© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source. Celebrating 75 Years!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David Robertson leads Beethoven, and Hai-Ye Ni performs Haydn's First Cello Concerto

The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra conducted by Louis Scaglione in the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall.
Dilip Vishwanat
St. Louis Symphony
David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in Berlin.

Join us on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral”; Haydn’s First Cello Concerto; and a recent work by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail. Guest conductor David Robertson is on the podium.

The concert opens with RE/Member, by Reena Esmail, who was composer in residence of the Seattle Symphony at the time it was written. RE/Member was initially conceived for the opening concert of the 2020/2021 season. Concert halls had been closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but were expected to reopen at that time. That didn’t happen, and the premiere was postponed. In that uncertain time, the idea of “returning” to performance no longer seemed fully right as the basis for Reena Esmail’s piece. She focused instead on the experience of musicians who were unable to concertize during the pandemic. The result, according to the composer, honors “the experience of coming back together, infused with the wisdom of the time apart.” The work premiered a year later than first intended, in the fall of 2021.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal cello, Hai-Ye Ni, is featured in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1, a product of Haydn’s first years in what would prove to be a career-long appointment: supervising the musical activities at the princely court of the Esterhazy family. The job kept him busy. He led a resident orchestra and opera productions, and he organized chamber music performances involving members of the orchestra and the Esterhazy family. The orchestra’s principal cellist was Josef Weigl, an especially gifted player who was also close friends with Haydn, so it would have been a natural choice to provide a solo vehicle for him.

Alas, we can only speculate, as the concerto vanished for nearly 200 years. Haydn’s own catalog of his works references this concerto, but it wasn’t until 1961 that a Czech scholar came across the only existing copy of the concerto and was able to quickly establish its authenticity. Soon it was taken up by cellists everywhere, and now it’s one of the most recognizable concertos for the instrument. Hai-Ye Ni has played it often, and offers listeners a video walkthrough of the concerto at WRTI.org.

This concert concludes with the Symphony No. 6 in F major by Ludwig van Beethoven, which the composer called “Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life.” The work could easily be viewed as the musical expression of a day spent in the country. Beethoven applied descriptive titles to the five movements of the symphony, clearly prompting his audience to follow him on a rural journey.

Zev Kane speaks with conductor David Robertson about being the "composers advocate"
Zev Kane speaks with conductor David Robertson about being the "composers advocate"

The leisurely pace and melodious good humor of the first movement, “Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arriving in the country,” must have immediately transported busy Viennese concertgoers to a simpler life well beyond the city walls.The second movement, “Scene by the brook,” offers a bucolically flowing stream, along with calls of the nightingale, quail, and cuckoo from the woodwinds. The third, fourth, and fifth movements are played without pause. A “Merry gathering of peasants” brings us dances and revelry, interrupted by the “Tempest” of the fourth movement with its rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning. But the storm subsides, the skies clear, and what Beethoven terms the “Shepherds’ hymn,” with its “happy and thankful feelings after the storm,” rounds out an eventful day in the country (or perhaps just the memory of one). As guest conductor David Robertson reflects, “the sense of gratitude…that Beethoven felt in many different ways” is perfectly evoked in the conclusion of this great symphony.


Esmail: RE/Member

Haydn: Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (“Pastoral”)

The Philadelphia Orchestra

David Robertson, conductor

Hai-Ye Ni, cello


Melinda Whiting: Host

Alex Ariff: Senior 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, accessible from the WRTI homepage (look for Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert On Demand).

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.