Events & Tickets
In this one-night exclusive evening at the Adrienne Arsht Center, superstar pianist Emanuel Ax teams up with MTT for another knock-out, this time featuring a dazzling performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, a youthful work full of surprise, spontaneity and humor. Jean Sibelius’ life-affirming Fifth Symphony features unbridled orchestral euphoria and one of the most beloved finales of all time, while, with trembling strings and surging chromaticism, Richard Wagner captures the tumultuous seas in his adventurous Overture.
This concert is sponsored in part by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
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Approx. Duration: 11 minutes
Overture to The Flying Dutchman
Ludwig van Beethoven
Approx. Duration: 37 minutes
Concerto No. 1 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15
(1795; revised 1800)
Allegro con brio
Rondo: Allegro scherzando
Approx. Duration: 31 minutes
Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 82
Tempo molto moderato – Allegro moderato – Presto
Andante mosso, quasi allegretto
Allegro molto – Misterioso
Overture to The Flying Dutchman
Approximate duration: 11 minutes
In 1839 Richard Wagner was living in the Russian outpost of Riga, now part of Latvia. He and his wife Minna, a former actress, lived far beyond the means afforded by his meager salary as the music director of a theater, and their debts mounted to the point that the authorities impounded their passports. They escaped their creditors by sneaking across the border into Prussia and convincing the captain of a small boat bound for London to let them travel along without papers. What should have been an eight-day voyage stretched into three weeks, and the stormy seas drove the ship into the fjords of Norway to seek shelter. Wagner later cited this perilous journey as the inspiration for his opera Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).
As with all of his operas, Wagner wrote the libretto himself. He based The Flying Dutchman on a traditional mariner’s legend of a ghost ship that can never come to port, referencing Heinrich Heine’s telling of the tale in The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski. In Wagner’s version, the mysterious captain of the ghost ship is cursed to wander the seas eternally for committing blasphemy, but he can go onshore once every seven years. If, in that time, he receives the faithful love of a woman, he will be set free.
The Flying Dutchman was an important step in Wagner’s reinvention of the operatic form. Moving away from opera constructed as a series of arias, choruses and recitatives, Wagner advanced the idea of the leitmotif (“leading motif”), in which a recurring theme suggests a particular character or idea throughout the opera. He planted those guiding themes in the opera’s Overture, beginning with the thunderous ascending motive of the ghost ship and her captain, first played by horns and repeated by trombones.
A slower contrasting melody introduced by the English horn represents Senta, a sailor’s daughter who ultimately falls in love with and redeems the cursed captain.
The Overture goes on to combine those themes and others together in a brutal storm full of chromatic swells and unsettling diminished chords.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Concerto No. 1 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15
(1795; revised 1800)
Approximate duration: 37 minutes
When Beethoven left his hometown of Bonn for Vienna at the age of 21, his patron, Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, sent him with this blessing: “May you receive Mozart’s spirit from the hands of Haydn.” Mozart had died a year earlier, but his spirit certainly still pervaded Vienna, especially for Beethoven, who entered the freelance scene as a keyboard virtuoso, just like Mozart had a decade earlier. Beethoven did get a chance to take some lessons from Haydn (who was back in Vienna briefly between his visits to London), and in his early symphonies Beethoven used Haydn as his clear model. For piano concertos, the line of inspiration went straight to Mozart, whose 27 examples set the standard for generations to come.
Despite its numbering, the Piano Concerto in C major was not Beethoven’s first. After an early attempt failed to reach fruition, his first real concerto was the one in B-flat (now known as No. 2), initiated in 1788 and completed in 1795. The C-major Concerto followed later that year, and Beethoven introduced it that December at a concert in Vienna presented by Haydn. It was probably this same concerto, in its new revised version, that appeared on Beethoven’s breakout concert in 1800 at the Burgtheater, the same venue where Mozart made history with his piano concertos in the 1780s. After undertaking that revision, Beethoven sent the C-major Concerto to his publisher, followed a few months later by its older B-flat sibling, which is how their catalog sequence came to be reversed.
One sign of Beethoven’s distinctive voice, even in the early Piano Concerto No. 1, is the prevalence in the first movement of a unifying motive, recognizable by its rhythmic pattern of long-short-short-long.
This approach points the way toward some of Beethoven’s most memorable orchestral constructions, like the Fifth Symphony’s pervasive “fate” motive or the unflinching Allegretto from the Seventh Symphony.
