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This exclusive series concludes with a solo piano recital of the artist-in-residence for this season, young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, who has been one of the world’s top performing artists for the last 15 years. After appearing with the Czech Philharmonic at the Rudolfinum and on tour, she puts an exclamation mark on the recital season.
„Malaga“ from the suite Iberia
“Lavapiés” from the suite Iberia (7')
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23 (20')
Prelude, Op. 53, No. 11 (2')
Prelude, Op. 53, No. 10 (2')
— Intermission —
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major, Op. 31, No. 3 (20')
Suite for Piano, Op. 25 (15')
Étude No. 6 “Automne à Varsovie” (Autumn in Warsaw) (4')
Étude No. 13 “L’escalier du diable” (The Devil’s Staircase) (5')
A version of the programme that the soloist chose on the day of the concert
Yuja Wang piano
Pianist Yuja Wang is celebrated for her charismatic artistry, emotional honesty and captivating stage presence. She has performed with the world’s most venerated conductors, musicians and ensembles, and is renowned not only for her virtuosity, but her spontaneous and lively performances, famously telling the New York Times. “I firmly believe every program should have its own life, and be a representation of how I feel at the moment”. This skill and charisma was recently demonstrated in her performance of Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 at Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night Gala in October 2021, following its historic 572 days of closure.
Yuja was born into a musical family in Beijing. After childhood piano studies in China, she received advanced training in Canada and at the Curtis Institute of Music under Gary Graffman. Her international breakthrough came in 2007, when she replaced Martha Argerich as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Two years later, she signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and has since established her place among the world’s leading artists, with a succession of critically acclaimed performances and recordings. She was named Musical America’s Artist of the Year in 2017, and in 2021 received an Opus Klassik Award for her world-premiere recording of John Adams’ Must the Devil Have all the Good Tunes? with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel.
As a chamber musician, Yuja has developed long lasting partnerships with several leading artists, notably violinist Leonidas Kavakos, with whom she has recorded the complete Brahms violin sonatas and will be performing duo recitals in America in the Autumn. In 2022, Yuja embarks on a highly-anticipated international recital tour, which sees her perform in world-class venues across North America, Europe and Asia, astounding audiences once more with her flair, technical ability and exceptional artistry in a wide-ranging programme to include Bach, Beethoven and Schoenberg.
The 32 piano sonatas that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) composed over nearly three decades are among the greatest works of the piano literature. The Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major, Op. 31/3, is the last of a set of three sonatas published together, which contains an equally famous sonata with the nickname “The Tempest”. These sonatas date from 1802, when the composer had just fully accepted the fact that he was going deaf. However, in the Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major there is no hint of the gloomy thoughts then going through Beethoven’s mind (he wrote the “Heiligenstadt Testament” not long after finishing this sonata). To the contrary, the atmosphere is light hearted, often almost jocular. The sonata has a four-movement layout, but it surprisingly contains no slow movement. The opening movement in sonata form begins with a striking figure with a chordal response. The first theme develops the material of this motivic introduction (which reappears several times during the movement). Unusually, the second movement, Scherzo, is also in sonata form and is in 2/4 metre (scherzos are usually in 3/4). Next comes a graceful Menuetto. Beethoven gradually abandoned use of the rather old-fashioned minuet; this is the last instance of a minuet in his sonatas. The energetic concluding Presto con fuoco is a geyser of musical ideas.
Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951), the chief representative of the Second Viennese School, was largely self taught as a composer. His early works are in the style of Late Romanticism (like the symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande or the cantata Gurre-Lieder), but in ca. 1908 he decided to depart from the traditional tonal system and began exploring the world of atonality. He soon abandoned free atonality and laid the foundations for his own dodecaphonic compositional technique based on the principle of a 12-note series from which all of a work’s thematic material is derived. The Suite for Piano, Op. 25, was written between 1921 and 1923, and it is one of the composer’s first dodecaphonic works. As can be seen from the titles of the individual movements, it was inspired by the form of the Baroque suite. Although the work was once criticised for being excessively academic, the composition is actually pulsating with life.
