There’s an interesting concert at Davies Symphony Hall this week. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are joined by guest artist Emanuel Ax who plays not one, but two, piano concertos – and they really couldn’t be more different – Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 14 and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto No 42.
Ax, described by The Telegraph as a pianist with a “stellar reputation”, laughingly cites the English idiom ‘chalk and cheese’ in his reference to the difference between these two composers. He calls the Mozart work “a “a great gem of a piece …. very, very beautiful with wonderful, wonderful harmonic movements…”, and then goes on to explain the probability that Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone technique because he didn’t feel that “tonality and the harmonic hierarchy” worked any more and that he had “to find a new language”.
Whatever the rationale, this will be a fascinating program, and Emanuel Ax will be as wonderful as ever!
The program opens with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No 3, itself not without interest, since it was one of four overtures written for Fidelio, one of three versions of the only opera that Beethoven wrote. Fidelio was originally called Leonore, and is known as a ‘rescue opera’, because it was based on the theme of courageous wives who risked their lives to save their condemned husbands – a theme which became popular around the time of the French Revolution, and which spread to other parts of Europe in the early 1880s. The Leonore Overture No 3, written in 1806, was the most successful of the overtures.
The final work is one of Richard Strauss’ most popular tone poems, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. A jaunty piece, it tells of a serial prankster from a 14th century German folk tale, who refused to bow to convention and whose antics finally landed him in trouble.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artist Emanuel Ax at Davies Symphony Hall on January 11, 12 and 13. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.