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Stéphane Denève leads Ravel and Rachmaninoff, as Yefim Bronfman plays a new piano concerto

Conductor Stéphane Denève, who has some fruitful history with The Philadelphia Orchestra
Conductor Stéphane Denève, who has some fruitful history with The Philadelphia Orchestra

Join us on Sunday, Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert features an encore presentation — a concert led by guest conductor Stéphane Denève, featuring Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3, Elena Firsova’s Piano Concerto, and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.

In 1910 Maurice Ravel completed his original version of Mother Goose: a set of piano duets intended for the young children of close friends, based on French fairy tales. In 1911, he arranged the pieces as a suite for orchestra, putting his lavish gift for inventive and expressive orchestral color to full use. The suite includes movements depicting Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, Beauty and the Beast, and Laideronnette, Empress of Pagodes. The latter story, which isn’t widely known outside France, concerns a princess waited on by fairy creatures made of porcelain and jewels in the shape of Chinese pagodas. The suite concludes with a movement titled “The Fairy Garden.” It’s not entirely clear what specific story Ravel had in mind here, but when he later expanded this suite into a larger score for ballet, the scenario for this music returned to Sleeping Beauty, depicting her awakening in the presence of her destined prince.

Yefim Bronfman
courtesy of the artist
Yefim Bronfman
Yefim Bronfman on the hidden meaning inside Elena Firsova’s Piano Concerto she wrote just for him.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman is featured in the U.S. premiere of Elena Firsova’s Piano Concerto, written for him in 2020. This work makes use of a well-known theme from Beethoven’s final string quartet that asks a musical question: “Must it be?” Firsova was born in the Soviet Union and was educated at the Moscow Conservatory. She established an international career in the 1970s, but also drew fire from the authorities for her modernist style. After she and her husband, Dmitri Smirnov, were formally denounced by the head of the Union of Soviet Composers, they decided to emigrate to London. Firsova’s music is widely performed in Great Britain and this concerto was commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

Conductor Stéphane Denève on Rachmaninoff's symphonic writing

The program concludes with a late work by Sergei Rachmaninoff: His Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44, which he wrote specifically for The Philadelphia Orchestra. It was the orchestra he worked with the most, and loved best. When he began to compose his Third Symphony in 1935, he carried the sound of The Philadelphia Orchestra in his mind as an ideal, and tailored the work accordingly. He was so familiar with the virtuosity of the players that he was able to tailor this symphony’s immensely colorful fabric to the specific abilities of the Philadelphia principals and sections. When they premiered the work in 1936 under Leopold Stokowski, the composer remarked that it was played wonderfully — but the critical reception was, as he put it, “sour.” Rachmaninoff ultimately revised the symphony in 1938 and conducted it with the Philadelphians in 1939. That performance was more successful, and established the Third Symphony firmly in the repertoire.


Ravel: Mother Goose Suite

Firsova: Piano Concerto

Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Stephane Deneve, conductor

Yefim Bronfman, piano


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.