Alex Ambrose is the senior producer for Q2 Music, WQXR’s online station and website devoted to discovery, curiosity and vibrant 21st-century music.
Powerhouse Piano Concertos
Pairings Spanning Centuries of Virtuosic Power, Speed, Touch and Phrasing
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
For WQXR's Beethoven Awareness Month, Q2 Music gets back to its "500 Years of New-Music" roots and pays homage to the genre where the many strands of the composer's creative persona come into sharpest focus -- the piano concerto. Every night at 10 pm throughout November, Q2 Music streams back-to-back piano concertos, the first from the 19th century and behind the imposing shadow of Beethoven's own five masterworks and the second from today's active, international repertoire.
For most performer-composers of Beethoven's era, the piano concerto captured something to which other genres could not lay claim. It put the composer front and center as both inventor and salesman. For Beethoven, it presented the opportunity for the hammer-smashing, string-breaking, one-man-against-the-world soloist to demonstrate his technical prowess and improvisatory skills.
But Beethoven had many would-be competitors, who were also struggling to make a name for themselves, and though history may not have been as kind to such composers-pianists as Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870), Carl Czerny (1791-1857), Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1780-1849), Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) and many more of the early 19th century, we believe they deserve another chance to be heard. Listen in every night in November at 10 pm and judge for yourself if their music warrants this relative obscurity.
Due to uncompromising views on creativity and an awe-inspiring presence as soloist, however, Beethoven's impact on the genre went beyond the score by transforming the concerto form into a means of illustrating an understanding of the individual's relation to society. Epic struggles abounded and the symbolic notion of the valiant soloist battling an unsympathetic orchestra began to take shape -- a conceit which continues to resonate to this day.
However as composer-performers became less standard and qualified virtuosos could perform even the most rigorous and idiosyncratic of others' works, the concerto took on a more nuanced understanding, one that permitted both struggle and harmony and everything in between. For the second half of Q2 Music's nightly pairings, enjoy kaleidoscopic and far-reaching versions of modern-day piano concertos, from such composers as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Bechara El-Khoury, Iiro Rantala, David Rakowski, Avner Dorman and many more.
Let us know what you think of the pairings and if have suggestions of other piano concertos from composers dead or alive, obscure or even more obscure, let us know! Join the conversation with your insights and help our understanding of how far the piano concerto has come.