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CATHERINE RUSSELL, Vocalist

CATHERINE RUSSELL
Photo by Sandrine Lee

Will appear in Duke Ellington, which will be performed on March 12, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.
Grammy Award winning vocalist Catherine Russell is a native New Yorker, born into musical royalty. Her father, the late Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist/composer/bandleader, and Louis Armstrong’s long-time musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, was a pioneering vocalist/guitarist/bassist who performed with International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams, and Sy Oliver. A graduate of American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Ms. Russell has toured the world, performing and recording with David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, The Holmes Brothers, Wynton Marsalis, and Rosanne Cash, among others, appearing on over 200 albums. Since the 2006 release of her debut album, Cat, on Harmonia Mundi’s World Village label, six acclaimed and chart topping albums have followed, including Strictly Romancin’, awarded  Prix du Jazz Vocal 2012 (Vocal Album of The Year) by the Jazz Academy in France, and Bring It Back in 2014.  Catherine Russell was a featured artist on a Grammy Award winning soundtrack album for the HBO-TV series, Boardwalk Empire.

Her 6th album, Harlem On My Mind, was released in September 2016 and received a Grammy® Nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  Catherine has appeared on PBS-TV and on Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR. Will Friedwald writing in The Wall Street Journal, calls Catherine Russell “one of the outstanding singers of our time.” Catherine’s 7th album as a leader, Alone Together, was released in March 2019 on Dot Time Records, and held the #1 position on the JazzWeek 2019 Year End Chart for national radio play, while receiving her 2nd Grammy® Nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

JASON MARSALIS, Drums

JASON MARSALIS

Will appear in Duke Ellington, which will be performed on March 12, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

Drummer Jason Marsalis is the youngest son of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis. At age seven, he was sitting in with his father’s jazz group and progressed so rapidly as a drummer that his father started using him for some of his own shows. Shortly after graduation from New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in 1995, Marsalis joined a new group lead by the virtuoso pianist, Marcus Roberts, while also furthering his educational goals at Loyola University in New Orleans. In 2008, Marsalis began playing vibraphone and touring with his vibes quartet. At the same time, he has remained an instrumental member of the Marcus Roberts Trio. His skill at the drum set has been a critical part of the sound and philosophy of the trio for many years, and, in fact, he has been featured on all of Roberts’ recordings for the past 20 years. During that same time period, he continued to release his own recordings both on vibes and on drums. His recording, The 21st Century Trad Band, was critically acclaimed in the jazz world and his newest release is entitled Melody Reimagined, Book 1 (Basin Street Records, 2019). In recent years, Marsalis has also become increasingly known for his own educational contributions. He frequently teaches at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and he is a key member of The Modern Jazz Generation group, helping to train many of the younger musicians in the group.

RODNEY JORDAN, Bass

RODNEY JORDAN

Will appear in Duke Ellington, which will be performed on March 12, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

Jazz bassist, Rodney Jordan, is a native of Memphis, Tennessee. He grew up playing bass in church and like Marcus Roberts, these roots are the foundation for his rich and soulful sound. Jordan went on to study classical upright bass at Jackson State University. This training led him to positions as Assistant Principal Bassist and Principal Bassist with leading state and regional orchestras in Mississippi and Georgia. While living in Atlanta, Jordan became one of the city’s most sought-after jazz bassists, performing and recording with some of America’s finest jazz musicians. Jordan joined the faculty at Florida State University in 2001, where he now serves as an Associate Professor of Jazz Studies. It was there that Jordan and Roberts first played together, while working to train young aspiring musicians. In 2009, Jordan took over the bass chair in Roberts’ trio and he quickly became known for his virtuosity, quick reflexes, and musical wit. His hard-swinging style has earned him the nickname Rodney “Swing” Jordan. Jordan is a perfect fit for Roberts’ melodic, blues-based, rhythmically syncopated improvisational group style. He has also been instrumental to the training of many of the younger musicians in the Modern Jazz Generation, a 10—12 piece band featuring three generations of jazz musicians. Jordan is a gifted and generous teacher who is respected by all. He has been featured on all of Roberts’ recordings since 2009, including the most recent, Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane. He released his first CD as a leader, Playing Jazz, in 2017.

MARCUS ROBERTS, Piano

MARCUS ROBERTS

Will appear in Duke Ellington, which will be performed on March 12, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

Pianist/composer, Marcus Roberts, has been hailed “the genius of the modern piano”. In 2014, the celebrated CBS News television show, 60 Minutes, profiled his life and work on a segment entitled “The Virtuoso”.  The show traced Roberts’ life to date from his early roots in Jacksonville and at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind to his remarkable career as a modern jazz musician.

Roberts grew up in Jacksonville, FL where his mother’s gospel singing and the music of the local church left a lasting impact on his own musical style. Three years after losing his sight at age five, his parents bought him a piano and he began to teach himself to play. He had his first formal lesson at age 12 but despite that late start, he progressed quickly through hard work and good teachers. Roberts won his first of many piano competitions at age 17 (Mayport Jazz Festival, Jacksonville, FL, 1980) and then two years later he won the Young Artists Award at the National Association of Jazz Educators annual meeting. Of the many awards and competitions that he has won over the years, the one that is most personally meaningful to him is the Helen Keller Award for Personal Achievement. From Keller’s writings and his own family background, Roberts learned much about hope, optimism, and achievement that has stayed with him over the years.

