“New worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men”: Edgar Varèse intended to convey all of that in his famous Amèriques. A similar intention is recognisable at these concerts with Simon Rattle and Emanuel Ax. Familiar works by Debussy, Ravel and Franck can be heard in a completely new light by being juxtaposed against discoveries by, say, Betsy Jolas and Percy Grainger – an exciting musical journey.
Prélude à lʼaprès-midi dʼun faune
A Little Summer Suite Première of a work commisioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation Première
Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra
Emanuel Ax Piano
La Vallée des cloches from Miroirs (original version for piano)
Emanuel Ax Piano
In a nutshell (Excerpts)
La Vallée des cloches from Miroirs (arr. for orchestra by Percy Grainger)
The premiere of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is considered the birth of musical impressionism. The basis of the approx. ten-minute orchestral work is a poem by the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, whom Debussy admired, published with an illustration by Édouard Manet in 1876. The dancer Vaclav Nijinsky used the composition in 1912 as the basis of one of his choreographies for the epoch-making Ballets russes, often fraught with scandal. Music by César Franck caused a scandal of quite a different kind in 1889: “How can you describe a symphony as in the key of D minor when the principal theme at the ninth bar goes into D flat, at the tenth C flat, at the twenty-first F sharp minor, at the twenty-fifth C, at the thirty-ninth E flat major, at the forty-ninth F minor?” Ambroise Thomas asked in sheer outrage, after attending the premiere of the sole symphony composed by his composer colleague, who was from Belgium. Three years before that, Franck composed the Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. When you hear this work today, you delight in both its harmonic richness and its imaginative form.
Half a century after Franck conquered Paris to gain recognition as a composer, Edgard Varèse, who was born in the city on the Seine, moved to New York. With his orchestra composition Amériques he created a musical monument to his adopted home, without denying his European roots in the process. In addition, other discoveries on this concert will be Betsy Jolas, a composer also equally at home in France and the US, from whom Sir Simon and the Berliner Philharmoniker have commissioned a short new orchestra piece, as well as the Australian Percy Grainger. A special trick of this clever programme: a juxtaposition of Maurice Ravel’s piano composition La Vallée des cloches with Grainger’s orchestration of the same piece. Sir Simon and Emanuel Ax are putting on a joint concert—and that’s always good for a surprise.