Written by Ken Meltzer and Richard Guérin
Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Opus 25, “Classical” (1917)
Sergei Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, Russia, on April 23, 1891, and died in Moscow, Russia, on March 5, 1953. The first performance of the “Classical” Symphony took place in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), Russia, on April 21, 1918, with the composer conducting.
Approximate performance time is fifteen minutes.
Sergei Prokofiev composed his “Classical” Symphony, one of the most popular concert works of the 20th century, during a period that spanned the years 1916-1917. He completed the orchestration on September 10, 1917. The world premiere of Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony took place in Petrograd on April 21, 1918. The composer led the former St. Petersburg Court Orchestra.
Despite the turbulence that plagued Russia during the composition of the “Classical” Symphony, the work represents Prokofiev at his wittiest and most carefree. Perhaps that is not surprising, given the “Classical” Symphony is Prokofiev’s tribute to the greatest of symphonic humorists—the 18th-century Austrian composer, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).
In his autobiography, Prokofiev described his approach to this beloved work:
It seemed to me that had Haydn lived to our day he would have retained his own style while accepting something of the new at the same time. That was the kind of symphony I wanted to write: a symphony in the classical style. And when I saw that my idea was beginning to work, I called it the Classical Symphony: in the first place because that was simpler, and secondly for the fun of it, to “tease the geese,” and in the secret hope that I would prove to be right if the symphony really did turn out to be a piece of classical music.
The “Classical” Symphony is in four brief movements. The first is a bracing Allegro. Prokofiev directs that the central theme of the slow-tempo second movement (Larghetto) be played molto dolce (“very sweetly”). The third movement is a Gavotte, a court dance in 4/4 time. The Finale (Molto vivace) brings the “Classical” Symphony to a joyful close.
Harpsichord Concerto No. 7 in G minor, BWV 1058 (1738)
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, and died in Leipzig, Germany, on July 28, 1750.
Approximate performance time is fourteen minutes.
The G-minor Harpsichord Concerto is one of several such works Johann Sebastian Bach compiled, circa 1738. Each is a transcription of an earlier concerto for “melody” instrument and orchestra. The Concerto in G minor is derived from the composer’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041, composed during Bach’s years of service to Prince Leopold in Cöthen (1717-23).
Scholarship indicates that Bach composed the Harpsichord Concertos for performance by the Leipzig Collegium Musicum. Originally founded by Georg Philipp Telemann, the Collegium Musicum was a group of Leipzig students and citizens who performed concerts within the city on a regular basis. It is quite possible that Bach, one of the finest keyboard artists of his day, appeared as soloist in the Collegium Musicum performances of his Harpsichord Concertos.
The Concerto is in the standard three movements. The first contains no specific tempo designation, but is clearly meant to be played briskly. The central slow-tempo movement (Andante) highlights the soloist’s flowing melodic line. The finale (Allegro assai) is a vigorous dance in triple meter.
Philip Glass - Piano Concerto No.3
“Several years ago, Simone Dinnerstein visited me at my home in New York City and played a short program of Schubert and Glass. She played with a complete mastery of technique, depth of emotion, and understanding. Right away I knew I would someday compose music for her.
The opportunity presented itself soon after when she asked for a new piano concerto. About a year later I heard a rehearsal of the new work, Piano Concerto No.3, and I am very pleased with the result of our work and hope our audiences will enjoy our work together.” – Philip Glass
The idea for Philip Glass’s Third Piano Concerto came after that fateful meeting between pianist Dinnerstein and Philip Glass at the composer’s home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in September 2014. The following spring, on March 27, Dinnerstein had her first interaction with A Far Cry and immediately found a special artistic spark with the orchestra.
Glass was aware of Dinnerstein’s interpretations of Bach on recording and had the occasion to hear Dinnerstein play privately at his home the music of Schubert as well as Glass, but the occasion to hear her perform live didn’t come until the end of 2016 when the composer was awarded the Eleventh Glenn Gould Prize in Ottawa.
