ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Frederic Chiu’s piano-playing and teaching spring 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. He has been honored with the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and The Juilliard School’s Petschek Award, and was named a fellow of the American Pianists Association.
After his studies, Chiu lived in 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 has performed with major orchestras and in major cities in Europe, Asia, North Africa, South America, and North America. He frequently performs chamber music with his long-time friend Joshua Bell, as well as with the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, and the Daedalus Quartet. He has worked with many composers, including George Crumb, Frederic Rzewski, Bright Sheng, Gao Ping, and David Benoit.
Chiu created a series of workshops titled “Deeper Performance Studies,” which approach piano playing through nontraditional methods that unite 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, his repertoire includes the complete works of Prokofiev as well as popular classics and lesser known masterpieces. Many of his CDs have been named “Record of the Year” by Stereo Review, “Top 10 recordings” by The New Yorker, and he has received raves from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Frederic 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 United States.
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
Claude Debussy found inspiration in the music of Tchaikovsky and Borodin, in the Javanese Gamelan (introduced to European ears at the Paris Exposition of 1889), and in the iconoclasm of his friend Erik Satie. But his greatest influence was a group of avant-garde painters who met at cafés and talked about art. Among these were Cézanne, Manet, Degas, and Renoir, artists who were rejecting both Realism and Romanticism, wanting instead to portray the feelings aroused by the subjects they painted. Although Claude Debussy rejected the term “Impressionism” as a description of his music, he accomplished in his music what many of his painter friends sought to do graphically — to capture a mood, a feeling, or a state of mind.
Debussy began the Suite bergamasque in 1890, but finished and published it only in 1905. The story goes that a music publisher, wanting to cash in on Debussy’s fame, asked him to polish old pieces for release. Debussy, whose style had evolved considerably in fifteen years, did major revisions on the piece, including changing the names of at least two of the movements. Both the suite title and Clair de lune (Moonlight) come from poems by Paul Verlaine. A bergamasque is a rustic dance associated with awkward clowning and buffoonery.
The Prélude has some of the characteristics of a Baroque prelude, including simple structure, rubato (unmeasured) meter, and an improvisatory feeling. In the Menuet, the main theme is playful and dancing, and contrasts with a dramatic, declamatory central section that functions as the trio, after which the main theme returns. Clair de lune has taken on a life of its own outside the suite, and has become one of Debussy’s most famous pieces. Its ethereal melody and wave-like arpeggios set a mood of peaceful serenity, and most certainly evoke the image of a moonlit night. A Passepied is another dance form originally found in Baroque suites as a faster version of the minuet; here it is adapted by Debussy to modern purposes. It provides a lively and up-tempo ending to the suite.
Although Maurice Ravel has also been labeled an Impressionist composer, he, like Debussy, rejected the term himself, saying it was only appropriate as a description for paintings. Ravel’s compositions are virtuosic and complex, but at the same time very accessible. His music has remained popular with audiences ever since the composer’s student days.
Ravel and a group of a dozen or so artists, writers, and painters gathered weekly in Paris to discuss their visions of creative expression. Manuel de Falla and Igor Stravinsky were the best known musicians in the group, which called itself Les Apaches (pronounced ah-posh, meaning “the hooligans”). Other members of the group included painter, composer, and scientist Edouard Benedictus, publisher Lucien Garban, painter Paul Sordes (in whose home they often met), and conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht. Ravel wrote Miroirs for the group, dedicating each
movement to one member: Noctuelles (Night Moths) was dedicated to the poet Léon-Paul Fargue; Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds) to pianist Ricardo Viñes; Une barque sur l’océan (A Boat on the Ocean) to Sordes; Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester) to writer and music critic Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi; and La vallée des cloches (The Valley of Bells) to composer Maurice Delage.
Debussy’s symphonic poem Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune was first performed in 1894. It is based on the poem L’apres-midi d’un faune by Stephane Mallarmé (1842–1898). The faun — a woodland creature, half-human, half-goat— spends the afternoon playing his flute, daydreaming, and contemplating love as he watches the forest nymphs. The famous opening theme is a melody for solo flute that descends by whole tones and then rises up those same notes. This would have been a very unfamiliar sort of scale to late nineteenth-century audiences. It creates a mysterious and ethereal aura, and establishes the sense that this is music that definitely travels into uncharted territory. Pierre Boulez considered that “modern music” began with the Prélude à l'après-midi; Leonard Bernstein wrote that it stretched the limits of tonality almost to breaking and set the stage for the atonal works of the twentieth century.
The work was an immediate success, and in 1912 was choreographed by the legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky for the Ballets Russes. Debussy’s younger colleague Maurice Ravel arranged the work for piano duet.
Igor Stravinsky’s father was an operatic bass in St. Petersburg, but allowed his son to study music only on the condition that he also study law. When his father died, Stravinsky dropped the law courses and became the private student of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) during the last three years of that composer’s life. Stravinsky’s early works caught the attention of the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and he asked Stravinsky to compose works for his Ballets Russes, then in residence in Paris. In three years, Stravinsky composed The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring — which was so shockingly innovative that there was a near riot at its premiere. Later in his life, Stravinsky’s music evolved through a neo-Classical period, a period of religious music incorporating Medieval and Renaissance concepts, and a final period of serialism. Each of these styles was incorporated into his distinctive and unique musical voice.
Nijinsky played the title role in the first production of Petrushka. The character, a tragic puppet/clown, is comparable to Punch from British Punch and Judy puppet theater, and Pulcinella from the Italian Commedia del’Arte. Petrushka is a folk tale of three puppets who come to life at the hands of a magician. It begins at a lively Shrovetide fair, a Russian Mardi Gras celebration that includes a puppet show. A magician enchants the audience with his flute, and then touches the puppets, bringing them to life. Petrushka loves the Ballerina, but she spurns him and chooses the Moor. Petrushka challenges his rival, but is killed by the Moor’s sword. When the horrified crowd accuses the magician of murder, he defends himself by showing that the “corpse” is merely a puppet made of sawdust. But Petrushka’s spirit rises above the puppet theater and threatens the magician, who flees in terror. The crowd disperses in shocked silence, unsure of what is real and what is not.
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
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Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg