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

Work for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.

It's no surprise that one of Robert Schumann's great strengths as a composer was his lieder, or songs for voice and piano. Another early love was literature; he read many of the great German poets and philosophers and he wrote about music extensively, even founding a music journal called the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

We'll hear Schumann's first piano trio, in D minor, performed by the Claremont Trio. Though Schumann gives no intimation that he intended the piece to have any sort of story, or program, it's hard to ignore the qualities it shares with his other, more explicitly programmatic music: rapidly shifting moods, with episodes of great passion and intensity alternating with moments of light, shimmering character.

2 years ago | |

Works for keyboard and string quartet by George Li and Musicians from Marlboro.

  • Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI: 50
  • Haydn: String Quartet in E-Flat Major Op. 64, No. 6

Joseph Haydn had a pretty comfortable life for a musician. He had his first appointment with a Bohemian nobleman at the age of 27, and from then on, he enjoyed a fairly quick ascension to the post of Kappellmeister in one of the richest courts in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed both Austria and Hungary: the Esterhazy family.

But a unique opportunity presented itself after the death of Prince Nikolaus, the second Esterhazy prince for whom Haydn had worked. Haydn received an invitation to go to London and present his work for an entirely new audience. It was an exciting turn of events for a composer that had spent many years rather isolated in the country, and Haydn accepted.

The second piece we’ll hear on today’s podcast, Haydn’s String Quartet No. 52 was written just before that first big trip to London, when Haydn surely would have been busily working up a repertory of work to bring with him on his trip. His first trip was a triumph, and Haydn returned to London a few years later, in 1794, for his second (and last) visit. And the piece we’ll hear first on our program today, before the quartet, dates from that latter visit. We’ll begin with that piano sonata, performed in our recording by the young pianist George Li, an incredibly accomplished teenager studying in Boston at the Walnut Hill School and New England Conservatory. Then, we’ll move on to the quartet, played by Musicians from Marlboro.

2 years ago | |

Works for string and keyboard and chamber orchestra performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

  • Mozart: Violin Sonata in B-Flat Major, K 454
  • Mozart: Concerto No. 14 for Piano and Orchestra in E-Flat Major

Many would agree that Mozart is, as a composer, in a class of his own. And so when scholar after scholar and critic after critic calls out a particular work as one of Mozart’s best, it is sure to be quite an extraordinary piece of music. We find ourselves today in the very fortunate position of hearing two such works: Mozart’s 32nd violin sonata, in B-flat Major and his 14th piano concerto, in E-flat Major, both played with great style and panache by the musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Mozart’s Sonata for Violin & Piano no. 32, K. 454, is first on the program, and it is an absolutely exquisite specimen of the genre. The piece is a true partnership of equals—unique among Mozart’s work to date in that respect.

Next comes the Piano Concerto. Written in the same year as the violin sonata we have just heard, the 14th piano concerto was written when Mozart was unanimously regarded as the top pianist in town. It was written for his student, Barbara Ployer, and if the piece is any indication, she must have been a very promising pupil. The piano part is quite virtuosic.

2 years ago | |

Works for piano and viola performed by violist Beth Guterman , Matan Porat, and Jonathan Biss.

  • Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano in F Major, Op. 11 No. 4
  • Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16

On this week’s podcast we’ll have several studies in contrast. Written some 80 years apart, the two works on this program date from very different times: a Paul Hindemith sonata from the early 20th century, written in the shadow of World War I, and a Robert Schumann piano piece composed in the heart of the Romantic era. But the idea of contrast is more intrinsic than that: both pieces are exploration of contrast in music.

We start with Hindemith’s rather brief Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 11, Number 4, performed by violist Beth Guterman and pianist Matan Porat. A fairly early work, the sonata was written when Hindemith was still exploring and finding his unique compositional voice, and this particular piece—structured as, essentially, a three-movement exploration of the theme and variations style—gave him ample opportunity to experiment. After the Hindemith, we’ll hear Schumann’s piano cycle Kreisleriana, played by pianist Jonathan Biss. Written in eight movements, the piece is based on the fictional character Johannes Kreisler, from the works of author E. T. A. Hoffman.

So, get ready for quite the musical roller coaster. We begin with the Hindemith sonata, followed by Kreisleriana.

2 years ago | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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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