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Jeff Spurgeon: A prodigy is described as a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities. On this broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live, we are going to hear music by composers whose talent was prodigious. We'll hear music by Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Chopin, and Mozart. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, and in this special pandemic season when Carnegie Hall is closed, we are presenting highlights from our 10 years of broadcasts from this historic venue.
Mozart is certainly the most famous musical child prodigy, but comparing actual talent is a trickier business. Felix Mendelssohn, as a boy, was also bursting with ability. He wrote his first full opera score at age 12 and produced two of his most famous works, The Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, and The Octet for Strings when he was in his mid-teens. He was gifted in language, reading Latin and Greek, speaking French, along with his native German, and eventually learning that very difficult tongue, English.
He was a fine poet, quite an accomplished painter too. Now, we won't go so far as to say Mozart [unintelligible 00:01:35], but this Mendelssohn boy was really something. When he became a young man, he made the first of a number of journeys to the British Isles. He was eager to be in Scotland, which had already captured his imagination through the writings of Sir Walter Scott and others, our program begins with his Scottish Fantasia, played by Sir András Schiff, who has also been to Scotland, and told us that Mendelssohn captured the place very well.
Sir András Schiff: The atmosphere, misty, those of you who have been to Scotland and to the islands, to the Hebrides, to Fingal's Cave, the island of Staffa. I have done that trip in honor of Mendelssohn, but also to try some of the single malt distilleries. I listen to this music with different ears after I have been there because the nature and the movement of the sea, usually very rough weather. This Mendelssohn Fantasia also starts in rough weather.
Jeff Spurgeon: Put on a warm jacket because here is the Fantasia in F-sharp minor, Op. 28 of Mendelssohn played by Sir András Schiff in a performance captured in Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Felix Mendelssohn: Fantasia in F-sharp minor, Op. 28]
Jeff Spurgeon: Music written by Felix Mendelssohn under the influence of Scotland. Sir Andras Schiff performing the Scottish Fantasia in F-sharp minor that Mendelssohn composed when he'd only read and heard of Scotland. After his first visit to Britain and he revised the piece and then have it published without the Scottish reference in the title, but it stuck. This is Carnegie Hall Live a retrospective of performances, we'd broadcast over nearly 10 years of his series. This program is devoted to music of child prodigies, composers whose extraordinary talent appeared extraordinarily early.
Modest Mussorgsky was a prodigy who first learned to play the piano from his mother. By the time he was nine, he was able to toss off a John Field concerto and some works by Liszt. His parent's priority for their son wasn't music, though, it was military service, and young Modest entered a cadet academy at age 13. He was graduated four years later and given a commission in the Russian Imperial Guard.
While serving at a military hospital in St. Petersburg, he met Alexander Borodin connections through Borodin and Mussorgsky's fabulous skill at the piano, got him into important musical circles in St. Petersburg, and there his real musical education began. Balakirev was a big influence but Mussorgsky was to some substantial degree self-taught. He was also devoted to all things Russian and wanted that sensibility to suffuse his music. His great enemy was alcohol and Mussorgsky died at age 42 with some but surely not all of his potential realized.
We're going to hear one of his most famous works Pictures at an Exhibition, a musical tour of an art gallery that has two other names attached to it. One is Viktor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky and part of the circle of artists who are working to develop that Russian aesthetic. When Hartmann died suddenly at age 39, Mussorgsky was devastated. Not long after, when a large exhibition of Hartmann's paintings and drawings was mounted in St. Petersburg, Mussorgsky paid his friend tribute by writing piano music depicting some of the pictures at that exhibition. Mussorgsky had the clever idea to link his pictures with little intermezzo. He called them promenade representing Mussorgsky's own wanderings through the galleries.
Mussorgsky's composition has kept Hartmann's memory alive, more than his paintings and drawings themselves. In fact, only about a half dozen of the Hartmann pieces that inspired this music still exist. The third person who gets credit for what we're about to hear is Maurice Ravel who in 1922, 35 years after Mussorgsky piano pieces were published, turned the piano music into this great grand work for orchestra and here it is now performed in 2016 by the Vienna Philharmonic and conductor by Valery Gergiev and broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition]
Jeff Spurgeon: We have just spent some time walking around an art display, Pictures at an Exhibition. A tribute by the prodigiously talented composer, Modest Mussorgsky to his late friend, the artist, Viktor Hartmann. Mussorgsky's original version of the work for piano was orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. The performance by conductor, Valery Gergiev, and the Vienna Philharmonic took place in 2016 when it was broadcast as it happened, and as you've just heard it on this program, Carnegie Hall Live.
