Both are now among the most important and most performed European composers of the nineteenth century. They were almost the same age and lived at the same time in the same city, but their music and character were very different. One could hardly find a pair that would better fit this description than Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms.
There is little that we have anticipated as eagerly as the Rudolfinum debut of Pablo Heras-Casado. Just the list of orchestras with which Pablo Heras-Casado appears would be plenty to recommend attending his concert: the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre, Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, and many more. Pablo Heras-Casado is a Spanish patriot and the chief guest conductor at the Teatro Real in Madrid, where he is performing Wagner’s complete cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Maestro Casado records for the Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Sony, and Harmonia Mundi labels, and although he is just 41 years old, he has been decorated for his musical artistry by both the Spanish and the French governments. Like Pablo Heras-Casado, the Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi also returns to his homeland to share his artistry. In Ascona, near his native Locarno, he directs the festival Settimane Musicali, and he divides his time equally between activities as a soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist. At the beginning of his career, he recorded the Dvořák and Schumann concertos with Jiří Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. At the Rudolfinum, he made his debut two years ago in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and with a solo recital, and the success of both appearances immediately led us to invite him back for the 2019/2020 season.
"Francesco Piemontesi combines stunning technique with an intellectual capacity that few can match."
- The Spectator
Francesco Piemontesi is a pianist of exceptional refinement of expression, which is allied to a consummate technical skill. Widely renowned for his interpretation of Mozart and the early Romantic repertoire, Piemontesi’s pianism and sensibility has a close affinity too with the later 19th century and 20th century repertoire of Brahms, Liszt, Dvořák, Ravel, Debussy, Bartók and beyond. Of one of his great teachers and mentors, Alfred Brendel, Piemontesi says that Brendel taught him “to love the detail of things.”
Francesco Piemontesi appears with major ensembles worldwide: Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony, NHK Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Gewandhaus Leipzig, Vienna Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Czech Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Montréal Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Tonhalle-Orchestra Zurich, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orchestra Nazionale della RAI di Torino, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.
He has performed with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Thomas Dausgaard, Charles Dutoit, Sir Mark Elder, Ivan Fischer, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Järvi, Emmanuel Krivine, Ton Koopman, Zubin Mehta, Sir Roger Norrington, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo, Sir Antonio Pappano and Yuri Temirkanov.
Piemontesi also performs chamber music with a variety of partners – Leif Ove Andsnes, Yuri Bashmet, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Stephen Kovacevich, Heinrich Schiff, Christian Tetzlaff, Jörg Widmann, Tabea Zimmermann and the Emerson Quartet.
In solo recital, he has appeared in many prestigious venues including London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonie, Zürich Tonhalle, Vienna Konzerthaus and Musikverein, Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York, and Suntory Hall Tokyo. In January 2016, Piemontesi launched his complete Mozart Odyssey at the Wigmore Hall, performing the sonatas in a series of recitals over the course of three seasons.
Piemontesi has performed at the Salzburg, Lucerne, Edinburgh, Verbier and Aix-en-Provence Festivals, La Roque d’Anthéron, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festivals and at New York Mostly Mozart.
At the Schubertiade festival in August 2018 Piemontesi launched a major Schubert cycle. He returns to the festival to continue the cycle throughout the 2019/2020 season and will be launching a separate Schubert cycle at the Wigmore Hall London beginning October 2019.
In the 2018/19 season Piemontesi released Liszt’s “Deuxième Année: Italie” from Années de Pelerinage and St François d’Assise: La prédiction aux oiseaux, as well as Liszt’s “Première année: Suisse” from Années de pèlerinage and St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots, combined with a documentary by French filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon, a double CD and DVD for Orfeo. This season, he will release Schubert’s Last Piano Sonatas with Pentatone, which will include Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 19 in C Minor, D. 958 and Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 20 in A Major, D. 959. Prior recordings include Mozart Piano Concertos Nos 25 & 26 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Manze on Linn Records, and for Naïve he has recorded Debussy Préludes, Mozart solo piano works and Schumann and Dvořákʼs Piano Concertos with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek.
Born in Locarno, Francesco Piemontesi studied with Arie Vardi before working with Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Cécile Ousset and Alexis Weissenberg. He rose to international prominence with prizes at several major competitions, including the 2007 Queen Elisabeth Competition, and between 2009–2011 he was chosen as a BBC New Generation Artist.
Since 2012, Piemontesi has been the Artistic Director of the Settimane Musicali di Ascona.
Described by The Telegraph as a conductor of “glowing reputation,” Pablo Heras-Casado enjoys an unusually varied and broad-ranging career, encompassing the great symphonic and operatic repertoire, historically informed performances, and contemporary scores.
