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Jeff Spurgeon: We're coming to you from the Perelman Stage and Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, where almost two years ago to the day, this great stage went dark for what would be an unprecedented 18 months. Just five days before that historic shutdown in 2020, the trio we'll hear in a moment, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma performed a program of Beethoven works to honor the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. The three return now, two years later, to again perform an all-Beethoven program you are going to hear from Carnegie Hall live. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, alongside John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: This is by no means the only delayed Beethoven 250th birthday concert taking place-
Jeff Spurgeon: There have been a few.
John Schaefer: -at Carnegie Hall or everywhere else for that matter. Lots of celebrations delayed by the pandemic, but Leonidas Kavakos, the violinist, the pianist Emanuel Ax, Manny to all in Sundry, and Yo-Yo Ma, the great cellist, will make it worth our while to have waited for this concert because they are performing some of Beethoven's great piano trios. The Gassenhauer Trio is Opus 11, and the Ghost Trio is Opus 70, Number 1, but even more than that, they're going to play Beethoven's Sixth Symphony of the Pastoral, arranged for piano trio by pianist Shai Wosner.
Jeff Spurgeon: Now, all three of these musicians have been performing together for years. Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma have been musical collaborators for the better part of half a century, and Leonidas Kavakos is no stranger either. The three, a while back, released an album of Brahms's three piano trios. This year, they returned with a recording of two Beethoven symphonies, the second and the fifth, arranged for three players. It is aptly titled, that album, Beethoven for Three, and was released just a few days ago, March 4th.
John Schaefer: Earlier today, we spoke with Shai Wosner, the noted pianist, and it should be said, a former student of Manny Ax, about how he approached arranging the Symphony No. 6 for this trio.
Shai Wosner: Let me make it clear, not because I think there's anything wrong with the original version, this was actually Yo-Yo and Manny's idea, so don't blame me. They were thinking of doing additional Beethoven symphonies in trio version since there is already an official version for of the Second Symphony that Beethoven authorized and also worked on together with one of his students, and so they thought, why not do more? Which I completely understand. I mean, this music is so great, we musicians just want to play it, and especially if you're a pianist, you don't get to play in the orchestra. It's fun to have these chamber versions.
Jeff Spurgeon: Shai Wosner on being asked to arrange the Symphony No. 6 for piano trio, a work which had some challenges, but Wosner also talked about the pleasure that he experienced in making this arrangement of the Pastoral.
Shai Wosner: It was really fun to spend time with a score that I wouldn't play otherwise. Kind of be in Beethoven's workshop, you can kind of pretend like you're an assistant or something, working on a version of the big man's piece. It's kind of translating it, like you translate a novel to another language. You want to use what that language has to offer. You don't try to fit in the amount of notes that 65 people play with three people. You highlight the conversational mode in the music. You give three characters roles.
John Schaefer: That is Shai Wosner, pianist and arranger of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, which we will hear on the main stage here at Carnegie Hall tonight. It's worth noting that Shai is in the audience and that this will be the piece's New York and broadcast premiere. It's only been played once before, Jeff, and that was in DC recently.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yes, that's right. Otherwise, it was just in-- Shai Wosner said in his living room. Yes, we're going to hear the Sixth Symphony in just a moment. Each of the movements in that symphony, there are five of them, is meant to evoke something different that you might find in the country or that you would find in the idea of the country. A brook, a party, a storm, being thankful for weathering said storm, and in the symphonic version, Beethoven, of course, could use all the textures that he had in the orchestra to convey those scenes, but--
John Schaefer: Because, of course, it was a full-on symphony and the rare example of a Beethoven piece with a nickname that Beethoven actually gave it. The official name was Pastoral Symphony or Recollections of Country Life, and Jeff, as you say, he's got all these brilliant colors to play with in the original symphonic version, Shai Wosner only has three instruments. Now, Wosner is a pianist, so he needed a little bit of help with the violin and cello parts, and so he consulted with his daughter, who plays the cello. He says he ran ideas by her.
Shai Wosner: Sometimes you want to make sure that something is actually practical on an instrument, even if you're writing for Yo-Yo Ma, who can probably do anything on the cello, it's still a cello. It's only four strings, and certain things are simply not possible, even for Yo-Yo Ma. You want to make sure that something sounds good and works physically. If you have a really fast passage that you want it to sound light, if it's really hard work physically, it's just not going to sound light. It's going to sound effortful. Many evenings I would call my daughter from whatever she was doing and make her sit down, it was like, "Just play these. Play these two bars. Can you play it faster? Good." If she couldn't, and I would see why, and then I would make an adjustment.
