Tag Archives: Robert Schumann

Itzhak Perlman at Davies Hall: the Great Human

Itzhak Perlman performed an astonishing, wonderful recital at the San Francisco Symphony’s Davies Hall, January 16. That’s right, it was his usual: astonishing and wonderful. The packed to the rafters audience was entranced by his virtuosity, the graceful program choices, his presence. Seeking words for this article’s headline a phrase from Al Huang, dancer and  tai chi master, came to mind: the great human. That’s what Itzhak Perlman is for all of us.

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Rohan de Silva is the pianist who partners Perlman. He appears to be perfect both as musician and collaborator.

rohan-de-silva_175wRohan de Silva

Itzhak Perlman could play anything, so it is especially interesting to see his choices for this recital. In addition to being technically challenging for a musician, not for this musician but a musician, the selections projected a sense of balance. There were works of four great composers. Each one was a master who created the essence of his era.

Anonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)th-2 Vivaldi’s Sonata in A major for Violin and Continuo (1709), Opus 2, no. 2, is brilliant, quick, lively. It darts and skips yet always maintains its self-control, defining the early 18th century character. It was a time of conservative control pregnant with revolutionary change. It was bursting with creativity.  The program note said the sonata would be brief; it was over before one could be certain what had happened except the dazzling brilliance of the composer meeting his match.

81914355Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Beethoven’s Sonata in F major, Opus 24, Spring (1801) was a Beethoven masterpiece of the early 19th century. It is so lovely and full of delight that one can forget the extraordinary composer’s vision and musicians’ technique required to make this sound easy as water rolling over rocks. Beethoven took risks. In 1801, it was innovative for having four movements instead of three and for the more equal relationship between piano and violin. Beethoven did not give it the name Spring, but it fits. Its cheerful beauty is a pleasure and reminds the listener that great music can smile for us.

SchumannFantasiestucke for Violin and Piano, Opus 73 (1849) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) has three “fantasy pieces.” Each has a different personality: “Delicate and with feeling;” “Lively, light;” and “Fast and with fire.” This work from the last part of Schumann’s short life is something unexpected. While Schumann was central in creating the Romantic idea in music, by 1849 he had begun to reexamine classical forms and style. Other musicians, including his wife the great pianist Clara Schumann, may have expressed dismay but also may not have fully appreciated Robert Schumann’s searching intellect. Impossible to know what this reconsideration and study might have led him to create, but we do have his late work to enjoy and move us.

StravinskyIgor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano (1933) represented the 20th century. Stravinsky (1882-1971) took five movements from his Pulcinella, a ballet with Leonide Massine choreographer/lead dancer and designs by Picasso, to arrange as the Suite Italienne. Rearranged and published several times with the Italienne name, Itzhak Perlman and Rohan de Silva performed the final version. It includes the original five movements plus a Scherzino. This fascinating suite kept the listener’s attention with surprising rhythms and glorious sounds. Including a Tarantella, Gavotte, and Minuetto, it proudly embraced its origins in dance. The piano and violin definitely danced together and separately. Stravinsky credited Pulcinella as his “discovery of the past” which “made the whole of my late work possible.” Perlman balanced his program with two great composers, one known as Romantic, one as neo-classical, looking back into much earlier music for an understanding of where his own might go.

ENCORES: Anyone who has had the privilege of attending an Itzhak Perlman recital knows the encores are an essential part. He did not disappoint us. He took his bows with his partner, that extraordinary pianist. They left the stage, the audience continued to applaud, hope in every heart. He returned followed by Rohan de Silva and the page turner who carried a tall stack of music books. Not content with one sight gag, Itzhak Perlman then turned through pages clipped together. He told the audience that he keeps a list of the encores he has played in San Francisco. It goes back to 1912. He wouldn’t want to repeat something that someone who had been there in 1912 had heard, but then someone who had been there in 1912 probably couldn’t hear it anyway. He said he wouldn’t be able to remember and the audience could not hear, so he could play anything.

In fact, he played five encores. Each was fantastic in its own way. The unifying thread was the masterful, brilliant technique. He plays incredibly fast, he plays with a lyrical heart; it is all there. First was Tempo di Minuetto in the Style of Pugnani, by Fritz Kreisler. Aria des Lenski from Eugene Onegin, by Tchaikowsky followed. He played Caprice in A minor by Polish violin virtuoso and composer, Wieniawski. Any one of those pieces would be an admirable encore for which any audience should be grateful, but Mr. Perlman has spoiled us. We always want more. He played the theme from Schindler’s List, by John Williams, which he played for the movie. He ended with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #1. It was the absolute right music to have whirling in my head as we left.

Itzhak Perlman radiates love for music and for his audience. He is now on tour of ten western cities in fourteen days including San Diego, Tucson, Costa Mesa. He could decide to play only for Queen Elizabeth II and select heads of state. He is at the pinnacle; he’ll still play for Mesa, AZ. He plays a Klezmer reunion concert, January 23, in Santa Barbara. His recital at Disney Concert Hall is January 24, Los Angeles. Do not miss a chance to hear him play. See www.itzhakperlman.com FOR MORE HEDGEHOG HIGHLIGHTS ON ITZHAK PERLMAN, please see Ax & Perlman: Dynamic Duo of Music in San Francisco, Jan. 20, 2016, and Itzhak Perlman at the San Franciscio Symphony, Jan. 22, 2015.

