Ravel's Piano Concerto
MACA CLASSICS SERIES
Friday 11 & Saturday 12 August 2023, 7.30pm
Perth Concert Hall
West Australian Symphony Orchestra respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and Elders of Country throughout Western Australia, and the Whadjuk Noongar people on whose lands we work and share music.
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Ravel's Piano Concerto
Boris BLACHER Concertante Music (10 mins)
Maurice RAVEL Piano Concerto (23 mins)
Interval (25 mins)
Darius MILHAUD La Création du monde – Suite (16 mins)
Le chaos avant la création.
La naissance de la flore et de la faune.
La naissance de l’homme et de la femme.
Le désir. Mouvt.
Le printemps ou l’apaisement.
Leonard BERNSTEIN Divertimento for Orchestra (14 mins)
Sennets and Tuckets
March, “The BSO Forever”
Asher Fisch conductor
Steven Osborne piano
Asher Fisch appears courtesy of Wesfarmers Arts.
Wesfarmers Arts Pre-concert Talk
Find out more about the music in the concert with this week’s speaker, Cecilia Sun. The Pre-concert Talk will take place at 6.45pm in the Terrace Level Foyer.
Wesfarmers Arts Meet the Musician (Friday only)
Join tonight’s soloist, Steven Osborne for a post-concert interview immediately following the Friday evening performance in the Terrace Level Foyer. Uncover more about the music and hear insights into the performance experience.
Listen to WASO
This performance is recorded for broadcast on ABC Classic. For further details visit abc.net.au/classic
WASO On Stage
Acting Principal 1st Violin
• Rosalind & Lyndsay Potts
Principal 2nd Violin
Assoc Principal 2nd Violin
• The Baker family
Assistant Principal 2nd Violin
• Philip & Frances Chadwick and Jim & Freda Irenic
• The Baker family
• M & D Forrest
• The Gregg family
• Janet Holmes à Court AC & Gilbert George
• Pamela & Josh Pitt
• Ruth E. Thorn and Michael & Helen Tuite
• Leanne & Sam Walsh AO
Geoffrey Bourgault du Coudray^
• Meg O’Neill, Chase Hayes & Vicky Hayes
• Stelios Jewellers
★ Rod & Margaret Marston
Principal 3rd Horn
Francesco Lo Surdo
• John & Nita Walshe
• Dr Glenda Campbell-Evans & Dr Ken Evans AM
• Dale & Greg Higham
Assoc Principal Percussion & Timpani
★ Section supported through the Duet program by
• Chair supported through the Duet program by
* Instruments used by these musicians are on loan from Janet Holmes à Court AC.
About the Artist
Principal Conductor & Artistic Adviser
A renowned conductor in both the operatic and symphonic worlds, Asher Fisch is especially celebrated for his interpretative command of core German and Italian repertoire of the Romantic and post-Romantic era. He conducts a wide variety of repertoire from Gluck to contemporary works by living composers. Since 2014, Asher Fisch has been the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO). His former posts include Principal Guest Conductor of the Seattle Opera (2007-2013), Music Director of the New Israeli Opera (1998-2008), and Music Director of the Wiener Volksoper (1995-2000).
Born in Israel, Fisch began his conducting career as Daniel Barenboim’s assistant and kappellmeister at the Berlin Staatsoper. He has built his versatile repertoire at the major opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and Semperoper Dresden. Fisch has conducted at leading American symphony orchestras including those of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Philadelphia. In Europe he has appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the Orchestre National de France, among others.
Highlights of Asher Fisch’s 2022-23 season include Lohengrin and La forza del destino at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, and Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, as well as concerts with the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, Queensland Symphony, Sydney Symphony, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Fisch’s 2021-22 season featured Adriana Lecouvreur at the Vienna State Opera, a gala concert at the Hungarian National Opera with Kristine Opolais, Otello and Der Rosenkavalier at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, and concerts with the Colorado Symphony, Naples Philharmonic, and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Other recent seasons included concert and opera engagements with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Festival, Sydney Symphony, Teatro Massimo Orchestra in Palermo, Carmen, Die Zauberflöte, and Parsifal at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Ariadne auf Naxos with the Bayerische Staatsoper at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Tannhäuser at the Tokyo National Theater, and Pagliacci and Schitz at the Israeli Opera.
