Over the past decade, Alban Gerhardt has established himself among the great cellists of our time with his unmistakable sound, musical instinct, intense emotionality, and natural, riveting stage presence. He and the immensely talented pianist Cecile Licad return to the Series in an encore performance that will include Bach’s glorious first cello suite and audience favorites, sonatas by Brahms and Debussy.
About the sponsor
The Gregor Piatigorsky Memorial Concert was established in 1978 by Dr. and Mrs. Daniel Drachman and Dr. and Mrs. Joram Piatigorsky. The concerts present a mix of internationally renowned cellists as well as those with promising futures who are in the process of establishing solo concert careers. Gregor Piatigorsky devoted a large part of his life to teaching and encouraging talented young musicians. His heart’s desire was to open the way to successful careers for these young musicians. Piatigorsky exemplified extraordinary virtuosity as well as high musical and personal ideals. It is the endowers’ intention that cellists who possess likeminded goals and accomplishments will be given an opportunity to perform through these concerts.
Born in 1969 in Berlin where his father was a violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic, Gerhardt demonstrated at the age of eight extraordinary musical talent on both piano and cello. Gerhardt's first public performance came on February 22, 1987, when he played the Haydn Cello Concerto No. 2 with the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1994, he won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions.
Over the past decade, Alban Gerhardt has established himself among the great cellists of our time. His sound is unmistakable, and he draws-in audiences with his combination of unerring musical instinct, intense emotionality, and a natural, riveting stage presence.
Gerhardt has now performed with more than 170 orchestras worldwide. North American appearances include the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the symphonies of Boston, Chicago, Fort Worth, Houston, National, New World/Miami, San Francisco, and Toronto. Internationally, he has performed with all of the major orchestras and conductors.
Gerhardt’s collaborations with composers such as Brett Dean, Unsuk Chin, Osvaldo Golijov, Mathias Hinke, Matthias Pintscher, Peteris Vasks, and Jörg Widmann demonstrate his strong interest in enlarging the cello repertoire. Following his sensational debut of Unsuk Chin’s new cello concerto at the BBC Proms in 2009, he also premiered it with the Boston Symphony, Gurzenich Orchestra/Cologne, Residentie Orkest in Amsterdam, and the philharmonic orchestras of Seoul and Tampere. He also relishes rescuing lesser-known works from undeserved obscurity.
An enthusiastic recitalist, Gerhardt plays regularly with colleagues such as Lisa Batiashvili, Thomas Larcher, Cecile Licad, Steven Osborne, Emmanuel Pahud, Arabella Steinbacher, Christian Tetzlaff, and Lars Vogt. He appears frequently at international festivals and in such celebrated venues such as London’s Wigmore Hall, the Berliner Philharmonie, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, and the Châtelet in Paris.
Also a highly acclaimed recording artist, Alban Gerhardt has won three ECHO Classic Awards, most recently for his all-Reger double CD in 2009. Recent releases include a recital CD featuring sonatas by Chopin and Alkan with Steven Osborne and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante and Concerto in E Minor with the Bergen Philharmonic under Andrew Litton.
Gerhardt is passionately committed to finding new ways for both older and younger audiences to discover and experience classical music. A recent project has him playing Bach Cello Suites in supermarkets and other local venues prior to his performances. He performs on a magnificent cello made by the legendary Matteo Gofriller.
Cecile Buencamino Licad-Meneses was born in 1961 in Manila to a musical family and began her piano studies at age three with her mother and at age seven made her debut as a soloist with the Philippine Philharmonic. At age twelve, she moved to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute of Music with three of the greatest performers/pedagogues—Rudolf Serkin, Seymour Lipkin, and Mieczyslaw Horszowski.
Licad's artistry is a blend of daring musical instinct and superb training. Licad's large repertoire as an orchestral soloist spans the Classical works of Mozart and Beethoven, the Romantic literature of Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff and the 20th century compositions of Debussy, Ravel, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartok.
Recent performances include the Seattle Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Virginia Symphony, Santa Rosa Symphony, Tucson Symphony, and at the La Jolla Chamber Music and Eastern Music Festivals. In 2010-2011, she joined the Wynton Marsalis Septet performing the music of Gottschalk to accompany the feature film Louis, a silent film homage to Louis Armstrong which premiered at Chicago's Symphony Center and was also seen in other American cities. She also traveled to Russia to play the 1st Brahms Piano Concerto with the Moscow State Academy Symphony.
In 2011-2012, she performed with Santa Fe Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in the Brahms 1st concerto and in recital playing a Liszt/Chopin program, in recital at Xavier University in Cincinnati and on Boston's Gardner Museum Concerts series, and in Germany with cellist Alban Gerhardt, with whom she often collaborates in piano/cello recitals. The Louis project was also repeated with two performances at London's Barbican Hall followed by a recording of the live music.
Licad has performed with all the important American, European, and Asian orchestras. She has performed recitals with Murray Perahia, Peter Serkin, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, with whom she has appeared at Lincoln Center, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, and the Kennedy Center. She appeared as soloist in the Steinway Piano Sesquicentennial Celebration at Carnegie Hall, performing six Rachmaninoff songs with tenor Ben Heppner, and has made television appearances with Mstislav Rostropovich.
