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Idyllic French Chamber Music colors Pacific Symphony's first 2012-13 Café Ludwig concert, "The French Connection," with intimate works by Poulenc, Ravel and Chausson

September 27, 2012

The elegant world of French music that enveloped the turn of the 20th century becomes the focus of Pacific Symphony’s first concert of the 2012-13 Café Ludwig series, “The French Connection,” kicking off three afternoon performances of light chamber music in the charming Samueli Theater (near the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall), topped off with coffee, tea and desserts. Piano sensation Orli Shaham returns for her fifth season as host to lead a group of talented Principal Symphony musicians: Raymond Kobler (violin), Paul Manaster (violin), Bridget Dolkas (violin), Robert Becker (viola), Timothy Landauer (cello), Jessica Pearlman (oboe) and Rose Corrigan (bassoon). Exquisitely refined, yet not without color and wit, the works of French composers Poulenc, Ravel and Chausson fill the program, taking place Sunday, Oct. 7, at 3 p.m. Single tickets are $60 and $75. Three-concert subscriptions are available for $156 or $198. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit PacificSymphony.org.

“One of the things I find most satisfying about French music is the breadth and emotional range of the music,” says Shaham. “Despite a common language which is uniquely French, the personality of the composers comes through in the individual works. Last season we explored some of these compositional voices and could appreciate the linguistic heritage that comes from Fauré to Debussy and then Ravel. This season we will see some other sides of the French personality. ”

The program begins with a display of Poulenc’s gift for melodic invention, as his Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano sparkles and embraces the listener with sweet and melancholic writing. Poulenc was a prominent member of Les Six, a group of six French composers who sought sophistication in music through simple and traditional means in contrast to the Impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel.

“The Poulenc Trio calls for an unusual combination of instruments: oboe, bassoon and piano. The sound is special and gentle, and the piece is infused with a lively, delicate sense of humor. One of Poulenc’s early supporters was Stravinsky. In this trio we can hear why, with timbres that could absolutely come from Stravinsky (who of course was himself heavily influenced by the French). Yet that uniquely French sound pervades, and you would not mistake this for anything other than a Parisian composition.

“I am especially looking forward to being able to work again with Jessica Pearlman and Rose Corrigan on this piece. It’s always a great joy to make music with them and in the context of a chamber series, the opportunities are not nearly frequent enough.”

Ravel’s String Quartet, one of the most frequently performed in the repertory, is next. It opens with a pastoral setting, delicate and lush, and proceeds with a fun and precise pizzicato, concluding with a rich and slow final movement. Written while he was a student at the Paris Conservatory studying under the father of French impressionism, Fauré, Ravel composed the piece as an application for the Prix de Rome. Although it was rejected for the scholarship and Fauré declared it a failure, it thrilled Debussy, who is claimed to have told Ravel, “In the name of the gods of music, and in mine, do not touch a single note of what you have written in your quartet.”

“During this program, we get to hear the great masterpiece of Ravel’s, the String Quartet, which is heavily indebted to Debussy and is a work of unparalleled genius,” says Shaham. “The String Quartet is undoubtedly the highest achievement in the language we traditionally associate with French music.”

The concert concludes with the earliest of the three pieces, Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, which is known for its deep and intimate expression.

“The largest forces on the program come with the Chausson Concerto, a standard in chamber music repertoire. I am delighted to have the chance to play this with the Symphony’s concertmaster, Raymond Kobler, as my partner in crime. This unusual work has many influences, from Wagner to Fauré and others, and they all have an impact on its sonic landscape. It is a massive piece, a weight which provides a good foil to the sometimes gossamer textures.

“Also, I am particularly pleased that we get a chance to welcome Paul Manaster to Café Ludwig for the first time in my tenure. There are so many spectacular chamber musicians in Pacific Symphony, and I am eager to have a chance to work with each of them!”

A consummate musician recognized for her grace, subtlety and vitality, Shaham has established an impressive international reputation as one of today’s most gifted pianists. Hailed by critics on four continents, Shaham is in demand for her prodigious skills and admired for her interpretations of both standard and modern repertoire. 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. Shaham has given recitals in North America, Europe and Asia at such renowned concert halls as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, and the Herkulessaal in Munich, and has worked with many eminent conductors including Sir Neville Marriner, Sir Roger Norrington, Christopher Hogwood, David Robertson, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano and Gerard Schwarz, among others.

The Café Ludwig series continues Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at 3 p.m. for “Woodwind Magic,” a program highlighting the unique personalities of woodwind instruments in chamber pieces by Prokofiev, Bruch, Stravinsky and Mozart. The series concludes Sunday, April 28, 2013, at 3 p.m. with “The Brilliance of Brahms,” a musical tribute to Johannes Brahms.