Frederic Chiu and Andrew Russo, pianos

Sunday, August 26, 2012, 4 pm

Two Pianos at the Maverick


Two Nocturnes (1897/1899)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
arranged by Ravel

Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1891/1895)
arranged by Debussy

An American in Paris (1928)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)


Four Movements for Two Pianos (2008)
Philip Glass (b. 1938)

La Valse (1920)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
arranged by Ravel


next week

Saturday, September 1, 6 pm
(note earlier time)

Chamber Orchestra Concert
Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano; Andrew Garland, baritone; Alan Murchie, piano; Sequitur Ensemble,
Alexander Platt, conductor
Music of Fauré, Ravel, Debussy, and other French composers, plus the World Premiere of a new work by Harold Meltzer

Sunday, September 2, 3 pm and 4 pm

Jupiter String Quartet with Ilya Yakushev, piano

3 pm   |  Prelude Concert
Ilya Yakushev, piano
Ravel: "Gaspard de la Nuit"

4 pm   |  Jupiter String Quartet
with Ilya Yakushev, piano
Music of Beethoven, Webern, Bizet, and Franck





Program Notes © 2012 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Frederic Chiu’s intriguing piano-playing and teaching springs from a diverse set of experiences and interests—his Asian/American/European background, his musical training, and an early and ongoing exploration of artificial intelligence and human psychology, especially the body-mind-heart connection.

Frederic Chiu has toured in Europe and the US with the Orchestre de Bretagne and Stefan Sanderling. He has played with major symphonies around the world, and performed in recital in the worlds most prestigious halls. Mr. Chius musical partners include Joshua Bell, Pierre Amoyal, Gary Hoffman, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz and the St. Lawrence and Shanghai String Quartets. He has worked with many composers, including George Crumb, Frederick Rzewski, Bright Sheng, Gao Ping, and David Benoit.

He was the recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the Petscheck Award of the Juilliard School, and was a fellow of the American Pianist Association. He was also the “non-winner” of the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition, where his elimination from the finals caused an uproar in the press.

Frederic Chiu has created unusual collaborations with personalities outside the world of classical music, such as the Shakespearean actor Brian Bedford and psychologist/writer/clown Howard Buten. He worked with the hip-hop artist Socalled in the Messiaen Remix project. He does extensive work with children through concert/lectures for schools, and has brought classical music to places where it is rarely heard.

Articles in Piano Today and The New York Times have featured his original approach to learning and performing. Frederic Chius innovative workshop program, Deeper Piano Studies, draws on philosophy, meditation, psychology, and other non-traditional learning techniques, and has been presented at the Juilliard School, New England Conservatory, and Mannes College.

Andrew Russo, piano, 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.

His appearance as a finalist in the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition drew attention, when he became the first pianist to perform a significant work utilizing the inside of the piano—George Crumbs A Little Suite for Christmas. He went on to curate a seven-event George Crumb Celebration in New York City in 2002. A stream of commissions, premieres, and recordings began accumulating. And in 2003, Russo formed a trio—Real Quiet—with cellist Felix Fan and percussionist David Cossin, which has been dedicated to similar work. His 2007 CD of music by John Corigliano received a Grammy nomination.

Andrew created Music Journeys Inc., a nonprofit youth educational foundation which primarily served 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 schools 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.





As the middle class became more prominent and influential in the nineteenth century, one of the symbols of their prosperity was the piano. Every home sought to have a piano in its parlor, and every family aspired to hold a salon in their home, centered around the piano. This instrument could perform solo works, could accompany singers, and could, especially when there were two pianos, recreate symphonies for ones guests. Until the invention of the phonograph, this was how people without access to orchestras heard classic and contemporary symphonic works. This two-piano weekend celebrates works written for two pianos as well as arrangements of orchestral compositions.

Claude Debussy was part of the intellectual and artistic revolution that forever changed art and music at the end of the nineteenth century. He was influenced by Javanese gamelan music, folk music, and the art of Cézanne, Manet, Degas, and Renoir, all of whom were rejecting both realism and Romanticism in favor of the subtle sensations and nuances of Impressionism.

