Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená has rocketed to international stardom and achieved extraordinary critical acclaim in concert, recital, and opera and was awarded the Chevalier de lOrdre des Arts des Lettres by the French Government in 2003 and was the 2004 Gramophone Awards Artist of the Year. Kožená will be joined by the eminent pianist and Series favorite Yefim Bronfman in a compelling recital of lieder. Quite literally two of the world’s foremost performers – you won’t want to miss this recital!
About the sponsor
From childhood, Florence Clarke Gann (1909-1995) was known as “Mity” from someone’s saying she was as small as a “mite.” The moniker never fit. She had irrepressible energy and an extraordinary love for life. She shared her exuberance with family, old friends, and a steady stream of new friends. She had a quest for knowledge and enjoyed lively intellectual debate. She loved music, art, good books, and the outdoors. At age 85, she was still working on her tennis game. Mity’s special love for music stood by her always. Her piano was an important part of her life. From earliest childhood, she played chamber music and was still playing a few weeks before her death. She used to say, “Music is one of the things that always make me feel good.” Mity’s legacy was surely one of love for life and for all the beautiful and interesting things in it. It is remembered by this gift of a concert in her memory made in 1996 by her family and friends.
Magdalena Kožená was born in Brno, studied at the Brno Conservatoire and the College of Performing Arts in Bratislava. She was awarded several major prizes in both the Czech Republic and internationally, culminating in the 6th International Mozart Competition in Salzburg in 1995.
Kožená is well-established as a major concert and recital artist whose appearances have taken her to London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Amsterdam, Vienna, Hamburg, Lisbon, Prague, Copenhagen, Tokyo,San Francisco, and New York’s Alice Tully and Carnegie halls. She has also appeared at the Munich, Salzburg, Lucerne, Schwarzenberg Schubertiade, Aldeburgh, and Edinburgh festivals. Her pianists include Daniel Barenboim, Yefim Bronfman, Malcolm Martineau, Andras Schiff, and Mitsuko Uchida.
Concert appearances include the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle; the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Mariss Jansons; the Lucerne Festival Orchestra with Claudio Abbado; the Vienna Philharmonic with Sir Simon Rattle; the Accademia Santa Cecilia with Myung-Whun Chung; and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela with Gustavo Dudamel.
Kožená has appeared in many operas: as Der Rosenkavalier at the Berlin Staatsoper; Gluck’s Orphée with Gardiner in Paris; L’Incoronazione di Poppea in Vienna; Mélisande at the Berlin Staatsoper with Sir Simon Rattle, Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Amsterdam. She has appeared in numerous roles in Salzburg under Rattle and Norrington; at the Metropolitan Opera, she has sung Varvara (Katja Kabanova) with Belohlavek and Cherubino, Dorabella and Idamantes with Levine; and for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, she has sung the title role of La Cenerentola.
She is a Deutsche Grammophon artist whose first solo recital disc of Dvořák, Janáček, and Martinů won the 2001 Gramophone Solo Vocal Award. Other recordings include an acclaimed disc of cantatas by members of the Bach family; a Mozart album with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Sir Simon Rattle; a Handel disc and a Vivaldi disc with the Venice Baroque Ensemble and Andrea Marcon; and a recital disc with Malcolm Martineau Songs my Mother Taught Me. She was the 2004 Gramophone Awards Artist of the Year. For her recording of the “Julietta” fragments by Bohuslav Martinů with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, she received a 2009 Gramophone Award.
In 2003, Kožená was awarded the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
A Shriver Hall Concert Series audience favorite, eminent pianist Yefim Bronfman is widely regarded as one of the most talented virtuoso pianists performing today. His commanding technique and exceptional lyrical gifts have won him consistent critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences worldwide, whether for his solo recitals, his prestigious orchestral engagements, or his rapidly growing catalogue of recordings.
Born in Tashkent, the Soviet Union in April 1958, he immigrated to Israel with his family in 1973, where he studied with pianist Arie Vardi, head of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. In the United States, he studied at The Juilliard School, Marlboro, and the Curtis Institute with Rudolf Firkusny, Leon Fleisher, and Rudolf Serkin. He made his New York Philharmonic debut in May l978, his Washington recital debut in March l98l at the Kennedy Center, and his New York recital debut in January 1982 at the 92nd Street Y. He became an American citizen in July 1989.
