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Since winning the Grand Prix prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition and being awarded Gramophone’s 2016 Artist of the Year, pianist Daniil Trifonov has catapulted to global fame as “without question the most astounding pianist of our age” (The Times). Trifonov makes his NWS debut alongside MTT, performing fellow Russian pianist Alexander Scriabin’s only Concerto. Hector Berlioz’s dramatic symphony is a stirring portrayal of Shakespeare’s tragic love story. New Conducting Fellow Chad Goodman takes the New World Center podium for the first time for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.
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Ludwig van Beethoven
Approx. Duration: 9 minutes
Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
Approx. Duration: 28 minutes
Concerto in F-sharp minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 20
Approx. Duration: 45 minutes
Selections from Romeo and Juliet, Dramatic Symphony, Op. 17
Queen Mab Scherzo
Romeo Alone – Festivities at Capulet’s
Ludwig van Beethoven
Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
Approximate duration: 9 minutes
Beethoven longed to be an opera composer, and yet it proved to be the most frustrating aspect of his career. In the period when his only opera, Leonore, sat dormant—it was soon revised for the second time and reintroduced as Fidelio—Beethoven agreed to provide incidental music for an 1810 revival of Egmont, a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The drama, set in the 16th century, followed the tribulations of the Count of Egmont, who was convicted of treason and executed after he protested the Spanish occupation in his native Flanders. It was timely fare for Vienna, still reeling from the French occupation in 1809, and it gave Beethoven a chance to vent some of his resentment toward Napoleon while advancing his prospects in Vienna’s theater scene.
The Overture to Egmont begins with a severe introduction in the key of F minor, its slow and deliberate phrases punctuated by stout chords. A pulsing accompaniment ratchets up the tension, and then the strings pivot to the fast body of the Overture, reusing a rising and falling motive to unify the two sections. The minor-key drama gives way at the end to major-key triumph in an accelerated tempo, with piccolo, trumpets and timpani reinforcing the militaristic tone.
Concerto in F-sharp minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 20
Approximate duration: 28 minutes
The Piano Concerto that Alexander Scriabin drafted at the age of 24 (a task that only took a matter of days) represented a fascinating detour in the career of this most mystifying Russian composer. After studying alongside Rachmaninoff at the Moscow Conservatory, Scriabin got his professional start writing and performing solo piano music indebted to Chopin and Liszt. A Russian publisher took Scriabin under his wing, arranging for his Paris recital debut and instigating the creation of the Concerto, but the temperamental young composer was a nightmare to work with, perpetually missing deadlines, overspending against his advance payments, and burning bridges with influential colleagues like Rimsky-Korsakov, who was called in to help with the Concerto when Scriabin foundered in his first attempt at orchestration.
Scriabin eventually finished the score and performed it in Moscow and elsewhere, but ultimately he was not fated to ride original concertos to international stardom like his old classmate Rachmaninoff. Instead Scriabin became increasingly mystical in his philosophical outlook and radical in his musical approach, as heard in the final piano sonatas and the esoteric symphonic works that occupied the latter portion of his short, strained life. And yet Scriabin always stood by his youthful and relatively conservative Concerto, keeping it in his repertoire to the end and never rehashing the intuitive orchestration even after he honed his symphonic voice.
The Concerto uses the traditional sonata form for its first movement, but the material has none of the heroism found in model piano concertos from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky. With its lyrical first theme, abundant rubato (in which tempos flex freely) and petite dimensions that make it shorter than both movements that follow, this Allegro statement is uncommonly poetic within the tradition of formal concertos.
After muted strings introduce the gentle theme of the slow movement, the piano begins a diverse series of variations, starting with effervescent arpeggios that encircle the solo clarinet’s innocent restatement of the melody.
The opening music of the finale, with its dancing pulse in a three-beat meter, recalls Chopin and his signature Polonaises. The contrasting material is the real showstopper, though, exhibiting a soaring lyricism to rival Rachmaninoff and delivering this Concerto out of the tension of F-sharp minor and into the radiance of F-sharp major. Scriabin was one of those rare individuals who experienced the world with synesthesia—a cross-wiring of the senses that, in his case, gave each musical key its own distinct visual hue—such that the ending key of this Concerto appeared to him as bright blue.
