The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Randall Goosby shines in two Price concertos, alongside Strauss and Ravel
Join us on Sunday, March 26 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, March 27 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you an encore program of Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss and Florence Price from the 2022/2023 season.
Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Orchestra in two works imbued with the spirit of the Viennese waltz: La Valse by Ravel and a concert suite from Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss. In between, violinist Randall Goosby is the soloist in two violin concertos by a Black American composer of the following generation, Florence Price.
Throughout her life Price, like all African Americans of the early 20th century, faced tight constraints in education, opportunity, and daily life. Aside from rare moments in the spotlight — like a 1933 Chicago Symphony concert, when that major orchestra premiered her First Symphony — Price worked mostly in obscurity. We might still know very little about her music were it not for an extraordinary discovery in 2009.
In an abandoned house that had once been her home, a treasure trove was discovered by lucky accident, just before the house was slated for demolition. It comprised literally thousands of pages of her original manuscripts. Scholars are still sorting through them, and musicians are delighting in the discovery of a true American master. Among the new revelations were two compelling and quite different violin concertos composed 15 years apart, in 1939 and 1952.
Goosby, a young violinist in the midst of a sensational arrival — perhaps you saw his Tiny Desk Concert — recorded this Philadelphia Orchestra performance of Price’s Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 for a forthcoming release on Deutsche Grammophon. He discusses what makes these two concertos distinct, and why it’s important to lift up Price’s music — among other things, including his non-classical listening and even his golf game — in an illuminating conversation with producer Susan Lewis.
Ravel conceived La Valse in the wake of the First World War. He described it as “a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, linked in my mind with the impression of a fantastic whirl of destiny.” As the work begins, we are in an ideal, 19th-century world, an imperial court about 1855 where, as Ravel wrote, “eddying clouds allow glimpses of waltzing couples. The clouds gradually disperse, revealing a vast hall filled with a whirling throng.” The dance grows faster and louder. The frenzy culminates in what can seem an apocalyptic end, which some commentators have related to the devastation of the war. Ravel claimed he didn’t intend anything of the sort. But over the course of this dancing journey, we hear every aspect of the waltz, from charming to ecstatic and eventually even sinister.
In his conversation with Susan Lewis, Nézet-Séguin locates this emotional shift as a key feature of the Orchestra’s performance of La Valse. Reflecting on the concert program, he also suggests that it’s worth questioning the obvious interpretation of Old World vs. New World composers. “It’s very easy to think about ‘New World’ being Florence Price, and ‘Old World’ being Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss,” he says. “But there is more to it. Both Ravel and Strauss used the waltz to express symbolically how Europe was going through a certain decadence, and maybe running into a wall.”
The concert’s concluding work also reflects the waltz aesthetic. Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier was composed in 1910, when waltzes seemed a symbol of eternal Vienna. Waltzes permeate the opera, their joyous lilt and subtle melancholy supporting a complicated and captivating story that mixes comedy with romance, and farce with a kind of wistful sadness. The exact authorship of this orchestral suite is debatable. It may have been assembled by the conductor Artur Rodzinski, or by Eugene Ormandy — or both. The score that Ormandy used in Philadelphia includes notations, paste-ins, and written-out transitions, indicating that it has been adapted by multiple visiting conductors and music directors over the years. In short, no one is really sure who should get the credit for this arrangement, but it is undeniably effective.
Ravel: La Valse
Price: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major
Price: Violin Concerto No. 2 in d minor
R. Strauss: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Randall Goosby, violin
Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast onWRTI Replay.