Press enter after choosing selection

UMS Concert Program, March 7, 1991: University Musical Society -- The Houston Symphony

Download PDF
Rights Held By
University Musical Society
OCR Text

Season: 112th
Concert: Twent-yninth
Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Christoph Eschenbach Conductor and Pianist
Thursday Evening, March 7, 1991, at 8:00 Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 23 in A major, K. 488 Allegro Adagio Allegro assai
Christoph Eschenbach
Dvorak Mozart
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68........
Un poco sostenuto, allegro
Andante sostenuto
Un poco allegretto e grazioso
Adagio, piu andante; allegro non troppo, ma con brio
Christoph Eschenbach plays the Slcinway piano available through Hammell Music, Inc., Livonia.
The Houston Symphony's 1991 Northeast Tour is sponsored by Hnron Corporation.
The Houston Symphony records exclusively for Virgin Classics.
The Houston Symphony is represented by Columbia Artists Management Inc., New York City.
The box office in the outer lobby is open during intermission for tickets to upcoming concerts. Copies of this title page are available in larger print; plexse contact an usher.
Twenty-ninth Concert of the 112th Season
112th Annual Choral Union Series
Program Notes
Carnival Overture, Op. 92 Antonin Dvorak (1849-1904)
Nature, Life, and Love" that is the title Dvorak initially planned for a series of three concert overtures he com?posed in 1891 and 1892. Per?haps because Simrock published them with separate opus numbers, In Nature's Realm, Op. 91, Carnival, Op. 92, and Othello (after Shakespeare), Op. 93, are all known individ?ually and are rarely heard together as the composer intended them. His biographer Schonzeler calls the triptych "Dvorak's most important, most misunderstood, and most underrated compositions." He likens them to Schumann's Overture, Scherzo, and Finale, as a sort of three-movement symphony lack?ing a slow movement.
Carnival has fared the best of Dvorak's three concert overtures, earning a prominent niche as a curtain-raiser on symphonic pro?grams. Like its companion pieces, it has no association with an opera or stage work, but was rather conceived as concert music. Its popularity derives from the exuberant energy of the music, a reflection of the composer's childhood memories of village celebrations. From the opening cymbal crash, vibrant Bohemian dance rhythms burst forth at a furious pace, rarely relinquishing their hold on our sensibilities.
The overture is in A major, a particu?larly bright key for strings. To enhance that brightness, Dvorak wrote for one of the largest orchestras he ever employed. Swash?buckling flair and big gestures are the order of the moment in Camiwif. But to place undue emphasis on the dazzling brilliance of the piece and its clangy loud sections does an injustice to the composer. His quicksilver moods require consummate control from both conductor and orchestra; his customary me?lodic abundance provides many rich glimpses of individual orchestral talent. The pastoral middle section, marked Andantino con moto, is particularly lovely, showcasing English horn, flute, clarinet, and violin soloists. Dvorak takes a coy bow to Wagner, referring frankly to the Venusberg music from Tannhauser.
Carnival was dedicated to the Czech University in Prague and was conducted by the composer at the premiere in April 1892 as part of a farewell concert prior to his American tour. All three overtures figured prominently in the concerts that Dvorak conducted during that visit, but Carnival established its preeminence then and has held it steadfastly.
Dvorak's score calls for piccolo, flutes, oboes, English horn, clarinets, bassoons, four horns, trumpets, trombone, bass trombone and tuba, harp, timpani, cymbals, tambou?rine, triangle, and strings.
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major,
K. 488
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart reserved the key of A major for special works. His compositions in that key re?flect tranquility, clarity of spirit, and a measure of inti?macy that are rarely present in other tonali?ties. For example, the late violin-piano sonata, K. 526, and the two late clarinet pieces the Quintet, K. 581, and Concerto, K. 622 all seem to glow with a diffuse inner light that derives in no small part from their casting in A major. Mozart's String Quartet in A major, K. 464, is spiritually consistent with these works, sharing their linear clarity and twilit benignity.
