A Frenchman, an American, and a Bohemian Czech walked into a concert hall, and…

… of course were represented by the playing of their music.

Otkrytoe Pismo Moris Ravel Postcard-1910

(left to right)

I was accompanied by Max who is relatively new to the world of ‘classical’ music, so I was keen to get his fresh view of the music and performance. The concert was at Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.

The three pieces were familiar to me but the conductor and soloist were not.

The conductor, Ilyich Rivas, was born in 1993 and made his debut with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2013.

The piano soloist, Conrad Tao, was born in 1994 and has played publicly since the age of four. He also plays the violin and is studying composition at the Yale University School of Music.

RAVEL: Tombeau de Couperin

François Couperin (1668 - 1733)

François Couperin (1668 – 1733)

The “Tomb of Couperin” was intended by the composer as an homage to eighteenth-century French music, of which a majority of characteristic forms are in the music of François Couperin. The word “tomb” in the title had a personal significance for Ravel, who dedicated each movement of the suite to a friend who died World War I. The manuscript is dated 1914-1917.

In 1919 Ravel completed his orchestration of four of the movements. Prelude, Forlane, Minuet, and Rigaudon, which we heard this evening. The small orchestra employs two flutes, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, a trumpet, harp, and the usual strings. (Source).

Although the music is not presented as being programmatic, I nonetheless imagined my own program as the beautiful music washed over me.

  • Prelude: Flowing liquid, including the movements of the conductor
  • Forlane: A promenade in a park, perhaps Paris in the Spring
  • Minuet: A pastorale
  • Rigadoun: A celebration, dancing, playing, entertainments,, a brief romantic interlude, then back to the party
Ilyich Rivas

Ilyich Rivas

Max and I were in a position to fully see the conductor. He is a pleasure to watch, often poised on the tip of one foot or the other, thence to spring to action in taking the a section of the orchestra where it should go. He has a commanding presence, generally, yet in the delicate passages does not dominate but rather flows gracefully. The symphony personnel followed him faithfully, and well.


GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F

Gershwin successfully combined the sweep and mood of the typical Russian concerto with the blues, jazz, and rag elements he brought from his successful pop music career. His family had recently immigrated from Russia when he was born in 1898. He had been successful as a pop tune composer and as a Broadway show composer before he wrote this 1925 concerto. The success of his Rhapsody in Blue led Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Society to commission this concerto. Gershwin resolved to orchestrate it himself and had to delve into textbooks to learn orchestration and even to discover what the form of a concerto might be. (Source).

Conrad Tao

Conrad Tao

The soloist, Mr. Tao, has the physical presence of a youthful person, but once he addressed the keyboard in the powerful chords and sweeping runs of Gershwin’s music, this was forgotten except to marvel at the size and dexterity of his hands. I saw it as a perfect performance. Half the audience was on their feet, eliciting a short solo encore, in his own arrangement of another piece by Gershwin.

DVORÁK: Scherzo Capriccioso

Antonín Dvorák’s 1883 Scherzo capriccioso for orchestra, Op. 66, is some of the most enjoyable music to have graced the world’s concert halls. This was the time of Dvorák’s first real international fame, and the joy of once and for all escaping poverty can be heard throughout this happy-go-lucky orchestral showpiece. Dvorák wrote the Scherzo capriccioso during April and early May 1883, and it was given its Prague premiere already during the latter month; a much more noteworthy performance came about the following year when Dvorák himself conducted the Scherzo capriccioso during his first visit to London. (Source).

I particularly like the grand, slow waltz that occasionally appeared, and the hint of the river Vltava, also known as the Moldau, that Dvorák’s Czech predecessor, Bedřich Smetana made famous in his music.

Without my prompting, Max said that contrary to his only other symphonic experience, also at Berwaldhallen, he enjoyed every piece of music this evening. So, we will continue to attend together when we can.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles and creative writing.
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