The Symphony’s free Program Note Podcast Series highlights a great work being performed each week by the orchestra. Hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, the podcasts feature music from Symphony concerts and recordings, and commentary based on our award-winning program notes by James Keller and Michael Steinberg. You can hear them on the way to the concert, on your smart phone or computer. Listen here, and subscribe to get future episodes automatically.
Serge Diaghilev was turned down by four composers before turning to Igor Stravinsky to write the music for a new production by the Ballet Russe. Luckily, Stravinsky, eager to try his hand at a ballet, had already been working on the music for a month, and their artistic relationship went on to produce Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.
Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy" was the perfect "cosmic trip" for the Summer of Love - even though it was written 60 years earlier.
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 bridged the divide between East and West in Russian music; that may have been the reason it was the only one of his works that he was really satisfied with.
In 1854, Robert Schumann, friend and mentor to a young Johannes Brahms, attempted suicide by drowning in the Rhine River. Thrown into emotional turmoil by Schumann’s resulting institutionalization and his unrequited love for Robert’s wife Clara, young Brahms began sketching his first major orchestral work. Brahms reflects his struggle with a tormented opening, a slow movement which he described as a “lovely portrait” of Clara, and acceptance of reality in the finale. Perhaps afraid to attempt a form so masterfully executed by Beethoven, the work soon evolved into a sonata for two pianos and then finally became his Piano Concerto No. 1, in D minor.
Improvised at the piano after a strenuous day of teaching, Enigma Variations established Elgar as the pre-eminent British composer of his time. Shrouded in mystery is the “enigma” intended by Elgar, a secret he took with him to the grave. Variation IX, “Nimrod (Adagio),” has become a cherished piece in the popular classical lexicon.
A fascination with the music of Italy’s distant past led Ottorino Respighi to compose what is known as his Romany Triptych of tone poems—Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals. The Pines of Rome depicts the trees around Rome, which according to Respighi, “dominate the Roman landscape [and] become witnesses to the principal events in Roman life.”
Sergei Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel—a medieval tale of demonic possession and its erotic overtones—was never produced during his lifetime. But he felt it contained some of the best music he had written, so he brought it to life in the concert hall as his dark, dynamic, and dangerous Symphony No. 3. How he got it past the Soviet censors is a mystery; you may find yourself looking over your shoulder after hearing it!
Gustav Holst's suite The Planets was inspired by his interest in astrology; the stars must have been aligned because it has been a hit ever since its first performance.
After a series of successful tone poems based on literary sources, Richard Strauss found a fascinating new subject to write about: himself. His Alpine Symphony is based on eventful day trip he took as a boy; an epic musical journey to the summit and back again.
Maurice Ravel called his score to the ballet Daphnis et Chloé a "great, choreographic symphony." The ballet lasted only a couple of performances, but the score has become—like the Greek gods—immortal.
In this episode, special guest host Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas talks about a work Mahler called a “foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound,” his Symphony No. 5.
Constructing a winning chess match is not that different from constructing a musical composition. Sergei Prokofiev used both strategies in his Piano Concerto No. 3.
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