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STEPHEN SAYS (Monday October 29)

English pianist Stephen Hough is a true Renaissance man; he is a critically acclaimed musician, composer, journalist, painter and blogger. As we approach Stephen’s November 25th concert at the Chan Centre, join the VRS in our newest blog series Stephen Says providing you with excerpts and links to Stephen Hough’s blog on The Telegraph.

So without further adieu, our first posting:

Stephen Says: “My ear trembles at the sound of a beautiful chord. It’s precisely the bending of meaning and familiarity which excites me – in words and in music.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph posting.

Program Notes: Marc-André Hamelin

 

Program Notes: Marc-André Hamelin

Alban Berg: Piano sonata, Op. 1

“Among the most auspicious Opus Ones ever written,” was Glenn Gould’s assessment of Alban Berg’s piano sonata. Berg wrote this work in 1907-08 while studying with Arnold Schönberg. Originally it was intended to have three movements but, after completing the first, Berg found that “for a long time nothing worthwhile occurred to me, whereupon Schoenberg remarked, “In that case, you have said everything there was to be said.”

Schönberg’s instincts were correct, for Berg’s fourteen-minute, one-movement sonata is indeed a totally unified dramatic event that speaks volumes with the utmost economy. In spite of the music’s modern sound, it is nevertheless grounded in the formal classical layout consisting of a repeated exposition, development and recapitulation. Although a principal subject (opening phrase) and a subordinate theme (possibly two subordinate themes, depending on how you regard Berg’s “developing variation” procedure) can be identified, it is more through tempo changes than through contrasting tonalities or moods that they are recognizable. The second theme is slower, the third slower still. The moment of greatest tension arrives registrally, dynamically and texturally at just about the midpoint, which Berg marks ffff. By the end, the listener has experienced a sense of fulfillment, a sense that Berg has indeed said everything there was to say, and that he has left, in Gould’s words again, “the impression of great peaks and lesser crests, calibrated as carefully and achieved as inevitably as in music of a more orthodox nature.”

 

Gabriel Fauré: Impromptu no. 2 in F minor, Op. 31; Barcarolle no. 3 in G flat major, Op. 42

Like Chopin, Fauré was basically a lyricist who excelled in small, intimate forms. For both, the piano was central to their mode of expression, and both excelled in harmonic sophistication and in advanced techniques of modulation.

The term impromptu implies something conceived on the spur of the moment, born of poetic fancy, giving less heed to structure and formal procedures than to delicacy of ornamentation and casual style. Nevertheless, Fauré’s five works in the genre, like Chopin’s, exhibit well-defined formal balance. The second (1883) is one of his most beloved and frequently heard piano pieces, written in the tarantella rhythm (a pulse of two triplets per bar in a rapidly swirling pattern). The third of Fauré’s thirteen barcarolles (1885) is filled with a sense of languor, but one spiked with piquant dissonances. The tonality weaves in and out between major and minor, while the delicate and pervasive ornaments to the melodic line caused the famous French pianist Marguerite Long to poetically remark that, in one instance, they “crown the theme like sea foam on the edge of a wave.”

 

Claude Debussy: Images, book 1; L’isle joyeuse

“I love pictures (images) almost as much as music,” Debussy once wrote. Hence, we find not only a great many sound pictures throughout his music, but no fewer than three groups of pieces actually entitled “Images,” each a triptych in itself: two for piano (1905 and 1907) and one for orchestra (1906-1912).

Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in the water) represents one of the finest examples of musical Impressionism. Whole-tone scales, pentatonic scales, floating blocks of parallel chords, vague washes of tonal color, subtly blurred sonorities, long pedal-points and a new kind of “harmonic chemistry,” as Debussy called it, all are elements in the world of musical Impressionism. In the second piece, Debussy pays his respects to the eighteenth-century master Jean-Philippe Rameau. The choice of the sarabande (a slow, stately dance in triple meter) is in itself an act of homage to Rameau’s predilection for classic dance forms. Impish humor, gaiety and a sense of irony infuse Mouvement.

L’isle joyeuse (1904) ranks as one of Debussy’s most ambitious, sensual and dazzling piano works. It is sometimes regarded as a musical representation of Watteau’s Embarquement pour Cythère, for, like the painting, it is richly imbued with gaiety and animation.

