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Hélène Grimaud plays a Mozart piano concerto, and Yannick leads Florence Price's Fourth Symphony

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall on Dec. 7, 2023.
Jeff Fusco
/
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall on Dec. 7, 2023.

The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a program of Mozart and Florence Price, plus a world premiere by French-Argentine composer Esteban Benzecry. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is on the podium, and welcomes his frequent collaborator, pianist Hélène Grimaud, as soloist.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s dramatic Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor opens the program. After moving to Vienna at age 25 to establish himself as a composer, Mozart penned a series of piano concertos to perform at public concerts. These gave him his greatest successes in the capital, as they allowed him to display his formidable gifts as a composer, piano soloist, and orchestra leader. The 20th piano concerto is one of only two that Mozart wrote in a minor key, and in many ways it seems to anticipate Romanticism in its dramatic intensity – particularly in the first movement. Mozart premiered this concerto in February 1785.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall on Dec. 7, 2023.
Jeff Fusco
/
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall on Dec. 7, 2023.

This concert also features the world premiere of a new work by the Argentine-French composer Esteban Benzecry, who draws much of his inspiration from his South American identity, and especially pre-Columbian cultures. MUYUY, the circle of life, takes its name from the indigenous Andean Quechua language. The word “muyuy” means to rotate or move in circles, and Benzecry’s work explores how the circle of life played out before, during, and after the recent global pandemic.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin says that "perspective" is always at the center of his programming ideas
Yannick Nézet-Séguin says that "perspective" is always at the center of his programming ideas

According to Benzecry, the first section of MUYUY represents “the dizzying and chaotic rhythm of man on his planet.” In the central section, this chronic busyness is interrupted by, in the composer’s words, “the calm to which the earth invites us in quarantine, as nature regenerates” and “the planet is cleansed of the damage done by man.” Finally, the initial musical material returns. As he writes, “life continues, death is transformation, everything continues, nothing has a beginning or an end in this circle of life. The Earth remains.”

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Esteban Benzecry during an ovation at Verizon Hall on Dec. 7, 2023.
Jeff Fusco
/
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Esteban Benzecry during an ovation at Verizon Hall on Dec. 7, 2023.

The concert closes with the Fourth Symphony by the 20th-century African American composer Florence Price, for whose music Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra have passionately and persuasively advocated. She is often cited as the first African-American woman to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony’s premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in 1933 was a notable event. But it was not followed by premieres of similar import for the three symphonies that followed. In fact, she would never hear the Fourth Symphony performed at all.

Still, Price persisted, ingeniously synthesizing the music of her own cultural heritage with the more European styles and genres that were prevalent even among American composers of her day. Yannick says that Price’s last symphony may be her best, reflecting that “the balance between gospel, spiritual, and symphonic is perfectly reached in the fourth symphony.” The Philadelphia Orchestra’s most recent performance of Price’s Symphony No. 4 coincided with their commercial release of the work, on Deutsche Grammophon in Fall 2023.

PROGRAM:

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor

Benzecry: MUYUY, the circle of life (world premiere) 

Price: Symphony No. 4 in D minor

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Hélène Grimaud, 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.

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.