At age 18, Roberts went to study classical piano at Florida State University with the great Leonidas Lipovetsky, a former student of the celebrated Madame Rosina Lhévinne. Lipovetsky was a brilliant and demanding teacher with an appreciation for both the jazz and classical idioms. Roberts left Florida State in 1985 to tour with jazz trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, where he spent six transformative years. During that time, he was developing his own style and ideas about jazz performance.

Roberts is now known throughout the world for his creation of an entirely new approach to the jazz trio. He is also known for his remarkable ability to blend the jazz and classical idioms to create something wholly new while retaining the authenticity of each art form. In 1995, he hired drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Roland Guerin to anchor his new trio conception in which the bass and drums had roles that were equal to that of the piano rather than playing traditional accompanying roles. In 1996, his Sony Classical recording (Portraits in Blue) was among the first to fully integrate the jazz and classical genres.

Roberts’ critically-acclaimed legacy of recorded music reflects this tremendous artistic versatility as well as his unique approach to jazz performance. His recordings include solo piano, duets, and trio arrangements of jazz standards as well as original suites of music for trio, large ensembles, and symphony orchestra. His popular DVD recording with the Berlin Philharmonic showcases his ground-breaking arrangement of Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra (A Gershwin Night, EuroArts 2003).

Roberts launched his own record label, J-Master Records, in 2009. Since then he has released several popular recordings on that label including New Orleans Meets Harlem, Volume 1 (trio), Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite (nonet), Celebrating Christmas (trio), From Rags to Rhythm (trio), Together Again: Live in Concert (quartet), Together Again: In the Studio (quartet), Romance, Swing, and the Blues (with the Modern Jazz Generation), and Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane. Two new releases are planned for 2020.

Roberts continues to tour with his long-standing trio featuring two phenomenal musicians—Rodney Jordan (bass) and Jason Marsalis (drums). Marsalis has held the drum chair in the trio for over 25 years and when this trio performs, they sound like they have been performing together for decades. One of Roberts’ more recent musical projects is the founding of a new band called “The Modern Jazz Generation”. This multigenerational ensemble is the realization of Roberts’ long-standing dedication to training and mentoring younger jazz musicians. Both Marsalis and Jordan are also key founding members of this band.

In addition to his renown as a performer, Roberts is also an accomplished composer who has received numerous commissioning awards, including ones from Chamber Music America, Jazz at Lincoln Center, ASCAP, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Savannah Music Festival who co-commissioned him to write his first piano concerto—”Spirit of the Blues: Piano Concerto in C-Minor” (2013). In 2016, Roberts premiered his second piano concerto (“Rhapsody in D for Piano and Orchestra”) at the Ozawa Music Festival in Matsumoto, Japan. That piece was commissioned by Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra. The piece was featured in a concert at last year’s Savannah Music Festival.

Finally, Roberts has long been dedicated to the training and development of younger musicians. At the Savannah Music Festival, he serves as an Associate Artistic Director as well as the Director of the annual Swing Central Jazz programs that bring high school students from all over the country for educational programs and a jazz band competition. Roberts is an associate professor of music at the School of Music at Florida State University. He holds an honorary Doctor of Music degree from The Juilliard School.

Beyond Beethoven

by Byron Adams

Written for Beyond Beethoven, which will be performed on January 31, 2020 at Carnegie Hall

Louis Spohr
Born April 5, 1784, Brunswick, Germany
Died October 22, 1859, Kassel, Germany

Symphony No. 6, “Historical Symphony”
Composed in 1839
Performance Time: Approximately 26 minutes

After Beethoven’s death in 1827, European critics and audiences generally agreed that Louis (née Ludwig) Spohr was the greatest German composer. Until the rise of Mendelssohn, Spohr was considered Beethoven’s heir. Their opinion might have surprised Beethoven himself, who was sharply critical of Spohr: “He is too rich in dissonances; pleasure in his music is marred by his chromatic melody.” For his part, Spohr initially detested Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony calling its choral finale “tasteless,” and the setting of Schiller’s Ode “trivial.”

Spohr’s aspersions on the Ninth Symphony are an unusual criticism of a score by a composer whose work he generally admired. Spohr, who was one of the finest violinists of his day, had earlier championed Beethoven’s String Quartets, Op. 18. For one year beginning in 1812, Spohr was the Kapellmeister—concertmaster—of the Theater an die Vien in Vienna, where he formed a cordial acquaintance with Beethoven. In 1820, Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries secured an engagement for Spohr with the London Philharmonic Society, beginning his protracted and lucrative relationship with that organization as a composer, conductor, and violinist.

Spohr is now generally considered a “conservative” composer, but such a description hardly does justice to his innovative streak. Foremost among Spohr’s formal experiments is his Symphony no. 6 in G major, Op. 116, subtitled “Historical Symphony in the style and taste of four different periods.” Happily, Spohr avoids pastiche by evoking the past through his own idioms. The first movement celebrates the style of J.S. Bach and Handel (1720); the second evokes the styles of Haydn and Mozart (1780); and the third is a rumbustious scherzo cast in the style of Beethoven (1810). In the finale, Spohr burlesques the “latest contemporary” style (1840): loud, brash, vulgar, and French. At its premiere, conducted by Beethoven’s friend Sir George Smart at the London Philharmonic Society on 6 April 1840, the audience sat in respectful silence during the first three movements, but hissed at the end of the finale. The score met with a warmer response in Germany and remained in the repertory until the end of the nineteenth century.

Galina Ustvolskaya
Born June 17, 1919, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died December 22, 2006, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Piano Concerto
Composed in 1964
Performance Time: Approximately 17 minutes.

