Britt Orchestra / Jeremy Denk

Saturday, August 6, 8 p.m.


BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1
MOZART: Symphony No. 25
HINDEMITH: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

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Britt Orchestra

This program opens with one of America’s foremost pianists, Jeremy Denk, performing Brahms’ monumental Piano Concerto No. 1, a massive work of depth and intensity.

Following intermission, the orchestra will perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, a purely Classical work that was written when the genius composer was just 17.  It was also used as the opening music in the film Amadeus.
While perhaps overshadowed by more well-known 20th century composers, Paul Hindemith was a giant of modern German composition. He was approached to write a ballet based on the works of the Romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber. The ballet project was abandoned, but Hindemith eventually turned his early sketches into a symphonic work full of orchestral color.

Unless otherwise noted, program notes are written by Mark Knippel.

Johannes Brahms
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
(composed between 1854-58; revised in 1859)

Composer: born May 7, 1833; died April 3, 1897

I.     Maestoso
II.    Adagio
III.   Rondo: Allegro non troppo

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano.

It has been said that “pressure makes diamonds,” and in Johannes Brahms’s case, that seems to be true, given the brilliance and genius of his oeuvre, but diamonds take time to form. A lot of time. Ever the perfectionist, Brahms was known to labor over his compositions extensively, evidenced by his comparatively light output in large forms such as the symphony (Brahms only wrote 4, while Beethoven had composed 9, and Mozart wrote 41). This perfectionism appears to have resulted from Brahms’s sudden emergence onto the musical scene in 1853, when the great Robert Schumann published an article in Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (the New Journal of Music), praising Brahms at great length as “a musician who would reveal his mastery not in gradual stages but like Minerva would spring fully armed from Kronos’s head. And he has come; a young man over whose cradle Graces and Heroes have stood watch. His name is Johannes Brahms…” (it goes on for quite some time like this). Such an enthusiastic endorsement from a well-respected composer and critic put Brahms immediately in the public spotlight. Imagine yourself, all of 20 years old, paying a visit to a man you admire professionally, who declares to the world you are essentially Beethoven reborn. No pressure or anything.

Another Schumann took notice of Brahms’s potential as a composer. Robert’s wife Clara, who was a highly respected pianist and composer in her own right, also held Brahms in high regard, stating in her diary after hearing Brahms perform, “…what he played to us is so masterly that one cannot but think that the good God sent him into the world ready-made.” Brahms quickly bonded with both Schumanns, and became a close friend. However, shortly after their meeting, Robert Schumann fell quite ill (the exact nature of his illness is unknown, with the leading theories being syphilis, mercury poisoning, cancer, or all three) and, following an attempt on his own life, was committed to an asylum in 1854, where he passed away two years later. During Robert’s time in the asylum, Clara was not allowed to visit him, for fears that her presence might further upset Robert. Brahms’s presence during this trying time solidified a lifelong friendship with Clara, a relationship that some speculate went beyond the platonic. Surely, Brahms fell hopelessly in love with Clara, as his many letters confess, but there is no evidence that their relationship went beyond the profound mutual admiration the two held for each other.

During this tumultuous time, Brahms found himself struggling with a new piano work. In 1854, he had a sonata for two pianos, but two pianos didn’t seem to be enough to fully express what he aimed for. At one point, Brahms thought of the work as a full-fledged four-movement symphony, but this revision was unsuccessful (it took Brahms another 20 years to write an actual symphony). Eventually, the piece became the Concerto we know today, albeit after yet another revision following the premiere performances in Hanover, Leipzig, and Hamburg.

We hear the ever-looming presence of Beethoven’s influence in the tempestuous first movement of the Concerto. A timpani roll and forceful unison theme proclaim the opening of the work, with a controlled ambiguity toward meter and tonality that, after much strife and toil, finally settles on the key of D minor. The structure of the movement seems to borrow from some of the harmonic and formal innovations of late Beethoven, and bears a resemblance to purely symphonic (rather than concerto) writing. As always in Brahms, there is a depth of expression and density of musical materials that can be somewhat confounding, but nonetheless draws the listener in through alternating moments of beauty and dread, especially as the piano begins to assume its central role in the music, which doesn’t occur until nearly five minutes of music has been offered by the orchestra!