Both of Mozart's A-major piano con?certos (K. 414 and K. 488) are exquisite jewels with an immediate melodic appeal that does not preclude emotional weight. In par?ticular, the later concerto, which dates from 1786, holds a special place in the Mozart canon, more fully realizing the tenderness, pathos, and sparkle hinted at so generously in the earlier work.
A distinguishing feature of this lovely concerto is its transparent scoring. It is one of a very few concertos in which Mozart called for the sweeter clarinets rather than the more piquant oboes. The reedy, nasal sound of the oboes was incompatible with the wistful char?acter of this music. Additionally, Mozart scaled back the aggression of the previous year's concertos (the famous D minor, K. 466, and the splendid C major, K. 467, both
dating from 1785, are the best known exam?ples) by forgoing timpani in K. 488.
As a performing artist in the Vienna of the 1780s, Mozart was famed for his brilliant improvisations. In his 27 piano concertos he left us a tantalizing glimpse of his improvisa?tory style in the surviving cadenzas. These cadenzas, which occur uniformly in the first movements, occasionally in the finales, and very rarely in the slow movements, present a paradox: Mozart generally committed them to manuscript paper only when they were in?tended for someone else. When performing concertos in public, he relied on his own inexhaustible invention, creating the caden?zas spontaneously. Thus, those cadenzas pro?duced for his students are the best surviving evidence we have of his imaginative, freer playing. They submit readily to the interpre?tive keyboard gifts of other pianists. The first movement cadenza to the A-major concerto is Mozart's own and holds the distinction of being the only original cadenza for any of the dozen concertos composed between 1784 and 1786. It is played by virtually all pianists who perform this work.
Many writers have noted the increasing importance of opera in Mozart's instrumental works during the 1780s. It is surely no coin?cidence that K. 488 is contemporary with The Marriage of Figaro: its dancing bassoon lines in the zesty finale look forward to the irresis?tible shenanigans brought to such masterly perfection in the Da Ponte opera. Even more striking is the emotional intensity of the slow movement. H. C. Robbins Landon has drawn a parallel between the Adagio and the affec?tive arias of Mozart's opera seria heroines; there is a prescient relationship between this music and that of Pamina in The Magic Flute as well. Surely, here is nobility of spirit.
Once again, tonality plays an impor?tant role: this Adagio is the only instance in all of Mozart of a movement in the dark key of F-sharp minor, the relative minor of A major. Musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen singles out the slow movement as an astonishingly poignant expression of grief and despair, referring to its "passionate melan?choly." Mozart achieves this by the simplest of means; no virtuoso figuration interferes with the tragic intimacy of this lovely Adagio in slow siciliana rhythm. Rosen has written:
"Mozart's genius lay in the understand?ing of how the expressive possibilities of such a simple progression could be used, and how
it could give unity to a phrase, and to the movement between phrases, while the me?lodic line that traced and decorated the progression was as varied in rhythm and phrasing as the character of the music de?manded."
Despite the jollity and brilliance of the ensuing rondo-finale, our memory of the slow movement is never fully erased. Mozart gives us a powerful reminder of it in a thrilling F-sharp minor episode. He concludes the concerto with brilliant figuration in an exu?berant style, but that echo of wistfulness still hangs in the air.
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Johannes Brahms left behind no excess baggage when he died in April 1897. Unlike Beethoven, who hoarded all his musical sketches and conversation notebooks, Brahms left no record of his creative and thought processes. If a composition did not satisfy him after revision, he destroyed it. Occasionally, he reworked one composition into another; the Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 15, for example, was originally intended to be a symphony. But Brahms took the legacy of Beethoven very seriously, and the spectre of Beethoven lay heavily on his shoulders.
"You do not know what it is like hearing his footsteps constantly behind one," Brahms wrote. As early as 1854, probably with Robert Schumann's encouragement, Brahms, then 21, was at work on sketches for a symphony. Two decades elapsed before that music found its way into any permanent form. Clara Schumann and Albert Dietrich both saw a draft of the first movement in 1862, in a version not yet preceded by slow introduc?tion. Some five years later, Brahms wrote a letter to Clara including the famous horn theme that became the transition to the hymn of the finale. Not until 1873, however, did Brahms start to concentrate seriously on the completion of his First Symphony. He waited until the age of 43 to contribute to the symphonic canon.