Galina Ivanova Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) is an enigmatic figure in the history of Soviet music. As David Fanning notes, she was “a composer famous for a relatively small number of uncompromisingly ascetic, hyper-dissonant, super concentrated works … she purged her catalogue of almost everything with Socialist Realist connections.” In an obituary notice, Arnold Whittall throws up his hands, asking: “Was Ustvolskaya another liberating eccentric, capable, like Satie or Scelsi, of powerful musical thinking from time to time?”

Born in Petrograd, Ustvolskaya studied at the Leningrad (as it had become by then) Conservatory with Maximilian Steinberg and Dmitri Shostakovich. Ustvolskaya and Shostakovich developed such a close artistic and personal relationship that he quoted a theme from her Trio for clarinet, violin, and piano (1949) in his Fifth String Quartet, Op. 92 (1952). (Ustvolskaya broke with Shostakovich decisively in the early 1960s in part because he had joined the Communist Party.) After serving at a military hospital during World War II, she taught at the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music in Leningrad, where she was a respected and demanding teacher. Although she started out in a broadly neo-classical idiom influenced by Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya’s hermetic and highly dissonant later music reflects the intensity of her religious convictions.

Ustvolskaya’s early Concerto for piano, strings, and timpani (1946), cast in five movements played without pause, exemplifies some of the traits that persisted throughout her career, including the juxtaposition of very loud with very soft passages. The overall form is that of an arch, with the third section as its capstone. The two allegro sections are concise, contrapuntal, and virtuosic. The listener will detect the unmistakable influence of Shostakovich, especially the bustling finale of his Concerto in c minor for piano, trumpet and strings, Op. 35 (1933). However, the outer movements are wholly original, foreshadowing Ustvolskaya’s later religious music. Musicologist Susan Bradshaw comments, “the majestic outer sections reflect an unashamedly Beethovenian grandeur.” Pianist Ingrid Jacoby, who recorded this concerto, describes the remarkable ending as “akin to minimalism,” noting further that “Ustvolskaya drives home her message, steadily, slowly, and relentlessly.”

Franz Liszt
Born October 22, 1811, Raiding, Austria
Died July 31, 1886, Bayreuth, Germany

Fantasy on Motifs from Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens
Composed in 1808
Performance Time: Approximately 11 minutes.

In May of 1822, eleven-year-old Franz Liszt and his family arrived in Vienna so that the boy could study piano with Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny. On April 13 of the next year, Liszt gave a farewell recital in the small Redoutensaal. This concert was the basis of several myths concerning Liszt and Beethoven that were later woven by Liszt’s biographers and by the composer himself. While it is true that Beethoven’s amanuensis Anton Schindler suggested that Beethoven be invited to this concert and perhaps supply a theme upon which Liszt could improvise, the rest is clouded by legend. Liszt’s early biographers claimed that Beethoven attended this concert and bestowed on a “kiss of consecration,” prophesying about Liszt’s future greatness. While it is possible that Czerny introduced Liszt to his former teacher and that Beethoven may have kissed the boy, features of this oft-repeated story, make it highly unlikely to have occurred. However, Liszt himself mentioned this story in a letter to the Grand Duke Carl Alexander dated November 1, 1862, almost forty years after the event and after it had become part of Liszt’s personal legend.

Starting in the 1830s Liszt began to evangelize for Beethoven’s music across Europe, performing his own transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies.  Liszt was the co-director, with Louis Spohr, (who had an equivocal relationship to Beethoven’s later music), of the 1845 Beethoven Festival at Bonn, at which a statue of Beethoven, the greatest of the town’s native sons, was unveiled. Liszt was the undisputed star of this event, which further enhanced his reputation as Beethoven’s champion.

In the year preceding this festival, Liszt had made his connection to Beethoven musically explicit by commencing the composition of his Fantasie über Motive aus Beethovens Ruinen von Athen (“Fantasy on Motifs from Beethoven’s ‘Ruins of Athens’”) for piano and orchestra This score was premiered in Pest on June 1, 1853. For this fantasy, Liszt selected three excerpts Beethoven’s incidental music written in 1811 for August von Kotzebue’s play The Ruins of Athens; ever the showman, Liszt concludes the piece with virtuosic variations on the popular Turkish March.

Max Reger
Born March 19, 1873, Brand, Germany
Died May 11, 1916, Leipzig, Germany

Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, Op.86
Composed in 1904
Performance Time: Approximately 22 minutes.

Max Reger died in 1916 at the early age of forty-three, leaving behind a prodigious and varied output: lieder, piano music, chamber music, organ music, choral music, and orchestral acores. Certain historians have pigeonholed Reger as merely a “transitional” figure between Brahms and Schoenberg. Christopher Palmer writes that “like Schoenberg he took the labyrinthine chromatic entanglements of [Wagner’s] Parsifal a stage further, but his music never acquired the intransigently linear orientation which resulted elsewhere in the utter demolition of tonality.”  Because he recoiled from atonality, Reger has not received the status or attention that his music merits. He has always had discerning admirers, however: Schoenberg declared forthrightly, “I consider Reger a genius.”

Although he was a loving paterfamilias and a successful pedagogue, aspects of Reger’s rebarbative personality—his tactlessness and heavy-handed sense of humor—have contributed to a superficial dismissal of his work. Even his astounding contrapuntal skill is held against him as the antiquarianism of a conservative crank. As Leon Botstein writes, “Reger is one of those composers to whom certain clichés stick whether or not they fit.” As Botstein continues, “His music is considered academic, knotty, dense, and thick.” Reger’s variety of invention, harmonic daring, contrapuntal mastery, and iridescent orchestration should not be casually dismissed.

