In a multiyear project to perform all the piano works of Polish composer Frederic Chopin, pianist Brian Ganz turns to his second-favorite composer for the Waco Symphony Orchestra’s April 20 season closer.
“Chopin is always my favorite composer, but Beethoven is a close second,” said Ganz, pianist-in-residence at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City, Maryland. The guest pianist replaces 81-year-old Peter Frankl, who canceled his Waco appearance roughly a month ago after an accident that affected his playing ability.
However, Ganz, 56, will perform the same work, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, and he is delighted at the prospect.
“It’s probably the greatest work ever composed for piano and orchestra,” he gushed in a recent interview. “It’s so perfectly crafted, so revolutionary . . . There’s a new relation between the piano and the orchestra as equals. The piano begins the concerto, for the first time in the history of music. Leave it to Beethoven to be on the cutting edge in relation to the orchestra and soloist.”
There’s also a personal dimension to Ganz’s affection for the work: It was one of the first major pieces he tackled as a 16-year-old student of famed piano teacher Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Institute. “It’s one of the concertos I’ve played most of my life.”
The concerto was the last that Beethoven wrote to perform himself, before hearing loss ended his playing career. It not only balances the interplay between piano and orchestra, but allows each partner to display Beethoven’s gift for each: lyrical melodies for the piano, rich instrumental texture for the orchestra. “You don’t always get both sides of the spectrum,” Ganz noted.
The same could be said for the April 20 program as a whole, which opens with Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” Overture and features Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. WSO Music Director Stephen Heyde said the program features pieces that capture the orchestral essence of three great composers. “If you really like orchestral music, this is a really great program,” he commented
The overture to one of Mozart’s best-known operas is light in tone, yet rich in its writing.
“It’s one of those perfect little pieces,” Heyde said.
The Beethoven concerto comes from a creative burst in the German composer’s career, debuting at a famous concert that also saw Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies and his Choral Fantasy.
Dvorak often gets overlooked when compared to peers like Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Piotr Tchaikovsky, the Waco music director thinks. “For the late Romantic Period, he was one of the great composers, but undervalued, I think,” he said.
The last three of Dvorak’s nine symphonies are the most mature with the Seventh, written in 1884, showing a heavy Brahmsian influence. The Czech composer reflected the work of Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner in some of his writing as well as featuring Native American and American spirituals notably in his Ninth Symphony, “From The New World,” the music director said.
“In a lot of ways, Dvorak was a chameleon . . . He does assimilate other styles, but never loses his (Czech) origins.”
The Seventh has moments of deep tranquillity, particularly a “sublime” second movement, yet never dwells in sentimentality, Heyde said.