Between 1867 and 1873, Brahms com?posed hardly any instrumental music, focus?ing his energies on a wealth of choral compositions. Most significant among these is, of course, A German Requiem, Op. 45
(1868). In short order followed the dramatic cantata Rinaldo, Op. 50 (1869), the Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53 (1869), Schicksalslied, Op. 54 (1871) and Triumphlied, Op. 55 (1870-71). All these choral works were paired with full orchestra, and Brahms was steadily in?creasing his mastery of orchestral technique. With the symphonic version of Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a (1873), he sailed forth with "solo" orchestra, his first such foray since the early serenades and the Piano Con?certo in D minor, Op. 15. The masterly Variations were an unqualified success; the way was paved for the long-awaited sym?phony.
Op. 68 was finished at Lichtenthal during the autumn of 1876 and premiered at Karlsruhe in November. Brahms chose the smaller town because it was a less politically stressful musical community than Vienna or Leipzig. He wrote to Otto Dessoff, conductor of the Karlsruhe orchestra: "It was always my cherished and secret wish to hear the thing first in a small town which possessed a good friend, a good conductor, and a good orches?tra."
Dessoff was delighted by the honor accorded his orchestra. Brahms knew that the symphony would not have direct popular appeal, writing to Carl Reinecke of the Leip?zig Gewandhaus Orchestra: "And now I have to make the probably very surprising an?nouncement that my symphony is long and not exactly amiable."
He need not have worried. DessofPs first rendition was successful enough to war?rant repeat performances under the composer's direction in Mannheim and Mu?nich shortly thereafter. Once the First Sym?phony was complete, it unleashed a slew of symphonic works. For the next eleven years, Brahms's orchestral harvest was bountiful: three additional symphonies, three more con?certos, and two overtures.
It is not without reason that the Sym?phony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68, was hailed as "the Beethoven Tenth" when it was premiered in 1876. Because of its heroic stance and C-minor tonality, the work is most often compared with Beethoven's Fifth Sym?phony. Both pieces have a general progression from tragic struggle to triumph and victory. Brahms's First bears equal comparison to the Beethoven Ninth (Beethoven's other minor mode symphony), primarily because of the obvious parallel in hymnlike finales.
Brahms's good friend Theodore Billroth likened the First Symphony's first movement to "a kind of Faustian overture" that might be thought of as a grand introduction to the whole work. Indeed, its complicated chro?matic themes and inexorable timpani at the opening are hardly the stuff of which popular "singable" tunes are made.
Hans Gal offers an insightful commen?tary as to why Wagner and his followers would have experienced impatience listening to the opening movement: "The nobility of this first movement rests on qualities that were alien to the dramatic composer: a thematic inter?play worked out to the smallest detail and based on polyphonic structure; a delicate balancing, from beginning to end, of tonal relationships; and a formal design whose gran?diose dimensions only become apparent when one experiences the whole movement as a single, great continuum."
The perspective is significant because Wagner's followers constituted such a major portion of the listening public in the 1870s.
One unusual feature of this very large symphony is the presence of two slow intro?ductions, one for each of the outer move?ments. Slow introductions are rare in Brahms's music in any case, and this double occurrence is unique among his compositions. In both movements, the introduction signals something portentous and monumental. It is a measure of Brahms's genius that the effect is entirely different in the two: ushering in heroic conflict in the opening movement; introducing serene exaltation in the conclu?sion. By contrast, the inner movements are both shorter and lighter in emotional weight. In the slow movement, Brahms indulges in some orchestral decoration, embroidering his already rich music with a rare, breathtakingly lovely violin solo. Here, and in the graceful Un poco allegretto, we have a welcome emo?tional breather between the powerful pillars of the outer movements.
If there were any shortage of melodies early on, Brahms compensates with abun?dance in the expansive finale. From the magical horn call to the majestic closing chords, unforgettable melodies vie with one another for center stage in our aural con?sciousness. Thanks to the famous finale, Brahms's First Symphony is a proud contender among his most beloved original themes.
