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"The Brilliance of Brahms" shines for Pacific Symphony's Café Ludwig 2012-13 Season Finale featuring host and pianist Orli Shaham and orchestra's principal musicians

March 26, 2013

Romantic and riveting: Pacific Symphony uncovers the intricate mastery of Johannes Brahms’ chamber music during “The Brilliance of Brahms,” the last Café Ludwig concert this season. Pianist Orli Shaham, whose playing the London’s Guardian recently called “perfection”performs and leads Symphony musicians in an array of Brahms’ treasured classics for strings and piano with Concertmaster Raymond Kobler and Bridget Dolkas on violin, Robert Becker and Meredith Crawford on viola, and Timothy Landauer and Kevin Plunkett on cello. The program opens with the composer’s Sonata No. 1 in E Minor for Cello and Piano, which paved the way for fully orchestrated cello concertos to come. Then, with expressive beauty and unlimited interpretive possibilities, Shaham performs Brahms’ “Six Pieces for Piano,” dedicated to the love of his life, Clara Schumann; the second to last work published during his lifetime, this piano set

shows unprecedented fluidity and grace. The concert concludes with the uniquely adoring String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, written about an earlier love whom Brahms met when he was just 25. “The Brilliance of Brahms” takes place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, in the intimate Samueli Theater (located next to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall). Ticket prices ($60 and $75) include afternoon tea, coffee and desserts for patrons to enjoy in a coffeehouse setting. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“People always ask me, ‘Who’s your favorite composer?’ and I say, ‘Well, you can’t really have a favorite composer because that would be like choosing your favorite child,” says Shaham, “but if I had to choose, it would be Brahms.”

The opening cello sonata features the Symphony’s Principal Cellist Landauer—called “a cellist of extraordinary gifts” by The New York Times—in a duet with pianist Shaham. Brahms himself was an accomplished pianist, and also studied the cello in his youth to the point of mastering virtuosic showpieces. Using his familiarity with both instruments, Brahms opens the work with a brisk and fluid first movement, continues onto elegant dance rhythms and finishes with fugal elements and counterpoint inspired by Bach. Next, Shaham performs solo “Six Pieces for Piano.”

“This piano set has both the most lyrical and joyous music—the Intermezzo in A Major, No. 2—and also the most haunting and deeply troubled moments in the last piece, No. 6, with its incredibly plaintive quality,” says Shaham. “The six pieces of Op. 118 are often performed separately, but I find that it’s incredibly potent to perform them as a set.”

Duos of principal and assistant principal violins, violas and cellos perform Brahms’ lyrical String Sextet No. 2 in G Major. In the first movement it is clear that the piece was inspired by his summer love with soprano Agathe von Siebold, because he uses the notes a-g-a-d-h-e, the d replacing the t in Agathe.

“For me, Brahms’ G Major Sextet is one of those pieces that I just couldn’t stop listening to when I first discovered it,” she continues. “Not only is it filled with incredible moves from the minor to the major, back and forth, a lot of chromaticism and beautiful colors, but it’s filled with so much passion. It also includes a hidden musical reference to a woman he was in love with at the time, but even without that story, the swirling emotions in this piece make it such a journey to listen to.”

Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1833. He is largely considered both a traditionalist and an innovator, although his compositions are heavily rooted in the classical and baroque styles. The composer spent much of his professional career in Vienna and had a grave understanding of the musical interconnection between harmony and rhythm. He composed numerous works for chamber ensembles, symphony orchestras, the piano, and for voice and chorus before his death in 1897.

Shaham, the concert’s pianist and host, is revered across the globe. She has played in some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and has gained considerable fame internationally. The Chicago Tribune recently referred to her as “a first-rate Mozartean,” and London’s Guardian said Shaham’s playing was “perfection” during her recent Proms debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The highly coveted musician received her first scholarship at the age of 5 from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. At 7, Shaham and her family traveled to New York City so that she could study with Nancy Stessin, and a year later, she became a scholarship student of Herbert Stessin at The Juilliard School. Shaham was also the recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the Gilmore Young Artist Award, two highly esteemed prizes given to further her musical talent. In addition to her musical background, Shaham holds a degree in history from Columbia University.