October 19 & 20, 2012
Renew your series subscription here!
Robert Franz, conductor
George Li, piano
Franz Schubert | Overture to Rosamunde
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Piano Concerto No. 23
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Overture to the Magic Flute
Franz Schubert | Symphony No. 3
16-year-old YCA Winner, pianist George Li possesses brilliant virtuosity and interpretive depth far beyond his years. Highlights of his busy 2012-13 season include appearances as soloist with the Edmonton and Stamford symphonies, the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, the Boise Philharmonic, the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, the Boston Philharmonic, and the Norrkoping Orchestra in Sweden, as well as recital performances at the Morgan Library & Museum, the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, and the Mansion at Strathmore.
His highly acclaimed New York debut opened the 51st Young Concert Artists Series in the Peter Marino Concert at Merkin Hall. YCA also presented his debut in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center, sponsored by the Alexander Kasza-Kasser Prize, both to rave reviews. Mr. Li has appeared in recital at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, the Vancouver Recital Society, at Shriver Hall and the Festspiele Mecklenburg-
Vorpommern, among others.
As First Prize winner of the First Cooper Competition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he appeared as soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra. He has also performed as soloist with orchestras including the Spartanburg Philharmonic, the Akron Symphony, the Xiamen Philharmonic in China, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, and with “I Solisti di Perugia” in Italy. He played Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 with the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic under Benjamin Zander on a European tour.
In 2011, Mr. Li performed for President Obama at the White House in an evening honoring Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was chosen to appear at the opening ceremony of Boston’s new Institute of Contemporary Art and the inauguration of President Tony Woodcock at the New England Conservatory, and had performed for members of US Congress at the Senate Office Building in Washington, DC.
George Li gave his first public performance at Boston’s Steinway Hall at the age of ten. At ages six and seven, he won First Prize in the Massachusetts Music Teachers Association Competition. He attends the Walnut Hill School for the Arts and studies piano at the New England Conservatory with Wha Kyung Byun.
back to top
Franz Peter Schubert | January 31, 1797 – November 19, 1828
Overture to Rosamunde, Op.26
Symphony No.3 in D major, D.200
Pick up any music book with a title such as “The 50 Greatest Composers” and you will find Franz Schubert comfortably ensconced in the Top 10, with giants like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. You might be surprised to learn, however, that during his short lifetime, he lived in relative obscurity, virtually unknown and unheralded outside his intellectual circle of middle-class adoring friends in Vienna. Not one of his symphonies was ever performed while he was alive. When he died, his music disappeared, and he did not begin to get the recognition until 40 years after he was buried.
Three reasons explain these bizarre circumstances. First, Schubert is the only composer on the list who was neither a virtuosic performer nor a successful conductor, never venturing far from his hometown. Second, he was barely 5 feet tall and corpulent enough to be nicknamed “Tubby.” He was shy and timid, never mustering the courage to introduce himself to his contemporary hero, Beethoven. Third, he died at just 31 after suffering a debilitating illness.
The story of how Schubert’s genius came to light would make a perfect Masterpiece Theater special. Urban legend had it that somewhere in Austria lay a hidden treasure trove of his lost works, and the hunt was on. Robert Schumann was the first to strike gold, ten years after Schubert’s death. Schumann found Schubert’s C Major Symphony in a pile of musty manuscripts in Schubert’s brother’s house, convinced Mendelssohn to perform it, and the secret was out.
The story of the discovery of tonight’s pieces, The Overture to Rosamunde, and Schubert’s Third Symphony, is similar. Who discovered them? Two enterprising Englishmen: Arthur Gilbert -- soon to be of Gilbert and Sullivan -- and George Grove -- who wrote Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Excited in 1865 by the unexpected find of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and looking specifically for the music to Rosamunde, Gilbert and Grove found in the hands of a Viennese doctor a pile of Schubert’s forgotten works, including five other symphonies -- Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. After some persistent digging in the doctor’s house, they also found with the wonderful incidental music Schubert originally wrote for a failed opera and then recycled as incidental music for a play, Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, which closed to bad reviews after two nights, no fault of the music.