Principal Guest Conductor at Teatro Real in Madrid and Director of the Granada Festival, he also enjoys a long-term collaboration with Freiburger Barockorchester featuring extensive touring and recording projects.
In the 2018/19 season, Heras-Casado is Spotlight Artist of the NTR Matinee series at Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, conducting the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Freiburger Barockorchester and Mahler Chamber Orchestra on tour. Special projects include the opening of the Berlioz year with the composer’s Grand Messe des Morts with Orchestre de Paris at the Philharmonie and a complete Schumann Symphony Cycle with Münchner Philharmoniker.
A celebration year for Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, his music is performed on tour with Mahler Chamber Orchestra, including a concert at Granada Festival to celebrate the centenary of the premiere of de Falla’s celebrated work, El Sombrero de Tres Picos. This particular concert features the world premiere of Péter Eötvös‘ new violin concerto, Alhambra, written for Isabelle Faust, performed at the historic Palacio de Carlos V. In January 2019, Heras-Casado conducts Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Teatro Real in Madrid, starting his first-ever complete Ring Cycle, spanning four consecutive seasons.
An extensive discography includes a developing series of recordings for harmonia mundi, recognised at the Gramophone Awards as 2018’s Label of the Year, entitled “Die Neue Romantik”. Selections of this series feature the music of Mendelssohn, Schumann and other Romantic composers, recorded together with Freiburger Barockorchester and partners such as Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov. The latest release, from April 2019, focusses once more on the music of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, where Heras-Casado is joined by Kristian Bezuidenhout on the fortepiano.
Other releases on the label include dedicated albums to the music of Debussy, with Philharmonia Orchestra; Bartók with Münchner Philharmoniker and Javier Perianes; a DVD release of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer at Teatro Real; and Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale with Balthasar-Neumann-Chor & Ensemble. Having also recorded on Deutsche Grammophon, Decca and Sony Classical, he has received numerous awards, including Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, two Diapason d’Or, and Latin Grammy.
In great demand as a symphonic guest conductor with leading orchestras throughout the world, Heras-Casado is regularly re-invited to the United States by San Francisco and Chicago symphony orchestras, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra; while in Europe he has relationships with Philharmonia and London Symphony orchestras, Orchestre de Paris, Münchner Philharmoniker, Staatskapelle Berlin, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Mariinsky Theatre and Israel Philharmonic orchestras. Additionally, he has conducted the Berliner and Wiener Philharmonikers and recently begun an important relationship with Verbier Festival.
As an opera conductor, he has been highly successful at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Festspiel Baden-Baden, and Staatsoper and Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Musical America’s 2014 Conductor of the Year, Pablo Heras-Casado holds the Medalla de Honor of the Rodriguez Acosta Foundation, Medalla de Andalucia 2019 and Ambassador Award of this region. He is Honorary Ambassador and recipient of the Golden Medal of Merit by the Council of Granada, as well as Honorary Citizen of the Province of Granada, his hometown. In December 2018 he is awarded the title Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic, awarded by the ambassador of France in Spain, Yves Saint-Geours.
Highly committed to the Spanish charity Ayuda en Acción as a Global Ambassador, Heras-Casado supports and promotes the charity’s work internationally.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op. 83
A native of Hamburg, a major Hanseatic city of Germany, Brahms exhibited exceptional talent at the piano already as a young boy. He often joined with his father, a town musician, in playing at Hamburg’s taverns and at dance parties. He was fortunate to have a superb teacher, Eduard Marxsen, who gave him an initiation into Bach’s music. Initially, it was as a pianist that Brahms earned a living. Besides giving solo concerts, he also made successful concert tours, especially with violinists (Reményi, Joachim), and he also worked as a choirmaster and a piano teacher. In 1863 he settled in Vienna permanently. In the winter he gave concerts as a pianist or conductor, but he preferred to spend the summer months in the countryside, composing in quiet, natural settings. He was a universal composer, writing music in vocal, instrumental, chamber, and symphonic genres. Opera, however, was something that he successfully avoided to the end of his days. “I’d rather marry than write an opera”, declared the confirmed bachelor. As a pianist, Brahms had the ideal disposition for writing piano concertos, but his first work in the genre (D minor, Op. 15, 1854–1857) underwent a very complex genesis and a good bit of Romantic turmoil. Brahms had not originally intended to write a piano concerto; the initial sketches were for a sonata for two pianos, then he attempted to rework the material into a symphony, but that also came to nothing. It was literally overnight that he ultimately decided on the final form – a piano concerto. He created a great work after his long search for the right form, but at the premiere in Hannover a later performance in Leipzig in 1859, the concerto was a total failure with the conservative audiences, and no one showed any interest in the work for a long time.