Jeff Spurgeon: Shai Wosner in making the arrangement that we're about to hear of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, one of those collaborators being his daughter, who played the cello and helped him pattern out a few things in the arrangement that we're about to hear.
John Schaefer: I wonder if he said to her, "Play it like Yo-Yo Ma would play it."
John Schaefer: What kind of thing is that to do to your kid? You're filling in for Yo-Yo Ma here in the living room tonight.
Jeff Spurgeon: You take the test drive. Yes. It's a great little connection that Shai explained. He clearly had a great deal of pleasure in making this arrangement. Honestly, John, he didn't make it sound like it was that hard for him. He talked much more about the pleasures of working with Beethoven and working with Beethoven's music.
John Schaefer: Well, we are expecting to hear a conversation from three extraordinary musicians on stage here at Carnegie Hall in this performance of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, his Symphony No. 6, and, again, normally, if we were presenting this work on this stage, Jeff, you and I would be buffeted by waves of orchestral musicians going by us. We are literally just offstage in the wings.
Jeff Spurgeon: It is perhaps, except for the sounds on the background and you and I talking, one of the quietest places in Carnegie Hall right now.
John Schaefer: Absolutely.
Jeff Spurgeon: Because the audience is filled with people who are anticipating this performance about to start and we're just behind the stage doors, and so you're hearing Yo-Yo Ma tune the cello. You heard a tiny bit of that great Pastoral theme from Leonidas Kavakos. I'm sure Emanuel Ax would participate too, but his instrument is out on the stage.
John Schaefer: We are just about ready to welcome the three musicians onto the main stage here at Carnegie Hall for this Carnegie Hall live broadcast. Once again Shai Wosner’s arrangement of the Pastoral Symphony, the Symphony No. 6 by Beethoven. It is the complete work. It's not abridged or anything like that, but it is, reduced seems the wrong word to say. It is scaled for three-
Jeff Spurgeon: That's right.
John Schaefer: -instruments, and as you might imagine, with 88 keys at his disposal, Manny Ax is going to--
Jeff Spurgeon: Provide a lot of those colors.
John Schaefer: Yes.
Jeff Spurgeon: The stage door opens and out comes our trio this evening, pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma onto the stage at Carnegie Hall.
John Schaefer: We are expecting Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, but we may get some remarks from one or more of the musicians before that happens.
Shai Wosner: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for being here. It was, I think, two years ago when we played on this stage the last concert before Carnegie Hall was closed due to the pandemic, and here we are again, and we are so happy.
Shai Wosner: Not only are we happy that we are here, but we are so happy that you are here and so many people can again gather together to enjoy music, but as much as great joy it is to play and to listen to music, that joy is seriously reduced when we know in some parts of the world there is much trouble in people losing their lives or having their lives destroyed. Therefore, as a show of respect and sending our thoughts and love to the people of Ukraine, we would love to start by playing the national anthem of Ukraine. Thank you so much.
[MUSIC - National Anthem of Ukraine]
John Schaefer: The Ukrainian national anthem, a poignant beginning to tonight's concert. The murmuring sound you heard was the audience standing at attention for that performance. Now cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and pianist Emanuel Ax will play the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven in Shai Wosner’s new arrangement.
MUSIC- Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” (arr. For trio by Shai Wosner) [applause]
Jeff Spurgeon: A performance from Carnegie Hall by three great musicians bringing to life an entire Beethoven symphony. The 6, the Pastoral. The pianist, Emanuel Ax, the violinist, Leonidas Kavakos, the cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, in an arrangement made by Shai Wosner gloriously welcomed by this Carnegie Hall audience for free on their feet now before the crowd. Backstage, I'm Jeff Spurgeon, alongside John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: Shai Wosner is in the audience and the musicians are pointing him out to share in the applause which is well-deserved. What a wonderful arrangement that is?
Jeff Spurgeon: Just beautiful. They're calling Shai to the stage in fact, up there in the Ax family section where Mani comes to hear concerts at Carnegie Hall. Shai is up there with the Ax family today.
John Schaefer: I just found some very telling touches in that arrangement. The bird song in the second movement which lives so well for the flutes and now there's no flutes here and yet, using the--
Jeff Spurgeon: The harmonics.
John Schaefer: Yes, this harmonic effects on the strings, Shai Wosner really got that sound just right and the thunder in the fourth movement. I mean--
Jeff Spurgeon: We heard a little Beethoven piano sonata playing in that storm section there. Wosner used some techniques that he knows very well from Beethoven's solo piano works to add depth to that storm depiction. Now, back on the stage, these three artists for another curtain call as the first half of this Carnegie Hall concert concludes, an all-Beethoven program beginning with something of old and brand new at the same time. Shai Wosner's arrangement for piano trio of the Beethoven's Symphony Number 6 and two other great Beethoven trios to come in the second half. This is listener-supported classical New York, 105.9 FM in HD WQXR, Newark, and 90.3 FM WQXW Ossining.
