Lang, Schubert, Brahms
FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2019 AT 8 P.M.
CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Orion Weiss & Shai Wosner, piano
Lang Gravity for piano Four Hands
Schubert Sonata in C Major for Piano Four Hands, “Grand Duo”
Lang After Gravity for Two Pianos
Brahms Sonata in F Minor for Two Pianos
One of the most sought-after soloists in his generation of young American musicians, the pianist Orion Weiss has performed with the major American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and New York Philharmonic. His deeply felt and exceptionally crafted performances go far beyond his technical mastery and have won him worldwide acclaim.
Named the Classical Recording Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year in September 2010, in the summer of 2011 Weiss made his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood as a last-minute replacement for Leon Fleisher. In recent seasons, he has also performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and in duo summer concerts with the New York Philharmonic at both Lincoln Center and the Bravo! Vail Valley Festival. In 2005, he toured Israel with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Itzhak Perlman.
Also known for his affinity and enthusiasm for chamber music, Weiss performs regularly with his wife, the pianist Anna Polonsky, the violinists James Ehnes and Arnaud Sussman, and cellist Julie Albers. As a recitalist and chamber musician, Weiss has appeared across the U.S. at venues and festivals including Lincoln Center, the Ravinia Festival, Sheldon Concert Hall, the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, La Jolla Music Society SummerFest, Chamber Music Northwest, the Bard Music Festival, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, the Kennedy Center, and Spivey Hall.
Weiss’s impressive list of awards includes the Gilmore Young Artist Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Gina Bachauer Scholarship at the Juilliard School and the Mieczyslaw Munz Scholarship. Weiss attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Paul Schenly, Daniel Shapiro, Sergei Babayan, Kathryn Brown, and Edith Reed. In February of 1999, Weiss made his Cleveland Orchestra debut performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In March 1999, with less than 24 hours’ notice, Weiss stepped in to replace André Watts for a performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In 2004, he graduated from the Juilliard School, where he studied with Emanuel Ax.
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).
This season Mr. Wosner launches a new recital series, Schubert: The Great Sonatas, which continues his career-long, critically acclaimed engagement with the composer’s music. The series comprises Schubert’s last six piano sonatas over multiple concert programs at the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and Duke University in Durham, NC. He performs works from his latest solo recording, Impromptu (Onyx Classics), which features an eclectic mix of improvisationally inspired works by composers from Beethoven to Ives, presented by Peoples’ Symphony Concerts in New York. He also premieres Christopher Cerrone’s Dissolving Margins with the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias; performs with the Alabama, Princeton and Singapore symphony orchestras; continues his Bridge to Beethoven series with violinist Jennifer Koh; and tours in duo performances with violinist Veronika Eberle in Japan, among other engagements.
Mr. Wosner’s recordings have been praised for their inventive pairings of classical and modern masters. In addition to Impromptu, his recordings for Onyx include concertos and capriccios by Haydn and Ligeti with the Danish National Symphony conducted by Nicholas Collon; solo works by Brahms and Schoenberg; works by Schubert paired with new commissions from Missy Mazzoli; and Beethoven’s complete sonatas and variations for cello and piano with Ralph Kirshbaum. He also performs works by Bartók, Janáček, and Kurtág on a recording with violinist Jennifer Koh for Cedille Records.
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 and is a former member of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two. For several consecutive summers, he was involved in the West-Eastern Divan Workshop led by Mr. Barenboim and toured as soloist with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. In the U.S., Mr. Wosner has appeared with the orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Berkeley, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, and St. Paul and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestras. He has also performed with the Barcelona Symphony, Bournemouth Symphony, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, LSO St. Luke’s, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam, Orchestre National de Belgique, Staatskapelle Berlin, and the Vienna Philharmonic, among others.
Born in Israel, Mr. Wosner studied piano with Opher Brayer and Emanuel Krasovsky, as well as composition, theory, and improvisation with André Hajdu, and at The Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax. For more information, visit shaiwosner.com.
INTERACTIVE PROGRAM NOTES
Gravity for Piano Four Hands; After Gravity for Two Pianos
Composed in 2005, Gravity contains a note in the score: “eternal and very restrained legato throughout.”
Lang writes: “With Gravity I had the image in my head of how to make a kind of music that would always be falling. The material is in a state of slow perpetual motion, moving inexorably downwards and yet never really resting or landing.” Employing both the upper and lower registers of the piano, Lang spins out several short descending motives
– albeit with an occasional stepwise ascent.
For After Gravity, Lang seeks the opposite effect, “to create something weightless.” Just as Gravity represents a musical metaphor for falling, After Gravity is a metaphor for floating, by using broken chords that remain in a constant musical plane, much like a tuneless, multi-belled carillon.
Co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can, David Lang was born in California and studied at Stanford and the University of Iowa, ending with a Doctorate of Musical Arts at Yale. He is currently on the Yale composition faculty.