-Notes by Laurie Shulman
About the Artists
The Houston Symphony, now making its first Ann Arbor ap?pearance, is one of America's oldest performing arts organiza?tions and the oldest symphony orchestra in the Southwest. Miss Ima Hogg played a major role in founding the orchestra in 1913 and continued to take an active role in its leadership until her death in 1975. Since 1913, the orchestra has grown from an ensemble of 33 part-time musicians to its present roster of 95 full-time players.
The Houston Symphony has enjoyed steady growth artistically under the direction of strong musical leaders. These include Ernst Hoffmann (1936-47), Efrem Kurtz (1948-54), Ferenc Fricsay (1954), Leopold Stokowski (1955-61), Sir John Barbirolli (1961-67), Andre Previn (1967-69), Lawrence Foster (1974-78), Sergiu Comissiona (1979-88), and now Christoph Eschenbach, who was appointed music director in September 1988. Maestros Hoffmann and Kurtz hired strong professional musicians who remained part of the orchestra for 30 or more years. Leopold Stokowski brought international visibility by commissioning new music and making re?cordings. In Sir John Barbirolli's years, the Symphony flowered under the influence of English Romanticism and moved into Jones Hall, its new home, in 1966. In 1971, the Symphony signed its first 52-week contract with the musicians, allowing the orchestra to compete for talented personnel.
Today, The Houston Symphony fills each season with its Classical Series concerts, Houston SymphonyExxon Pops series, Mo?zart and More summer concerts, Messiah per?formances and special Christmas concerts for families, a New Year's Eve gala, First Concerts for children, various educational outreach concerts, and two summer series of free con?certs. Strengthening the educational out?reach programs are over 200 docents who visit approximately 250 schools, libraries, and hos?pitals each year. In all, an estimated 500,000 people attend more than 200 Houston Sym?phony events annually. In addition, the Sym?phony plays for most of Houston Grand Opera's performances.
Christoph Eschenbach is now leading his third tour with The Houston Symphony. The tour begins tonight in Ann Arbor, fol?lowed by performances in Hershey, Pennsyl-
vania, and New Brunswick, New Jersey, cul?minating with concerts in Washington's Ken?nedy Center for the Performing Arts and at Carnegie Hall in New York. The latter is part of Carnegie Hall's centennial celebration in the series "Great Ensembles at Carnegie Hall," in the company of the Vienna, Len?ingrad, and Czech Philharmonics and Washington's National Symphony. In 1990, Eschenbach led the orchestra on a five-city tour of Florida, and last June they performed three concerts at the Singapore Festival of Arts, the first major orchestra ever to perform at the festival. Earlier, in 1985, the orchestra made an appearance at Carnegie Hall under Maestro Eschenbach when he conducted as a last-minute replacement for then-music direc?tor Sergiu Comissiona, who was suddenly taken ill.
In July 1990, Virgin Classics signed The Houston Symphony and Christoph Es?chenbach to a four-year recording contract, beginning with a session to record Tchaikovsky's Francesco, da Rimini and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, From the New World. Led by Maestro Eschenbach, the Sym?phony will record a minimum of two discs per year. Further recordings will include the cycle of Brahms symphonies, starting with the First Symphony this year. Eschenbach and the Symphony have recorded several works by the contemporary American composer Tobias Picker, one of which features Sir John Gielgud narrating The Encaniadas, just re?leased. The Houston Symphony has also released numerous projects on the Pro Arte label, among them Schumann's four sympho?nies with Sergiu Comissiona.
The Houston Symphony is active in commissioning new music from American and international composers. Recent world premieres have included Ezra Laderman's Symphony No. 6 and Dance Overture by George Perle, 1986 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music. The orchestra has also given several world premieres of new works by Tobias Picker, who spent five years as com-poser-in-residence with the Symphony. In addition to composing, Mr. Picker conceived and administered The Houston Symphony Citicorp Fanfare Project, which commis?sioned 21 new works from renowned compos?ers including William Schuman, Elliott Carter, John Williams, John Adams, and John Harbison.
