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Led by pianist and host Orli Shaham, Pacific Symphony’s chamber music musicians are “Dancing With The Stars” for Café Ludwig’s enchanting afternoon of spirited rhythms
Orange County, Calif. — February 03, 2016
Pacific Symphony’s chamber music series, Café Ludwig, takes its audience on a foray into music inspired by dance for “Dancing with the Stars,” a program of exuberant works by star composers showcasing lively dance rhythms. The program brilliantly reveals connections found in energetic gypsy and Hungarian rhythms, a seductive and languorous habanera and that quintessential dance form—the waltz—as first conceived by Brahms, then reimagined by Schoenberg. For the eighth season, charming and sensational pianist Orli Shaham serves as the series’ curator/host, leading this matinee of music on Sunday, Feb. 28, at 3 p.m., in the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Attendees are seated at small tables and enjoy sweet treats, coffee and tea, served in a relaxed café setting, while listening to music performed by Symphony musicians: Paul Manaster, violin; Bridget Dolkas, violin; Robert Becker, viola; Timothy Landauer, cello; Benjamin Smolen, flute; David Chang, clarinet; and Barry Perkins, trumpet. Tickets are $65 and $79; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“This program is all based on dance music from many different parts of the world and in many different instrumentations,” explains Shaham. “One of the goals was to get dances that pair well with each other or that respond one to another.”
The concert opens with Zoltán Kodály’s Sonata in B Minor, Op. 8, “Allegro molto vivace,” drenched in the rhythms of Hungary and performed by Landauer. This piece is followed by selections from John Adams’ “John’s Book of Alleged Dances,” written for string quartet and prepared piano. The second half spotlights Shaham and Perkins in several marvelous works: Maurice Ravel’s “Pièce en forme De Habanera,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Rondo for Lifey,” a piece playfully inspired by dogs, and Astor Piazzolla’s haunting “Milonga del ángel,” arranged by Steven Mahpar. Shaham then performs Johannes Brahms’ Waltzes for Solo Piano and the concert concludes with Johann Strauss’ II “Kaiser Waltz” arranged by Arnold Schoenberg, featuring Smolen, Chang, Manaster, Dolkas, Becker, Landauer and Shaham.
The program opens with a movement from Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello “because part of the whole incorporation of dance into music is this link between what we call concert music and popular music,” says Shaham, who explains that it was not until the 19th century that dance began to be recognized as serious concert music, and while dance and concert music continued to intermix during the 20th century, the categories remain somewhat separate today.
“The Kodály is really folk dancing,” Shaham continues. “It gets right to the heart of what it means to be popular music: music literally coming from the populace. It’s a good example of where dances come from in the first place. And I have to say there are very few cellists with whom I would trust this piece. It’s incredibly difficult and I’m sure Tim Landauer is going to hit it right out of the park.”
What follows are selections from John Adams’ “Book of Alleged Dances.” Especially of note is the “Habanera” movement, where the American composer comments on Spanish dance rhythms through the lens of having had many French composers comment on the same rhythms. Shaham says: “It’s really interesting to see how those certain elements stay the same over time and space, while other elements change, and yet the essence of the dance is always there.” What makes this piece even more intriguing is that it was scored for string quartet and prerecorded soundtrack and for this performance, Shaham performs the “prerecorded soundtrack” live, on prepared piano.
“This is probably one of the wildest things I’ve ever done as a pianist,” she remarks. “John’s ‘Book of Alleged Dances’ is really one of my absolute favorite pieces of the past 30 years. I think it’s an incredible piece of music and one I come back to again and again and find remarkable every time.”
A very different illustration of how dances speak to one another can be found with Ravel’s “Pièce en forme de Habanera”—a French composer commenting on Spanish rhythms and Spanish dance forms. The sounds of Spain, which have always represented sun and sensuality, have held irresistible fascination for many French composers, including Lalo, Chabrier, Debussy and Bizet. But Spanish music was in Ravel’s blood. He was born just a few miles from the French border within the Basque region of Spain, and his mother, who was of Basque descent, sang Spanish lullabies and traditional songs to him from earliest childhood. He learned Spanish dance forms early and used them often in his compositions, including his most famous, “Bolero.”
Thinking that only humans dance might be a mistake. The chamber music composed by Leonard Bernstein includes an almost cheeky, lively series of five pieces for brass instruments dedicated to pets, among them “Rondo for Lifey.” The result of a commission from the Juilliard Music Foundation, the pieces are all named for dogs and dedicated, “For my brother Burtie.” Despite being a relatively short piece, lasting two minutes, “Rondo for Lifey” is one of the two longest works in the series, which collectively lasts eight minutes.
Of all Latin American composers of classical music, the most widely performed today is surely Astor Piazzolla, who reveled in the tango and has become increasingly popular over the past two decades. Born in Argentina, Piazzolla actually grew up in New York City. His “Milonga del ángel” was composed for a 1962 stage play of that name written by Alberto Muñoz, in which an angel comes to a shabby Buenos Aires neighborhood, healing the spirits of its residents. (A milonga refers to both a dance—a lighter, more relaxed predecessor of the tango—and a club where tangos and milongas are performed.) The poignant, sinuous lines contrast intriguingly with the rest of the program.
A final example of dances that respond to one another is the group of Brahms’ waltzes and Strauss’ famous “Kaiser Waltz,” re-envisioned by Schoenberg. The latter seems to bring together one of classical music’s oddest couples: Johann Strauss II, the waltz king, who anchored Vienna’s most fabled musical dynasty; and Arnold Schoenberg, the magisterial leader of the Second Viennese School, who at the turn of the 20th century developed the rules of a compositional technique that eclipsed the familiar rules of melody and harmony.
“You’ve got the Viennese waltz tradition as executed by two different people,” says Shaham. “And there’s even an extra spin on the Strauss, because this transcription for chamber group is by Arnold Schoenberg. He wonderfully brings out the unique waltz characteristics that Strauss has put into the music and arranges them for a small chamber group in a really effective way.”
“I really love having Café Ludwig as an outlet for this kind of collaboration,” concludes Shaham. “The musicians have all been game to try so many interesting things with me, which makes it quite fulfilling. It’s particularly satisfying because it’s three programs each season, which means I can really make an impact. With all sorts of interesting programmatic quirks and ideas, I feel like it’s always quite a journey for everyone.”
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