Tanglewood 75 - From the Audio Archives: Day 48


Mozart: Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478 & Kirchner: Music for Twelve
Theatre-Concert Hall, July 25, 1980 (Mozart)
Seiji Ozawa Hall, August 25, 2001 (Kirchner)

Mozart: Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478
Boston Symphony Chamber Players:
Joseph Silverstein, violin
Burton Fine, viola
Jules Eskin, cello
with André Previn, guest pianist

Kirchner: Music for Twelve
Boston Symphony Chamber Players:
Jacques Zoon, flute
John Ferrillo, oboe
William Hudgins, clarinet
Richard Svoboda, bassoon
Malcolm Lowe, violin
Steven Ansell, viola
Jules Eskin, cello
Edwin Barker, double bass
James Sommerville, horn
Charles Schlueter, trumpet
Ronald Barron, trombone
Randall Hodgkinson, guest pianist
with Ilan Volkov, conductor 

Release: 08/06/2012



Background on the Music

Tanglewood 75 Archival Program Cover Mozart: Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478
Mozart composed his G minor Piano Quartet in 1785, at the age of 28, and basically created a new genre, although not one he pursued; the next year he composed his second and final piano quartet. The genre did, however, interest many subsequent composers, including Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Dvořák.

One reason why Mozart abandoned the genre is that the publisher took one look at this piece and realized it would prove too difficult for the potential market to play. The publisher, who had asked for three piano quartets, hoped to sell them to amateur musicians who enjoyed playing chamber music at home, the domestic market. So he cancelled the arrangement, allowing Mozart to keep his cash advance.

The G minor Piano Quartet has subsequently become much loved by professional musicians - and their audiences. It is in three movements, a passionate Allegro followed by an eloquent Andante, and a lively Rondo. Mozart composed it with great skill, giving all four players equal opportunity to shine.

André Previn is a notable conductor, a better composer than he is often given credit for, an excellent pianist, a dedicated mentor, and a fabulous raconteur. He has demonstrated all these qualities and capacities at Tanglewood, and he has been a great friend to the Boston Symphony for decades. It was he, for example, who suggested the name of John Williams to the management which was searching for the impossible, a fit successor to Arthur Fiedler as the conductor of the Boston Pops. Previn made his debut with the orchestra in 1977 and has since returned often, leading a wide repertory from Mozart and Haydn through his French, English, and Russian specialties. On several occasions, both in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, he has conducted Mozart's C minor piano concerto, K.491, from the keyboard, as well as Mozart's concert aria for soprano, piano, and orchestra "Ch'io mi scordi di te?"

At the time Philips Records issued its "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" series in 1991 - 100 two-CD sets, now out of print and selling for $4000 - there was some outrage because certain pianists did not appear, and an occasional burst of snide condescension at the inclusion of André Previn among the elite. Listening to this performance of Mozart's G minor Piano Quartet, or to many of Previn's other keyboard performances, it is difficult to understand why. It is true that Previn has rarely if ever appeared as a solo recitalist, and he does not play the extreme virtuoso repertory (although he often conducts it). But he knows his limits, and within them often outplays the extreme virtuosos who are often at sea in Mozart. And these days, a perfectly poised and meaningful performance of a Mozart piano concerto is a lot harder to come by than a presentable account of Prokofiev's Second Concerto or Rachmaninoff's Third. At his best, Previn's playing of his chosen repertoire is notable for musical insight, attractive tone, and polished technique, and he is also a highly accomplished chamber musician, here working in spirited collaboration with colleagues he had often conducted, Joseph Silverstein, Burton Fine, and Jules Eskin.

Kirchner: Music for Twelve
One important strand in the activities of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players is the ensemble's investment in contemporary music. Several works have been written for the ensemble by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Yehudi Wyner, and Michael Gandolfi, and the Chamber Players have recorded some of these works, as well as music by Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, Irving Fine, Elliott Carter, Walter Piston, John Harbison, Fred Lerdahl, William Bolcom, and Leon Kirchner.

