Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto: Monumental and Heroic

Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto begins with a bold and unexpected announcement. Four chords in the orchestra, outlining the most elemental harmonic progression (I-IV-V-I), stand as mighty pillars. Each initiates an expansive cadenza from the solo piano. A cadenza at the beginning of a concerto? This is not what the first audiences would have been expecting. These first bars establish the piano as a heroic, convention-defying protagonist. The orchestra launches into the expected introduction only …

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Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto: Khatia Buniatishvili in Concert

Franz Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto begins with a hauntingly romantic melody. We hear it first in the solo clarinet, accompanied by a woodwind chorale. For a composer whose music is often filled with larger-than-life virtuoso bravura, these quiet opening bars seem surprisingly unassuming, perhaps even lamenting. They open the door to the magic and mystery of the piano’s entrance a moment later, in which the melody is outlined in arpeggios which seem …

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Saint-Saëns’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto: A Voyage to Exotic Lands

We often associate musical exoticism with Claude Debussy and other French impressionists. In this music, the Eastern sounds and scales of the Javanese gamelan, famously introduced at the 1889 Paris Exposition, waft into a colorful, new dreamscape. Yet tantalizing glimpses of this bold, new musical landscape emerge, surprisingly, in the Fifth Piano Concerto of another French composer, Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was born a generation before Debussy. The young, rebellious Debussy considered Saint-Saëns’ music to …

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Remembering Aaron Rosand

The American violinist Aaron Rosand passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. Rosand has been described as “one of the last living connections to the golden age of violinists.” Following an April, 1970 recital, Harold C. Schonberg, longtime critic at The New York Times, wrote that “Romanticism on the violin had a rebirth last night in Carnegie Hall.” Long revered within the music community, Aaron Rosand undoubtedly deserved greater name recognition among the wider public. …

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Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto: “The Heart’s Jewel”

In 1906, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim offered an assessment of what remain four major pillars of the solo violin repertoire: The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s. Indeed, Felix Mendelssohn’s …

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Einojuhani Rautavaara’s First Piano Concerto: Twentieth Century Finnish Neo-Romanticism

At moments, you can hear the ghost of Jean Sibelius emerge in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No. 1, completed in 1969. Rautavaara (1928-2016) was among the most significant Finnish composers to follow Sibelius. His style evolved gradually, moving from 12-tone serial modernism into Neo-Romanticism. His later works, such as the 1994 Seventh Symphony (Angel of Light), embrace a tantalizing mysticism. In his 2016 remembrance, the composer Kalevi Aho (a student of Rautavaara) writes, Einojuhani …

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New Release: RPO’s “American Rapture” Features Music of Higdon, Barber, and Harlin

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Ward Stare have released a new album of American music on the Azica label. American Rapture contains two world premiere recordings—Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto (2018) featuring the American harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, and Patrick Harlin’s Rapture (2011), an orchestral showpiece inspired by the terrifying and awe-inspiring exploration of the world’s deepest caves. In between these youthful pieces is Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, a monumental mid-twentieth century work which unfolds in a single …

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