Berliner Philharmoniker at San Francisco Symphony

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Do they play baseball in Berlin? When I think of the performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 at Davies Symphony Hall, Nov. 23, I keep thinking, “They hit it out of the park.” As performances of grand, serious, classical music go, this was a home run (if there is no baseball in Germany, allow me to say home run with bases loaded. That means it was as good as it could get. )  Conducted by their Artistic Director, Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic played the symphony with all the heart and hope of Johannes Brahms. That is a very great heart, one with the breadth to embrace the world with hope that humankind’s good will find a way to stay steps ahead of its bad. Commentators on the Symphony No. 2 have written as though it is a cheery, celebratory work with less depth than other Brahms masterpieces. While it has moments of beauty without struggle, they are not its whole character. There is struggle, there is darkness, but the dark never completely shuts out the light. The symphony achieves triumph through balance arising from the push and pull of dark and light. At the end, having experienced the fear of losing the way, the Symphony a great hurrah. It is greater for knowing the struggle. On Nov. 23, the entire audience jumped to its feet perhaps grateful to Brahms and the Berlin Philharmonic for having brought them through uncertain times to an affirmation, though an affirmation with complexities even on a sunny day.

220px-Arnold_schönberg_man_rayMaestro Rattle chose a fascinating program for the first half of the concert: Five Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 16 (1908), by Arnold Schoenberg; Six Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 6 (1908/1928) by Anton Webern; Three Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 6 (1915/1929) by Alban Berg. These works represented the significant new music of their era and the considerable unity of their composers’ thoughts. Rather than play them as separate compositions, Maestro Rattle had them played one after the other with minimal pause between works. Together they formed a new symphony of Viennese masters. The conductor explained to the audience that composers after Mahler confronted the question of where music could go next. They experimented with harmonic language. Rhythm and dynamics came center stage more than harmony. The music of these composers has the reputation of being prickly and difficult. The Berlin Philharmonic’s performance of the works revealed the music’s texture and emotion. It was a rich experience. This music is no longer contemporary, but still sounds new. Hearing it made this listener realize how much later composers drew from it. Next time I will listen to these works individually, but hearing this composite symphony allowed me to dive in amongst sounds like broken shards of a magnificent, stained glass window.

(For more on Alban Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, see Hedgehog Highlights Jan. 24, 2015 post on the SF Symphony performance, Jan. 22, 2015)

simonrattle-120x67    Simon Rattle becomes the Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, Sept.,2017. He ends his position as Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, in 2018.  Among innovations during his tenure is the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall which broadcasts their performances over the internet. In 2014, the orchestra released the complete symphonies of Robert Schumann. In April, 2016, their recordings of all the Beethoven symphonies appeared on CDs and also Blu-ray discs as HD videos. These recordings are with Simon Rattle conducting and on the label Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings. Pictures, from top, Johannes Brahms; Arnold Schoenberg, photo by Man Ray; Simon Rattle.

San Francisco Symphony Celebrates Sibelius, Rediscovers Schumann

Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas led the San Francisco Symphony in a great, very great performance of the Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47, by Jean Sibelius, and Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Opus 97, Rhenish, by Robert Schumann, November 13-15, at Davies Hall. If by any chance you missed hearing one of these concerts, you have a chance for more Sibelius tonight, Nov. 18, when pianist Leif Ove Andsnes performs works of Sibelius, Beethoven, Debussy, and Chopin. And, another chance for a grand Schumann symphony, Nov. 19-21, when MTT and the SFS perform Schumann’s symphony, No. 1, Spring.

220px-Jean_sibelius-2  This is the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’s birth, Dec. 8, 1865. Thanks to the milestone quality of that event, the SFS and others are performing more of his extraordinary music. One may hear Finlandia on the radio from time to time, and its stirring beauty is ample reason for Finland to celebrate Sibelius as a national hero, but he did write more. This program opened with his tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela, Opus, 22, no. 2. Written in 1896, it is one of a group of works based on Finnish legends, Four Legends from the Kalevala. Its beauty is misty, ethereal, and even a bit eerie. Tuonela was the “land of death” in Finnish myths. The Swan of Tuonela floats on a large river which circles Tuonela and sings. The images of the tale evaporate into the music or the music calls the mythic characters into being. From which ever direction one experiences it, The Swan of Tuonela, as performed by the SFS is beautiful and chilling.