The second movement couldn’t be more contrasting to the first, as it lends itself more to song forms and simple melodic writing, rather than the symphonic bombast of the first movement. Brahms included the words “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord) on his score for the work. Whether this might refer to Robert Schumann (who Brahms sometimes referred to as “Domini”), Clara, or a truly religious reference is uncertain, but in letters to Clara, Brahms referred to this second movement as “a lovely portrait” of her. In this movement, we hear Brahms’ penchant for writing truly sublime slow music which sounds simple enough on the surface, but holds a surprising emotional depth, and an almost reverential character to the music that has been described as spiritual in nature.

Following the emotional Adagio, the final Rondo launches with a virtuosic outburst in the piano that serves as the refrain for the finale (listen for the opening figure’s frequent return throughout the final movement). The orchestra then tags along on the figure, as the music romps along excitedly, only pulling back to make the refrain stand out even more upon its return. Again, we can hear Beethoven’s ever-looming presence in this movement, but we also begin to realize Brahms’ singularity as an artist. There’s the rhythmic intensity for which he came to be known, particularly in his finales, and his synthesis of the simplicity of classicism, the harmonic and formal innovations of romanticism, and the brilliant polyphony of the Baroque masters. Given the brilliance of works like his First Piano Concerto, we should all be grateful that Brahms was pressured the way he was from the beginnings of his career. Otherwise, we may not have ended up with the diamonds he left behind.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 25, K.183

Composer: born January 27, 1756; died December 5, 1791

I.     Allegro con brio
II.    Andante
III.   Menuetto & Trio
IV.   Allegro

Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, and strings.

At the ripe age of 17, Mozart had already enjoyed a good deal of success in his musical life, with his father Leopold helping him to establish an international performing and composing career. Following visits to Italian city states in 1771 and 1772, Mozart, accompanied by his father, made his first visit to Vienna in search of a major post. Leopold felt that he and his son had outgrown the cultural life of Salzburg, and thus began pursuing work in Austria’s cultural center. Though this first trip wasn’t successful in this regard, Mozart’s first exposure to musical life in Vienna seemed to have had a profound impact on his stylistic leanings. A sudden interest in music with more emotional depth emerges, which could be traced to being exposed to music by more mature composers in Vienna, such as Haydn, Vanhal, and J.C. Bach. In fact, each of these composers had written minor key symphonies prior to Mozart’s time in Vienna. One might conclude that hearing and/or seeing at least some of these works influenced Mozart to write his response to the latest artistic trend, but some scholars argue that the seeds for such music had already been planted in Mozart’s compositional garden, namely in some of his piano music and opera overtures. Either argument is primarily speculative, but it does stand to reason that Mozart’s first trip to Vienna changed his musical mind in ways that we all continue to benefit from today.

Mozart’s first minor key symphony, No. 25 marks new territory for the composer’s output. The work has a Sturm und Drang feel, and likely owes much to the influence of Haydn’s symphonies. This work is often referred to as “the little G minor,” as it is his only other minor key symphony (the other is No. 40, also in G minor, and probably his most famous symphony).

