Local classical music fans will have the chance to hear some rarely played works in the Waco Symphony Orchestra’s Jan. 17 concert, from a 19th century piano concerto by a female composer to the first of Gustav Mahler’s muscular, full-blooded symphonies.
The first comes courtesy of guest pianist Gabriela Martinez, who will play Clara Schumann’s piano concerto. Schumann is often known as a piano virtuosa, wife of composer Robert Schumann and a close friend of Johannes Brahms, but she also wrote music and, says the Venezuelan-born Martinez, it’s worth sharing with the public.
Communicating via email while enroute to a busy week of concerts, Martinez said the concerto shows the composer’s lyrical, passionate style.
“It was written when she was 14 years old, and in it we experience a beautiful sense of inventiveness,” she wrote. “Each melody is full of passion, nuance, and beauty. At 14, Clara was already performing quite a lot and touring, so we get to hear and experience her quite impressive pianistic skills. In addition to the brilliant piano writing, the orchestral writing is very intricate, passionate, full of textures, and wonderfully balanced.
“Clara already knew Robert when she was writing the piece (he was studying with her father), so it’s quite fascinating to hear stylistically and to hear the beginning of their inspiration in each other’s music,” she said.
The three-movement concerto also features a unique middle movement written for piano and solo cello. WSO Music Director Stephen Heyde said it shows a side to Clara Schumann that many may not know. “It’s a really charming piece and a lovely piece,” he said. “(Clara) was gifted and one of the great piano virtuosi of her generation.” Also not well known: Schumann was the mother of eight children, which, coupled with the priority given her husband’s career, severely limited her performing and composing over time.
Interestingly, Martinez’s background, on the piano side of things at least, shows some similarities with Clara. Martinez, too, started piano young. The daughter of a music educator and the fifth-generation female pianist in her family, she made her orchestral debut at age 7 and became known as a prodigy at the keyboard. Her family moved to New Jersey when she was 11 so she could enroll in the Juilliard School’s pre-college division and she’s stayed in the United States ever since.
Martinez has built on her youthful reputation as an adult, earning two degrees at Juilliard and performing around the world, winning critical acclaim in international competitions such as the Anton G. Rubinstein Competition in Dresden, Germany, and the Van Cliburn competition in Fort Worth.
Like Clara, reported as one of the first pianists to perform from memory, Martinez’s play is praised for its passion and fluid interpretation. That emotion carries over in her repertoire and recording, from the inclusion of the Clara Schumann concerto to her solo album “Amplified Soul,” which combines works by classical composers such as Beethoven and Rachmaninoff with new pieces.
“I am passionate about repertoire that ranges from the classics to music being written today. I chose the pieces on “Amplified Soul” because I wanted to share the magic that those pieces embody,” said the 34-year-old pianist. “The album has pieces by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Szymanowski, Mason Bates and a world premiere by Dan Visconti. Each piece has a life of its own, a soul, a personality. All the pieces on the album have been a constant soundtrack in my life, and have quite literally amplified my soul.”
Good news for her fans: There’s a second album in the works. “I recorded my second solo album a few weeks ago and I am beyond thrilled to share it with the world soon,” she said.
Full orchestra needed
The Schumann concerto also fits between two symphonic pieces that require a full orchestra, the prelude to Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, and Heyde said the WSO will field 85 players for the Jan. 17 concert.
The Wagner prelude, with its use of expanded horns, woodwinds and strings, makes for a colorful opening for the evening concert while the Mahler symphony, the “Titan,” shows the Viennese composer starting to exercise his considerable skill in expansive orchestration, Heyde said.
Mahler’s symphony calls for seven horns, an expanded woodwind section and two tympani, for starters, to handle his broad humanistic theme.
“It has military fanfares, bird calls, folk songs — a strange combination of the mundane and the eternal. I don’t think any of that was by accident,” he said. “And not every orchestra can play it.”
The work also demonstrates Mahler’s ability to build toward an emotionally rewarding conclusion. “The thing Mahler does as well as any composer I know is create resolution. And in the divided world in which we live these days . . . there’s such an innate satisfaction in that,” he said.
The Jan. 17 performance of the Mahler First sets up a complementary Feb. 8 performance of his Second Symphony by the Baylor Symphony Orchestra and that’s no coincidence. Heyde, who also leads the Baylor Symphony, said the pairing of the two provides Waco listeners a rare opportunity to hear how Mahler developed their related themes. Symphony No. 1, the “Titan,” is an ode to humanism that ends on a triumphant note. Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection,” starts in a funereal manner, the end of a life on earth, and extends into the spiritual realm and the afterlife.