The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Yannick begins a new season with Dvořák and Coleman; Trifonov tackles Liszt
Join us on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 when The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series brings you the first in a fresh new season of performances from the Orchestra’s 2022/2023 season.
Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the orchestra in Valerie Coleman’s Umoja: Anthem for Unity and Antonín Dvořák's tuneful Symphony No. 8. In between, pianist Daniil Trifonov is featured in Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The broadcast features an engaging conversation between Yannick and producer Susan Lewis.
Umoja is the Swahili word for “Unity,” and Coleman was first inspired to write music on this theme in 1997, in a short work for women’s choir. Later, she rescored the piece for Imani Winds, her wind quintet. In 2019, Coleman created a third version of Umoja — considerably expanding its scope, themes, and length on a commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra, who premiered it later that year.
Coleman has commented that her Umoja “embodies a sense of tribal unity through the feel of a drum circle, the sharing of history through traditional call-and-response form, and the repetition of a memorable, sing-song melody.” Joyful and engaging, Umoja draws on Afro-Cuban, jazz, and classical styles. It has quickly become a favorite of the Philadelphia audience, making it an ideal season opener.
For Franz Liszt’s First Piano Concerto, Yannick and the Philadelphia Orchestra welcome soloist Daniil Trifonov, a frequent collaborator since 2013. Liszt was one of the great piano virtuosos in the history of the instrument, and essentially the 19th century’s equivalent of a touring rock star. He may have planned his two piano concertos with the intent of playing them on his wildly successful concert tours. But with little experience writing for orchestra, he didn’t get very far. Writing for solo piano was more in his wheelhouse, and he turned out reams of pieces designed to exploit his technical brilliance, mastery of drama, and poetic mode of expression.
Eventually, though, Liszt tired of the touring life. He settled down in the German city of Weimar to concentrate on composing. As he worked on a series of symphonic poems, and without the distraction of constant touring, he quickly developed a distinctive and colorful orchestral voice. He returned to the unfinished concertos, completed their orchestration, and premiered the final version of the First Concerto in E-flat major in 1855, playing the solo part with no less a conductor than Hector Berlioz on the podium.
This season-opening broadcast culminates in a performance of what Yannick calls “the perfect symphony” — Dvořák's Symphony No. 8 in G major. Today we think of Dvořák as the quintessential Czech nationalist composer, and this reputation is certainly earned. But to stop there is to considerably underestimate his actual import. Notes Yannick: “I don't know of any symphony in the entire repertoire that has more incredible melodies.” And indeed the tunes just keep coming, one wonderful musical idea after another. Dvořák's mentor and friend Johannes Brahms once marveled at this lyric gift, saying any composer, himself included, would be happy to have come up with the ideas that Dvořák discarded.
Coleman: Umoja: Anthem for Unity
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Daniil Trifonov, piano
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.