French conductor Emmanuel Krivine makes PSO debut |
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Generalizations and stereotypes often fall apart with just a little scratching of the surface. You might think a French pianist’s favorite music would be French, or at least for piano, but Robert Casadesus most loved German composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s late string quartets.

The Pittsburgh Symphony is anticipating the debut of a prominent French conductor, Emmanuel Krivine, not that he’ll conduct any French music at the concerts. His parents were Polish and Russian. An outstanding violinist, who won top honors at the Paris Conservatory, he was turned on to what has become his profession by experiencing Austrian Karl Bohm conducting Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

Krivine will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra April 5-7 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. The program is Franz Joseph Haydn’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Boris Blacher’s Orchestra Variations on a Theme of Niccolo Paganini and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

A conductor known for his stylish, imaginative and committed performances, Krivine is music director of the Orchestre National de France and principal guest conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Krivine will begin with Brahms’ Haydn Variations, which the orchestra has not performed for more than a decade. The music was written in 1873 after a scholar showed Brahms the manuscripts of some pieces for wind ensemble he thought were composed by Haydn. The St. Anthony Chorale caught Brahms’ attention, probably in part because the tune is a five-measure phrase, rather than the usual four.

The wide emotional range and depth of the eight variations and magnificent final section propelled Brahms’ international renown.

The concert will continue with a contrasting set of variations by another German composer. Blacher wrote his Paganini Variations in 1947, which remains his best-known work to this day. It was last performed by the symphony in 1988 under Lorin Maazel at Heinz Hall and on tour.

Blacher’s Variations are based on the theme of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin, which is itself a theme and four variations. The simple tune is so well-suited for variations that many composers have used it. The most famous is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody for piano and orchestra, which the symphony performed earlier this season. Other notable variations on this tune were composed by Brahms and several 20 th century composers including Witold Lutoslawski.

Blacher’s variations begin with a solo violin playing the tune the way Paganini wrote it, followed by the full orchestra taking off into a world of brilliant invention. Blacher’s 16 short variations are a showpiece for virtuoso orchestra.

Krivine’s debut will conclude with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, as much a Fate symphony as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Tchaikovsky’s Fate theme is heard right at the start of the first movement’s slow introduction and throughout the piece. The second movement is about love, which the composer revealed in word notes in his sketches, followed by a gorgeous waltz. The finale builds to a triumphant climax, capped by a variation of the Fate motif leading the exultation.

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