Debussy borrowed the titles for his Nocturnes from American-born James McNeill Whistler, a painter whose works are studies in light and shade. The composer wrote a program note for the Nocturnes:

Nuages (Clouds) renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white. Fêtes (Festivals) gives us the vibrating, dancing rhythm of the atmosphere with sudden flashes of light…. The procession (a dazzling fantastic vision) passes through the festive scene and becomes merged in it. But the background remains resistantly the same: the festival with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the cosmic rhythm."

The Prélude à laprès-midi dun faune was written to accompany a reading of the pastoral eclogue by the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898). The poet said his goal was “to evoke in a deliberate shadow the unmentioned object by allusive words.” Mallarmé was greatly pleased by Debussy’s setting, as was the public. It has remained a perennial favorite, both in its orchestral version and as arranged for two pianos.

The opening chromatic cascade of notes establishes the languorous mood, and presents the theme of the faun. Dissonant harmonies quickly resolve, and crescendos create moments of urgency, but the idyllic atmosphere always returns. This is not a piece about dynamic motion and change. Debussy said: “It is really a sequence of mood painting, throughout which the desires and dreams of the faun move in the heat of the afternoon.”

George Gershwin met Ravel in New York City, and immediately asked Ravel to be his teacher. Ravel is reported to have said “Why do you want to become a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?” and suggested he go to Paris and study with Nadia Boulanger. Armed with a letter from Ravel, Gershwin traveled to Paris and played for Boulanger. After hearing  Gershwin’s music, she said “I have nothing to teach you.” He stayed in Paris and began work on An American in Paris to satisfy a commission he had received from the New York Philharmonic.

“My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere,” wrote the composer, who had brought back Parisian taxi horns to supplement the orchestra. “The opening gay section is followed by a rich blues with a strong rhythmic undercurrent. Our American… perhaps after strolling into a café and having a couple of drinks, has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness. The harmony here is both more intense and simpler than in the preceding pages. This blues rises to a climax, followed by a coda in which the spirit of the music returns to the vivacity and bubbling exuberance of the opening part with its impression of Paris. Apparently the homesick American, having left the café and reached the open air, has disowned his spell of the blues and once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life. At the conclusion, the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.”

The public greeted the premiere with wild enthusiasm, but many critics felt it did not belong on the same bill with “serious” composers. Gershwin went on to write hundreds of songs for Tin Pan Alley and Broadway shows, as well as Porgy and Bess, ultimately winning the acceptance of the classical music world. Gershwins original scoring was for two pianos, but the orchestrated version was the only one published. It was not until 1986 that the piano duo version from the manuscript was published

Philip Glass has experimented with neo-Romantic, neo-Baroque, electronic, and world music, and has collaborated with dancers, filmmakers, and pop musicians. Critics were slow to appreciate his work or to consider him a serious composer, but the public got his message from the start. He was among the first composers to use minimalist techniques, which he calls “music with repetitive structures.” He is widely acknowledged for having brought art music to the public. Four Movements for Two Pianos was commissioned by the Klavier-Festival Ruhr 2008. The composer celebrates his seventy-fifth birthday this year.

Like Debussy, Maurice Ravel was called an impressionist composer, and like Debussy, he rejected the label. His music employs many of the same techniques as Debussy—continuous motion, ostinato figures (repeated pitch patterns), and the depiction of a scene through instrumental music. But Ravel sought to create sharp outlines, while Debussy deliberately blurred the edges. Where Debussy was solely concerned with the music’s effect on the heart, Ravel’s music appeals to the intellect as well as the senses.

Ravel published La Valse as a “choreographic poem for orchestra,” and also created a two-piano version. The music creates tension between the idealized Vienna—the city of gemütlichkeit and eternal parties—and the underlying fear of war and upheaval. Ravel wrote this about the imagery his music was meant to evoke: “Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, of waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.”

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 Program Notes © 2012 by Miriam Villchur Berg