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Gabriela Montero, piano
- Montero performs Mozart!
- May 16-17, 2014 7:00 PM
- where: Dell Hall directions
- conductor: Peter Bay
The Austin Symphony will conclude its 2013-2014 Classical Series with famed pianist Gabriela Montero performing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor. The ASO will also perform American composer Robert Paterson’s Dark Mountain and conclude the evening with Richard Strauss’ famed Also sprach Zarathustra in honor of Strauss’ 150th birthday.
|Robert Paterson||Dark Mountains|
|Mozart||Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466|
|Richard Strauss||Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30|
b. 1970 in Buffalo, New York.
Dark Mountains. Premiered by Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Made in Vermont Tour, Jaime Laredo, conductor, September-October, 2011.
Composer Robert Paterson continues to gain attention here and abroad for writing “vibrantly scored and well-crafted” music that “often seems to shimmer” (NewMusicBox). His works are praised for their elegance, wit, structural integrity, and a wonderful sense of color. Paterson was awarded The Composer of The Year at Carnegie Hall from the Classical Recording Foundation in 2011. The Book of Goddesses was on the Grammy® nomination ballot this past year for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and was named one of the Top 10 favorite pieces of the year by NPR’s Best Music of 2012.
His works have been played by the Louisville Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Albany Symphony and the American Composers Orchestra. Upcoming engagements include a commission with the Utah Arts Festival via winning their 2013 competition, Safe Word with Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers Showcase, and an album of Paterson’s choral works to be recorded with Musica Sacra and conductor, Kent Tritle. Paterson resides in New York City with his wife, Victoria, and their son, Dylan.
Program Notes are provided by the composer:
“Vermont is famous for its green mountains, but I often find myself taking long drives through the mountains on overcast days or even at night, when the mountains lose color and become gray silhouettes. Many roads in Vermont are so dark, particularly in the Northeast Kingdom, that you need to use headlights, even during the day. Dark Mountains is meant to portray the beauty and grandeur of the mountains and the peacefulness of the open roads, but also the darkness and occasional treacherous passes one may encounter during the evening hours. The piece is in three connected sections. The first section portrays the calmness and austerity of a quiet evening. The second is inspired by a fast drive down winding country roads, with twists and turns, frequent tempo changes and shifting gears. The final section evokes the feeling of looking at the nighttime sky with moonlight shining through the trees and the sounds of nature in the distance.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
b. January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria; d. December 5, 1791 in Vienna, Austria.
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466. Premiered February 11, 1785 in Vienna, with the composer as soloist.
The year 1785 marked an important turning point in Mozart’s attitude toward his work and his public, a change in which this D minor Concerto was central. When he tossed over his secure but hated position as composer and concertmaster to the Archbishop Colloredo in his native Salzburg, he determined that, at age 25, he would go to Vienna to seek his fame and fortune as a piano virtuoso. He found both, at least for the first few years, during which he gave a large number of “Academies,” instrumental and vocal concerts that were popular during the Lenten season, when regular theatrical and operatic activities were proscribed by the Church. His concertos for those Academies winningly satisfied the Viennese requirement for pleasantly diverting entertainment, and they were among the most eagerly awaited of his new music. There was something for everyone in them, he told his father in a letter of 1782, the time of the first Viennese concertos (K. 413, 414, 415): “The concertos straddle the line between that which is too difficult and too easy; they are brilliant and pleasant for the ears, of course without being empty. Now and then connoisseurs too can receive satisfaction, but so that those who are not will be content without knowing why.” His success in 1784 may be gauged by the length of the subscription list for his concerts, which included more than 150 names representing the cream of the local nobility: eight princes, one duke, two counts, one countess, one baroness, and many others of similar pedigrees. The D minor Concerto must have puzzled the concert habitués of Vienna. This new and disturbing work, from a composer who had previously offered such ingratiating pieces, did not conform to their standard for a pleasant evening’s diversion. Instead, it demanded greater attention and deeper emotional involvement than they were prepared to expend. Mozart’s tendency in his later years toward a more subtle and more profound expression was gained at the expense of alienating his listeners. One bemused musical amateur, for example, returned to the publisher his set of parts for the new quartets dedicated to Haydn because he was convinced such wide-ranging harmony as they contained was the result of engraver’s error rather than composer’s choice. Another customer simply tore up his copy and sent a scornful letter to the publisher demanding his money back. Emperor Joseph II lamented that Mozart’s works contained “too many notes,” and that there was simply no reason to write music with such complex textures and harmonies. Even Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a distinguished composer of the time who undoubtedly envied Mozart’s melodic gift, grumbled about “the amazing wealth of ideas—I could almost wish he were not so lavish in using them. He leaves his hearer out of breath, for hardly has he grasped one beautiful thought than another of greater fascination dispels the first, and this goes on throughout, so that in the end it is impossible to retain any one of these beautiful melodies.”
