British conductor Edward Gardner leads the San Francisco Symphony this week in a program of music by Sir Michael Tippet, George Gershwin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The guest soloist is Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski.
A member of the BBC New Generation Artists from 2001 to 2003, Trpčeski was the 2003 recipient of the Young Artist Award by the Royal Philharmonic Society, in 2009 he was honored with the Presidential Order of Merit for Macedonia, and in 2011 awarded the first-ever title ‘National Artist of the Republic of Macedonia’.
In addition to his frequent appearances with some of the world’s finest orchestras and most illustrious conductors, Mr Trpčeski’s 2016/17 season was particularly memorable. It saw the world premiere of his new project Makedonissimo at the Ludwigsburg Festpiele and the Ljubljana Festival, in which he collaborated with composer Pande Shahov in transcriptions of Macedonian folk music. During the same season, he also performed with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra at the opening of the new Concert Hall in Skopje.
Edward Gardner makes his debut performance with the San Francisco Symphony this week, in a season which also sees him debut with the New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras. He makes return visits to the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and also appears with opera companies such as La Scala, Milan, Opéra National de Paris, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Future engagements include a return to Dutch National Opera and his debut performance at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden.
In the main work of the concert, Simon Trpčeski plays what is now regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century – Gershwin’s fabulous Rhapsody in Blue – the work that not only changed the life of the composer, but is credited with bringing jazz into the realms of classical music as well.
Rather hastily composed – and apparently on a train bound from New York to Boston – it’s immediately recognizable by what New York Times critic Olin Downes described as “an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet”. The work was commissioned by Paul Whiteman, leader of the Palais Royal Orchestra, for a concert he was organizing to show that the then relatively new style of music called jazz should take its place as a serious and sophisticated art form. Gershwin’s work was scored for jazz by Whiteman’s arranger, Ferde Grofé, and Gershwin himself played the piano solo when it premiered on February 12th, 1924, at the Aeolian Hall in New York City. Grofé was also responsible for scoring the work’s orchestral version. Rhapsody in Blue dazzled lovers of both jazz and classical music in the 1920s, and continues to do so today – and judging by the video clip shown, Simon Trpceski is completely captivated by it.
The program opens with a work by English composer Sir Michael Tippett – Four Ritual Dances from his first opera The Midsummer Marriage – which premiered at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1955, with choreography by South African-born John Cranko, probably best known for his creation of the ballet Onegin. Also a writer and broadcaster for the BBC, Tippett is regarded as one of the leading English composers of the 20th century, whose operas were among the most successful of his works.
The final work in the concert is one of the gorgeous pieces which came from the pen of Sergei Rachmaninoff – his three-movement orchestral suite entitled Symphonic Dances. With its mesmerizing solo for the alto saxophone every bit as distinctive as the clarinet in the Gershwin work, it was the last of the composer’s major works. It was also the only one written in its entirety in the United States, which is perhaps why it’s so hauntingly reminiscent of his Russian heritage – the extent to which Rachmaninoff missed his fatherland and his fellow countrymen having been well documented. Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances was first performed in 1941 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy, to whom the work was dedicated.
Edward Gardner leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Simon Trpčeski, in a program of music by Tippet, Gershwin and Rachmaninoff at Davies Symphony Hall from March 8th to 10th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
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