Piano Concerto in G major K. 453
Symphoy No. 11 in G minor The Year 1905
Pianist Menahem Pressler, co-founder of the fabled Beaux Arts Trio – which existed for 53 years, longer than any other internationally prominent chamber ensemble – is himself a living legend. At 17 this shooting star with a “talent for luck” won the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco (its distinguished jury included the recent French émigré Darius Milhaud). His debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy was followed by an impressive international solo career and, from summer 1955 with the Beaux Arts Trio’s debut – a no less impressive career as a chamber musician. Now the 90-year-old grand seigneur of the piano will make a guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker, dedicated to a concerto by one of his favourite composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On the rostrum accompanying Pressler will be Semyon Bychkov, who in the programme’s second half will conduct Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11. Completed in the aftermath of the suppressed Hungarian uprising, it seems to foretell a fate for the ossified Soviet Union similar to that of the ossified Russian Empire. It was Herbert von Karajan who mentioned Bychkov as a possible successor in Berlin after hearing one of his Shostakovich recordings with the Berliner Philharmoniker. “I did not experience the mass terror of the Soviet Union as Shostakovich did”, says Bychkov. “But I can nonetheless imagine the conditions under which he lived, and can identify with them.”
Semyon Bychkov, born in Leningrad, was a pupil of Ilya Musin at the Leningrad Conservatoire. In 1973, he won First Prize at the Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Since leaving Russia in 1975 and moving to the USA, he has enjoyed a career taking him from New York’s Mannes College of Music to engagements for international opera productions (eg. in Milano, Hamburg, Paris, Vienna, London, Chicago, New York, at the Salzburg Festival and Maggio Musicale in Florence), as well as concerts with some of the greatest orchestras in the world. Bychkov was appointed Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris (1989–98), Principal Guest Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic (1990–94) and of Maggio Musicale in Florence (1992–98). From the season 1997/98 until 2010, he was Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchesters Köln, a position he also held at the Dresden Semperoper from 1999 to 2003. Since his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1985, stepping in for Riccardo Muti at short notice, Semyon Bychkov has returned several times for guest conducting engagements. His most recent visit was in September 2011, when he conducted works by Luciano Berio and William Walton. His recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 with the Berliner Philharmoniker was the winner of the Belgian Caecilia Award and StereoReview’s “Record of the Year”.
Menahem Pressler was born in Magdeburg in 1923 and emigrated to Israel in 1939, where he studied piano with, among others, Eliahu Rudiakov and Leo Kestenberg. After being awarded first prize at the International Debussy Competition in San Francisco in 1946, he made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra (conductor: Eugene Ormandy). Numerous appearances with major international orchestras in the U.S. and Europe followed. Menahem Pressler had already been pursuing a successful solo career for almost 10 years when he began his unprecedented career as a chamber musician: As a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, with which he made his debut at the Berkshire Music Festival in 1955, the artist was the sole pianist associated with the trio for 55 years. The legendary piano trio, which ultimately also included Daniel Hope (violin) and Antonio Meneses, continued performing until 2008. In addition to his concerts with the Beaux Arts Trio, Menahem Pressler also played many concerts with the Juilliard String Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet, the Guarneri Quartet, the Cleveland Quartet, the Israel Quartet and the Pasquier String Trio. For nearly 60 years, he has taught at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, most recently with the rank of “Distinguished Professor”. He has also been awarded honorary doctorates by the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Nebraska, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the North Carolina School of the Arts, to name but a few. Menahem Pressler’s further awards include the “Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award” and the “Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters”. In 2005, the musician was named “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the French Ministry of Culture, and in the same year he received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany 1st Class. In September 2012, Menahem Pressler was granted German nationality. This is his first appearance in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation.