In their penultimate program of the 2017-18 season, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are joined by the sensational young Grammy-winning pianist, Daniil Trifonov, who closes his season-long residency with the Symphony in true Russian style – with the magnificent Piano Concerto No 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“Few artists have burst onto the classical music scene in recent years with the incandescence of the pianist Daniil Trifonov” writes the New York Times of the artist who has been described by The Times of London as “…. without question the most astounding young pianist of our age”.
This is Trifonov’s third appearance as a guest of the Symphony this season – his first having been a solo recital last October, in which he performed works by Chopin and by composers who were inspired by the Polish-French Romantic era virtuoso. In February, Trifonov was joined by his teacher and mentor, Sergei Babayan, for a recital of works which included a new piece by contemporary Italian composer, Mauro Lanza.
Prior to this week’s performance in San Francisco, Mr Trifonov completed his acclaimed Perspectives Series for the current season at Carnegie Hall, he appeared with Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, and presented his Decades recital program in Zankel Hall, which included an influential piece from each decade of the 20th century.
From San Francisco, Trifonov embarks on a tour which takes in the Grand Teton Music Festival with Donald Runnicles, the Aspen Music Festival, the Vail Music Festival – again with Donald Runnicles – and the Philadelphia Orchestra, back to Aspen for a performance of his own Piano Concerto with Ludovic Morlot and the Aspen Festival Orchestra, and to the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra – all this before he even gets to the Verbier Festival where he performs in the festival’s 25th Anniversary Concert. And that’s only his calendar for July.
Before this whirlwind schedule, though, Daniil Trifonov pulls out all stops with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, which he describes as “..… a very powerful and sincere expression of a composer”. Said to be the composer’s favorite among his four piano concertos, it’s apparently also incredibly challenging from a technical point of view. The work was composed in 1909, specifically for Rachmaninoff’s North American tour, and it premiered on November 28th, 1909, with the composer as soloist, and the New York Symphony conducted by Walter Damrosch.
The concerto opens with an almost delicate, lilting melody, and no great orchestral flourishes – Rachmaninoff saves those for later – and those who love that great sumptuous sound so typical of this Russian composer aren’t to be disappointed. The work is as passionate as we’ve come to expect from Rachmaninoff, “…. with themes ranging from reflective moods to rolling thunder”, says Encyclopaedia Britannica. The music writer for the New York Herald declared it to be one of “the most interesting piano concertos of recent years,” whilst the New York Tribune picked up on the “essential dignity and beauty” of the work.
The work which opens this San Francisco Symphony concert is the first of two Sibelius symphonies – Nos 6 and 7 – which were composed almost in parallel with one another. They couldn’t, however, be more different.
Sibelius started writing his Sixth Symphony in 1918, and completed it in February 1923, when he led the Helsinki Municipal Orchestra in the world premiere. The work was well received by the critics, and also the audience, although they were somewhat surprised to hear a symphony from Sibelius that was so unlike those he’d written before – a work that he described as “… very tranquil in character and outline”. It’s a gentle work, conjuring up images of a pastoral landscape – light on water, birdsong and sweeping expanses of countryside. Sibelius qualified his description with the words: “Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water”.
The Symphony No 7, the last by Sibelius, was also started in 1918, but wasn’t completed until a year after the premiere of the No 6 – on March 2nd 1924. The work had its world premiere on March 24th of that year, with the composer again conducting the performance, this time by the Konsertförening Orchestra at the Auditorium in Stockholm, Sweden. This symphony, by contrast, is a grand work – by turns joyful and brooding, yet with moments of appealing lyricism. Tom Service in The Guardian describes it as “Sibelius’s most astonishing and fantastical symphony”, and “…. one of the most ambitious and extraordinary symphonies in the repertoire”.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Daniil Trifonov, in works by Sibelius and Rachmaninoff, at Davies Symphony Hall from June 21st to June 24th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Symphony program notes: