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Sunday afternoon delight! Revel in a bounty of charming concertos as Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig season ends with soul-soothing chamber music for “Café Concertos”
Orange County, Calif. — April 18, 2016
It’s also a marvelous way to spend Mother’s Day!
So civilized! Sip coffee or tea and sample sweet treats in a coffeehouse-style setting, while enjoying the aural beauty composed by four masters of classical music—Vivaldi, Bach, Holst and Mozart—during Pacific Symphony’s final Café Ludwig chamber concert of the 2015-16 season. “Café Concertos,” hosted by the incomparable pianist Orli Shaham, offers the perfect way to celebrate Mother’s Day—with a delightful program of concerted works performed as intimate chamber music. Opening with the great composers Bach and Vivaldi followed by works of Mozart and the 20th-century composer Gustav Holst, who were admirers of the Baroque masters, this program spotlights the talent of an impressive cast of Symphony musicians: Jessica Pearlman-Fields, oboe; Ted Sugata, oboe; Benjamin Smolen, flute; Raymond Kobler, violin; Paul Manaster, violin; Nancy Eldridge, violin; Bridget Dolkas, violin; Robert Becker, viola; Timothy Landauer, cello; and Steven Edelman, bass.
Taking place Sunday, May 8 (Mother’s Day), at 3 p.m., in the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the program includes Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor for Two Oboes; Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins and String Orchestra, BWV 1043; Holst’s A Fugal Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Strings, No. 2, Op. 40; and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414. This concert is generously sponsored by Dot and Rick Nelson. Tickets are $65 and $79; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
Shaham, whose piano playing the London Guardian has called “perfection,” is now in her eighth season of performing and curating the Symphony’s Café Ludwig series. Her purposeful programming always includes an intriguing thread that connects the individual pieces. For “Café Concertos,” the commonality is that all are concertos, and the idea behind it, she explains, is to turn the intimate Café Ludwig atmosphere into a place where soloists from Pacific Symphony can shine.
“It’s all being done without a conductor, in true chamber music fashion, with the give and take of live listening,” she says. “But six of the players will have solo roles and a chance to really lead. At the same time, the rest of the players will have individual roles doing what they do so well, blending together in a beautiful orchestral sound. So, it’s an opportunity to see the full extent of the talents of Pacific Symphony musicians… That said, of course the idea is that these works will go well together!
“The first half are all ‘double concertos,’ and the relationships between the two solo instruments, as well as between the soloists and the rest of the musicians, will be interesting to the listeners,” she says.
The concert opens with Concerto in A Minor for Two Oboes by Vivaldi, who was a remarkably prolific composer of concertos. Though he considered himself foremost a composer of operas (claiming 90 in all), his popularity today is primarily due to his hundreds of concertos, most of which were composed during a wildly productive period that began in 1703. Vivaldi’s main purpose in writing concertos was to hone the skills of his music students, young women who became some of the best instrumental players in Europe.
While Vivaldi’s concertos were mainly written for violin, he made sure that they could be transcribed for other instruments. The oboe, which was extremely popular at that time, was a favorite instrument of the composer. Vivaldi admired the oboe’s alluring effect when played in pairs and wrote several concertos with that instrumentation. He wrote three concertos for two oboes and strings, plus more than 20 for solo oboe and strings.
“The Vivaldi is a classic in the oboe literature, really showcasing the oboes and their virtuosity,” says Shaham of his Concerto in A Minor for Two Oboes, “and the Bach is one of the greatest concertos in the repertoire, deep, tuneful, and a masterpiece of how to balance the instruments.”
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bach couldn’t have flattered Vivaldi more. The German master had a penchant for emulating (sometimes literally copying) Vivaldi’s concertos, which were written in an Italian style. Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins and String Orchestra, BWV 1043 is a prime example of his refined, German version of Vivaldi’s Italian style, incorporating the characteristic alternation of fast-slow-fast pacing and the textural contrast of duo violins. Bach’s D Minor, otherwise known as the “Bach Double,” is one of the most famous of his works—and is a great example of a Baroque concerto. It was written sometime between 1717-1723, although the work’s performance materials are dated 1730-1731. The concerto is characterized by the subtle yet expressive relationship between the violins.
Though Bach was a keyboard player rather than a violinist (in fact, one of the greatest organists who ever lived), he seemed to have had a deep understanding of any instrument for which he composed, and this concerto is one that holds a special place in the violin repertory: No composition in all of music offers more pure enjoyment for an accomplished violinist to play. It’s not just the concerto’s undeniable Italian beauty, but also the sheer flow of energy and the feel of the instrument when playing the notes of such a brilliant composer.
“Each composer takes a slightly different approach,” says Shaham. “The Holst is from a much later period than the Vivaldi and Bach, but takes its basic premise from their time periods. It’s rather unknown in the States, but a fantastic piece of music, rich in its harmonies and filled with inventive musical ideas.”
Holst’s wonderfully charming A Fugal Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Strings, No. 2, Op. 40, is nothing like his epic “The Planets,” for which he is best known. It is brief, intimately scaled and deft rather than dramatic. The concerto taps Baroque traditions but also incorporates graceful, ingratiating melodies, fusing them together in a way that charms the ear. The first movement’s fluid interaction between instruments gives way to a simple canon in the second movement. The third movement, built around a traditional English tune—“If All the World Were Paper”—concludes in a burst of energy that is especially exuberant.
“As for the Mozart, it is one of the concertos he himself adapted for performance in this type of small setting,” says Shaham, who, by the way, the Chicago Tribune has referred to as “a first-rate Mozartean.” “Frequently, he preferred larger orchestrations, but this was one he prepared especially for this kind of venue. It’s a stunning, mature work, with all the characteristics we expect from Mozart—pearly beauty, endless creativity, great profundity, wit and life-affirming energy.”
Mozart composed his Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major in Vienna in 1782. It is one of three (Nos. 11-13) known as the “early Viennese” concertos, and it’s a versatile work. Although the full score calls for oboes, bassoons and horns in addition to strings, like all three of his early Viennese concertos, it can be performed with just a string quartet supplementing the solo piano. To some, these concertos seem to represent a break from the more adventurous concertos that preceded them. Others suppose this may have been Mozart’s way of making sure they would appeal to a wide variety of audiences and occasions. And despite No. 12’s economy of scale and instrumentation, it captivates the audience with its beauty.
Shaham adds with enthusiasm: “I look forward to breathing life into all this music with the wonderful musicians of Pacific Symphony for this concert!”
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