 

Marc-André Hamelin: Variation on a Theme of Paganini

In the tradition of so many great pianists of the past (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Busoni, Rachmaninoff … ), Marc-André Hamelin the virtuoso is also a composer. To showcase his diabolical virtuosity, Hamelin wrote in 2011 a ten-minute series of variations based on the famous theme of Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of other composers have also been stirred to this task, but none with greater panache and brilliance than Hamelin. Even the likes of Liszt and Rachmaninoff would surely blanch in face of the fiendishly difficult technical acrobatics found in Hamelin’s work. By turns, devilish, mischievous, playful, coy, mysterious and convulsive, it remains continuously fascinating. Hamelin himself concedes that it “breaks the mold; it constantly tries to push the envelope as far as what may be esthetically acceptable!”

 

Sergei Rachmaninoff: two Preludes; Piano sonata no. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36

In 1903, Rachmaninoff brought out a group of ten preludes (Op. 23) which, as one writer ventured, was an act of self-defense, an attempt to channel the overwhelming popularity of the C sharp minor prelude of 1892, into other, similar pieces. A further group of thirteen was published as Op. 32 in 1910. Each seeks to capture the essence of a mood through the elaboration of a specific figuration, motif, or rhythmic pattern. The G major Prelude is one of the most sublime, reposed and sheerly beautiful. “A feeling of tranquility dwells here,” writes biographer Max Harrison, “and this piece stands with the G-sharp minor prelude [the one we hear next on Mr. Hamelin’s program] as the purest expression of lyricism in all Rachmaninoff’s piano music. The melody sings limpidly above evanescent arpeggios [in the left hand].” The G sharp minor prelude, another popular favorite, shimmers throughout with coruscating brilliance.

Rachmaninoff wrote only two piano sonatas, the First in 1907, the Second in 1913. He heavily revised the original version of the Second in 1931, considerably shortening it and lightening the textures in numerous passages. Although not especially long in minutes, this sonata is big in scope and impact, embracing an enormous emotional range, and approaching symphonic proportions in its textures and polyphonic complexities. The sound of heavy, pounding bells, which fascinated the composer all his life, and which found their way into so many of his scores, is evoked frequently over the course of the sonata.

The three movements are not defined as such in the score, and are played without pause, underscoring their close interrelationship. The first movement conforms to a traditional sonata-allegro structure. The second serves as an oasis of quiet meditation separating the traumas of the first movement from the virtuoso pyrotechnics of the third.

 

Program Notes by Richard Markow, 2012

 

VRSchubert – Day 23: Thank you for reading!

Paul Lewis & Leila Getz in 2007

It’s been awfully fun researching and sharing the various facts and tidbits from this VRSchubert campaign. We hope that you have enjoyed following along as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it! This evening, as you aurally embrace Mr. Lewis’ interpretation of Schubert’s final piano sonatas, may all of the historical and socially relevant tidbits you’ve learned by following this VRSchubert campaign exponentially increase your enjoyment.  All of us here at the VRS are so excited to once again have Mr. Lewis grace the Chan Centre stage. If tonight’s performance is anything like his past ones, it’s sure to be a knockout.

Happy listening!

 

 


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 22: Performance Program Notes

 

Program notes help us prepare for the concert we are about to enjoy by providing a context in which the piece was composed and a deeper understanding of the composition’s musicality. Quell your excitement as you count down the hours to Paul Lewis’ performance of Schubert’s final three piano sonatas tomorrow evening at the Chan Centre by reading the following program notes:

Paul Lewis performs the Late Schubert Sonatas

The year of Schubert’s death, 1828, saw the birth of an extraordinary number of masterpieces from the pen of this master lyricist: the “Great” C major Symphony, the Mass in E-flat, the String Quintet in C, thirteen of his finest songs, and the final trilogy of great piano sonatas. This trilogy might be compared with the last three symphonies of Mozart. Each trilogy was written within a short period during the last year of its composer’s short life; each is a compact picture of its creator’s musical personality comprising three works of markedly differing character; each is a distillation of its composer’s last years of suffering and was written in a period of despair and deprivation; all the sonatas and symphonies are spacious in design, noble in concept and almost epic in scale; and each trilogy contains one stormy work in a prevailing minor key.

These sonatas also prompt thoughts on Beethoven’s last works in the genre, “final pronouncements of great minds,” as Ernest Porter puts it. “The sense of finality,” writes Porter, “is with us who cannot imagine any greater succeeding works and who perceive in these a summation of the composer’s output. Both had gone through trial and tribulation and the passions of sorrow and joy, and had arrived at that period when they could meditate on the inner meaning of life while still expressing its heights and depths. … The sequence of emotional thought is more highly controlled and resolved with persuasive logic.”

