Benjamin Zander, conductor
Benjamin Hochman, piano
It may seem strange to begin a concert with a seven-minute opera excerpt but bear with me. The “Passacaglia” from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, with its ominous and foreboding opening viola solo, is the highlight of the opera where the narrow-minded and blinkered townspeople close in on their prey. Similarly, Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony composed just after the death of Stalin, depicts the confrontation between the dictator himself (portrayed in the harrowing 2nd movement) and the terrified composer (identified by the initials of his name spelled out in musical notation). Britten and Shostakovich deeply admired each other’s work and related to each other around the notion of persecution - personal, political, and artistic.
The soloist for the second concert is also new to us. Benjamin Hochman, who will play the Bartók 3rd Piano Concerto, came to my attention when my friend, Mark Churchill, raved about the extraordinary experience–both musical and personal–of his performance of this very work with Symphony Pro Musica. Hochman is a profound artist, as you can hear in his rendition of Schubert, so he will be perfect for this heartfelt and radiant work, which Bartok composed as a love letter to his wife while lying in a New York hospital awaiting death from cancer. Because of his illness, the final 17 bars had to be composed by a friend.
When I heard that the Bartók 3rd was Ben Hochman's favorite piano concerto, and I realized I hadn’t performed it since I did it with the great Russell Sherman and the Civic Symphony nearly 50 years ago, I decided it would go wonderfully between the “Passacaglia” from Peter Grimes (written in the same year, 1945) and the Shostakovich (eight years later), complimenting the theme of the concert.
This is a concert about the capacity of human beings to overcome enormous odds. There is much tragedy in this music, but finally, it is a concert in which the three composers, each in their distinctive way, offer us, through their profound art, a pathway to courage.
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