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Please note 5:30 pm start time, concert is played without intermission.
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SAINT-SAËNS: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, op. 61
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, op. 60
An Australian violinist and an Australian-American composer are showcased in this engaging program. Ray Chen was born in Taipei, but grew up in Brisbane. At the age of four, he picked up a toy guitar, placed it under his chin, and tried to play it with a chopstick. He’s since traded it for a “Joachim” violin, which once belonged to Joseph Joachim, a friend of Brahms and protégé of Mendelssohn. At eight, Chen wowed the Olympic audience at the opening ceremonies in Nagano. Now, at 31, he’s recognized for both his award-winning musicianship and his commitment to creating future audiences. He’s even produced a video series combining comedy and music geared for the younger generation of music students.
Chen’s artistry will be on display in an enchanting work by Saint-Saëns, who was himself a child prodigy. At three, he composed his first piece, and by the time he was ten, had played piano concerti of Mozart and Beethoven in Paris. Already a generous performer, he offered to toss in a Beethoven sonata from memory as an encore. Later in his long life, he was credited with writing the earliest known film score. He composed his third and last violin concerto for the celebrity Spanish violinist and composer Pablo Sarasate. None other than George Bernard Shaw admired the "poetic atmosphere and compelling melodiousness" of the first movement. The second movement is especially gorgeous, as it shows off the songlike side of the violin. The sensuous and energetic finale with its Spanish theme gives a nod to Sarasate’s own music.
Coming between the heroically powerful third and fifth symphonies, Beethoven’s Fourth was famously described by Robert Schumann as “a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants.” Hector Berlioz wrote of it: “The general character of this score is either lively, alert, and gay or of a celestial sweetness.” This is the least-performed of Beethoven’s symphonies, but when you listen to the wit and buoyancy of the fast movements and the sublime, angelic quality of the slow movement, you may wonder why it’s not heard more often.
The concert opens with The Saqqara Bird by Australian-American composer Melody Eötvös. It was inspired by the discovery of an artifact during an 1898 expedition in Saqqara, Egypt. The object is a bird-shaped wooden relic which has been hypothesized to be ceremonial object, evidence of early aviation efforts, a child’s toy, a weather vane, some sort of boomerang, or a carving on the masthead of a sacred boat. In the composer’s words, the nine minute piece “places the Saqqara Bird at the intersection of all these theories in an imagined tapestry of the mechanical, the living, and the ancient becoming new again.”
Thrill to the virtuosity and charisma of Ray Chen in an exhilarating program.