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Arguably “the most distinguished American pianist alive” (The Telegraph), Emanuel Ax adds an almost improvisational fluidity to Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, a piece that combines harrowing pianism with symphonic muscle. Also on the program, the masterful Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko brings his own brand of passion and nuance as he leads the SF Symphony in Zemlinsky's lush symphonic fairy tale based on the Hans Christian Andersen tragedy The Little Mermaid.
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2
At A Glance
Piano Concerto No. 2 1881 | 50 mins
In a letter to a friend, Johannes Brahms coyly mentioned he had finished a “tiny, tiny piano concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo.” This quintessential blockbuster is anything but tiny and early listeners were keenly aware of the new relationship it explored between piano and orchestra. The Brahms of the Second Piano Concerto was a master, confident and altogether mature, and the composer must have felt that he had at last achieved the perfect fusion of inspirational fire with encompassing technique. LISTEN FOR: The first and second movements end in ways meant to produce the ovations they got at their early performances. The Andante, which commentator Charles Rosen once remarked is the slow movement that Rachmaninoff tried all his life to write, features a long and famous cello solo. The finale moves gently in that not-quite-fast gait so characteristic of Brahms, flavored with a touch of Gypsy music. Read More
Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) 1903 | 47 mins
Among the array of powerful talents populating turn-of-the-century Vienna was Alexander von Zemlinsky—friend to Richard Strauss and Mahler and mentor to Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. With the unveiling of Strauss’s gigantic narrative symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben in 1901, some listeners argued that such a piece had gone as far as the genre could go. Zemlinsky set out to prove that Ein Heldenleben was not an end-point, embarking on his own symphonic poem Die Seejungfrau, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Den lille havfrue (The Mermaid). Andersen's tale—which was also the inspiration for the ubiquitous 1989 Disney animated film—recounts the story of a young mermaid who saves a prince from a shipwreck, becomes smitten, and barters her voice for legs so that she might seek him out in the world of humans. (It does not end well.) Zemlinsky’s command of orchestral color is admirable, summoning up sensations of underwater undulation and cavorting creatures in the first movement, a hunting scene for the prince in the second, and the grandeur of the prince’s court in the third. DID YOU KNOW? Zemlinsky was himself feeling love pangs as he worked on this piece, since his student/lover Alma Schindler (soon to be Alma Mahler) broke up with him shortly before he began to sketch Die Seejungfrau. Read More
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor at the San Francisco Symphony.