Events & Tickets
FIRE AND ROMANCE
New World Center, Michael Tilson Thomas Performance Hall
MTT joins violinist Nicola Benedetti—a firecracker of talent and energy—in celebrating classical music’s swoon-worthy Romantics and dance masters. Perfectly showcasing Benedetti’s exquisite virtuosity, Sergei Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto showcases Russian folk tunes and a fiery Spanish finale. Never before performed by NWS, Robert Schumann’s Third Symphony is awash with yearning and joy, masterfully capturing the spirit of the Rhine which served as the composer’s muse. The story of Prometheus—titan, romantic hero and thief of fire—is rife with action, struggle and redemption. Franz Liszt brings the Greek myth to life in a symphonic poem he called “stormy and dazzling.”
Approx. Duration: 12 minutes
Prometheus, Symphonic Poem No. 5, S. 99
(1850; revised 1855)
Approx. Duration: 26 minutes
Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 63
Allegro, ben marcato
Approx. Duration: 32 minutes
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, "Rhenish"
Scherzo: Very moderate
Prometheus, Symphonic Poem No. 5, S. 99
(1850; revised 1855)
Approximate duration: 12 minutes
Franz Liszt, the greatest virtuoso pianist of his generation, retired from the concert stage at the age of 35 to focus on conducting, teaching and, above all, composing. He developed an adventurous and groundbreaking approach to harmony, and he left an indelible mark on the art of program music—instrumental works with references to specific stories or images—in formats ranging from intimate piano albums to grand symphonic poems.
The idea of the symphonic poem—a single-movement composition expressing a story or concept in purely orchestral terms—proved to be one of Liszt’s most enduring legacies. Previous orchestral composers had incorporated elements of scene painting or storytelling, like Beethoven in his “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony or Berlioz in Symphonie fantastique, but they also maintained the abstract logic of the symphony to guide their overall structure. Liszt’s innovation was to relax the rules of form and harmony and trust that the storytelling would supply its own guiding logic for the listener.
The story behind the symphonic poem Prometheus comes from Ancient Greek mythology: The titan Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and uses it to bestow life on humanity, earning him the eternal punishment of being chained to a rock while an eagle pecks away at his liver. Liszt wrote the first version of this music in 1850 as an overture and series of choruses based on Prometheus Unbound by Johann Gottfried Herder, one of the founding fathers of German literature. Five years later, Liszt compressed the ideas into this symphonic poem full of explosive themes, wild dissonances and an idiosyncratic structure that detours to an unexpected fugue in the middle, serving up music as fiery and anguished as its mythical inspiration.
Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 63
Approximate duration: 26 minutes
As a student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Sergei Prokofiev exhibited talents as a composer and pianist that put him on course to follow in the footsteps of Russian virtuosos like Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. Prokofiev’s career in Russia was well established by the age of 26, thanks to his early concertos and a standout first symphony, but that was the fateful year of 1917, when the October Revolution upended Russian society.
Like most artists with the means to do so, Prokofiev went into exile, but he struggled in his attempts to restart his career, first in the United States and then in France. Western tastemakers dismissed Prokofiev’s increasingly direct and heartfelt manner of composing—a style that he described as “new simplicity”—and meanwhile overtures from the Soviet Union revealed that there was still a receptive audience there for his music. Prokofiev returned for his first concert tour in 1927, and he ultimately moved back to Moscow in 1936, making him the only major Russian artist to repatriate after the Revolution.
The Violin Concerto No. 2, from 1935, turned out to be Prokofiev’s final commission outside of the Soviet Union. Supporters of the French violinist Robert Soetans funded the work, which Prokofiev composed in Paris and during a concert tour through the Soviet Union. Soetans debuted the Concerto in Madrid, where the local audience surely appreciated Prokofiev’s inclusion of castanets in the orchestration.
The Concerto fulfills the promise of a “new simplicity” from its opening measures, entrusting an unadorned theme to the solo violin. That melody haunts the first movement, ultimately silencing a contrasting lyrical strain and returning for a charged final statement with bellicose plucks.
The slow movement takes up the same ascending triad pattern that began the first movement, transporting it to a peaceful accompanying texture for clarinets and pizzicato strings. The solo violin floats above with a melody of timeless beauty and grace, soaring into the instrument’s highest range as the theme passes to the orchestra.
The finale confirms that Prokofiev’s move toward simplification did not dampen his wry humor. The music builds to a propulsive coda, the violin’s perpetual motion figures urged forward by a thudding bass drum and throbbing accompaniment.
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, "Rhenish"
Approximate duration: 32 minutes
After spending most of his life in the eastern part of Germany, Schumann pounced on a major job opportunity in 1850 and moved his family 400 miles west to the city of Düsseldorf on the Rhine River. As the city’s Municipal Music Director, Schumann was put in charge of an orchestra for the first time in his career. Initially he managed to juggle those new challenges while keeping up the blistering pace of his composing. He spent five weeks that November and December drafting a new Symphony in E-flat, numbered as the third but actually the last of his four, chronologically. Over time, though, the strain of the job overwhelmed Schumann’s perennially fragile mental health, and his erratic behavior—like the time he kept conducting long past the end of a piece—led the orchestra to fire him in 1853. He threw himself into the Rhine River in a suicide attempt the next year, and he lived out the short remainder of his troubled life in an insane asylum.
