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Musical nourishment for mom’s soul: discover the late chamber music of “Beethoven, Brahms And Schubert” during Pacific Symphony’s final Café Ludwig concert of 2014-15

Orange County, Calif. — April 27, 2015

After journeying through the early and middle periods of the great composers, Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig series concludes the 2014-15 season by exploring chamber music from the late periods of “Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.” With full lives of experience and writing music behind them, composers at the end of their careers conveyed expressive emotions in the most concise and beautiful ways. Pianist and host Orli Shaham shares the genius and distinctive qualities of the music as she performs with Symphony musicians Raymond Kobler on violin, Timothy Landauer on cello and David Chang on clarinet. The concert features Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 5, well-known for its technical demands, Brahms’ poetic Four Pieces for Piano interwoven with Brett Dean’s “Hommage à Brahms,” Schubert’s rhythmically exuberant Nocturne for Piano, Violin and Cello and Brahms’ Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano.

An enjoyable afternoon to spend with mom, the concert takes place on Mother’s Day, May 10, at 3 p.m. Sweet treats, coffee and tea are served in a relaxed café setting in the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Tickets are $65 and $79; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

Shaham describes the development of music through a composer’s life as similar to any person’s. Comparing the early to late periods, she says, “In the beginning there are so many ideas of a composer’s voice and what he wants to say, but it’s not always organized. In the middle, it feels like there’s a great deal of confidence in one’s ability to convey anything. In the late period, not only can the composers convey any emotion or any feeling they want, they do it with an incredible economy of means.”

One of the cello’s first pioneers, Beethoven played a significant role in expanding the cello’s possibilities as a solo instrument through his five sonatas, which span all three periods of his career. His fifth is one of the most technically demanding works for the instrument known up until the 20th century. Written in the later years of Beethoven’s life, the sonata demonstrates the freedom and individuality of his music, and the intensity of the cello’s voice shows that Beethoven was a composer ahead of his time.

Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 5 begins with a brisk first movement, “Allegro con brio,” full of energy, which turns to a lesser pace in the second movement, “Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto – Attacca,” projecting a gloomy tone, and ends in an upbeat “Allegro – Allegro fugato,” expressing a joyfully sweet sound. It is the last composition Beethoven wrote for solo instrument and piano, and focuses on overall impression rather than on a suite of three movements.

A virtuoso at the piano, Brahms wrote his Four Pieces for Piano during a time when talented soloists excelled and virtuosic displays were wildly popular throughout Europe. His music for piano is often claimed as daunting to even the most accomplished musicians, but that was not his goal. His focus was always on the beauty and expressiveness of his music rather than showmanship. Finished as he was nearing 60, Brahms’ Four Pieces possess a reflective quality that suggests he is looking back on his life.

The piano works are full of dissonances and carry a lethargic pace throughout to convey melancholy; every note is to be played as if it is in slow motion. The first three movements are labeled intermezzo, which at the time was used to describe a piece that expressed intimate feelings, and didn’t always suggest a brief musical interlude. In this afternoon’s performance, the musicians perform the three pieces of Brett Dean’s “Hommage à Brahms” in between each of Brahms’ pieces, ending with Brahms’ “Rhapsody in E-flat Major.”

“These pieces are Brahms’ final work for piano and they have that vision of the future, of legacies.” says Shaham. “I think Brett Dean was hoping to take a lot of what Brahms was leaving the door open for, musically speaking, and bring it into the 21st century, but also to comment on what he feels are the things Brahms was still working out at that stage in his life,” says Shaham.

Schubert wrote “Nocturne for Piano, Violin and Cello” around the end of his life when he was facing frustration and despair. After composing many pieces and receiving no money, he was soon to be evicted from his home. To his misfortune, his Nocturne was published after he had already passed.

The piece starts with a delicate dialogue between the violin and cello with piano accompaniment, and quickly, the piano takes over the dominant role and begins dramatic phrases up until the resolution of the piece, where the original theme is rekindled and audiences feel a sense of closure.

Shaham comments on Schubert’s Nocturne and Brahms’ Trio, saying, “Both of them are incredibly beautiful pieces of music and a little bit nostalgic and melancholy, but also full of life.” She believes they have something magnificent to say, each and every part of the piece, and that especially with the Trio, the movements are “little pieces of perfection.”

Brahms’ Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano was inspired by a clarinet player by the name of Richard Mohlfield, whom Brahms highly respected. Prior to writing this piece, Brahms had seriously considered retiring and felt contempt toward his current projects, but Mohlfield inspired him to keep writing and create this chamber masterpiece. The Trio is abundant with texture and has a wonderfully rich sound even amid the mournful mood that the music displays. Unlike most compositions at the time, the clarinet, cello and piano act as equals to create a unified voice throughout the piece, where the melody moves from a slower pace to a lively one, and later to a melody paralleled in the end.

Shaham has been performing on piano since she was a child, winning over audiences in many performances internationally. Recently, she has performed in concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Sydney Symphony Orchestra, in addition to a world premiere of “Stumble to Grace,” a piano concerto by Steve Mackey. She has been the host of Pacific Symphony’s chamber series for eight seasons, and is planning to return next year.

This concert’s selections combine the sullen and the sweet and make for an intellectually stimulating afternoon. In regard to the music Shaham says, “It’s all very intimate music-making and it’s all very deep and emotionally laden, and at the same time, beautiful and clear. I think that speaks to any mom’s heart.”