On this retrospective program, we're exploring works by composers whose exceptional talent appeared early in their lives. We'll continue with more prodigies in just a moment. Music by Chopin and the all-time poster boy of child prodigies, Mozart. This is Carnegie Hall Live. Carnegie Hall, like most concert halls, is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, we have almost a decade's worth of concert broadcasts to share with you, all originally presented from Carnegie Hall Live. I'm Jeff Spurgeon and this is the second half of our program devoted to wunderkinder, child prodigies. Mendelssohn and Mussorgsky in the first half, and now Chopin.
Born in 1810, Frederic Chopin learned a bit of piano playing from his mother but was turned over to his first professional teacher at age six. At age seven, he was performing in public and had begun to compose as well. The earliest of his compositions that we still have was written when he was 11. We're about to hear a selection of Chopin works played by Leif Ove Andsnes in a Carnegie Hall recital of February 2012. Chopin's music is famous for its delicacy and elegance, and you'll certainly hear that here. There's a stormy side to Chopin in this program as well as Andsnes told us when he spoke to us about the ballades and other works in this program.
Leif Ove Andsnes: Very different pieces. If we talk about aggression that this have, first and foremost, the first ballades. He had a period when he arrived to Paris, he was 21 years old and in the years after that he wrote some very compact, strong pieces and even quite angry sometimes, and this is one of those. He writes it towards the end in one passage, as loud as possible. Can that be Chopin? This is real drama there. In the [unintelligible 00:57:32] he's devastated. He just pulls everything apart, but what a piece. What an impression that makes after that very melancholy opening and that haunting theme.
Jeff Spurgeon: Then the Waltz. You picked some Waltz and a couple of other things. Is this just a bouquet of Chopin, or is there a program within those selections?
Leif Ove Andsnes: It's not the program, but I wanted to show contrasting sides of this incredibly unique composer. The Waltz, I've always loved the Waltz. I think also I love them so much because of a most phenomenal recording by Dinu Lipatti, probably my favorite pianist. He recorded all of them, and in such a natural way and in such a splendid way.
[MUSIC - Frederic Chopin: Waltz]
Leif Ove Andsnes: There, of course, one could say it's a long pieces, but there's such a sophistication in the harmonies and in the small, subtle things, and it gives the freedom to play that kind of music. I think it's important because we tend to always think of the so-called important music all the time, the great sonatas and everything. I think to play Waltz, to have that rhythmic flexibility and so on, that develops something which is difficult to develop in a late Beethoven sonata. Then there is the very sophisticated Chopin. I find third ballade, one of my absolute favorite pieces by his where you also very much feel the love of bach. I think in late pieces, in this and also in the nocturne I play after this, you feel the polyphonic writing is great and it's even when you don't realize we are talking about polyphony.
I think sometimes it seems like there's melody and accompaniment going on, but the bass line and the accompaniment starts to have a life on their own and it floats and it's so amazing. That's why this music is so rich, for example, compared to the nocturnes by John Field, who is contemporary, who inspired Chopin to write his nocturnes, but it's just they are solid, but they are not ingenious pieces like this.
Jeff Spurgeon: You're about to reach your 25th anniversary as a professional pianist. How far along are you in your or artistic development? What have you learned about yourself, and what have you learned about life doing this?
Leif Ove Andsnes: The more one gets into the music, one realizes that there is more and more to learn. The other day I was listening to Artur Schnabel's recording of that wonderful A minor Rondo of Mozart and I was thinking, "What are the secrets? How can you build that piece so that it sounds so natural, so painful, so full-blood?" These are things that I'm working on every day. Trying to find out what makes music great and to use the tools we have, the rhythm, the harmonies, the melodies, and the colors. It's an ongoing process.
