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The Concert
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
286 Episodes

Works for piano trio performed the Claremont Trio.

The Claremont Trio are longtime favorites at the Gardner Museum, and so it seemed fitting that they were part of the opening series at the Museum’s new Calderwood Hall almost exactly a year ago: on January 22, 2012. Their program featured another debut, too: the world premiere of the young composer Sean Shepherd’s Trio for piano trio, written especially for the Claremont Trio. Shepherd says he was inspired by the architecture of the new hall as he wrote the piece: “I was taken with the unusual shape of the hall, a vertical cube with three wrapping balcony levels hovering nearly directly over a square stage,” he writes.

Shepherd’s work is followed on the program by an early recording of the Claremont Trio in the Gardner’s former concert hall, the Museum’s Tapestry Room. We’ll hear their rendition of Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio, a well-loved piece by a little-known composer. The trio has been heard before on the Gardner podcast—in episode 44—but it bears repeating.

We’ll start with Sean Shepherd’s 2012 trio before journeying back in time to Arensky’s, from 1894.

2 years ago | |
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Works for chamber orchestra and string quartet perfomed by A Far Cry and the Belcea String Quartet.

  • Handel: Concerto Grosso in A Major, Op. 6, No. 11
  • Haydn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4

Today’s podcast of music by Handel and Haydn is a real breath of fresh air, a virtual, auditory holiday, the perfect thing to cure the winter doldrums.

We start with Handel’s Concerto Grosso in A Major, the 11th of his opus six set of a dozen concerti grossi. We’ll hear it as performed by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber-orchestra-in-residence.

True to the concerto grosso style, the piece alternates between solos, duos, or quartets (the “concertino” group) and full orchestra sections (the “ripieno”).This concerto was likely the last of the 12 in the set to be composed. After Handel’s delightful concerto, we’ll turn to Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4. Haydn’s Op. 20 was a set of six string quartets, the group that, many scholars agree, firmly established Haydn as the “father of the string quartet.” The last two movements of the fourth quartet, the one we’ll hear today, have a hefty dose of folk influence, featuring “gypsy style” syncopated rhythms and scales.

We’ll hear the Belcea Quartet’s rendition of this quartet. First, the pastoral-sounding concerto grosso of Handel.

2 years ago | |
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Works for Cello and Piano performed by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera, and a 4-hand piano arrangement performed by Jonathan Biss and Jeremy Denk.

  • Tchaikovsky, Melodie, Op. 42, No. 3
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring for 2 Pianos, 4 Hands

Most of us know the story of the premiere of the Rite of Spring--the provocative, primitive dance; the outraged crowd; the din so loud the dancers could scarcely hear the music to keep time. The lesser-known story is: what happened next? How did the piece go from having one of the most infamous (some would say disastrous) of premieres ever to becoming a beloved warhorse of the orchestral repertory?

For those first several years, there was no orchestral score available; it wasn’t published until 1921. There was, however, a reduction penned by Stravinsky himself for piano four-hands. Aside from the score’s historical significance, the piano version is an interesting listen because of this stripped-down aesthetic--an effect some have described as a “black and white” depiction, as compared to the orchestral Technicolor of the full version.

In today’s podcast, we’ll hear the Rite performed by pianists Jeremy Denk and Jonathan Biss, who together manage to evoke an orchestra of 100-plus players with just two pianos and four hands.

Before that, we’ll have a brief little musical appetizer: Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous Melodie in E-flat Major from Souvenir d’un lieu cher. Originally written for violin and piano, we’ll hear it in a version for cello, played by cellist Narek Hakhanzarayan and pianist Noreen Polera.

2 years ago | |
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Works for cello and piano performed by cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova.

  • Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2
  • Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1

On today’s podcast, we’ll hear not just Beethoven’s first cello sonatas, but indeed (it is widely agreed) the very first cello sonatas ever written.

Beethoven’s first and second sonatas for cello and piano constitute his opus 5, an early work. We’ll hear the sonatas in reverse order: starting with the second, and concluding with the first. The two were written and premiered right around the same time, so the distinction is somewhat arbitrary; both very much inhabit the same musical universe.

Beethoven himself was at the piano for the premiere of the piece at the royal court in Berlin in 1796. The sonatas were dedicated to King Friedrich II, an enthusiastic amateur cellist for whom Mozart and Haydn has also written quartets. Still, Beethoven clearly gives the piano pride of place in these sonatas. When he premiered the pieces, he would have very much wanted to impress the court as not only a gifted composer but also as a virtuosic pianist. When Beethoven wrote the sonatas, at the age of 25, he was in the midst of his first and---as it would happen---only major tour as a pianist, with stops in Prague, Leipzig, and Dresden. The explosive scales and arpeggios from the piano that characterize the finales of both sonatas were no doubt designed to show off his abilities.

We’ll hear both sonatas as played by the cellist Wendy Warner, a student of the great Rostropovich, and the Russian pianist Irina Nuzova. First, the second sonata, in G minor, followed by the Sonata in F Major.

2 years ago | |
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Works for piano, violin and chamber orchestra performed by pianist Gleb Ivanov, violinist Corey Cerovsek, and the Gardner Chamber Orchestra.

  • Johann Strauss II (arranged by Grünfeld and Ivanov): Die Fledermaus
  • Kurt Weill: Violin Concerto

Most of us who know the music of Kurt Weill think of him as an important, if somewhat atypical, composer of musical theatre, the writer of such dark show tunes as “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera. But before he set to work revolutionizing music theatre with Bertolt Brecht, Weill was a pupil of one of Europe’s most famous composers, and he wrote a few pieces in more typical classical forms, one of which—his violin concerto—we’ll hear today.

