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The celebrated period-instrument ensemble Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is regularly hailed for the “vitality and imagination of its playing” (The New York Times). In his first year as artistic director, the sparkling fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout joins the group for a concert featuring two of Mozart’s most charming and charismatic piano concertos.

“The [Freiburg Baroque Orchestra] was glowing, crisp and, when called for, impetuous and fiery.” —The New York Times

“The finest living exponent of the fortepiano.” —The Herald (UK) on Kristian Bezuidenhout

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    Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

    The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra can look back on a success story lasting over twenty years and is a popular guest at the most important concert halls and opera houses. A glance at the ensemble’s concert calendar shows a diverse repertoire played at a variety of venues, ranging from the Baroque to the musical present and from Freiburg to the Far East.

    The Freiburgers’ artistic credo, however, remains unchanged: the creative curiosity of each of them, with the intention of playing a composition in as lively and as expressive a manner as possible. This also involves own members playing demanding solo concerts. Cultivated and simultaneously rousing ensemble playing has thus become an international trade mark: “The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is a diamond of particular brilliance. In the technical and mental ‘mastery’ of the instruments and the individual parts one sees what ‘historical’ music-making is currently capable of. Vivid and pure, transparent and lucid, delicate in phrasing and articulation and without excessive pathetic pressure, one hears all the details and experiences the whole as a musical cosmos of overpowering richness. Open your ears, this is how music sounds!” (Salzburger Nachrichten)

    The FBO continuously collaborates with important artists such as Christian Gerhaher, Isabelle Faust, René Jacobs, Pablo Heras-Casado and Andreas Staier, and has a close alliance with the French label harmonia mundi France. The artistic success of this musical partnership is expressed in numerous CD productions and the receipt of prominent awards, such as the Gramophone Award 2011, the ECHO Klassik Deutscher Musikpreis 2011-2015 and 2007, the Jahrespreis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik 2009 and 2015, the Edison Classical Music Award 2008 or the Classical Brit Award 2007.

    Under the artistic directorship of its two concert-masters Gottfried von der Goltz and Petra Müllejans, and under the baton of selected conductors, the FBO presents itself with about one hundred performances per year in a variety of formations from chamber to opera orchestra: a self-administrated ensemble with its own subscription concerts at Freiburg’s Concert Hall, Stuttgart’s Liederhalle, and Berlin’s Philharmonie and with tours all over the world.

    "The Freiburg players commanded an unusually broad palette of sound…" —New York Classical Review

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    Kristian Bezuidenhout

    Kristian Bezuidenhout is one of today’s most notable and exciting keyboard artists, equally at home on the fortepiano, harpsichord, and modern piano. Born in South Africa in 1979, he began his studies in Australia, completed them at the Eastman School of Music, and now lives in London.  After initial training as a pianist with Rebecca Penneys, he explored early keyboards, studying harpsichord with Arthur Haas, fortepiano with Malcolm Bilson, and continuo playing and performance practice with Paul O’Dette.  Bezuidenhout first gained international recognition at the age of 21 after winning the prestigious first prize, and audience prize in the Bruges Fortepiano Competition.

    Bezuidenhout is a regular guest with the world’s leading ensembles including the Freiburger Barockorchester, Les Arts Florissants, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Orchestre des Champs Elysées, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, Chicago Symphony Orchestra & the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester; and has guest-directed (from the keyboard) the English Concert, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Tafelmusik, Collegium Vocale, Juilliard 415 and the Kammerakademie Potsdam.

    He has performed with celebrated artists including John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Frans Brüggen, Trevor Pinnock, Giovanni Antonini, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Isabelle Faust, Alina Ibragimova, Rachel Podger, Carolyn Sampson, Anne Sofie von Otter, Mark Padmore & Matthias Goerne.

    Bezuidenhout's rich and award-winning discography on Harmonia Mundi includes the complete keyboard music of Mozart (Diapason d’Or de L’année, Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, & Caecilia Prize); Mozart Violin Sonatas with Petra Müllejans; Mendelssohn and Mozart Piano Concertos with the Freiburger Barockorchester (ECHO Klassik); Beethoven, & Mozart Lieder, and Schumann Dichterliebe with Mark Padmore (Edison Award). In 2013 he was nominated as Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year. Forthcoming releases include Volume 2 of Mozart Piano Concertos with the Freiburger Barockorchester.

