The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Beatrice Rana plays Clara Schumann's Concerto, alongside Florence Price & Ravel
Join us on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a program of Maurice Ravel, Clara Schumann, and Florence Price from the 2022/2023 season.
Italian pianist Beatrice Rana joins the Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to perform the Piano Concerto in A minor by a 19th-century piano prodigy who at the time was known as Clara Wieck. Trained by her father, a famed pedagogue named Friedrich Wieck, she had already been concertizing widely when she wrote this concerto at age 14. Friedrich Wieck had many talented students, including the young Robert Schumann, whom Clara would ultimately marry. But it was young Clara who was her father’s greatest pupil, and also the best advertisement for his teaching methods. In a wide-ranging interview with WRTI’s Susan Lewis, Beatrice Rana comments that every piano virtuoso in 19th-century Europe composed original works as a matter of course. Audiences expected it, and Clara took up the challenge eagerly. For her concerts she wrote solo pieces exclusively – until she conceived the Concerto in a minor, a remarkably ambitious work for one so young. This performance marks the Philadelphia Orchestra’s first performances of Clara Wieck Schumann’s concerto.
Reviving the symphonic works of Black American composer Florence Price has been a key aim of the Philadelphia Orchestra over the last few years. The music of this major American symphonist was sadly neglected for much of her life and for decades after her death in 1953. Though her First Symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933, it remained unpublished for 75 years. Her Second Symphony is lost, her Fourth was not published until 2020, and there’s no record that either was performed in her lifetime.
Price’s Symphony No. 3, which we hear on this program, did get a pair of performances in 1940, prompting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to write approvingly of the work in her daily newspaper column. And still, the work sank into oblivion until its belated publication in 2008. Written six years after the First Symphony, the Third is more ambitious, merging African American elements with the Modernist currents that were coursing through mid-century American concert music at the time. Yannick and the Philadelphians recorded Florence Price’s Third Symphony, along with her First, in 2021 for the Deutsche Grammophon label — winning a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance.
Works by Maurice Ravel open and close this week’s broadcast concert. His orchestral suite Le Tombeau de Couperin is an homage to the 18th-century keyboard composer Francois Couperin, and borrows a form of Couperin’s time in which a composer would memorialize a great artist by composing a work called a tombeau (which means “tomb” in French). The idea was to create a kind of musical monument, and Ravel’s had a dual inspiration: Not only was he evoking the dance forms that dominated Couperin’s musical output, but he was also memorializing musical friends who had perished in the First World War. Each movement of Le Tombeau de Couperin honors one of these friends.
Though also by Ravel, Bolero is quite a contrast with Le Tombeau de Couperin. Written more than 20 years later, in 1928, this mesmerizing orchestral tour de force was the result of the composer’s desire to produce a piece that had, as he wrote, “no form, properly speaking, and no modulation, or almost none – just rhythm and orchestra.” The tune Ravel uses to explore these elements is in the style of a Spanish dance called the bolero with an insistent rhythm and insistently repetitions, each repetition bringing us a new and inventive combination of instruments. What’s more, as Ravel noted, it sits stubbornly in a single key, C major, until the tune’s final repetition, when an abrupt swerve into E major provides a dramatic shock. As Ravel summed it up, Bolero is “a piece consisting wholly of orchestral effects without music – one long and very gradual crescendo.”
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
Price: Symphony No. 3 in c minor
C. W. Schumann: Piano Concerto in a minor
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Beatrice Rana, 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.