Asher Fisch’s recent recordings with WASO include Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in 2018, which won Limelight Magazine’s Opera Recording of the Year in 2019, Bruckner’s Symphony No.8 and tenor Stuart Skelton’s first solo album Shining Knight, all of which were released on ABC Classics. Fisch’s recording of Ravel’s L’heure espagnole with the Munich Radio Orchestra won Limelight Magazine’s Opera Recording of the Year in 2017. In 2015, he recorded the complete Brahms symphonies with WASO, released on ABC Classics to great acclaim. His recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle with the Seattle Opera was released on the Avie label in 2014. His first Ring Cycle recording, of the Helpmann award-winning State Opera of South Australia production, garnered praise and awards including the Prix Lauritz Melchior and Académie du disque lyrique Paris. Fisch is also an accomplished pianist and has recorded a solo disc of Wagner piano transcriptions for the Melba label.
Asher Fisch appears courtesy of Wesfarmers Arts.
About the Artist
Steven Osborne OBE
Steven Osborne is one of Britain’s most treasured musicians whose insightful and idiomatic interpretations of diverse repertoire show an immense musical depth. His numerous awards include The Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist of the Year, two BBC Music Magazine Awards and two Gramophone Awards.
Osborne has performed at many of the world’s prestigious venues including the Wiener Konzerthaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonie, Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, Suntory Hall Tokyo, Kennedy Center Washington and is a regular guest at both Lincoln Center and Wigmore Hall.
The 22/23 season sees him return to the London Philharmonic Orchestra to perform the Tippett Piano Concerto with Ed Gardner and performances with the Stuttgart Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, West Australian Symphony, Adelaide Symphony and the Orquestra Sinfonica do Estado de Sao Paulo.
He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music in the 2022 Queen’s New Year Honours.
Image credit: Ben Ealovega
About the Music
Born in China of Russian parentage, Boris Blacher lived in Siberia and Manchuria in his teens and moved to Europe in 1922. He settled in Berlin, where he slowly established himself as a cosmopolitan composer of markedly independent spirit, and from 1953 to 1970 he was Director of Berlin's Hochschule für Musik. Besides concert and chamber music he composed ballets, operas and music for film, plays and radio, and after the Second World War he became one of the most frequently performed of modern composers in Germany. On his arrival in Europe he first studied architecture and mathematics; these disciplines are perhaps reflected in the precise formal layout which is a characteristic feature of his compositions and in his preoccupation with rhythm. In his later years he evolved a structural method of 'variable metres', by which bar lengths were regularly varied in accordance with mathematical principles.No single work of a composer whose mind ranged so freely and widely as Blacher's can be taken as typical of the whole, but it may be said that in general he preferred an elegant interplay of themes and rhythms to earnest symphonic development of the Germanic type, and this is evident in Concertante Music, the work that earned him his first big success. The first performance, given by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Carl Schuricht on 6 December 1937, made such an instant impact that it had to be repeated on the spot.
This short composition shows Blacher's deft craftsmanship in combining ostinato rhythmic patterns - a feature that links him with Stravinsky - and attractive melodic strains. The driving rhythms reflect the fact that jazz was among the composer's many interests; his Opus 1 had been entitled Jazz Coloraturas. The form of the piece is clear and, since Blacher disapproved of his audience being provided with a detailed analysis in advance of the performance, the music may be left to speak for itself. When asked to introduce a concert of his works, he replied: 'You will soon see what you are about to hear!'
© Eric Mason
6 December 1937, Berlin. Carl Schuricht conducting.
First WASO performance:
This is the first performance of this work by WASO.
piccolo, flute, two each of oboes, clarinets and bassoons; four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba; timpani and strings.
Metre – how many beats are in each bar, e.g. three like a waltz (1-2-3, 1-2-3), or four like ‘Baa baa black sheep’ (1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4).
Ostinato – a brief fragment or phrase which is repeated persistently through a section of music.
About the Music
Piano Concerto in G
It is scarcely surprising that Ravel wrote two of the greatest piano concertos of the 20th century. He was, after all, a concert pianist himself, as well as a composer of the highest calibre for piano, and arguably the greatest orchestrator of his generation. What was unexpected, however, was that he took so long to get around to the task, writing the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and the Piano Concerto in G simultaneously only towards the end of his career.
During the 1920s, Ravel became a frequenter of Paris’ late-night jazz clubs, and that influence is most apparent in the G major concerto. The idea for the opening theme came to him in 1927 as he was travelling by train to London from Oxford. He then lifted themes from an earlier, aborted Basque Rhapsody he had intended for piano and orchestra, and reworked them into a more distinctively modern idiom. Perhaps the biggest impetus of all came in 1928 when, while on a concert tour in America, he met George Gershwin and heard his Rhapsody in Blue, whose influence is most obvious in the middle of the first movement.
