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In his first North American recital tour in over 10 years, Norwegian Truls Mørk, one of the master musicians of our time, performs with the fast-rising Behzod Abduraimov. Known for his deep, moving sound, Mørk inspires listeners with a program of passionate works by Grieg and Rachmaninoff.

“Mørk has tremendous stature as a recitalist…he enthralled the audience from first to last note.” —The Strad

“I’m not sure I could give higher praise. Keep your ear on [Abduraimov].” —The Washington Post

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    Truls Mørk

    Truls Mørk’s compelling performances, combining fierce intensity, integrity and grace, have established him as one of the pre-eminent cellists of our time.

    He is a celebrated artist who performs with the most distinguished orchestras including the Orchestre de Paris, Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, Philharmonia and London Philharmonic orchestras and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. In North America he has appeared withthe New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Conductor collaborations include Mariss Jansons, David Zinman, Manfred Honeck, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir Simon Rattle, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Christoph Eschenbach, amongst others.

    During the 2016-17 season Truls Mørk will be Artist-in-Residence with the Gothenburg Symphony   which will include both concerto performances and chamber music. He continues to give regular recitals at major venues and festivals throughout the world - he was one of the featured artists at the 2016 Piatigorsky International Cello Festival in Los Angeles and will return to the Verbier Festival in 2017.

    A great champion of contemporary music, Truls Mørk has given in excess of 30 premieres. These include Rautavaara’s Towards the Horizon with the BBC Symphony Orchestra/John Storgårds, Pavel Haas’ Cello Concerto with Wiener Philharmoniker/Jonathan Nott, Krzysztof Penderecki's Concerto for Three Cellos with the NHK Symphony Orchestra/Charles Dutoit and Haflidi Hallgrimsson’s Cello Concerto, co-commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony and Scottish Chamber orchestras. 

    With an impressive recording output, Truls Mørk has recorded many of the great cello concertos for labels such as Virgin Classics, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, Ondine, Arte Nova and Chandos many of which have won international awards including Gramophone, Grammy, Midem and ECHO Klassik awards. These include Dvořák’s Concerto (Mariss Jansons/Oslo Philharmonic), Britten's Cello Symphony and Elgar's Concerto (Sir Simon Rattle/CBSO), Miaskovsky Concerto and Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante (Paavo Järvi/CBSO), Dutilleux (Myung-Whun Chung/Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France), CPE Bach (Bernard Labadie/Les Violons du Roy), Haydn's Concertos (Iona Brown/Norwegian Chamber Orchestra), Rautavaara’s Towards the Horizon (John Storgårds/Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra) as well as the complete Bach Cello Suites and Britten Cello Suites. His most recent recordings include Shostakovich’s Concertos with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko, works for cello and orchestra by Massenet with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi and the Saint-Saens Concertos together with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi.

    Initially taught by his father, Truls Mørk continued his studies with Frans Helmerson, Heinrich Schiff and Natalia Schakowskaya. In his early career he won a number of competitions such as the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition (1982), Cassado Cello Competition in Florence (1983), the Unesco Prize at the European Radio-Union competition in Bratislava (1983) and the Naumberg Competition in New York (1986).

    "Truls Mørk searches for every opportunity to make phrases speak." —The Guardian

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    Behzod Abduraimov

    Described by The Times as the “master of all he surveys” and with The Washington Post noting to “keep your ear on this one”, Abduraimov’s captivating performances continue to receive international praise.

    Recent seasons have seen Abduraimov work with leading orchestras worldwide, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, NHK Symphony and Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestras, and prestigious conductors including Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Manfred Honeck, Vasily Petrenko, James Gaffigan, Jakub Hrusa, Thomas Dausgaard and Vladimir Jurowski. Last season he made his debut with the Münchner Philharmoniker under Gergiev featuring in their new 360 degree Festival and subsequently made his BBC Proms debut with them.

    Upcoming European highlights include the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester as part of the Elb Philharmonie opening, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and further afield he will work with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In recital Abduraimov is one of the featured artists for the Junge Wilde series at the Konzerthaus Dortmund, he appears at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and returns to the Verbier Festival and La Roque d’Anthéron.

