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Overview,

JAHJA LING & JESSIE CHANG:
POULENC'S CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS

A Jacobs Masterworks Concert

March 15, 16, 17
Copley Symphony Hall

James Gaffigan, conductor
Jahja Ling and Jessie Chang, pianos

BACH: Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069
POULENC: Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 20

San Diego Symphony music director Jahja Ling takes the Symphony Hall stage with his wife, accomplished pianist Jessie Chang, for a delightful rendition of Francis Poulenc's evergreen Concerto for Two Pianos. Guest conductor James Gaffigan, a young American currently making a big splash in Europe, opens the program with a Bach Orchestral Suite and concludes the concert with Robert Schumann's über-romantic Symphony No. 4.

"The result was an engaging, even exciting performance that at times started to sound as much like Gershwin as Poulenc." -  CLICK HERE to read U-T San Diego's enthusiastic review of this concert!

Jahja Ling and Jessie Chang's appearance on this concert is made possible by Guest Artist Sponsor The Vail Memorial Fund


Notes,

Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Born March 21, 1685, Eisenach

Died July 28, 1750, Leipzig

            Among Bach’s orchestral works are four pieces that we know today as his Orchestral Suites, though Bach himself never heard or used that name. Bach referred to these pieces as Overtures, using the name of their powerful opening movement to refer to the entire piece. Each of these “Suites” (inevitably, we end up using the modern name) consists of the opening Overture followed by a series of dance movements, usually in binary form. The dates of composition of these four pieces cannot be known with certainty, and it is possible they were first conceived during Bach’s years as kapellmeister in Cöthen (1717-23), when he had a seventeen-member orchestra at his disposal, and then refined and expanded about a decade later, when Bach was cantor in Leipzig and directed a small orchestra of professionals, amateurs and students called the Collegium Musicum.

            There is, however, strong evidence suggesting that the Orchestral Suite No. 4 dates from Bach’s years in Leipzig. The first movement of his Cantata No. 110 – titled Unser Mund sei voll Lachens and first performed on Christmas Day 1725 – uses the same music as the first movement of the Fourth Orchestral Suite, though precisely which version came first remains uncertain. In the cantata this movement is scored for chorus and orchestra, but in the Fourth Suite it is a purely orchestral movement, and the instrumentation differs somewhat from the cantata. The Orchestral Suite No. 4 is scored for a relatively large orchestra of three trumpets, three oboes, timpani, bassoon, strings and bass continuo. Such an orchestra can make a resplendent sound, and Bach makes full use of those possibilities.

            The opening movement (which has no tempo marking) gets off to a grand beginning on the stately dotted rhythms typical of the French overture. The music races ahead at the main section (again without tempo indication) which Bach sets in 9/8. In the French overture this main section would usually be fugal in construction. Bach makes a nod in that direction here: much of the writing in this section is fugal, though it is not strictly a fugue. A surprising feature here is Bach’s use of the orchestra: sometimes only the woodwinds play, other moments feature the brass, and at times Bach will employ all his forces. The Overture concludes with a return to the grand opening section, and – enlivened by some resonant writing for the trumpets – the music drives to a ringing close on a D Major chord for full orchestra.

            There follows the sequence of dance movements. Bourrée I is animated by the sound of high trumpets, while Bourrée II moves to B minor and features a busy bassoon accompaniment; Bach rounds the movement off with a repeat of Bourrée I. The stately Gavotte is in binary form. Trumpets and timpani remain silent through the minuet movements: the dignified Minuet I frames Minuet II, which is chamber music – it is scored for string quartet. Bach rounds off the Suite No. 4 with a very fast movement titled Réjouissance: “rejoicing.” Trumpets and timpani return to help rush the Suite to its conclusion in a most festive mood.

 

Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor

FRANCIS POULENC

Born January 7, 1899, Paris

Died January 30, 1963, Paris

 

            Poulenc wrote his Concerto for Two Pianos in the summer of 1932, when he was 33 years old, and he was one of the soloists at the premiere in Venice on September 5 of that year. Concertos for two pianos are comparatively rare. It is difficult to use two such formidable instruments with orchestra, and Poulenc wisely chose to write charming and agreeable music for this combination instead of trying to create a virtuoso display concerto for two pianists simultaneously. It has proven one of his most popular works.