Ravel originally intended to perform the solo part of the concerto himself, but in the end his ailing health prevented him from doing so. Instead, the concerto was premiered by Marguerite Long at the Salle Pleyel in 1932, with the composer conducting. (The left-hand concerto had always been intended for Paul Wittgenstein.)
For all its jazziness, Ravel thought of this as a ‘classical’ concerto. As he wrote when he still thought of himself as the soloist:
"Planning the two concertos simultaneously was an interesting experience. The one in which I shall appear as the interpreter is a concerto in the true sense of the word: I mean that it is written very much in the same spirit as those of Mozart and Saint-Saëns. The music of a concerto should, in my opinion, be lighthearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or dramatic effects."
Indeed Ravel considered calling it a ‘Divertissement’, so keen was he to keep the concerto from self-indulgent solemnity. In any case, it became a true concerto in which fun, self-parody, and exquisite beauty all play their part; but there is a ‘brittleness’ in the concerto’s high spirits, not to mention a pervasive and ‘in-spite-of-itself’ sadness to the slow movement.
The work begins with the crack-of-a-whip and it barely stops racing during the entirety of its first movement. Scored with virtuosic dexterity and lightness, the jazzy rhythm drives on through spiky arpeggios in the piano, a piccolo solo, tremolos and pizzicati in the strings and a trumpet solo. Even the harp takes the spotlight. Despite the wealth of invention, the sense of purpose never falters, and before breath can be drawn, the movement hurtles to its abrupt conclusion.
The Adagio – one of Ravel’s most sublime achievements – was modelled on the equivalent movement in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. Writing painstakingly, two bars at a time, Ravel agonised over this movement for many months, confessing later that it ‘almost killed him’. Its prevailing mood is that of a nocturne and the piano’s achingly beautiful main theme seems almost hesitant, yet somehow inexorable and assured. After the main theme is completed, the middle section becomes more agitated and tonally ambiguous. Following some strident, stifling chords, the main melody is ‘released’ in the woodwinds with the piano weaving arabesques and delicate arpeggios around it. Finally, amidst trills on the piano, this most astonishing of slow movements draws to a close. (Interestingly, on the recording which Ravel made with Marguerite Long not long after the 1932 premiere, he conducts the slow movement at a considerably faster tempo than that indicated in the score!)
Ravel told Long that he was going to end the concerto on those piano trills, but in fact he added a finale in which the frenetic pace of the opening movement is exceeded. Supposedly a rondo (although at this pace it’s not easy to tell), it is filled with jazz sounds and dazzling piano effects. In the wink of an eye it presents percussive flourishes, trombone glissandi and brief snatches of big band imitations from brass and woodwind, before racing on to its sudden but emphatic end.
Abridged from a note by Martin Buzacott
Symphony Australia © 1997
14 January 1932, Paris. Marguerite Long, piano. Composer conducting.
Most Recent WASO performance:
5-7 July 2012. Cédric Tiberghien, piano. Tadaaki Otaka, conductor.
two flutes (2nd also piccolo), two oboes (2nd also English horn), piccolo clarinet, clarinet, two bassoons; two horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tamtam, wood block, whip, harp and strings.
Arpeggio – a musical gesture in which the notes of a chord are ‘spread’, or played one after the other instead of simultaneously. It nearly always starts at the bottom of the chord.
Tremolo – repeating the same note many times very quickly, producing a ‘shaking’ sound.
Pizzicati – plucking, rather than bowing, the strings.
Rondo – a musical form where a main idea (refrain) alternates with a series of musical episodes. Classical composers often wrote the final movement of their symphonic works in rondo form.
Glissandi – Italianized word from the French glisser, to slide. A glissando is an extremely rapid scale passage, such as might be achieved by running a thumb along a piano keyboard or across the strings of a harp. The trombone, which uses a slide to control pitch, is also capable of an impressive glissando.