Piano Sonata in C major, D. 812, for Piano Four Hands, ”Grand Duo”
After leaving his position as schoolteacher in his father’s school, Franz Schubert never again had a permanent job. But he was quite popular as piano teacher to the rich. Starting in 1818, he taught piano to the two young, talented daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterházy, spending summers at the Count’s country estate. Over the years, Schubert composed numerous short utility pieces for piano four hands for the two girls, but by 1824 he must have considered them advanced enough to compose for them this major work. It must have been a challenge to the young duo.
The title Grand Duo was added posthumously by the publisher in 1837. For reasons never convincingly explained, the trio of friends, Johannes Brahms, Joseph Joachim and especially Robert Schumann, claimed it was un-pianistic and saw it as a blueprint for a symphony. Brahms even convinced Joachim in 1855 to orchestrate it, a version that became quite popular for a while. Their evaluation is now discredited.
The Sonata has all the hallmarks of the composer’s late works, particularly its expansion of structure of traditional classical forms, as well as sudden mood swings between cheeriness and despair. Even in 1824, Schubert was experiencing the physical and psychological symptoms of the tertiary syphilis that was slowly killing him.
The long first movement is unusual for Schubert in its restricted thematic content. The bulk of the movement in extended sonata-allegro form focuses on a single theme.
Even the second theme is based on it, retaining the same rhythmic profile.
Within that context, however, Schubert indulges his sudden shifts of mood with striking, sudden key changes.
After the formal recapitulation, he adds a coda-like second development section with more Sturm und Drang and fantasy-like variations on the main theme that showcase the virtuosity of his pupils.
And such extensions will play an important emotive role in the rest of the piece as well.
For the second movement, Schubert forgoes the typical ABA form for another sonata form. The opening melody is an emotionally and musically neutral affair.
But in the second theme, the composer creates an extended, asymmetrical melody that spins out into one of his typical major/minor dichotomies.
In the coda, one senses another burst of anguish – if not actual despair.
The emotional dichotomy holds even for the third movement, which features a driving scherzo
followed by a plangent trio.
The finale, a combination sonata/rondo form, features the major/minor, shifting from minor to major in the first theme
and major to minor in the second.
The development is particularly stormy, and instead of a recapitulation, Schubert launches another long coda, featuring a series of such emotionally ambiguous passages as the following to conclude.
Sonata for Two Pianos, in F minor, Op. 34b
Like a number of other compositions by the young Brahms, such as the First Piano Concerto, this Quintet underwent a complicated series of transformations until it reached its final form. It started in 1862 as a string quintet on the Schubertian model, with two cellos, but Brahms was unhappy with it. His friend, violinist Joseph Joachim, tried it out with his quartet and found it problematic. After some changes, it still did not please Joachim, who convinced the composer that with strings alone the work was not effective.
Brahms discarded and destroyed this version and recast it in 1864 as a Sonata for Two Pianos, which has survived as Op.34b. Brahms performed it with Carl Tausig in Vienna in 1864, but it again received a cool reception. It was apparently the conductor Hermann Levi who, when rehearsing the Sonata with Clara Schumann, urged Brahms in the following year to recast the work into its final form, a piano quintet.
The complex history of the Piano Sonata/Quintet serves as a snapshot of the musical and social environment in which Brahms composed. Both Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim were internationally famous virtuosi and composers in their own right whose musicianship was of such stature that composers sought their advice, making them active participants in the creative process. But not every composer was as accommodating as Brahms. When Joachim, the dedicatee of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, rejected the work, this son of a small-town butcher went only so far with his revisions and then took his score elsewhere to be performed.
Composers of the early and mid-nineteenth century no longer felt entirely constrained by Classical conventions in formal structure. Theirs was a process of gradual innovation in harmony, form and personal expression – but hardly a revolution. Overall, this is dark work that spends much of its time in the middle and lower registers of the two pianos.
Brahms constructs the first movement in sonata form but with a series of themes in a variety of distant keys.
until arriving at a closing theme in C major instead of the customary relative minor (A-flat major).
The development section reworks the themes in order, but avoids the closing theme. A formal recapitulation is succeeded by a coda featuring a subdued, lyrical rendition of the opening theme
and final powerful conclusion.
The gentle second movement represents the only emotional release in the entire Sonata. It is almost exclusively based on a single motive, which Brahms spins out for a full two minutes.
As it begins to create a hypnotic effect, he introduces a new motive, which he treats in a similar manner but for a shorter duration.
The third idea, featuring triplets,
leads to a plangent climax, but Brahms returns to develop his first theme for most of the remainder of the movement.
The dynamic scherzo is unusual for the extensive length and complexity of its theme with its several motives, changes from minor to major and shifts in rhythm
and even a little fugue.
The Trio, while in the same driving tempo, has a broad cantabile theme based on a variant of the third theme of the Scherzo.
The repeat of the Scherzo is not exact and includes an extensive coda.
Brahms opens the Finale with a ghostly, chromatic introduction,
leading into the dramatic and equally chromatic Allegro.
Like the first movement, this one is in sonata form, including a limping second theme
and an angry third.
The Sonata ends with another long coda; after a slow transition analogous to the movement’s introduction, the tempo accelerates, changing from duple to triple meter in what can only be described as a burst of musical temper.
Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2018