The musical education of György Ligeti (1923–2006) was interrupted by the Second World War, in which some of his family members perished. After graduating from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where Zoltán Kodály was among his teachers, Ligeti devoted himself to research on Hungarian folk music in Transylvania (many of the compositions from his early creative period are arrangements of folk songs). He later returned to his alma mater as a member of the teaching staff. The bloody suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 by an invasion of Soviet tanks forced him to flee to Vienna, and from there he went to Cologne, where he joined Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig in working on the advancement of electronic music. In the 1960s he taught at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music, which became a centre for the avant-garde after the Second World War. Many film fans know his music—it is heard, for example, in Stanley Kubrick’s famous film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). His 18 Études for piano solo, composed between 1985 and 2001, have also become popular with audiences. Regarded as one of the greatest contributions to the piano literature from recent decades, they bear witness to Ligeti’s deep immersion into the complex compositional techniques of that period. They were published in three volumes. The composer dedicated Automne à Varsovie (Autumn in Warsaw), the last etude in Book I, to his Polish friends. The etude is strikingly polyrhythmic, with a mixing of several layers of rhythm. L’escalier du diable (The Devil’s Staircase) is from Book II. Ligeti composed this etude in 1993. The inspiration for its title is an imaginary staircase the rises endlessly. The chromatic scale serves a thematic structural function, constantly rising and falling to create the impression of infinity and to generate the necessary tension.
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872–1915) was born in Moscow to the family of a lawyer and diplomat. His first piano teacher was an aunt who fostered his love of music. As an adult, he took a deep interest in philosophy, various spiritual disciplines, and mysticism. This is one reason why he often accompanied his compositions with commentary. The Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23, was composed in 1897–1898, and it consists of four movements. One striking feature is the very unusual conclusion: after a recollection of the theme of the slow movement, instead of a grandiose finale, we get a return to the tonic key of F sharp minor and an abrupt ending that leaves us with an unsettled feeling of incompleteness. Scriabin later gave the sonata the title States of the Soul and described the individual movements as follows. First movement: The soul, free and wild, thrown into the whirlpool of suffering and strife. Second movement: Apparent momentary and illusory respite […]. Third movement: A sea of feelings, tender and sorrowful: love, sorrow, vague desires, inexplicable thoughts, illusions of a delicate dream. Finale: In the turmoil of the unbound elements, the soul is tossed about in a daze. From the depth of being rises the fearsome voice of creative man, whose victorious song resounds triumphantly. […] But still too weak to reach the acme, he plunges, temporarily defeated, into the abyss of non-being.
A native of Catalonia, Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909) was regarded as a wunderkind—he gave public concerts from an early age, and when he was just seven he passed the entrance examination to the Paris Conservatoire (in the end he was not admitted because he was too young). Later, he studied at the conservatoires in Leipzig, Madrid, and especially Brussels. He made his mark in a number of genres, but the bulk of his legacy consists of piano music (he was himself an excellent pianist). He earned a place in music history mainly thanks to compositions inspired by traditional Spanish dance music. Today, we also hear many of his piano pieces in arrangements for guitar. The piano suite Iberia is a masterpiece of Albéniz’s late creative period. He wrote it during the last years of his life, which he spent in Paris. With its Spanish rhythms and colour, but also with melancholy and flashbacks to the distant past, Albéniz’s Iberia consists of twelve impressionistic pieces in four volumes. Lavapiés, a piece characterised by alternating rhythms (we hear the habanera, for example) and great dynamic contrasts, is one of the most technically difficult pieces in the suite.
The Ukrainian composer and pianist Nikolai Kapustin (1937–2020) studied piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. He composed ca. 160 works, but it has only been since the turn of the millennium that he has won greater fame worldwide. Many of his works are piano pieces that combine the musical forms of the Baroque and Classical eras with jazz elements. One example is the Suite in the Old Style (1977), in which he employed Baroque forms with jazz improvisation. He composed his cycle of 24 Preludes, Op. 53, in 1988. Like Frédéric Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28, these little pieces cover all of the major and minor keys. In Kapustin’s 24 Preludes, there is a succession of various jazz styles. In Prelude No. 10 in C sharp minor there are hints of gospel music, and in Prelude No. 11 in B major we hear the blues.