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With special thanks to Martin Carver
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DEBUSSY: Gigues from Images
RAVEL: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major
PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, op. 100
The Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein commissioned the Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand after he lost his right arm during WWI combat on the Russian front, and then complained about the long opening cadenza. “If I wanted to play without the orchestra, I wouldn’t have commissioned a concerto!” Ravel refused to revise the work and performers and audiences both enjoy it immensely now, seemingly more than Wittgenstein did.
Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony was so popular that within months of its American premiere, the composer was featured on the cover of Time magazine. It was 1945, a time when Russia was still seen as an American ally against fascism, and the symphony was viewed as a musical celebration of the end of WWII. Prokofiev’s intentions are difficult to discern: was it truly, as he described it “a symphony of the greatness of the human spirit, a song of praise of free and happy mankind,” or an expression of defiance against Stalin’s cultural stranglehold? Listen to Prokofiev’s soaring melodies, pungent harmonies, and brilliant orchestration, and marvel at this work’s greatness—and its ambiguity.
The program opens with “Gigues,” inspired by Debussy’s memories of England and the folk song “The Keel Row.”