EMANUEL AX PLAYS BEETHOVEN
The renowned Emanuel Ax performs one of Beethoven’s early piano concertos, the Piano Concerto No. 2, an astonishing piece of music shot through with the composer’s deep knowledge and love of the Mozart concertos, but also overflowing with new ideas and sometimes wild musical surprises. Plus, experience a US premiere called Time (co-commissioned by the SDSO) by Thomas Larcher, one of Europe’s leading composers, whose atmospheric music is both beguiling and poignant.
Note: gates for the Saturday performance will open at 6pm, and gates for the Sunday performance will open at 3:30pm.
Thomas Larcher: Time, Three Movements for Orchestra
Thomas Larcher, born in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1963, is one of Europe’s leading composers today. A fine performer in his own right, he has written for every combination from opera and symphony orchestra to tiny works of chamber music, including for his own instrument, the piano.
Larcher’s works are always atmospheric, full of carefully imagined and often delicately beautiful instrumental colors, and, though modern and of our time, not difficult for a first-time listener to grasp. The first thing that will strike you about his music is that it is beguiling and clear! And this quality comes above all from the composer’s fascination with music as story-telling, building a structure from vivid episodes, like illustrations or chapters in a book, which flow one into another and take us on a journey. We nearly always end in a quite different place from where we started. You could even say that there is a distinctly cinematic quality in some of his pieces.
Commissioning new music for orchestra is a difficult and expensive business in our time, and all too often pieces end up being played only once or twice. So, it is a great thing in the musical world today that different orchestras band together to commission a single piece, which then gets to be played in different places by different musicians. The music is given more life.
In this case, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra has proudly collaborated with several other orchestras in this new commission, assuring performances in a variety of venues. In this "rolling debut," Time, Three Movements for Orchestra will be performed by Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, the San Diego Symphony, the Münchner Philharmoniker (Munich), the Tonkünstler-Orchester (Vienna) and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (Amsterdam).
It will be fascinating to hear what Thomas Larcher has come up with in answer to this commission. A completely new piece is always an exciting experience as no one knows what to expect, especially from a composer like this!
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19
Although this piano concerto is numbered "2" in Beethoven’s cycle of 5, it’s actually the first of them he wrote. In fact, he was just 16 years old when he began work on it, and Mozart was still alive and still writing piano concertos himself!
Beethoven’s idea, like Mozart’s before him, was to write a piece that showed off his own fabulous brilliance as a performer. Both composers in their own day were as famous as performers – and especially as improvisers – and the piano concerto was the most spectacular and dramatic way a composer/performer at that time could exhibit the full range of their talent. But to do that, you needed a public concert and an orchestra (an expensive proposition!), and it was not until Beethoven had lived in Vienna for several years that he was able to organize such a thing. Before that he was mostly performing in the private homes of aristocrats, and without the chance to play concertos.
It was probably in the spring of 1795, when we know the young star finally gave his first public concert, that this concerto was first performed. And although later in his life Beethoven was sometimes dismissive about this piece, he must have enjoyed it as he seems not only to have played it a number of times, but also to have rewritten bits of it as he gained more experience. And much later he supplied the first movement with an entirely new cadenza, in his mature style but using all the tunes and ideas from the original piece.
Viewed from whatever angle, this earliest of Beethoven’s piano concertos is an astonishing piece of music, imbued with the composer’s deep knowledge and love of the Mozart concertos but overflowing with new ideas and sometime wild musical surprises. In this music we hear how astonishingly early in his life this giant-among-composers discovered his own sound-world, and how completely sure he was of what he wanted to do.
This is also a concerto with a lot of musical jokes in it, and twists and turns. We think of Beethoven as the great master of tragedy and grandeur, but – like Shakespeare – he was just as at home in the light-hearted world of comedy and wit.
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112, “The Year 1917”
At the dawn of the 20th century, Russia – by some way the largest country in the world and a brutal autocracy ruled by the Romanov family for 300 years – was shaken by a series of violent uprisings, the last of which – the Bolshevik Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin in October 1917 – initiated 74 years of another kind of brutal autocracy, the Soviet regime.
