LOGO
Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Frederic Chiu and Andrew Russo, pianos

Saturday, August 29, 2015, 8 pm

program

Divertissement à la Hongroise for piano four hands, D. 818, Op. 54 (1826)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Andante — Un poco piu mosso
Marsch: Andante con moto
Allegretto

Three Tone Pictures (1915)
Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)

The Lake at Evening
The Vale of Dreams
The Night Winds

intermission

Visions Fugitives (1915)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

The Rite of Spring (1913, original version for piano four hands)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Part I: The Adoration of the Earth
Part II: The Sacrifice

tomorrow

Sunday, August 30, 4 pm | Borromeo String Quartet
Music of Haydn, Beethoven, and Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)

next week

Saturday, September 5, 8 pm | Happy Traum, with John Sebastian, Cindy Cashdollar, and Zach Djanikian

Sunday, September 6, 4 pm | Dover Quartet  |  Concert for the Friends of Maverick
Music of Schumann, Janáček, and Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade
Regular Maverick tickets are not valid for this event and there is no
“Rock Bottom” seating. Admission is by contribution only. A donor of $50
receives one ticket; a donor of $100 or more receives two.


 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Frederic Chiu is a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the Petscheck Award of The Juilliard School, and was named a fellow of the American Pianists Association.

After his studies, he lived France for twelve years. In 1993, he entered the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where his exclusion from the final round created enormous media coverage. He was invited increasingly to play in the United States, where he eventually returned to live.

Chiu has performed with major orchestras and in major cities in Europe, Asia, Northern Africa, South America, and North America. He frequently performs chamber music with long-time friend Joshua Bell, as well as with the St. Lawrence Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, and the Daedalus Quartet. He has worked with many composers, including George Crumb, Frederick Rzewsky, Bright Sheng, Gao Ping, and David Benoit.

Chiu created a series of workshops titled “Deeper Performance Studies,” which approaches piano playing through nontraditional methods uniting different philosophies of music, performance, and learning. He has been invited to present his DPS program at Juilliard, the New England Conservatory, Mannes College, and many other schools.

With over twenty CDs on the market, Chiu’s repertoire includes the complete works of Prokofiev as well as popular classics and lesser known masterpieces. Many have been singled out for special notice, such as “Record of the Year” by Stereo Review, “Top 10 recordings” by The New Yorker, and raves from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

He does extensive work with children through concert/lectures for schools, and has brought classical music to places where it is rarely heard. Any free time he can find is divided between writing, painting, and cooking.

Andrew Russo is known for the diversity of his interests and experiences, whether it be music, business, or politics. Russo appeared as a soloist with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra at the age of thirteen. He attended Juilliard, then moved overseas for post-graduate studies in Germany and France. Working closely in Paris with his mentor Frederic Chiu, Andrew began carving out a career as a representative of American composers and American music, leading to performances around Europe, South America, and the US.

As a finalist in the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, he became the first pianist to perform a significant work utilizing the inside of the piano—George Crumb’s A Little Suite for Christmas. He went on to curate a seven-event George Crumb Celebration in New York City in 2002. His 2007 CD of music by John Corigliano received a Grammy nomination.

Andrew created Music Journeys Inc., a nonprofit youth educational foundation primarily serving students in the Syracuse City School District. He spent five years as artist-in-residence at Le Moyne College and participated in the founding and development of the school’s music program.

In 2010, Andrew was nominated by the Republican and Conservative Parties to run for New York State Senate in Central New York, and was narrowly defeated by a powerful incumbent. He currently works at an investment advisory firm in Syracuse, and serves as the Chairman of Onondaga County’s Cultural Resources Trust.


ABOUT THE MUSIC

Schubert spent two summers (1823 and 1824) teaching the young Countesses Esterházy at their country home. Not known for romantic liaisons, Schubert nonetheless fell for the younger sister, Caroline Esterházy. Of course it was unthinkable that she could marry a lowly musician, but later in life, she did acknowledge his admiration for her. She once asked him why he did not dedicate one of his compositions to her. “What would be the use?” he said. “All that I do is dedicated to you.”

The Divertissement à la Hongroise, D. 818, Op. 54 (Divertimento in the Hungarian Style) (Andante — Un poco piu mosso • Marsch: Andante con moto • Allegretto) was written during one of those summers in the country. Works for piano four hands fit well with a teaching position, since the tutor can play one part and support the student as she works on the second part. The story goes that Schubert heard a kitchen maid humming a folk tune as he was walking by, and set it as his Ungarische Melodie in B-Flat Minor, D. 817. He then reworked it at a faster tempo into the finale of the Divertissement.