Schumann eventually distanced himself from the programmatic references in his “Rhenish” Symphony, but traces still remain of the work’s local inspiration, in a vein indebted to Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony. The first movement establishes the Symphony’s general sense of grandeur and wonder, its heroic first theme propelled forward by clever collisions in the rhythmic phrasing. In the Scherzo that comes next, the refreshing mood matches the original heading, “Morning on the Rhine,” which Schumann later removed.
Where a slow movement would be expected, Schumann instead wrote an understated intermezzo in a tempo marked “Not fast.” Placing the first singing melody in the woodwinds reinforces the music’s airy atmosphere, recalling the style of music played by the small outdoor wind bands that had been popular since Mozart’s day.
The lynchpin of the whole Symphony is its extra movement, which was meant to be played “In the manner of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,” as Schumann initially wrote, before settling on the more abstract performance indication of “Solemn.” The direct inspiration for this reverent movement came from Schumann’s visit to Cologne, the next major city down the Rhine where travelers have flocked since medieval times to behold the towering Gothic cathedral. The joyous final movement bookends the five-movement plan by reusing the first movement’s “Lively” tempo and also invoking some of its triumphant themes.
-- © 2020 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.
Welcome to Keynotes, NWS's new program-based podcast! NWS audiences can now soak up musical clips and commentary for an upcoming performance while on the road, in the kitchen or at work -- wherever life takes you! Keynotes will be available for select concerts throughout the season. Let us set the stage for your concert experience by sharing noteworthy moments guided by NWS’s program note annotator Aaron Grad. Audio clips provided by Naxos of America, Inc.
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.
Nicola Benedetti is one of the most sought-after violinists of her generation. Her ability to captivate audiences with her innate musicianship and spirited presence, coupled with her wide appeal as a high-profile advocate for classical music, has made her one of the most influential classical artists of today.
With concerto performances at the heart of her career, Ms. Benedetti is in much demand with major orchestras and conductors across the globe. Conductors with whom she has worked include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jiří Bělohlávek, Stéphane Denève, Christoph Eschenbach, James Gaffigan, Hans Graf, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Jakub Hrusa, Kirill Karabits, Andrew Litton, Kristjan Järvi, Vladimir Jurowski, Cristian Măcelaru, Zubin Mehta, Andrea Marcon, Peter Oundjian, Vasily Petrenko, Donald Runnicles, Thomas Søndergård, Krzysztof Urbanski, Juraj Valcua, Edo de Waart, Pinchas Zukerman and Jaap van Zweden.
Ms. Benedetti enjoys working with the highest level of orchestras including collaborations with the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Camerata Salzburg, Czech Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony and Chicago Symphony.
In the 2019-20 season, Ms. Benedetti makes her debut with the Wiener Symphoniker and undergoes a tour of Asia with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati. She will also reunite with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and embark on a tour with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra led by Thomas Søndergård. She performs the Marsalis Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and James Gaffigan and with Cristian Măcelaru—first with the Gothenburg Symphony and then again with the Orchestre de Paris. She will come together again with Karina Canellakis with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Similarly, she joins Michael Tilson Thomas for concerts with the London Symphony and then again with the New World Symphony.
Winner of Best Female Artist at both 2012 and 2013 Classical BRIT Awards, Ms. Benedetti records exclusively for Decca (Universal Music). Her most recent recording features premiere recordings of two works written especially for her by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D and Fiddle Dance Suite for Solo Violin.
Ms. Benedetti was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 New Year Honors List, awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2017 as the youngest ever recipient, and was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2013 in recognition of her international music career and work with musical charities throughout the U.K. In addition, she has received eight honorary degrees to date.
Ms. Benedetti plays the Gariel Stradivarius (1717), courtesy of Jonathan Moulds.
With a flair for inventive programming and a bold presence on stage and in the community, Chad Goodman has been praised for "bringing innovation to classical music" (Forbes).
As the Conducting Fellow of the New World Symphony, Mr. Goodman conducts on subscription, education, family and holiday programs. His program, “SPARK: How Composers Find Inspiration,” blended captivating light design and videography with engaging audience participation to explore how a composition is created and brought to life by an orchestra.
Since 2018 Mr. Goodman has served as an Assistant Conductor to the San Francisco Symphony, assisting Esa-Pekka Salonen, Manfred Honeck, Daniel Harding, Pablo Heras-Casado, Simone Young and James Gaffigan among others.
Mr. Goodman's 2022-23 Season will include debut appearances with the Elgin Symphony, Baton Rouge Symphony, Greensboro Symphony and San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.
As Founder and Artistic Director of Elevate Ensemble, Mr. Goodman’s ambitious vision for concert programming resulted in the pairing of music from Bay Area composers with underappreciated gems of the 20th and 21st centuries. Under his leadership, Elevate Ensemble established a Composer-in-Residence program and commissioned fifteen works from Bay Area composers. Elevate collaborated with photographers, videographers, poets and culinary artists, bringing new music and vibrant multi-genre experiences to unique venues such as yoga studios, historic Victorian homes and art studio warehouses.
Mr. Goodman has previously served as Conducting Fellow of Festival Napa Valley, Music Director of the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra, Conducting Fellow of the Atlantic Music Festival, and a rehearsal and cover conductor for the San Francisco Ballet.
In addition to his performing career, he teaches young musicians the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to successfully navigate the world as a working musician in his workshop “You Earned a Music Degree. Now What?”
Mr. Goodman holds a bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music and a master of music degree from San Francisco State University. His mentors include Michael Tilson Thomas, Alasdair Neale, Cyrus Ginwala and Martin Seggelke.