Jeff Spurgeon: Leif Ove Andsnes, talking about Chopin and some of the composers, great interpreters of earlier generations. There's no question the next generation of pianists will find inspiration in the recorded performances of the excellent Leif Ove Andsnes. Here he is now, playing Chopin in 2012 for an audience then, and for you now. From Carnegie Hall live.
[MUSIC - Chopin: Waltz in F minor, Opus 70, No. 2]
[MUSIC - Chopin: Waltz in G Flat Major, Opus 70 No. 1]
[MUSIC - Chopin: Waltz in D Flat Major, Op. 70 No. 3]
[MUSIC - Chopin: Waltz in A Flat Major, Op. 42]
Jeff Spurgeon: A brilliant, transparent, even playful performance on stage at Carnegie Hall from Ganas lymphoma answers in Chopin's tricky little to four Waltz and before that the three Waltz is an opus 70. They might have been played out of order two, one, three, but that wasn't a page mix up by Lake Over, he just thinks they flow better that way. You're listening to Life of unsolicited Carnegie Hall Recital from February of 2012. His Chopin exploration continues now with the Opus 47 Ballad number three and A flat on Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Chopin: Ballade in A Flat Major, Op. 47]
The Ballade number three of Frederick Chopin performed by llevaba on Smith's in Carnegie Hall as we share highlights from a decade of concerts captured on this stage. We are rebroadcasting them in this pandemic year when Carnegie Hall has been closed. This program is focused on prodigies, composers whose enormous talents appeared early in their lives. We're not quite done with Leif Ove Andnes and [unintelligible 01:20:16] Chopin just yet. We have one more below, but first, Nocturne, the opera 62 No. 1 indeed. [unintelligible 01:20:24] Leif Ove Andnes in arnegie Hall.
[MUSIC - Chopin: Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62 No. 1]
[MUSIC - Chopin: Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23]
Jeff Spurgeon: Four Waltzes, two Ballades, and a Nocturne too. A set of works by that prodigious poet [unintelligible 01:36:10] Frédéric Chopin, which Leif Ove Andsnes played in a 2012 concert for an audience inside Carnegie Hall and another audience listening to the performance as it was broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live. The last composer whose music we're bringing you on this classical concert program of prodigies is the most famous of them all. Mozart. The fame didn't come because Mozart's superb talent appeared at an early age, that's just what a prodigy is but because he was born into a family that knew how to develop and to exploit that talent.
Both little Wolfgang and his older sister Nannerl were taken on tour as child attractions and the fame resulted from their exploits before the noble houses where they showed their marvelous skills. The childhood exploits are fascinating history, but the music of the mature composer is what lives today, and here's a performer who loves that music, pianist Mitsuko Uchida. The English Chamber Orchestra asked her to try conducting a Mozart concerto from the keyboard back in 1983.
Mitsuko Uchida: All I could say was I've never done that but I said, "I’m really good at it." I’m sure I said and they said, "Well, but why don't you try? We are quite used to it. You can't conduct? Okay, but we can play with you all the same your face but okay, fine." I did it and somehow, we hit it off very well. Of course, I was doing all the wrong movements and I got so tired and everything but I hit it off with a few of the players. With Chamber groups, you'll have to have a connection with some of the players.
Jeff Spurgeon: Pianist Mitsuko Uchida on conducting and playing Mozart at the same time. We're a little tight for time on this broadcast so we're going to start with the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20. A performance from just a few years ago by Mitsuko Uchida and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from Carnegie Hall Live.
MUSIC - Mitsuko Uchida: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (last two movements) [applause]
Jeff Spurgeon: Two movements for Mozart's Piano Concerto No.20, performed by Mitsuko Uchida and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. That European ensemble of musicians from 20 countries enjoys partnerships with a number of great solo artists. A few years ago, we shared their Mozart collaboration with Mitsuko Uchida and are happy to do so again in this retrospective edition of Carnegie Hall Live, featuring music by composers Hooper child prodigies. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Thanks to our friends at Carnegie Hall, our production colleagues at WQXR, and to you for listening. Carnegie Hall Live is a production of WQXR in New York.
[MUSIC - Mitsuko Uchida: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (last two movements)]
[01:58:02] [END OF AUDIO]
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