Oresteia Overture 1889 | 18 mins
At a time when most Russian operas were either fairy-tale fantasies or nationalistic epics, Sergei Taneyev developed a work based on episodes from the classic Oresteia penned by the Greek author Aeschylus (525-456 BCE). In 1889, Taneyev wrote what he intended to be the opera’s overture; by the time he finished the opera he instead composed a more concise prelude and expanded the original overture into its own standalone concert piece (played at these concerts). LISTEN FOR: This music is tense and dramatic. An early listener described “wild sounds of the cymbals, harsh trills of the woodwinds, exclamations of the trombones, and fateful muted sounds of horns . . . against which . . . phrases quickly flash and change, or are incessantly repeated, as an inconsolable cry of the heart.” Toward the end, the piece reaches a plane of transcendent majesty.
Concerto for Two Pianos in A-flat minor 1915 | 25 mins
Max Bruch was approached about writing a double piano concerto by a pair of American sisters from Baltimore, Ottilie and Rose Sutro, who had achieved reasonably successful careers as a piano-duo team. LOCAL TIDBIT: The sisters were nieces of Adolph Sutro, who had made a fortune engineering a mining tunnel in Nevada and founded San Francisco’s Sutro Baths and Cliff House; he also served from 1895 to 1897 as our city’s twenty-fourth mayor. The Sutro sisters gave the world premiere of this double concerto; at these concerts, you'll hear the first San Francisco Symphony performances featuring another sister act, Katia and Marielle Labèque. This piece opens dramatically and generously showcases the two pianos with music that is part wistful, part operatically passionate, and part free fantasia.
Symphony No. 2, Little Russian 1872/1879 | 33 mins
This symphony’s nickname refers to “Little Russia,” an affectionate name for the Ukraine. Piotr Tchaikovsky’s younger sister had married and moved to her husband’s estate at Kamenka, near Kiev, the capital of Ukraine; it became a home away from home for Tchaikovsky, who longed for a stable family life (and sadly never achieved it on his own). It was at Kamenka that he began work on this symphony and where he first heard some of the Little Russian folk tunes that are quoted throughout. LISTEN FOR: Tchaikovsky was optimistic when he wrote this, and perhaps it shows—this is a symphony without any really slow music (at least nothing slower than the not-terribly-slow introduction!).
JEANETTE YU is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.