Bronfman’s 2011/12 US season began with the Chicago Symphony’s opening Gala conducted by Ricardo Muti followed by return engagements to the orchestras in Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Kansas City, and a residency with the Cleveland Orchestra in Miami, Cleveland, and New York focusing on the concerti and chamber music of Brahms. A recital tour in winter culminated with Carnegie Hall followed by the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s concerto commissioned for him by the New York Philharmonic with whom tour the west coast in the spring.
In Europe, he completed a two-season project of the three Bartók concerti with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen in London, Spain, Brussels and gave recitals in Amsterdam, Vienna, Frankfurt, Milan, and Lucerne. In partnership with the Berlin Philharmonic’s principal flute Emmanuel Pahud, he visited Spain, Turkey, Denmark, and London where he returned in the spring for concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas followed by a tour with the Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic, he joined the orchestra in two orchestral concerts and in a solo recital in December.
Widely praised for his solo, chamber, and orchestral recordings, Bronfman was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for his recording of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s piano concerto with Salonen conducting. He had earlier won a Grammy in 1997 for his recording of the three Bartók Piano Concerti with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. ‘Perspectives’ complements Bronfman’s designation as a Carnegie Hall ‘Perspectives’ artist for the 2007-08 season. He has also recorded all the Beethoven piano concerti as well as the Triple Concerto with violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Truls Mørk, and the Tönhalle Orchestra Zürich under David Zinman.
A devoted chamber music performer, Mr. Bronfman has collaborated with the Emerson, Cleveland, Guarneri, and Juilliard quartets and with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He has also played chamber music with Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell, Shlomo Mintz, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and tours regularly in duo with Emanuel Ax.
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
- 1. With Nurse
- 2. In the Corner
- 3. The Beetle
- 4. With the Doll
- 5. Evening Prayer
- 7. The Hobby Horse
Born into the aristocracy, Mussorgsky seemed destined for the life of a musical dilettante, playing the piano with attractive facility for St. Petersburg society. But Mussorgsky had a restless intelligence and a dramatic imagination of no common order. In 1859, a trip to Moscow set-off a transformation he described to the composer Mily Balakirev: "You know I have been a cosmopolitan, but now I have undergone a sort of rebirth. I have been brought near to everything Russian." Soon, under the guidance of Balakirev and the Russian critic Vladimir Stasov, he became a charter member of a group of Russian nationalist composers Stasov dubbed "the Mighty Handful.”
Of them, Mussorgsky was the most revolutionary. He cared nothing for correct German forms and harmonic practices or beautiful sounds and sensuous scoring. He fell in love with Russian as it was spoken by the common people and sought to translate it vividly into music. As he wrote to Rimsky-Korsakov, "No matter who is speaking (nor what he says) my mind is already working to find the musical statement for such speech." And in a letter to another friend, “This is what I would like—that my characters would speak on stage as living people speak . . . that is, my music must be the artistic reproduction of human speech in all its subtlest inflections.”
And nowhere did Mussorgsky achieve this goal more fully than in his cycle of children’s songs The Nursery (Detskaya in Russian). Written to his own texts between 1868 and 1872, they show his uncanny ability to enter completely into a child’s world and reproduce exactly the way she or he talks and thinks. Mussorgsky had an extraordinary rapport with children. Stasov’s niece Varvara fondly remembered his visits with her and her siblings when they were little: “He did not ‘pretend’ with us, did not talk in that unnatural way in which grown-ups usually talk with children . . . we not only quickly became attached to him but began also to consider him one of us. . . . We talked to him with complete freedom, as with an equal.” Varvara believed that some of the stories in The Nursery are based on their conversations.
Composed in 1868 before he began writing Boris Godunov, the first song, “With Nurse,” is the most experimental of the seven, especially for the period in which it was written. Mussorgsky breaks all the rules of “proper” Russian art song to capture the child’s impulsive speech and whims as he pesters his nurse for a bedtime story. The rhythmic meter constantly changes from one measure to the next to imitate the child’s headlong patter, and the harmonies are extremely eccentric. The overall effect is marvelously spontaneous and convincing.
The remaining songs were written in 1870 and 1872 after the first version of Boris Godunov. The second song, “In the Corner,” is a dramatic scene between the nurse and the child Misha in which each is sharply characterized. The whirling ostinato in the piano portrays the nurse’s anger to which the child at first responds plaintively with a wailing motive similar to the Simpleton’s in Boris. But then he gains confidence and boldly lashes out at her.
