Seong-Jin Cho performs Brahms, and The Philadelphia Orchestra plays a Louise Farrenc symphony
Join us on Sunday, October 8 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, October 9 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a program of works by Louise Farrenc and Johannes Brahms from the 2022/2023 season.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in its first-ever performance of the Symphony No. 3 in G minor by 19th-century French composer Louise Farrenc, whose music is now gaining long-overdue attention. Farrenc was famous in the Romantic era as a piano virtuoso. At the time, performing as a soloist was one of just a few musical paths that women could pursue as a profession. A woman could teach privately, but no woman held a prominent faculty position at the revered Paris Conservatory until Farrenc herself became a professor of piano there in 1842.
It was also acceptable for a woman to compose music. In fact, a pianist of Farrenc’s stature was expected to write works for her own concerts: piano pieces, chamber works, and perhaps a piano concerto or two. But women had little incentive or encouragement to compose larger works like symphonies, as conductors and orchestras had little interest in works by women. Still, Farrenc completed three symphonies of striking assurance and weight. All were performed at least once in her lifetime. However Farrenc’s silence in the orchestral arena after the 1849 premiere of her Symphony No. 3 is telling. She would live another 25 years, and though she continued to compose chamber music and piano pieces, she wrote nothing more for orchestra. How many more symphonies might she have written if she saw regular opportunities to have them performed?
This week’s concert concludes with a grand and beloved concerto – the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, by Johannes Brahms, with young Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho as soloist. Brahms composed this concerto two decades after the disastrous premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1, his first orchestral work to be performed in public. Brahms’s disappointment may account for the long break before he attempted another piano concerto. In the intervening years, though, he had several notable orchestral successes, including two serenades, two symphonies, and a violin concerto. The composer who embarked on a second piano concerto in 1878 was confident in his command of the orchestra, and unafraid to experiment with form.
Brahms cast the Concerto No. 2 in four movements rather than the traditional three, adding a dramatic second-movement scherzo worthy of any symphony. This prompted one commentator to call the work “a symphony with piano obbligato.” Throughout the whole concerto, Brahms delights in devising imaginative interactions between the soloist and orchestra. One innovation is obvious right at the start. Instead of a traditional orchestral exposition, Brahms begins with a main theme introduced by solo horn and traded back and forth with the pianist. Almost immediately, the pianist launches into a solo cadenza….at the beginning of the movement rather than its end. The third movement is lightly scored as if to mimic chamber music, with the piano playing an accompaniment role. Overall, this expansive and congenial work is deeply satisfying, and despite its duration, not a measure too long.
Farrenc: Symphony No. 3 in g minor
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor
Seong-Jin Cho, piano
WRTI PRODUCTION TEAM:
Melinda Whiting: Host
Alex Ariff: Senior Producer
Susan Lewis: Consulting Producer
Joseph Patti: Broadcast Engineer
Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.