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Sheer beauty and musical splendor! Pacific Symphony welcomes pianist Barry Douglas to perform Beethoven’s “Emperor,” and guest conductor John Nelson leads Schumann’s Second Symphony
Orange County, Calif. — April 16, 2015
From simple beauty to dazzling grandeur, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor” requires extreme virtuosity from its soloist, making it an ideal centerpiece for Pacific Symphony’s upcoming concert, “Beethoven’s ‘Emperor.’” Pianist Barry Douglas, gold medal winner at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, travels from Ireland to tackle this famous concerto under the direction of Grammy-winning guest conductor John Nelson. Nelson, a Costa Rican native, also leads the orchestra in a performance of Schumann’s alternately broody and ebullient Symphony No. 2 in C Major, which was premiered in October 1846 under the direction of another well-known composer, Felix Mendelssohn. The Symphony opens the concert with Carl Maria von Weber’s imaginative Overture to “Oberon,” an opera of magic and elves.
Taking place Thursday through Saturday, May 7-9, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, this concert continues the 2014-15 Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Classical Series. Tickets are $25-$99. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“Douglas’ timing and flexibility, and his rhythmic élan, not to mention his virtuoso technique, brought the piece to dramatic life.” — Orange County Register
The regal, heroic “Emperor” is considered to be the most famous piano concerto of all time. No other piano concerto is more beloved, and none more powerfully combines nobility of expression with sublime beauty. Beethoven completed it in 1811, about one year before his Symphony No. 7. For lovers of his music, the “Emperor” Concerto is perhaps the cornerstone of fandom. Most professional pianists consider it mandatory to include in their personal repertory.
According to annotator Michael Clive, “Beethoven greatly admired Mozart’s piano concertos with their constant sense of spontaneity and delight, but did not pursue these qualities in his own concertos. Instead, they get progressively weightier, until in the fifth we hear some of the noblest music ever written. For all its beauty, “delight” is not the prevailing effect; as we listen, we have the impression that all of human dignity is at stake.”
Although the concerto will always be linked to Napoleon, who was emperor at the time, the nickname more aptly describes Beethoven’s elevated expression and his musical exploration of the individual (soloist) versus society (the orchestra). Beethoven felt passionately about human freedom and the ideals of the Enlightenment, and saw Napoleon as a champion of the common man who betrayed this noble cause by using the power and privileges of monarchy for his own gain. Beethoven famously intended to dedicate his “Eroica” Symphony to Napoleon, but furiously crossed out his name on the title page.
Beethoven’s concerto opens with exalted solo flourishes performed by Douglas, who has established a major international career since winning the gold medal in Moscow. As artistic director of Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival, Douglas continues to celebrate his Irish heritage while also maintaining a busy international touring schedule, which recently has included season-opening concerts with the BBC Scottish Symphony and performances with the Orchestre National de France, Israel Symphony (performing Penderecki’s concerto under the composer’s baton), Staatskapelle Halle, and the Ulster and Sapporo symphony orchestras. He has previously given concerts with the London Symphony, Russian National, Cincinnati Symphony, Singapore Symphony, Berlin Radio Symphony, Seattle Symphony and Melbourne Symphony, as well as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Hong Kong Philharmonic orchestras, among others.
Opening the concert in grand operatic form is Weber’s Overture to “Oberon.” Born in 1786 in Eutin, Germany, Weber was a leader in the development of these epically scaled, spectacular music-dramas, which were the most elegantly grandiose entertainments of their day. Of his most significant operas, “Oberon” was his last, commissioned by Covent Garden for production in 1826. It opens with a magical solo horn call, followed by the musical themes of Puck and the other fairies. The piece is said to have influenced Mendelssohn when he composed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
After intermission, Maestro Nelson leads the orchestra in Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. Brilliant, brief and filled with struggle, the life of Robert Schumann could almost have been invented to embody the spirit of the Romantic age. Schumann was tormented by mental illness; composing was both solace and a burden that could take a toll on his physical and mental well-being. His self-prescribed therapy was Bach. After embarking on a systematic study of Bach’s music, Schumann tentatively resumed his compositional efforts and composed his Second Symphony.
He described the compositional process to his friend D.G. Otten this way: “I wrote my symphony in December 1845, and I sometimes fear my semi-invalid state can be divined from the music. I began to feel more myself when I wrote the last movement, and was certainly much better when I finished the whole work. All the same it reminds me of dark days.”
One can hear the “dark days” he mentions in the gloomy opening, but the symphony’s melodies and bright flashes from the orchestra’s brasses convey energy and a sense of possibility. The uplifting tone is remarkable when considering Schumann’s health problems, and some critics believe the unconventional finale reflects the composer’s courage to innovate and experiment in spite of his illness.
Internationally renowned for his interpretation of the large romantic repertoire, including the great works of Berlioz, guest conductor Nelson has led most of the world’s top orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras and the New York Philharmonic. Nelson’s varied repertoire has also taken him to many of the world’s major opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, the Chicago Lyric, Opéra National de Paris and the Netherlands Opera. Nelson made his professional opera debut at the New York City Opera in Bizet’s “Carmen” and his Metropolitan Opera debut stepping in at short notice to replace an indisposed Rafael Kubelik in Berlioz’s “Les Troyens,” which catapulted him into the limelight.
The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from Mercedes-Benz, the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The Friday, May 8, concert is generously sponsored by the Pacific Symphony League, and the Saturday, May 9, concert is generously sponsored by William and Sakura Wang.
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