Schubert died before the sonatas were published. Diabelli published them only in 1838, with the dedication going to Schumann, an apt choice in light of his championship of Schubert’s music.

With regard to Schubert’s treatment of form, it is worth quoting Joseph Machlis’ observation on the sonatas in general: Schubert “was not the master builder Beethoven was. Inevitably he loosened the form, introducing into its flexible architecture the elements of caprice and whimsy, improvisation and inspired lyricism. His sonatas are spacious, fantasy-like compositions that display all the characteristics of the Schubertian style – spontaneous melody, richly expressive harmonies, rhythmic vitality, charming changes of key, emotion-charged shifts from major to minor, figuration that is almost always fresh and personal (with an occasional tendency to ramble), and great freedom in the handling of classical form.”

Piano sonata in C minor, D. 958

The opening subject of the C minor sonata – tragic, stormy and brusque – is often compared with the theme of Beethoven’s 32 Variations for Piano in the same key. The second subject, however, is a gracious, utterly beguiling melody in E flat major that only Schubert could have written, and probably the most memorable theme in the entire sonata. Yet Schubert devotes little time to it in the course of the first movement’s development section, preferring instead to focus on the defiant opening idea and even more so to a new, serpentine motif which becomes the predominant material of the development.

The Adagio opens with a solemn, hymn-like theme in four-part harmony in the key of A flat major. Two unsettled interludes, both derived from the same contrasting material in this A-B-A-B-A-form movement, interrupt the placid mood.

The Menuetto returns to C minor. The tempo marking of Allegro (rather brisk for a minuet) helps avoid what otherwise might have been a somber movement. The central Trio, reminiscent of a Ländler (a rustic Austrian dance in triple meter), has “Schubert” written all over it.

The finale is infused with a touch of the demonic. On paper, the rhythmic pattern suggests a tarantella (a lively Italian dance), but the effect in performance is closer to a gallop – of a ride to the abyss.

 Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959

The A major sonata opens with a grand, majestic subject that breaks off at the end to introduce one of the movement’s most characteristic features, gentle cascades of triplets. Schubert extends both the opening subject and the triplets for some time, spinning out his lyric ideas with ineffable ease. Eventually he introduces the second subject, a serenely reposeful theme as notable for its simplicity as for its charm.

The slow movement is a three-part structure. A gently rocking theme of almost hypnotic power slowly unfolds in F sharp minor. By contrast, the central section is highly dramatic, full of clashing dissonances, long trills, chromatic scales and rumbling bass.

The Scherzo is one of Schubert’s most delightful, and its lighthearted, bouncy mood all the more welcome after the seriousness of the two preceding movements.

The long rondo-finale reveals Schubert at his most endearing and congenial, calling to mind Schumann’s famous comment about Schubert’s C major Symphony: music of “heavenly length.”

Piano sonata in B flat major, D. 960

Olympian in scope, expansive yet coherently organized in its concern for proportion and balance, saturated with gorgeous lyricism and often discussed in terms of hushed reverence by its admirers, the B flat sonata stands as a landmark in the history of musical achievements. The first movement opens with one of Schubert’s most heavenly themes – a tender, reflective progression of smoothly-connected chords suggesting vast spaces and extended time spans. The sublime beauty of this theme is underscored by its utter simplicity. It closes on a low, mysterious trill, as if from a distant region. Three more times we hear the theme, each one slightly altered, but no less ingratiating. “Schubert’s piano melodies are not involved with struggles, metamorphoses and chasms,” said pianist Jörg Demus; “they wander along with gentle corpulence – likenesses of their creator – through the musical keys as through countrysides, changing by means of an apparently abrupt harmonic inflection, appearing suddenly in another light and assuming a new countenance from one measure to another.”

The deeply contemplative second movement is no less sublime than the first, but is cast in a simple A-B-A mold. The accompaniment consists of a constantly repeated four-note figure that in itself contributes to the music’s hypnotic effect.

After two long and profound movements, some lighthearted relief is needed. This Schubert provides in the form of an elfin Scherzo in which the single theme darts about, touching briefly on various keys. The brief central Trio relies on syncopation and a darker mood for its effect.