The central Largo opens with a slow variant of that same long-short-short-long rhythm in the accompaniment, establishing continuity across the movements—another Beethoven hallmark.
The orchestration excludes the brighter tones of flute, oboes, trumpets and timpani, and instead features prominent clarinet lines to play off the sweet, melodious phrases from the piano.
The tempo marking of Allegro scherzando indicates a joking, playful aspect to the fast finale. The rondo structure incorporates colorful antics (including mischievous detours to minor-key harmonies) between returns of the perky main theme.
Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 82
Approximate duration: 31 minutes
In 1915 Finland celebrated the 50th birthday of Jean Sibelius as a national holiday, honoring the composer who had been a popular hero since he introduced his saber-rattling First and Second symphonies and the patriotic tone poem Finlandia around the turn of the 20th century. In the intervening years, Sibelius had abandoned city life in Helsinki and the heavy drinking and reckless spending that went along with it; he cloistered himself at a rural retreat he named Ainola after his wife, Aino, relishing the snow-covered peace of that quiet place. He became more isolated in his musical approach as well, diverging from the classical traditions of his early symphonies while also falling out of step with Schoenberg, Stravinsky and other arch-modernists of the time.
The Fifth Symphony initiated a new phase of crystallization in Sibelius’ music, a trend he continued over the next dozen years in the closely related Sixth and Seventh symphonies and the tone poem Tapiola. After that, the silence of Ainola enveloped Sibelius entirely: He lived there another 30 years without completing a major composition.
Sibelius revised his Fifth Symphony in 1916 and again in 1919, bringing the work to the form in which it is heard today. During the revision he added the first two introductory measures, a gentle awakening of rolling timpani and glowing horns.
The other major operation in the revision was to link what had been two separate movements into a unified first movement. Sibelius was gradually shedding classical notions of formal architecture in favor of organic structures that morphed and developed seamlessly, and there may be no better example than the transformation he devised to usher in the scherzo-like conclusion of the movement, starting with a glorious rehashing of the initial motive.
The slow second movement is essentially a theme with variations, starting with exchanges between plucked strings and staccato flutes. Instead of clearly delineated boundaries in the classical manner, the variations dovetail and diverge freely, gradually moving a separate, chorale-like layer into the foreground.
While Sibelius was drafting the Fifth Symphony at Ainola, he was astonished one morning by the sight of 16 swans in flight. “One of the great experiences of my life! God, how beautiful,” he wrote in his diary. He sketched a theme that became the crux of the symphony, rendering the swans in noble swoops from the horns.
-- Copyright © 2018 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Michael Tilson Thomas is Co-Founder and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy; Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony; and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition to these posts, he maintains an active presence guest conducting with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Tilson Thomas is the third generation of his family to follow an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures.
Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal studies at the University of Southern California, where he studied piano with John Crown, and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. During this same period, he was the pianist and conductor in master classes of Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz and worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1974. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Mr. Tilson Thomas is a two-time Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist, curating and conducting series at the hall from 2003 to 2005 and from 2018 to 2019. In the most recent series, he led Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America both at the hall and on tour in Asia, opened the Carnegie Hall season over two evenings with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted two programs with the Vienna Philharmonic and finished with a pair of concerts leading the New World Symphony.
A winner of eleven Grammy Awards, Mr. Tilson Thomas appears on more than 120 recordings. His discography includes The Mahler Project, a collection of the composer’s complete symphonies and works for voice and orchestra performed with the San Francisco Symphony, in addition to pioneering recordings of music by Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. His recordings span repertoire from Bach and Beethoven to Debussy and Stravinsky, and from Sarah Vaughan to Metallica.
His television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts from 1971 to 1977 and numerous productions on PBS’s Great Performances. With the San Francisco Symphony, he created a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes a television series, web sites, and radio programs. He received a Peabody Award for his SFS Media radio series The MTT Files.
Mr. Tilson Thomas’s compositions are published by G. Schirmer. In 1991, he and the New World Symphony were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF in the United States, featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator of his work From the Diary of Anne Frank, which was commissioned by UNICEF. This piece has since been translated and performed in many languages worldwide. In August 1995, he led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the premiere of his composition Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. His vocal music includes settings of poetry by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, which were premiered by Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming, respectively. In 2016, Yuja Wang premiered his piano piece You Come Here Often?.
