Bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa shines in Clarice Assad's 'Terra'
Join us on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a program of music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Luciano Berio, and Clarice Assad from the 2023/2024 season.
To open the concert, music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the orchestra in a delightful curiosity by the 20th-century Italian composer Luciano Berio, based on music by the 18th-century composer Luigi Boccherini. Though born in Italy, Boccherini spent his adult life in service to the Spanish royal family. One of his hundreds of chamber works depicts night life in the streets of Madrid, and its last movement was so popular that Boccherini produced multiple versions. This piece, called “The Retreat,” followed a regiment of soldiers parading back to its barracks through the city streets, signaling that the hour of curfew had arrived and the night’s festivities were over.
Some 200 years later, Luciano Berio had the intriguing idea to superimpose different versions of Boccherini’s piece to create a short orchestral work titled Four Original Versions of Boccherini’s “Night Retreat of Madrid.” Following Boccherini’s directive that the retreat should begin very quietly, as if heard from a distance, Berio’s work opens with two drums and a solo violin. Then the jaunty main theme is followed by a series of variations as the regiment approaches, passes, and disappears.
The Orchestra’s principal bassoon, Daniel Matsukawa, is featured in the world premiere performance of a concerto written for him by Clarice Assad, a Brazilian composer, vocalist, and music educator whose music integrates elements of jazz and Brazilian folk traditions along with classical influences. In the composer’s words, Terra (“Earth”) “explores the beauty and complexity of the world around us.” Its five movements express different aspects of nature: Air, Windstorm, Water Lilies, Mirror of the Waters, and Dances of the Earth.
Assad has written about the concerto’s ecological inspiration, stressing “the importance of honoring mother earth and all its elements, animals, and plants. With each note,” she adds, “I hope we awaken to the need to protect our planet and give back the graciousness that it bestows upon us.” In his interview with WRTI’s Alex Ariff, Matsukawa praises Terra as both beautiful and brilliant: “I have a good feeling that people will really love it.”
The concert concludes with music that lives at the very heart of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s repertoire: the Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The composer started work on the Second Symphony in 1902, though he apparently didn’t make smooth progress for several years. By the time he judged it ready to unveil before the public in 1908, it had grown to a glorious length, one of the longest Russian symphonic works that anyone had yet composed. And it was steeped in the particularly Russian brand of late Romanticism.
According to Yannick, Rachmaninoff “was a romantic composer and in a way maybe paying tribute to all of the romantic composers before him in Russia. Especially Tchaikovsky.” Indeed the influence of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky Korsakov is clear in this music, and yet it is entirely Rachmaninoff’s own. He scored a great success when he conducted the premiere in 1908 in St. Petersburg. Then, he brought it on tour with him to America. In 1909, Rachmaninoff performed with the Philadelphians for the first time, conducting the Second Symphony to huge acclaim. It has been a favorite here ever since, and the Orchestra has recorded it no fewer than five times.
The broadcast features conversations with music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Daniel Matsukawa, who takes listeners through the Assad concerto, playing the key themes on his bassoon.
Berio: Four Original Versions of Luigi Boccherini's The Night Retreat of Madrid
Assad: Terra, Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor
Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon
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 favorite smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 PM on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.