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Piano Concerto No. 2 C Minor, Op. 18
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”) 33‘
Just 23, Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki has won acclaim for his extraordinary interpretive maturity, distinctive sound, and poetic sensibility. The New York Times has called him “a pianist who makes every note count”. Lisiecki’s insightful interpretations, refined technique, and natural affinity for art give him a musical voice that belies his age.
Jan Lisiecki was born to Polish parents in Canada in 1995. He began piano lessons at the age of five and made his concerto debut four years later, while always rebuffing the label of "child prodigy”. His approach to music is a refreshing combination of dedication, skill, enthusiasm and a realistic perspective on the career of a musician.
Lisiecki was brought to international attention in 2010, after the Fryderyk Chopin Institute issued a recording of Chopin’s piano concertos, performed live by Jan at age 13 and 14. BBC Music Magazine wrote of the “mature musicality” of his playing and commended the “sensitively distilled” insights of his Chopin interpretations; the release was awarded the Diapason Découverte. Confirming his status among the most imaginative and poetic pianists of his generation, Deutsche Grammophon signed an exclusive contract with Jan in 2011, when he was just 15 years old. His latest album, featuring Chopin’s rarely-performed works for piano and orchestra, was released in March 2017, and has been awarded the prestigious ECHO Klassik.
Jan says his aim is to always perform in a way that carries forward the beauty and brilliance of the original work. He has demonstrated that he is capable of rendering compositions remarkably close to the way they were intended. “Going into a concert hall should be like going into a sanctuary. You’re there to have a moment of reflection, hopefully leaving feeling different, refreshed and inspired.” The pianist’s development has taken place in company with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Orchestre de Paris, New York Philharmonic, and BBC Symphony, at venues such as Suntory Hall, the Kennedy, Lincoln, and Barbican Centres, and Royal Albert Hall. Jan has cultivated relationships with prominent conductors including Sir Antonio Pappano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Daniel Harding, and Pinchas Zukerman.
The remarkable 23-year-old musician made his debut in the main auditorium at New York’s Carnegie Hall in January 2016. In its rave review, the New York Times noted that it was an “uncommonly sensitive performance”. Jan also performs concertos leading from the piano, with ensembles such as the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and Camerata Salzburg. In the 2017/18 season, Jan will perform extensively across the world, including recital tours of Europe and Asia, and subscription debuts with the Boston Symphony, Wiener Symphoniker, and Staatskapelle Dresden, among others. In 2013 he received the Leonard Bernstein Award at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and was also named as Gramophone magazine’s Young Artist of the Year.
Jan is involved in charity work, donating time and performances to such organizations as the David Foster Foundation, the Polish Humanitarian Organization and the Wish Upon a Star Foundation. In 2012 he was named UNICEF Ambassador to Canada having been a National Youth Representative since 2008.
Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov was born in Leningrad in 1952, immigrated to the United States in 1975, and has been based in Europe since the mid-1980s. Like the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West.
Following his early concerts with the Czech Philharmonic in 2013, Bychkov and the Orchestra devised The Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings which allowed them the luxury of exploring Tchaikovsky’s music together. Its first fruit was released by Decca in October 2016, followed in August 2017 by the release of the Manfred symphony. The project culminates in 2019 with residencies in Prague, Vienna and Paris, and Decca’s release of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini.
Fourteen years after leaving the former Soviet Union, Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, the same year as he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. His international career had taken off several years earlier when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1997, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov conducts the major orchestras and at the major opera houses in the U.S. and Europe. In addition to his title with the Czech Philharmonic, he holds the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he appears annually at the BBC Proms, and the honorary Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. He was named “Conductor of the Year” at the 2015 International Opera Awards. On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. With repertoire that spans four centuries, the coming season brings two weeks of concerts with the New York Philharmonic, which includes the US première of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony No. 2, and the Cleveland Orchestra where he will conduct Detlev Glanert, Martinů and Smetana. In Europe, his concerts include performances with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the Royal Concertgebouw.
Bychkov’s recording career began in 1986 when he signed with Philips and began a significant collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings – the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997–2010) with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – include a complete cycle of Brahms’s Symphonies, and works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Verdi, Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year in 2010; and his recent recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was selected as BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month.
The promising career of the Russian piano virtuoso and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff was interrupted in 1897 by the failure of his Symphony No. 1 in D minor, which trigged an episode of major depression in Rachmaninoff. Although he successfully continued his piano career, the loss of self-confidence prevented him from composing. The therapy provided by the Moscow neurologist and psychiatrist Nikolai Vladimirovich Dahl at the beginning of 1900 helped Rachmaninoff to overcome his several-year writer’s block. This is why his first major composition, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, created immediately after surpassing this crisis, is dedicated to Dahl. Rachmaninoff worked on what is now his most popular concerto from the fall of 1900 to April of the following year. The introductory sonata movement opens with eight dramatic chords of a piano solo. This is followed by the main dark theme where the arpeggios in the piano serve as an accompaniment, while the second rhapsodic theme is presented by the soloist. The agitation of the whole movement escalates in a series of piano chords in fortissimo. In the introductory passage of the second slow movement, the strings modulate from the C minor key of the first movement to the distant key of E major. The movement itself has three sections. The soft theme of the marginal nocturne sections builds on the piano figurations. The melody itself is first entrusted to the flute and then passed to the clarinet, then the subject is taken over by the piano. The lively middle section of this movement is crowned by the cadenza of the soloist. The finale modulates from E (the key of the previous movement) to C minor. The last movement is in the rondo form and has a lively dance character. The main energetic theme is contrasted with a distant second theme related to the first theme of the introductory movement. A quieter second theme is built up in an impressive closing coda in the triumphant C major key.
For the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, his position of the director of the National Conservatory in New York in the years 1892–1895 meant a major turning point in his compositional activities. The American atmosphere and the local musical culture inspired him to create works linking American impulses with the tradition of European music. Symphony No. 9 in E minor “From the New World”, which he composed between 10 January and 24 May 1893, is the most popular of his “American” compositions. Although Dvořák does not quote African-American or Native American tunes, he introduces into his own themes characteristic elements of the music of American minorities, especially the exotically sounding pentatonic scale. The introductory movement juxtaposes the syncopated blues main theme with the second theme in a minor key inspired by the rhythm of the Czech dance polka. The slow movement Largo opens with a melancholy melody of the English horn, reminiscent of Negro spirituals. Dvořák gave it a pentatonic character only during the rehearsals before its first performance. This movement might have been inspired by the scene of the burial of Minnehaha, the wife of the Iroquois leader Hiawatha, from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Dvořák read this important work of American literature, drawing from Indian mythology, long before his sojourn in America. Scherzo has also been inspired by Longfellow’s epic poem, this time by the wedding of Hiawatha and Minnehaha. Dvořák’s idea of the dance of the Indian Chief Pau Puk Keewis is followed by the Czech dance sousedská. The finale, which features the themes of all three previous movements, is a joyous culmination of the whole composition.
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