The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra will perform a popular classic — Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (“Titan”) — and the premiere of a new piano concerto by Swedish-born faculty composer Mika Pelo in a concert at the Mondavi Center on Saturday, May 3, at 7 p.m.
“I am extremely happy to be presenting the piano concerto by Mika Pelo,” said conductor Christian Baldini. “Mika is an outstanding composer, who has had his music performed by great organizations like the Swedish Radio Orchestra. He wrote this concerto especially for our orchestra, and for our marvelous soloist Eric Zivian, who performed the Ravel Piano Concerto in G with our orchestra at my inaugural concert here in 2009.”
Pianist Eric Zivian was born in Michigan and grew up in Toronto, Canada, where he attended the Royal Conservatory of Music. After receiving a diploma there, he left home at age 15 to attend the Curtis Institute of Music, where he received a bachelor of music degree.
He went on to receive graduate degrees from the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music. He studied piano with Gary Graffman and Peter Serkin and composition. He attended the Tanglewood Music Center both as a performer and as a composer. Zivian lives in the Bay Area and has performed at UCD several times.
Pelo said his 20-minute piece has three movements, performed without a break.
“All of the music is based on the first three measures of a 1907 piano concerto by the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar,” who Pelo acknowledges is not a household name in this country nowadays.
But Stenhammar mixed with the high and mighty during his lifetime: “Stenhammar performed his first piano concerto himself under the direction of Richard Strauss in Berlin, and conductor Arthur Nikisch performed several of Stenhammar’s orchestral works with the Berlin Philharmonic.
“One of Stenhammar’s close friends was composer Jean Sibelius. … Luckily, conductors like the New York Philharmonic’s Alan Gilbert have recently reintroduced some of Stenhammar’s music, and one can only hope that this is the beginning of a revival of his music.”
Pelo’s concerto includes a fairly prominent role for electronics in the third movement, as well as an amplified bass clarinet solo. The piece is dedicated to Baldini, Zivian and the UCD Symphony Orchestra.
The Mahler symphony was composed between 1885 and 1888, and premiered in Budapest with the composer conducting. Mahler revised the piece in 1906. Scored for a large orchestra, and running about 50 minutes long, it is a big undertaking.
Baldini observed that “while composers like Brahms and Bruckner were over 40″ when they finished their first symphonies, “Mahler was still in his 20s” when he conducted the premiere of his symphony nicknamed “Titan.”
“Even though he was such a young man, the maturity of his First Symphony is simply incredible,” Baldini said. “The work condenses such a level of emotion, power, expression and structure that it is hard to compare it with anything that existed before.
“Mahler’s extremely original use of folk material, and the way in which it is incorporated in the musical discourse, is unprecedented. Mahler was really the father of 20th century modernisism. This is an outstanding musical work for both our orchestra and our audience to enjoy.”
Opening the concert will be Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to “Der Freischütz,” a popular concert piece taken from Weber’s best-known opera.
Tickets are $12-$17 general, $8 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.