Harmony, texture, melody: by 1785, Mozart was using these elements to produce music that would satisfy his artistic vision rather than cater to the whims of the Viennese audiences. The concept of a composition as the expression of a musician’s inner feelings rather than as an agreeable adornment to a specific concert, church service or public ceremony, which was to gain overwhelming importance during the Romantic age, arose with Mozart. Before him, virtually all music had been written on commission—made to order for a particular occasion. Mozart, and, of course, Beethoven, riding the waves of change in all areas of social and cultural thought that swept Europe in the late 18th century, altered forever the way in which the artist perceived and is perceived. Mozart’s aristocratic patrons were not quite ready for such revolutionary ideas, and it is little surprise that when he circulated a subscription list for his 1789 Academies, it was returned with only one signature. It is little thanks to Vienna that Mozart’s most sublime masterworks—Don Giovanni, the G minor Quintet, the Requiem, the G minor Symphony, this D minor Concerto—were created.
It is fortunate for modern listeners that Mozart was courageous enough to write music that transcended the undemanding taste of his contemporaries. The very qualities that baffled them have enabled his works not only to survive but to flourish long after most 18th-century music has been forgotten. The D minor Concerto looks forward to the richly expressive, emotionally volatile music of the Romantic Age, and, because of this quality, it was the most often performed of his concertos during the 19th century. Cuthbert Girdlestone summarized the mood of the work in his study of Mozart’s concertos: “[The key] of D minor is associated in Mozart with a dusky, foreboding, inward, unlyrical emotion, a passion of struggle rather than laments and cries, expressive of threatening fate. It speaks of danger, physical and moral.” This great Concerto is a work not only of pianistic brilliance and technical perfection, but one that also explores deep-seated sentiments—music to stir both heart and mind.
The first movement of the D minor Concerto “begins with a shudder and is full of unhappy commotion,” according to Mozart authority Eric Blom. It follows the concert-sonata form that Mozart had perfected in his earlier works for piano and orchestra, and is filled with conflict between soloist and tutti which is heightened by enormous harmonic, dynamic, and rhythmic tensions. The second movement, titled “Romanza,” moves to the brighter key of B-flat major to provide a contrast to the stormy opening Allegro, but even this lovely music summons a dark, minor-mode intensity form one of its episodes. The finale is a complex sonata-rondo form with developmental episodes. The D major coda that ends the work provides less a light-hearted, happy conclusion than a sense of catharsis capping the magnificent cumulative drama of this noble masterwork. Girdlestone wrote of this work, simply, “The D minor may claim to represent Mozart at his highest point of creative power.”
b. June 11, 1864 in Munich, Germany; d. September 8, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. Premiered in Frankfurt on November 27, 1896, conducted by the composer.
The key to understanding Also sprach Zarathustra was given by Strauss himself in a letter to his friend Otto Florscheim at the time of the work’s Berlin premiere. “I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray in music Nietzsche’s great work,” he wrote. “I meant to convey by means of music an idea of the development of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of its development, religious and scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman. The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to Nietzsche’s genius, which found its greatest exemplification in his book Thus spake Zarathustra.” These duties are, in themselves, more than enough to ask of any piece of music. To go further and “attempt to reveal [in sound] a specific philosophical system or detailed philosophical teaching,” wrote George R. Marek, “must end in failure.” Against this background, it seems probably that Nietzsche’s book was little more than the source of generating in Strauss what he called “a poetical idea,” a literary hook upon which to hang a piece of music. In his exhaustive biography of the composer, Norman Del Mar brought out the most important point in this entire matter: “Ultimately it is the sheer quality of the musical material and its organization which counts, while the greater or lesser degree to which it succeeds in the misty philosophizing which conjured it into being is wholly immaterial.”
