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The Philadelphia Orchestra on WRTI 90.1: A Distinctive American Program with Pianist Garrick Ohlsson

Dario Acosta
Pianist Garrick Ohlssohn

We have ourselves a very unique Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast on Sunday, February 23rd at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, February 24th at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2. Join us for an all-American concert broadcast that features two Pulitzer Prize-winning compositions, a vibrant orchestral suite drawn from a contemporary opera, and a performance by pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

Cristian M?celaru will be on the podium to conduct a concert that begins with his own orchestral suite crafted from Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick. Then, it’s the greatest of all American piano concertos, Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto of 1959, played by Garrick Ohlsson. After intermission, Aaron Copland’s marvelous evocation of idyllic country landscape, Appalachian Spring, in the rarely heard original large-orchestra version of the complete ballet.

Read the detailed program notes from the concert here.

Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick was a Dallas Opera co-commission with San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, the State Opera of South Australia, and Calgary Opera, where Cristian M?celaru served as assistant conductor for the original production. And from the beginning of the rehearsal process, he imagined an orchestral suite of music from the opera.

M?celaru prepared the Moby-Dick Suite completely on his own, with Heggie’s blessing, but without his participation. There is a narrative framework—rhythmic and melodic motifs recur throughout the suite, with Ahab, Starbuck, Pip, and others each represented by distinct themes. The performance we’ll hear is the first Philadelphia Orchestra performance of any work by Jake Heggie.

Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto was his first work in the genre, apart from an early student effort. And his inspiration for the work actually grew partly from his admiration for pianist John Browning. Interestingly, Browning was the last pianist to have played the Barber concerto on a subscription concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in 1979, with Eugene Ormandy.

The concerto is a colorful, intensely lyrical piece, but there are elements of 12-tone composition found in the opening movement, and the riveting, pulsating finale is reminiscent of Prokofiev. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson made his debut with the Philadelphians 48 years ago, in 1970, the same year he won the Gold Medal at the Chopin International Piano Competition.

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring was originally composed for just 13 instruments, from which Copland later extracted a concert suite of eight continuous movements scored for large orchestra, the suite that’s most often performed.

For this concert, however, we have the rare opportunity of hearing the complete ballet in a version for full orchestra proposed by Eugene Ormandy. This large-orchestra version is also the closest we can come to the original music in the complete ballet.

Copland, incidentally, didn’t have the story in mind while composing the work, but the music well suits the scenes of Martha Graham’s ballet, beginning with a solemn introduction of the principal characters, progressing through a duo for the man and woman, a lively Revivalist event with square dancing, scenes of daily activity for the bride and her farmer-husband (which unfold as the variations on the Shaker theme), and a peaceful close that brings the work full circle.

Susan Lewis interviews Cristian Macelaru backstage.

During intermission, WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder speaks backstage at Verizon Hall with Garrick Ohlsson, and Susan Lewis chats with Cristian M?celaru.

Don’t miss this all-American concert, Sunday, February 23rd from 1 to 3 PM on WRTI 90.1, repeated Monday evening at 7 PM on HD2, and streaming worldwide at wrti.org!


Heggie / arr: M?celaru – Moby-Dick Orchestral Suite                                                                                 First Philadelphia Orchestra performance

Barber – Piano Concerto, Op. 38                                                                                                                         Garrick Ohlsson, piano


Copland – Appalachian Spring (complete large orchestra version)                                                         First Philadelphia Orchestra performance of this version

The Philadelphia Orchestra                                                                                                                      

Cristian M?celaru, conductor

Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, streaming online at WRTI.org, and on our mobile app! Listen again on Mondays at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2

Gregg was the host of WRTI's morning drive show from 2012 until his retirement from WRTI in January, 2021. He began producing and hosting The Philadelphia Orchestra In Concert broadcasts in 2013, joining the Orchestra in Hong Kong for the first-ever live international radio broadcasts from that island in 2016, and in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for two historic broadcasts in 2018. You can still hear Gregg as host of the Orchestra broadcasts every Sunday and Monday on WRTI.