John Schaefer: Well, there may not be a lot of musicians out on stage, but there is a lot of music. We've just heard a full Beethoven symphony. In the second half we have two Beethoven's piano trios. Again, as we mentioned earlier, a medium, a format that he seems to have been particularly fond of. We get a chance to hear the piano trio in B flat major Opus 11, nicknamed the Gassenhauer or Street Song.
Jeff Spurgeon: Because it's a Gassenhauer. No, it's not the reason. All right.
John Schaefer: A street song based on a very popular aria from a comic opera of the time by Yosef Feigl, an opera called l'amour [unintelligible 00:55:58], the love of the sailors, sometimes translated as the love of the sea. This was a tune that was so popular that you could hear it being sung on the streets of Vienna, hence Gassenhauer, Street Song. That'll be coming up in the second half.
Jeff Spurgeon: Beethoven took that popular tune for the third movement of that particular trio and arranged it in nine different variations. Originally it was written as a trio, but not for the violin. It was for clarinet originally and cello and piano. Joseph Beer, a clarinetist of the time, actually asked Beethoven for the piece. Then it turned out he didn't like it. It wasn't flashy enough for the clarinetist.
The version that we're going to hear tonight is for the standard Piano Trio, violin and cello and piano adapted from Beethoven's original and he made that so that he could sell more copies of the piece when it was published. Beethoven had bills to pay like the rest of us. Can you imagine, John, how outraged Beethoven would be in the days of Spotify after all the hassles he gave all of his publishers over rates and arrangements and costs and everything?
John Schaefer: This is before copyright laws have been codified. If Beethoven hadn't made an arrangement of his Second Symphony, somebody else would have.
Jeff Spurgeon: You bet.
John Schaefer: Somebody else probably did but Beethoven did get there first and had the one that has come down to us. Also on the program later, we'll hear another Piano Trio, the Opus 70 number one, the piano trio in D Major, nicknamed The Ghost. Now, I mentioned before with the Pastoral Symphony, it's a rare example of a Beethoven work that has a nickname that Beethoven himself approved of. The Ghost, Beethoven had nothing to do with calling this piece The Ghost. That was a name given to it by a piano student of Beethoven's named Carl Czerny. Czerny claimed that the middle movement, the slow movement, reminded him of the scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet, where the ghost of Hamlet's father appears.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yes, and he says, "I am thy father's spirit doomed for a certain term to walk the night till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away." The name of the ghost tells Hamlet, basically says it's payback time and he says, "If thou didst ever thy dear father love, revenge his foul and most unnatural murder." It's actually a much scarier passage when there's nobody atuning a piano with it.
John Schaefer: You did really well, man, despite the circumstances.
Jeff Spurgeon: I had my arm out in a deep gesture of declaiming, so I did my best.
John Schaefer: I don't know about foul and unnatural, but that second movement does have a very eerie cast to it. There's a call and response between the two string instruments and the piano at the beginning. Then towards the end you have these starts and stops. It's just that Beethoven is continually keeping you as a listener off-kilter.
Jeff Spurgeon: Absolutely, all the time, and it's one of the greatest things about all of his music. Now, we'll hear those last two works on the program, the other two Beethoven trios to come. Right now we have a little bit of music in a remission that is not the piano tuner working over the Steinway, on the Perlman stage in Isaac Stern auditorium, but from a concert earlier this season that we presented in this series, Carnegie Hall Live, that featured violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who is a prospective artists, by the way, at Carnegie Hall featured and allowed to create his own programs, to showcase his skills, present some of his friends, and share some of his musical ideas. That's what perspectives artists get to do. On an earlier concert this season, he was joined by a great friend and musical collaborator, the pianist Yuja Wang. This is a bit of their performance of Bach's violin sonata in E.
MUSIC - Bach: Violin Sonata No. 3 in E playing] [music]
John Schaefer: The Bach violin sonata in E Major played live earlier this season on stage here at Carnegie Hall by Violinist Leonidas Kavakos and Pianist Yuja Wang, part of Leonidas' Perspectives series here at Carnegie Hall, which as Jeff mentioned earlier, gives him an opportunity to showcase his music, the music of his friends, the ideas that he's trying to pursue in his own art.
It's one of a number of really interesting initiatives that are going on here at Carnegie Hall. There's also a composer chair position that they've had for some years now, currently occupied by New York Composer Julia Wolfe. The perspectives artists are not all classical artists either. There are a number of them from different fields of musical endeavor.
