November 20 – 21
Conductor: Martin Majkut
George Li, Piano
John Adams - The Chairman Dances
Ravel - Piano Concerto
Beethoven - Symphony No. 6
Born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), Martin Majkut graduated from the State Conservatory and served as Assistant Conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic while earning his Ph.D. in conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts. Mr. Majkut came to the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar and earned a D.M.A., his second doctorate at the University of Arizona. He also studied with Gianluigi Gelmetti at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy, and Salvador Mas Conde at the Wiener Meisterkurse in Vienna, Austria. Maestro Majkut is in his fourth season as Music Director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra in New York. Performing in a variety of ethnically diverse communities, the orchestra has expanded its season and quickly gained popularity in the dynamic borough of 2.35 million people. He has also been serving as Music Director of the Rogue Valley Symphony (RVS) in Ashland, Oregon since 2010.
Mr. Majkut will be joined by guest soloist, George Li. Silver medalist in the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition and winner of the prestigious XIV Concours International Grand Prix Animato 2014 Paris, Mr. Li is regarded as one of the world’s most talented and creative young pianists. His astonishing technique, distinctive tonal quality, and exceptional musicality have earned him consistent critical acclaim and enthusiastic audience response worldwide for his solo recitals, orchestral collaborations, and chamber music performances.
The Chairman Dances
(Foxtrot for Orchestra)
John Adams (1947-)
The product of an eclectic upbringing, Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and lived parts of his teenage years in Vermont and New Hampshire. The family owned neither a TV or a record player until he was ten, but he had steady musical exposure from his earliest years, as both parents were dance hall and club date musicians. Adams took up the clarinet in third grade with his father as teacher. In high school he took lessons from a member of the Boston Symphony. Adams was composing by the time he was ten, and gaining practical performing experience with local community ensembles. His early musical tastes however, revolved around pop singers such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. One morning he arose at an ungodly hour to stand on line to buy a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on its new release day.
Adams enrolled at Harvard in 1965, where he was a pupil of some of the strongest minds in contemporary music—Leon Kirchner, Roger Sessions, Earl Kim, and David Del Tredici. He conducted a student ensemble, The Bach Society Orchestra, and was a close follower of the works of Pierre Boulez, whom he greatly admired for moving music in ever forward directions. At one point, it may have been youthful chutzpah that motivated him to write to Leonard Bernstein to criticize what is regarded generally as one of his best pieces, Chichester Psalms, for being too reactionary in style.
Upon graduation from Harvard, Adams relocated to San Francisco where he taught at San Francisco Conservatory from 1972 through 1982. In 1979 he was appointed New Music Advisor for the San Francisco Symphony, and began to find himself as a composer with works such as the choral symphony Harmonium, comprised of text settings by John Donne and Emily Dickinson, Grande Pianola Music, and Harmonielehre (“study of harmony”), as well as Short Ride in a Fast Machine, one of his most popular concert pieces. He also began his journey as an opera composer who took these occasions to address himself on current or recent affairs, beginning with Nixon in China, Dr. Atomic, and with some controversy due to the sensitive reaction to its subject matter, The Death of Klinghoffer. Adams won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music for On the Transmigration of Souls, a choral-orchestral response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In 1985, Adams based The Chairman Dances on an unused idea from Nixon in China in which Madame Mao (a former movie star) crashes a presidential party. A portrait of the youthful revolutionary Chairman Mao hangs on a wall. As Madame Mao peels down to her essentials and does her dance, the young Mao leaps from his portrait and joins her. Although it didn’t make the opera, The Chairman Dances was choreographed by Peter Martins for the New York City Ballet and was given its 1988 premiere in the venue once known as New York State Theater.
Piano Concerto in G major
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
The G major Piano Concerto was a late work of Ravel, composed between 1929 and 1931, though it had a gestation dating to the early 1920s. Originally conceived as a piece to feature music of the Basque region, where Ravel was born and raised, in its final form the concerto would incorporate additional elements of jazz – le jazz hot was becoming all the rage in Paris (before it was cool) and Ravel was enchanted by it. It is an interesting coincidence that just a century after Beethoven had begun his Eroica Symphony with a pair of attention demanding whiplashes by the orchestra, Ravel began his Concerto with the single crack of a whip, as the percussion instrument, a hinged pair of wooden boards slapped together, was called. Ravel’s intention was not to be a rude awakening but simply to amuse.
Ravel had intended to give the premiere, but the onset of ill health prompted him to hand the first performance to Marguerite Long, to whom he had dedicated the work. Long gave the premiere in Paris with l’Orchestre Lamoureux with Ravel conducting on January 14, 1932. Ravel and Long toured the work together through major European capitals with great success. In the United States, the G major Concerto enjoyed the distinction of simultaneous premieres by two of the nation’s leading orchestras. On April 22, 1932, the Concerto was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky with Jesús María Sanromá as soloist. On the same evening the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the work with Sylvan Levin as soloist. Leopold Stokowski conducted.
Despite Ravel’s protest that his intention for this piece was light entertainment, the work is a compositional masterpiece set in three movements. The first movement contains five main themes as well as cadenzas for harp, woodwinds, and the piano. The second movement presents an extended theme based on one by Mozart, in a style so improvisational that not a single one of its 34 bars is repeated. The final Presto features influences of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Satie’s Parade. All this in a work that clocks in at a mere 20 minutes.
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
The only one of Beethoven’s nine symphonies to bear an explicit program, the Pastorale Symphony forged the way to the tone poems of Liszt, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky, and the great Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, while building on the paving stones laid down by such works as the series of four violin concertos by Vivaldi known as The Seasons, and numerous “battle sinfonias” dating back to the Renaissance, to which Beethoven would add one of his own – Wellington’s Victory.
Long a favorite with listeners, Pastorale Symphony tells its story through the sound of the orchestra and its various instruments. The opening movement finds Beethoven relaxed and at peace in the rustic countryside. In the second movement we can picture him by a stream shaded by trees in contemplation of the gently moving water and bird calls, played respectively by flute, oboe, and clarinets. Beethoven builds on an idea he used in his fifth symphony, connecting the final two movements with a transition to provide seamless continuity between the two. In this case, it is the final three movements to be so connected. In the third he happens upon a picnic of country people, eating, drinking, and dancing. Their party mood is interrupted by a sudden torrential thunder storm. As the storm spends its rage, the skies clear and let the sun through to conclude Pastorale Symphony on the grateful notes of a glorious spring day.
Considering that the premiere took place in a program provided to Beethoven by Theater an der Wien in return for numerous benefit programs he had given the theater over the years 1807 to 1808, it turned out to be somewhat less than optimal for numerous reasons. The program contained not only the Pastorale, but the first public hearings of the Fifth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and the Choral Fantasy, an entirely new kind of work which combined the elements of a piano concerto with a symphonic work with chorus and vocal soloists. The program was four hours long with an intermission and contained a few other pieces that had been played before. The date was December 22, 1808, at the height of Advent, a very busy time for musical bookings in Vienna, during which competition for the best musicians was at a seasonal peak. In addition to inadequate rehearsal time with less than stellar musicians, freezing weather with no central heating in a bitter cold theater, you have a forecast for a not-so-hot musical evening. Nevertheless, a number of those in attendance recognized that the program contained some of Beethoven’s best work thus far, if perhaps a bit more than could be fully appreciated in one sitting under the circumstances. In any case, the works given during that frigid ill-prepared marathon have assumed their places in the overall concert repertoire.
– Richard Schneider