Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Conductor Alan Gilbert & Pianist Stephen Hough Join Boston Symphony Orchestra

Program includes Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and Rare Performances of Sibelius' Night Ride and Sunset and Ives' Vivid Symphony No. 4

March 5, 7, and 10 at 8 p.m., and March 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Acclaimed American conductor Alan Gilbert (pictured), newly appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic, and English pianist Stephen Hough (pictured below) collaborate with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on a program anchored by Rachmaninoff’s sweepingly romantic Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini March 5-10. The program also includes Sibelius’s short tone poem Night Ride and Sunrise, not played by the BSO since 1918, and a rare BSO performance of Charles Ives’ brilliantly original Symphony No. 4, considered a virtual autobiography of Ives’ musical experience.

After finishing his fourth piano concerto in 1926, Rachmaninoff put away his pen and refused to compose for a full five years, apparently disheartened that his ultra-romantic style had gone out of favor in a musical world reinvigorated by the originality of Stravinsky and the twelve-tone composers. But by 1934, when he wrote the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, his confidence seemed to have returned, as he created what most regard as his finest piece for piano and orchestra. The unabashedly poetic Rhapsody is also one of the most classically shaped of all his works, setting Paganini’s familiar theme in variations that range from bold and dashing to subtle and delicate, occasionally leavened with a delightful touch of whimsy.

As a teenager in the 1880s, Charles Ives was already exploring well outside the boundaries of traditional music composition with concepts such as polytonality, polyrhythm, free harmony, chance, and spatial effects. As he matured, these techniques became an integral part of his compositional palette, helping him create musical evocations of everyday life, from parades and barn dances to the exaltation of the human spirit. “Music,” he wrote, “is life.” The epic Symphony No. 4 represents the journey of a traveler toward a “beauteous ray” of enlightenment, a giant cumulative form that gradually reveals the hymn tune that underlies the whole symphony, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”

Between Sibelius’ Third and Fourth Symphonies, the composer experienced a particularly dark time characterized by rising debt and a life-threatening throat tumor. The short tone poem Night Ride and Sunrise was the first work he composed after recovering from surgery to remove the tumor, and he said his aim was to evoke the inner feelings of an ordinary man riding through a dark forest into a brilliant sunrise that fills his heart with gratitude and joy.

ALAN GILBERT
Not only is Alan Gilbert the first native New Yorker to take over the reins of the New York Philharmonic (beginning with the 2009/10 season), he is also the youngest conductor in the organization’s 166-year history and its first Asian-American. The son of two Philharmonic violinists (his father is now retired), he is, according to New York Magazine, “primed to become a luminary of the city’s cultural life.” Gilbert also has been has been chief conductor and artistic advisor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra since 2000, and principal guest conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Symphony Orchestra since 2004. He made his debut with the Boston Symphony in 2003, and is a regular guest with many of the world’s leading orchestras in America, Europe, and Asia. Gilbert is also renowned as an opera conductor, reflecting his high school years in Manhattan as a self-avowed “opera junkie.” He was the first music director in the Santa Fe Opera’s history (2003-07), and during the company’s 50th-anniversary season in 2006, he led the first U.S. production of Thomas Adès’s Tempest, as well as Bizet’s Carmen, with Anne Sofie von Otter in her first U.S. performances in the opera. Gilbert’s early musical training was as a violinist, and he studied at Harvard, Juilliard, and Curtis. He continues to perform chamber music as often as his schedule allows, with cellist Lynn Harrell, pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Cho-Liang Lin, and violinist/violist Pinchas Zukerman among his frequent partners.

STEPHEN HOUGH
A resident of London, where he holds a visiting professorship at the Royal Academy of Music, Stephen Hough is widely regarded as one of the most distinctive pianists of his generation. In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2001, joining prominent scientists, writers and others who have made unique contributions to contemporary life. Since winning first prize in the Naumburg International Piano Competition in 1983, he has appeared with most of the major American and European orchestras and regularly plays recitals in major halls and concert series around the world. He made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in 2005. Known for his embrace of a wide range of piano repertoire, he is strongly committed to performing and promoting contemporary music. George Tsontakis, Lowell Liebermann, and James MacMillan are among the composers who have written, or will write, newly commissioned concertos for him. Hough is also an avid writer and composer. In addition to scholarly and critically-acclaimed CD liner notes and published musical articles, his interest in theology has led to a book, The Bible as Prayer, which was published in the U.S. and Canada in September 2007. His Cello Concerto was premiered in spring 2007 by Steven Isserlis and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic with Mr. Hough on the podium, and his two masses – Mass of Innocence and Experience and Missa Mirabilis – were performed at London’s Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral respectively in summer 2007.

TICKETS AND CONCERT AMENITIES
Tickets for the regular-season Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as Friday afternoons, are priced from $29 to $105; concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons are priced from $30 to $115. Open rehearsal tickets are priced at $19 each (general admission). Tickets may be purchased by phone through SymphonyCharge (617-266-1200 or 888-266-1200), in person at the Symphony Hall Box Office (301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston), or online through the BSO’s website (www.bso.org).

The Symphony Hall Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday; when there are concerts, the box office remains open through intermission. American Express, MasterCard, Visa, Diners Club, and Discover, as well as personal checks (in person or by mail) and cash (in person only) are all accepted at the box office. SymphonyCharge is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is a $5.50 service fee for each ticket purchased online or by phone. A limited number of rush tickets for Boston Symphony Orchestra subscription concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Friday afternoons are set aside to be sold on the day of a performance. These tickets are sold at $9 each, one to a customer, at the Symphony Hall Box Office on Fridays beginning at 10 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at 5 p.m. Gift certificates are available in any amount and may be used toward the purchase of tickets (subject to availability) to any Boston Symphony Orchestra or Boston Pops performance at Symphony Hall or Tanglewood. Gift certificates may also be used at the Symphony Shop to purchase merchandise.

Patrons with disabilities can access Symphony Hall through the Massachusetts Avenue lobby or the Cohen Wing on Huntington Avenue. An access service center, accessible restrooms, and elevators are available inside the Cohen Wing entrance. For ticket information, call the Disability Services Information Line at 617-638-9431 or TDD/TTY 617-638-9289.

PRE-CONCERT TALKS
The Boston Symphony Orchestra offers 30-minute Pre-Concert Talks in Symphony Hall before all BSO subscription concerts, beginning at 6:45 p.m. prior to the 8 p.m. evening concerts and at 12:15 p.m. prior to Friday-afternoon concerts. Open Rehearsal Talks begin one hour before the start of all Thursday-morning and Wednesday-evening Open Rehearsals. These informative talks, which include recorded musical examples, enhance the concert going experience by providing valuable insight into the music being performed.

RADIO BROADCASTS, STREAMING, PODCASTS, AND “CLASSICAL COMPANION”
BSO Concert Preview Podcasts, focusing on each of the programs of the BSO’s 2008-2009 season, are available through www.bso.org and on iTunes.

BSO concerts can be heard regularly on the radio. The Friday-afternoon concerts are broadcast in the Boston area on WGBH 89.7 FM, and the Saturday-evening concerts are broadcast on WCRB 99.5 FM. Both stations also stream the concerts live through their websites at www.wgbh.org and www.wcrb.com.

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