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January 11-12, 2020

Concerts are held at the Performing Arts Center at Greenwich High School, 10 Hillside Road in Greenwich Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm.

 

Verdi, Overture to La Battaglia di Legnano

Schumann, Piano Concerto
     Benjamin Hochman, Piano

Korngold, Symphony, Op. 40

 

Pianist Benjamin Hochman’s eloquent and virtuosic performances blend colorful artistry with poetic interpretation, exciting audiences and critics alike. He performs in major cities around the world as a respected orchestral soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician, working with a celebrated array of renowned conductors and colleagues. An impassioned and intelligent exponent of diverse composers, from Bach and Mozart to Kurtág and Lieberson, he strives to express the essence of each composer’s works, resulting in interpretations that the Vancouver Sun described as “stylish and lucid, with patrician authority and touches of elegant wit where context allows.” Possessed of an intellectual and heartfelt musical inquisitiveness, Mr. Hochman frequently juxtaposes familiar works with the unfamiliar in his concert programs and his thoughtful recorded repertoire.

Program Notes

Sinfonia: La Battaglia di Legnano
(The Battle of Legnano)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Verdi was living in Paris in 1848 during the struggle for Italian unification and independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire when he was urged to create a patriotic work to lend spirit to the effort. The result was La Battaglia di Legnano, a heroic tragedy in which the leading man gives his life for his ideals. The questions of independence and unification were not fully settled, so despite hugely successful early performances in 1849 and 1850, or perhaps because of them, the opera was suppressed. There were attempts to revive it under different titles and plot changes, but Battaglia was not destined to become one of  Verdi’s hits. It remains rarely staged, and its overture likewise neglected. It can however, with its noble chorales and marches, contrasted by lyric and tender bel canto variations, be appreciated as one of Verdi’s best curtain raisers.

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
The A minor Piano Concerto was not Schumann’s first attempt at composing a piano concerto. It was preceded by three attempts between 1828 and 1839, none of which would be completed. In 1833 Schumann had expressed the idea of a piano concerto to Friedrich Wieck, his former teacher and future father-in-law. The result was the single movement Phantasie in A minor, which would contain elements of the first movement of the Piano Concerto. Despite unsuccessful attempts to publish it, Phantasie received a performance in 1841 with Schumann’s wife Clara as soloist. Clara persuaded Schumann to expand the Phantasie into a full three- movement concerto, which received its first performance in 1845 in Leipzig under its dedicatee Ferdinand Hiller, and shortly thereafter another performance led by Mendelssohn. Clara was soloist on each occasion. After this rocky road, Schumann’s Piano Concerto has taken its place as one of the most durable favorites of the concert repertoire, serving as a virtual template for the Piano Concerto by Grieg and Piano Concerto No. 1 by Rachmaninov, each of which begin with an explosive chord by the orchestra followed by a vigorous descending flourish from the piano.

Symphony in F Sharp, Op. 40
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Born into a musical family, Korngold was the son of eminent Viennese music critic Leopold Korngold. The prodigious extent of his musical gifts was realized by his father by the time Erich was five. By age seven, he was writing original music. By age ten he had come to the attention of Mahler and Strauss. At age eleven, he composed a ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman), which receive a command performance for the Emperor Franz Josef. At twelve, his Second Piano Sonata was performed throughout Europe by Artur Schnabel. Barely in his teens, Erich was making player piano rolls, which survive today for the Hupfeld DEA, Phonola, and the Aeolian Duo-Art systems. By the time he was fifteen, his first two operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta, were being performed under Bruno Walter. There were songs, chamber works, and incidental music for a production of Much Ado about Nothing, which ran for some 80 performances in Vienna. At twenty-three, he had completed the opera Die tote Stadt, his most ambitious work up to that time, which has been cited as one of the great operas of the 20th Century. Throughout the 1920s, Korngold was widely celebrated in Europe as one of the most accomplished and important composers of his generation.

In 1934, Korngold was invited to Hollywood by innovative theatrical and film director Max Reinhardt to adapt and conduct Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a movie version of Shakespeare’s play. The success of this film led Warner Brothers to engage Korngold to score Captain Blood, a high seas epic in which Errol Flynn, along with other Warner contract players, would become linked with Korngold’s music in numerous films to follow.

In 1938, Warner’s asked him to score The Adventures of Robin Hood. Korngold was considering a return to Vienna to follow various pursuits there, but with the German annexation of Austria and its immediate and adverse consequences for the Jews, which included the confiscation of Korngold’s home and properties, he knew it was time to stay put in the U.S., which he did until after the end of WWII.
He would often say that Robin Hood saved his life. The film also won him the Academy Award for Best Original Score of 1938. Korngold became a U.S. citizen in 1943. He provided music for fifteen films between 1936 and 1947 after which he retired from film scoring in order to resume work on concert and operatic works. He was persuaded to come out of retirement in 1955 to arrange the music of
Wagner for the biopic Magic Fire, in which he made a cameo on-screen appearance as the conductor Hans Richter.

During his retirement he produced six major works, including the Violin Concerto, which has become a repertoire favorite. A five-year effort, which began in 1947 and was completed in 1952, the Symphony in F Sharp was dedicated to the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The piece is as powerfully dramatic as any of his film scores, colorfully orchestrated, boldly and richly harmonized. Its premiere was an under rehearsed and poorly performed broadcast on Austrian Radio. The concert premiere did not take place until 1972, when a performance was given by Rudolf Kempe in Munich. The Symphony recalls themes from the 1939 film The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. The Finale contains references to the song Over There by George M. Cohan.

Korngold enjoyed a rich musical life during which he helped to found an industry for the creation of symphonic film music. No one less than the celebrated John Williams has cited Korngold as his leading inspiration and role model.