Though its philosophical intentions are correctly questioned, there has never been any doubt about the expressive powers of this music. (It was the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra that inspired the young Béla Bartók to devote his life to composition.) The sections of Strauss’ tone poem mirror several string emotional states, as indicated by the following program note which appeared at the work’s premiere: “First movement: Sunrise, Man feels the power of God. Andante religioso. But still man longs. He plunges into passion (second movement) and finds no peace. He turns toward science, and tries in vain to solve life’s problems in a fugue (third movement). Then agreeable dance tunes sound and he becomes an individual, and his soul soars upward while the world sinks far below him.” There is a progression inherent in the work, a sort of a-religious Pilgrim’s Progress, toward some transcendent state. One German writer, Rudolf Kliber, viewed Also sprach Zarathustra as “a colorfully formed music-drama without words… Strauss chose from the poem the speeches of Zarathustra to create a kind of scenario for the content and form of the work.” There are three overtly programmatic elements that unify the work. The first is heard immediately at the outset. It is the theme of nature, the unison call by four trumpets based on the most fundamental acoustical pitches in the musical spectrum: C-G-C. The second is a sinister theme, perhaps depicting Fate, introduced by the trombones in the section Of Joys and Passions. The third is the conflict between the C tonality—representing Nature—and that of B, the latter standing for Man’s aspirations. The unsettled struggle between these two (the technical term is bi-tonality) is most clearly discerned at the very end of the work, but it occurs many times throughout the piece.
Though Strauss supplied individual titles for the eight sections of Also sprach Zarathustra following the Prologue, the work is performed continuously. It opens with one of music’s greatest fanfares—a blazing tonal depiction of a radiant sunrise, based on the Nature theme proclaimed by unison trumpets. (The unforgettable image that Stanley Kubrick supplied for this music in his film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, could not have been more appropriate.) Von den Hinternweltern (“Of the Inhabitants of the Unseen World”) presents three thematic elements in quick succession: a tortuous figure on muted, tremolo cellos and basses; a bounding, upward fragment (the theme of Man, in the key of B) in pizzicato strings; and the first notes of the ancient liturgical chant, Credo in unum deum (“I believe in one God”) in the muted horns. This brief passage is followed by a chorale-like hymn—marked “with devotion”—for strings divided into nineteen separate parts, organ and horns, which rises to an intense climax before quickly subsiding.
Von der grossen Sehnsucht (“Of the Great Longing”) resumes, in a truncated version, the theme of Man. The intonation Magnificat is given out by the organ; the horns again sound the Credo. A churning, wide-ranging motive tossed out by the low strings generates a whirling hail of rushing scales and leaps, whose impetuosity carries over into the next section, Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften (“Of Joys and Passions”). The music acquires a heroic but stormy character, from which the trombones blare forth the sinister Fate motive that gains much importance as the work unfolds. Das Grablied (“Dirge”), more a nostalgic remembrance of youthful follies-than a funereal procession, combines the bounding theme of Man with the rhythmically active themes of the preceding section. The music quiets and slows to lead into Von der Wissenschaft (“Of Science”).
To represent Science, Strauss used that most learned of all musical forms, a fugue, which rumbles ponderously up from the depths of the basses into the violas and bassoons, maintaining its lugubrious tone color throughout. This cunningly calculated theme derives from the open intervals of the Nature motive (C-G-C) and goes on to include all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. (This is not, however, a “twelve-tone” piece.) Quick rhythmic motion returns with the recapitulation of the theme of Man and a sweet theme in thirds, played by the flutes and violins. A springing, dance-like stanza floating high in the orchestra is followed by a mysterious presentation of the Nature theme (trumpet) accompanied by chirping calls from the woodwinds, based on the Fate theme. (Strauss was a master of transforming a theme into an astonishing number of variants suitable to almost any emotional context, a technique derived from Beethoven and Liszt.)
The next section, Der Genesende (“The Convalescent”), the longest thus far, utilizes several of the work’s themes. The fugue is re-activated by the trombones. The Fate motive, which initially forms much of the swirling figuration, later comes to dominate this section. The music reaches a shattering, sustained climax, followed by complete silence. Man’s theme reappears, timidly at first, but with growing vigor. It gives way to rustlings in the woodwinds which form background to the herald call of the trumpet. The rustlings continue as Man’s bounding theme vies with the Fate theme. The invigorating springiness returns and is punctuated by grand sweeping gestures from the strings. A sudden hush comes over the music, with only twitterings from woodwinds and a sustained version of the Nature theme introducing the next section, Das Tanzlied (“The Dance-Song”).