Walter Frisch has pointed out Reger’s espousal of “historical modernism,” which he characterizes as “reflective, self-aware and always ready to acknowledge a temporal gulf.” Reger was no antiquarian. As Frisch observes, “Reger proudly included himself among the ‘moderns’” and revered tradition while not cutting himself off from innovation. Reger’s flexible sense of the past is exemplified in the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 86 (1904; orchestrated by the composer in 1915), which was originally scored for two pianos. Taking Beethoven’s Bagatelle for piano, Op. 119, no. 11 in B-flat major as his theme, Reger models his developmental procedures on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 (1823).  Reger constructs a set of eight variations followed by a vivacious fugue that pays homage to the counterpoint of Beethoven’s late scores: the piano sonatas, the two ‘cello sonatas, and string quartets.

 

Celebrating Beethoven

by Leon Botstein

Written for Beyond Beethoven, which will be performed on January 31, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

Our habit of marking anniversaries in our culture of concert programming has to inspire some ambivalence. Mathematical symmetries in chronology are superstitions. If we want to exploit them to attract the attention of the audience, we ought to celebrate composers who need remembering, those whom we have forgotten but should not have, or those in the process of being forgotten unfairly.

We certainly need no reminding about Beethoven. One can hardly think of a figure in Western music who has so completely and consistently eluded obscurity, both in his lifetime and after. Even Bach and Mozart had their brush with oblivion. Luckily there was a Mozart revival at the end of the 19th century, an inspired antidote to the unrelentingly heavy diet of post-Wagnerian romanticism. And there were two significant Bach revivals, a hundred years apart, first in German-speaking Europe in the late 1820s, and then after World War I in Paris. But Beethoven’s presence in the repertory and history of music has never ceased to be overwhelming. It is said that his funeral in 1827 was the largest public event in Vienna’s history. Were he to be reburied, that event might again break the record for public gatherings.

The essential meaninglessness of marking anniversaries should, therefore, properly be reserved for those for whom it might do some good. Anniversaries can provide neglected figures from the past some overdue attention. That happens to be the case for Galina Ustvolskaya, whose hundredth birthday the ASO is marking with a rare performance of her piano concerto. Ustvolskaya (1919–2006) was a remarkable iconoclast. Her music is strikingly original and gripping in its use of sound. We need to stop remembering her, if at all, in the context of her teacher Dimitri Shostakovich, towards whom Ustvolskaya had decidedly ambivalent feelings. Ustvolskaya produced a wide range of works but ended up condemning most of them to oblivion. Of the handful of works Ustvolskaya agreed to sanction, the piano concerto is among the earliest. One hundred years after her birth, here is a composer who is original and compelling and whose music should be played and heard.

We ought to be marking the anniversaries of more Ustvolskaya and fewer Beethovens, even though there are precious few in his league in terms of historical influence. Although music of Beethoven needs no further exposure— except perhaps for the lesser works, many of which are shockingly bad (in contrast to the so called “minor” works of Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, which are all startlingly well made). We did not want to be left out of the party this year. So the ASO has decided to look into Beethoven’s impact and legacy in the first hundred years of posthumous fame.

In the decades that immediately followed Beethoven’s death, his music and the legend of his life and personality gained enormous international currency among musicians and the rapidly growing audience for music of amateurs and listeners. The recognition of Beethoven’s centrality was audible already in the work of his younger contemporaries, Schubert and Spohr. The generation of composers born in the early nineteenth century—including Mendelssohn and Schumann—went further and saw him as a titan whose shadow they could not escape. Despite the burden of being heirs to Beethoven’s achievement, they sought to honor him by emulating his own artistic example and making their own distinct mark. That sense of having Beethoven standing closely over one’s shoulders was shared as well by Brahms.

Two of Mendelssohn and Schumann’s contemporaries, Berlioz and Liszt, led their own campaigns to establish Beethoven as the starting point of a new musical culture in the contemporary world. Berlioz pioneered in creating a pivotal place for Beethoven in French musical life. He succeeded. The high point of the French enthusiasm for Beethoven was marked by the publication in 1904 of the monumental novel, transparently drawn from the life of Beethoven, Jean Christophe, by Romain Rolland, which earned the author the Nobel Prize in 1915. And Liszt’s tireless championing of Beethoven, through piano transcriptions of the symphonies and festivals he organized led directly to the transformative re-imagining of Beethoven by Richard Wagner, his future son-in-law. Wagner’s writings on Beethoven as musical dramatist would dominate Beethoven interpretation and reception between 1870 and 1945.

By the turn of the twentieth century Beethoven was firmly established in European and American culture as the ideal synthesis of the romantic and the classical, as the master of instrumental music that conveyed intense emotion and profound meaning, and as the embodiment of the artist as free spirit and rebel against authority and convention—the quintessential artist as outsider and prophet. The founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Henry Lee Higginson (who died a hundred years ago) was inspired to create a symphony orchestra in 1881 because he was a Beethoven fanatic. The first great comprehensive (and still standard) biography of Beethoven was written in the 1860s and 1870s by an American, Alexander Wheelock Thayer.

