MEET THE ARTISTS

Garrick Ohlsson

Piano

Since his triumph as winner of the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, pianist Garrick Ohlsson has established himself worldwide as a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. Although long regarded as one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Frédéric Chopin, Mr. Ohlsson commands an enormous repertoire, which ranges over the entire piano literature. A student of the late Claudio Arrau, Mr. Ohlsson has come to be noted for his masterly performances of the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, as well as the Romantic repertoire. To date, he has at his command more than 80 concertos, ranging from Haydn and Mozart to works of the 21st century, the most recent being “Oceans Apart” by Justin Dello Joio commissioned for him by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and now available on Bridge Recordings. Also just released on Reference Recordings is the complete Beethoven concerti with Sir Donald Runnicles and the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra.

A frequent guest with the orchestras in New Zealand and Australia, Mr. Ohlsson returned for a nine-city recital tour across Australia in June 2023 and will open the Nashville Symphony’s season in September, followed during the season by appearances with orchestras in Atlanta, Sarasota, Rhode Island, Singapore, Prague, Warsaw, Lyon and Oxford (UK). With recital programs including works from Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin to Brahms and Scriabin he can be heard in New York, Seattle, Baltimore, Prague, Katowice, Krakow and Wrocław.

An avid chamber musician, Mr. Ohlsson has collaborated with the Cleveland, Emerson, Tokyo and Takacs string quartets. His recording with latter of the Amy Beach and Elgar quintets released by Hyperion in June 2020 received great press attention. Passionate about singing and singers, Mr. Ohlsson has appeared in recital with such legendary artists as Magda Olivero, Jessye Norman, and Ewa Podleś.

   “Garrick Ohlsson, playing without a score, dignified the piece [Busoni’s piano concerto] with his phenomenal pianism—never self-servingly virtuosic—and equally phenomenal memory.”
    The Financial Times26th Aug 2012

Mr. Ohlsson can be heard on the Arabesque, RCA Victor Red Seal, Angel, BMG, Delos, Hänssler, Nonesuch, Telarc, Hyperion and Virgin Classics labels. His ten-disc set of the complete Beethoven Sonatas, for Bridge Records, has garnered critical acclaim, including a GRAMMY® for Vol. 3. His recording of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3, with the Atlanta Symphony and Robert Spano, was released in 2011. In the fall of 2008 the English label Hyperion re-released his 16-disc set of the Complete Works of Chopin followed in 2010 by all the Brahms piano variations, “Goyescas” by Enrique Granados, and music of Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Most recently on that label are Scriabin’s Complete Poèmes, Smetana Czech Dances, and études by Debussy, Bartok and Prokofiev. The latest CDs in his ongoing association with Bridge Records are the Complete Scriabin Sonatas, “Close Connections,” a recital of 20th-Century pieces, and two CDs of works by Liszt. In recognition of the Chopin bicentenary in 2010, Mr. Ohlsson was featured in a documentary “The Art of Chopin” co-produced by Polish, French, British and Chinese television stations. Most recently, both Brahms’ concerti and Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto were released on live performance recordings with the Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies on their own recording labels, and Mr. Ohlsson was featured on Dvorak’s piano concerto in the Czech Philharmonic’s recordings of the composer’s complete symphonies & concertos, released July of 2014 on the Decca label.

    “What a sound! Ohlsson is famous for that great sonority, though he never seems to be working very hard to produce it. There are no histrionics, no flailing or thumping or grandstanding, just an incredible technique with razor-sharp accuracy, producing a sound so lush it almost glistens.”
    Seattle Times13th Jan 2016

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Garrick Ohlsson began his piano studies at the age of 8, at the Westchester Conservatory of Music; at 13 he entered The Juilliard School, in New York City. His musical development has been influenced in completely different ways by a succession of distinguished teachers, most notably Claudio Arrau, Olga Barabini, Tom Lishman, Sascha Gorodnitzki, Rosina Lhévinne and Irma Wolpe. Although he won First Prizes at the 1966 Busoni Competition in Italy and the 1968 Montréal Piano Competition, it was his 1970 triumph at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, where he won the Gold Medal (and remains the single American to have done so), that brought him worldwide recognition as one of the finest pianists of his generation. Since then he has made nearly a dozen tours of Poland, where he retains immense personal popularity. Mr. Ohlsson was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in 1994 and received the 1998 University Musical Society Distinguished Artist Award in Ann Arbor, MI. He is the 2014 recipient of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance from the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music, and in August 2018 the Polish Deputy Culture Minister awarded him with the Gloria Artis Gold Medal for cultural merit. He is a Steinway Artist and makes his home in San Francisco.

