Dvořák Cello Concerto

Wed, June 12, 2024 6:30 pm


Grant Park Orchestra

Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Alban Gerhardt, cello

Irika Sargent, narrator





Cello Concerto in B minor
Adagio ma non troppo
Finale: Allegro moderato

Alban Gerhardt, cello


Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell

Irika Sargent, narrator


Jay Pritzker Pavilion


Approx. 80 minutes


This program is generously supported by Nancy Dehmlow and the Sage Foundation.

Tonight’s concert is being broadcast and streamed live on 98.7 WFMT/wfmt.com

Thank you to Joe Janes, script writer


Alban Gerhardt


One of the finest cellists around – expressive, unshowy and infinitely classy“ (The Guardian). Alban Gerhardt has, for twenty-five years, made a unique impact on audiences worldwide with his intense musicality, compelling stage presence and insatiable artistic curiosity. His gift for shedding fresh light on familiar scores, along with his appetite for investigating new repertoire from centuries past and present, truly set him apart from his peers.

Highlights of the 2018/19 season include the premiere of a new concerto by Brett Dean with Sydney Symphony / Robertson and Berliner Philharmoniker / Oramo and concerts with Hong Kong Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, MDR Leipzig, and WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under Jukka-Pekka Saraste. with whom he will record both Shostakovich concertos.

Gerhardt will also give recitals at The Phillips Collection Museum in Washington D.C., London’s Wigmore Hall, and Shanghai Concert Hall. Next season sees the development of a new project ’Love in Fragments’ with the violinist Gergana Gergova, choreographer Sommer Ulrickson, and sculptor Alexander Polzin, a bringing together of music, movement and the spoken word which receives its US premiere at 92St Y.

Gerhardt is passionate about sharing his discoveries with audiences far beyond the traditional concert hall: outreach projects undertaken in Europe and the US have involved performances and workshops, not only in schools and hospitals, but also pioneering sessions in public spaces and young offender institutions.

His collaboration with Deutsche Bahn, involving live performances on the main commuter routes in Germany, vividly demonstrates his commitment to challenging traditional expectations of classical music. In early 2017, Gerhardt founded #Musicians4UnitedEurope (www.musicians4unitedeurope.com), a group of international musicians working together to voice their support for a united and democratic Europe.

Following early competition success, Gerhardt’s international career was launched by his debut with Berliner Philharmoniker and Semyon Bychkov in 1991. Notable orchestra collaborations since include Concertgebouw Amsterdam, London Philharmonic, all of the British and German radio orchestras, Tonhalle Zürich, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Orchestre National de France as well as Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, under conductors such as Kurt Masur, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christian Thielemann, Christoph Eschenbach, Michael Tilson Thomas, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Jurowski, Kirill Petrenko and Andris Nelsons.

He is a keen chamber musician; his regular performance partners include Steven Osborne, Cecile Licad, Baiba Skride and Brett Dean. Gerhardt has collaborated with composers including Jörg Widmann, Unsuk Chin, Brett Dean, Julian Anderson and Matthias Pintscher; and in almost every case he commits to memorising their scores before world premiere performances.

A highly acclaimed recording artist, Gerhardt has won several awards, and his recording of Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto, released by Deutsche Grammophon, won the BBC Music Magazine Award and was shortlisted for a Gramophone Award in 2015. Gerhardt has recorded extensively for Hyperion, his latest recording of Rostropovich’s ‘Encores’ released in January 2017. In 2019 his complete recording of the Bach suites was released.


Anna Clyne (b. 1980)

Masquerade (2013)

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

Performance time: 5 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance

When London-born composer Anna Clyne was commissioned to write a piece for the Last Night of the Proms in 2013, she looked to the festival’s origins for inspiration. The BBC Proms, an annual summer music series held at the Royal Albert Hall, grew out of “promenade” concerts held in the pleasure gardens of London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pleasure gardens were outdoor spaces dedicated to entertainment that drew diverse crowds, from the glittering elite and rising urban middle class to the city’s seedy underbelly. As Danielle Thom of the Museum of London explains, “Simultaneously an art gallery, a restaurant, a brothel, a concert hall and a park, the pleasure garden was the place where Londoners confronted their very best, and very worst, selves.”

It is this colorful, swirling atmosphere that inspired Masquerade. “The work derives its material from two melodies,” the composer explains in her program note. “For the main theme, I imagined a chorus welcoming the audience and inviting them into their imaginary world. The second theme, Juice of Barley, is an old English country dance melody and drinking song, which first appeared in John Playford’s 1695 edition of The English Dancing Master.”


Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904)

Concerto in B minor for Violoncello & Orchestra, op.104, B.191 (1894)

Scored for: two flutes including piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, three French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings, and solo cello

Performance time: 40 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: July 31, 1953; Thor Johnson, conductor and Paul Olefsky, cello

Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is one of the most beloved concertos in the orchestral canon and one of Dvořák’s most enduring works. But you may be surprised to learn that the composer initially wasn’t so keen on the idea of the cello as a solo instrument. He wrote, “The cello is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and in chamber music. As a solo instrument, it isn’t much good” because “the upper voice squeals and the lower growls.”

It wasn’t until Dvořák’s tenure teaching at the newly established National Conservatory of Music in New York City in the 1890s that he realized the cello’s potential after hearing a cello concerto by Victor Herbert at a concert in Brooklyn. New York’s landscape also was an influential factor. On a visit to Niagara Falls in 1892, Dvořák reportedly exclaimed, “My word, that is going to be a symphony in B minor!” Though he never did write a symphony in that key, the Cello Concerto in B minor is certainly symphonic in scope.

Dvořák began work on the concerto in the spring of 1894 while on a brief visit home to Bohemia, completing it in February the following year in New York. Upon returning to Prague that April, he entrusted his cellist friend Hanuš Wihan with editing the solo cello part. However, Dvořák later discarded many of Wihan’s ideas, particularly the traditional fiery cadenza at the end of the third movement, opting instead for an ending that is more contemplative than joyous. As you can imagine, this rubbed Wihan the wrong way, and even though the published score is dedicated to him, he refused to play the premiere.

But Dvořák had his reasons for the change of mood. While composing the concerto, he received a letter that his sister-in-law, Josefina Čermáková, was dying. Before Dvořák married her sister, Anna, he had been hopelessly in love with Josefina, but this love was unrequited. They had stayed close, so he was devastated upon receiving the letter. In an act of dedication, he quotes Josefina’s favorite song of his, “Lass mich allein in meinen Träumen geh’n” (“Leave me to walk alone in my dreams”), in the Adagio movement. The Adagio also contains a discreet funeral march with a triplet figure in the horns under the cantabile theme. The contemplative mood of the ending, too, is in reverence to her memory. One month after Dvořák returned home, Josefina died.

When submitting the score to his publisher, Dvořák was adamant that the ending not be changed, even though it flouted tradition in its lack of a cadenza. He wrote, “My finale closes gradually, diminuendo, like a sigh, with reminiscences of the first and second movements; the solo dies down to pianissimo, then swells again, and the last bars are taken up by the orchestra and the whole concludes in a stormy mood. This is my idea and I cannot depart from it!” Cellist Leo Stern premiered the concerto in 1896 with the composer at the podium to great critical acclaim. Johannes Brahms, not usually one to give high praise to other composers, even wrote Dvořák to congratulate him, saying, “How could I not have known that one can write a cello concerto like this? If I had known, I would have written one long ago!”


Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, op.34 (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell) (1946)

Scored for: three flutes including piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings

Performance time: 18 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance: August 13, 1948; Nicolai Malko, conductor

Buoyed by the success of his 1945 opera Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten approached A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra the following year with renewed creativity and confidence. The British Ministry of Education had commissioned him to write music for an educational film called Instruments of the Orchestra (1946). Britten could have easily phoned it in and written something perfunctory. Instead, the resulting work is of such quality that it has become a concert work in its own right, appealing to young and old alike.

Britten turned to a favorite source of inspiration for the opening theme: baroque composer Henry Purcell (1659–1695). Throughout his career, Britten often wove Purcell’s melodies and compositional techniques into his own works, even arranging a set of Purcell songs for piano accompaniment. Here, he borrows the Rondeau from Purcell’s incidental music for the play Abdelazar or The Moor’s Revenge. The full orchestra introduces the stately dance theme, which is then repeated by each section, beginning with the woodwinds and ending with the percussion. After a repeat of the main theme in full orchestra, Britten features the individual instruments within each section to highlight their unique characteristics. A series of highly contrasting variations on the main theme ensues, beginning with the highest instrument in each section down to the lowest. For instance, in the woodwind section, we first hear the piccolos followed by the flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. The true genius of the piece comes in the final section, where Britten layers each individual instrument in a grand fugue, each entering in the order in which we heard them in the previous section. Finally, Purcell’s Rondeau returns in glory in the brass, this time in heroic D major.


Program Notes by Katherine Buzard