Leonidas Kavakos Photo: Marco Borggreve Leonidas Kavakos performed the Violin Concerto (1904) with stunning virtuosity. This is not stunning in the sense of “looking good.”  This was stunning in the sense of shivers up the back bone and eye popping brilliance. Mr. Kavakos made the first recording of the original version of this Violin Concerto, in 1991. That version is said to be even more demanding than the one more often performed. The winner of major international violin competitions, he is far more than a majestic technician; he is a magical musician. The concerto moves from very delicate, dream-like music into deeply passionate music with the full orchestra. As a moody, pessimistic sound takes over, the solo violin emerges to play an astonishing cadenza. Sibelius uses the voices of the orchestra and of the soloist in opposition and also brilliant unity. As a composer, Sibelius can only be described as Sibelius-esque. The music finds enchanting melody and also heart pounding syncopated rhythms. This SFS performance with Leonidas Kavakos took one’s breath away.

220px-Schumann-photo1850Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was a pianist, conductor, music critic, journalist in addition to being a great composer. We are all lucky that MTT and the SFS are launching a project to record Schumann’s four symphonies. The performance, Nov. 15, was the first of the performance recordings. It was glorious. Maestro Tilson Thomas captured the energy and motion of the music. One could almost feel the rolling power of the water in the waves of sound. The SFS played as though their hearts were unleashed. The symphony opens with lively music; we are there on the Rhine, that ever present symbol of Europe. The second movement has the rhythms of dances. The minuet and a German folk dance combine. Schumann had called it “Morning on the Rhine.” He and his wife, Clara, had taken a trip to the Rhineland together and remembered it as a tranquil, happy time. Schumann had seen the cathedral at Cologne and the installation of a Cardinal there. The solemnity of the fourth movement is his representation of the grandeur of the place and event. In the end, wisps of the early themes reappear; the timing slows as the great river swells and travels toward the sea. The the symphony has an internal effect on the listeners. The audience was buoyant, energized, smiling as though the movement of the music had infused them all with the spirit of the natural force of the river.

mtt_09-black_0598-5-120x67 Three cheers for MTT’s Schumann project with the San Francisco Symphony. This great, Romantic composer has not been given his due in recent decades. Music lovers should not miss this experience. The time has come to rediscover his music.

Pictures, from top: Jean Sibelius; Leonidas Kavakos, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony; Robert Schumann, photograph from 1850; Michael Tilson Thomas, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony.

Helene Grimaud & San Francisco Symphony

HGrimaudThe astonishing Helene Grimaud performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op 15 (1858), with the SFSymphony, Feb. 6, 2014, at Davies Symphony Hall. Ms Grimaud’s performance was powerful, expressive of the deep emotions in the great work. She is a pianist whose affinity for Brahms has offered both wonderful performances and recordings. Listening to the concerto is an intense experience. Brahms never dodges the emotions and does not mind calling on the audience to pay heed to the interworkings of piano and orchestra, changes of rhythm, a lyricism which is not soothing. In fact, Brahms does not seem to mind if one is not comfortable.This is edge of your seat music.BrahmsHeleneGrimaud. The music can swirl like a rip tide in deep water. It has a force which could sweep one away. It brings to mind images for which one might have yearned but never reached. Writers often find autobiographical detail in this concerto. Brahms’ friend and champion, Robert Schumann, had tried to drown himself in the Rhine in 1854. Schumann was sent to an asylum where he died, in 1856. Schumann and his wife, Clara, had 7 children. Brahms spent time visiting Schuman, helping Clara, helping with the children. Brahms and Clara: who knows? Seeing them through 21st century eyes is not so helpful. Yet their devotion to each other and to Schumann was total. So, is it a game to identify which movement is Robert Schumann and which is Clara Schumann and which is Brahms’ sense of loss? Oh, please, let’s not go there! Johannes Brahms was a great, earth-shakingly great composer. He worked with music and invented music. If he wanted to write a play, he could have done that instead. The concerto is about the music. If memories, images, emotions are called into being by it, that is its life. The concerto embraces the intertwining of music, love, and life. Sadness is there because it is real, and Brahms is always real. Ms Grimaud played with feeling completely in tune with Brahms. She spent herself entirely in service of the music. It was an extraordinary performance by Symphony and soloist.                                                                       

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The SF Symphony offered Metaboles, by Henri Dutilleux, and La Valse, by Maurice Ravel, after intermission. The SFS was an exuberant, well-tuned instrument as conducted by Lionel Bringuier. Metaboles, though a little intimidating to read about, was a poetic and interesting piece. The composer was concerned with finding the correct form for each of the five movements. For example, Obsessionnel: Scherzando and Torpide: Andantino. It was fascinating music played with precision that did not take away from the rhythmic and melodic pleasure of the piece. La Valse is dramatic and threatening. Ravel’s affection for Johann Strauss had moved him to write a waltz tribute; World War I intervened. La Valse is imbued with the harsh sounds of irony. Couples may be dancing together, but they are out of step and off center, like a chandelier about to crash on a party. The music gets faster and –perhaps Maestro Bringuier was excited–extremely loud (as occasionally happened in the concerto). It is not the charming waltz of days gone by but the future’s dance of terror. Pictures: top, Helene Grimaud; L to Rt: Brahms, H.Grimaud, Lionel Bringuier, Maurice Ravel