“The Beetle” and “The Cat ‘Sailor’ ” are vivid animal stories told as a child would tell them. The furious piano part of the first captures the child’s excitement, fear, and confusion, and the song ends with the bewildered question “What is ‘dead’?” In the second song, the piano intricately chases the vocal line and enhances the mischief of the story.
“With the Doll,” a lullaby to the little girl’s doll, is followed by “Evening Prayer,” in which the steady pace and repetitiveness of the phrases embody the rote-like nature of the child’s prayers—an endless litany of names for whom she asks God’s blessing. In the final song, “The Hobby Horse,” the most brilliant piano accompaniment in the cycle portrays the fury of the boy’s ride, only temporarily yielding to the mother’s gentle comforting when the child injures his foot.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Marc-André Dalbavie (b. 1961)
Three Melodies on a Poem of Ezra Pound
World Premiere - This work was Co-Commissioned by Shriver Hall Concert Series, Carnegie Hall, and Carolina Performing ArtsView Notes
The iconoclastic poet Ezra Pound was profoundly inspired by Chinese verse and Japanese Noh theater. Though he did not actually know Chinese, he became renowned for his “translations” from ancient Chinese verse—for working from rough English versions and intuitively capturing the essence of the original poems. Marc-André Dalbavie, one of the finest and most innovative of today’s composers, has chosen the poem “The Unmoving Cloud” from Pound’s 1915 collection Cathay for a set of three songs for Magdalena Kožená, co-commissioned by Shriver Hall Concert Series, Carnegie Hall, and Carolina Performing Arts.
Known as a proponent of “spectralism,” Dalbavie has been concerned with how an audience perceives sounds rather than simply notes and with exploring instrumental timbres and new ways of mixing them. He has also conceived music for particular spaces and even experimented with how the performers are positioned vis-a-vis the audience. These songs, however, play with timbre in a more modest way because Dalbavie here is scrupulous about focusing attention on Pound’s poetry.
The original for Pound’s three-part poem was written by T’ao Yuan Ming (A.D. 365–427). In it, all of nature—the clouds, the rain, the trees, and the birds—take on human qualities. The mood is one very close to Pound’s concerns—the constant down-tow of depression and self-imposed isolation. Dalbavie has chosen to transpose the second and third sections of the poem, making the second section in which the speaker ultimately drowns his loneliness in wine into his final Mélodie.
“Mélodie I” sets the scene and the mood. The piano’s descending figures echo the falling of the rain; soft, bell-like high chords add a touch of chinoiserie. The spareness of the accompaniment throws emphasis on the singer’s words, which are presented simply and clearly.
In “Mélodie II,” the continuous shimmering web of fast piano figurations and the higher range for the singer reflect the sounds of the birds. Stella Katherine Bonnie believes that the birds’ words represent Pound’s thoughts about the difficulties of translation.
“Mélodie III” finally becomes more expansive as the speaker embraces his loneliness and celebrates it with his “new cask of wine.” The piano lines now ascend, the tempo eventually speeds up, and the singer erupts in a climactic cadenza cresting to a high B-natural.
Note by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Histoires naturelles, Op. 50
- 1. The Peacock
- 2. The Cricket
- 3. The Swan
- 4. The Kingfisher
- 5. The Guinea-Fowl
In 1895 Jean Renard published prose poems about animals called Histoires naturelles (a spoof on the Comte de Buffon's scholarly treatise of the same name from the 18th century), and wrote, “Buffon described animals in order to give pleasure to men. As for me, I would wish to be pleasing to the animals themselves. If they were able to read my miniature Histoires naturelles, I should wish that it would make them smile.” Renard gave his animals human characteristics and observed them—and the human types they represented—with droll wisdom.
Certainly these poems made Ravel smile, and in 1906, he chose five of them—portraits of four birds and a cricket—to set to music. At this time, he was the most controversial composer in France because of his heterodoxy, and his Histoires naturelles added fuel to the debate. The audience at the set's first performance in Paris on January 12, 1907 was mostly scandalized by its flouting of the classical rules for setting French to music. Instead, Ravel had set the poems as colloquial speech-song. As he explained, “My author's text demanded a particular kind of musical declamation from me, closely related to the inflection of the French language.”