The opening of this work also serves as the opening of the film Amadeus, and thus has garnered more attention than it ever did during Mozart’s life. The music displays Mozart beginning to find his true voice as the incredible composer we know today. Up to this point, most of his music, though certainly charming and well-wrought, didn’t really stand out from his peers. In Symphony No. 25, with its urgent syncopated figuration and wide melodic leaps from the onset of the first movement, we hear a truly individual compositional voice. There’s a real sense of forward drive, motivated by melodic bass figures and harmonic direction previously unseen in Mozart’s output. The Andante movement is primarily a dialogue between the violins and bassoons, and takes on a more operatic aria quality. Gone is the dramaticism of the first movement, with the Andante’s somewhat pensive conversations leading us into the minuet. The third movement is less like a courtly dance (as the minuet traditionally was) and more like a romp, with the whole orchestra pronouncing the minuet theme in octaves. It has a seriousness usually reserved for outer movements of symphonies. This tone changes drastically in the trio, which is scored for the wind contingent; in this case, only oboes, bassoons, and horns are utilized in the whole work. The Allegro finale returns us to the anxious mood of the first movement, this time interspersed with more positive sounding music. The syncopation remains, but the feel alternates between a lighter tone and the Strum und Drang of the opening. On the whole, Symphony No. 25 reveals a young Mozart primed to achieve the greatness we all know him for today. His brilliance is evident here, at all of 17 years old.

Paul Hindemith
Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
(composed in 1943; premiered in 1944)

Composer: born November 16, 1895; died December 28, 1963

I.     Allegro
II.    Scherzo (Turandot): Moderato – Lively
III.   Andantino
IV.   Marsch

Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, chimes, cymbals, glockenspiel, small cymbals, small gong, snare drum, tambourine, tenor drum, tom-tom, triangle), and strings.

A relatively little known but nonetheless quite important 20th century German composer, Paul Hindemith is probably best known for his theoretical textbook The Craft of Musical Composition. These texts explain in great detail his personal approach to composition and music theory, namely an alternative tonal system he developed himself that seeks to avoid the traditional major/minor, diatonic tonality of older Germanic music, without being overtly atonal. His system maintains the idea of dissonance resolving to consonance, thus creating a hierarchy of different intervals and chords. The hierarchy he developed is simply different from traditional tonality, in that Hindemith used all 12 notes of the chromatic scale freely, thus not adhering to the diatonic modes of traditional western music. That said, he was decidedly not an atonal composer.

In the 1930s, Hindemith was a controversial figure in the political and cultural life of Germany. In the midst of the Nazi takeover of the county, some in political circles saw Hindemith as a potential model of the modern German composer, while others denounced his music as “degenerate,” with even Joseph Goebbels himself calling Hindemith an “atonal noisemaker.” By 1938, Hindemith had relocated to Switzerland, and shortly thereafter made his way to the United States.

In 1940, the choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine suggested to Hindemith that he compose a ballet based on the work of Carl Maria von Weber. Though he obliged the request, the ballet never occurred due to creative differences between the two. So Hindemith reworked the piece into a splashy orchestral work that gained instant appeal upon its premiere. The work is based on various, somewhat obscure works by Weber, including incidental music composed for a play based on the Turandot legend (the same one that inspired Puccini’s opera) and various sets of piano duets. Hindemith stayed true to the themes by Weber, to the point where you can almost follow the score for the Weber work while listening to the “metamorphosis.” Though the melodies remain intact, virtually every other aspect is altered.

The first movement is based on Weber’s Op. 60 No. 4 piano duet, and keeps much of this material intact, though Hindemith does give the music a sort of Bohemian harmonic treatment. Between this harmonic language and brilliant orchestration, it’s easy to forget that these themes came from the 19th century.

The second movement is the most “meta” of the metamorphoses. It is based on Weber’s incidental music for a German translation of Carlo Gozzi’s Turandot. In Weber’s music, a good amount of melodic material was taken from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Dictionaire de Musique, a musicological tome about music and melodies from around the world. The tune Weber used was of Chinese origin, and thus was transcribed (and likely altered by Western ears) for Rousseau’s book. In summary, a Chinese melody found in a French book was used for an Italian play based on Chinese folklore that had been translated to German (the play would later be translated back to Italian, and form the basis of Puccini’s opera), and was then later used by Hindemith in his Symphonic Metamorphosis in an effort to appeal to American audiences. Meta, indeed…

The Andantino also comes from a set of Weber’s piano duets. Hindemith’s treatment of the material here is especially charming, in particular the flute part played upon the return of the movement’s first theme. The finale, a broad march, is based on a Maestoso piano duet of Weber that Hindemith alters to be far more triumphant, with horn calls building up to a boisterous finish.