            Among the most striking features of the Concerto for Two Pianos is its multiplicity of styles, all deftly held together with Poulenc’s breezy and effortless skill. One hears – by turn – tunes from Parisian dance halls, a slow movement in homage to Mozart, sonorities inspired by Balinese gamelan ensembles and many other styles. Throughout, Poulenc keeps textures light and clear. He is setting out consciously to charm audiences, and in this he succeeds admirably.

            Poulenc’s marking at the beginning of the Allegro ma non troppo très brillant – is the key to this sparkling movement: the soloists trade passages, Poulenc incorporates “popular” tunes, and the music is colored by a large percussion battery that includes castanets. The coda brings a surprise: the movement’s breathless rush comes to a sudden stop, and the two pianos take the movement to its close with quiet music inspired by the Balinese gamelan, a sound that had captured the imagination of Debussy a generation earlier. The music sounds vaguely Asian (Poulenc marks it “mysterious and clear”), its exotic sound produced in part by harmonics from the lower strings and cymbals struck with sponge-headed sticks.

            Poulenc was frank about the inspiration for the second movement: “In the Larghetto of this concerto, I allowed myself, for the first theme, to return to Mozart, for I cherish the melodic line and I prefer Mozart to all other musicians.” The opening theme, played by the first piano, could easily come from the slow movement of a late Mozart piano concerto. The movement’s center section offers more animated music, but the two pianos – which often play unaccompanied here – bring the movement to a quiet close on a return of the opening material. The finale, very fast and rondo-like in structure, recalls material from the first movement, including some of the dance-hall tunes. Poulenc once again invokes gamelan music in the coda, and this rushes the concerto to its brusque cadence.

 

Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120

ROBERT SCHUMANN

Born June 8, 1810, Zwickau

Died July 29, 1856, Endenich

 

            Robert Schumann married Clara Wieck in September 1840, during the famous “year of song” – he wrote about 130 lieder that year. But his wife was anxious for bigger things, and in the journal the couple kept jointly she noted: “It would be best if he composed for orchestra. His imagination cannot find enough scope with the piano, and his music is all orchestral in feeling. My greatest wish is for him to compose for orchestra – that’s his field. May I succeed in leading him to it.” Clara promptly got her wish. In three days in January 1841, Schumann sketched his Spring Symphony and had the orchestration done a month later. In May he began another symphony, this one in D minor. Clara heard her husband at work in his room and wrote happily in the journal: “Robert began yesterday another symphony, which will be in one movement, and yet contains an adagio and a finale. I have heard nothing about it, yet I see Robert’s activity and I hear the D minor sounding wildly from a distance, so that I know in advance that another work will be fashioned in the depths of his soul.”

            The new symphony took somewhat longer than the first. Schumann did not have it done until September, and he presented it to Clara on September 13, a particularly happy day for the family: it was her 22nd birthday and the baptism day of their first child Marie, born two weeks earlier. The premiere of the new symphony in Leipzig on December 6, however, was not so happy. The performance – under the direction of Ferdinand David rather than the regular conductor Felix Mendelssohn – was not very good, and to make matters worse the couple had appeared on the same program as piano soloists in Liszt’s Hexameron, which had been a triumph. They came home angry and squabbling, and Schumann set the manuscript on the shelf, where it remained for the next ten years. During that decade, Schumann composed two more symphonies, and these were published as his Second and Third Symphonies.

            Perhaps it was the successful premiere of the Thirdthe Rhenish – in 1851 that caused Schumann to remember his neglected early effort in this form. In December of that year – a decade after the original premiere – he pulled out the manuscript of the Symphony in D minor, made a piano arrangement of it, then revised this version and re-orchestrated it. The revisions were largely matters of trimming and focusing the music, but Schumann’s newer orchestration was also somewhat heavier. He considered renaming the piece Symphonic Fantasy at this point but gave up that plan, and it was published after his death as the Symphony No. 4, though it is actually the second of his four symphonies. The composer led the premiere of the revised version in Düsseldorf on December 30, 1852, and in this form it proved much more successful with audiences: Schumann’s conducting of this symphony at the Lower Rhine Music Festival on the following May 15 was among the final public triumphs of his brief life.

            The Schumann Fourth is a romantic symphony in the best sense of the term. Though the outlines of the classical symphony are still evident, this symphony is remarkable for how it is different. Clara was not quite right: it is in four movements rather than one, but these four movements are played without pause, and – in contrast to the classical symphony – almost all of this symphony grows out of one central theme, announced at the beginning and then varied ingeniously across the span of the four movements. One of the great pleasures of the Fourth Symphony lies in following Schumann’s thematic imagination – from this simple theme-shape he spins a wealth of material in quite different tempos and moods.