At the same time, the 19th century cult of Beethoven, precisely because it was so wide and deep not only among musicians and connoisseurs, but in popular culture, fueled German national pride and cultural chauvinism. Gustav Mahler and Max Reger—two of the leading composers in German-speaking Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century had no doubt that Beethoven was a central figure in a uniquely German cultural achievement. Beethoven, at one and the same time, became appropriated on behalf of universalist ideals of freedom, justice, and equality, as well as on behalf of ideas of German superiority. Beethoven’s music was therefore central to Nazi cultural policy during the Third Reich. The 9th Symphony, the best-known example of Beethoven as proponent of universalist humanistic ideals, was performed to celebrate Hitler’s birthday during the war years at the same time as the opening bars of the 5th Symphony were being used as an emblem of Allied victory.

In 2020 musical organizations all over the world will mark and exploit the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. But to what end? Leonard Bernstein performed the 9th Symphony to celebrate the fall of the Berlin War and the end of communism and the Soviet empire. That was in 1989. Where are we today? Was the conceit that Beethoven represented the triumph of human solidarity and freedom over tyranny justified? Now that we are facing the rise of illiberalism and autocracy all over the world, rising economic inequality, and witnessing the spread of intolerance and violence, in the name of what cause do we perform and listen to Beethoven? What is the purpose of doing so? And what will we do, and why, in seven years when we confront the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s death?

There are no neat answers. But the good news is that Beethoven’s music has resisted all efforts to harness it to tyranny and inhumanity. His achievement is a tribute to the resilience of the human imagination and the power of individuals, through the aesthetic dimension, to resist and sustain freedom, originality, courage, and the sanctity of all human life. Beethoven needs to be celebrated as an experience of what may still be possible within the human community; his is a language of aspiration and hope. That is how the composers who came after him on this program understood him: as an exemplar of greatness who communicated the best of humanity through a sacred medium, music. In celebrating Beethoven through performance this year we must remember that in performing his music, and music inspired by his work, there is more at stake than embracing music as an experience divorced from the human condition.

 

AMERICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA GOES BEYOND BEETHOVEN AT CARNEGIE HALL

FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 2020

WITH GUEST PIANIST LUCAS DEBARGUE IN MAINSTAGE DEBUT

New York, NY January 6, 2020 — American Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a concert that investigates how his music inspired others on Friday January 31, 8 pm at Carnegie Hall. From Liszt’s fantasia on the “Turkish March” to Spohr’s Beethovenesque scherzo and Reger’s variations on a bagatelle theme by Beethoven, the program also celebrates the 100th anniversary of an often-overlooked 20th-century master, Galina Ustvolskaya. Her Piano Concerto is considered her first composition and demands the listener’s ear with a pounding rhythmic motif that is repeated by the piano until the closing chord.

French pianist Lucas Debargue—who makes his Carnegie Hall mainstage and New York City symphonic debut at this performance—is the soloist. The only musician at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition awarded with the Moscow Music Critic’s Prize, the Huffington Post wrote that “Since Glenn Gould’s visit to Moscow and Van Cliburn’s victory at the Tchaikovsky Competition, never has a foreign pianist provoked such frenzy.” Following an unconventional path to success, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Paris Diderot as a teen, and didn’t change his primary focus to piano until his twenties, when Debargue started professional training at the Paris Cortot Music School and made a formal commitment to music. Since winning First Prize at the Gaillard International Piano Competition in 2014 and becoming a prize winner in the Tchaikovsky Competition, he has released four solo albums with Sony, received a prestigious 2017 German ECHO Klassik prize, and was the subject of a documentary following his Tchaikovsky Competition break-through. A composer as well, his Orpheo di camera concertino for piano, drums and string orchestra was premiered with Kremerata Baltica in Latvia in 2017. This season, he appears in Boston, Toronto, and Montreal, on tour with the Russian National Orchestra and Maestro Pletnev to the Middle East and Berlin, in concerts with violinist Gidon Kremer, and is returning to the Verbier Festival.

Music director Leon Botstein will provide the musical context for the program in a lively, 30-minute Conductor’s Notes Q&A session, free for all ticket holders, one hour before the concert. As for all ASO programs, these discussions offer animated learning opportunities for both concert-goers and music connoisseurs alike.

Beyond Beethoven
Friday, January 31, 2020 at Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage)
Conductor’s Notes Q&A 7 PM
Concert 8 PM

Leon Botstein, conductor
Lucas Debargue, piano

Louis Spohr, Symphony No. 6, “Historical Symphony”
Galina Ustvolskaya, Piano Concerto
Franz Liszt, Fantasy on Motifs from Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens
Max Reger, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven

Tickets, priced at $25–$65, are available at carnegiehall.org, CarnegieCharge at 212.247.7800 or the box office at 57th St & 7th Ave.

American Symphony Orchestra
Now in its 58th season, the American Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1962 by Leopold Stokowski, with a mission of providing great music within the means of everyone. Music Director Leon Botstein expanded that mission when he joined the ASO in 1992, creating thematic concerts that explore music from the perspective of the visual arts, literature, religion, and history, and reviving rarely-performed works that audiences would otherwise never have a chance to hear performed live.

The ASO’s signature programming includes its Vanguard Series, which presents concerts of rare orchestral repertoire at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center; an adult educational series at Symphony Space that offers interactive investigations into popular classical works; and various other events dedicated to enriching and reflecting the diverse perspectives of American culture. During the summer months, the ASO is the orchestra-in-residence at Bard’s SummerScape Festival and performs at the Bard Music Festival.