The Houston Symphony is an active participant in broadcast activities for KUHF-FM, Houston Public Radio, and KRIV-TV. In February 1990, the Symphony's perfor?mance of Liszt's Hexamerun for six pianos and orchestra was taped for subsequent broadcast on PBS.
Christoph Eschenbach's 1988 ap?pointment as music director of The Houston Symphony places him in a distinguished line of past music directors. Previously, he had been music and artistic director of the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich and principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic. He continues to make conducting appear?ances with the major orchestras of Europe and North America, and in past seasons he has made appearances in the United States with the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Or?chestra, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Or?chestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, and the National Symphony. In Europe, he has led the Vienna Symphony frequently in Vienna and on two tours in Japan and one in the United States, has conducted the Orchestre National de France, the Israel Philharmonic, and all of the German Radio Orchestras. A guest conductor at major American summer festivals, Maestro Eschenbach appeared at Tanglewood for the 15th time and at the Ravinia Festival this past summer. He has also conducted at the Hollywood Bowl, New York's Mostly Mozart Festival, the Blossom Festival, and at many European festivals.
In addition to his recording activities with The Houston Symphony for Virgin Classics, Christoph Eschenbach will record a
complete Schumann cycle of the symphonies and overtures with the Bamberg Symphony. His other recordings include the complete music to Grieg's Peer Gynt and the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony with the Bamberg Symphony on the AriolaRCA label, and Berlioz's Symphonie funebre et triomphale and La Mori de Cleopdtre with the Czech Philhar?monic on the Supraphon label. He has also recorded Marc Neikrug's Through Roses with Pinchas Zukerman and seven other soloists on the Deutsche Grammophon label. Sched?uled for release is a disc of Mozart's complete Violin Concertos with violinist Young Uck Kim and the London Philharmonic for a two-CD recording on RPO Records. In the dual role of conductor and pianist, Eschenbach's recordings include the Mozart concertos for twoand three pianos with Justus Frantz and former West German Chan?cellor Helmut Schmidt (an accomplished amateur pianist) with the London Philhar?monic.
Christoph Eschenbach had already earned a distinguished international reputa?tion as a concert pianist before turning to conducting. Born in Breslau, Germany, in 1940, he studied piano in Hamburg with Eliza Hansen and conducting with Wilhelm Briickner-Ruggeberg, both of whom he re?gards as the principal mentors of his artistic development. He won several prizes, includ?ing the Steinway Young Artist Competition at age 11 and the International Music Com?petition in Munich at age 22. His career as a pianist was heightened by winning first prize in the Clara Haskil Competition in Lucerne in 1965. Four years later, he made his Amer?ican debut as a pianist with The Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell, opening the door to both orchestral and recital engagements throughout the world.
Meanwhile, Eschenbach continued to study conducting with George Szell and in 1972 made his conducting debut in Hamburg with a performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 3. His North American conducting debut came in 1975 with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1978, the maestro made his operatic conducting debut and has since been a regular guest in major opera houses.
Christoph Eschenbach now returns after making his Ann Arbor debut as both pianist and conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in two concerts of the 1986 May Festival.
A New Day Dawns In Houston
Excerpted from an article in Musical America by Carl Cunningham, March 1989
When performing arts orga?nizations celebrate major anniversaries, they com?monly look back fondly upon a glorious history. However, The Houston Symphony's current 75th anniversary is an exception to that custom: it is a celebration not of the past but of the present, as well as an expression of optimism for the future. That focus is a matter of necessity, for the orchestra's recent past has not been the happiest era in its history.
But the future has suddenly become very bright, with the appointment of Christoph Eschenbach as the orchestra's new music director, the recent infusion of millions of dollars in financial support, and a new union contract that begins to redress the monetary penalties the musicians have suf?fered during Houston's current depressed oil economy. Eschenbach, who began his tenure in September, has raised the orchestra's mo?rale and its artistic achievement to the high?est sustained level in many years. His appointment brings The Houston Symphony its most renowned music director since Sir John Barbirolli occupied the podium more than 20 years ago. It also brings Houston one of the few conductors who can legitimately claim an equally renowned career as a touring soloist in this case, as a concert pianist.