Selections from Romeo and Juliet, Dramatic Symphony, Op. 17
Approximate duration: 45 minutes
The French composer Hector Berlioz became fascinated with Shakespeare in 1827, when a British troupe performed Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet in Paris. Despite knowing barely any English, Berlioz found the plays captivating—especially the contributions of a beautiful Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, who played the roles of Ophelia and Juliet. (His obsession with Smithson fueled the Symphonie fantastique in 1830, and they later ended up in a brief, stormy marriage.)
Berlioz was a talented writer himself with a passion for literature that often bubbled over into his music, and he was eager to engage with Shakespeare in some way. The opportunity came in 1838, when the aging superstar violinist Niccolò Paganini offered Berlioz a gift of 20,000 francs—enough to pay off his debts and clear space for a substantial composition. He decided to create a choral symphony, following the model of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but Berlioz added a twist by incorporating Romeo and Juliet to accentuate the dramatic elements of the symphony, just as his Symphonie fantastique had taken the programmatic concept of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony to a new degree of theatricality.
In a preface to the score, Berlioz illuminated his approach to the choral symphony. While two choruses represent the rival Montague and Capulet families, and three soloists sing minor roles, the central relationship between Romeo and Juliet unfolds in the orchestra, rather than voices. As he explained, “The very sublimity of this love made its depiction so dangerous for the composer that he needed to allow his imagination a freedom which the literal meaning of the words sung would have denied him. Hence the resort to instrumental language, a language which is richer, more varied, less finite, and through its very imprecision incomparably more powerful in such a situation.”
This Suite begins with the symphony’s introduction, representing, according to Berlioz’ annotations, “Combat—Tumult—Intervention of the prince.” A contrapuntal opening captures the skirmish between the rival families, and stentorian brass instruments herald the peacemaking prince of Verona. Later that night, “In the garden of the Capulets, serene and deserted,” comes the story’s central love scene, blooming patiently in warm orchestral hues. Part II of the Symphony ends with a mischievous Scherzo, based on Mercutio’s description of the fairy queen Mab.
Jumping back to the beginning of Part II, a forlorn unison line depicts Romeo Alone. The music brightens with “distant sounds from the concert and the ball,” until it reaches the festive flair of the “Great banquet at the Capulets,” where the disguised Romeo falls for Juliet.
-- © 2019 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Michael Tilson Thomas is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy; Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony; and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition to these posts, he maintains an active presence guest conducting with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Tilson Thomas is the third generation of his family to follow an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures.
Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal studies at the University of Southern California where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts. During this same period he was the pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1974. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
His recorded repertoire of more than 120 discs includes works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev and Stravinsky as well as his pioneering work with the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. He also recorded the complete orchestral works of Gustav Mahler with the San Francisco Symphony.
Mr. Tilson Thomas’ television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts from 1971 to 1977 and numerous productions on PBS’ Great Performances. Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony produced a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes a television series, web sites, radio programs and programs in schools.
In 1990 Mr. Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF in the United States, featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator of From the Diary of Anne Frank, composed by Mr. Tilson Thomas and commissioned by UNICEF. This piece has since been translated and performed in many languages worldwide. In August 1995 he led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the premiere of his composition Showa/Shoah, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Thomas Hampson premiered his settings of poetry by Walt Whitman, Renée Fleming premiered his settings of the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the San Francisco Symphony premiered his concerto for contrabassoon entitled Urban Legend. As a Carnegie Hall Perspectives Artist from 2003 to 2005, he had an evening devoted to his own compositions which included Island Music for four marimbas and percussion, Notturno for solo flute and strings and a new setting of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Other compositions include Street Song for brass instruments and Agnegram, an overture for orchestra.