Jeff Spurgeon: You hear the sound in the house telling the audience to turn off their cell phones once again and get ready for the second appearance of three great musicians on stage together at Carnegie Hall, Pianist Emmanuel Ax, Violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and Cellist Yo-Yo Ma on an All Beethoven Concert they're playing for us.
John Schaefer: The next piece that we'll hear is the Piano Trio in B-Flat Major Opus 11, nicknamed the Gassenhauer. Again, this was not Beethoven's nickname, but he cannot have been surprised when it was affixed to this work because the finale is built around this very popular song from an operetta of the day, and it forms the basis for a theme and variations, and it is likely still a crowd pleaser even today.
MUSIC - Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11, “Gassenhauer” [applause]
Jeff Spurgeon: Beethoven from Carnegie Hall to you, courtesy of three great musicians pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Just played for you Beethoven's Piano Trio in B-flat is Opus 11 known as the Gassenhauer Trio or the Street Song from a little opera of the time that had a very popular tune in it that was just the hummed and sung up and down the street. That's where those variations in that last movement came from. We have one more work on the program.
John Schaefer: That is the so-called Ghost Trio by Beethoven, a later work from the Opus 70, which is a pair of piano trios. The Opus 70 No. 1 is the Ghost Trio. As we mentioned earlier that the thinking was that there's a Shakespearean connection. Let's hear the music from these three great musicians at Carnegie Hall Live.
MUSIC - Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, “Ghost” [applause]
MUSIC - Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, “Ghost” [applause]
John Schaefer: You've just heard Leonidas Kavakos playing the violin, Emanuel Ax at the piano, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma performing Beethoven's Ghost Piano Trio. Again, that title really refers only to the second movement of the piece, the brooding second movement. The first and the third movements, quite lively and dynamic, and performed with some brio by this trio on stage at Carnegie Hall.
Jeff Spurgeon: Backstage, Jeff Spurgeon, John Schaefer, we've enjoyed this all-Beethoven program presented by these three great artists. They are wandering off stage now arm in arm, but I think we can be assured that the audience will call them back on stage for at least a curtain call. Now back on stage, our three go once again to say hello to this Carnegie Hall audience one more time. Leonidas Kavakos, Emanuel Ax, and Yo-Yo Ma. You hear the crowd.
John Schaefer: Because this time when they return to the stage, they've brought their instruments back with them and it looks like we are going to get an encore. Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma taking their seats at the front of the stage. Emanuel Ax, back at the piano. It's been an all-Beethoven program. Let's see what they've got up their sleeve for us now.
MUSIC - Ludwig van Beethoven: Companion Piano Trio, Op. 70 No. 2
Jeff Spurgeon: An encore from our three musicians on this all-Beethoven program from Carnegie Hall Live. A little extra Beethoven from Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma. The third movement of the Companion Piano Trio to the work that we heard just before the official concert program ended. This was the third movement from the Opus 70, No. 2 Piano Trio. It had a little bit of a ghosty sound in it too, I thought.
John Schaefer: It's funny because the Opus 70, No. 2 lives in the considerable shadow of the Opus 70, No. 1, the famous Ghost Trio but it's a lovely work, and that allegretto has a lilting sadness to it. Beautifully performed once again by this trio of world-class musicians.
Jeff Spurgeon: [laughs] I'm laughing because Yo-Yo Ma left his cello, went out. The other two were just chatting for a minute but eventually joined their companion on stage. Now, they're all three hand-in-hand at the front of the stage with a great deal of this Carnegie Hall audience on its feet for a wonderful evening of chamber music and a tardy, but nevertheless, not at all unwelcomed celebration of Beethoven's 250th birth anniversary. That celebration was suspended two years ago when Carnegie Hall was closed for the greatest length of the doors of this hall have ever been shut since it was opened in 1891. As you heard, our performers, they too were celebrating being back in front of an audience here tonight.
John Schaefer: A lot of lost time being made up for in the classical music world, celebrating Beethoven's 250th anniversary this year because we couldn't do it two years ago. This concert, certainly a part of that. It's been great hearing these Beethoven pieces. The Shai Wosner arrangement of the Sixth Symphony, a beautiful performance in the first half, and then two genuine piano trios making up the second half of the program. Our thanks to Clive Gillinson and the staff here at Carnegie Hall. WQXR'S team includes engineers Edward Haber, George Wellington, Irene Trudel, and Duke Marcos.
Jeff Spurgeon: Our production team is Eileen Delahunty, Lauren Purcell-Joiner, and Max Fine. I'm Jeff Spurgeon.
John Schaefer: I'm John Schaefer. Carnegie Hall Live is a co-production of Carnegie Hall and WQXR in New York.
MUSIC - Ludwig van Beethoven:
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