The breadth of Eschenbach's gifts as a symphonic and opera conductor, a chamber music pianist, and a concerto soloist has been fully revealed in a dozen engagements during the past five years. He made an unheralded Houston debut as a guest conductor in De?cember 1983, eliciting a rather favorable reaction from orchestra members. But the unbreakable bond between conductor and orchestra was really formed two seasons later, shortly after Eschenbach's second guest en?gagement in a MozartBruckner program in October 1985.
Suddenly, in November of that year, he was recalled to rescue the orchestra's imperiled Carnegie Hall engagement, when Comissiona fell ill during the symphony's Eastern tour. Eschenbach flew from Europe to New York and prepared two piano concer?tos with touring soloist Emanuel Ax and, in a single two-hour rehearsal, restored the Bruckner Sixth Symphony he had conducted
in Houston. While the orchestra's perfor?mance did not meet his own highest standard of discipline and inspiration, it came off creditably. Best of all, it engendered a deep, abiding bond of affection and respect between Eschenbach and the orchestra. He later mar?veled: "It was amazing; they remembered everything 1 had told them when 1 was in Houston."
Eschenbach's greatest feat of musician?ship came in July 1987, when he returned to conduct and perform in three opening pro?grams of The Houston Symphony's first Mostly Mozart Festival. He set himself a five-day marathon that would have staggered many a colleague, rehearsing and performing brilliantly as conductor and pianist in three different programs. All this was accomplished despite the fact that on the day he began rehearsals he faced a dispirited, frustrated orchestra that had just been obligated to accept a take-it-or-leave-it one-year contract that did little to relieve the financial stress or the shrinkage in personnel permitted under a policy of attrition. Within a few days, Es?chenbach sublimated the players' economic frustration into an expression of artistic eu?phoria.
By means of this set of Mozart programs and his previous guest engagements, Es?chenbach had demonstrated to his audiences, to the symphony board, and to the 13-mem-ber conductor search committee that he met
their prime qualification for a conductor: someone who would be a master of the German Romantic repertory. Curiously, The Houston Symphony has not had such a person since the six-month tenure of Ferenc Fricsay in 1954Leopold Stokowski (1955-61) was most noted for his work in the Russian repertory, and Barbirolli (1961-67), though he displayed complete mastery of the entire spectrum of European music, claimed the Impressionists, Mahler, and early twentieth-century English composers as his specialties. Andre Previn (1967-69) showed a proclivity for the works of Walton and Vaughan Wil?liams, but he was still in the formative stages of his career during his stay in Houston. Lawrence Foster (1971-78) built a substantial reputation in a broad range of styles, but showed the greatest strength in twentieth-century music, especially the Second Vien?nese and Russian schools. Comissiona (1980-88) was also experienced in a broad repertoire, but he left his special stamp upon the works of Berlioz and East European com?posers.
It appears, however, that Eschenbach will match or surpass all of his prede?cessors in each of their specialties. As the conductor search began to focus upon him in the fall of 1987, he returned with glorious orchestral perfor?mances of Rachmaninoff s Third Piano Con?certo and Mahler's First Symphony. In March, he capped the announcement of his appointment by turning to modern music, with blazing interpretations of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's orchestral prelude Photoptosis and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps. He began his tenure by enlivening a wide variety of orchestral chestnuts with a series of bril?liant, definitive interpretations. Brahms's First Symphony, Dvorak's New World Sym?phony, Ravel's Bolero, and Rossini's William Tell Overture -all were vivid, compelling, deeply felt performances.
But last fall's crowning achievement came when Eschenbach took members of his orchestra over to Wortham Center to make his debut as an opera conductor in Houston Grand Opera's new production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Though it had the advantage of a strong cast and is part of an admired new cycle of MozartDa Ponte operas staged and designed by the team of Goeran Jaervefelt and Carl Friedrich Oberle, the performance was
clearly inspired by Eschenbach's deep insights into the score. It was one of the few times in memory that an opera production in Houston has enjoyed the centralized control of an inspiring conductor who could unquestion?ably make the dramatic action on stage pro?ceed from musical values expressed in the orchestra pit.
