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One of classical music’s most revered pianists, André Watts, returns to Pacific Symphony for a season finale performance of Beethoven’s breathtaking Piano Concerto No. 4
Orange County, Calif. — May 11, 2016
Concert also includes Berlioz’s extraordinary “Symphonie Fantastique”
More than 50 years after Leonard Bernstein introduced him to the world at the age of 16, André Watts remains one of the most celebrated and beloved piano superstars. Having played before royalty in Europe and heads of government in nations all over the world, it’s hard to find a more accomplished pianist than Watts. In his hands, Beethoven’s revolutionary Piano Concerto No. 4 becomes a fitting finale to Pacific Symphony’s 2015-16 classical season. A longtime friend of Music Director Carl St.Clair and the Symphony, Watts returns for his sixth performance with Pacific Symphony. Led by St.Clair, Beethoven’s masterpiece shares the stage with Berlioz’s musically riveting work, “Symphonie Fantastique,” inspired by the composer’s infatuation with a British ingénue. Full of vivid descriptions of obsession and dreams, tantrums and tenderness, suicide, murder, ecstasy and despair—the piece is a musical wonder.
This concert takes place Thursday through Saturday, June 2-4, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets range from $25-$110. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
Also on Saturday, June 4, is the Symphony’s fifth “Plazacast and Community Festival.” This free party on the Plaza outside Segerstrom Center for the Arts begins at 5 p.m. with food trucks, music, dance and art before the Symphony’s concert is projected simultaneously on the wall at 8 p.m. Another chance to hear Berlioz’s fascinating work, “Symphonie Fantastique,” takes place during Sunday Casual Connections, on Sunday, June 5, at 3 p.m., when Maestro St.Clair and the orchestra uncover the semi-autobiographical story of an artist’s self-destructive passion for a beautiful woman. Tickets for the Connections performance are $25-$96.
In discussion, Maestro St.Clair pointed to the Los Angeles Times review of Watts’ April recital at the Broad Stage. The headline read: “At 69, André Watts is playing like a teenage phenom.” The article went on to say: “Watts, who turns 70 in June… demonstrate[d] the young virtuoso in him is alive and well but tamed by an expressive and mature artist. Throughout his recital, Watts achieved a level of authority and command seldom heard from a pianist of any age.”
“This is why I have a rewarding and long-lasting musical relationship with André,” says St.Clair. “He is a consummate artist and one of America’s most distinguished musicians. We are so fortunate that he chooses to join us as often as he does. This is the second of the five Beethoven Piano Concertos that he has performed with me and Pacific Symphony. It is always an enlightening musical experience when we share this great music of our beloved master Beethoven with André.”
Beethoven completed his five piano concertos between the ages of about 19-20 to when he was just 38. Six years later, he started a sixth, but abandoned it, marking the end of his writing for this form. Like Mozart, Beethoven was a composer who had stunned audiences and made loads of money by composing ridiculously difficult piano concertos and effortlessly performing them in concert. Unfortunately, this was about the time Beethoven began growing deaf, and he could no longer trust himself to perform.
For this particular concerto, his fourth, the piano begins alone, playing for just five bars with a gentle theme that sets the tone for the whole movement. The second movement is no longer gentle—the piano and orchestra seem to exist in different worlds, like a couple that can’t get along—angry, charming, petulant. At the premiere of his Fourth Concerto, two boys stood by the piano holding candles. At one point, Beethoven leapt up, knocking the candles to the floor. The element of the unexpected was another reason audiences flocked to Beethoven’s concerts!
Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto is light years ahead of its time and the perfect vehicle in the hands of a legendary pianist like Watts. For years, Watts has always been the musician Pacific Symphony calls when they want to celebrate—whether it’s a show-stopping start or a memorable end to a season. It was in September 2012 that the superstar pianist last lit up the stage, opening the Symphony’s 34th season by playing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 to standing ovations. In June 2010, Watts joined the orchestra for St.Clair’s 20th anniversary celebration, the final concert of the season, performing Grieg’s sweepingly romantic Piano Concerto. In 2008, Watts rocked the concert hall by performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. But it was in 2004 that Watts last performed one of Beethoven’s piano concertos—his third.
Watts’ performance with Pacific Symphony once caused the Orange County Register’s music critic, Tim Mangan, to write: “The piano became, in his hands, not just a tool to waft beautiful melodies, but an instrument that could growl and sting, rush and hover, feint and jab, accompany as well as solo. There wasn’t an uninflected bar in his entire performance, and that kept it interesting and involving from first to last. The place erupted after the final ‘whomp.’ ”
Going back even further, it was in the mid-1980s that St.Clair, then-assistant conductor at the Boston Symphony, first met Watts. “He came regularly as soloist, so I was able to experience his profound music-making,” says St.Clair. “These were musical moments that have formed my present expectations of the works. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to conduct André in these concertos, among others. It was through our professional collaborations that we developed a mutual respect that deepened into a friendship.”
But that’s only half of the concert! Many sense in Berlioz’s ‘Symphony Fantastique’ the classical tradition and presence of Beethoven. At the same time, Berlioz strove to write “new music”—meeting with tremendous success. The most remarkable of first symphonies, “Fantastique” sounds and behaves like nothing ever heard before. A self-portrait of its composer and an epic for a huge orchestra, through its movements, “Fantastique” tells the story of an artist’s obsession over a beautiful woman. The symphony describes his extreme emotions in all their glory and horror. Leonard Bernstein described it as the first musical expedition into “psychodelia,” because of its hallucinatory and dream-like nature, and because history suggests Berlioz composed at least a portion of it under the influence of opium. According to Bernstein, “Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”
“ ‘Symphony Fantastique’ is a unique work in the orchestral repertoire,” says St.Clair. “It is often thought that it comes from the late 19th century, at the end of the Romantic Period. Actually, it was premiered in 1830, three years after the death of our dear Ludwig. The first rehearsal of the ‘Symphony Fantastique’ had to be cancelled because—and get this—there weren’t enough chairs or candles to light the room or seat the number of performers.
“The piece is SO far ahead of its time and it lit the path for many of the Romantic composers to follow, including Wagner, Liszt and others,” St.Clair continues. “It also is the first extensive tone poem with a story and a musical connection via the idée fixe that Wagner later uses in his opera, especially his ‘Ring Cycle.’ It is a miracle—and a musical journey not to be missed as it concludes our 2015-16 series.”
Pacific Symphony’s classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The Plazacast is supported by The James Irvine Foundation and Sunday Casual Connections receives additional support from KPCC.
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