Among his many honors and awards, Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has won 11 Grammy Awards for his recordings. In 2008 he received the Peabody Award for his radio series for SFS Media, The MTT Files. In 2010 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government.
Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov (dan-EEL TREE-fon-ov), Musical America’s 2019 Artist of the Year, has made a spectacular ascent in the classical world as a solo artist, concerto collaborator, chamber musician and composer. An exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, he recently added a first Grammy Award to his string of honors, winning Best Instrumental Solo Album of 2018 for his Liszt collection, Transcendental. The Times (London) calls him “without question the most astounding pianist of our age.”
This fall brings the Deutsche Grammophon release of Mr. Trifonov’s Destination Rachmaninov: Arrival, following Destination Rachmaninov: Departure and the Grammy-nominated Rachmaninov: Variations, both also recorded with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. As 2019-20 Artist-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic, Mr. Trifonov joins the orchestra for concertos in New York and Europe, and gives the New York premiere of his own Piano Quintet. His upcoming highlights also include collaborations with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony and San Francisco Symphony; Bach-themed solo recitals in New York, Chicago, Boston and Europe; and a return to Carnegie Hall with fellow pianist Sergei Babayan.
Mr. Trifonov recently undertook four major season-long residencies: at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Vienna’s Musikverein, and with the London Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic. Other recent highlights include launching the New York Philharmonic’s 2018-19 season, headlining the gala finale of the Chicago Symphony’s 125th anniversary celebrations, and collaborating with such preeminent ensembles as The Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, London Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He regularly gives solo recitals at venues including Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Boston’s Celebrity Series, London’s Barbican and Royal Festival Hall, Paris’ Théâtre des Champs Élysées and Salle Pleyel, Brussels’ Palais des Beaux-Arts, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Berlin’s Philharmonie, Zurich’s Tonhalle, Vienna’s Musikverein, Barcelona’s Palau de la Música, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and Opera City, the Seoul Arts Center and Melbourne’s Recital Centre.
In 2010-11 Mr. Trifonov took First Prize in Tel Aviv’s Rubinstein Competition, Third Prize in Warsaw’s Chopin Competition and First Prize and Grand Prix in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition. Having won Italy’s Franco Abbiati Prize for Best Instrumental Soloist in 2013, three years later he was named Gramophone’s Artist of the Year. Born in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991, he attended Moscow’s Gnessin School of Music, before pursuing piano and composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Recognized as "an entrepreneur bringing innovation to classical music" (Forbes), Chad Goodman leads an active and diverse conducting career.
The Conducting Fellow of the New World Symphony, Mr. Goodman will work closely with Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas and take the podium on 13 programs during the 2019-20 Season. Since 2018 he has served as an Assistant Conductor to the San Francisco Symphony, assisting Esa-Pekka Salonen, Manfred Honeck, Daniel Harding, Pablo Heras-Casado, Simone Young and James Gaffigan, among others.
As Founder and Artistic Director of Elevate Ensemble, Mr. Goodman’s “courageous” and “ambitious” (San Francisco Classical Voice) vision for concert programming resulted in the pairing of music from Bay Area composers with underappreciated gems of the 20th and 21st centuries. Under his leadership, Elevate Ensemble established a Composer-in-Residence program, served as Ensemble-in-Residence at San Francisco State University, and commissioned 15 works from Bay Area composers.
Mr. Goodman has previously served as Music Director of the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Peninsula Symphony. He has been a Conducting Fellow at the Atlantic Music Festival, a cover conductor for the San Francisco Ballet and has collaborated with composer Mason Bates on his electronica-classical music project, Mercury Soul.
A driving force in the new music scene, Mr. Goodman has conducted the premieres of more than 50 works. In addition to his performing career, he has taught young musicians the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to successfully navigate the world as a working musician in his workshop “You Just Earned a Music Degree. Now What?”
Mr. Goodman holds a bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music and a master of music degree from San Francisco State University. His mentors include Michael Tilson Thomas, Alasdair Neale, Cyrus Ginwala and Martin Seggelke.