Considering the breadth and the inten?sity of Eschenbach's musical vision, it would seem that Houston suddenly has a Herbert von Karajan in its midst. The 48-year-old Eschenbach actually credits Karajan's instruc?tion as an important factor in his musical formation, but he gives prime credit to George Szell. Though Eschenbach trained as a pianist under Eliza Hansen during his youth in Hamburg, a conducting career was always in the back of his mind, and he studied that discipline with Wilhelm Briickner-Rugge-berg.
Eschenbach launched his pianistic ca?reer after winning several piano competitions, capped by the 1965 Clara Haskil Prize in Lucerne. That, in turn, led to his acquaint?ance with Szell, through his engagement as tour pianist for The Cleveland Orchestra's European tour to the festivals at Salzburg, Edinburgh, and Lucerne. During that tour, and subsequently, he studied conducting with Szell when time permitted. He also made his American keyboard debut performing under Szell's baton in 1972.
"One of the main things Szell taught was phrasing," Eschenbach recalls. "He not only wanted listeners in the first two rows to hear the music clearly, but also listeners in the thirtieth row of the fifth tier. One almost had to exaggerate to accomplish that."
Eschenbach's studies with Karajan were less extensive, consisting of coaching sessions and opportunities to observe the Berlin Phil?harmonic conductor in rehearsal. "In a sense, Karajan is at the other end of the musical spectrum," Eschenbach says. "With Karajan, everything is melody and color, and the bridging of lines."
One can hear both influences in Eschenbach's conducting. His interpretations invariably have a powerful thrust, projecting the music out into the auditorium with real impact. And Szell's influence can be heard in the startling clarity with which details of orchestral texture are set forth, as has been demonstrated in woodwind ensembles of a Beethoven concerto for string accompani-
ment figures in Dvorak's New World Sym?phony.
But the Karajan side of Eschenbach's conductorial training has come forth in his beguiling interpretation of the New World's shopworn "Goin' Home" melody, which held a cough-prone Jones Hall audience enrap?tured throughout the movement. And con?sidering Eschenbach's central focus as a Mozart specialist, the iridescent tone colors he evoked in a haunting interpretation of Bolero has been a startling revelation of his talent in the field of French Impressionism.
Eschenbach's remarkable career stands in striking contrast to a tragic infancy that might easily have robbed the musical world of a great talent. He was born Christoph Ringmann on February 20, 1940, in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). His mother died in childbirth. His father was a musicologist teaching at the University of Breslau, but because he resisted the Nazis, he was dismissed from that position and sent to a minor university. Eventually, he was forced into the army and was later killed in battle. Young Christoph was left with a grand?mother, adrift in refugee camps. After her death in one of these camps, he was left alone in various places until he was found by an aunt named Eschenbach. He was raised by her and her husband, whose name he adopted.
Living mainly in Hamburg, the child found music in his new home. His aunt was a singer and pianist, and she gave him his first piano lessons. He also credits her with teaching him about breathing and singing technique, talents that have made him a prized accompanist of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. When he was 11, she sent him to study piano with Eliza Hansen, whom he cites as his major teacher. Since Hansen was a pupil of both Edwin Fischer and Artur
Schnabel, Eschenbach likes to joke that "I am a sort of pianistic grandson or grand-stu?dentof Schnabel and Fischer." In conduct?ing, he names Wilhelm Furtwangler as his idol.
Though the Clara Haskil prize and his own early career quickly created the image of a MozartBeethovenSchumann specialist, his performances in Houston and his recordings show a far broader range of tastes, especially in the field of twentieth-century music. Mo?zart is well represented in his discography, and he has also recorded and performed exten?sively throughout the entire field of German Classical and Romantic keyboard, song, chamber music, and concerto literature. Fur?thermore, he has premiered major twentieth-century concertos by Gunther Bialas and Hans Werner Henze and has recorded major works by Berlioz and Marc Neikrug.
The Houston Symphony is a finer, more polished orchestra than most people across the nation realize. Major conductors have been greatly surprised to discover this during guest engagements here; critics and audiences in other cities have also acknowl?edged it during the orchestra's occasional tours to New York and other major musical centers. The quality of its playing was the key factor in attracting Eschenbach to accept the music directorship.