    In the 2016-17 season, Bezuidenhout performs fortepiano concerti with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner, Orchestre des Champs Elysées/Herreweghe and Il Giardino Armonico/Antonini; as harpsichord soloist with Arcangelo/Cohen (Bach Concerti); and on modern piano with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Haitink, Amsterdam Sinfonietta/de Vriend, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Labadie, Australian Chamber Orchestra/Tognetti, & Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Egarr. Solo recitals and chamber music take him to London, New York, Tokyo, Boston, Madrid, Innsbruck & Sydney; and he will direct his first Bach St. Matthew Passion with the Dunedin Consort.

    Bezuidenhout has been appointed Artistic Director of the Freiburger Barockorchester for three years from the 2017-18 season. 

    "Kristian Bezuidenhout is an imaginative and engaging soloist, getting a variety of colours from his fortepiano." —The Financial Times

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 74 in E-flat major

View Notes

With his long-standing position as court composer to the Esterházy family, Franz Joseph Haydn rarely traveled far from their estate in Vienna. Yet Haydn still earned great renown across Europe through his music—especially the symphonies and string quartets—during the last quarter of the 18th century. His quartets and symphonies became, by sheer force of quantity alone, the Classical models for younger composers including Mozart and Beethoven. Hadyn wrote nearly 70 quartets and over 100 symphonies in his lifetime, standardizing the four-movement format in both of these relatively new genres and establishing the foundation for their further development in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

When a composer writes over 100 works in the same genre, it is not surprising that there might be a degree of similarity within the collection. This holds true all the more so due to the stylistic expectations of the Classical era. Although Haydn was only a little more than a generation older than Beethoven, he worked during a period when the assumptions of generic conformity—a legacy of the Baroque era—still held sway. One anticipated that a concerto or symphony, for example, would follow a traditional formal pattern, use traditional contrapuntal devices, and explore traditionally-related key areas. The variety came in the details, not in innovations to the overall plan. It was only after Haydn’s era that composers such as Beethoven began to think every new work should be an innovative masterpiece that broke new ground.

So it is that Haydn’s Symphony No. 74 in E-flat major shares traits found in many of his other symphonies: a standard four-movement format, concise proportions, largely monothematic expositions, galante clarity, and a touch of his renowned musical wit. The work dates from around 1780, after Haydn had experimented with the darker Sturm und Drang style, but before his visits to London in the 1790s, which inspired the expansion of the proportions and scoring of his last symphonies. This Symphony No. 74, like the vast majority of Haydn’s symphonies, was conceived for the court orchestra at Esterháza, a small-ish but evidently talented band.

Three loud chords open the first movement as an attention-grabber, showing Haydn’s familiarity with the techniques developed by the incomparable Mannheim orchestra and the symphonies of Johann Stamitz. These effects are followed by a gentle main theme that is embellished upon the repeat.  (Haydn was not a natural melodist like Mozart, and tended to work with motivic ideas rather than melodic themes in his symphonies.) The second theme is a modified inversion of the first, showing Haydn’s predilection for gaining maximum use from simple musical ideas. After the requisite development of the principal three-note theme, which includes some minor-key seriousness, the abbreviated recapitulation leaves room for a brief coda.

The slow movement is a muted set of variations on a cantabile violin melody that sits in a warm, low register, accompanied by the cellos. After three variations, a woodwind trio breaks the pattern with a brief, imitative interlude, followed by a short fugato on the main theme to conclude the movement.

In the minuet, a Lombard rhythm (also known as a “Scotch snap”) enlivens the theme. Haydn’s minuets typically tend toward the rustic, distinct from the urbane and elegant minuets of Mozart. Here it is neither peasant stomping nor aristocratic courtly dancing, though the occasional phrase extensions and the insistence on ending every section in tonic harmony betray Haydn’s general reluctance to fully embrace the learned style of a “city” composer.

The string-dominated finale uses a gigue meter, and—somewhat unusually—is also in sonata form. Haydn liked his finales to be light and frothy. But by casting this finale in sonata form, he adds formal and emotional weight to the symphony’s conclusion, a trend that Mozart and Beethoven would also later adopt in earnest. The recapitulation and development are, like the exposition, marked with a repeat—a stylistic holdover of the sonata-form’s origins in Baroque binary forms—though this second repeat is not frequently utilized in performances today.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453

View Notes

Throughout Mozart’s career, the piano concerto was his principal vehicle for public performance. A majority of the 27 concertos he composed were for his own use, and the genre itself was intended to please a wide audience. It was this prospect of popular performance and the income it could secure that motivated Mozart to write no fewer than 17 piano concertos following his move to Vienna in 1781. In spite of his unrivaled facility as a pianist, however, he never let the temptation to dazzle the audience override the musical integrity of his concertos.  