    In North America, Abduraimov will perform in recital at the Stern Auditorium following his debut success at Carnegie Hall in 2015, as well as for the Cliburn Concerts, Carolina Performing Arts, the Vancouver Recital series and concerts with Houston and Pittsburgh, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Minnesota Orchestra amongst others. He has recently appeared at the Aspen Music Festival and with orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony and Seattle Symphony.

    In 2017, Abduraimovwill tour to Asia for performances with Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra, Beijing and Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and also embark upon a recital tour of Australia.

    An award-winning recording artist – his debut recital CD won both the Choc de Classica and the Diapason Découverte – Abduraimov released his first concerto disc in 2014 on Decca Classics which features Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3 and Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No.1 with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai under Juraj Valčuha.

    Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1990, Abduraimov began to play the piano at the age of five as a pupil of Tamara Popovich at Uspensky State Central Lyceum in Tashkent. He is an alumnus of Park University’s International Center for Music where he studied with Stanislav Ioudenitch, and now serves as the ICM’s artist-in-residence.

    "Abduraimov is a young master, that is clear " —The Times

Sergey Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 2

View Notes

So many of Sergey Rachmaninoff’s Russian contemporaries only pursued music after abandoning plans to study law, medicine, or some other profession. But Rachmaninoff was always going to be a musician—his background and connections virtually demanded it. Rachmaninoff’s grandfather had studied with the legendary Irish pianist John Field, and his cousin, Alexander Siloti, was a pupil of Liszt and one of the most important musical figures in Russia at the time. As for Rachmaninoff himself, he became a protégé of Tchaikovsky while just a teenager, and the established composer didn’t hesitate to proclaim him as an equal.

Rachmaninoff left Russia after the October 1917 Revolution and never returned, shuttling for the next two decades between New York and Switzerland. In 1935 he settled in Beverly Hills, CA, and became a U.S. citizen just before his death in 1943. It was during this post-Russia period that Rachmaninoff focused on performance and cemented his reputation as an esteemed pianist; he actually composed relatively little during this time. But Rachmaninoff always considered himself a composer first. And as a composer, he was completely unmoved by the modernist musical experiments of the early 20th century, clinging steadfastly to the opulent and lyrical Romanticism of the 19th century. While this pleased his audiences, it failed to impress the music historians and modernist critics who at first regarded his works as little more than stale, uninteresting echoes of a past era. It was only after his death that Rachmaninoff’s reputation as a composer rose to match his standing as one of the preeminent pianists of his day.

The Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 2, were among the first of Rachmaninoff’s compositions to be published. Conceived independently of each other, both pieces were written for famed Russian cellist Anatoli Brandukov. A close personal friend, Brandukov was the primary inspiration behind Rachmaninoff’s small but significant group of works for solo cello.

The first of these pieces actually began as a piano prelude in F major, written in 1891 while a teenaged Rachmaninoff was wrapping up his final piano studies at the Moscow Conservatory. He turned this prelude into a duet for cello and piano early the following year, when he performed it with Brandukov at the composer’s first independent concert. The solo piano version was eventually published in 1948, after Rachmaninoff’s death. 

The prelude is cast as a song without words, the cello dominating the rich melodic material as the piano adds simple chordal accompaniment. In the middle section, the amiable dialogue between the instruments is more active and fluid. Then, upon the return of the main theme, the piano retains the active sixteenth-note accompaniment over a pedal F in the left hand, leading into the gentle conclusion.

