Two Russian works and a West Coast premiere are on offer at Davies Symphony Hall this week, as Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Concerto No 1, Prokofiev’s Symphony No 3, and a work by young Canadian composer, Zosha Di Castri. Audiences will be delighted to welcome back to San Francisco piano virtuoso Yefim Bronfman - the soloist in the Tchaikovsky concerto.
Whatever Nicolai Rubenstein first thought of this masterpiece of the Russian Romantic era, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto has remained one of the most popular works in the concert repertoire. Written in November and December 1874, the concerto was composed in the hope that Rubenstein - then Director of the Moscow Conservatory - would premiere the work. With Rubenstein refusing to do so unless a number of revisions were made, and Tchaikovsky refusing to “alter a single note”, the work was premiered by Hans von Bülow (to whom it was dedicated), at the Music Hall in Boston, with Benjamin Johnson Lang conducting a freelance orchestra. As has been well documented, Rubenstein eventually changed his view of the concerto - which underwent further revisions in the summer of 1879 and December 1888 - and he became one of its greatest champions.
Yefim Bronfman, who has recently recorded the concerto - with Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra - has been described by The New York Times as “..... certainly one of the greatest pianists active today ....”, and by the LA Times as a “prodigious performer in action, increasingly willing to plumb music’s soul”.
He is a performer who is much in demand. Already in the 2013-14 season, this Grammy® Award-winning artist has performed at the summer festivals of Aspen, Tanglewood and Grand Teton, completed a European tour with the Royal Concertgebouw and performed with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra in Moscow. Following these San Francisco performances, Mr Bronfman has a schedule which includes appearances across Europe and the United States - including a duo-tour with violinist Pinchas Zukerman. He is the New York Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence this season, will accompany the Philharmonic on a winter tour to the Far East, and will undertake a tour of Australia with the Royal Concertgebouw - part of the Orchestra’s worldwide centenary celebrations.
This week’s performances by the San Francisco Symphony will open with the West Coast premiere of Zosha Di Castri’s Lineage, a work which was commissioned by the New Voices collaborative project - a partnership between music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, the New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. It was premiered in Miami on April 20 this year, by the New World Symphony, led by Michael Tilson Thomas.
Born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1985, Zosha Di Castri is currently studying for a doctorate in composition at Columbia University. Lineage is her second orchestral piece, and - as its title implies - the work was inspired by Ms Di Castri’s interest in “exploring the idea of what is passed down”. As a child, she loved her grandparents’ stories about “the old country”, which were so different from her own experiences. With those tales in mind, she says, she wanted to create “a combination of change and consistency, a re-imagining of places and traditions I’ve known only second-hand, the sound of a fictitious culture one dreams up to keep the memories of another generation alive.”
The final work in the program is Prokofiev’s Third Symphony, composed in the summer of 1928. In 1919, he had begun work on the score for an opera, The Fiery Angel, which he completed in 1927, but which wasn’t premiered until 1955. This opera, however, provided the source - and much of the orchestration - for Prokofiev's Third Symphony, although he maintained that “the leading themes of The Fiery Angel were composed as symphony music long before I began work on the opera, and when I subsequently used them for the Third Symphony, they merely returned to their native element without, as far as I am concerned, being the least tainted by their temporary operatic sojourn”. He did, however, consider the symphony to be one of his best compositions.
Dedicated to Prokofiev's friend and confident, Nicolai Miaskovsky, his Symphony No 3 was premiered in Paris on May 17, 1929, with Pierre Monteux conducting the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris. The most recent performances in San Francisco were led by Michael Tilson Thomas, during the Prokofiev Festival in June 2007.
Yefim Bronfman appears with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on September 11 and 14 at Davies Symphony Hall, and on September 12 at Weill Hall, Green Music Center, at Sonoma State University.
For further details and information on tickets, please visit the San Francisco Symphony website.