1st Subscription Concert

24/03/13 (Wed) v 19:30


Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
David Chesky – Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3
Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 7



Czech National Symphony Orchestra
Steven Mercurio, conductor
Maxim Lando, piano

While the first half of this concert might be described as a tribute to percussion instruments, the second half is dedicated to a time-honoured classic.

The Hungarian composer, but also outstanding pianist and musicologist Béla Bartók (1881–1945) was a central figure of 20th century European music. He died in exile in the United States, where he fled in 1940. Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was commissioned by Swiss conductor and patron Paul Sacher for the tenth anniversary of his Basel Chamber Orchestra. Bartók informed the conductor in advance that he envisaged a work for strings and percussion instruments, to which he intended adding a piano, celesta and xylophone, and he hoped that this instrumental arrangement would not cause any difficulties. He also stated that he planned to incorporate complicated rhythms.

The new work was premiered in Basel on 21 January 1937. “Back then we could not have imagined that what we had been gifted was indeed a true masterpiece,” Sacher noted later. Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is today regarded as one of the most important works of the 20th century. 

David Chesky (1956) is an American pianist, composer, music producer and publisher. He shifts between genres and works with modern technologies. He has written orchestral works, pieces for chamber ensembles, for solo piano, several operas and ballet music; he has received a number of awards for his compositional endeavours. 

His twenty or so concertos for various instruments are collectively labelled “Urban Concertos”. Approximately 15 minutes in length, these pieces have three parts, each of which is simply called “movement”, a title through which the composer also conveys the literal meaning of the word, reflecting his coexistence with tempo, energy and the sounds of the big city. In Piano Concerto No. 3 we will note the prominent role of the percussion instruments and Latin American and jazz rhythms.

The set of nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) represents a cornerstone in musical history. Composers from subsequent generations who endeavoured to establish themselves in the symphonic genre were always compared with Beethoven. 

Beethoven began writing his Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 in October 1811. Aware of the inevitable deterioration of his hearing, he undertook his compositional tasks in a frenetic manner and began to work on his Eighth Symphony almost simultaneously. Although, at the time, he was troubled by health and financial worries, disagreements with his brother Johann and by the sickness of his second brother Karl, both symphonies, the Seventh and the Eighth, are even-tempered and jubilant in mood. Symphony No. 7 brings together the pathos of the Fifth Symphony and the vivacious joy of the Sixth. It was most likely the unconstrained finale, above all, which led Richard Wagner to describe this Symphony in A major as the “apotheosis of the dance”.


Photo: Chris McGuire