            This theme emerges from the great unison A that opens the symphony: second violins, violas and bassoons sing this quiet falling-and-rising shape. But already Schumann’s imagination is at work – the movement is nominally in 3/4, but he phrases this theme as if it is in 6/8 and then subtly shifts the accents between those two different meters. This opening gradually accelerates to the main body of the movement, marked Lebhaft (“lively”), and the theme-shape is now embedded within the chain of flying sixteenth-notes that make up this theme. This movement seems at first to be in sonata-form (there is a repeat of the exposition), but Schumann launches off in his own direction – in what should be the development, he introduces new material, dispenses with the normal recapitulation and drives to a vigorous close in the completely unexpected (and completely satisfying) key of D Major.

            Solo oboe and the cello section sing the opening theme of the Romanze, which Schumann marks ausdruckvoll (“expressive”). This is sung with great delicacy, and there is evidence that Schumann had originally considered accompanying it with a guitar. No sooner has it been stated than Schumann brings back the symphony’s opening theme in its original shape, and this leads to the central section where the solo violin weaves a filigree of triplets around the orchestra’s restatement of the theme. The Scherzo gets off to a gruff start with great chords pounding over the chugging string accompaniment. It is here that we begin to take full measure of Schumann’s imagination: those three chords are derived from the dotted attacks in the central part of the first movement, and the string accompaniment is the main theme again, but now inverted. The trio section is a nice variation of the solo violin theme from the Romanze, flowing here with a liquid ease.

             The mood changes sharply at the introduction to the last movement as the music returns to D minor, and the skies cloud over. Over rustling string tremolos come bits of theme and ominous brass warnings, and it is hard not to believe that Schumann based this transition on the corresponding spot in Beethoven’s Fifth, which makes the same dark transition into a triumphant finale. Gradually Schumann’s music rushes ahead and leaps into D Major for the three bright chords that launch the finale – these are familiar from their appearance in the first movement; Schumann launches the development by moving into B minor and treating the main theme of the movement fugally. The ending is very exciting: although the tempo is already fast, now Schumann just goes faster and faster, moving first to Schneller and finally whipping this music to its close on an almost breathless Presto.

-          Program notes by Eric Bromberger

 

WHY THIS PROGRAM? Aside from comments by the guest conductor, we are fortunate to have some from one of our soloists as well! Jahja Ling described the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos as “a fun piece, exuberant but with panache! Our management originally suggested it as, ‘a neat piece for a popular program.’ But it’s a challenge, to me even more than for Jessie, who is a practicing pianist…”

Other than modern transcriptions of his organ works, as well as concertos (including only one of the Brandenburg Concertos heard here ten years ago), the music of J. S. Bach is not often played by symphony orchestras these days. This presentation of his Orchestra Suite No. 4 is the first time this superb baroque music has been heard at these concerts. Its remarkable polyphony provides a great introduction to the point/counterpoint of the double piano concerto that follows. The rollicking Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos was introduced to SDSO audiences under Earl Bernard Murray’s baton during his initial, 1959-60 season here, with Josette and Yvette Roman as soloists. David Atherton led the most recent performance here during the 1984-85 season, with Anthony and Joseph Paratore, duo-pianists. This week’s performances are our first by a husband/wife team! Arthur Bennett Lipkin guest conducted the orchestra during the 1960-61 season, when he led the Schumann Symphony No. 4 in its first performance in San Diego. Its most recent hearing here was under Christof Perick’s baton when he guest conducted in 2001-02.

 

Artists,

Hailed for the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship, James Gaffigan continues to attract international attention and is considered by many to be the most outstanding young American conductor working today. In January 2010 he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Both positions began in summer 2011. As of the start of the 2012-13 season, Gaffigan becomes the first ever Guest Conductor of the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra. In addition to yearly concerts, this newly created position with the venerable Cologne orchestra will include CD recording projects and opera productions with the Oper Köln.

In the United States, Mr. Gaffigan has guest conducted the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, National, Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore, Vancouver, Milwaukee and New World symphonies among others. During the 2012-13 season, he returns to the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Festival, the Toronto, Detroit, New World and Vancouver symphonies, the Juilliard Orchestra and the Grand Teton Music Festival. He makes first appearances at the Grant Park Music Festival in downtown Chicago and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.

