Yan Pascal Tortelier steps up to the podium at Davies Symphony Hall this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony in a program of masterpieces from the Romantic era - Schumann’s Piano Concerto - with soloist Martin Helmchen - and Dvořák’s Symphony No 7.
Having started his musical career as a violinist, Yan Pascal Tortelier was only 14 when he won first prize for violin at the Paris Conservatory. He continued his musical studies with Nadia Boulanger, made his debut as a violinist with the London Philharmonic, and studied conducting with Franco Ferrara at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.
Mr Tortelier has held a number of prominent conducting roles since becoming associate conductor of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse in 1974. These include principal conductor and artistic director of the Ulster Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, following which he was given the title of Conductor Emeritus. Mr Tortelier was also principal conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and currently holds the position of Principal Guest Conductor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Having made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 1998, his most recent appearance here was in February this year.
Martin Helmchen studied at the Hanns Eisler Conservatory in Berlin with Galina Iwanzowa, with Arie Vardie at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover, and with William Grant Naboré. He won the 2001 Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in 2001, at the age of 19, which launched his international career. He was the recipient of a fellowship from the Borletti-Buitoni Trust in 2005, the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award in 2006, and participated in the BBC New Generation Artist program from 2005 to 2007. Martin Helmchen made his US orchestral debut at Tanglewood in 2011, playing the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This week’s performances mark his debut with the San Francisco Symphony.
For Martin Helmchen, the 2013-14 season includes debuts with the Saint Louis, Houston, Oregon and Dallas symphonies, as well as with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom, and his Kennedy Center recital which takes place in May 2014. Other engagements include performances with the City of Birmingham Symphony, Gürzenich Orchestera in Cologne, Musikkollegium Winterthur, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Philharmonia Orchestra, Prague Symphony, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Svetlanov Symphony in Moscow, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, as well as a number of recitals.
This week’s performances at Davies Symphony Hall open with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival concert overture, which premiered on February 3, 1844, at the Salle Herz in Paris, with the composer conducting. Initially designed as a stand-alone piece, it was fashioned from music which Berlioz had written for his opera Benvenuto Cellini, and later became the prelude to the second act, which is set in Rome during a carnival.
Schumann initially composed the first movement of his Piano Concerto - in May 1841 - as a “Fantasy” for piano and orchestra. The Intermezzo and rondo-finale were added four years later, and Schumann’s wife, Clara, was the soloist in the first performance on January 1, 1846, given by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Ferdinand Hiller, to whom the work was dedicated. The first performance by the San Francisco Symphony took place in December 1917, conducted by Alfred Hertz, with Harold Bauer as soloist.
Dvořák was invited to write his Seventh Symphony by the Royal Philharmonic Society, of which he had been elected an honorary member. He began to sketch the symphony in December 1884, and completed the score the following March.
Written during a time when Dvořák was facing a number of personal troubles, the symphony was intended to reflect the political struggles of the Czech nation. A staunch patriot, he is said to have written to a friend: "I am now busy with this symphony for London, and wherever I go I can think of nothing else. God grant that this Czech music will move the world!!". The symphony was premiered at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert on April 22, 1885, at St James’s Hall in London, with Dvořák himself conducting. The acclaim with which it was received must have been immensely pleasing to him.
Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts the San Francisco Symphony in the Schumann Piano Concerto and Dvořák’s Symphony No 7 at Davies Symphony Hall on October 17, 19 and 20. For further information and tickets, visit the SF Symphony website.