That’s the ticket
Who: Van Pascal Tortelier conducts the San Francisco Symphony, featuring pianist Martin Helmchen
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 (an “Inside Music” talk by Alexandra Amati-Camperi begins at 7 p.m.)
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis
Tickets: $50-$98 general, $25-$45.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787
On Friday, Oct. 18, at the Mondavi Center, Yan Pascal Tortelier will conduct the San Francisco Symphony, featuring pianist Martin Helmchen, who makes his San Francisco Symphony debut with Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Tortelier replaces conductor Marek Janowski, who withdrew due to a scheduling conflict.
Tortelier enjoys a busy career as a guest conductor with many of the world’s prominent orchestras. The son of noted cellist Paul Tortelier, he began his own musical career as a violinist, winning the first prize for violin at the Paris Conservatoire, and making his solo debut with the London Philharmonic.
He then studied conducting with Franco Ferrera at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. He has since been the principal guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as well as chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic between 1992 and 2003. He was given the title of conductor emeritus with the BBC Philharmonic, which he continues to conduct regularly.
Helmchen is a rapidly rising figure in music, noted for his virtuosic, yet delicately polished style. He combines the breathtaking technique of a young virtuoso with a unique refinement and fluidity.
Born in Berlin in 1982, he has appeared as a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert Blomstedt, the Birmingham Symphony, the London Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski, and the Vienna Philharmonic under Valery Gergiev. Helmchen made his U.S. orchestral debut in 2011 with a well-regarded performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto (which he will perform at Mondavi) with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Festival.
In addition to his San Francisco Symphony debut, Helmchen will appear this season with the Dallas Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as in a recital debut at the Kennedy Center.
Helmchen will be the soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, which was composed in the form of a classical concerto, but is also a deeply Romantic piece. It opens as the piano cascades down with a flourish of impassioned chords, but soon melts into an especially sweet and innocent rendition of the main theme.
The solo cadenza is unique in that it is based almost entirely on new melodies and is free of the usual virtuoso displays of technical brilliance. That is not to say it is without fire, but the concerto as a whole is much more poetry than it is a piece of bravura.
Schumann weaves the piano line with the power of the orchestra, and it is the details that make the concerto so special as the woodwinds (especially the clarinet) shape the lyrical line.
Also on the Mondavi program is the “Roman Carnival” Overture of Hector Berlioz, and the Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, by Antonín Dvořák. The “Roman Carnival” Overture is nine minutes of vivacious music painted in Berlioz’s brightest colors. It was intended to be the prelude to the second act of his opera “Benvenuto Cellini,” and although the opera was never well received, the overture was a resounding success as an independent concert piece when it was introduced on its own in Paris, 1844.
The overture pieces together themes from the opera, with lyric melodies, folk dances and plenty of cymbals.
Any symphonic concert would seem incomplete without one of the “great symphonies.” Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony was a breakthrough for the composer. At the time of the conception of this piece, Dvořák was often regarded as a composer for popular concerts, as a friendly and colorful composer, but certainly not one to write such a great and pure symphony.
The Seventh Symphony is nothing like the sunshine of his Sixth Symphony. It is a reflection of his Czech heritage and his countrymen’s toils, as the first movement defines an atmosphere of struggle. The work is filled with thematic ideas, pastoral conversations and intense crisis. The adagio is one of Dvořák’s most profound slow movements, and reveals the intensely personal nature of the work.
The concert will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center. Tickets are $50-$98 general, $25-$45.50 for UC Davis students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.
One hour before the concert, Alexandra Amati-Camperi, who is the professor and director of the music program at the University of San Francisco, will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage.