Events & Tickets
MTT joins violinist Nicola Benedetti—a firecracker of talent and energy—in celebrating classical music’s swoon-worthy Romantics and dance masters. Perfectly showcasing Benedetti’s exquisite virtuosity, Sergei Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto showcases Russian folk tunes and a fiery Spanish finale. Never before performed by NWS, Robert Schumann’s Third Symphony is awash with yearning and joy, masterfully capturing the spirit of the Rhine which served as the composer’s muse. The story of Prometheus—titan, romantic hero and thief of fire—is rife with action, struggle and redemption. Franz Liszt brings the Greek myth to life in a symphonic poem he called “stormy and dazzling.”
Approx. Duration: 12 minutes
Prometheus, Symphonic Poem No. 5, S. 99
(1850; revised 1855)
Approx. Duration: 26 minutes
Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 63
Allegro, ben marcato
Approx. Duration: 32 minutes
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, "Rhenish"
Scherzo: Very moderate
Prometheus, Symphonic Poem No. 5, S. 99
(1850; revised 1855)
Approximate duration: 12 minutes
Franz Liszt, the greatest virtuoso pianist of his generation, retired from the concert stage at the age of 35 to focus on conducting, teaching and, above all, composing. He developed an adventurous and groundbreaking approach to harmony, and he left an indelible mark on the art of program music—instrumental works with references to specific stories or images—in formats ranging from intimate piano albums to grand symphonic poems.
The idea of the symphonic poem—a single-movement composition expressing a story or concept in purely orchestral terms—proved to be one of Liszt’s most enduring legacies. Previous orchestral composers had incorporated elements of scene painting or storytelling, like Beethoven in his “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony or Berlioz in Symphonie fantastique, but they also maintained the abstract logic of the symphony to guide their overall structure. Liszt’s innovation was to relax the rules of form and harmony and trust that the storytelling would supply its own guiding logic for the listener.
The story behind the symphonic poem Prometheus comes from Ancient Greek mythology: The titan Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and uses it to bestow life on humanity, earning him the eternal punishment of being chained to a rock while an eagle pecks away at his liver. Liszt wrote the first version of this music in 1850 as an overture and series of choruses based on Prometheus Unbound by Johann Gottfried Herder, one of the founding fathers of German literature. Five years later, Liszt compressed the ideas into this symphonic poem full of explosive themes, wild dissonances and an idiosyncratic structure that detours to an unexpected fugue in the middle, serving up music as fiery and anguished as its mythical inspiration.
Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 63
Approximate duration: 26 minutes
As a student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Sergei Prokofiev exhibited talents as a composer and pianist that put him on course to follow in the footsteps of Russian virtuosos like Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. Prokofiev’s career in Russia was well established by the age of 26, thanks to his early concertos and a standout first symphony, but that was the fateful year of 1917, when the October Revolution upended Russian society.
Like most artists with the means to do so, Prokofiev went into exile, but he struggled in his attempts to restart his career, first in the United States and then in France. Western tastemakers dismissed Prokofiev’s increasingly direct and heartfelt manner of composing—a style that he described as “new simplicity”—and meanwhile overtures from the Soviet Union revealed that there was still a receptive audience there for his music. Prokofiev returned for his first concert tour in 1927, and he ultimately moved back to Moscow in 1936, making him the only major Russian artist to repatriate after the Revolution.
The Violin Concerto No. 2, from 1935, turned out to be Prokofiev’s final commission outside of the Soviet Union. Supporters of the French violinist Robert Soetans funded the work, which Prokofiev composed in Paris and during a concert tour through the Soviet Union. Soetans debuted the Concerto in Madrid, where the local audience surely appreciated Prokofiev’s inclusion of castanets in the orchestration.
The Concerto fulfills the promise of a “new simplicity” from its opening measures, entrusting an unadorned theme to the solo violin. That melody haunts the first movement, ultimately silencing a contrasting lyrical strain and returning for a charged final statement with bellicose plucks.
