Brinton Averil Smith Brings a Lost Masterpiece Back to Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQfoOkHNWrs

What do Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony have in common? Answer: All three pieces went unplayed for decades only to become concert hall staples when rediscovered by later generations.

This same process of musical rebirth will unfold at Jones Hall this April when Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith performs a long-lost cello concerto.

This concerto was written by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, an Italian composer of Sephardic Jewish ancestry who settled in California after fleeing antisemitism and fascism in 1938. Today, he is perhaps best remembered for the many works he composed for the virtuoso Andrés Segovia, which continue to form part of the core classical guitar repertoire.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s influence extends far beyond guitar music. Once in America, he contributed music for dozens of Hollywood films such as Lassie Come Home, Gaslight and the 1949 serial Batman and Robin, often uncredited. He was a teacher and mentor to the next generation of film composers, including John Williams, Henry Mancini and Jerry Goldsmith.

Brinton puts it succinctly: “You may think Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music sounds like Hollywood. It doesn’t. Hollywood sounds like Castelnuovo-Tedesco.”

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Despite having friends and champions such as conductor Arturo Toscanini and violinist Jascha Heifetz, many of the concert works Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote before immigrating to America have fallen into obscurity. His Cello Concerto has not had a professional performance since its starry premiere in 1935, which featured cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic.

For Smith, our upcoming concerts are the culmination of a life-long fascination with this mysterious lost work. “When I was probably 12 or 13 years old, I read Gregor Piatigorsky’s autobiography, Cellist,”  Smith said. “and there’s a passage in there where he discusses learning this concerto and debuting it with Toscanini…I looked for the music for years…it wasn’t published, and I couldn’t find anything about it.”

In fact, it was only about a year ago that Smith was able to access the original score from 1935. With his wife, Evelyn Chen, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral parts, he gradually learned the concerto. Little by little, a masterpiece began to emerge.

“My whole year has been built around the anticipation of hearing that first first rehearsal with the orchestra and actually hearing the notes come to life,” Smith said. “This is a piece that needs an advocate, and every time when I’m practicing, I’m thinking, I owe it to this piece to do everything I can.”

Watch excerpts from the concerto performed by Smith and Chen:

Be among the few to hear this remarkable work performed live with full orchestra on April 13, 14 & 15. >>Get tickets.

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20 Questions with Ingrid Fliter

Ingrid Fliter, piano

Ingrid Fliter, piano

Meet Ingrid Fliter! This internationally renowned Argentinian pianist joins the Houston Symphony on March 9, 11 & 12 for performances of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Get to know our special guest with these fun questions.

Calvin Dotsey: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about playing the piano?

Ingrid Fliter: That it is indeed a percussion instrument, but we shouldn’t make it sound like one (except for some specific works).

CD: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

IF: Beethoven.

CD: What is your biggest dream?

IF: To save animals from mistreatment.

CD: What is your spirit animal?

IF: Dog.

CD: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

IF: Flight.

CD: What is the last recording you listened to?

IF: Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin as performed by pianist Zoltan Kocsis.

CD: What’s something that scares you?

IF: Loosing freshness of spirit.

CD: Describe the music you are going to perform in three words.

IF: Beautiful, sparkling, alive.

CD: What is the last really delicious thing you ate?

IF: Argentinian Asado.

Lake Como. Photo Credit: Bernini Massimo.

Lake Como. Photo Credit: Bernini Massimo.

CD: What are you most proud of?

IF: My family.

CD: What is your favorite place in the world?

IF: Lake Como.

CD: What is the last book you enjoyed reading?

IF: A Year with Schopenhauer by E. Yalom.

CD: What is the last movie or TV show you enjoyed watching?

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an American police sitcom.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an American police sitcom.

IF: Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

CD: Name one person who inspires you.

IF: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

CD: If you had to have a job in a different field, what would it be?

IF: Painter or…hairdresser.

CD: What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

IF: That I’ve designed a dog’s coat collection.

CD: If you were a musical key, what key would you be?

IF: Eb Major.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the great baritones of the 20th century.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the great baritones of the 20th century.

CD: What is the natural tempo marking of your life?

IF: Allegro agitato.

CD: What’s one quality you look for in all your friends?

IF: Honesty.

CD: If you had to play another instrument, what instrument would you pick?

IF: Clavicembalo or French Horn.

Don’t miss Ingrid Fliter with the Houston Symphony March 9, 11 & 12, 2017. Get tickets and more info here.

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20 Questions with Fabien Gabel

Fabien Gabel, conductor

Fabien Gabel, conductor

On March 9, 11 & 12, the Houston Symphony welcomes acclaimed conductor Fabien Gabel back to Jones Hall for an exciting program of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn. Get to know our guest maestro with these fun (and surprising!) questions.

Calvin Dotsey: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about conducting? 

Fabien Gabel: How physical it can be. After a concert, I feel like I’ve just spent 3 hours at the gym.

CD: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be? 

FG: Louis XIV. Everytime I go to Versailles I am in awe.

CD: What is your biggest dream?

FG: That my 6 month old start sleeping through the night!

CD: What is your spirit animal? 

FG: A frog! I’m French after all…

CD: If you could have a superpower, what would it be? 

FG: Flying – I would avoid long lines at customs!

CD: What is the last recording you listened to?

"Everytime I go to Versailles I am in awe."

“Everytime I go to Versailles I am in awe.”

FG: Harlem – Duke Ellington.

CD: What’s something that scares you? 

FG: Disease.

CD: Describe one of the pieces you are going to perform in three words.

FG: Tchaikovsky’s 6th- Intense, passionate, heartbreaking.

CD: What gets on your nerves?

FG: Rudeness.

CD: What are you most proud of? 

FG: My three children.

CD: What is your favorite place in the world? 

FG: Anywhere where I am on vacation with my family.

CD: What is the last book you enjoyed reading? 

FG: Robert Schumann’s biography.

CD: What is the last movie or TV show you enjoyed watching? 

"I always hope to be in the States when Shark Week is on!"

“I always hope to be in the States when Shark Week is on!”

FG: Any shark documentary. I always hope to be in the States when Shark Week is on!

CD: Name one person who inspires you. 

FG: Ricardo Muti. In my opinion he is the greatest living conductor. I’m lucky I was able to play under him when I was a trumpet player.

CD: If you had to have a job in a different field, what would it be? 

FG: A surgeon. Musicians heal souls, surgeons heal bodies!

CD: What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you? 

FG: How much I enjoy baking for my kids. My banana bread is award-winning.

CD: If you were a musical note, what note would you be? 

FG: C4. [Middle C]

CD: What is the natural tempo marking of your life? 

FG: Allegro con spirito.

CD: What’s one quality you look for in all your friends? 

FG: Loyalty.

CD: If you had to play an instrument instead of conduct, what instrument would you pick?

FG: French Horn.

Don’t miss Fabien Gabel conducting Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky March 9, 11 & 12 with the Houston Symphony! Get tickets and more info here.

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The Beauty of Bruckner

“It almost unfolds like a flower—you can almost see and hear the generations of believers for whom the kingdom of heaven has been opened.”

That’s how HS Chorus Director Betsy Cook Weber describes one of her favorite choral masterpieces, Bruckner’s Te Deum. This major work has inspired many attempts to translate its heavenly beauty into words. A great composer in his own right, Gustav Mahler wrote on his copy of the score: “…for the tongues of Angels, heaven-blessed, chastened hearts, and souls purified in the fire!”

Featuring a large orchestra and chorus plus a quartet of vocal soloists, Bruckner himself regarded it as his greatest work, even though it is far more compact than the monumental symphonies he’s best known for. A deeply spiritual man, he is reported to have said:

“When God finally calls me and asks, ‘What have you done with the talent I gave you, my lad?’ I will present to him the score of my Te Deum.”

Part of Bruckner’s secret to composing profoundly moving music is his mastery of gradually building up to incredible climaxes. This poses a great challenge for conductors, who must carefully control the flow of the music to maintain suspense up until the climactic moment.