The Danse orientale in A minor is decidedly more exotic, announced by modal parallelisms in the harmonies of the piano introduction. The melody is based on a gapped scale, which is often used to evoke Middle Eastern or gypsy music. Here, however, the melody seems to more closely resemble the flavors of Central and Eastern Russian folk music, with its more regular accompaniment patterns. An agitated middle section in the more familiar key of F major provides a contrast. When the main theme has its reprise, it gradually fades into the distance as little more than a memory.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Sonata for Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 36

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The career of Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg, was marked by a struggle between nationalistic pride and the desire to be respected as a serious composer. Grieg’s early formal training in Germany—“that damned Leipzig Conservatory,” he called it, “where I learned absolutely nothing”—left him embittered and cynical. In his own words, “I longed to find a way to express something good in me that was a thousand miles away from Leipzig and its spirit.” Yet he was dissatisfied with his compositions that were closely associated with Norwegian culture, in particular his incidental music for the plays Sigurd Jorsalfar and Peer Gynt, labelling them “trashy occasional pieces.” 

Grieg continually felt the need to write a substantial, “respectable” work that would prove (if only to himself) his musical maturity, self-discipline, and mastery of materials: the hallmarks of a conservatory education. But by the end of his career he had completed only a handful of full-length compositions: three violin sonatas, a string quartet, an early piano sonata, an unpublished symphony, the famous Piano Concerto, and the Sonata for Cello and Piano, his longest chamber work.

Grieg worked on his cello sonata in the winter of 1882-83, and dedicated it to his brother John, a gifted amateur cellist. At the 1883 premiere the cello part was played by noted German soloist Friedrich Grützmacher, with the composer at the piano.

Strong recollections of Grieg’s piano concerto and direct references to some of his earlier works deeply infuse this sonata, leading many (including the composer himself) to regard it as a derivative work. But with these melodies and references retaining such freshness and energy, the familiar melodic ground Grieg treads in this work remains unfailingly engaging. Grieg himself programmed this piece on concerts through the end of his career, and it has been a favorite among cellists, including the likes of Pablo Casals and Mstislav Rostropovich, ever since.

The impassioned first movement recalls harmonic procedures reminiscent of Peer Gynt, the unmistakable figurations of the Piano Concerto, and the lyricism of Grieg’s vocal works. A dramatic A-minor opening in which the piano plays the role of surrogate orchestra quickly gives way to a gentle C-major second theme derived from the opening musical ideas. After the development section, a mini-cadenza for solo cello leads directly into the recapitulation and a flamboyant prestissimo coda.

The second movement opens with a melodic reference to the “Homage March” from the incidental music Grieg composed for the play Sigurd Jorsalfar. The triplet rhythm becomes a driving force in the central section before easing into the lyrical melody of the opening, then fading into a pizzicato close.

After a short cello solo, the sonata-form finale features leaping dance rhythms and arpeggiated folk-like melodies. In the development section, Grieg creates more variety through changes of dynamic, texture, and tonality than through the development of musical ideas. The cello solo that introduced the movement returns once more to introduce the recapitulation, which rounds out the sonata.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Intermezzo in A minor for Cello and Piano

View Notes

Grieg was not a prolific composer for the cello. Apart from the Sonata, his only other surviving piece for cello and piano is the Intermezzo in A minor, a salon piece he completed in 1866. (An earlier mazurka for cello and piano, performed in 1864, is now lost.) At the time, however, he apparently had plans to write more works for this instrumentation. In the manuscript for this Intermezzo, it is clearly marked as the first movement of an intended suite for cello and piano, and Grieg actually wrote twenty measures of another movement, a humoresque, before abandoning the effort and transferring some of its ideas to his Violin Sonata No. 2.

It’s unclear why Grieg wrote this diverting little work. It could have been simply a piece (or part of a suite) for his brother John to play, a composition exercise, or a way of working out musical ideas that might have found a place in his contemporaneous Lyric Pieces for piano. Regardless, he manuscript remained unpublished and largely forgotten for over a century, until it was rediscovered and published in 1979.

Though the title of Intermezzo suggests an “in between” movement, the music itself has the congenial, lyrical character of a Romantic-period Intermezzo. As a stand-alone work (even if intended as a suite movement), this Intermezzo predates by over a decade Brahms’ solo piano Intermezzi, which are usually regarded as the first examples of an independent intermezzo as a character piece.

