Lahav Shani and Francesco Piemontesi
26 Sep 2020
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595 (33 min.)
Francesco Piemontesi piano
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Sonata in F major K. 332: Adagio (6 min.)
Francesco Piemontesi piano
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, op. 38 “Spring” (37 min.)
Lahav Shani in conversation with Amihai Grosz (15 min.)
Longing for Spring
While the chief duty of a court composer in the 18th century was to satisfy the tastes of his master, a freelance artist was faced with an incomparably more complex task. The overwhelmingly bourgeois audiences of the first public concerts consisted in equal measure of dyed-in-the-wool music connoisseurs and relatively clueless enthusiasts. “To win applause”, wrote Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father, “one must write stuff so simple that a coachman could sing it, or so incomprehensible that it pleases simply because no sensible man can comprehend it.”
In his double role of composer and soloist, Mozart was particularly well positioned to test that strategy on the Viennese public with his piano concertos – a genre that he developed, practically without models, in some two dozen works. The B flat major Concerto completed on 5 January would be his last – he could not have suspected that. Marked by gracious simplicity, as only a Mozart could dare, it ends with a cheerful rondo based on the song Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling (Longing for Spring), with the text “Komm, lieber Mai, und mache die Bäume wieder grün” (“Come, dear Spring, and make the trees green again”).
Fifty years later, Robert Schumann sketched his First Symphony in a mere four days of “vernal passion”. Until then, he had long been plagued by severe “symphonic scruples”. Beethoven’s legacy weighed heavily. In 1839 the inhibiting knot was undone in a Viennese attic where, among Franz Schubert’s posthumous papers, Schumann discovered the so-called “Great C major Symphony” and in it a “whole new world”. When he heard the piece in rehearsal, he confessed to his fiancée Clara Wieck: “I wish for nothing except that you were my wife and I myself could write such symphonies.”
Both were easier said than done because Clara’s father Friedrich Wieck tried everything in his power to prevent the couple’s wedding. A composer without means who had nothing to offer his daughter, already a famous pianist, was out of the question as a bridegroom. Schumann would surely have used the prestige of a successful debut as symphonic composer in his own defence, but that breakthrough was too slow in coming. Instead he took Wieck to court – and won.
The hard-earned marriage in autumn 1840 brought a decisive motivational boost for writing the sunny “Spring Symphony”, as Schumann christened his First. Its opening fanfare, which recalls Schubert’s C major Symphony, he rhythmically underlaid with the motto “O wende, wende deinen Lauf. Im Tale blüht der Frühling auf!” – “Oh turn, oh turn and change your course. Now in the valley blooms the Spring!” But there were still some scruples left smouldering. Before he presented himself to the Leipzig public with his symphonic first-born, Schumann sought the reassuring advice of friends like Felix Mendelssohn. Then he revised – and triumphed! Schumann’s First gave its lucky author great joy while also heralding a new symphonic spring.
Explosive, dynamic, and passionate is how the press describes the musical style of Lahav Shani, who makes his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in these concerts. Born the son of a cantor and choirmaster in Tel Aviv in 1989, his musical talent showed itself at an early age. Lahav Shani trained as a pianist, double bass player and conductor. He first studied under Arie Vardi at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in his home town and later at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin, where he was a student of Christian Ehwald (conducting) and Fabio Bidini (piano). According to Lahav Shani, attending rehearsals and concerts also inspired him. This is where he learned the tools of the trade from the great conductors of our time. And he found two important mentors among them: Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta. His international career was launched in 2013 when he won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg. Since 2018, Lahav Shani has been principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. At the beginning of this season, he also became music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he made his debut as a pianist at the age of 16. He succeeds Zubin Mehta, who led the orchestra for more than five decades.
One of Francesco Piemontesi’s earliest childhood memories was a walk with his parents when he first heard the sound of church bells. Overwhelmed by the experience, he sat down at home at the piano to imitate the sound of bells. “I have always been interested in recreating the sound. That’s why I became a musician,” says the pianist. Born in Locarno in 1983, he studied in Lugano and in Hannover under Arie Vardi. His encounter with Alfred Brendel decisively influenced Francesco Piemontesi’s personal and artistic development: “His teaching was a school of listening, an exploration of sound.” He also gained significant inspiration from Murray Perahia and Alexis Weissenberg. A winner of several international competitions such as the Concours Reine Elisabeth in Brussels, he is one of the leading pianists of his generation thanks to his sophisticated and colourful playing. He is considered an outstanding interpreter of Mozart, but his repertoire ranges from the First Viennese School to contemporary music. In 2015, he made his debut with a piano recital in a Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation event, and now makes his first appearance as a soloist with the orchestra. “I have known the recordings of the Berliner Philharmoniker since my childhood. I am delighted to be able to perform with them.”