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Pacific Symphony’s 2014-15 Café Ludwig chamber series, opening with “Beethoveen, Debussy and Mendelssohn,” explores musical gems composed at different stages of master’s lives
Orange County, Calif. — October 20, 2014
Sunday matinee series features three Beethoven cello sonatas performed by Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer and acclaimed pianist Orli Shaham
Discover the evolving genius and unique musical voices of “Beethoven, Debussy and Mendelssohn” during the first concert of Pacific Symphony’s 2014-15 Café Ludwig chamber series, which this season explores music written at the early, middle and late periods of a composer’s life. As an anchor, the three-concert series features three of Beethoven’s cello sonatas, each written at a different stage of his musical development, performed by the Symphony’s Principal Cellist Timothy Landauer. For the seventh season, charming and sensational pianist Orli Shaham serves as host, leading this afternoon of music on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 3 p.m. in the intimate Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Tickets are $65 and $79, and include coffee, tea and desserts. Subscriptions for all three concerts are still available for $168 and $219. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
The program opens with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 2, one of the first great pieces to unleash the unique expressive possibilities of the cello. Debussy’s Piano Trio No. 1 follows, a sweet and sentimental piece written when he was 18. Mendelssohn began his String Octet in
E-flat Major when he was just 16, and it has been acclaimed by music critics ever since. Conrad Wilson wrote that “its youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of 19th-century music.” This concluding work features Symphony Principal string musicians: violinists Raymond Kobler, Paul Manaster, Bridget Dolkas and Jeanne Skrocki; violists Robert Becker and Meredith Crawford; and cellists Landauer and Kevin Plunkett.
“This season, we have a wonderful theme that runs throughout, which I am as excited to explore as I hope the audience will be,” says Shaham. “The first program is all music that was written early in the composers’ careers and in their personal development. The second program is all music that was written in what we call the middle stage—music that was written at somebody’s maturity, the prime of their career. Our spring program is all late music that was written at the end of a composer’s lifetime. This theme is interesting from the point of view in seeing how a composer develops and seeing how styles change throughout one’s lifetime.
“When I realized this connection that Beethoven’s cello sonatas span the three periods of his career, I knew that exploring these more deeply with Tim Landauer would be one of the projects of a lifetime. It would be musically very satisfying and nourishing to explore those sonatas together as a year-long adventure,” says Shaham.
Beethoven’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 was written at the same time as his first in 1796, when he was on concert tour in Berlin. The piece features stunning writing for piano because Beethoven was to premiere it himself for King Friedrich II of Prussia, with the French cellist Jean-Pierre Duport. “There is no question as to which instrument gets the lion’s share of virtuosity here,” wrote contemporary cello player Steven Isserlis, “Beethoven was not going to let himself be overshadowed by a mere cellist!” Beethoven went on to write his third cello sonata in 1808 and his fourth and fifth in 1815.
After attending the Paris Conservatoire at age 10, Debussy was sought as a pianist for an 1880 tour with the children of the great arts patron Nadezhda von Meck. There, he was influenced by many composers and wrote his Piano Trio in G Major shortly after his return to France.
“It’s really interesting because with early works there is the big question, ‘Does a composer already have a voice?’” says Shaham. “When Debussy’s Trio was first rediscovered, people said, ‘Oh, this doesn’t sound like Debussy, it’s just a piece of juvenilia,’ but I couldn’t
disagree more. I think it so much sounds like Debussy. From the opening notes, the way he spaces the instruments between each other and the textures that he uses and the kind of sonorities that he is seeking out, it’s exactly the preoccupations he would have for the rest of his life as a composer. And I find that part so fascinating, that at only 18, he knew that these kinds of sound pictures and sonorities would be interesting for him to explore.”
Mendelssohn’s genius was unmistakable as a child. He began studying piano at age 6, and by the time he was in his late teens, Mendelssohn had composed some of his best-known works, “demonstrating both superb craftsmanship and a glorious gift for melodies that sing with emotion,” according to program annotator Michael Clive. His String Octet in E-flat Major is widely claimed to be one of the greatest chamber works ever written.
“It’s incredible for the rest of us mere mortals to see what these prodigies were already thinking in their teenage years, and how fully developed their voices are even if there are things that they could still work on,” says Shaham.
Café Ludwig continues on Sunday afternoons, exploring music from the middle period of “Bach, Beethoven and Bartók” on March 1, 2015, and the late period of “Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert” on May 10, 2015.
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,” London's Guardian said Shaham’s playing at the Proms was “perfection” and The Winnipeg Free Press declared Shaham’s piano skills “almost too good to be true.”
Shaham adds: “Because of the nature of chamber music, I have gotten to know Pacific Symphony’s string musicians so well, and they are really wonderful collaborators and partners. I feel like we are kind of a big musical family by now. I am looking forward to this season very much.
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