James Gaffigan's international career was launched when he was named a first prize winner at the 2004 Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition in Frankfurt, Germany. Since then, he has become a sought-after guest conductor throughout Europe, working with prestigious orchestras such as the Munich and Rotterdam Philharmonics, Dresden Staatskappelle, Deutsches Symphony Orchestra Berlin, London and Czech Philharmonics, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Tonhalle Orchestra and the Camerata Salzburg among others. He made a highly successful debut with the Sydney Symphony in 2011 and returns to lead that orchestra for two weeks in 2013. Highlights of Mr. Gaffigan's 2012-13 international season include return visits to the Rotterdam and Munich Philharmonics, first appearances with the RSO Berlin and BBC Symphony and a recording project of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.

James Gaffigan made his professional opera debut at the Zurich Opera in June 2005 conducting La bohème. In the summers of 2009 and 2010 he conducted performances of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro at the Aspen Music Festival, and made his debut at Glyndebourne sharing a production of Cosi fan tutti with Sir Charles Mackerras in spring 2010. He led performances of The Marriage of Figaro at the Houston Grand Opera in spring 2011, made his debut at the Vienna State Opera later that year conducting La bohème and returned to Glyndebourne in spring 2012 for a production of La Cenerentola. In October 2012 he returns to the Vienna State Opera for performances of Don Giovanni.

Born in New York City in 1979, Mr. Gaffigan attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, where he earned his Masters of Music in conducting. He was also chosen to study at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and School and was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.

In 2009 Mr. Gaffigan completed a three year tenure as Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony where he assisted Michael Tilson Thomas, led subscription concerts and was Artistic Director of the orchestra's Summer in the City festival. Prior to that appointment, he was the Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra where he worked under Music Director Franz Welser-Möst from 2003 through 2006.

James Gaffigan resides in Lucerne with his wife, the writer Lee Taylor Gaffigan, and their daughter, Sofia.

 

Pianist Jessie Chang appeared at the Blossom Festival with The Cleveland Orchestra playing Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E-flat Major with her duo-partner and husband, San Diego Symphony Music Director Jahja Ling, in August 2005 to great acclaim. (This selection was reprised by the couple on a well-received Jacobs Masterworks program in April 2007.)

Ms. Chang is admired for her beautiful tone, virtuosic technique and individual personality. She first discovered her love for the piano when she was four years old just before entering the Yamaha Music School in Taipei, Taiwan. Later, Ms. Chang made her TV debut, appearing on the Taiwan Central Television when she was ten years old. Five years later, she made her concerto debut with the California State University Orchestra, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488.

Jessie Chang graduated with a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance with Constance Keene from the Manhattan School of Music in 2001. She received scholarships to attend the Manhattan School of Music from the Reachout Committee of the Los Angeles Music Center, the Young Musicians Foundation and the Manhattan School of Music. Her previous teachers include Milton Stern and Yin Yin Huang, and she has worked closely with renowned artists such as Menahem Pressler, Herbert Stessin, Oxana Yablonskaya and Bernard Segall.

In both her undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies at the Manhattan School of Music, Ms. Chang was the recipient of the best female pianist honors. She has also received top honors in more than 30 distinguished piano competitions of national and international stature, including First Prizes in: the Joanna Hodges International Piano Competition, the Music Teachers Association of California State Solo Competition, the Los Angeles Liszt Competition, the Southern California Junior Bach Festival and the Chinese Talent Search. The Grand Prize was awarded to Ms. Chang in the Music Teachers Association of California Young Artists Guild, and additional top honors were received in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Competition, the IBLA International Competition and the International Young Artists Piano Competition (featuring Chinese music). Ms. Chang has the distinguished honor of being the first person to have won four gold medals at the US Open Music Competition in Berkeley, CA (in the categories for Bach, Chopin, Sight Reading and Overall).

Among the highlights of her career, Ms. Chang performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor with The Florida Orchestra, Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453 with the Malaysian Philharmonic and Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, Op. 56a at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium. Being an active chamber musician, Ms. Chang has collaborated with well-known musicians such as William Preucil and Frank Cohen, as well as with several principals of the San Diego Symphony. She has also been featured in solo piano recitals in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York and Sicily, Italy.

JAHJA & JESSIE: POULENC (MW)
March 15 - March 17, 2013
COPLEY SYMPHONY HALL

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