In the same key as his later Cello Sonata, A minor, this work opens with a tuneful melody that soon turns to (and cadences in) C major. At only 39 measures in length, this miniature is actually a highly-compressed sonata-allegro form, and the repetition of the opening 11 measures functions as a traditional exposition repetition. A short development section displays some of Grieg’s familiar dramatic touches, and moving briefly to C major before a recapitulation, which stays in tonic minor and closes out this touching, youthful work.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Sergey Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19

View Notes

Like his earlier Op. 2 pieces for cello and piano, Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 19, was composed for his friend Anatoli Brandukov. The work was completed in November 1901 and premiered in Moscow the next month, with Brandukov playing cello and the composer tackling the fiendishly difficult piano part. Rachmaninoff made some small tweaks to the score soon after the first performance, and the work was published the following year in 1902. Close friends as well as musical collaborators, Brandukov served as “best man” at Rachmaninoff’s wedding only a few months later.

Tchaikovsky’s preferred cellist, Brandukov had premiered many of the older composer’s works and was renowned for his refined playing and expressive tone. It was these qualities that Rachmaninoff hoped to exploit in his Sonata. He was composing to Brandukov’s strengths. 

Though Rachmaninoff may not have known it at the time, this Sonata was the last chamber piece he would ever write. After its completion, he concentrated almost exclusively on solo piano works and large-scale symphonic and choral compositions.

The Sonata was considered a success at the time of its premiere, though its reputation was overshadowed by the debut of Rachmaninoff’s monumental Piano Concerto No. 2 only a few weeks earlier. Indeed, the Sonata and the Concerto are musically related, coming from the same period in Rachmaninoff’s career. Echoes of the Concerto resonate throughout the Sonata’s four movements, and, although there are no direct quotations of Russian folk tunes or Orthodox hymns in the sonata, the flavor of Russian culture suffuses the work’s melodies.

Rachmaninoff preferred not to call this piece a Cello Sonata as such. He thought of it as being more equally balanced between the two instruments—a true partnership—rather than a work for cello with piano accompaniment, and so he referred to the work repeatedly as a Sonata for Cello and Piano. Throughout the work, the piano presents most of the main themes, which are then embellished and developed by the cello.

Some have identified in this work a kind of programmatic parallel with the previous five years of Rachmaninoff’s career: the breakdown and crisis of confidence in 1897 after the failure of his First Symphony, the dark period that followed, the struggle to regain his compositional footing, and the success of his Second Piano Concerto. Though there is no documentary evidence to support this interpretation, the Sonata does clearly traverse a journey from trouble to triumph.

The first movement opens with a slow, hesitating introduction. When the Allegro proper begins, the cello presents a beautiful, impassioned theme that develops some of the seemingly-incidental motifs heard in the introduction. The piano introduces a more reflective, second theme in D major, very much in the Rachmaninoff family of melodies, before the cello embellishes it further. Clearly related to corresponding passages in the Piano Concerto, these ideas bear the hallmark both of the composer’s pianism and his ear for contrapuntal interplay. The triplet-infused development section leads into a kind of short cadenza for solo piano before moving into the recapitulation and a short coda.

A Scherzo follows, in the form of a devilish tarantella in C minor. Lyrical episodes led by the piano (and again, referencing the composer’s piano-concerto style) intervene periodically in this rondo-like formal structure, but it is the downward-leaping motif that leads the scherzo to its final perdendo finish.

The slow movement is regarded by many as the Sonata’s strongest. The piano leads with a bittersweet theme that plays on major/minor harmonies while remaining peacefully in E-flat major. The solo piano also presents the second theme, marked by two-against-three cross-rhythms, developing an internal anxiety that is only relieved by the return of the main theme, ornamented and varied, before the closing cadence brings complete repose. 

As dark and despairing as the Scherzo was, the finale is equally triumphant, and with triplets throughout the common meter helping to create a parallel metric and rhythmically sound world. Descending scales are turned around into fanfare figures and, even in the more restrained second theme, there is a palpably energized confidence. In the development section, reminiscences of the first movement and scherzo act as reminders of the darker past, but the recapitulation and coda return to confirm the victory over past trials.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Program Subject to Change Without Notice