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Osmo Vänskä conducts the works by Ravel and Beethoven.

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    • George Walker
    • Molto adagio, from String Quartet No. 1
      • Rui Du, violin
      • Michael Sutton, violin
      • Kenneth Freed, viola
      • Silver Ainomäe, cello
    • ca. 6’
    • Maurice Ravel
    • Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra
      • I. Allegramente
      • II. Adagio assai
      • III. Presto
        • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
        • Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
    • ca. 21’
    • Ludwig van Beethoven
    • Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Opus 60
      • I. Adagio – Allegro vivace
      • II. Adagio
      • III. Allegro vivace
      • IV. Allegro ma non troppo
        • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 32’


Minnesota Orchestra

The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 and led since its centennial by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, is recognized for distinguished performances around the world, award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts, educational engagement programs, and commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of the future. The Orchestra tours regularly throughout Minnesota and nationally, and has also toured abroad in Australia, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South Africa. Its 2020-21 concert season began in October with a series of Friday night concerts in Orchestra Hall featuring smaller ensembles of Minnesota Orchestra musicians performing for TV, radio and online audiences. Last month the Orchestra presented its first-ever televised Young People’s Concert, a program in collaboration with the Minnesota Zoo.

At Home Video Collection

Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Since becoming the Orchestra’s music director in 2003, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has led the ensemble on several major international tours, including historic tours to Cuba and South Africa and six visits to Europe. His recording projects with the Orchestra have met with great success, and a new disc featuring Mahler’s Tenth Symphony will be released next month. Vänskä is also music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Vänskä, who began his music career as a clarinetist, has recorded Bernhard Henrik Crusell’s three Clarinet Quartets and Kalevi Aho’s Clarinet Quintet for the BIS label and is in the process of recording several duos for clarinet and violin which he has commissioned with his wife, violinist Erin Keefe.

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Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

For more than three decades, Jean-Yves Thibaudet has performed worldwide, recorded more than 50 albums, and built a reputation as one of today's finest pianists. He is the first-ever artist in residence at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he makes his home. His recording catalogue has received two Grammy nominations, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, the Diapason d’Or, the Choc du Monde de la Musique, the Edison Prize and multiple Gramophone awards. He is the soloist on Wes Anderson’s newest film The French Dispatch, and his playing can be heard in Pride and Prejudice, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Wakefield, and the Oscar-winning and critically acclaimed film Atonement. Mr. Thibaudet’s worldwide representation is HarrisonParrott. Mr. Thibaudet records exclusively for Decca Records.

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Sarah Hicks, host

Sarah Hicks, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, has led a broad range of programs since joining the Orchestra as assistant conductor in 2006. Her notable projects with the Orchestra have included co-creating the Inside the Classics and Sam & Sarah series with Orchestra violist Sam Bergman; conducting a live-in-concert recording with singer-rapper Dessa, released in 2019 on the Doomtree Records label; leading numerous original Orchestra programs including Home for the Holidays, A Musical Feast and A Scandinavian Christmas; and conducting many of the Orchestra's Movies & Music concerts. Away from Orchestra Hall, she recently conducted performances of Disney Pixar’s Coco at the Hollywood Bowl as well as the orchestra in ABC’s live televised production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

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Program notes

  • Molto adagio, from String Quartet No. 1

    George Walker

    • Born
      June 27, 1922
      Washington, D.C.
    • Died
      August 23, 2018
      Montclair, New Jersey

    Molto adagio, from String Quartet No. 1

    • Composed

    Tonight’s performance begins with music written just after World War II by a composer who passed away less than three years ago. The Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer George Walker was in his mid-20s, having just graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music, when he wrote his String Quartet No. 1 in 1946 and dedicated it to the memory of his recently deceased grandmother.


    The heartfelt second movement of Walker’s quartet has traveled a path similar to that of the second movement from fellow American composer Samuel Barber’s String Quartet of 1936. Walker and Barber each extracted the Molto adagio middle movement from their respective quartets and recast them as string orchestra works. Barber’s took the name Adagio for Strings, while Walker’s became known as the Lyric for Strings (though Walker initially used the title Lament for Strings) and received its premiere in a 1946 radio broadcast; each piece became its composer’s most frequently performed music.


    A lengthy and decorated career

    Although George Walker’s parents were not professional musicians, they gave him a name with musical lineage: his middle name, Theophilus, was one of three middle names given to Mozart at birth. Walker started piano lessons at age five and enrolled at Oberlin College when he was only 14, then graduated four years later. He subsequently earned artist’s diplomas in both piano and composition at the Curtis Institute and a doctorate at the Eastman School of Music, while also spending time in Europe under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger, who taught many well-known 20th-century classical composers.


    Although he is best known as a composer of more than 90 works in numerous genres, from piano sonatas to concertos to sinfonias, Walker began his musical career as a pianist, soloing with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1945. He also spent decades teaching in academia, including a professorship at Rutgers University from 1969 to 1992. His lengthy composing career reached a pinnacle of recognition in 1996 when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his soprano-and-orchestra work Lilacs—becoming the first Black composer to earn the honor.


    Walker continued crafting new compositions well into his 90s, with one of his final completed works, the Sinfonia No. 5, written in response to the 2015 massacre at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was in the process of composing a new work for the Los Angeles Philharmonic when he passed away in 2018 at age 96.


    Words from the composer

    In describing his Lyric for Strings, Walker offered a concise summary of the music it derives from, the Molto adagio second movement of his First String Quartet:


    “After a brief introduction, the principal theme that permeates the entire work is introduced by the first violins. A static interlude is followed by successive imitations of the theme that lead to an intense climax. The final section of the work presents a somewhat more animated statement of the same thematic material. The coda recalls the quiet interlude that appeared earlier.”


