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Yefim Bronfman, piano
- January 11-12, 2013 8:00 PM
- where: Dell Hall directions
- conductor: Peter Bay
Grammy Award-winning pianist Yefim (“Fima”) Bronfman is among the most talented virtuosos performing today. His commanding technique and exceptional lyrical gifts have won consistent critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences worldwide for his solo recitals, prestigious orchestral engagements and expanding catalog of recordings.
|Brahms||Tragic Overture, Op. 81|
|Britten||Sinfonia da Requiem , Op. 20|
|Brahms||Piano Concerto No. 1 in d, Op. 15|
b. Hamburg, Germany May 7 1833; d. Vienna, Austria April 3, 1897
Tragic Overture (Tragische Ouvertüre), Op. 81 (1880). Premiere: December 26, 1880 with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Hans Richter.
With his first two symphonies behind him, Brahms was basking in the public eye. Two overtures written during the same summer vacation at Ischl in 1880 followed. Apart from his Variations on a Theme by Haydn and his orchestrations of three of his Hungarian Dances, Brahms’s two concert overtures are his only works for orchestra not cast in the extended form of the symphony, concerto or serenade. The Academic Festival Overture, a jovial fantasy on student songs, represents the composer’s appreciation to the University of Breslau for having conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy. To follow this relatively jolly piece, Brahms set a determined gaze on matters of deep gravity and chose the title “Tragic” for the companion overture to emphasize the tumultuous tormented character of the piece. Despite its name, the Tragic Overture does not follow any specific dramatic program; Brahms’ motive for writing this work was nothing more than wanting an emotional antithesis in the pair as he summed up the difference between the two overtures by declaring “one laughs while the other cries.”
The Tragic Overture comprises three main sections, all in the key of D minor: Allegro ma non troppo – Molto più moderato – Tempo primo ma tranquillo. In extended sonata form, it is more austere than overtly impassioned. The Tragic Overture opens with full orchestra presenting two chordal exclamations, following which, with timpani vibrating ominously, unison strings intone the austere main theme. A rhythmic march immediately answers the strings, and this material, along with a rushing triplet figure and a comforting major-key melody, constitute the Overture’s materials. The magnificent energy that presses through the outer portions of the piece has a defiant strength whose force defines the “Tragic” of the Overture with an emotional resonance that is powerfully affecting.
Goethe’s Faust was a productive stimulus for several composers in the nineteenth century, and Brahms made some sketches for incidental music for the play. He did not get very far with that project but eventually made use of some of those themes in his Third Symphony. Besides Goethe, Brahms enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s tragedies, and there have been speculative attempts to link the Tragic Overture to King Lear or Hamlet. The various titles Brahms considered for the piece (he tried out Dramatic Overture and Overture to a Tragedy before settling on Tragic Overture) seem to confirm a celebration of the spirit of tragedy, rather than a retelling of any specific drama.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in d minor, Op. 15. Premiere: The composer gave the work’s public debut in Hanover, Germany in January 1859.
As a young man, Johannes Brahms declared that he would never write a symphony. Brahms did not deem himself worthy to hold a place among the ranks of the masters of the genre: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Originally conceived as a sonata for two pianos, Brahms’ desire for more color swayed the material towards a symphony. Difficulty in the orchestration process led to Brahms retaining the presence of the piano and the work finally found a resting place as a concerto. Initially labeled a “symphony with piano obbligato,” the d-minor Concerto has made its way into mainstream repertoire even demonstrating Brahms’ masterful scoring for timpani and French horn, both of whose parts are notoriously difficult.
The premiere in 1859, with Brahms at the piano, was mildly received; a repeat performance several days later in Leipzig was a disaster that scarred the composer and made him tremendously wary. The depth of the trauma was so severe, it took Brahms more than two decades to write another piano concerto. The audience, expecting Lisztian flourishes and showmanship was disappointed in the cerebral passion of Brahms. Further revisions followed and soon the work emerged as one of the monuments of piano literature.
Brahms brought an expansiveness of form and richness of harmony to his compositions. The first movement, Maestoso, is defined by the immense sonorities, reflective lyricism in the solo piano and overtly passionate and impetuous orchestration. The aggressive opening material is a persistent motive that flows into an expressive, chorale-like theme. A feeling of tension shifts tonality, and after further elaboration, the piano finally enters with a rhapsodic, richly harmonized new idea. The writing varies from delicate cascades to expansive chords that cut through the rich orchestral fabric. A pervading horn-call introduces the stormy development section; a truly Romantic motive filled with snarling trills and anguished melodic leaps, ending with a magnificent display from the soloist.