As a highly regarded chamber musician, she has performed regularly with ensembles such as the New York Chamber Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Guarneri Quartet, Takács Quartet, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and Music from Marlboro. She also appeared as guest soloist on tour with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Leipzig, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, and Cologne.
Licad has recorded works by Ravel, Gottschalk, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. Her recording of the Saint-Saens Concerto No. 2, with André Previn was awarded a Grand Prix du Disque. She is one of the youngest musicians to receive the prestigious Leventritt Gold Medal.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012
- I. Prelude
- II. Allemande
- III. Courante
- IV. Sarabande
- V. Gavotte I-II
- VI. Gigue
Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor
- I. Prologue
- II. Sérénade
- III. Final
Though both were written by Frenchmen less than thirty years apart, the Franck and Debussy cello sonatas are musical opposites. While the Franck Sonata epitomizes the grand Romantic virtuoso sonata of the 19th century, the Debussy Sonata for Violoncello and Piano is a neo-Classical, thoroughly 20th-century work that goes out of its way to avoid both technical display and emotional effusions.
Throughout his life, Claude Debussy fervently believed that French composers must not imitate the dominant Austro-German musical styles of the 19th century, but must instead emphasize French aesthetics in their music. In the wake of World War I, he became even more passionate on the subject. While creating this Sonata, he wrote to a friend that he was composing “not so much for my own sake as to prove, in a small way, that not 30 million Boches [Germans] could destroy French thought.”
For nearly a year after the war’s outbreak, a deeply depressed Debussy was not able to compose anything at all. Only when he left Paris in July 1915 for a seaside vacation in Pourville on the Normandy coast did his creativity flow again. Musing about the great 18th-century French composers, especially Couperin and Rameau whom he had always admired, he sought to recapture the elegance and clarity of their chamber music but in his own distinctive voice. Debussy decided to compose a set of six sonatas for various instruments in the spirit of his predecessors, though his failing health (he had as yet undiagnosed cancer) stopped his production at three: the Sonata for Cello and Piano and the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (both written in 1915) and the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917). Emphasizing his national pride, he signed them all: “Claude Debussy, musicien Français.”
Composed rapidly over a short period in July/August 1915, the Cello Sonata was the first to be completed. Finally freed from his creative block by his lovely surroundings — a charming villa surrounded by gardens and overlooking the Atlantic — Debussy wrote with joy — and perhaps a sixth sense that his days were numbered. “Now I have been writing like a madman, or one who has to die next morning,” he told a friend. Though the Sonata was conceived as abstract music, he briefly thought of giving it the subtitle “Pierrot fâché avec la lune” (“Pierrot Angry with the Moon”), linking it to the Italian commedia dell’arte clowns who had haunted many of his earlier songs and piano pieces. And indeed the emotional tone of this Sonata is an unusual (but not for this composer) mixture of ironic humor and melancholy.
The Sonata opens with a slow-tempo Prologue of extreme reticence. Its boldest music comes at the very beginning as the piano swings open the portal with grand Baroque-style gestures that the cello enhances with its florid ornaments. Then the cello sings the Sonata’s motto theme, which will return in the other two movements; its downward moans and melancholy disposition will shape the rest of this music of sighs and whispers, which eventually dies away on high, frail cello harmonics.
The second-movement Sérénade, marked “fantasque et léger” (“fantastic and light”), features various timbral experiments for the cello, which much of the time is plucked like a giant guitar or mandolin. With these technical experiments, its emphasis on clattering repeated notes, and its cool, ironic tone, this music sounds very modern, suggesting composers far in the future. Near the end, we again hear the sighing motto theme from the first movement played in the cello’s fluty high register.
The Sérénade links directly to the Finale, marked “léger et nerveux” (“light and nervous”). Here the brilliant piano part, evoking the Spanish dance idiom Debussy loved so much, challenges the wide-ranging cello part for supremacy. A slower, moody central section, marked “con morbidezza” (“with softness”), provides fine contrast. In the race to the finish, we hear in the cello a fleet reminiscence of the sighing motto theme as well as the Sonata’s opening Baroque gestures. Then Debussy wraps up his “anti-Sonata” with a series of sharp, brittle chords.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell, Copyright 2007
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70
- I. Adagio
- II. Allegro
The year 1849 was one of the most fruitful of Robert Schumann’s career. Over its course, he created more than forty works in a broad range of musical categories—all this despite the fact that revolutions were convulsing central Europe throughout 1848–49, finally reaching his home city of Dresden that May and forcing the Schumann family to take temporary flight.
However, in February things were still peaceful in Dresden, and Schumann was absorbed in creating works of chamber music in the Hausmusik (“house music”) category—music that cultivated amateurs could perform at home en famille. This was a very popular genre in 19th-century Germany, where virtually every middle-class parlor had a piano, and music-making around it was one of the activities that bound families together. (Schumann’s own household was a busy one at this time, with wife Clara, five children, and a sixth on the way.) The composer originally wrote the Adagio and Allegro—one of his little masterpieces—for horn and piano, but to make the work more adaptable for home use, he specified that cello or violin could be substituted for the horn. However, it would be a most unusually talented amateur on either horn or cello who could master the technical challenges of the hurtling Allegro section!