In time, however, the Histoires naturelles were recognized for the masterful, innovative songs they are— from the Peacock's vainglorious strutting like an avian Sun King in a Baroque French overture to the Guinea Hen's wild shrieks and furious attacks on the other residents of the barnyard.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Sergey Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Six Poems for Voice and Piano, Op. 38
- 1. At Night in My garden
- 2. To Her
- 3. Daisies
- 4. The Pied Piper
- 5. Dreams
- 6. The Quest
Like many Russian artists, Rachmaninoff was given to black moods when his faith in his talent collapsed and he was unable to compose. One such period of depression struck early in 1916 causing him to check into a sanatorium in the Caucasus. His friend the Russian poetess Marietta Shaginyan visited him there in May and was deeply disturbed to find him haggard, in tears, and unable to do any creative work. Trying to help, she gave him a notebook in which she had copied contemporary Russian symbolist poems that might be suitable for songs. Within weeks Rachmaninoff had shaken-off his depression and selected the verse for his last songs, Six Poems for Voice and Piano, Opus 38.
Another woman visiting that May also assisted in the composer’s cure and his new song project—Nina Koshetz, a twenty-two-year-old soprano and recent graduate of the Moscow Conservatory whom Rachmaninoff had befriended the previous year. He decided to write these six songs for her high and delicate voice; the two premiered the cycle in Moscow on October 24, 1916.
Previously, the composer had been very conservative in his choice of song texts. Shaginyan, however, had chosen verse by the French-inspired symbolist poets fashionable in Russia at the turn of the 20th century; and now for the first time, Rachmaninoff engaged imaginatively with their allusive language with its emphasis on the sensuous sounds of words. Setting such verse transformed his musical style: the Opus 38 songs do not sound very Russian but instead much closer to French impressionism.
The first song, “At Night in My Garden,” is set to verse by the Armenian poet Avetik Isakian. Rachmaninoff especially liked Isakian’s musical feeling for nature: “If they all wrote about nature as he did, we musicians would only have to reach out for the text and a song would be ready.” The weeping willow is a traditional symbol of a woman’s tears.
Using verse by Andrey Biely, “To Her” is a love song both sensuous and deeply melancholy. The singer waits in the magical atmosphere of night for her lover who does not come. Everything grows out of the piano’s yearning five-note figure at the beginning. An exquisite ode to a humble flower, “Daisies” uses a poem by Igor Lotaryef. The piano’s rhapsodic song dominates this piece, with the singer offering a counter-melody.
The lightest of the songs is the fourth, “The Pied Piper,” to a poem by Valery Bryusov. Like the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, a young man uses his pipe to lure a shepherdess out for a tryst. The sound of his pipe echoes throughout both the vocal and piano lines.
Using words by Fyodor Sologub, “Dreams” explores the mysterious nature of dreams, carrying us irresistibly wherever they will. In this entranced song, the piano part rings like tiny bells; throughout his career, the composer expressed his fascination with the sounds of bells large and small.
The most famous of the Russian symbolists, Konstantin Balmont wrote the poem for the final song, “The Quest.” Lured by a woman’s enigmatic smile, the singer calls to her to join him in an enchanted mountain world, but hears only the echo of his cries as answer. The piano superbly describes the singer’s changing psychological state from eager rapture to desperation and ultimately closes on an unresolved dissonant chord as the lover is left unsatisfied.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Falu, BB 87a
- 1. Haymaking
- 3. Wedding
- 4. Lullaby
Though Bartók wrote few original art songs, his many folksong arrangements frequently rise to the level of concert lieder in their intricacy and creativity. The collection and transcription of authentic folk melodies from Hungary and adjacent lands consumed much of his early career and helped shape his unique compositional voice. Although much of this work was an effort to document traditional music before it was lost, sometimes the songs provided material for a new and richer treatment.
Such is the case with Falu (“Village Scenes”). Bartók collected their melodies in 1915–16 from northern Hungary where Slovakian is spoken. In 1924, he used them to create a little portrait of Slovakian peasant life, focusing on a rural wedding. The set opens with more general scenes, “Haymaking” and “Lads’ Dance”; the three wedding songs are “At the Bride’s,” “Wedding,” and “Lullaby.” In 1926, the composer arranged three of the songs for women’s chorus and chamber orchestra.
In a 1931 lecture, Bartók described two basic approaches to arranging folksongs. “In one case, accompaniment, introductory and concluding phrases are of secondary important, and they only serve as an ornamental setting for the precious stone: the folk melody. In the second case, the melody serves as a ‘motto’ while that which is built around it is of real importance.” For Falu, he took the second approach, for here the folk melodies are treated with great freedom, new melodic material is added, and the piano parts are not mere accompaniments, but equal with the voice. In the third and fourth songs, he combined two different Slovakian melodies within each song.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012