Orli Shaham performs at Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig on Oct 2, 2016. It is her 9th season as curator of this wildly popular chamber music series that features musicians from the Pacific Symphony. Shaham shares her thoughts about the concert series and her upcoming program:
“I am overjoyed to be starting my 9th season at Cafe Ludwig! This will be another unusual trip through the repertoire, with powerful performances of fantastic works. It will be a transitional year for us, as Raymond Kobler and Robert Becker have been such mainstays of this program for so many years. I look forward to new musical explorations and ideas with a new team, but I will deeply miss working with both of them!
In this first program, we'll be exploring some links between Brahms and his fellow composers. The C minor Piano Quartet, the anchor of the program, is a work from Brahms’ middle period, published in 1875 when the composer was 42. This was a time in his life in which the ghost of Beethoven, which had haunted him throughout his career, was finally about to be vanquished. He would premiere his first symphony (in the same key as this quartet, and likewise also including a slow movement in E Major) the following year and was hard at work on it. Brahms famously waited so long to write his first symphony precisely because he found it so difficult to know what to write that could follow Beethoven's 9th in the great symphonic canon. In this quartet, he incorporates a 16th century chorale, the famous 4-note so-called "Fate" motive from Beethoven's 5th Symphony, and a direct reference to Mendelssohn's great C minor Piano Trio. These musical references demonstrate how composition does not occur in a vacuum. Composers are continually dealing with choices their compositional forefathers have made, whether overtly or subconsciously. In Brahms' case, one can literally see how his studies of works in C minor, his immersion in chamber music of the past, and his focus on symphonies before him, all go into forming this incredible masterwork. The quartet itself is both dark and intense, with moments of poignant beauty and great release. The Scherzo has one of the most significant moments of the chamber repertoire - after an emotional ride in C minor, Brahms ends the work with a Picardy third (a classic compositional tool from the Renaissance and Baroque), finishing in mood-lifting C Major. A great composer truly draws on everything that came before!
Dvorak's 2nd String Quintet was published the same year as Brahms' Quartet. In fact, this was also the year in which Dvorak received the Austrian State Prize for composition, an award for which Brahms had served on the jury. Although not a work of specific deference to Brahms, it is a piece with clear understanding of how Brahms and others put together large-scale chamber works. Typical of Dvorak, it also contains Slavonic influences in the melodies. Dvorak must have studied the music of Brahms as it came into his life, however had not yet met the man who would so help his career. Brahms could clearly see the potential of this younger composer already at this stage, and it is particularly interesting to assess what aspects of Dvorak's writing were so appealing to Brahms as he struggled in his own creative journey. Already at this early stage (he was 33 when the Quintet was published), Dvorak could hold together large structures beautifully, allowing different keys to flow into each other with a skilled harmonic hand. His ability to extract tuneful melodies from popular music around him was also evident. It's a sweet, special work with a sound world that is uniquely Dvorak's.
Avner Dorman wrote the three After Brahms Intermezzi a few years ago, after commissioned him to 'be inspired by late Brahms' as part of an album I was creating called "Brahms Inspired”. The concept of this CD was to connect Brahms' own musical inspirations with works inspired by him. Dorman took the challenge in unexpected and stunning directions. The first two pieces are paraphrases of Intermezzi by Brahms (Op.118 #1 and Op.119 #1, respectively). In the first, he takes the right hand of Brahms' piece along with the left hand of the Brahms, and interjects an insistent chromatic motive in between. Over the course of the piece, that little motive causes the Brahmsian lines to disintegrate, and a forceful nuclear explosion clears the way for the next pieces. The second intermezzo is based in character, form, and shape on that famous Intermezzo of Brahms' which begins with his trademark falling thirds (the C minor Quartet's slow movement, by the way, also begins with these!). Dorman is able to capture Brahms' ability to incorporate the feeling of popular music in the concert world while maintaining the highest compositional standards. He also takes the lead from Brahms, who makes the harmony ever richer through a series of falling thirds, extending that richness into what is permissible in the 21st century, from a 13th chord in Brahms' case to a 27th chord in Dorman's! The 3rd Intermezzo is the most original in material, but the one which most evokes Brahms' writing style: sentimental, highly personal, full of nostalgia and pathos, introspective.