“Faced with such excellence, a mere critic can only abandon paper and pencil and listen to this heroic but deeply moving artist with awe and amazement,” wrote Gramophone of British pianist Paul Lewis. He makes his highly anticipated Baltimore Recital Debut in an inventiveprogram featuring Mussorgsky’s vivid Pictures at an Exhibition.

“[Lewis] has clarity, muscle, and steely pride, but also intimacy, vulnerability and volatility:the combination is magnetic.” —The Guardian

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    Paul Lewis

    Paul Lewis is internationally regarded as one of the leading musicians of his generation. His cycles of core piano works by Beethoven and Schubert have received unanimous critical and public acclaim worldwide, and consolidated his reputation as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the central European classical repertoire. His numerous awards have included the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year, two Edison awards, three Gramophone awards, the Diapason D’or de l’Annee, the Preis Der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, the Premio Internazionale Accademia Musicale Chigiana, and the South Bank Show Classical Music award. He holds honorary degrees from Liverpool, Edge Hill, and Southampton Universities, and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

    He works regularly as soloist with the world’s great orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, NHK Symphony, New York Philharmonic, LA Philharmonic, and the Royal Concertgebouw, Cleveland, Tonhalle Zurich, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia, and Mahler Chamber Orchestras.

    “There are many prized recordings of the Beethoven sonatas from past masters and current artists. But if I had to recommend a single complete set, I would suggest Mr. Lewis’s distinguished recordings.”   Anthony Tommasini,  New York Times

    The 2017/18 season saw the start of a two year recital series, exploring connections between the sonatas of Haydn, the late piano works of Brahms, and Beethoven’s Bagatelles and Diabelli Variations, as well as appearances with the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Orchestra Mozart di Bologna, Boston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms series continues through the 18/19 season, alongside appearances with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and Kent Nagano, the Berlin Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony with Bernard Haitink, the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with Manfred Honeck, and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich with Francois-Xavier Roth.

    Paul Lewis’s recital career takes him to venues such as London’s Royal Festival Hall, Alice Tully and Carnegie Hall in New York, the Musikverein and Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Berlin Philharmonie and Konzerthaus. He is also a frequent guest at the some of the world’s most prestigious festivals, including Tanglewood, Ravinia, Schubertiade, Edinburgh, Salzburg, Lucerne, and the BBC Proms where in 2010 he became the first person to play a complete Beethoven piano concerto cycle in a single season.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Selected 'Songs without Words'

View Notes

Mendelssohn’s name was a byword for precocity in his day as in ours. “This is a family the like of which I have never known,” proclaimed the composer-virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles, who taught piano to Felix and his sister Fanny, also a distinguished composer. “Felix, a boy of 15, is a phenomenon. What are all prodigies as compared with him? Gifted children, but nothing else. This Felix Mendelssohn is already a mature artist, and yet but 15 years old!  Felix had to show me a concerto in C minor, a double concerto, and several motets; and all so full of genius, and at the same time so correct and thorough!” 

In 1825, not long after this panegyric, Mendelssohn produced his first masterpiece, the String Octet in E-flat major, immediately acclaimed as a worthy successor to Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet. The 16-year-old wunderkind, a student at the University of Berlin, spent his days attending Friedrich Hegel’s lectures in philosophy and polishing his thesis, a translation of a Latin comedy by the Roman playwright Terence.

Four years later, Mendelssohn’s celebrated performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion laid the groundwork for the 19th-century Bach revival. Renowned as a composer, pianist, and conductor, Mendelssohn was one of Europe’s foremost musicians by the time he became director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in 1835. A decade later, he “retired” to Frankfurt to spend time with his family and concentrate on composing. The last two years of his life saw the composition of such major works as the Violin Concerto, the String Quintet in B-flat major, the oratorio Elijah, and the F-minor String Quartet, regarded by many as his greatest work.

Mendelssohn’s lyrical genius found its purest and most direct expression in his more than four dozen Lieder ohne Worte for piano. Friends urged him to tag these enchanting “songs without words” with descriptive titles, but he demurred. “What the music I love expresses to me is not thought too indefinite to be put into words, but, on the contrary, too definite,” he famously wrote. “If you ask me what my idea is, I say—just the song as it stands.” The eight sets of Lieder ohne Worte that Mendelssohn published between 1829 and 1845—which inspired Moscheles, Grieg, and others to write their own pieces in a lyrical vein—are among his most beloved creations.

As a composer of songs with words, Mendelssohn is often felt to have been eclipsed by Schubert and Schumann. With a few exceptions, his text settings tend to be folklike in their simplicity, his piano accompaniments lacking Schumann’s rich vein of fantasy and Schubert’s genius for tone painting. Yet such comparisons do Mendelssohn an injustice, for it was precisely the directness of his art songs, his avoidance of mannerism and complexity for its own sake, that contemporary observers singled out for praise. The English critic Henry Chorley extolled his piano playing for similar reasons: it had “none of the delicate and plaintive and spiritual seductions of Chopin,” but no one who heard Mendelssohn’s playing “could fail to be excited and fascinated by it,” revealing as it did “a mind clear and deep; an appreciation of character and form referring to the inner spirit rather than the outward details.”

Notes by Harry Haskell, © 2019

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Sonata in D major, Hob.XVI:51

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Sonata in A major K. 331

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)

Five Preludes, Op. 74

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Pictures at an Exhibition

Program Subject to Change Without Notice