The dance turns out to be a fully developed Viennese waltz, initiated by the solo violin and accompanied by figuration in the oboes which derives from the Nature theme. (Shades of Johann Strauss, Jr.—no relation—leading his popular band with violin in hand flash in the mind’s eye. Richard was an ardent admirer of Johann, and copied the waltz style in several other of his works, this being the earliest example.) After quite some time, the theme of Man returns and schieves irts grandest, climatic expression. Gradually, the Fate theme overtakes the joy of this moment, however, despite one last gigantic catharsis of Man’s theme. Nachtwandlerlied (“The Night Wanderer’s Song”) begins on the crest of this climax, with a determined display of power. Slowly, the energy drains from the music, leaving in its shadow a wan recollection of the earlier sweet theme in thirds presented by the violins and then clarinets. Calm, or perhaps mystery, overcomes the music as it reaches its close, with the B major chord of Man fading softly into the ether of the orchestral palette while the throbbing C of Nature lingers in the subterranean depths of the basses. The conflict is left unsettled.
Of the Strauss tone poems Lawrence Gilman wrote, “[He] taught his generation a new approach to making instrumental music articulate and significant. He showed them how to deal with it in two seemingly contradictory ways: how to expand and how to concentrate it. He applied to it an immensely widened range of human experience. He seemed to touch life with generous daring, and at every side—at its loveliest and noblest, at its most disordered, pitiable and grotesque. He had learned how to convey experience still drenched in its essential colors, pungent with its veritable odors, rich with all its implications.”
© Richard E. Rodda
Gabriela Montero’s visionary interpretations have won her a quickly expanding audience and devoted following around the world. Her engagements include acclaimed performances with the New York Philharmonic, LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, and WDR Sinfonieorchestre Koln. Recent collaborators include conductors Claudio Abbado, Gustavo Dudamel, James Gaffigan, Lorin Maazel, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, and Leonard Slatkin. In recital she has appeared at the festivals of Salzburg, Istanbul, Kuhr, Ravinia, and Tanglewood, as well as the Koln Philharmonie, Tonhalle Dusseldorf, Kennedy Center and Library of Congress in Washington DC, Wigmore Hall in London, Gewandhaus Leipzig, National Arts Centre Ottawa, Orchard Hall Tokyo and at the ‘Progetto Martha Argerich’ Festival in Lugano where she is invited annually.
Ms. Montero’s 2012/13 season highlights include her debut with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and a European recital tour with cellist Gautier Capuçon. She returns for performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Rotterdam Philharmonic. Ms. Montero recently toured with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and The Cleveland Orchestra, and she performs regularly with Vienna Radio Orchestra and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra.
In addition to her brilliant and nuanced classical interpretations, Gabriela Montero’s unique personal style comes from her improvisational gifts. “I connect to my audience in a completely unique way – and they connect with me. Because improvisation is such a huge part of who I am, it is the most natural and spontaneous way I can express myself”. Today, in both recital and after performing a concerto, Gabriela often invites her audience to participate in asking for a melody for improvisations.
It has long been a desire to take her improvisations to the next logical step of composition. Gabriela has enthusiastically embarked on this new phase of her career by composing a work entitled ExPatria for piano and orchestra. Her composition received its premiere performances in London and on tour in Germany with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields orchestra. In these concerts, her multi-faceted talents were featured along with her new work as Ms. Montero performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto as well as her legendary solo improvisations. Ms. Montero will revisit ExPatria this season with orchestras in the United States and Europe.
Gabriela’s innovative perspectives are also in wide demand outside of the classical music world. For the second time, Gabriela Montero is invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a featured speaker. She also participates in the Women of the World Festival held at London’s Southbank Centre. Ms. Montero performed at the invitation of the White House for President Obama’s inauguration in 2008. She is an honored recipient of the 2012 Rockefeller Award for her contributions to the arts.
Ms. Montero’s recordings for EMI Classics comprises of one disc of music by Rachmaninov, Chopin and Liszt and a second of her deeply felt and technically brilliant improvisations. Her EMI CD Bach and Beyond is a complete disc of improvisations on themes by Bach which topped the charts for several months. She earned two ECHO Awards from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie: the Keyboard Instrumentalist of the Year Award in 2006, and the Klassik-ohne-Grenzen Award for Bach and Beyond in 2007. In February 2008 her follow up EMI recording of improvisations Baroque was nominated for a Grammy Award and released with great critical acclaim, receiving 5 star reviews from BBC Music Magazine and Classic FM. Gabriela’s most recent recording Solatino, released by EMI Classics in January, is devoted exclusively to works by Latin American composers. She selected the works of six composers, including Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1 as well as her own improvisations on Latin themes.
Born in Caracas Venezuela, Gabriela gave her first public performance at the age of five. At the age of eight she made her concerto debut in Caracas and was granted a scholarship from the Venezuelan Government to study in the USA. She currently resides in Massachusetts with her two daughters.