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. 

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Comments [6]


The assertion that the techincal considerations of the recording industry are what's limiting the presence of composer-virtuosos seems absurd to me; top-caliber pianists now and back in the early 19th century were practicing just as much - who today could lay claim to practicing more than Liszt? the reason we've seen an undeniable separation of performers from composers is a much more subtle argument that the one you propose, due to a slow cultural shift in the nature of popular music, the added commercial opportunities for composers in a global marketplace, and less ruthlessly competitive (where are your piano duels between Musto and Danielpour?) local performer landscapes.

and as a result the nature of what makes a concerto a concerto have changed. that's all these juxtapositions are illustrating.

Nov. 20 2011 11:59 AM

Why only November? Make this a continual program!

Nov. 16 2011 10:41 PM

Hi Ken,

Please find instructions to send us your music at this page:

Thanks, and looking forward!

Nov. 14 2011 06:02 PM
Ken Laufer from jassiken@yahoo.com

Hello! How do we send you music?

Ken Laufer 212-666-7274


Nov. 13 2011 10:26 PM
Michael Meltzer

It's always helpful in coming to an inexorable conclusion if you omit examples which might be a challenge.
Brahms, who worshipped at the altar of Beethoven, wrote his two piano concertos with the piano quite integrated with the orchestra as though he were writing chamber music on a huge scale. In fact, Beethoven's Concerto # 4 is not so far removed from that approach. Chopin used the orchestra as a completely subservient accompaniment in his piano concerti.
There still are composers that are virtuosi who have written concertos on the heels of St. Saens, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok: Richard Danielpour, John Musto and the late Robert Helps come immediately to mind. I'm sure there must be others if some time were taken to look around. I don't think the composer/pianist has mysteriously disappeared, it is just that the technical perfection demands on today's pianists, due to comparison of live performances with note-perfect CD's, require an allotment of daily practice time that busy composers would find oppressive. That limits public appearances.

Nov. 08 2011 11:24 PM

Good! Pairing a #LivingComposer with the #OldDeadWhiteGuy de nuit makes good sense to me, thanks for the enlightened programming (what else, from you guys?). I'll hunker with pleasure every night at 10p. This series is #PorterEndorsed.

Nov. 05 2011 09:23 PM

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