History matters. And the consequences of this terrible history are with us still, as we watch the horrifying events of the current bloodthirsty Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The composer Shostakovich was born in 1906, the year after the first Russian Revolution of 1905. And in 1957, to an official commission from the Soviet authorities, he wrote his 11th Symphony, a powerful orchestral requiem in commemoration of those catastrophic events of 1905. It was a defiant act of public mourning for the sheer scale of the wider story of human suffering (of which the 1905 Revolution was only a part), and a bitter protest against political tyranny of every kind. It was this symphony that the San Diego Symphony Orchestra recently performed under Rafael Payare and which they have recorded and released to tremendous international acclaim.
Four years later in 1961, Shostakovich was commissioned to write a second such "revolutionary" symphony, this time marking the triumph of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in October 1917. Obviously, the authorities expected the composer to write a celebration of the glorious coming of Soviet power, but what they got – even though it seems they never noticed – was very different: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12 is another masterly and deeply tragic orchestral exploration of the human consequences of violent upheaval and oppression.
In that sense, these two symphonies may be considered a pair, like a gigantic painted diptych from medieval times, in which two panels hang alongside one another and we are invited to feel the similarities and the connections between the two. Indeed, these two symphonies even share some musical materials, which makes the 12th often feel like a continuation of – or sequel to – the 11th.
At the same time, the two symphonies are also highly contrasted – like the sun and the moon. Where the 11th is filled with a panoply of 19th century revolutionary and prisoners’ songs, clearly shaped old-fashioned melodies, easily grasped and remembered, the 12th is much more compressed in the material of which it is made. In fact, the whole structure is built on just two small ideas: one, almost just a hook, a four-note motif which is a reshaping of the famous motto of the composer’s own initials (the DSCH, which he used in many of his later works); the other, a swinging slightly longer (but still short) scrap of melody which is derived from the ancient chant for the dead, the Dies Irae.
The implication is clear. This is a symphony about the fate of the individual in the face of vast historical events. And like the 11th, but in a different way, it is a symphony of mourning.
Building a huge 45-minute orchestral span from two such tiny pieces of material gives this Twelfth Symphony the feeling of a suffocating nightmare, as though the music were trapping us in a series of increasingly horrific events from which we find ourselves unable to escape. The result is that when we get to the very end, the huge "triumphant" reiterated cries with which the symphony finishes sound not glorious and optimistic (as no doubt the commissioning authorities expected), but overpoweringly tragic and despairing.
Shostakovich’s Twelfth is a symphony written by an artist who felt a deep human sympathy for all victims of the brutality of history, victims whose suffering is continuing as you read these words, and will still be continuing as we listen to this powerful and emotional music performed by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra led by Rafael Payare.
– San Diego Symphony Creative Consultant GERARD MCBURNEY
- Jacobs Masterworks
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Here is a delightfully effervescent performance of Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto by Alexandra Dovgan at about the composer's age.
An excellent introduction to Thomas Larcher’s music might be his intensely dramatic cello concerto Ouroboros, named after a snake swallowing its own tail (=eternity). Alisa Weilerstein performs.
What Shostakovich captures so beautifully in this slow movement of the 12th Symphony is the feeling of human fear and anticipation in the moment before historical catastrophes take place.
The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
The Rady Shell expanded culinary program — The Shell Provisions — offers an impressive range of local specialties from some of San Diego's finest eateries and locally sourced options ranging from casual to upscale. New state-of-the-art kitchens and dining spaces will make dining with your friends and family at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park a memorable experience.
The Shell Provisions is brought to life by our local partners. These partners include some of San Diego's most talked-about favorites, like Chef Richard Blais, Urban Kitchen, Biga, Lola 55, Achilles Coffee, Marketplace Grille, Kitchens for Good and others.
(See all of your options, including our new, deliciously curated "Blais by the Bay" pre-order service, on our Dining Page!)
Please note: Food and beverages may not be brought in to The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. In an effort to reduce waste, guests are welcome to bring one empty reusable plastic or aluminum water bottle only. Bottles can be filled at water refill stations inside the venue. Glass bottles are not permitted.