As part of its commitment to expanding the standard orchestral repertoire, the ASO has released recordings on the Telarc, New World, Bridge, Koch, and Vanguard labels, and live performances are also available for digital download. In many cases, these are the only existing recordings of some of the forgotten works that have been restored through ASO performances.

Leon Botstein
Leon Botstein has been music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra since 1992. He is also music director of The Orchestra Now, an innovative training orchestra composed of top musicians from around the world. He is co-artistic director of Bard SummerScape and the Bard Music Festival, which take place at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, where he has been president since 1975. He is also conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, where he served as music director from 2003–11. In 2018, he assumed artistic directorship of Campus Grafenegg and Grafenegg Academy in Austria. Mr. Botstein also has an active career as a guest conductor with orchestras around the globe, and has made numerous recordings, as well as being a prolific author and music historian. He is the recipient of numerous honors for his contributions to the music industry. In 2019, The New York Times named Leon Botstein a “champion of overlooked works…who has tirelessly worked to bring to light worthy scores by neglected composers.”

For more information, please visit americansymphony.org.

Media Contact
Pascal Nadon
Pascal Nadon Communications
Phone: 646.234.7088
Email: pascal@pascalnadon.com

Lucas Debargue, Piano

Lucas Debargu
Photo by Felix Broede

Will appear in Beyond Beethoven, which will be performed on January 31, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

French pianist Lucas Debargue was discovered through his performances at the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition held in Moscow in 2015. Although placing fourth in the final round, he was the only musician across all disciplines who was awarded with the coveted Moscow Music Critic’s Prize as a pianist whose “incredible gift, artistic vision, and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience.”

Following this incredible breakthrough Lucas Debargue was invited to solo with leading orchestras in the most prestigious concert halls in the world: the Grand Hall of Tchaikovsky Conservatory and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow; Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall and St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall; Theatre des Champs-Elysées, Salle Gaveau and Paris Philharmonic; Conservatory of Milan; Wigmore Hall and Royal Festival Hall in London; Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw; Prinzregententheater in Munich and the Berlin Philharmonic Hall; Konserthuset in Stockholm; Carnegie Hall in New York; and further prestigious concert halls in Tokyo, Osaka, Chicago, Montréal, Toronto, Seattle, Mexico, Beijing, Taipei, Shanghai, and Seoul.

He also collaborates with famous conductors such as Valery Gergiev, Andrey Boreyko, Mikhail Pletnev, Vladimir Spivakov, Yutaka Sado, and Tugan Sokhiev, and and appears regularly in chamber music ensembles with Gidon Kremer, Janine Jansen, and
Martin Fröst.

A Miraculous Family

by Leon Botstein

Written for Sons of Bach, which will be performed on December 19, 2019 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

There are probably enough members of tonight’s audience who will readily recognize—with a smile–the name P.D.Q. Bach—whose music does not appear on the program. P.D.Q.’s creator, the American composer Peter Schickele (whose aptitude for musical jokes was unparalleled) described him as “the last and unquestionably the least of the great Johann Sebastian Bach’s many children.” Schickele’s invention of a son whose dates were “(1807-1742)?” was a resounding success for decades, in part because it was a brilliant parody of two simple and widely known facts: that J.S. Bach was arguably the greatest composer in the history of Western “classical” music and that he was notorious for having very many children, and among them an improbably large group of four who went on to have distinguished careers of their own as composers. These twin feats were as astonishing as they were legendary. Mozart had a son who became a composer, but he is long forgotten, even more than Mozart’s quite admirable and respectable father, Leopold. There are other parent-child phenomena—Ernest Boulanger and his two daughters, Nadia and Lili, the two Oistrakh violinists David and Igor, Rudolf and Peter Serkin—but nothing approaches the case of the Bach family. There are three composers with the surname Tchaikovsky, but they are not related.

J.S. Bach’s lot as a parent was directly opposite of that of the father of Felix Mendelssohn, Abraham Mendelssohn, who once quipped “I grew up being the son of my father [the great philosopher Moses Mendelssohn] only to become the father of my son.” Bach’s sons may never quite have eclipsed the fame and achievement of their father, but they came quite close to doing so. Of the four sons of Bach on this program, Johann Christian Bach, the youngest, and Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, his older half-brother, were prolific, inspired, famous and eminent composers in their lifetimes. When Johann Christian Bach, who impressed and influenced the young Mozart, died in London in 1782, Mozart reported the death to his own father as a “loss to the musical world.”

Myths that masquerade as history die hard, especially alluring myths, and especially in music history. Among the most enduring myth that won’t die under the weight of evidence is the notion that J.S. Bach and his music were entirely forgotten in the decades following J.S. Bach’s death in 1750. A Bach revival is said to have begun with Felix Mendelssohn’s legendary 1829 Berlin performance of the St. Matthew Passion. In fact, Bach had never been forgotten. Rather his large-scale works, particularly sacred choral works, had not yet entered the repertoire of a rapidly emerging world of public concert life on the continent after the fall of Napoleon. Bach remained a revered figure among musicians and connoisseurs. Sara Levy, Mendelssohn’s great aunt, actually studied with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the eldest of Bach’s sons on today’s program, and amassed a collection of J.S. Bach manuscripts.