Grove tells the story. He asked the doctor, “Might I go into the cupboard and look for myself? Certainly—if I had no objection to being smothered with dust. In I went. After some search, during which my companion kept the doctor engaged in conversation, I found, at the bottom of the cupboard, and in its furthest corner, a bundle of music books two feet high, carefully tied round, and black with the undisturbed dust of nearly half a century. We dragged out the bundle into the light and found that it was the part-books of the music in Rosamunde, put away after the second performance and probably never disturbed since.” What we now know is that this diminutive giant left behind 634 German art songs called Lieder (147 of them along with his Third Symphony written in just one year), 9 symphonies, 19 string quartets, 21 piano sonatas, 7 masses, and 10 operas -- not to mention a mountain of other works. He said of himself, “I was born to compose,” and he often slept with his glasses on so as not to lose any time so doing when he awakened.
Schubert carried a torch during Beethoven’s funeral procession. At his wish, he was buried in Vienna close to Beethoven’s grave. His tombstone reads, “Music has here entombed a rich treasure, but much fairer hopes. Franz Schubert lies here.”
Overture to Rosamunde was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on March 22, 1986. It was most recently performed on September 24, 2004.
This is the Boise Philharmonic’s first performance on Symphony No. 3 by Franz Schubert.
back to top
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K.488
Overture to the Magic Flute, K. 620
Mozart and Schubert make a perfect pair. Each was a master of melody, melody that is lyrical, beautiful, graceful, and tuneful, the kind of melody that sticks with you long after a concert. And, unlike other composers who labor for weeks and months over their works, Mozart and Schubert conceived their compositions fully orchestrated in their heads, and then simply copied them on paper.
Gioacchino Rossini, the great master of Italian opera, lived in awe of Mozart. He said, “The Germans have always been the greatest harmonists, and the Italians the greatest melodists. But from the moment the North produced Mozart, we of the South were beaten on our own turf, because this man rises above all nations, containing in himself the charm of Italian melody and the profundity of German harmony. He is the only composer who had as much knowledge as genius, and as much genius as knowledge.” Later, Rossini remarked that, “Mozart was the delight of my youth, the desperation of my maturity, and the consolation of my old age.”
Mozart’s music is clear, elegant, transparent, tasteful, and exquisitely crafted. It displays a strong concern for the unity of design. Musicologists call it “perfect.” Every note, every passage seems effortless and inevitable. Tonight, we will experience Mozart’s work in his favorite genres, opera and the solo concerto.
Mozart was the Father of the 18th Century piano concerto, composing 17 masterpieces between 1781 and 1791. He wrote them for public concerts in which he was the performer. In a letter to his father, he described them as “a happy medium between too hard and too easy -- very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, natural, without lapsing into vapidity. There are passages here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction, but they are written so that the non-connoisseurs cannot fail to be pleased, even if they don’t know why.”
Although respecting classical norms, using them not as anchors but as soaring wings, Mozart reveals himself in his later concerti to be a master of dramatic tension in a way that foreshadows the Romantic Age to come. As he matured, and as he suffered the slings and arrows of life’s fortunes, his music began to reflect a profounder sense of the disorder and imbalance that attends daily existence, not just the sunny innocence of his childhood. His music becomes emotionally ambiguous and laden with contrast and drama, and the piano becomes his personal voice, as you will hear in the second haunting movement. There are always dark shadows in his Eden. In the first movement, he seems to hover between smiles and tears. Note also the absence from this piece of oboe, trumpet, and drums.
Trying to find a way to express the transcendental beauty and brooding poetry of this concerto leaves one rummaging through a Thesaurus in search of words adequate to the task. None exist. Not now, not then, not ever. Karl Barth, a theologian of all things, may have come closest. He said, “When the angels sing to God, they sing Bach. When they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart -- and God eavesdrops.” Oddly, Mozart’s music during his lifetime was criticized as too complex and too dissonant. Go figure.
Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute was composed in 1791, shortly before his death. In need of income, he wrote it as a commercial enterprise. In the overture, Mozart pulls out all the stops. The music is devoid of any hint of his precarious financial and physical condition. It spills over with brilliant energy.
Mozart died at 35, Schubert at 31. One can only guess at what wonders they might have bequeathed us had they lived into the autumn of their years.
Piano Concerto No. 23 was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on December 5, 1977 with soloist Alexander Toradze.
Overture to The Magic Flute was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on February 14, 1984. It was most recently performed on November 21, 1997.
back to top