Hyperion wants me to record quite different things for them. In their series Romantic Cello Concertos, I am going to record two concerti by Henri Vieuxtemps and two pieces for cello and orchestra by Eugene Ysaye at the beginning of April in Antwerp.
In late August I will record all the Hindemith concertos with the DSO Berlin, and later this year another encore disc plus a Russian recital disc with Cecile Licad with Rachmaninov and Prokofiev Sonatas.
But my biggest undertaking will be to convince my unborn son to come into this world when I am in Berlin middle of June with this kind of schedule: June 1, Dvorak in Leipzig; June 2, chamber music (with my violinist wife) in Braunlage; June 4 and 5 rehearsals in Munich; June 8, Brahms Double Concerto in Berlin with the RSB; June 10 and 11, the Chin Concerto in Munich with Kent Nagano and the State Opera Orchestra; June 14, another Dvorak near Leipzig; June 16, a recital in Bad Kissingen; and June 28, a Brahms Double Concerto in Hamm (with my wife).
The due date is June 18, but both of us were two and three weeks early. So probably he’ll come beginning of the month. I am praying for June 3, which is also easy to remember: 6-3-13.
What would you like to say about Prokofiev’s “Sinfonia Concertante”? Why do you think it isn’t it programmed and performed more often? Are there certain things you would like listeners especially to listen for? Are there other works by Prokofiev or other composers you would compare it to? How do you think it fit a into the program with Ravel (“Rapsodie Espagnole”) and Beethoven (Symphony No. 4)?
Prokofiev’s Cello Symphony is one of the 20th century’s great concertos, created by the collaboration of a genius composer with a genius musician, Mstislav Rostropovich (below), who even wrote certain passages himself (the virtuosic moments in the first movement, for example).
It is based on Prokofiev’s first cello concerto, which is so dark and difficult that none of them were convinced it would work. So both of them sat together and by re-writing it, more or less created a totally different piece, much more accessible and impressive, even though much easier to play than the concerto.
I have recorded both pieces for Hyperion and it is interesting to see the thematic similarities, while the atmosphere and the mood are totally different.
Why is it is not performed more often? Not my fault. I play it as often as I am asked to do it — but especially in the cello repertoire, audiences seem to be more hesitant to listen to “not so common” pieces than with the piano or the violin, which is the reason why orchestras don’t dare to schedule a bigger variety of cello concertos. There are so many great concertos for the cello that are hardly ever played — when have you heard (live) the Barber Concerto, for example? And it is such an amazing work!
I heard Rostropovich play the Prokofiev (a YouTube video of him in the opening part of the “Sinfonia Concertante” is at bottom) when I was a child growing up in Berlin, and I was deeply impressed and knew that one day I would need to perform this piece. As hellishly difficult as it might sound, it is s-o-o-o much fun to play.
After a short first movement comes a monster movement, pyrotechnics at first, a drop-dead-gorgeous second theme (perfect love-theme for any movie score!), a thrilling solo cadenza in which the cellist goes completely nuts, finishing off with octave scales, and the last movement follows promptly as a theme with variations, very witty, sometimes funny, sometimes dark, sometimes drunken. (Kurt Masur, when I did it with him in Leipzig, told me to play one of the variations like a drunken sailor, and I still remember this image very vividly.) The end must be the quickest and have the highest notes in the entire cello repertoire. Shortly before the end, though, you will hear a passage by the horns and the strings which sounds just like “Peter and the Wolf” — each time I perform this I can’t help feeling like a child again. It makes me so happy.
Any other piece to compare it to? No, it’s quite unique, but typically Prokofiev (below)! It fits beautifully into this program, all great music, very different colors and expressions, but all pieces that are very colorful and expressive. I love it, and can’t wait to play it!
Tomorrow: Cellist Alban Gerhardt will discuss how he came to the cello and his career as a professional musician; what he thinks of Madison; the best ways to educate young people about music and to involve new audiences of adults.