There’s a meeting of good friends at Davies Symphony Hall this month as the San Francisco Symphony welcomes Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas back to the podium, together with two hugely popular guest artists – cellist Gautier Capuçon and pianist Yuja Wang.
In the first program, MTT leads the Symphony in performances of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 2, with guest artist Gautier Capuçon, and the Prokofiev Symphony No 5. The following week sees guest artist Yuja Wang join the Symphony for performances of the Piano Concerto No 1 by Franz Lizst in a program which includes Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony – Mahler being a composer much loved by Tilson Thomas.
Multiple award-winning cellist Gautier Capuçon regularly appears with many of the world’s finest orchestras, conductors and instrumentalists. Known for his profoundly expressive yet spirited artistry, he is also founder and leader of the Classe d’Excellence de Violoncelle at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris – based in the Gehry-designed Auditorium in Paris. There Mr Capuçon coaches six specially selected and talented young cellists in a six-month series of public masterclasses and concert performances.
He is also an enthusiastic ambassador for the Orchestre à l’École Association, which brings classical music to more than 40,000 thousand schoolchildren across France. During the summer of 2020 he entranced families across the whole of France with his musical odyssey Un été en France, and created a new edition of this project last summer, performing concerts in a number of towns and cities, together with 27 young musicians and dancers, to showcase their talents.
Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Second Cello Concerto in Crimea in spring 1966, during the final ten years of his life. By that stage he was well accustomed to the ritual of denunciation and rehabilitation to which he had been subjected during his composing years, and at the time, he was deemed to be officially back in favor. He was even honored with multiple State medals at the concert to mark his 60th birthday, the performance at which this Cello Concerto was premiered on September 25th of that year. Mstislav Rostropovich – for whom Shostakovich wrote both of his cello concertos – was the soloist, with the State Academic Symphony of the USSR, conducted by Yevgeny Svetlanov.
Sergey Prokofiev composed his Fifth Symphony during the summer of 1944, drawing on some material sketched the preceding decade. He was staying a special ‘House of Rest and Creativity’ for composers at a former aristocratic estate near the town of Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow. The USSR’s entry into the War appeared to have temporarily halted the campaign against those who were perceived to be enemies of the state within the USSR, and as he was seen as a valuable tool for propaganda, Prokofiev’s popularity was growing, to the extent that his forthcoming symphony was highly anticipated. The premiere took place in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on January 13th, 1945, and Prokofiev himself conducted the State Symphonic Orchestra of the USSR. Such was the Symphony’s international success, that it marked a high point in Prokofiev’s standing within Russia during his lifetime.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony and soloist Gautier Capuçon in a program of works by Shostakovich and Prokofiev from January 20th to 22nd. Further information is available on the San Francisco Symphony website and tickets may be reserved on this link.
Yuja Wang is the guest artist in the second of MTT’s programs at Davies Symphony Hall. The sheer genius of her performances and her captivating personality have granted Yuja Wang star status wherever she appears. Named Musical America’s Artist of the Year in 2017, she has performed with many of the world’s major orchestras across North America and Europe, as well as in the United Kingdom, and in her home country, China, as well as in prestigious concert halls such as Het Concertgebouw, Carnegie Hall and The Barbican. The Financial Times writes: “Her combination of technical ease, colouristic range and sheer power has always been remarkable … but these days there is an ever-greater depth to her musicianship, drawing you into the world of each composer with compelling immediacy”.
Franz Liszt began composing his First Piano Concerto around 1830. Completed in 1834, it was never performed, and Liszt put it aside until 1839, at which time he rewrote it completely, converting it into a single-movement piece, although still retaining the principal theme. From the late 1840s to 1853 it was reworked into four movements – played without a break – and revised again from 1855 to 1856. Dedicated to pianist and composer Henry Litolff, the work was premiered on February 17th, 1855, at the Ducal Palace in Weimar. The Court Orchestra was conducted by Hector Berlioz, and Liszt himself was the soloist.
Gustav Mahler began to sketch his Symphony No 1 in D Major in 1885, initially using musical themes and ideas from his earlier compositions, but it was mainly written in Leipzig between January and March 1888. The work – which carried the title A Symphonic Poem in Two Sections – was premiered at the Vigadó Concert Hall in Budapest on November 20th, 1889, and conducted by the composer. Poorly received, the Symphony wasn’t performed again until 1893, at a concert at Hamburg’s Konzerthaus on October 27th that year, after Mahler had made major revisions to it. He continue to make revisions until the score was first published in 1899.
Michael Tilson Thomas has long loved the music of Mahler, and in 2001, he and the San Francisco Symphony launched The Mahler Project – 18 hours of his compositions, including all nine of his symphonies, and his works for voices, chorus and orchestra. Released by the Symphony’s own recording label, SFS Media™. Recordings in this highly acclaimed series received a combined 7 Grammy® Awards.
Mahler – Origins and Legacy was also the subject of one of MTT’s eight Keeping Score video presentations.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artist Yuja Wang in a program of works by Liszt and Mahler at Davies Symphony Hall from January 27th to 29th. More details are available on the San Francisco Symphony website, and tickets may be reserved on this link.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco program notes