The formal model for Mozart’s piano concertos was provided by Johann Christian Bach, whose friendship with the Mozarts flourished during the young prodigy’s first concert tour to London in 1764. The format that J.C. Bach employed typically consisted of three movements, beginning with an Allegro that combined elements of sonata form with an orchestral refrain or ritornello. A lyrical slow movement followed, and the work usually concluded with a light-hearted finale. It was a basic outline that also served Mozart well.

In an especially intense burst of activity, Mozart produced 12 piano concertos between February 1784 and December 1786, a period that coincided with the peak of his popular and financial success in Vienna. One of the earliest of these mature Vienna concerti is K. 453, in G major, completed on April 12, 1784 and premiered soon after (though scholars are unclear about exactly when it was premiered, and by whom). 

This is one of only a handful of concerti that Mozart wrote for another musician to play—in this case, his pupil Barbara Ployer, an unusually gifted student who paid him handsomely for the commission. Perhaps in an effort to ensure his student’s popular success, Mozart wrote this concerto (as he noted) “in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.” 

The concerto opens with a graceful march whose orchestral exposition presents all the major themes of the movement, with the wind instruments adding more independently-conceived material than was typical for the time. Even within this exposition, though, which remains in the tonic key throughout, there are surprising harmonic turns that give a hint of future chromatic drama that occurs throughout the work, especially in the ensuing development section. When the solo piano finally enters on the repeat of the exposition, it plays what is essentially a reduction of the string materials, with the winds embellishing, before the interplay becomes more integrated and the dialogue more equally balanced between the full ensemble. After the development and recapitulation, an opportunity for a cadenza leads into an orchestral coda that completes the movement.

The C-major slow movement opens with a simple string theme that suddenly ceases after a few measures, then is taken over by the winds. Unexpected pauses, surprise modulations and chromaticisms, spicy dissonances, exaggerated melodic leaps, and unprepared surges in dynamics suggest that this movement was influenced by the musical language of the North German Empfindsamer Stil or “style of sensitivity.” This style was heard more frequently in C.P.E. Bach’s solo keyboard works, but here is adapted to a larger ensemble. Another solo cadenza sparkles before the movement’s closing paragraph.

The finale is a set of variations based on a theme that would continue to dwell in Mozart’s home beyond his manuscript. Mozart’s pet bird, which he purchased soon after completing the concerto, learned the theme quickly and sang it repeatedly (though it was reported that the bird sang one note sharp and held another for too long.) Some versions of the story mistakenly claim that Mozart got the theme from the bird, but the chronology makes it clear that the bird got the theme from Mozart. An especially chromatic fourth variation recalls the drama of the second movement. Then, a tempo change for the coda reintroduces textures and scorings from previous movements in a bustling, cheerful exchange that has all the lighthearted elements of an opera buffa ensemble finale.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)

Symphony in G minor, Op. 6, No. 6

View Notes

As the youngest son of the famed J.S. Bach, Johann Christian Bach inherited a large number of elder brothers and half-brothers, several of whom were already well-established as musicians by the time he was born. Largely—and impressively—avoiding sibling rivalry, he became the most cosmopolitan of the Bach sons, with a musical style that turned away from the North German Lutheranism of his father and brothers and towards the more vibrant and modern sensibilities of Italy. 

J.C. Bach learned keyboard and the rudiments of music from his father in Leipzig. But after his father’s death in 1750, he went to live in Berlin with his half-brother, C.P.E. Bach, 21 years his senior. It was while in Berlin that J.C. Bach came into contact with Italian opera, igniting a passion that he would explore further. He was the only Bach son to compose Italian opera.

Bach left Berlin for Italy when he was 20, converted to Catholicism, and was appointed the organist at Milan Cathedral where he was known as “Giovanni Bach.” Then in 1762 he moved to London and became a leading figure in London’s music scene. He was consequently dubbed the “London Bach,” and was known in the city simply as “John Bach.”

In 1764, J. C. Bach met the young Mozart, and their friendship blossomed almost immediately. Some scholars have suggested he was a more powerful influence on the young Mozart’s compositional style than was the boy’s overbearing father, Leopold. When J. C. Bach died in 1782, the news was hardly noted at all outside London, but when Mozart heard of it, he remarked to his father that the death of his friend and mentor was “a loss to music.”