Kirchner (1919-2009) was commissioned to compose a piece for the Chamber Players as one of a series of major commissions to celebrate the Boston Symphony's 100th anniversary in 1981. Kirchner was initially offended not to have been asked to write a piece for the full orchestra, but ultimately created one of his most engaging works, Music for Twelve, which the Chamber Players premiered in 1985.

Kirchner was born in 1919 and studied music in California, where his teachers included Ernest Toch and Arnold Schoenberg. Later he worked both with Ernest Bloch and with Roger Sessions. So although he was entirely trained in America, he studied with important master composers displaced from Europe by World War II. His own work bridged America and Europe, and Kirchner navigated his own path through the conflicting force-fields emanating from Schoenberg and his California neighbor, Igor Stravinsky. In 1961 he moved to Boston to take a position at Harvard University and swiftly became a major figure in New England's musical life, as a composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher. In the summers his principal allegiance was to the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, but he was also an intermittent presence at Tanglewood.

In fact Kirchner's involvement with the BSO goes back to 1960, when the orchestra performed his Toccata for Strings, Solo Winds, and Percussion in Boston and on tour in Japan, the Philippines, and Australia; the orchestra returned to the work at Tanglewood in 1996. Concertmaster and assistant conductor Richard Burgin led his Sinfonia, a work that Kirchner himself conducted the following year. In 1963 Kirchner was soloist in his Piano Concerto No. 1 in Boston and New York. The orchestra played his Music for Orchestra I in 1972, and three conductors have led the orchestra in his Music for Orchestra II - Thomas Dausgaard (then a BSO assistant conductor), Dennis Russell Davies, and Kirchner's former student, Alan Gilbert. Yo-Yo Ma, another alumnus of Kirchner's Harvard classes, played Kirchner's Music for Cello and Orchestra. The BSO and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation co-commissioned Kirchner's Of things exactly as they are for soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra; Seiji Ozawa led the premiere in 1997. The last Kirchner work that the BSO premiered was The Forbidden, in 2008.

Music for Twelve last about 14 minutes. It falls into two sections, performed without interruption and bridged by a prominent passage for the cello; Kirchner scored it for strings (violin, viola, cello, and bass), woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), brass (trumpet, horn, trombone) and piano. The Chamber Symphony, Opus 9, that Kirchner's teacher Arnold Schoenberg composed at the age of 30 back in 1906 has been proposed as one model for this piece, although neither in procedure nor in sound is Music for Twelve much like the Chamber Symphony; Kirchner called the relationship between the Chamber Symphony and Music for Twelve "a fleeting regard." What is similar is the classical precision and clarity of utterance and texture coupled with a richly late-Romantic feeling and atmosphere. Kirchner deploys his instruments and combinations of instruments with kaleidoscopic effect. There are fleeting compliments to Mahler, Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky, as well as to Schoenberg, but no actual quotation. Instead the effect is of a powerfully assimilative and original musical personality at work. The piece is unsettling because the harmonic ground is always shifting underfoot, and the tempo and emotional character are in constant flux. But it is reassuring too because Kirchner is so certain of what he is doing. The piece opens and closes with quiet chords in the piano, and although the journey between them is not long, it passes through a varied, fascinating, and exceptionally beautiful landscape. It is no accident that the work requires no title other than "Music."

The Israeli conductor Ilan Volkov served as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1999 to 2001. He became music director of the BBC Scottish Symphony in 2003 and remained in that position until 2009; since then he has continued his association with that orchestra as principal guest conductor. Currently he is music director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

Richard Dyer


Review for Mozart
"Previn, who has been conducting at Tanglewood during the past week, was an interesting pianist in the Quartet in G Minor for piano and strings, K.478, using a pearly touch with just the right amount of steel underneath. The performance as a whole, however, gave up some of the music's urgency and drama to bring out an intimacy and warmth. This worked to the advantage of the Andante, but not the tempestuous outer movements in Mozart's most emotion-laden key."
-Andrew L. Pincus, Berkshire Eagle.