Selby and Richard McRae Foundation BEST AND BRIGHTEST

7:30 PM, Saturday, February 22, 2020
Thalia Mara Hall

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Beethoven's 5th piano concerto, revolutionary in its day and popularly known as "The Emperor", is a virtuosic showcase for international pianist and acclaimed Beethoven interpreter Anton Nel.  Dvořák's inviting 8th symphony ends the evening on a sparkling bright note.

Cash bar in the lobby prior to the concert and during intermission.

Pre-concert lecture by Dr. Timothy Coker on the mezzanine level, 6:45-7:15pm.

Sponsors

Concert generously sponsored by:


Anton Nel's appearance made possible by:

 JEANNETTE G. WALKER

Ludwig van Beethoven     Concerto 5 in Eb Major, Op 73 Emperor
     Anton Nel, piano

                          INTERMISSION

Antonin Dvorak                 Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 for Piano, Op. 73

The years between 1802 and 1808 were astoundingly productive for Beethoven. In the span of those six years he composed two piano concertos (Nos. 3 and 4), six piano sonatas, five symphonies, three string quartets, two piano trios, four violin sonatas, the Violin Concerto and the Triple Concerto (for violin, cello and piano)—not to mention an oratorio, a mass, the opera Fidelio, and the Choral Fantasy! It’s as if after 1802 a spigot of creativity opened wide and music came pouring out. This is no coincidence, for it was in October of 1802 that he penned the famous “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a letter addressed to his brothers that was never mailed, discovered only in his personal effects at the end of his life. In it he had come to terms with the brutal fact that his increasing deafness was incurable. “…I was not far from ending my own life—art, only art held me back. Ah, it seemed impossible to me that I should leave the world before I had produced all that I felt I might, and so I spared this wretched life—truly wretched….”. In 1808 he came close to accepting a post as a court composer to Jerome Buonaparte in Westphalia, but a group of wealthy aristocrats, recognizing his greatness, decided to do everything they could to keep him in Vienna, and they pulled together enough money to support him for the rest of his life. Indeed, Beethoven was to live almost twenty-five more years, and—against all probability—produce his greatest works, even as he descended into deafness.

Many of Beethoven’s public works—especially his symphonies—seem to be “about” triumph over adversity, expressed musically. The Fifth Symphony begins with a short, agitated motif, and ends in glorious triumph. The Ninth (as we will hear March 28) begins in despair (“Verzweiflung” he wrote in the autograph score) and ends eighty minutes later with arguably the most glorious final moments in Western art music. This concerto begins triumphantly, features a heart-wrenchingly beautiful slow movement, and ends with a rollicking Rondo that seems to express nothing but ecstatic joy. What had been going on around Beethoven? The Napoleonic Wars. In 1805, fifteen thousand French troops had entered the city of Vienna and most of the aristocracy had left town. In 1809, the year Beethoven completed the concerto, he wrote, “We have been suffering misery in a most concentrated form. What a destructive and disorderly life I see and hear around me, nothing but drums, cannons, and human misery in every form.” Napoleon continued to roll across Europe (the same man Beethoven had originally dedicated his “Heroic” Symphony to, only to withdraw the dedication once Napoleon crowned himself Emperor). So how did this concerto come to be called the “Emperor” Concerto, of all things? The story has been told that at the Vienna premiere in 1811, a French soldier in the audience shouted out “C’est l’Empereur!!” and it stuck. I cannot imagine Beethoven would be happy knowing that today we call it “Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto.”

Antonin Dvořàk: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

Dvořàk’s most popular symphony is his Ninth, “From the New World.” Famous for a slow movement melody designed to mimic melodic turns in African-American melody (and later put to words as a song, “Going Home”), it has overshadowed the rest of Dvořàk’s symphonic output, chiefly because of that very tune. But for many, the Eighth, composed in the summer and fall of 1889, is the most beautiful and expressive of his nine symphonies. In fact, he once remarked that he wanted this particular symphony to stand out from his others, “worked out in a new way.” Dvořàk composed very much in the Germanic tradition of Beethoven and Brahms, where complex motivic development reigned supreme. But to that Dvořàk added his considerable genius for memorable, singable melody. Dvořàk could infuse a whole symphony with melodies “that appeal straight to the musical pleasure zones of any listener, but which can also carry and create a whole symphonic edifice,” in the words of critic Tom Service [The Guardian]. I could list all the moments in this work that perfectly combine surprise, charming melody, and rigorous development, but I will let you discover them yourself, for there are too many to describe here. Despite its Germanic connections (and Brahms was a huge supporter of Dvořàk’s music), this symphony is infused with Dvořàk’s Czech temperament—especially in the last movement, which opens with a trumpet fanfare that proceeds to joyous, lyrical music that always seems to be dancing. As conductor Rafael Kubelík once said in an orchestral rehearsal, “Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle—they always call to the dance!”

Concert Calendar

April 2020
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Upcoming Performances

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