Eschenbach is a full mature musician, but he also has the youth and energy that were fading from the lives of his predecessors Stokowski and Barbirolli during their tenures here 20 to 30 years ago. He also seems to have the patience, the iron discipline, and an awareness of the practical realities that will be needed to lift the orchestra to a higher level.
So, as the orchestra's supporters have stated many times in the past, "The Houston Symphony is on the brink of greatness." This time, all parties seem to have a common will to carry the orchestra over the brink.
Show Your Support for the Arts -Advertise in the May Festival Program Book
Your advertisement in the May Festival program book helps underwrite the costs of producing a souvenir program celebrating the University Musical Society's 98th Ann Arbor May Festival. Upholding this long tradition of musical excellence are Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, The Festival Chorus, and five internationally'acclaimed soloists heard in their Ann Arbor debuts. Your advertisement affirms support for the performing arts and will benefit your business as well. For more information, please call 764-6199.
The Houston Symphony
Christoph Eschenbach, Music Director Roy and Lillie Cullen Chair
Niklaus Wyss Associate Conductor
First Violins Uri Pianka
Max Levine Chair Alan Traverse
EUen E. Kelley Chair David Halen
Assistant Concertmaster Eric Halen
Assistant Concertmaster Marina Brubaker Jeremy Klapper Mi-Hee Chung Doris Derden Rodica Weber Barbara Shook-Cleghorn James Stephenson YanTo
Betty Stephenson Christine Pastorek Susan Valkovich Amy Teare Second Violins Raphael Fliegel+ Charles Tabony + + Hitai Lee
Margaret Ruttenberg" Deborah Moran Ruth Zeger Margaret Bragg Martha Chapman Kevin Kelly Elena Diaz Harvey Wechsler Dorothe Robinson lnessa Kupin William Chandler Jane Kimmes" William Pu" Violas
Wayne BrooksH-Thomas Elliott+ + George Pascal Phyllis Herdliska High Gibson Joy Plesner Thomas Molloy Kyla Bynum Fay Shapiro Bernice Beckerman Linda Goldstein Violeta Moncada
Gisele Ben-Dor Resident Conductor
Cellos Thomas Bay
Winnie Safford
Wallace Chair Robert Deutsch Christopher French Marian Wilson Kevin Dvorak Jeffrey Butler Myung Soon Lee James Denton David Garrett Double Basses Fred Bretschger+ David Malone+ + Mark Shapiro William Black Robert Pastorek Kendrick Wauchope Newell Dixon Michael McMurray Harp
Paula Page+ Keyboard Scott Holshouser Flutes Aralee Dorough
General Maurice
Hirsch Chair Lynette Mayfield+ + Wendy Williams' Carol Slocomb Piccolo Carol Slocomb Oboes Robert Atherholt+
Lucy Binion Stude Chair Barbara Hester Larry Thompson English Horn Larry Thompson Clarinets
Thomas LeGrand Randall Griffin
Acting Associate Principal Don G. Slocomb Richard Nunemaker E-(lat Clarinet Don G. Slocomb Bass Clarinet Saxophone: Richard Nunemaker
Newton Wayland Principal Pops Conductor
Benjamin Kamins+ Eric Arbiter+ + Richard Hall" James Rodgers' Gregg Henegar Conrra-Bassoon Gregg Henegar Horns
William Ver Meulen+ Erik Ralslce+ + James Horrocks Nancy Goodearl Jay Andrus Philip Stanton Trumpets John Dewitt+ James Wilt+ + Robert Walp Dick Schaffer Trombones Allen BarnhillH-John McCroskey Co-Principal David Waters Bass Trombone David Waters Tuba
David Kirk+ Timpani
Ronald Holdman + Brian Del Signore+ + Percussion Brian Del Signore+ Fraya Fineberg George Womack Personnel Managers James Hewitt
Christine Pastorek, Assistant Librarians E. Lynn Barney Michael McMurray, Assistant
+ Principal
+ + Associate Principal Assistant Principal Acting Principal
On Leave '' Contracted Substitute

Download PDF