More than twenty years passed before Brahms composed his next work in the genre, his Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op. 83. His first concerto had been innovative in many ways, especially in terms of its integration of the piano into an overall symphonic structure, in which the soloist does not “lead” the orchestra, nor is the orchestra merely allowed to accompany the soloist on a virtuosic journey. Instead, the soloist joins with the orchestra in an equal partnership, often even becoming a part of the orchestra. Now Brahms delved even deeper into this idea. The new concept now involved not just the sound, but also the whole structure of the music, which is similar to a symphony even in the number of movements. Instead of following the established practice of three-movement instrumental concertos (fast – slow – fast), Brahms created a work with four movements. Between the first movement and the slow movement, he inserted a Scherzo. “A little piano concerto with a tender little Scherzo,” Brahms wrote to a friend in his typically ironic fashion. In reality, he had created what was perhaps the most gigantic piano concerto yet written, with a second “added” movement that could be described as “little” or “tender” only by a composer inclined towards provocative humour. When Brahms commented openly at one point about possibly omitting the inserted movement, he revealed much more (in his peculiar fashion). The first movement supposedly seemed too simple to him, as did the following slow movement (Andante), and for this reason he felt he needed to precede the latter with something powerful and passionate (Allegro appassionato). Unlike the First Piano Concerto, this time the opening movement begins without the traditional orchestral introduction, as the piano follows directly upon a solo French horn. In the slow third movement, the composer joins gives another solo instrument besides the piano an important role – the cello. Overall, Johannes Brahms created a work that again advanced the horizons of possibility in the world of music, and the concerto’s technical demands still represent one of the greatest challenges for pianists. The concerto had its very successful premiere on 9 November 1881 in Pest with Brahms at the piano.
Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major (“Romantic”)
A native of the Austrian village Ansfelden (today a suburb of Linz), Bruckner also exhibited extraordinary musical talent at an early age, and thanks to his father being an organist, the young man was able to develop his musicianship on the mighty “king of instruments” with its massive sound. Already at the age of eleven, little Anton wrote his first composition, Pange lingua, which he revised near the end of his life. After his father’s death, the thirteen-year-old boy became a chorister at the St Florian Monastery, and besides playing the organ, he also learned to play violin and piano. He later taught and served as organist at the monastery. Bruckner’s composition studies took him to Vienna, and he settled there permanently in 1868. Besides composing and teaching, he also continued to work as an organist. He was one of the most sought-after organists of his day, and he received prestigious invitations to test new organs in the most important centres of European music. It was Bruckner who first performed on the new organ at the Rudolfinum in Prague in 1884. Bruckner’s lifelong relationship with the organ can be seen in his works and in his musical thinking, which often treats instrumental sections (woodwinds, brass, strings) in blocks in the manner of organ registers. While Brahms’s orchestral works are characterised by intricate detail more characteristic of the structure of chamber music, Bruckner’s musical language is by contrast purely symphonic. In fact, even his few chamber music works have orchestral features.
As a composer, Anton Bruckner was all his life a great admirer of Richard Wagner, and to a great extent he followed in Wagner’s footsteps. This earned him the scorn of Wagner’s opponents in Vienna, where he was even nicknamed the “Adagio Composer”. Of course, Bruckner’s characteristic slow tempos are the key to opening the monumental gate beyond which one finds that mysterious world of Romanticism, about which the poets and philosophers of the first half of the nineteenth century wrote: “The world must be romanticised. Only in this way will the original meaning of things be found. By assigning high meaning to that which is low, mysterious form to the ordinary, seriousness of the unknown to the familiar, and seeming infinity to the finite, I make the world Romantic.” The young German poet and prose author Novalis wrote these words in 1798, and they have a general dimension, but when listening to Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E Flat Major, which the composer himself named Romantic, it seems as if in this work the words reach their fulfilment. From the very first notes, the composer leads us into a world that rediscovers the primordial natural foundation of sound. Its pure, elemental intervals (the perfect octave, fifth, and fourth) lend the music both a simplicity and a mysterious majesty. Like Brahms in his Second Piano Concerto, Bruckner also begins his Fourth Symphony with a solo French horn, but the melody and the use of the instrument are very different! Bruckner’s French horn emerges from the mists of a string tremolo, and it develops from that sonic background into solemn breadth. The symphony’s vastness and monumentality correspond to Bruckner’s conception of Romanticism “à la Lohengrin”.
Anton Bruckner wrote his Fourth Symphony in 1874, and he revised it several times over the years. Already at the first performance (Vienna, 1881) it was heard in a revised version, and after that the composer again made major changes to it. At today’s concert it will be heard in the form in which it was first performed on 4 April 1888. That performance was in New York under the baton of Anton Seidl. Five years later in the same city, Seidl would conduct the world premiere of a work by another important Anton – Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony From the New World.