Violinist James Ehnes is the guest artist in this week’s San Francisco Symphony concert – the first of two this month featuring conductors making their debuts at Davies Symphony Hall. Elim Chan leads the Symphony and James Ehnes in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto in a performance which also features the World Premiere of Elizabeth Ogonek’s Moondog and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2.
Elim Chain is, according to the Sunday Times, “A rare example of a young conductor at once brilliant and not in the least showing off”. In January last year, Ms Chan made a very successful debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, gaining the approval of the Boston Classical Review which wrote of a “marvel of control and understanding”. With a wide-ranging repertoire of symphonic works from the Classical period to contemporary music, Elim Chan has since 2019 been principal conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, and since 2018 has been principal guest conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
During this current season she will be the subject of a three-part series of concerts by the Vienna Musikverein, during which her work will be profiled, and her debuts with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and concerts with the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie of Bremen will be featured.
In a welcome return to Davies Symphony Hall, James Ehnes – described by The Times of London as “A violinist in a class of his own” – will play the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2. Ehnes is a favorite guest with some of the world’s most respected conductors and his virtuosity has ensured ongoing appearances with major orchestras such as the Boston, Chicago, London, NHK and Vienna symphony orchestras, the Los Angeles, New York, Munich and Czech philharmonics, and the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Philharmonia and DSO Berlin orchestras.
Among recent highlights are appearances with the Metropolitan Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic, as well as his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Lincoln Center in spring 2019. James Ehnes’ recital program includes regular performances at the Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Symphony Center Chicago, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and at festivals such as Ravinia, Montreux, Chaise-Dieu, the White Nights Festival in St Petersburg, Verbier Festival and the Festival de Pâques in Aix.
Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Second Violin Concerto in 1935, as he was preparing to re-settle in his Russia after about 18 years spent in Paris and the United States. In order to conform to Stalin’s ideal of what was known as ‘Soviet Realism’, Prokofiev needed to move away from the style in which he’d been accustomed to write whilst in the West, and this Concerto was regarded as representing the future direction for music in the USSR .
Prokofiev wrote the Concerto for French violinist Robert Soëtans, giving him exclusive rights to perform it for one year, but he wanted it to be different from its predecessor in terms of both music and style. “The variety of places in which that concerto was written,” he said, “is a reflection of the nomadic concert-tour existence I led at that time; the principal theme of the first movement was written in Paris, the first theme of the second movement in Voronezh, the orchestration I completed in Baku, while the first performance was given in Madrid in December 1935.”
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2 is known as the Little-Russian Symphony – a name said to have been created by the critic Nikolay Kashkin because it included several folk tunes from the Ukraine region which was at that time known as Little Russia. Composed in 1872, the Symphony was performed for the first time in Moscow at the seventh concert of the Russian Musical Society – to which it was dedicated – on January 26 and February 7, 1873, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky made several revisions to the score until the reworked Second Symphony was performed on January 31/February 12, 1881 at the tenth Russian Musical Society concert in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Eduard Nápravník. On both occasions, the Symphony was extremely well received, and no wonder, since it’s a spirited, happy work, full of wonderful melodies.
This San Francisco Symphony concert opens with Elizabeth Ogonek’s Moondog – a San Francisco Symphony commission. This piece is the third part of a triptych in which all three pieces relate to the sky. A moondog, according to the composer, is “a kind of halo that happens around the moon because of the way the ice crystals in clouds refract light”. The first piece is called Cloudline, and the second Starling Variations, referring to starling murmurations. For Moondog, Ogonek says, she wanted to evoke a sense of nighttime and dreaminess.
Elim Chan leads the San Francisco Symphony in the World Premiere of Moondog by Elizabeth Ogonek, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 2 with guest artist James Ehnes, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2, at Davies Symphony Hall on January 12, 13 and 14. For further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website, where information on reservations can also be found.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Symphony program notes
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2, and
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2