PROGRAM NOTES

Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)  

Apu: Tone Poem for Orchestra (2017)  

Scored for: three flutes including piccolo, three oboes including English Horn, three clarinets including bass clarinet, two bassoons, two French horns, two trumpets, two trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, and strings

Performance time: 14 minutes 

First Grant Park Orchestra performance

 

Recently named one of the 35 Most Significant Women Composers in Historyby theWashington Post, composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank was born in Berkley, California, to a Peruvian/Chinese mother and Lithuanian/Jewish father. Throughout her career, her multicultural heritage has been central to her compositional identity, her voice an amalgam of her lived experiences as a multiethnic Latina and the paradoxes inherent in that reality. She writes that her early days were filled with Oriental stir-fry cuisine, Andean nursery songs, and frequent visits from our New York-bred Jewish cousins.Her musical upbringing was just as diverse, with her piano repertoire spanning not only the traditional works of Bach and Mozart but also Scott Joplins rags and her own early compositions that carried overtones of Peruvian folk music. 

Commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in 2017, Apu: Tone Poem for Orchestra draws on Franks Peruvian heritage. In the Andes of Peru, spirits are said to watch over travelers passing through the highland roads by inhabiting rocks, rivers, and mountains along the way. In Quechua mythology, an apu, a minor deity, is one of the more mischievous of these spirits. He can be appeased with simple folk songs, prayers, or gifts of food to ensure safe passage through his domain. If he is not placated, he sends a mist to warn negligent travelers of an impending avalanche. In her program note on the piece, Frank writes, Apu: Tone Poem for Orchestra begins with a short folkloric song inspired by the agile ‘pinkillo’ flute, a small slender instrument that packs well into the small bags of travelers who must travel light. It is followed by the extended ‘haillí’ of the second movement, a prayer to the apu, which flows attacca to the third movement in which the apu makes its brief but brilliant and dazzling appearance before disappearing once again into the mountain peaks. 

 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)  

Concerto in A minor, for Piano & Orchestra, op.54 (1841)  

Scored for: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two French horns, two trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano

Performance time: 31 minutes 

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: September 1, 1942; Richard Czerwonky, conductor and Rudolph Reuter, piano 

 

The impact Clara Schumann had on her husbands life and career cannot be overstated. Not only did she give birth to his eight children and use her international reputation as a piano virtuoso to champion his works, but she also encouraged him to set his compositional sights higher and helped him craft one of his most beloved works, his Piano Concerto in A minor. Robert Schumann recognized the immense value of this partnership, writing to Clara in 1839, You complete me as a composer, as I do you. Every thought of yours comes from my soul, just as I have to thank you for all my music. 

First, a little background: Robert met Clara when he was a nineteen-year-old piano student of Claras father, Friedrich Wieck. Clara was only nine years old at the time but already had a burgeoning career as a pianist and composer. Their friendship turned to love when Clara was sixteen, but Friedrich vehemently opposed the relationship, even sending Clara away on extended recital tours to keep them apart. After a protracted legal battle against Friedrich, the couple finally married in 1840, the day before Claras twenty-first birthday. 

Clara was an important creative adviser, especially when it came to Schumanns piano music. Schumann had lost much of the feeling in the middle finger of his right hand from over-practicing and experimenting with a finger-strengthening device called a chiroplast. No longer able to do his piano works justice, he composed them for Claras hands. (She was the better player anyway.) In addition, before 1841, most of Schumanns compositional output consisted of small-scale works such as lieder and solo piano pieces. With Claras encouragement, he turned to composing for orchestra and entered an intense period of creativity for the first five years of their marriage. 

Schumann struggled with the piano concerto genre, leaving behind four fragmented attempts between 1827 and 1839. In 1839, frustrated with how separate the soloist and orchestra often were in concertos, he wrote, We must await the genius who will show us in a newer and more brilliant way how orchestra and piano may be combined, how the soloist, dominant at the keyboard, may unfold the wealth of his instrument and his art, while the orchestra, no longer a mere spectator, may interweave its manifold facets into the scene.He finally found the right balance in 1841, completing a one-movement Phantasiefor piano and orchestra. He reworked thePhantasiein 1845 and composed two more movements—the slow Intermezzo and the finale—to create the Piano Concerto in A minor. 