The opening Adagio (originally titled “Romanza”) is a bit more easy to tackle, a gentle, expansive song of great expressiveness and beauty in A-flat Major. Cellist David Finckel writes, “The Adagio is one of the most romantic partnerships between two instruments imaginable. For 41 bars, the cello and piano exchange melody in a practically unbroken phrase. It is a lovers’ conversation, sometimes complementing, interrupting, questioning, but in the end finally uniting … in a calm A-flat Major. . . . The coda has a radiance and peace not heard before, and the lovers soon drift off to sleep.”
Finckel continues, “The atmosphere is unexpectedly shattered by the Allegro, which begins as though shot from a gun.” This is the impetuous refrain theme in rollicking quick notes, which will return three more times to bind together the sprawling rondo form. The first of its episodes—passionately yearning in a troubled minor key—also returns near the end. In a slower tempo and a distant key, the central episode provides a brief oasis of serenity in this music of tremendous forward momentum.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99
- I. Allegro vivace
- II. Adagio affettuoso
- III. Allegro passionate
- IV. Allegro molto
Once he’d become affluent, Johannes Brahms did most of his composing during the summer months, selecting various European beauty spots to inspire him. During the summer of 1886, he was living in the attractive alpine town of Hofstetten in Switzerland in a villa overlooking mountain-ringed Lake Thun. It was a happy location for him because his close friends the Widmanns (he adored Frau Widmann’s plum cake) were nearby, and his current love the contralto Hermine Spiess also came to visit. And in this ideal situation, his creativity flourished, yielding three of his finest chamber works—the magnificent Third Piano Trio, the songful Second Violin Sonata, and the Second Cello Sonata in F Major, one of the greatest works for this instrument.
The First Cello Sonata in E Minor of 1862/1865 with its cornucopia of warm, lyrical Brahmsian melodies is the most often performed of the two. Not trying so hard to please, the Second is more dramatic, more serious, and more musically ambitious. It is also far more difficult to play for both cellist and pianist. Brahms makes more use of the cello’s challenging high register in this sonata as well as special techniques such as tremolo and different kinds of pizzicato. The piano part is extremely full-toned and elaborate—on a par with the ferocious piano part in Brahms’ F-Minor Piano Quintet. The cellist must fight not to be overwhelmed by the massive sounds coming from his partner. Brahms wrote this part for Robert Hausmann, also the inspiration for his Double Concerto; Hausmann was renowned for the exceptional power and radiance of his tone and reportedly could easily hold his own against a keyboard fortissimo. Hausmann and Brahms gave the Sonata’s first public performance in Vienna on November 24, 1886.
The Allegro vivace first movement in sonata form explodes into action as the pianist launches a big tremolo figure which will permeate this music. Against this, the cello attacks a vehement theme of choppy, brief phrases dramatically leaping up and down. Eventually, the piano moves on to a new theme, heroic and ringing in thick chords and octaves and ornamented with triplet rhythms. The cello takes-up this theme as well and then adopts the piano’s opening tremolos as a muttering accompaniment to the piano’s wide-ranging chords.
This exposition is repeated before Brahms moves on to a wondrous development section that returns to the jagged principal theme in the cello over the piano tremolo but then transforms this stormy idea into a dreaming fantasy of murmuring cello tremolo and an ethereal version of the theme in soft piano chords. Here, too, he touches for the first time on the key of F-sharp Major—only a half step away from the home key of F Major but light years away harmonically. After a quite regular recapitulation of the exposition music, Brahms appends a lovely, smiling coda using a gentler variant of the principal theme.
Now exploring more deeply the distant land of F-sharp Major first glimpsed in the development section, the Adagio affettuoso slow movement is the soul of this sonata. Without any histrionics or self pity, it sings a subtly colored lament for things lost or never to be won. The piano begins the contemplative main theme while the cello plucks a delicate pizzicato accompaniment. However, this is an idea that really needs the cello’s plangent singing voice, and rising steadily into its high alto range, the cello makes this melody blossom. Throughout the movement, the cellist is also asked to make extensive use of pizzicato, sometimes achieving a Bartók-like force. The movement’s middle section makes another quantum leap tonally to the key of F Minor.
F Minor now becomes the key of the Scherzo third movement, a fierce dance in a hurtling 6/8 meter that Brahms enlivens with conflicting cross rhythms. The piano part is especially virtuosic, and the cellist has his work cut-out to survive against it. By contrast, the cellist eloquently dominates the gentler trio section in F Major with its beautifully melancholic melody line.
After these three substantial and serious movements, Brahms takes a page out of his recent Second Piano Concerto and creates a finale that is totally light-hearted and conflict-free. In rondo form, its recurring refrain is a delightfully optimistic tune with a strong folk flavor. The piano writing sparkles, and the cello—no longer trying to compete—is allowed to relax and sing effortlessly.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012