The slow movement takes up the same ascending triad pattern that began the first movement, transporting it to a peaceful accompanying texture for clarinets and pizzicato strings. The solo violin floats above with a melody of timeless beauty and grace, soaring into the instrument’s highest range as the theme passes to the orchestra.
The finale confirms that Prokofiev’s move toward simplification did not dampen his wry humor. The music builds to a propulsive coda, the violin’s perpetual motion figures urged forward by a thudding bass drum and throbbing accompaniment.
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, "Rhenish"
Approximate duration: 32 minutes
After spending most of his life in the eastern part of Germany, Schumann pounced on a major job opportunity in 1850 and moved his family 400 miles west to the city of Düsseldorf on the Rhine River. As the city’s Municipal Music Director, Schumann was put in charge of an orchestra for the first time in his career. Initially he managed to juggle those new challenges while keeping up the blistering pace of his composing. He spent five weeks that November and December drafting a new Symphony in E-flat, numbered as the third but actually the last of his four, chronologically. Over time, though, the strain of the job overwhelmed Schumann’s perennially fragile mental health, and his erratic behavior—like the time he kept conducting long past the end of a piece—led the orchestra to fire him in 1853. He threw himself into the Rhine River in a suicide attempt the next year, and he lived out the short remainder of his troubled life in an insane asylum.
Schumann eventually distanced himself from the programmatic references in his “Rhenish” Symphony, but traces still remain of the work’s local inspiration, in a vein indebted to Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony. The first movement establishes the Symphony’s general sense of grandeur and wonder, its heroic first theme propelled forward by clever collisions in the rhythmic phrasing. In the Scherzo that comes next, the refreshing mood matches the original heading, “Morning on the Rhine,” which Schumann later removed.
Where a slow movement would be expected, Schumann instead wrote an understated intermezzo in a tempo marked “Not fast.” Placing the first singing melody in the woodwinds reinforces the music’s airy atmosphere, recalling the style of music played by the small outdoor wind bands that had been popular since Mozart’s day.
The lynchpin of the whole Symphony is its extra movement, which was meant to be played “In the manner of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,” as Schumann initially wrote, before settling on the more abstract performance indication of “Solemn.” The direct inspiration for this reverent movement came from Schumann’s visit to Cologne, the next major city down the Rhine where travelers have flocked since medieval times to behold the towering Gothic cathedral. The joyous final movement bookends the five-movement plan by reusing the first movement’s “Lively” tempo and also invoking some of its triumphant themes.
-- © 2020 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Welcome to Keynotes, NWS's new program-based podcast! NWS audiences can now soak up musical clips and commentary for an upcoming performance while on the road, in the kitchen or at work -- wherever life takes you! Keynotes will be available for select concerts throughout the season. Let us set the stage for your concert experience by sharing noteworthy moments guided by NWS’s program note annotator Aaron Grad. Audio clips provided by Naxos of America, Inc.
Michael Tilson Thomas is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy; Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony; and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition to these posts, he maintains an active presence guest conducting with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Tilson Thomas is the third generation of his family to follow an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures.
Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal studies at the University of Southern California where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts. During this same period he was the pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1974. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
His recorded repertoire of more than 120 discs includes works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev and Stravinsky as well as his pioneering work with the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. He also recorded the complete orchestral works of Gustav Mahler with the San Francisco Symphony.
Mr. Tilson Thomas’ television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts from 1971 to 1977 and numerous productions on PBS’ Great Performances. Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony produced a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes a television series, web sites, radio programs and programs in schools.
In 1990 Mr. Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF in the United States, featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator of From the Diary of Anne Frank, composed by Mr. Tilson Thomas and commissioned by UNICEF. This piece has since been translated and performed in many languages worldwide. In August 1995 he led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the premiere of his composition Showa/Shoah, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Thomas Hampson premiered his settings of poetry by Walt Whitman, Renée Fleming premiered his settings of the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the San Francisco Symphony premiered his concerto for contrabassoon entitled Urban Legend. As a Carnegie Hall Perspectives Artist from 2003 to 2005, he had an evening devoted to his own compositions which included Island Music for four marimbas and percussion, Notturno for solo flute and strings and a new setting of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Other compositions include Street Song for brass instruments and Agnegram, an overture for orchestra.
Among his many honors and awards, Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has won 11 Grammy Awards for his recordings. In 2008 he received the Peabody Award for his radio series for SFS Media, The MTT Files. In 2010 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government.
Nicola Benedetti is one of the most sought-after violinists of her generation. Her ability to captivate audiences with her innate musicianship and spirited presence, coupled with her wide appeal as a high-profile advocate for classical music, has made her one of the most influential classical artists of today.
With concerto performances at the heart of her career, Ms. Benedetti is in much demand with major orchestras and conductors across the globe. Conductors with whom she has worked include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jiří Bělohlávek, Stéphane Denève, Christoph Eschenbach, James Gaffigan, Hans Graf, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Jakub Hrusa, Kirill Karabits, Andrew Litton, Kristjan Järvi, Vladimir Jurowski, Cristian Măcelaru, Zubin Mehta, Andrea Marcon, Peter Oundjian, Vasily Petrenko, Donald Runnicles, Thomas Søndergård, Krzysztof Urbanski, Juraj Valcua, Edo de Waart, Pinchas Zukerman and Jaap van Zweden.
Ms. Benedetti enjoys working with the highest level of orchestras including collaborations with the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Camerata Salzburg, Czech Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony and Chicago Symphony.
In the 2019-20 season, Ms. Benedetti makes her debut with the Wiener Symphoniker and undergoes a tour of Asia with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati. She will also reunite with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and embark on a tour with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra led by Thomas Søndergård. She performs the Marsalis Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and James Gaffigan and with Cristian Măcelaru—first with the Gothenburg Symphony and then again with the Orchestre de Paris. She will come together again with Karina Canellakis with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Similarly, she joins Michael Tilson Thomas for concerts with the London Symphony and then again with the New World Symphony.
Winner of Best Female Artist at both 2012 and 2013 Classical BRIT Awards, Ms. Benedetti records exclusively for Decca (Universal Music). Her most recent recording features premiere recordings of two works written especially for her by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D and Fiddle Dance Suite for Solo Violin.
Ms. Benedetti was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 New Year Honors List, awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2017 as the youngest ever recipient, and was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2013 in recognition of her international music career and work with musical charities throughout the U.K. In addition, she has received eight honorary degrees to date.
Ms. Benedetti plays the Gariel Stradivarius (1717), courtesy of Jonathan Moulds.
Recognized as "an entrepreneur bringing innovation to classical music" (Forbes), Chad Goodman leads an active and diverse conducting career.
The Conducting Fellow of the New World Symphony, Mr. Goodman will work closely with Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas and take the podium on 13 programs during the 2019-20 Season. Since 2018 he has served as an Assistant Conductor to the San Francisco Symphony, assisting Esa-Pekka Salonen, Manfred Honeck, Daniel Harding, Pablo Heras-Casado, Simone Young and James Gaffigan, among others.
As Founder and Artistic Director of Elevate Ensemble, Mr. Goodman’s “courageous” and “ambitious” (San Francisco Classical Voice) vision for concert programming resulted in the pairing of music from Bay Area composers with underappreciated gems of the 20th and 21st centuries. Under his leadership, Elevate Ensemble established a Composer-in-Residence program, served as Ensemble-in-Residence at San Francisco State University, and commissioned 15 works from Bay Area composers.
Mr. Goodman has previously served as Music Director of the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Peninsula Symphony. He has been a Conducting Fellow at the Atlantic Music Festival, a cover conductor for the San Francisco Ballet and has collaborated with composer Mason Bates on his electronica-classical music project, Mercury Soul.
A driving force in the new music scene, Mr. Goodman has conducted the premieres of more than 50 works. In addition to his performing career, he has taught young musicians the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to successfully navigate the world as a working musician in his workshop “You Just Earned a Music Degree. Now What?”
Mr. Goodman holds a bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music and a master of music degree from San Francisco State University. His mentors include Michael Tilson Thomas, Alasdair Neale, Cyrus Ginwala and Martin Seggelke.