Jeremy Denk

One of America’s most thought-provoking, multi-faceted, and compelling artists, pianist Jeremy Denk is the winner of a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2014 Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s 2014 Instrumentalist of the Year award. He has appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and London, and regularly gives recitals in New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and throughout the United States. In 2014, he launched a four-season tenure as an Artistic Partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In recent seasons, he has made debuts with the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, and performed Bach concertos on tour with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Denk is known for his original and insightful writing on music, which Alex Ross praises for its “arresting sensitivity and wit.” The pianist’s blog, Think Denk, is widely read and enjoyed both within and outside the industry, and he has written pieces for The New Yorker, The New York Times Review of Books, Newsweek, The Guardian, the New Republic, and the website of NPR Music. One of his New Yorker contributions, “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” forms the basis of a memoir he is writing for future publication by Random House. In 2014 he served as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival, for which, besides performing and curating, he wrote the libretto for a comic opera.

Denk’s debut recording for Nonesuch Records juxtaposed Ligeti’s Études with Beethoven’s final sonata, and was included on many “Best of 2012” lists, including those of the New Yorker, Washington Post, and NPR Music. His second recording for the label, Bach: Goldberg Variations, was released in September 2013. It reached number one on Billboard’s “Classical Albums” chart, and was named one of the “Best of 2013” by the New Yorker and the New York Times.

Jeremy Denk has earned degrees from Oberlin, Indiana University, and Juilliard. He lives in New York City, and his web site and blog are at


Guest Artist: Jeremy Denk

Jeremy Denk

Jeremy Denk is one of America’s foremost pianists—an artist The New York Times hails as someone "you want to hear no matter what he performs." Winner of a 2013 MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, the 2014 Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s 2014 Instrumentalist of the Year award, he has recently appeared as soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and London.
Last season, he launched a four-season tenure as an Artistic Partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and performed Bach concertos with Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, and on tour throughout the US. Following the release of his disc of the Golberg Variations--which reached number one on Billboard’s Classical Chart--he performed the piece throughout Europe, including his debut at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and at London’s LSO St. Luke’s.

Denk’s 2015-16 engagements include a fourteen-city recital tour of the US - including performances in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco, and Miami - and culminating in his return to Carnegie Hall. He makes his debut with the Finnish Radio Symphony, and in the UK, appears on tour in recital, including a return to the Wigmore Hall, and on tour with the Britten Sinfonia in Cambridge, Norwich, Southampton and London.

In 2014 Denk served as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival, for which, besides performing and curating, he wrote the libretto for a comic opera. The opera was presented by Carnegie Hall last season. Denk is known for his original and insightful writing on music, which Alex Ross praises for its “arresting sensitivity and wit.” The pianist’s writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New Republic, The Guardian, and on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. One of his New Yorker contributions, “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” forms the basis of a memoir for future publication by Random House in the US, and Macmillan in the UK. Recounting his experiences of touring, performing, and practicing, his blog, Think Denk, was recently selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress web archives.

Denk has toured frequently with violinist Joshua Bell, and their recently released Sony Classical album, French Impressions, won the 2012 Echo Klassik award. He also collaborates regularly with cellist Steven Isserlis, and has appeared at numerous festivals, including the Italian and American Spoleto Festivals, and the Verbier, Ravinia, Tanglewood, Aspen Music, and Mostly Mozart Festivals.

Jeremy Denk graduated from Oberlin College, Indiana University, and the Juilliard School. He lives in New York City.

Visit these sites for more information on Jeremy Denk:
Audio Clips

Pre-concert music: TBA

Begins in the Britt Performance Garden at 6:00 p.m.