The finale’s main theme is announced by a one-note “call to attention,” which is associated with the theme upon nearly every subsequent appearance in the movement. On and on flows the music, propelled by endlessly repeated rhythmic patterns and a natural power of melodious invention.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2012.

 


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price section and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 21: Tweet to win!

 In celebration of Paul Lewis’ upcoming concert and us nearing the close of our #VRSchubert campaign, we are running a Twitter contest to WIN a copy of Paul Lewis’ latest album – Schubert Piano Works. Send a out a comment into the Twitosphere with the hash tag #VRSchubert and at tag @vanrecital between October 21 and 23 and you could win!


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 20: Schubert’s influences

LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN 1770-1827

 

There is little doubt that Schubert was inspired by the great genius of Beethoven, whose massive influence on music was unavoidable in early 19th century Vienna. While the two composers were contemporaries, Schubert died a mere two years after Beethoven, Schubert was a generation younger.  While there are numerous theories regarding accounts of their meetings, little evidence exists to factually substantiate encounters between the two composers. According to The Observer, there is one famous story that links the respective legacies of  Beethoven and Schubert: after attending Beethoven’s funeral, Schubert and some friends drank until late at a tavern, where a toast was made to the lost genius, and to whomsoever would follow him next. As it turns out the next was, in fact, Schubert himself.

 

 


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 19: Balancing the art and life

Paul Lewis and Simon Trpceski at the 2011 Midsummer Music Festival in Buckinghamshire, UK

Between his prior ten year long Beethoven Project, and his current  Schubert Project Paul Lewis is no stranger to the touring circuit: Paul averages one-hundred concerts a year. When you factor in rehearsal and travel time going from London, to New York, to Vancouver and back again, that is a lot of time “on the go”! How does Paul Lewis wind down? “I wish someone could explain to me how it’s done,” Paul said in a 2009 interview. “I have three young children and spend my time with music – so between those things, life is busy enough. I’ve just had to accept that I can’t put in the hours I have to for my pilot’s license. And I do try to make a point of staying tuned, aware of what is going on in the world.”

In addition to a busy performing schedule, Paul, alongside his wife, the Norwegian cellist Bjørg Lewis, is the artistic director of Midsummer Music, an annual chamber music festival held in Buckinghamshire, UK. So perhaps, like so many of us, Paul’s passion and profession have become intrinsically and inextricably woven into his life, and we, the audience, so gratefully acknowledge the fruits of that passion.


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 18: Paul Lewis in Local Conversation

Over the Thanksgiving weekend Alexander Varty, contributing writer to the Georgia Straight, had a phone interview with Paul Lewis from his London home. The article was published online in the Georgia Straight yesterday. With the media abuzz, we eagerly await Paul Lewis’ performance on Tuesday, from which, as the Straight puts it, “audience and musician alike should emerge from the concert hall with a feeling of having shared an emotional journey.”

 


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 17: The formative years of Lewis

Born in 1972 to a dockworker father and a local council worker mother, music was not a major part of Paul Lewis’ familial life. His parents may have been non-musical, but they encouraged him through the early years.  Starting to play cello at age eight, and moving to the piano at twelve, Paul says about being a musician, “I don’t ever remember thinking about doing anything else.”

As mentioned in an earlier posting, the most direct influence on Paul Lewis’ musical career was Alfred Brendel, whom he first met in 1993. Before that he studied with Ryszard Bakst at Chethams School of Music and Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Here is a recorded example of Ryszard Bakst, the Polish pianist and prize winner at the 4th Chopin International Piano Competition (1949).


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

VRSchubert – Day 16: Fantasia

As described in earlier posts, Franz Schubert is no stranger to contemporary popular culture. Perhaps the most enduring example of this modern day crossover is Disney’s Fantasia. Here Schubert’s Ave Maria seamlessly spins out of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, signaling dawn and the retirement of the demons from the nighttime mayhem. Leopold Stokowski created a new version for the film, adding chorus and strings to the familiar vocal soloist. CLICK HERE TO VIEW


SPECIAL TICKET OFFER! As part of the #VRSchubert campaign we’re offering a 25% discount* on Paul Lewis tickets. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE or call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Use code TWEET when ordering.

VRScubert: In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and the celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit facebook.com/vancouverrecitalsociety, or check back in with us each day at vanrecital.com/blog.

* Discount on A, B, C, D price sections only and cannot be combined with other offers.

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