    Spanning six minutes, with melodies that proceed primarily stepwise, a few judiciously chosen pizzicato notes and a steady 3/4 time signature nearly throughout, it is “not necessarily a simple piece,” Walker noted in a 2017 interview with Frank J. Oteri of NewMusicBox. “It alternates between major and modal [scales and harmonies]. In touching upon modes, it became chromatic. But the chromaticism comes about from my interest in expanding the harmonic vocabulary to include dissonance as a part of the harmonic palette, not in dissonance that is totally disconnected from something.”


    Tonight’s performance marks the first time the Molto adagio movement has been heard on the Orchestra Hall stage in its original string quartet form. A quartet of Minnesota Orchestra musicians performed the movement at two concerts on Peavey Plaza outside Orchestra Hall in August 2020. The version for full string orchestra, Lyric for Strings, was heard on a series of Minnesota Orchestra subscription concerts in March 1995.


    Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola and cello


    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra

    Maurice Ravel

    • Born
      March 7, 1875
      Ciboure, France
    • Died
      December 28, 1937
      Paris, France

    Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra

    • Premiered
      January 14, 1932

    Maurice Ravel was 54 before he wrote any concertos, and then, in the fall of 1929, he set to work simultaneously on two. His Concerto for Piano Left Hand, dark and serious, was for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, and the other, the much lighter Piano Concerto in G major, was intended for the composer’s own use. But by the fall of 1931, when the G-major Concerto was complete, failing health prevented the composer from performing this music himself. Instead, he conducted the premiere in Paris on January 14, 1932; the pianist was Marguerite Long, to whom Ravel dedicated the concerto, and who had also given the first performance of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin in 1919.


    Brilliant, transparent and sultry

    Ravel described this work as “written in the spirit of Mozart and Saint-Saëns,” but listeners would hardly make those associations. What strikes audiences first are the concerto’s virtuoso writing for both piano and orchestra, the brilliance and transparency of the music, and the influence of American jazz. It is possible to make too much of the jazz influence, but Ravel had heard jazz during his tour of America in 1928 and found much to admire. When asked about its influence on this concerto, he said: “It includes some elements borrowed from jazz, but only in moderation.” Ravel was quite proud of this music and said that in it, he had expressed his thoughts just as he had wished.


    Allegramente. The first movement opens with a whipcrack, and immediately the piccolo plays the jaunty opening tune, picked up in turn by solo trumpet before the piano makes its sultry solo entrance. Some of the concerto’s most brilliant music occurs in this movement, which is possessed of a sort of madcap energy, with great splashes of instrumental color, strident flutter-tonguing by the winds, string glissandos and a quasi-cadenza for the harp.


    Adagio assai. In a three-minute solo that opens the Adagio assai, one of Ravel’s most beautiful slow movements, the pianist lays out at length the haunting main theme, which later returns to great effect with the English horn heard over delicate piano accompaniment. Despite its seemingly easy flow of melody, this movement gave Ravel a great deal of trouble, and he later said that he wrote it “two bars at a time.”


    Presto. The finale explodes to life with a five-note riff that recurs throughout, functioning somewhat like the ritornello of a Baroque concerto. The jazz influence shows up here in the squealing clarinets, brass smears and racing piano passages. The movement comes to a sizzling conclusion on the phrase with which it began.


    Instrumentation: solo piano with orchestra comprising flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, slapstick, tamtam, triangle, wood block, harp and strings


    Program note by Eric Bromberger.

  • Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Opus 60

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    • Born
      December 16, 1770
      Bonn, Germany
    • Died
      March 26, 1827
      Vienna, Austria

    Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Opus 60

    • Premiered
      March 1807

    In September 1806, Ludwig van Beethoven accompanied his patron Prince Karl Lichnowsky on a visit to the castle of another nobleman, Count Franz von Oppersdorff. The Count was a musical enthusiast almost without equal: he maintained a private orchestra and would hire new staff for the castle only if they played an instrument and could also play in his orchestra. The trip paid musical dividends for Beethoven, as the Count commissioned him to write a new symphony.


    Removed from the furies

    The Fourth Symphony has inevitably been overshadowed by the titanic symphonies on either side of it. Robert Schumann reportedly called it “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants.” Although the Fourth does seem at first a relaxation, far removed from the furies that drive the Eroica and the Fifth Symphony, we need to be careful not to underestimate this music.


    Adagio–Allegro vivace. The symphony’s originality is evident from its first instant: the key signature says B-flat major, but the symphony opens in B-flat minor. This introduction keeps us in a tonal fog, but those mists blow away at the Allegro vivace. Huge chords lash out, and when the main theme leaps out brightly, we recognize it as a sped-up version of the slow introduction.


    Adagio. Violins sing the main theme, marked cantabile. Hector Berlioz spoke effusively of the Adagio: “The being who wrote such a marvel of inspiration as this movement was not a man. Such must be the song of the Archangel Michael.”


    Allegro vivace. The third movement is a scherzo in all but name: its outer sections are full of rough edges and blistering energy, and its witty trio is built on a rustic woodwind tune spiced with saucy interjections from the violins.


    Allegro ma non troppo. The finale goes like a rocket from its first instant. This movement may be in sonata form, but it feels like perpetual motion on a pulse of racing sixteenth-notes that hardly ever lets up.


    Instrumentation: flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings


    Program note by Eric Bromberger.

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