About the Music
La Création du monde (The Creation of the World) – Suite
I. Le chaos avant la création.
II. La naissance de la flore et de la faune.
III. La naissance de l’homme et de la femme.
IV. Le désir. Mouvt.
V. Le printemps ou l’apaisement.
Many of the jazz-inspired works of the 1920s by ‘serious’ composers now strike us as period pieces. Of those that do not, Milhaud’s La Création du monde stands out as pungently memorable, not only nostalgic, but an ever-fresh concert hall standard. It was composed for a ‘jazz’ ballet, on a scenario by one armed poet, novelist and journalist Blaise Cendrars. Sets and costumes were by Fernand Léger, and the choreography by Jean Börlin. The commission was from the Ballets Suédois of Rolf de Maré, one of Diaghilev’s rivals among Paris impresarios, and the first performance was given in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 15 October 1923.
Cendrars had recently edited a collection of African folk tales, and his ballet scenario portrayed the creation myth as told in African legend. Giant gods, trees which impregnate the earth with their seed, leaves transformed into animals, men and girls emerging from the trees and performing a mating dance, until they disperse, leaving a single couple on stage, united in love. Léger’s setting was inspired by primitive African art, with animal costumes in dazzling colours, with strange beaks, and totem figures. The backdrop was cubed and squared, with horned creatures and undulating clouds. Léger had wanted his animal skins to be inflatable, an idea which had to be dropped because the sound of whooshing gas would have drowned out the orchestra!
Milhaud’s music was written for a band of 19 soloists, with prominent piano and percussion – the exact instrumentation of the African-American opera Liza, by Maceo Pinkard, which Milhaud had heard in New York’s Harlem. From his time in Rio as secretary to Paul Claudel, the French ambassador to Brazil (1916-18), Milhaud had travelled extensively and heard many exotic musics. But all their influences were thoroughly integrated into his evolving personal style. In Paris, Milhaud himself could be considered exotic. The prominent saxophone in La Création du monde, which presents in the prelude a darkly lyrical theme which will return in a kind of rondo structure, has obvious jazz associations. But it also recalls the pioneering saxophone part in Bizet’s L’Arlésienne, music for a play set in Milhaud’s native Provence. ‘Provence,’ Milhaud once wrote, ‘reaches all the way from Constantinople to Rio.’ The major/ minor contours of the saxophone theme also recall Milhaud’s family origins, suggesting an affinity between the experience of the black and the Jewish races. The jazz fugue which begins the first of the fast sections of the music, led by the double bass and punctuated by staccato chords from piano and ‘rhythm’, illustrates Milhaud’s contention that in La Création du monde he blended jazz style with classical feeling. As James Harding has written: ‘Moving swiftly from incantation to frenzy and back to peace again, the music beautifully expresses the mystery and sweetness of its theme.’
A genial and lovable personality, Milhaud was one of the 20th century’s most fertile composers, who lived to compose. As a member of Jean Cocteau’s circle of composers, the Groupe des Six, he made his world-wide reputation with music well-attuned to the chic Parisian fashions of the 1920s, which the depths of his imagination and skill often transcended. Among his well over 400 works, however, the most fascinating and compelling remain those based on his experiences as a young man: the ballet L’Homme et son désir (1918), inspired by the mysterious Brazilian forest at nightfall, and La Création du monde, where he used jazz to create the hypothetical music of prehistoric black Africa.
David Garrett © 2003
15 October 1923, Paris.
Only WASO performance:
12 February 1975. David Measham, conductor.
two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon and alto saxophone; horn, two trumpets and trombone; piano, percussion, timpani; strings (no violas).
Fugue – a form of counterpoint based on a short melody, the subject, which is first sounded by one voice or instrument alone, then taken up by other voices or instruments one after the other.
Staccato – short, detached notes.
About the Music
Divertimento for Orchestra
I. Sennets and Tuckets
V. Turkey Trot
VIII. March, “The BSO Forever”
The Divertimento is a series of vignettes based on two notes: B, for “Boston,” and C, for “Centennial.” This tiniest of musical atoms is used as the germ of all thematic ideas. Most of these generate brief dances of varying character, from wistful to swaggering, from dodecaphonic to pure diatonic.
The opening vignette, Sennets and Tuckets, (a Shakespearean stage direction for fanfares) was originally to have been the entire composition, but such an abundance of fun-filled transformations flowing from the B-C motive suggested themselves to the composer that he found himself with an embarrassment of riches. Nevertheless, the dimensions of the separate pieces are as modest as the motive itself, and while there are eight of them, each lasts only a minute or two. The work was completed in Fairfield Connecticut during August of 1980, and the orchestration was compleed in the nick of time for the premiere performance on September 25: Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony orchestra in Symphony Hall, Boston. The instrumentation is for the normal orchestral complement, featuring various soloists and small groups: a Waltz for the string alone, a Mazurka for double-reed woodwinds with harp, a Blues for the brass and percussion, etc. The movements are replete with allusions to the repertoire with which Mr. Bernstein grew up in Symphony Hall, some quite obvious, others rather more secret messages for the orchestra players themselves. (To reveal one of these secrets, the opening section of the final March is a quiet meditation for three flutes, marked in the score “In Memoriam,” recalling the beloved conductors and orchestra members of the BSO who are no longer with us.
