The works in this programme were written in the 1940s and 1950s by composers who retained their independence from the avant-garde trends of the time. Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto begins with a song-like melody of great lyricism. The American composer wrote numerous songs and performed publicly as a singer himself as a young man. The Violin Concerto, which ends with a fast-paced finale, is written in the late Romantic style. However, in some themes – such as the second of the opening movement – the American colour of the 20th century is unmistakable. The conductor and soloist of the concert also come from America.
Henri Dutilleux described his Second Symphony as a “musical play of mirrors and of contrasting colours”. Indeed, the twelve-piece solo ensemble “mirrors” the instrumentation of the large orchestra and enters into an exciting and colourful dialogue with it. It is typical of the composer’s intense yet discreet tonal language that the symphony ends with pensive sounds.
In this programme, the Philharmoniker perform Barber’s concerto for the first time and Dutilleux’s symphony for only the second time; they played Boris Blacher’s striking Paganini Variations regularly until around the turn of the millennium. Blacher, who conducted the piece himself in a Philharmoniker concert in 1961, exhausts all the possibilities of orchestral playing in his work: it begins with a violin solo and ends with the magnificent sound of the entire ensemble.