Bach’s sons not only benefitted from the fame of their father but, through their careers and their advocacy also helped sustain his memory. No one who encountered them was oblivious to who their father was. The mix of ambivalence, pride, anxiety, and rivalry involved in being a son of J.S. Bach and a musician is daunting to contemplate. Nonetheless, taken together, these four sons of Bach and their father constituted a dynasty without peer in the history of music. Wilhelm Friedemann was twenty-five years older than Johann Christian. He kept in close contact during the 1740s with his father J.S. Bach and his music owes the most to his father’s example. Wilhelm Friedemann’s life was quite colorful, marked by intrigues and financial instability and the subject of fictional accounts. Towards the end of his career he focused less on composition than on performance. He became famous as an organ virtuoso and a master of improvisation.

Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, just four years younger than Wilhelm Friedemann, became most famous as a composer for the keyboard, primarily for the clavichord. My colleague at Bard, Peter Serkin, is in the midst of recording a host of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard music. C.P.E Bach also wrote a treatise, the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, published in 1753 that became a standard text for teachers. C.P.E’s music became a defining part of the repertoire for the burgeoning community throughout nineteenth century Europe of amateur keyboard enthusiasts. One single example, a Solfegietto, or Solfeggio in c minor, from 1766, entered the piano teaching repertoire as a staple and has remained there ever since, as millions of veterans of piano instruction all over the world can testify.

But as the 100 volumes now in existence in the massive new complete critical edition of C.P.E. Bach’s works testify, C.P.E. Bach was a versatile composer with a range that extended to chamber music, orchestral music, sacred oratorios and passions, cantatas, secular vocal and choral music, and arrangements of his father’s music. The Magnificat on this program is among his most enduring and powerful works and is, at one and the same time homage to, commentary on, and departure from his father’s famous setting of the same text. C.P.E. Bach earned legitimately a reputation as an innovator and a leader in fashioning a new style in music in Germany during the second half of the 18th century. He influenced the direction taken by the Viennese classicism of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven and he was widely considered, at the end of his life, as one of the great composers of the age.

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, one of the two sons of Anna Magdalena Bach on this program, never quite achieved the prominence of his younger brother or older half-brothers. Attached to court of Count Wilhelm of Schaumburg-Lippe in Bückeburg for a good part of his career, he sought to adapt to the shifting tastes of the court in secular music while maintaining an output of sacred Protestant oratorios and cantatas. He produced fewer works but among the most successful and prominent were his secular vocal compositions, some of which were to texts by the writer, philologist, theologian, and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), who had an enormous influence on modern ideas of history and culture and was Bach’s colleague during his tenure as court preacher in the 1770s.

Not surprisingly, the youngest of Bach’s sons, whose fame and reputation rivaled that of C.P.E Bach and J.S. Bach, wrote music with the least evident debt to his father. Central to J.C. Bach was the genre of Italian opera. He composed at least 11 operas for the London stage, one masque, and an opera in French for Paris. He contributed to pastiche stage productions that combined the work of more than one composer. But J.C. Bach also composed a large body of liturgical music, setting Latin and English texts. Some of his oratorios resemble operas, and the influence of Handel is audible. Indeed, unlike his brothers, J.C. Bach’s career flourished in London, and not on the continent. Apart from opera and vocal music, J.C. Bach was as well a prolific and inventive composer of symphonies, the multi-movement instrumental form for orchestra that came to dominate the nineteenth century.

These four remarkable sons of J.S. Bach represent an astonishing bridge, constructed out of one single family. It spanned the North German Protestant Baroque tradition of the early 18th century, the world of Italian opera seria, and the classicism of the late 18th century. Their achievement is a testament to the idea of music as a craft, and as an artisan tradition, handed from one generation to the next—a family business, so to speak, much like the Stradivari family. That might make the continuity of creativity between J.S. Bach and his sons appear to be just one example of a widespread phenomenon. In fact, it was not.  The imagination, beauty, consistency, and scale of the output of the sons of Bach remain unique as a miracle in the history of family traditions. There may indeed be many examples of how one offspring continues in a path set by a parent, in both science and art, but four supremely gifted children?

If any figure in the history of music deserved such a legacy it was J.S. Bach.

The Sons of Bach

by Paul Corneilson

Written for Sons of Bach, which will be performed on December 19, 2019 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1785–1750) wrote more than a thousand musical works, and had twenty children. Four of his six sons became respected composers in their own right. Though they had the same father, the two eldest—Wilhelm Friedemann (1710–1784) and Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714–1788) had a different mother, Maria Barbara (1684–1720), than the two younger sons—Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732–1795) and Johann Christian (1735–1782), who were born to Anna Magdalena (1701–1760). Indeed, the two pairs of half brothers belong to different generations, and this is apparent in the four works on the concert tonight.

Friedemann’s first job was as organist at St. Sophia’s Church, Dresden; his father wrote the letter of application for him in 1733. W.F. might have exceeded his father as an organist, and in 1746 he was hired as organist of the Liebfrauenkirche (Our Lady Church) in Halle. He eventually became music director and wrote several church cantatas in the 1750s. The cantata Erzittert und Fallet (Tremble and Falter) dates from this period and was first performed on Easter Sunday. The seven movements unfold in an arrangement much like many of his father’s cantatas for Leipzig in the 1720s and 1730s, closing with a four-part harmonization of a chorale. The opening chorus sets a festive mood with two trumpets and timpani plus strings. The voices enter before the instruments, imitative entries of the “roaring crowds” to celebrate the risen Savior. The first aria for tenor, two flutes (suggesting the “reizend sanfte Blicke”), and basso continuo shows Friedemann in his original, mannered voice. Following a recitative for tenor and soprano, the duet for soprano and bass with oboe recalls the two allegorical duets between Jesus and the Soul in Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140), though in W.F.’s cantata you could easily imagine the shepherd (Hirte) as a secular figure in a pastoral cantata. After another simple recitative for soprano and alto, the aria for soprano and two violins is full of imagery of natural disaster: floods, thunderous lightnings, and terrifying flames (Fluten, donnernd Blitzen, Schreckensflammen). Clearly, the poetry inspired Friedemann to set the text vividly.

