Stephen Hough: “our greatest living pianist” (Mail on Sunday)

Described by The Economist as one of ‘20 Living Polymaths,’ Stephen Hough is a composer, writer, and one of the world’s leading pianists — perhaps even “our greatest living pianist” (Mail on Sunday). He’s praised, practically worshipped as the second coming of Horowitz, by Gramophone, The Guardian, The New York Times, American Record Guide, and BBC Music Magazine.

Stephen Hough will present an exclusive recital to MCO’s audiences via YouTube Live at 7.30pm CDT on the evening of Thursday, April 8th, and then streaming until April 15th. Tickets may be purchased anytime until April 15 and may be viewed any time and as often as you wish from April 8 to April 15. This is the first of eight planned online 2021 spring concerts presented by the MCO. (Check out our free January 15th and March 12th events for examples of past online concerts.) Tickets for this event are $20 per household. Watch the trailer here, and order your ticket by clinking the link on the right of this page. Shortly after you make your order, we’ll contact you with a private (unlisted) YouTube link to the concert. Access that link at 7.30pm (CDT), April 8th to partake in this shared concert experience and engage in the live chat. You’re free to share each link with the rest of your household, and the concert will be available for about a week after it’s posted.

Here’s Stephen to describe the evening’s program: “I begin my recital with Busoni’s arrangement of the Bach Chaconne for solo violin. A piece originally written for the smallest of string instruments here it becomes as if written for a mighty organ. Then I play Schumann’s Fantasie op 17, one of his greatest works. This three-movement piece takes us through every possible side of the composer‘s personality from the most intimate and tender to the most passionate and declamatory.”

Stephen is the holder of all manner of fellowships, honorary doctorates, distinguished memberships, and grandiose whatsits and whosits of classical music pedagogy from the likes of Guildhall and the Royal Academy of Music. More to the point: he plays the piano ingeniously and with singular personality. We’re very, very lucky to experience him together in this special concert, and we look forward to welcoming him to the MCO stage for a live performance as soon as it can be arranged.

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The concert begins at 7.30pm CDT on on April 8th. Household tickets for casual buyers are $20; all MCO subscribers are automatically given access to this concert. Click here to add a ticket to your cart (adjust quantity in cart) or call the MCO Ticketline 204-783-7377. The MCO will then send you a private link for accessing the concert a few days before the event. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
7.30pm CDT, 8 April 2021

Stephen Hough, piano

Chaconne from Violin Partita in D minor No. 2, BWV 1004
J.S. Bach-Busoni

Fantasie in C major, Op. 17
Robert Schumann

Funérailles (from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses S.173)
Franz Liszt

Mephisto Waltz, No. 1, S.514
Franz Liszt

Träumerei, "Kinderszenen" No. 7, Scenes from Childhood
Robert Schumann

MCO season sponsor / CN

Concertmaster sponsor / Raymond Hébert

MCO at Home sponsor / Christianson Wealth Advisors, National Bank Financial

The MCO gratefully acknowledges the support of The Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Winnipeg Arts CouncilThe Winnipeg Foundation, and the Richardson Foundation.

Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough is one of the world’s leading pianists, winning global acclaim and numerous awards for his performances and recordings. In 2001 he was the first classical performing artist to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and in 2013 he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He has appeared with virtually all major American and European orchestras and has given recitals at the most prestigious concert halls around the world. He has recorded more than 60 albums for Hyperion, most recently Vida Breve featuring his fourth sonata of the same name and works by Chopin, Liszt, Busoni, and Bach/Gounod, and a three-disc set of Beethoven’s complete piano concertos with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. His 2021 engagements include concerto performances with the Atlanta, Dallas, and Utah Symphony Orchestras; and a recital tour with the Takacs Quartet.

Mr. Hough is also a writer, composer, and painter and was included in The Economist’s list of ‘20 Living Polymaths.’ His writing has appeared in BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, The Guardian, the New York Times, and The Times (London). A major anthology of essays by Mr. Hough on musical, cultural, lifestyle, and spiritual subjects—titled Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More—was published by Faber & Faber (U.K.) in August 2019 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US) in February 2020. His first novel, The Final Retreat, was published by Sylph Editions in 2018. As a composer, he has written for orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, and solo piano, and his compositions are published by Josef Weinberger, Ltd. In the fall of 2021, the Takacs Quartet will premiere his newest work, a quartet titled Les Six Rencontres. Mr. Hough resides in London and is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music and Juilliard. He holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester, and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 2011.

To learn more, visit stephenhough.com and follow him on Twitter @houghhough.

Chaconne, from Partita No. 2, in D Minor, BWV 1004
Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach wrote out a fair copy of the six sonatas and partitas for solo violin in 1720, during his term as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. It’s likely that at least some of these magnificent works date back to his period in Weimar, where his duties included playing the violin. The three partitas are generally light-hearted suites of dances. No. 2 is more serious, in particular the magnificent Ciaconna or Chaconne with which it ends. This imposing set of 64 variations, a stunning emotional journey as well as a demanding, comprehensive catalogue of playing techniques, has long been regarded as a summit of the violin literature.

Son of a clarinet-playing father of Corsican origin and an Austrian-born mother who played the piano, Ferruccio Busoni was destined to lead a life and to create music that combined Italian and Germanic characteristics. For many years his numerous piano transcriptions of Bach were held in higher esteem than his original compositions, but recently at least some of his creations have become better known. Regarding the piece you will hear on this recital, Stephen Hough has written, “I begin my recital with Busoni’s arrangement of the Bach Chaconne for solo violin. A piece originally written for the smallest of string instruments, here it becomes as if written for a mighty organ.”

Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17
Robert Schumann

In the mid-1830s, Schumann poured out a torrent of piano music. That flood included some of his most enduringly popular examples of the genre, such as Carnava., Symphonic Étude., Scenes from Childhoo., and Kreisleriana. These pieces consist of numerous brief movements. He also created lengthier, more ambitious works, such as the marvellous Fantasy that Stephen Hough will perform at this recital. Hough calls it “one of (Schumann’s) greatest works. This three-movement piece takes us through every possible side of the composer‘s personality from the most intimate and tender to the most passionate and declamatory.”

Schumann composed it in 1836, and considered it the finest, most passionate thing he had written. At that point in time, it looked as if the father of his lady-love, Clara Schumann, would prevent the couple from marrying. Schumann’s love for Clara and the frustration of their situation clearly left their marks upon the Fantasy. Four years would pass before they were finally wed.

Schumann’s original goal for the Fantasy was to pay homage to Beethoven, on two fronts: creatively, by weaving into it thematic material from Beethoven’s song-cycle To the Distant Beloved (whose title reflects his and Clara’s situation); and practically, hoping that money earned by its publication could be put toward paying for the statue of Beethoven that Franz Liszt had erected in Bonn, Beethoven’s home city. Schumann dedicated the Fantasie to Liszt, and revised it in 1839.

According to Wikipedia, “Liszt was one of the few pianists capable of meeting the then-unparalleled demands of the Fantasy, particularly the second movement coda’s rapid skips in opposite directions simultaneously. He had played the piece to Schumann privately, and later incorporated it into his teaching repertory, but he considered it unsuitable for public performance and never played it in public. However, Liszt returned the honour by dedicating his own Sonata in B Minor to Schumann in 1853. Clara Schumann did not start to perform the Fantasy in her concerts until 1866, 10 years after the composer died.”

Schumann prefaced the Fantasy with a verse by German poet Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829):

Resounding through all the notes
In the earth’s colourful dream
There sounds a faint long-drawn note
For the one who listens in secret.

I In a fantastic and passionate manner throughout (the tempo indication says it all).

II Moderate, quite energetic: a bold, triumphal march, perhaps a wish for, and depiction of, the lovers’ happy future. Clara wrote that this movement “makes me hot and cold all over.”

III Slowly, quiet throughout, Almost quiet throughout, and overflowing with tenderness and heartfelt passion.

>Funérailles, from Harmonies poétiques et religeuses
Franz Liszt

Electrifying pianist, innovative and influential composer, generous colleague and ardent Hungarian patriot: Franz Liszt wore all these hats and several more. His prodigious talents made him the quintessential Romantic artist, and one of the most important musical figures of the nineteenth century. Inspired by the fabulous and unprecedented virtuosity of violinist Niccolò Paganini, he developed his skill at the piano to similar heights. His claim to the title of supreme pianist of the day was regularly challenged, but never surrendered. He also made major contributions to the creative side of music, in such highly influential works as the 13 symphonic poems.

Once he had become acquainted with the works of French poet Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), Liszt began composing works inspired by them, with tremendous fervour. The sources he drew upon included a collection of verses, Poetic and Religious Harmonies, that Lamartine had published in 1830. Liszt composed a single piano work bearing this title in 1834. Over the next 20 years, he followed it up with two multiple-piece collections, all of them bearing the same title. The first appeared during the years 1840 to 1848, and the second from 1848 to 1853. Funérailles is the seventh item in the second collection.

Stephen Hough writes, “Funérailles is an amazing emotional experience, melodies and harmonies leading up to a shattering climax evoking the terrible tragedy of burying a person who meant a lot to you. It was written about a month after Chopin‘s death but we don’t know whether there’s any direct connection here.” The two great composer/pianists were supportive and mutually inspiring friends.

Mephisto Waltz No. 1
Franz Liszt

Many composers of the nineteenth century were drawn to the macabre. The medieval legend of Faust, the learned doctor who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for great knowledge, attracted legions of them. Some, including Liszt, even created more than one Faust piece. Perhaps he felt the same pull within himself that Faust did, between the divine and the diabolical.

A few years after completing his mammoth orchestral work A Faust Symphony (1854), he returned to the same territory and created Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust, drawing inspiration from poet Nikolaus Lenau’s version of the story, not the better-known one by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that had inspired the Faust Symphony. Liszt prepared two versions of them. In the orchestral edition, the second episode is called The Dance in the Village Inn; the one for piano solo is known as Mephisto Waltz No. 1. Liszt composed three further Mephisto Waltzes and a Mephisto Polka.

Stephen Hough calls the first waltz “a glittering showpiece full of bravura and dazzling pianism.” Liszt appended to it the following program.

“At an inn in the village, a marriage revel is in progress, and the night is noisy with the sound of music, dancing and drunken laughter. Mephisto and Faust happen upon the scene and Faust is persuaded to enter and join in the fun. At this point the village fiddler, either wearied or befuddled, is playing with a certain indifference; and Mephisto snatches the violin from his hands and plays music of such irresistible seductiveness that Faust, already under the spell of an unnaturally recovered youth, seizes upon a voluptuous village maiden, dances with her madly, wildly, yet enticingly, and in a few minutes has danced her out of the inn and into the woods. The music gradually becomes fainter, the nightingale sings his amorous song, and the rest is silence.”

Some of the piece’s early audiences found it shocking. The Boston Gazette howled that “it has about as much propriety on program after Schumann and Handel as a wild boar would have in a drawing room.” Another, more progressive critic called it “the ne plus ultra of weirdness and unbridled sensuality in the whole domain of music, and one of the most remarkable tours de force of imagination.”