The wonderfully serene, contemplative mood of the Adagio provides the needed contrast from the drama of the first movement. The years it took Brahms to compose the d-minor Concerto were marked with turmoil between himself and Robert and Clara Schumann: Schumann’s attempted suicide, eventual confinement in an asylum and later death; Brahms’ emotional attachment to Clara, the complicated, turbulent stages of their relationship and unrequited retreat from it. With a meditative sense of longing, the second movement is filled with transcendent beauty and quiet, tender emotions. Opening with a warm and noble theme in the strings, a gentle dialogue forms between soloist and orchestra. Brahms’ original inscription for the Adagio was “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini,” (“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”) referring to his friend Robert Schumann.
A thrilling conclusion to the concerto, the third movement is a contrapuntal rondo finale. Following the solo piano introduction, a brisk fugal section emerges in the strings and winds. Two cadenzas give an indication of Brahms’ impressive piano technique and the movement winds up in a fiery conclusion. After years of working tirelessly to perfect what became his first piano concerto, he produced a work of profound and lasting beauty. Simultaneously honoring tradition and making his mark on the genre, Brahms claimed his place among the very masters he venerated.
Benjamin Britten b. November 22, 1913 in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England; d. December 4, 1976 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England.
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 The world premiere took place in New York at Carnegie Hall on March 31, 1941 with the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli. The belated Japanese premiere was on February 18, 1956, with the composer conducting the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
The Sinfonia da Requiem is the largest purely orchestral work Britten wrote for the concert hall and marks the peak of his early writing in this idiom. At a tense time in world history, Britten was commissioned through the British Consul to write a work for a festivity for a great power. That great power was not specified. Britten, an ardent pacifist, hesitated before accepting, but agreed in principle, provided that he could dictate the subject and medium used. In so doing, he set off an uncomfortable diplomatic exchange even before the music was heard.
In 1940, when Japan was deep in its war with China, its government invited some noted foreign composers to write works in observance of the 2,600th anniversary of its ruling dynasty, which is traced back to the accession of the Emperor Jimmu Tenno in 660 B.C. Several Japanese composers took part in this ceremony, but the most notable participant was the then 76-year-old Richard Strauss, who contributed the now nearly forgotten Festmusik zur Feier des 2600-jährigen Bestehens des Kaiserreichs Japan (Op. 84). As it turned out, the most lasting consequence of that series of commissions is the one that was the most controversial at the time.
Six months passed before the contract arrived to write this work and the delay left Britten with only six weeks with which to compose. At its arrival, Britten immediately approached the local Japanese consul to discuss the work’s nature and its suitability for the occasion. Britten, perhaps rather naively, incorporated titles from the Christian Mass for the Dead, something that the Japanese consul ultimately found offensive. Assuming all the information he disclosed had been forwarded to the Japanese ambassador, he completed Sinfonia feeling he had fulfilled the commission satisfactorily.
In the autumn of 1940, Britten was summoned to the Japanese consulate. There, he was read a long letter from Prince Konnoi who served as organizer of the celebration. In this letter, Britten was accused of “insulting a friendly power” and of “providing a Christian work where Christianity was apparently unacceptable.” The work was also deemed dismal and melancholy in tone “making it unsuitable for performance on such an occasion as our national ceremony.”
Britten was unapologetic. With the help of fellow expatriate W.H. Auden, he replied that his supplying a Christian work was no surprise as he was a Christian and came from a Christian nation. He also denied the gloominess of the Sinfonia as well as any intent of insult. Britten submitted his response to the British consul, who approved it and forwarded it to Tokyo. This was the last he heard of the matter. The piece was rejected for the ceremony and Prince Konnoi announced that Britten’s score had arrived too late for inclusion in the celebration. The Japanese did not request a return of the commissioning fee and Britten ended up using the money to purchase his first car: a vintage Ford.
The Sinfonia da Requiem is in three movements played without break, embracing the orchestral style of Mahler, particularly in its shifting tonalities. The opening Lacrymosa (Weeping) is an angular, slow marching lament in a persistent 6/8 rhythm. A dissonant main theme is first heard in the saxophone, which builds to an anguished clash of minor vs. major. Three main motives are present, the first a quietly pulsating syncopated, sequential theme announced by the cellos and answered by a solo bassoon. A broad subject based on the interval of a major seventh follows. This is mainly a long crescendo that leads to a climax based on the first cello material. Alternating chords on flute and trombones, outlined by piano, harps and trombones, flow into the second movement.