Mr. Tilson Thomas' song cycle Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, a setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem, was premiered in 2016 by the New World Symphony, with Measha Brueggergosman as soloist. In 2019 the piece was recorded for Medici.tv at the New World Center and given its New York premiere as part of Mr. Tilson Thomas’s second Carnegie Hall Perspectives series. His first Perspectives series also featured performances of his own compositions, including Island Music for four marimbas and percussion; Notturno for solo flute and strings, featuring soloist Paula Robison; and new settings of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. In 2020, he led the San Francisco Symphony in the world premiere of his six-part song cycle Meditations on Rilke, and he subsequently conducted the work at the Cleveland Orchestra. Additional compositions include Street Song for brass instruments; Agnegram, an overture for orchestra; and Urban Legend, a concerto for contrabassoon that was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony. In June 2020, SFS Media released an album of works composed by Mr. Tilson Thomas, featuring live concert recordings of From the Diary of Anne Frank, narrated by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, and Meditations on Rilke, sung by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny.
Mr. Tilson Thomas is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, was Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has been awarded the National Medal of Arts, has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a 2019 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Born to Polish parents in what is today Lviv, Ukraine, Emanuel Ax moved to Winnipeg, Canada, with his family when he was a young boy. He made his New York debut in the Young Concert Artists Series, and in 1974 won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. In 1975 he won the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists, followed four years later by the Avery Fisher Prize.
In fall 2021 he resumed a post-COVID touring schedule that included concerts with the Colorado, Pacific, Cincinnati and Houston symphonies, as well as Minnesota, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras. His 2022-23 season included a tour with Itzhak Perlman "and Friends" and a continuation of the "Beethoven For 3" touring and recording project with partners Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma, this year on the west coast.
In recital he performed in Palm Beach, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Houston, Las Vegas and New York and with orchestras in Atlanta, Detroit, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Naples, Portland (Oregon), Toronto, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Touring in Europe in the fall and spring included concerts in Germany, the U.K., Switzerland and France.
Mr. Ax has been a Sony Classical exclusive recording artist since 1987 and following the success of the Brahms Trios with Kavakos and Ma, the trio launched an ambitious, multi-year project to record all the Beethoven trios and symphonies arranged for trio of which the first two discs have recently been released. He has received Grammy Awards for the second and third volumes of his cycle of Haydn’s piano sonatas. He has also made a series of Grammy Award-winning recordings with cellist Yo-Yo Ma of the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas for cello and piano. In the 2004-05 season, Mr. Ax contributed to an International Emmy Award-winning BBC documentary commemorating the Holocaust that aired on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In 2013 Mr. Ax’s recording Variations received the Echo Klassik Award for Solo Recording of the Year (19th Century Music/Piano).
Mr. Ax is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary doctorates of music from Skidmore College, New England Conservatory of Music, Yale University and Columbia University. For more information about Mr. Ax’s career, please visit EmanuelAx.com.
Dean Whiteside was born in New York City and trained in Vienna at the University of Music and Performing Arts. He is a former New World Symphony Conducting Fellow. Mr. Whiteside is founder and director of the Nashville Sinfonietta, hailed by The Tennessean as “a virtuoso band.” He opened the Blair School of Music’s 2013-14 season directing a multimedia realization of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross called “innovative” by The Tennessean and “deeply meditative and satisfyingly original” by ArtsNash.
Mr. Whiteside’s European debut came in 2011 after winning the Jorma Panula Blue Danube Masterclass and Competition. He has conducted orchestras such as the Boston Symphony, Danish National Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Juilliard Orchestra, Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, Orlando Philharmonic, Polish Baltic Philharmonic, Sibiu Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Tokyo Philharmonic, Wiener Kammerorchester and Zagreb Philharmonic, as well as the Vanderbilt Orchestra on a five-city tour of China. He has served as Cover Conductor to the Dallas Symphony and San Francisco Symphony.
Mr. Whiteside is the winner of the American Prize in Conducting and received second prize and the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra Award at the Sixth International Competition of Young Conductors Lovro von Matačić. Other awards include the 2017 Mahler Conducting Fellowship, Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation Conducting Scholarship, Croatian Composers' Society Award, David Effron Conducting Fellowship, Bayreuth Festival Scholarship and David Rabin Performance Prize. He has received fellowships from the Aspen Music Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and Castleton Festival.
Mr. Whiteside has worked closely with such conductors as Bertrand de Billy, Fabio Luisi, Lorin Maazel, Jun Märkl, Kurt Masur, Jorma Panula, Leonard Slatkin and Robert Spano. He began his conducting studies with Robin Fountain at Vanderbilt University.