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Indulge in a Little Brahms with a Shot of Dvořák as Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig Serves up its First Concert of the Season, “Brahms & the Romantics”
Orange County, Calif. — September 07, 2016
Pacific Symphony’s popular chamber music series, Café Ludwig, returns to sweeten up Sundays with coffee, treats and music that’s extra delicious. For the first concert of the series, the focus is on the towering genius of Brahms, which cast a long shadow and influenced many of his contemporaries, including Dvořák, a devoted friend whom he mentored. In the spotlight, led by the incomparable pianist and series host Orli Shaham, are Symphony musicians Paul Manaster, violin; Bridget Dolkas, violin; Meredith Crawford, viola; Timothy Landauer, cello; and Steven Edelman, bass. The program opens with a Brahms-inspired work by a young Israeli-American composer, Avner Dorman, commissioned and recorded by Shaham, called “After Brahms,” followed by Dvořák’s String Quintet No. 2, Op. 77 and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60.
Enjoy coffee or tea and sample sweet treats in Café Ludwig’s coffeehouse-style setting, while enjoying the aural beauty of chamber music during “Brahms & the Romantics,” taking place on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 3 p.m., in the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Tickets are $70 and $88; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“I am overjoyed to be starting my ninth season at Cafe Ludwig!” exclaims Shaham, whose piano playing has been called “perfection” by the London Guardian. As in the past, behind every program curated by Shaham is a poetic notion: “This will be another unusual trip through the repertoire, with powerful performances of fantastic works. In this first program, we’ll be exploring links between Brahms and his fellow composers. The Piano Quartet in C Minor, the anchor of the program, is a middle work of Brahms, published in 1875 when the composer was 42. At this time in Brahms’ life, the ghost of Beethoven, which had haunted him throughout his career, was finally about to be vanquished. He would premiere his first symphony (in the same key as this quartet, and likewise, also including a slow movement in E major) the following year and was deep at work on it.”
Brahms famously waited so long for a first symphony precisely because it was so difficult to know what to write that could follow Beethoven’s Ninth in the canon. In this quintet, he incorporates a 16th-century chorale, the famous four-note, so-called “Fate” motive from Beethoven’s Fifth symphony, and a direct reference to Mendelssohn’s great C Minor Piano Trio.
“All these references make the quartet a perfect vehicle to illustrate how composition does not occur in a vacuum,” says Shaham. “Composers are constantly dealing with choices their forefathers have made, whether overtly or even subconsciously. In Brahms’ case, you can literally see how his studies of previous works in C minor, his immersion in chamber music of the past and his focus on symphonies before him, all go into forming this incredible masterwork.”
The quartet itself is both dark and intense, with moments of poignant beauty and grand release. The scherzo has one of the great moments of the chamber repertoire—after an emotional ride in C minor, Brahms ends with a mood-lifting C major, using a classic move from the Renaissance (a Picardy third) to crown the movement. “A great composer truly draws on everything that came before!” says Shaham.
Dvořák’s Second String Quintet was published the same year as Brahms’ Quartet. In fact, this was also the year in which Dvořák received the Austrian State Prize for composition, an award for which Brahms had served on the jury. Although not a work of specific deference to Brahms, it is a piece with clear understanding of how Brahms and others put together large-scale chamber works. Typical of Dvořák, it also contains Slavonic influences in the melodies.
“Dvořák must have studied the music of Brahms as it came into his life, but he hadn’t yet met the man who would so help his career,” comments Shaham. “Brahms could already clearly see the potential of this younger composer at this stage, and it is particularly interesting to assess what aspects of Dvořák’s writing were so appealing to Brahms as he struggled in his own creative journey. Already at this early stage (he was 33 when it was published), Dvořák could hold together large structures beautifully, allowing different keys to flow into each other with a skilled harmonic hand. His ability to extract tuneful melodies from the popular music around him was also evident. It’s a sweet, special work with a sound world that is uniquely Dvořák’s.”
Living composer, Avner Dorman, wrote the three “After Brahms” Intermezzos featured in the concert a few years ago, when Shaham commissioned him to “be inspired by late Brahms” as part of an album she was creating, called “Brahms Inspired,” connecting Brahms’ own musical inspirations with works inspired by him. The first two pieces are paraphrases of intermezzos by Brahms (Opus 118 No. 1 and Opus 119 No. 1, respectively).
Dorman took the challenge in “unexpected and stunning directions,” remarks Shaham. “For the first, he takes the right hand of Brahms’ piece along with the left hand of the Brahms and interjects an insistent chromatic motive in between. Over the course of the piece, that little motive causes the Brahmsian lines to disintegrate and a forceful nuclear explosion clears the way for the next pieces!”
The second intermezzo is based in character, form and shape on that famous intermezzo of Brahms’ that begins with his trademark falling thirds. (The C Minor Quartet’s slow movement also begins with these). Dorman is able to capture Brahms’ ability to incorporate the feeling of popular music in the concert world, while maintaining the highest compositional standards.
“He also takes the lead from Brahms, who makes the harmony ever richer through a series of falling thirds, extending that richness into what is permissible in the 21st century, from a 13th chord in Brahms’ case to a 27th chord in Dorman’s!” says Shaham. “Dorman’s third intermezzo is the most original in material and that most evokes Brahms’ writing style: sentimental, highly personal, full of nostalgia and pathos, introspective.”
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