It was on that program that Glass finally got to hear Dinnerstein play his music in front of the public and instantly recognized the rapport between the pianist and the audience. The new concerto is cast in three movements and is score for piano and strings. The piece is overtly Romantic in nature and reflects Glass’ most recent approached to composing concertos which eschew the model of the concerto as soloist versus orchestra. Remarking on this, Dinnerstein said “it’s as if the orchestra grows out of the piano.” Also, rather than revisiting the format of the slow-fast-slow concerto format, Glass has composed a concerto in a slow-slower-slowest format. Indeed, the third and final movement of Piano Concerto No.3 is dedicated to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. As such, this new work is perhaps one of the more disciplined and peaceful works Glass has ever composed. Glass stated, “I was thinking about Arvo Pärt - the third movement is an homage to Arvo. It’s a piece which you’ll recognize as being inspired by him yet it’s something that he would never have written.”
At the premiere performances Dinnerstein performed with A Far Cry without a conductor. When asked about performing the new piece with a conductor the pianist was thrilled with the idea: that each orchestra and conductor would bring their own ideas to the piece. And the experience of performing the piece with a conductor like Daniel Meyer brings a totally new interpretation. This evening's performance represents the Pennsylvania premiere not far away from where Glass spent a number of years as a composer-in-residence in the Pittsburgh Public School system in the early 60s after obtaining his Masters degree at Juilliard.
All this contributed to a concerto which is unlike any other that Glass has composed. Philip Glass has always been a composer whose music drives forward very rarely looking backwards. However recently, his works have taken on a new dimension of a kind of rare beauty and acceptance. These are pieces which have nothing to prove rather they seem to ruminate, to look into the language of music itself, finding a new kind of old beauty.
- Richard Guérin, 27 February 2018, Salem, Mass.
Suites 1 and 2 from Daphnis et Chloé (1912)
Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, France, on March 7, 1875, and died in Paris, France, on December 28, 1937. The first performance of Daphnis et Chloé took place at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on June 8, 1912, with Pierre Monteux conducting the Ballets Russes.
Approximate performance time is thirty minutes.
In the summer of 1909, Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes burst upon the Paris artistic scene. Diaghilev’s brilliant and controversial productions inspired audience and critical reaction that ranged from adulation to violent rebellion. During his early years in Paris, Diaghilev made the acquaintance of several young composers with whom he collaborated on some of his company’s greatest triumphs. For example, a meeting with the young Igor Stravinsky led to such works as The Firebird (1910), Pétrouchka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913).
Around that same time, Diaghilev met French composer Maurice Ravel. It was not long before Diaghilev, greatly impressed by Ravel’s talent and affinity for the theater, commissioned a ballet based upon the story of Daphnis and Chloe, a pastoral romance attributed to the fourth century Greek sophist, Longus. Choreographer Michel Fokine adapted the story for Ravel’s composition.
The first performance of Daphnis et Chloé took place at the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet on June 8, 1912. Despite the incredible assemblage of talent (including Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina in the title roles, conductor Pierre Monteux, choreographer Michel Fokine, and designer Léon Bakst), the absence both of sufficient rehearsal time and unanimity of artistic vision resulted in a rather lackluster premiere.
In truth, full productions of Daphnis on the ballet stage are a rarity. The work requires the talents of a virtuoso orchestra and (wordless) chorus that most ballet companies are hard-pressed to assemble. On the other hand, the score Ravel termed “a choreographic symphony in three movements” has enjoyed tremendous success in the concert hall. The orchestral Suites Ravel fashioned from the complete work are staples of the concert repertoire—particularly the Suite No. 2, containing the majestic Sunrise and thrilling Danse générale from the ballet’s Third Part.
The shepherd, Daphnis, and Chloe are in love. Chloe is captured by pirates. As the First Suite opens, Daphnis, in despair, has a dream in which he encounters the god Pan (Nocturne). The scene changes to the pirate camp (Interlude). Chloe, now a prisoner, is forced to dance for her captors. Suddenly, Pan appears as a fearsome image, causing everyone to flee (Dance of the Warriors).
The Second Suite corresponds to the action of the ballet’s Third Part. After the majestic Lever du jour (Sunrise) Daphnis and Chloe are reunited. The two mime the tale of Pan and Syrinx (Pantomime). Daphnis pledges himself to Chloe, and the ballet concludes with a thrilling, joyous dance (Danse générale).