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Brooding. Volcanic. Cathartic. Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony symbolizes triumph over adversity. Written at the end of World War II, this powerful piece landed the composer on the cover of Time magazine in 1945, and has been an audience favorite ever since. The concert explodes out of the gate with R. Strauss' Don Juan. Also on the program, the “spellbinding” cellist (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) Johannes Moser plays Lutosławski's celebrated Cello Concerto in its first performance at Davies Symphony Hall.
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5
Don Juan 1888 | 18 mins
Richard Strauss had the gift of painting a character, seemingly in one stroke: Note the fountain of notes that opens Don Juan and the headlong melody it releases. This portrait is stunningly convincing, and the wild opening rush of violins represents Richard Strauss defining his distinctive voice as much as it does the Nijinsky-like leap of the Don onto our imagined stage. Don Juan’s exhilarating orchestral virtuosity is entirely characteristic of its composer. LISTEN FOR: The return of the hero’s theme is halted by one of the most thrilling silences in all music followed by a long mysterious chord. The phrase of passionate entreaty is reversed to limp defeated descent and the violas emit a last shudder. Read More
Cello Concerto 1970 | 24 mins
One of the most imposing figures of the twentieth century’s Polish musical renaissance, Witold Lutosławski left a relatively sparse catalogue but made many important musical statements. Lutosławski adapted to political practicalities by developing an idiom that was decidedly personal and modern, but that nonetheless acknowledged populist folk sources. By the time he composed his Cello Concerto in 1970, the cultural climate had thawed, and the composer's language had evolved to embrace a greater complexity, experimentation, and a continuing exploration of instrumental color. Much of the work takes the form of a duel between orchestra and soloist, who is “attacked” (Lutosławski’s word) by small “angry” groups of instruments. The battle rages on before culminating in victory for the soloist. Read More
Symphony No. 5 1944 | 46 mins
The Second World War was in full swing while Sergei Prokofiev worked on this symphony, during the summer of 1944, but he was sheltered from the conflict living in an artists’ retreat 150 miles northeast of Moscow. “I regard the Fifth Symphony as the culmination of a long period my creative life,” he wrote shortly after its premiere. “I conceived of it as glorifying the grandeur of the human spirit . . . praising the free and happy man—his strength, his generosity, and the purity of his soul.” LISTEN FOR: Prokofiev was a master melodist, and one marvels throughout this symphony at not just the elegant craftsmanship of his melodies but also at how memorable they are, easily recognized even as he slows down their rhythms, robes them in new apparel through refashioning of orchestration, or tosses them about from one player to another. Read More
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor of the San Francisco Symphony