With no pause comes the Die irae (Day of Wrath), a form of the Dance of Death with occasional moments of quiet marching rhythm. The dominant motif is announced at the start by the flutes and includes an important tremolando figure. The agitated winds and brasses generate tension. Other motives are a triplet figure in the trumpets, a slow, even tune on the saxophone, and a livelier syncopated melody in the brass. Britten effectively creates a sense of terror through a series of climaxes, the last of which is the most powerful, causing the music to disintegrate, resolving to the Requiem aeternam (Eternal Rest).
Very quietly, over a background of solo strings and harps, the flutes announce the slumber song in D-major, a tune that suggests the tranquility of eternal rest. There is a middle section in which the strings play a flowing melody. This grows to a short climax, but the opening tune is soon resumed, and the work ends quietly in a long sustained clarinet note as a concluding benediction.
When the commission was rejected, Britten rebranded the Sinfonia da Requiem as a memorial to his parents. The work became his reaction to the darkening political developments and an expression of his feelings regarding the developing menace of the Second World War. Both he and his partner Peter Pears were firm pacifists and the composition can be seen as a plea for peace. The war changed many things, but as a lifelong peacekeeper, Britten went on to express the futility and senselessness of war throughout his career.
Yefim Bronfman is widely regarded as one of the most talented virtuoso pianists performing today. His commanding technique and exceptional lyrical gifts have won him consistent critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences worldwide, whether for his solo recitals, his prestigious orchestral engagements or his rapidly growing catalogue of recordings.
Mr. Bronfman’s 2012/13 season began early with concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in Berlin, Salzburg and the London Proms followed by the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich with David Zinman and London’s Philharmonia conducted by Tugan Sokhiev. A year-long residency with the Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchestra and long-time collaborator Mariss Jansons began in the fall and encompasses orchestral and chamber music in a broad range of repertoire. A return to Salzburg’s Easter Festival with the Dresden Staatskapelle and Christian Thielemann is planned for the spring followed by appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic and Michael Tilson Thomas in Vienna and London, subscription concerts in Spain and Germany and a spring tour with Ensemble Wien-Berlin.
In North America he works with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in one of their infrequent Carnegie Hall visits conducted by Fabio Luisi and returns to the orchestras in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Montreal where he is a beloved regular.
In collaboration with mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená he will make a short winter tour including New York’s Carnegie Hall and in solo recital he can be heard in Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta as well as the great halls of Paris, Berlin, and Lisbon.
Mr. Bronfman works regularly with an illustrious group of conductors, including Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph von Dohnányi, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yuri Temirkanov, Franz Welser-Möst, and David Zinman. Summer engagements have regularly taken him to the major festivals of Europe and the US.
He has also given numerous solo recitals in the leading halls of North America, Europe and the Far East, including acclaimed debuts at Carnegie Hall in 1989 and Avery Fisher Hall in 1993. In 1991 he gave a series of joint recitals with Isaac Stern in Russia, marking Mr. Bronfman’s first public performances there since his emigration to Israel at age 15. That same year he was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, one of the highest honors given to American instrumentalists. In 2010 he was honored as the recipient of the Jean Gimbel Lane prize in piano performance from Northwestern University.
Widely praised for his solo, chamber and orchestral recordings, he was nominated for a GRAMMY® Award in 2009 for his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s piano concerto with Salonen conducting and with whom he won a GRAMMY® Award in 1997 for his recording of the three Bartók Piano Concerti and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Most recently his performance of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto with Andris Nelsons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from the 2011 Lucerne Festival is now available on DVD, with his performance of Rachmaninoff’s third concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle already available on the EuroArts label. His most recent CD releases are Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with Mariss Jansons and the Bayerischer Rundfunk, a recital disc, ‘Perspectives’, complementing Mr. Bronfman’s designation as a Carnegie Hall ‘Perspectives’ artist for the 2007-08 season, and recordings of all the Beethoven piano concerti as well as the Triple Concerto together with violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Truls Mørk, and the Tönhalle Orchestra Zürich under David Zinman for the Arte Nova/BMG label.
Born in Tashkent in the Soviet Union on 10 April 1958, Yefim Bronfman immigrated to Israel with his family in 1973, where he studied with pianist Arie Vardi, head of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. In the United States, he studied at The Juilliard School, Marlboro and the Curtis Institute, and with Rudolf Firkusny, Leon Fleisher and Rudolf Serkin.
Yefim Bronfman became an American citizen in July 1989.