Not only did John Bach instill in the young Mozart a love of J. S. Bach’s “old-style” music, but also demonstrated for Mozart the emerging new genres of symphony, classical concerto, and quartet. In that regard, J.C. Bach’s 60 or so symphonies are not only monuments to their time, but also crucial ancestors to the later development of the Classical symphony.

Composed in the 1760s, J.C. Bach’s Symphony in G minor, Op. 6 No. 6, is exactly the kind of work that was performed at the fashionable and influential London concerts he organized with Carl Friedrich Abel, and the kind of new music the young Mozart soaked up enthusiastically. It is, in effect, a Sturm und Drang symphony, with each of the three movements in a minor key. It might not be a coincidence that the only two symphonies (out of 41) that Mozart composed in a minor key were also in the key of G minor. Their pedigree is clear.

The opening movement demonstrates J. C. Bach’s remarkable expressivity and dramatic compass—features that are not always so evident in his lighter galante symphonies. The liberation of the winds from merely doubling the string lines is yet another feature J.C. Bach passed on to Mozart.

The C-minor slow movement is the longest symphonic movement J. C. Bach ever composed. It reveals a composer who foresaw the future expansion of the symphony’s proportions, and adjusted the musical language and formal elements to accommodate it.  In an adaptation of sonata form, its long-breathed phrases and leisurely harmonic rhythm are the structural background against which the contrapuntal dialogue plays out.

The brevity of the finale intesifies the drama, with sudden modulations, driving motifs, and impassioned string tremolos returning the movement fully to Sturm und Drang expressivity. But rather than resolve the tensions at the movement’s end, the composer exaggerates them with a sudden decrescendo, concluding the work with ellipsis points instead of an exclamation point.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271, "Jeunehomme"

View Notes

Mozart had just turned twenty-one years old and was working in Salzburg in early 1777 when he wrote his Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major. It was his first significant composition in nearly a year, an unusually lean period for such a prolific composer. 

The concerto has historically been known by the nickname “Jeunehomme,” a French term that translates simply as “young man.” In 1912, two Mozart scholars attributed the concerto’s unofficial but widely-accepted moniker to a French pianist surnamed “Jeunehomme” who they claimed was visiting Salzburg at the time of this work’s composition. But recent scholarship suggests this was a misappropriation, or at least a misinterpretation. Mozart actually composed this concerto for an aspiring young pianist named Victoire Jenamy, the daughter of the famous ballet-master Jean-George Noverre, who had spent some time in Vienna during the preceding years. The concerto’s actual nickname, then, should be “Jenamy,” but thanks to some over-zealous, misguided scholars has been transformed for the past century into “Jeunehomme.”

Though it is a relatively early work in Mozart’s oeuvre, this concerto has been consistently praised, even revered, by critics. In his authoritative volume on The Classical Style, Charles Rosen cites it as “perhaps the first unequivocal masterpiece” of classical composition. Famed pianist Alfred Brendel calls this concerto “one of the greatest wonders of the world,” and included the work on the program for his farewell concert in 2008. Alfred Einstein regarded it as “Mozart’s Eroica, which he would later match but never surpass.”

This is a concerto of exuberance and innovation. Instead of beginning with a purely orchestral exposition, which was the expectation at the time, Mozart allows the soloist to enter in the second measure before the orchestra continues with its presentation of the main themes. The intensity of dialog between piano and orchestra throughout the movement’s development and recapitulation also breaks with convention. Mozart’s unsurpassed melodic gifts are very much on display in this movement, and he delights in crafting vocally-conceived tunes for both soloist and orchestra throughout. A sparkling cadenza precipitates the orchestra’s final statements.

The second movement is a moving and dramatic lament in a minor key, an abrupt shift in the concerto’s emotional range and another break with convention. But the drama is mitigated somewhat by extended passages of major-key tranquility in its inner sections. The movement’s tension and temperature fluctuates with each change in texture, mode, and dynamics, leading to a pained cadenza near the end of the movement that emphasizes a feeling of isolation.

Then, in another complete turnabout, the piano introduces a completely jovial and untroubled rondo theme for the third movement. Midway through the rondo, after another short cadenza, Mozart interpolates a tender minuet that offers a brief respite from the relentless cheer while highlighting the upbeat nature of this finale. Mozart would use this ingenious device again later in his Piano Concerto No. 22, also in E-flat. After the minuet, the original rondo tempo and theme resume, bringing this remarkable concerto to a thoroughly satisfying close.

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Program Subject to Change Without Notice