In the opening Andante, a somber but stately melody alternates, in a loose rondo format, with a jubilant dance. The central Andante con moto is another proud Magyar-tinged statement, this time as a march. Schubert uses the Hungarian melody that he collected as the basis of the final Allegretto, again alternating between the slow, aching lament and the uplifting statement of defiance. The Divertissement was one of the few of Schubert’s pieces, other than Lieder, that was published during his lifetime.

Charles Tomlinson Griffes was a gifted pianist and an important, though largely unappreciated, American composer. He studied in Berlin, including private lessons with Engelbert Humperdinck, composer of the opera Hansel and Gretel. On his return to the States, he took a position at the Hackley School in Tarrytown. His proximity to New York City allowed him to attend performances, to mingle with the musical innovators of the day, and to promote his own music, of which only a few pieces were published during his lifetime.

Griffes was beginning to be received as an important compositional talent when he was struck down, at the age of thirty-five, by a lung infection. Had he lived, his name would most certainly be on the list of the most important American composers of the era.

Three Tone-Pictures (The Lake at Evening • The Vale of Dreams • The Night Winds) is a set of evocative piano miniatures. The fuller passages sound almost orchestral, and it is easy to see how much of his music lent itself to arrangement for large ensembles. At the request of flute virtuoso Georges Barrère (Maverick’s first music director), Griffes arranged the Three Tone-Pictures for woodwinds and harp for use by the Barrère Ensemble. Today’s arrangement is for two pianos.

In The Lake at Evening, a single note repeats, in a pattern that suggests the seemingly opposite qualities of a lake: it is steady and silent, but with constant, subtle movement.

Griffes attached an excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Sleeper to the second tone-picture, The Vale of Dreams: “At midnight, in the month of June/ I stand beneath the mystic moon./ An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,/ Exhales from out her golden rim,/ And, softly dripping, drop by drop,/ Upon the quiet mountain top,/ Steals drowsily and musically/ Into the universal valley.” Poe’s verse goes on to describe the calm and peace inside the crypt of a loved one. Here, Griffes uses more chromatics and dissonance to create a dark and eerie atmosphere.

The third tone-picture, The Night Winds, refers to Poe’s poem The Lake. At first, the poet says, “so lovely was the loneliness,” but then, at night, his feelings change to “the terror of the lone lake.” Of the three pieces, this one shows the most influence of the Impressionist composers: the melody is often played in thirds, the harmonies are unsettled, and arpeggios sweep up and down the keyboard to depict the winds.

Sergei Prokofiev’s reputation as a major composer of the twentieth century was made secure by his ballets (including Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella), operas (including The Love for Three Oranges), film scores (including Alexander Nevsky), seven symphonies, and numerous other orchestral, choral, and chamber works.

Visions Fugitives (Fleeting Visions) is a group of twenty miniatures from Prokofiev’s early period. Each is a mood-setting tone poem. The dance-like Con Eleganza and the comical marching Ridicolosamente each lasts less than a minute. The title comes from a Russian poem by Konstantin Balmont (1867-1943): “In every fleeting vision I see worlds/ full of the changing play of rainbow hues.”

It is as if Prokofiev opened his sketchbooks and dumped out a pile of ideas. Any one of them might have been developed into a longer work, but instead he chose to create a mosaic of changing tone colors, a sort of free association of feelings. In combination, they provide a rich tapestry, and display the composer’s gift for imaginative melody and harmony, evocative piano writing, and playfulness.

Igor Stravinsky had been collecting Russian folk songs for many years. When asked to write works for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, Stravinsky recalled a vision he had had of a pagan rite in which a young girl dances herself to death as a sacrifice to the god of spring. He folk songs and the pagan ritual became Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) (Part I: The Adoration of the Earth • Part II: The Sacrifice).

Diaghilev had just lost his main choreographer, Michel Fokine, and turned to his principal dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, to do the choreography for Stravinsky’s new piece. All went well at the dress rehearsal, but on opening night, the performers were met with catcalls, laughter, and threats from the audience. Vehement arguments and altercations broke out, and half the audience booed at the curtain call.

The reasons for the violent reaction to The Rite of Spring have been debated by musicologists ever since. The music was dissonant and unfamiliar; Nijinsky’s choreography was different from what the Paris audiences had been used to; the idea of springtime as violent suited colder climes, and went against French sensibilities. No one will know for sure what caused the riotous behavior that evening. It became the most notorious premiere in musical history. The composer went on to arrange the piece for piano four hands (the first version to be published) and for orchestra, both of which won great acclaim and continue to live on as standards of the repertoire. Stravinsky and Claude Debussy played the four-hands version together.

 


All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com.

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg