“Classical Contrasts,” the season finale of Livermore-Amador Symphony’s fifty-sixth regular season, will take place June 1 at the Bankhead Theater, with Music Director Lara Webber conducting. The concert will include Igor Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 for chamber orchestra, Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, featuring soloist Gwendolyn Mok.
Russian-born Stravinsky orchestrated Suite No. 2 for chamber orchestra while living in Switzerland during the period 1914-1920. Webber says, “This little suite is quirky and fun. The opening march grabs our attention with a fanfare in the brasses. The waltz is elegant and a bit dizzying with the perpetual pulsation of two clarinets. There is a delightful polka, and then an exuberant final “gallop” that is very reminiscent of Stravinsky’s great ballet, “Petroushka.”
Regarding the Beethoven concerto, Webber observes: “Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto is a transformational work, musically and emotionally. This lush, inventive music is full of beautiful surprises right from the beginning, with the soloist playing alone in G major, being answered by the orchestra in the warm unexpected key of B major. The extraordinary second movement is a dialogue between the lyrically expressive writing for solo piano and the harsh, strict music of the orchestral strings. From the quiet conclusion of this dark exchange emerges a wonderful rondo that begins with whispered energy, eventually bursting at the seams with joy.”
Pianist Gwendolyn Mok is Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at San Jose State University and one of the leading experts on the piano music of French composer Maurice Ravel. She has frequently been invited to perform with international orchestras and has appeared in many of the major concert halls in America, Europe, and Asia. Webber is looking forward to Mok performing with the Livermore-Amador Symphony. She says, “We are thrilled to have the extraordinary opportunity to work with Gwendolyn Mok. Collaborating with an artist of her musical brilliance and stature is a privilege.”
Mok describes Beethoven’s concerto: “Beethoven's music reflects the human condition so beautifully. In this particular concerto, he speaks to a greater spirit. The concerto opens in a unique way in that the pianist speaks alone in the softest and most intimate way. The second movement is amazing in that the pianist is pitted against the orchestra in the style of call and response. The orchestra begins in full voice, answered by the quiet but confident piano part. This 'conversation' continues in this manner until the orchestra is tamed into joining the pianist in a softer dynamic. The last movement is a rondo and is charming and virtuosic at the same time. Pianist pitted against the orchestra!”
Mok’s musical career began in New York City where she studied in the Julliard pre-college division from ages six to eighteen. She earned her undergraduate degree in music and psychology from Yale, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1994, she was chosen to study with Lithuanian-born pianist Vlado Perlemuter, who had himself studied with Maurice Ravel. Mok relates her experience of being tutored by Perlemuter: “He was quite old, almost ninety at the time, and he selected five students or so to teach during the week. It was a pipe dream at the time, but I wanted to study the complete works of Ravel with him in Paris.
“That fall, I made a detour to Paris and auditioned for Perlemuter and he took me as his last student. The French Ministry of Culture gave me a very generous grant to study with him, and for six months I flew from New York to Paris to study with Perlemuter for a week at a time. Every day I would receive a lesson on Ravel from him. Our lessons were very methodical and planned, sometimes two or three hours long, and as I would finish one phrase, he would jump up and stop me. It was very rigorous training, but he wanted me to get things just right. At the end of my tutelage with him, he wanted me to play all of Ravel’s works for him. He never complimented me much, but after that he said, ‘Not bad,’ which, coming from him, meant a lot.”
Mok is excited about the upcoming concert. She says, “I have performed at the Bankhead Theater (before) and love it! This will, however, be my first time performing with the Livermore-Amador Symphony and Lara. I am looking forward to it greatly.”
Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 was originally composed in 1841, but revised in 1851. Webber says, “Schumann’s fourth symphony reveals the range of emotion and inner conflict the composer experienced throughout his troubled life. Within one turn of phrase we can hear jovial energy turn to a great conflict or threat. Anxiety can evolve into flirtatious love…all within a few phrases. This is a symphony, but it is through-composed, or played without pause between movements, and linked by thematic connections throughout that make it feel almost like a tone poem. It’s beautiful and profoundly personal.”
The concert begins at 8:00 PM, preceded by a prelude talk from 7:00 – 7:30. The Symphony Guild will host a post-concert reception in the lobby. Tickets at www.lvpac.org, at the Bankhead ticket office, 2400 First St., Livermore, or call 925-373-6800.