Now, Clara had written a piano concerto ten years prior, also in A minor. Schumann was intimately acquainted with it, having orchestrated the finale himself, and there are striking similarities between the two. Demonstrating the reciprocity of their creative relationship, Schumann incorporates a four-note motive from the third movement of her concerto into the coda of his Allegro, acting almost like a secret code between them. Also, the first movements of both concertos feature a slow, A-flat minor bridge section between the exposition and development. Plus, the second movements both feature duets between the piano and cellos. As well as collaborating behind the scenes, Clara helped to promote the concerto once completed, premiering the work in Dresden on December 4, 1845, and playing it frequently throughout her career. 

 

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)  

Symphony No.6 in E-flat minor, op.111 (1945)  

Scored for: three flutes including piccolo, three oboes including English Horn, four clarinets including bass clarinet, three bassoons including contrabassoon, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, piano, and strings

Performance time: 43 minutes 

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 12, 1972; Jorge Mester, conductor 

 

Sergei Prokofievs Symphony No. 6 was the composers last unmitigated success. When it premiered in Leningrad on October 11, 1947, critics and bureaucrats were enthusiastic. But soon after its Moscow premiere on Christmas Day, Prokofiev and his symphony became a target of official criticism like never before. On February 10, 1948, Prokofiev attended a ceremony at the Kremlin in which he was elevated to the status of Peoples Artist of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. That same day, Politburo member Andrey Zhdanov was finalizing a Central Committee Resolution that would accuse Prokofiev and other prominent composers of promoting formalist distortions and antidemocratic tendencies . . . foreign to the Soviet people and its artistic tastes.Artists during Stalins regime were used to this cognitive dissonance of being officially celebrated one day and condemned the next, seemingly with no rhyme or reason. As Prokofiev scholar Simon Morrison puts it, The power of the regime was absolute in the sense that it followed no consistent rules.But this time was different. Prior to 1948, Prokofiev was able to feign indifference to the governments vagaries and claim his music was above real-world concerns; now he was afraid. 

Though Prokofiev submitted a public letter atoning for his musical sins a few days later, nervous concert managers soon pulled his works from programs. His career entered freefall, rattling his confidence, sapping his creative energy, and endangering his already precarious health. Wisely, he cleared his dacha of foreign books and letters to Russian expats. Had these materials been found when the residence was indeed searched, he would have been detained. Though his international reputation shielded him somewhat, his history of having lived in the West for twenty years marked him as an outsider. Others around him werent as lucky. His estranged wife, Lina, was arrested for treason and sentenced to twenty years in a labor camp (she served eight years). 

What, if anything, was it so threatening about the Sixth Symphony? Publicly, Prokofiev used the same terms to describe his Sixth Symphony as he had his much-lauded Fifth, emphasizing their affirming, victorious outlooks to comport with the demands of Socialist Realism. Prokofiev rarely expounded at length on any programmatic intent behind his compositions, leaving them up to interpretation. Morrison writes, one could posit that, while the melodic and harmonic patterns have immanent narrative potential, the somewhat intangible character of their assemblage denies programmatic interpretation—and this may have been the composers point. The Sixth Symphony embraces much of the surface rhetoric of a socialist realist narrative but little of its cohesiveness.”  

Composed between June 1945 and February 1947, the Sixth Symphony is tinged with darkness, the human cost of World War II looming large. After a stern descending figure in low brass, the lilting theme in the muted violins and violas is still somewhat menacing. The oboes in octaves introduce a dreamy secondary theme before giving way to a violent outburst and a sinister march. The unsettled nature of the first movement continues into the second, which opens with a desperate cry in the woodwinds. Lyrical themes reminiscent of Prokofievs ballet music break through and lower the temperature. Though the finale tries to convey a joyful celebration of victory, the constant interruptions from the timpani suggest evil lurking under the surface or nagging existential questions. The ending recalls material from the first movement but in fractured form and with chromatic inflections. Despite the triumphant end of the symphony, it is still shaded by this late recollection.

 

Program Notes by Katherine Buzard