– Jack Gottlieb
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes
Image: Courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.
25 September 1980, Boston. Seiji Ozawa conducting. Bernstein refashioned the ending in 1983 into the version heard in this concert.
First WASO performance:
This is WASO’s first performance of the work.
two flutes and two piccolos, two oboes and cor anglais, two clarinets plus E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon; four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba; timpani and eight percussionists, harp, piano and strings.
Dodecaphonic – another word for ‘twelve-tone, a kind of serial music in which the fixed series of notes involves all twelve of the possible pitches of the scale.
Diatonic – music which conforms to a key, without discordant notes.
Expanding musical horizons
The Benefits of Wider Listening
When we’re young, it feels as though we are making new musical discoveries all the time. As we get a little older, we begin to form deeper connections with artists and tunes that have helped to give shape to our lives, and tend to lean into these familiar works. There are several reasons for why our willingness to explore new or unfamiliar music declines as we get older. But, there are also proven benefits to trying something new.
People around the world sing lullabies to their little ones and mark special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and graduations with song. Each time a piece of music is connected with a life event, or even a regular habit, it becomes deeply woven into our fabric. As these moments build in number over the course of our lives we begin to spend more time reflecting on familiar songs from good times than seeking out the new. But new music can give us just as big a rush even if at first it might feel a little uneasy – and, there are scientific benefits to incorporating it into our lives.
Research from musician-turned-neuroscientist Daniel Levitin has shown that what we think of as our ‘taste’ is actually the patterns our brain has formed around the release of dopamine. Our brain thrives on patterns. The more we listen to a new piece of music, the more our brain is able to form a pattern around it, improving its release of dopamine in the body to hit the right chemical balance that delivers a sensation of pleasure.
The premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is a famous example of this process in practice in the world of classical music. At the ballet’s premiere, audiences rioted upon hearing the music, having never heard anything like it before. However, with each successive performance, audiences grew more and more accustomed to the music, and one year on from the premiere, the work had become exceedingly popular. Allegedly, Stravinsky had to enter and exit performances with a police escort because he was being mobbed by adoring fans!
Bizet’s Carmen also opened to reviews ranging from disappointment to outrage at Paris’s Opéra-Comique, with one critic describing the music as “dull and obscure”. Sadly the French composer died believing he had written a flop, but Tchaikovsky predicted it would one day be one of the most popular operas in the world. Sure enough, a year on from the premiere, the opera’s rapid ascent to worldwide fame began as audiences began to have the same realisation as Tchaikovsky – that the opera was a masterpiece!
Building brain patterns to enjoy new and different music – just like Stravinsky and Bizet’s fans did – can have enormous benefits. Firstly, these pattern-building processes nourish the brain, as so many different areas of our mind are activated when listening to new music. Expanding your musical scope has also been shown in studies by The British Academy of Sound Therapy to build empathy and open-mindedness. Open-mindedness in turn leads to higher levels of resilience and adaptability to change.
If all this has convinced you of the benefits of widening your musical repertoire, and you’re looking for some ways to put new music listening habits into practice, here are some tips:
- Give new or different music your full attention when hearing it for the first time, rather than having it on in the background whilst you are doing other things. Attending a concert is a great way to do this, with the added benefit of experiencing the music and watching its intricacies performed live.
- If intentional listening just isn’t for you, try engaging with new music alongside a new habit to form a mental pairing, such as walking, gardening or gaming, which will help your brain in developing patterns.
- Finally, be patient and persistent. Don’t assume that because you don’t immediately like an unfamiliar piece that it’s not worth listening to! The more you listen, the greater the pleasure.
You can explore what’s on at WASO here and find concerts to expand your musical horizons. In tonight's concert, Leonard Bernstein’s Divertmento draws inspiration from all styles of music. Enjoy an off-kilter waltz, mazurka, a samba, blues and even a Turkey-Trot!
Image: WASO perform Music of Ecstasy, March 2023. Credit Daniel James Grant.