Fortunately for us, our former Music Director Christoph Eschenbach is returning to Jones Hall this weekend to lead an all-Bruckner program. Principal Horn William VerMeulen said of Eschenbach: “Christoph has a way of pacing things that’s just amazing…there’s a sense of restraint that builds up in a way so that when these climaxes do happen, they’re even more powerful…”

Bruckner’s Te Deum shares the program with his Symphony No. 1, a work that has been somewhat overshadowed by Bruckner’s later (and much longer) symphonies. Had it been by another composer, a work of such quality would likely be more famous today. As VerMeulen told us, “You’re still talking about a great genius…it’s still a fantastic piece and it’s been great to study.” Eschenbach has chosen to champion it this season, conducting Bruckner’s First in Washington D.C. and right here in Houston.

Don’t miss Eschenbach Conducts Bruckner March 3, 4 & 5, 2017! Get tickets and more info here.

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20 Questions with Timothy McAllister

Timothy McAllister, saxophonist of mystery

Timothy McAllister, saxophone

If you haven’t heard, Timothy McAllister is one of the world’s best classical saxophone players. He’s so good, in fact, that he inspired one of America’s greatest living composers, John Adams, to write a Saxophone Concerto just for him. It just might be the greatest Saxophone Concerto ever—but don’t take our word for it. Timothy McAllister will perform this virtuoso showpiece for saxophone and orchestra with the Houston Symphony at our upcoming concert that also features Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. On top of that, Timothy McAllister is from Houston, which obviously means he’s super cool. As evidence, we offer his answers to the 20 questions below.

Calvin Dotsey: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about playing the saxophone?

Timothy McAllister: The saxophone is probably the easiest instrument to pick up immediately and make a sound on, but one of the hardest to play in-tune with a good sound.

CD: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

When you think about it, it would make sense to visit Einstein after using a time machine.

When you think about it, it would make sense to visit Einstein after time traveling.

TM: Albert Einstein.

CD: What is your biggest dream?

TM: I’m lucky to say I’m currently living it.

CD: What is your spirit animal?

TM: Velociraptor.

CD: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

TM: Flying, of course.  Heat vision rocks, too.

CD: What is the last recording you listened to?

TM: Philip Glass’s Meetings from the Edge (Pacific Symphony, Carl St. Clair, conductor).

CD: What’s something that scares you?

TM: Velociraptors. Oh, and heights.

CD: Describe the music you are going to perform in three words.

TM: Muscular, sweeping, nostalgic.

CD: What gets on your nerves?

I suppose a velociraptor might fear other velociraptors.

I suppose a velociraptor might fear other velociraptors.

TM: Tardiness.

CD: What are you most proud of?

TM: My six-year old daughter, Roya.

CD: What is your favorite place in the world?

TM: Michigan Stadium on a fall Saturday in Ann Arbor.

CD: What is the last book you enjoyed reading?

TM: The biography on legendary oboist Marcel Tabuteau by Laila Storch.

CD: What is the last movie or TV show you enjoyed watching?

TM: The Lego Batman Movie! It was epic.

CD: Name one person who inspires you.

TM: Michelle Obama.

CD: If you had to have a job in a different field, what would it be?

TM: Geology. I love the study of formations and how tectonic movement shaped beautiful features throughout the world.

CD: What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

We are not that surprised.

We are not that surprised.

TM: Most people don’t realize I’m a massive Star Trek nerd. I think about Star Trek a lot. I mean a lot.

CD: If you were a musical key, what key would you be?

TM: Concert Pitch or transposed? Lol. I play an instrument pitched in either Bb or Eb. But if you must know, F# Major.

CD: What is the natural tempo marking of your life?

TM: Presto.

CD: What’s one quality you look for in all your friends?

TM: Openness.

CD: If you had to play another instrument, what instrument would you pick?

TM: Cello.

Don’t miss Timothy McAllister with the Houston Symphony February 23, 24 & 25, 2017! Get tickets and more info here.

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