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Esa-Pekka Salonen takes the podium for Ottorino Respighi’s beautiful The Pines of Rome where the rambunctiousness of a modern city communes with echoes of Roman glory. Past and present also come together in Luciano Berio’s imaginative arrangement of a work by Classical composer Luigi Boccherini, while Jessie Montgomery’s Strum dances and moves across the orchestra. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard alternates performances of Béla Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos, taking audiences on adventures through modernist tonalities, breathless rhythms, and lyrical introspection.
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At A Glance
Béla Bartok composed three piano concertos, of which the first and third are heard on different days this week. The Piano Concerto No. 1 abandons the glittering world of late-Romanticism and lands instead in the realm of brave modernism. But the flavor is really Bartók’s own, filled with harmonic ambivalence, bits of modal melodies, and figuration that swirls like a folk-dance. He wrote the Piano No. 3 as a gift for his wife Ditta as he lay dying, so that she could perform it after he was gone. Though he had unhappily moved to New York, he allowed his fantasy to travel back to his native Hungary with unabashed longing.
Jessie Montgomery first wrote Strum as a cello quintet in 2006, and later revised it for string quartet or string orchestra. She described it as “a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.”
Ottorino Respighi was fascinated with the music of Italy’s distant past; his hallmark was over-the-top orchestral color. He combines both in Pines of Rome, using “nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and vision. The centuries-old trees . . . become witnesses to the principal events in Roman life.” Premiered in 1924, it was one of the first pieces to include electronics in its orchestration through a recording of a nightingale.