We begin with a little amuse bouche: an arrangement by Grünfeld of themes from Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus performed and further embellished by Gleb Ivanov. Grünfeld was a gifted pianist who worked for many years in the Austrian Imperial Court. His composition was mostly limited to virtuosic works for his own instrument, and he had a particular penchant for Strauss transcriptions. In this performance, Ivanov puts his own stamp on the piece, which is perhaps a bit musically fluffy, but devilishly challenging technically.

2 years ago | |
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Works from the 20th century performed by New York Festival of Song, violinists Corey Cerovsek and Lucy Stoltzman, pianist Jeremy Denk, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman.

This week’s podcast roams far and wide across the 20th century, featuring a lovely little trio by Charles Ives, a little-known song by Irving Berlin, and an engrossing duo sonata by Leon Kirchner.

We begin with the Ives, performed by a wonderful trio of players: clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, violinist Lucy Stoltzman, and pianist Jeremy Denk. A reworking of a piece Ives had composed for violin and piano back in 1901, the trio has a beautiful, languid, evocative atmosphere, with harmonies that were quite modern for 1901.

Written some 18 years later, Irving Berlin’s song “You’d Be Surprised” is still rooted squarely in traditional tonality, but with a clever, cheeky lyric that is provocative enough on its own. We’ll hear the song performed by artists from the New York Festival of Song: soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird and pianist Steven Blier, the festival’s artistic director.

Finally, we’ll close with a piece from a few decades later: Leon Kirchner’s Sonata Concertante for Violin and Piano, performed by violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Jeremy Denk.

2 years ago | |
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Works for solo piano performed by Martina Filjak.

  • Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 13 in B-Flat Major, K. 333
  • Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14

This week’s podcast is all about playing to your strengths. We’ll hear two piano sonatas, each written by composers who were also noted pianists and often performed their own work. We begin with Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in B-flat Major, a familiar work to many listeners, but lengthy and widely considered one of the composer’s most challenging pieces to play. Mozart most likely wrote it for himself, and he almost certainly performed it in concert. Next, we’ll hear Prokofiev’s second Piano Sonata, in D minor, Opus 14. Prokofiev was an accomplished pianist, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his first successes as a composer were with works he himself performed, which often included feats of great pianistic virtuosity. We’ll hear both of these virtuoso works played by a young pianist who is making waves of her own. Martina Filjak won the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2009 and has since been catapulted into an impressive career.

2 years ago | |
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Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.

  • Fanny Mendelssohn (Hensel): Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 11
  • Helen Grime: Three Whistler Miniatures (World Premiere)

Born in 1805 in Hamburg, Fanny Mendelssohn grew up studying music alongside her little brother, Felix. But as she neared marrying age, she was increasingly discouraged by the men in her family—first her father, then her brother—who thought it improper for a lady to pursue a career as a published composer. In recent decades, however, Fanny Mendelssohn’s music has been published, recorded, and performed with increasing frequency. We’ll begin our podcast today with a performance by the Claremont Trio of Fanny Mendelssohn’s engrossing Piano Trio in D minor, Opus 11, considered by many to be one of her finest works.

After that, we’ll hear another trio, this one by a contemporary female composer, Helen Grime. The three-movement work, titled “The Whistler Miniatures,” was commissioned in honor of the opening of the Gardner Museum’s new concert space, Calderwood Hall, and was premiered there in April 2012. The set of musical miniatures was inspired by three Whistler chalk and pastel miniatures in the Gardner Museum’s collection, all of which can be seen hanging in the Veronese Room at the Museum.

2 years ago | |
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Works for piano and string quartet, performed by Paavali Jumppanen and the Borromeo String Quartet.

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 54
  • Beethoven: String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1

In the 18th century, chamber music was—as the name suggests—played almost exclusively in the home. Much of the time these intimate performances featured amateur musicians—people playing for their own entertainment after dinner. The pieces we’ll hear on today’s podcast, however, sat at the crossroads of this shift from amateur to professional chamber-music-making, perhaps intentionally so. We’ll begin the program with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F Major, op. 54. The sonata begins simply enough, with a sweet minuet. Not one minute in, though, the bass thunders in and introduces an assertive passage of octaves that would give any beginning pianist a run for his money. Pianist Paavali Jumppanen plays it with aplomb.

Concluding our program is Beethoven’s seventh string quartet, in F Major, a work that marked a transition in Beethoven’s development as a composer as he moved towards an increasingly complex and expansive Romantic sensibility. The recording we’ll hear features the Borromeo String Quartet, who are more than up to the task.

2 years ago | |
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Works for cello and piano by Michael Kannen and Steven Beck, and piano quartet by Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute.

  • Webern: Two Pieces for Cello and Piano
  • Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25

Our program today pairs a robust Brahms chamber music masterpiece—in this case the First Piano Quartet in G minor—with a piece by the Second Viennese School, examining Schoenberg’s assertion that Brahms was really the original progressive.

We’ll begin with Webern’s Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, performed by cellist Michael Kannen and pianist Steven Beck. Though undoubtedly the work of a young composer—Webern was at the time a 15-year-old high school student—the music contains glimmers of what Webern would become. The listener may be quite surprised by the strong Romantic influence, which is markedly different from later works.

After the Webern, we’ll hear the Brahms First Piano Quartet, played by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Although this piece seems traditional, Brahms is innovating beneath the surface, weaving the four movements together with recurring thematic material. The final movement is perhaps the best known and is particularly delightful—a lively gypsy rondo.

2 years ago | |
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