Concert with Kirill Petrenko and Daniil Trifonov
01 Sep 2020
Ludwig van Beethoven
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in C minor, op. 37 (41 min.)
Daniil Trifonov piano
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, op. 31 (5 min.)
Daniil Trifonov piano
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 11 (36 min.)
Kirill Petrenko in conversation with Olaf Maninger (18 min.)
Worlds of sensibility
“Musical politics requires that the best things are kept to oneself for a while,” Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to his publisher in 1801, probably referring (also) to his Third Piano Concerto, which was still unperformed at the time. He, the celebrated pianist, did not want to publish the concerto before first playing it himself in front of an audience. That’s why he didn’t even have to write out the solo part for the world premiere – after all, he had it in his head. This in turn caused his page-turner, Mozart’s former pupil Ignaz von Seyfried, to break out in a sweat: He saw “almost nothing but empty leaves; at most, a few ... Egyptian hieroglyphics scribbled on one or the other side, wholly unintelligible to me; for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory”.
Tribute to Mozart
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C minor is not least a tribute to Mozart’s piano works in the same key – and above all, a very personal work. Its composition took several years. During this time, Beethoven experienced an at first happy, but ultimately hopeless love affair because of the higher rank of the woman he adored; he suffered from depression, which he described in his Heiligenstadt Testament, and he began to lose his hearing. But in spite of everything, he did not let it get him down: “I will seize fate by the throat; it shall certainly never wholly overcome me.”
The sharply modelled first theme of the concerto runs intriguingly through the C minor triad, almost like the beginning of a manifesto: crotchet by crotchet, so to speak word by word, succinctly formulated. The slow movement carries us off into a harmoniously distant, dreamlike world, another reality. The “blissful moments” Beethoven longed for occur here, moments that were once created by the “enchanting girl”. It is a “stay a while” moment, such as Beethoven – extending the painfully sweet sensation to infinity – rarely allowed in his music. And after many a musical struggle with fate, the hopeful C major prevails at the end of the finale.
In search of his own sound
Felix Mendelssohn also follows a path from C minor to C major in his First Symphony (twelve preceding string symphonies were not included in the official count). He of course knew the famous examples of Mozart and Beethoven – although it must be remembered that these were not classics of music history, but contemporary music. After all, when the 15-year-old Mendelssohn wrote this symphony in early 1824, Beethoven’s Ninth had not yet even been premiered.
As can be expected, Mendelssohn plays with what he admires in his predecessors, lets the melody in the minuet reach beyond the underlying triple time, sometimes quotes certain motivic turns (a figure that shifts between two harmonies which he has picked up from Mozart’s G minor Symphony No. 40, even twice, in the first and fourth movements), and in the demanding part writing in the fugato of the finale, shows how skilfully he masters his craft.
Young musical avant-garde
But even at this young age, he is concerned with much more: finding his own sound, an expression of the sensibility of his time. This was no longer the revolutionary pathos of a Beethoven, but an age that was outwardly marked by the Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Rather, it looked inward, it was fascinated by the supernatural, and found the depths of the human soul in eerie natural phenomena. This is what the enchanting second theme of the finale sounds like: only plucked strings at first, then a clarinet melody, as if from another world. The fact that Mendelssohn – quite innovatively – also links all movements motivically demonstrates that he was not primarily a Classicist, but at least as much an exponent of a young musical avant-garde.
Translation: Innes Wilson
Since the 2019/20 season, Kirill Petrenko has been chief conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He received his training first in Russia, then in Austria. The international music world first became aware of him when he premiered Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung at the Meiningen Theater in 2001, directed by Christine Mielitz and designed by Alfred Hrdlicka, performed on four consecutive days. He conducted the cycle for the second time twelve years later at the Bayreuth Festival. At the same time, Kirill Petrenko took up his post as general music director of Bayerische Staatsoper, his third leading position at an opera house after Meiningen and the Komische Oper Berlin. He also made guest appearances at the world’s top opera houses (from the Wiener Staatsoper, Covent Garden in London and the Opéra National in Paris to the Metropolitan Opera in New York) as well as with the great international symphony orchestras – in Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Rome, Chicago, Cleveland and Israel. He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2006. In the concerts they have given together since he took up his post, important thematic focal points have already become apparent. Kirill Petrenko also appears with the Berliner Philharmoniker outside of Berlin – on tour and of course in the Digital Concert Hall.
Alexander Scriabin’s Le Poème de l’extase provided the twelve-year-old Daniil Trifonov with a defining experience: he was so fascinated by the work’s powerful orchestral colours that he has been striving to achieve the same richness of sound on the piano ever since. In addition to his expressiveness and technical brilliance, it is this approach that has propelled Daniil Trifonov to the top of his profession. The fact that he himself also composes contributes to his understanding of the works he performs. Born to a family of musicians in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991, he studied with Tatiana Zelikman in Moscow and Sergei Babayan in Cleveland. In 2011, he won two prestigious competitions, the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and subsequently embarked on a spectacular international career. Daniil Trifonov’s debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2016 marked the beginning of an intensive collaboration between pianist and orchestra which reached its first pinnacle with a residency by the artist in the 2018/19 season. The main focus of their work together so far has been on Romantic and late-Romantic piano concertos by Schumann, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. Daniil Trifonov now appears for the first time with the Berliner Philharmoniker performing a piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.