With Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony in two Russian masterworks, and Yuja Wang set to thrill her audience once again – Wednesday evening will surely be a stellar occasion. This charismatic young pianist, who draws rave reviews, plays Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2, and the program features one of Rachmaninoff’s most glorious compositions – his Second Symphony.
The concert opens with Lou Harrison’s ‘The Family of the Court’ the opening movement from his ‘Pacifika Rondo’, which he wrote for the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. The work was premiered there in May 1963, and makes its debut with the San Francisco Symphony this week.
Lou Harrison was described by program annotator, the late Michael Steinberg, as “one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most distinguished musical citizens and engaging personalities”. ‘Pacifika Rondo’ was written on his return to the West Coast from New York in 1948, at which time his interest in non-European music – such as Korean, Chinese and Mexican – was growing. Of ‘Pacifika Rondo’, Harrison wrote: “Each movement refers to a section of the Pacific Basin, except for the sixth, which is a protest against the bomb and its contamination and destruction of Pacific life. ‘The Family of the Court’ largely refers to Korea and its court life.”
According to the notes on her website, Yuja Wang is “widely recognized for playing that combines the spontaneity and fearless imagination of youth with the discipline and precision of a mature artist.”
Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times has described Ms Wang as “a technically phenomenal performer”, and “a thoughtful musician with an ear for color, texture and harmony”. Janos Gereben of San Francisco Classical Voice referred to her as “one of the finest pianists — and, importantly, musicians — of our time”.
“Happily for local audiences,” wrote Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony were among the first to recognize her pre-eminence, and quickly forged a relationship with her that has brought us a series of revelatory local appearances.”
When Yuja Wang appeared with the San Francisco Symphony in June this year, she played Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, known to be one of the most difficult in the repertoire. For her second concert in the 2012-13 season Ms Wang has chosen to perform a work which is regarded as similarly challenging – Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2. It’s apparently one of her favourite pieces, wrote Vivien Schweitzer in the New York Times, because – according to Ms Wang herself – it fits her “edgy and kind of sarcastic and naughty personality”. She most recently performed the concerto with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in May 2009.
Prokofiev completed the concerto in April 1913 and it was first performed, by the composer himself, for the Russian Musical Society, on September 5, 1913. During the 1917 Revolution, this version of the work was destroyed in a fire, so Prokofiev reconstructed it from his sketches and reintroduced it at a performance in Paris on May 8, 1924, with Serge Koussevitzky conducting.
According to Michael Steinberg, the concerto as it was originally written “scandalized more people than it delighted”. The degree to which the present version differs from the original is not known, however Prokofiev made no secret of the fact that he had learned much during the intervening decade between the two premieres, and he referred to it as having been “so completely rewritten that it might almost be considered No 4” – his third piano concerto having been written in 1921.
Rachmaninoff wrote his Symphony No 2 between October 1906 and April 1907. After the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony in 1897, it was a long time before he could bring himself to attempt another large-scale composition. Three years of therapy for his depression, however, resulted in the success of his Second Piano Concerto in 1901, freeing him of his “writer’s block”, and helping him to recover his confidence, although five long years elapsed before he produced his Second Symphony. Rachmaninoff conducted the premiere in Saint Petersburg on January 26, 1908, and he also conducted the Symphony’s first performance in North America – on November 26, 1909, with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The concert takes place at Davies Symphony Hall on Wednesday October 31 at 8.00 pm. For more detail and information on ticketing please visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
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