Unfortunately, much of his music is either lost or perhaps was never written down. In 1764 he abruptly resigned his position in Halle and was unable to secure another one, though he did receive support from Princess Amalia of Prussia in his later years. Johann Nikolaus Forkel, J.S. Bach’s first biographer, wrote that W.F. “approached the nearest to his father in the originality of all his thoughts. All his melodies have a different turn from those of other composers, and yet they are not only extremely natural, but, at the same time, uncommonly fine and elegant.”

Emanuel spent a few years at the university in Frankfurt an der Oder before joining the musical entourage of Friedrich II and spent almost thirty years in his service. C.P.E.’s Magnificat (Wq 215) exists in two distinct versions. It was originally completed in Potsdam in 1749, and was likely performed in Leipzig as a tryout piece to replace his father as Cantor there. At least one account claims that J.S. Bach heard it before his death in July 1750. In any event, C.P.E. Bach eventually succeeded his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as music director of the Hamburg municipal churches in 1768. Having no need for a Latin Magnificat in Hamburg, Emanuel adapted most of the movements in his church cantatas, with parody (German) texts, including his Passion Cantata (Wq 233), a work that was performed each Lent in Hamburg. Thus when he decided to perform the Magnificat on a concert in 1779, he felt compelled to write a new chorus no. 4, the “Et misericordia eius” to replace the original setting that was now more familiar as chorus no. 2, “Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit” in his Passion Cantata. This new chorus, written thirty years later, is a good example of the “empfinsamer Stil” (sensitive style), full of refined, expressive chromatic harmony. In 1779 he also took the opportunity to add three trumpets and timpani to the opening and closing choruses and aria no. 5, plus two horns to aria no. 3 and duet no. 6.

C.P.E.’s setting of the Magnificat is partly modeled on his father’s setting (BWV 243) also in D major, which the son might have sung in the Thomas choir in Leipzig. But there are also substantial differences. J.S. divides the text into twelve distinct movements, while C.P.E. has only nine. J.S. brings back the opening music only at the end of the doxology (“Sicut erat in principio” = as it was in the beginning), but C.P.E. uses the opening music for the “Gloria Patria” and then writes a massive double fugue for the “Sicut erat in principio” that he extends and embellishes for the concluding “Amen.” (By contrast, J.S. Bach’s “Amen” is only two short statements.) If J.S. Bach heard his son’s Magnificat, he would have been proud of the harmonic richness. C.P.E. Bach told Forkel that he had to choose a style of his own, because he could never have equaled his father’s style.

Friedrich received his musical training from his father then joined the court musical establishment of Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe at Bückeburg in 1750 and remained there the rest of his life. (His son, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst, studied with his uncle Christian in London from 1778 until the latter’s death, and eventually became the music director to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.) It is perhaps no coincidence that J.C.F. published his cantata Die Amerikanerin (The American Woman) in 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was written and signed. The poem by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg was published in 1815 as “Lied eines Mohren” (song of a Moor) and set in the Middle East, not the American colonies, but to a north German of the late eighteenth century the two places were equally exotic.

J.C.F. set the text as a solo cantata for soprano and orchestra and called it “ein lyrisches Gemählde” (a lyric picture). The first two stanzas are treated as two
separate numbers, with the opening Andante (“Saide, komm!”), followed by an Andantino grazioso (“Schön ist mein Mädchen!”). An accompanied recitative, marked Poco allegro and full of wilderness imagery, leads directly to another aria in two parts: an Allegro (“Mein Herz fleucht ihr entgegen!”) with a concluding Larghetto grazioso (“Wie Ambraduft will ich dich, Tod”). Overall, the cantata is very much in the same vein as C.P.E. Bach’s late cantata for solo voice and keyboard, “Die Grazien” (Wq 200/20), also to a poem by Gerstenberg.

After his father died in 1750, Christian came to Berlin to live and study with C.P.E. In 1755 J.C. became the only member of his family to travel to Italy and absorb the Italian style through the tutelage of Padre Martini in Bologna. While serving as organist at the Cathedral in Milan, J.C. wrote an opera for Turin and then two for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Their success led to his appointment as music master to Queen Charlotte in London in 1762, and he eventually achieved commercial success in Great Britain. With Carl Friedrich Abel, Bach organized annual concert series for which he wrote orchestral and chamber music; he continued to compose operas and one oratorio for the King’s Theatre, and songs for Vauxhall Gardens; and published sets of sonatas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

His Symphony in G Minor, Op. 6, no. 6 shares the same key as Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 (c. 1768) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 (K. 183, 1773), and likewise has many of the same “Sturm und Drang” elements. This is Bach‘s only known symphony in a minor key, and the outer movements are in G minor, and the  Andante più tosto adagio is in C minor. But it is not the minor key alone that creates the “storm and stress,” rather the angular melodies and the driving rhythms, the sudden contrasts between dynamics, and the contrasting themes: agitated one moment, full of sentimentality the next.

It is unlikely that Haydn or Mozart knew any of the pieces on the program, but at least two of the sons of Bach, C.P.E. and J.C., had a significant impact on their musical development.

Paul Corneilson is managing editor of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works.