As another San Francisco Ballet season draws to a close, it’s a good time to turn the spotlight on the magnificent SF Ballet Orchestra, led by music director Martin West, which plays such a vital role in the success of the Company’s performances.
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, this Grammy Award-winning ensemble, under West’s direction, has recently released a delightful album of music by Moritz Moszkowski (1854 -1925), entitled From Foreign Lands. It’s been produced by Reference Recordings.
A German of Polish descent, Moszkowski was a pianist, composer and conductor. Following his 1873 debut as a pianist in Berlin, he rapidly became known as a brilliant virtuoso, as well as an accomplished interpreter of the Classical and Romantic repertoire. He was also an influential teacher, having joined the staff of the Kullak Conservatory in Berlin when he was only 17, and later moving to Paris, where his pupils included names as illustrious as Gaby Casadesus, Vlado Perlemuter, André Messager and Thomas Beecham.
Although he’s known for only a handful of his works for piano, Moskowski also wrote an opera, a full-length ballet, a symphony, a collection of orchestral suites, songs, concertos and chamber music – almost all of which seem to have fallen into oblivion. Among these was a piano concerto, first performed in Berlin in 1875, with which Liszt was so taken that he arranged a special concert in which he and Moszkowski performed it on two pianos.
Given that the music of Moszkowski has been unfairly neglected for so long, I asked Martin West what had prompted his decision to record the album. It turned out to be a ballet choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for the Company in 2013 – a work entitled From Foreign Lands, from which the album takes its title. “We played his [Moszkowski’s] music for Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands,” says West, “and it brought back memories of his Spanish Dances, which I played when I was a boy. So Reference Recordings and I decided to look for some of his music that we could record, and this was the end product.”
As to why so much of Moszkowski’s work has been forgotten and never recorded, West says: “In the early 19th century his piano music was very popular, but that lighter style of piano piece isn’t played so much anymore, unfortunately – so these days, people aren’t as familiar with him.”
The music on this CD was written between 1876 and 1904, and mostly features first time recordings of some of Moszkowski’s loveliest works. Included are the six dance pieces entitled From Foreign Lands, each of which represents a different country – listed as Russian, German, Spanish, Polish, Italian and Hungarian – as well as Moszkowski’s Spanish Dances, his earliest, and best-known work which he dedicated to his brother Alexander. Originally composed as a four-handed piano work, these five pieces were apparently not based on any known Spanish melodies, but were Moszkowski’s own creations in the style of Spanish music.
Both Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra have been internationally acclaimed for their artistry. West, who hails from Bolton in England, initially studied math at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, before changing direction, and continuing his studies, as a cellist, at the St Petersburg Conservatory of Music, and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He made his conducting debut with English National Ballet in 1997, and spent three years there as principal conductor from 2004 to 2007, whilst holding the position of music director of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society from 1998 to 2005 – at which point he joined San Francisco Ballet, having guested with the Company for the previous two years. On the guest artist circuit he has worked with companies of the caliber of New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Houston Ballet and National Ballet of Canada, and as an orchestral conductor, Martin West has appeared with the Hallé Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Holland Symfonia, Denmark’s Odense Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Silicon Valley, with whom he made his US debut. He has also had a long association with Pimlico Opera in London, taking the art form to thousands of primary school pupils and prisoners.
Previous recordings by Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra for Reference Recordings include the complete scores of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, excerpts from the Delibes ballets Coppélia and Sylvia, and a world premiere recording of music by Bizet. They have also recorded an album of cello music by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, and in addition to this album of music by Moszkowski, other world premiere recordings include music by Shinji Eshima and Kip Winger, and Maury Yeston’s ballet Tom Sawyer. Martin West also conducted the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra on the award-winning DVD of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, and in Helgi Tomasson’s productions of Nutcracker for PBS, and Romeo and Juliet for Lincoln Center at the Movies in the series Great American Dance.
The good news now is that Martin West has hinted at future recordings of music by Moszkowski. “I have enough music in my head to do two more discs,” he says. “There are two or three major works, including a full ballet, but we could only find parts of it. And there are three major orchestral suites of his that have never been recorded, plus shorter pieces like those included on this album.”
From Foreign Lands is available from Reference Recordings.
Reference Recordings – notes by Marina A Ledin and Victor Ledin