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Joshua Bell dazzles in a pair of Romantic gems, and Christoph Eschenbach conducts Brahms

Chris Lee

Join us on Sunday, July 14 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, July 15 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert features the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms, as well as two beautiful works for violin and orchestra: Ernest Chausson's Poème and Henri Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto No. 5. Joshua Bell is the violin soloist, and Christoph Eschenbach, the Orchestra’s music director from 2003 to 2008, returns as guest conductor.

In the concert’s first half, Bell is featured in two Romantic masterworks for violin and orchestra that are too seldom played in concert. First is Poème by French composer Ernest Chausson, a work that almost seems to tell a story through its eloquent dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Chausson wrote this music in 1896 while staying in and around the Italian city of Florence, taking in the glorious Tuscan landscapes and a wealth of museums and churches filled with magnificent paintings. “I was surprised when I saw what ideas certain paintings awaken in me,” he wrote at the time. “Some of them give me the entire outline of a symphonic piece.” It’s possible that he was describing his own Poème.

Joshua Bell on how the Philadelphia Orchestra played a key role in the his early development as an artist
Joshua Bell on how the Philadelphia Orchestra played a key role in the his early development as a young artist

In an interview with WRTI’s Alex Ariff, Bell remarks on the increasing rarity on today’s concert programs of virtuoso violin music from the 19th century, such as the concertos of Henri Vieuxtemps, one of the greatest violinists of his time. Vieuxtemps was also revered as a composer; no less a critic than Hector Berlioz called the Fifth Concerto “a magnificent symphony for orchestra with principal violin.” Indeed, this remarkable concerto strikes a perfect balance between breadth of musical ideas, and both dazzling virtuosity and expressive lyricism for the soloist. As Bell comments, Vieuxtemps, as a virtuoso himself, “exploits the instrument in ways that non-virtuoso composers” — such as Beethoven or Brahms, great as they were — “couldn’t even imagine.”

To conclude this broadcast, Christoph Eschenbach leads a masterpiece with an extraordinary two-decade-long gestation period. Johannes Brahms famously struggled to write his first symphony. The drawn-out process began when he first produced sketches for a symphony at age 21, soon after his mentor Robert Schumann had proclaimed in an influential journal article that Brahms was the rightful heir to Beethoven.

Christoph Eschenbach says that Brahms was fully formed by the time the composer wrote his first symphony.
Christoph Eschenbach says that Brahms was fully formed by the time the composer wrote his first symphony.

To the young composer, it must have seemed like the whole of the European musical world had trained its eyes on him, expecting a masterwork. The pressure produced paralysis, at least with regard to the symphony. Brahms pursued various projects, but despaired that his stubborn symphony would ever be completed. Twenty-two years after Schumann’s article, in 1876, Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor finally appeared, and it was worth the wait: the work was universally admired. Then the floodgates opened. A second symphony quickly followed, as did his third and fourth — all masterworks, and all utterly his own.

PROGRAM:

Chausson: Poème

Vieuxtemps: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor, Op. 37

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in c minor, Op. 68

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

Joshua Bell, violin

WRTI PRODUCTION TEAM:

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.