NEC Philharmonia + Hugh Wolff + George Li: From Darkness to Light
As we emerge cautiously from a global pandemic, we perform three works that take us on a journey from darkness to light, oppression to freedom, turmoil to triumph. Beethoven's politically-charged opera of unjust imprisonment and rescue, Florence Price's portrait of the Black American experience, and Brahms' epic Piano Concerto no. 1—all give voice to complex human struggles.
And we welcome back Artist Diploma recipient and Tchaikovsky Competition medalist George Li as soloist.
This performance is open to in-person audiences, and can also be viewed via livestream.
View livestream from Jordan Hall:
- NEC Philharmonia
- George Li '21 AD, piano
Ludwig van Beethoven | "Leonore" Overture No. 3, op. 72b
“Of all my children, this one gave me the worst birth pains and brought me the most sorrow.” Thus Ludwig van Beethoven described the composition of Fidelio. He began work on it as Leonore in 1804, finally finishing Fidelio in 1814. In between were two unsuccessful productions. The Leonore Overture No. 3 we play tonight is, despite its number, the second one he wrote. It’s a revision of the original overture (no. 2), performed at the disastrous premiere of November 1805. Composed for a new production in April 1806, No. 3 is by far the most performed of the four Leonore/ Fidelio overtures and can be heard as a musical abstract of the story. The opening fortissimo unison G and slow descending scale conjure up the slamming of the prison door and slow descent into the basement dungeon. Within eight measures Beethoven moves from C major to B minor, then abruptly to A-flat major. The woodwinds quote the aria Florestan sings from the dungeon: “In des Lebens Frühlingstagen ist das Glück von mir gefloh’n” (In the springtime of my life, all my happiness has vanished). A mysterious pianissimo transition leads to an Allegro –– rescue music that starts more as dream than reality. Minutes later, a distant trumpet signals the impending arrival of rescuers. Virtually every bar of this astounding overture describes one of four emotions: the cruelty of the oppressor, the fear and frailty of the oppressed, the dream of a better world, or the drama of rescue.
Florence B. Price | Ethiopia's Shadow in America
Adagio-Allegretto: The Arrival
Andante: Resignation and Faith
In 1943, Florence Price wrote to Serge Koussevitsky, the Boston Symphony’s music director, “I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins.” This stark statement reveals much about our music and our history. Price, who attended New England Conservatory just after the turn of the 20th century, was a gifted artist, neglected far too long. Her three-movement orchestral suite Ethiopia’s Shadow in America is a fine example of her talent. She uses the word “Ethiopia” to mean all of Africa, the custom at the time. In Price’s own words, the music speaks to the Black experience in America in three connected movements: the arrival as enslaved people, resignation and faith through difficult times, and adaptation and affirmation. Her extraordinary lyric gift is evident in the second movement’s melody played first by the solo violin, then solo cello, and finally, all the strings. Her use of the rhythms of Black American music – the syncopations of ragtime and jazz – is infectious.
– Hugh Wolff
Johannes Brahms | Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, op.15
Rondo: Allegro non troppo
In 1853, the twenty year-old Johannes Brahms’ growing reputation earned him introductions to Joseph Joachim and Franz Liszt. Joachim in turn suggested Brahms meet Robert Schumann, so in September 1853, Brahms visited Robert and Clara Schumann at their home in Düsseldorf. Schumann was tremendously impressed with Brahms, hailing him as “the new hope for the future of music.” Brahms began work on his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor shortly after the meeting, but in the intervening months tragedy had struck. Schumann, who struggled with mental and physical illness throughout his life, attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine. Concerned for his own family, Schumann voluntarily conﬁned himself to a mental asylum. The passionate, fist-shaking opening of the concerto can be heard as a musical response to that tragic event. Brahms originally conceived it as a sonata for two pianos, then reworked it as a symphony. Ultimately, the piece became a concerto for piano and orchestra, finished in 1859. The first performances, in Hanover and Leipzig, were not well received, but the concerto soon earned a well-deserved place in the standard repertoire. The rich symphonic character of the work distinguishes it from many virtuoso concerti of its time. The orchestra does not simply accompany the soloist but serves a vital role in shaping the work’s structure. A giant first movement full of both sturm und drang and lyric pathos is answered by a deeply contemplative Adagio. A passionate Hungarian dance Rondo finally brings the work into the sunlight.
– David Yi and Hugh Wolff
Praised by the Washington Post for combining “staggering technical prowess, a sense of command and depth of expression,” pianist George Li possesses an effortless grace, poised authority and brilliant virtuosity far beyond his years. Since winning the Silver Medal at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, Li has rapidly established a major international reputation and performs regularly with some of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, such as Dudamel, Gaffigan, Gergiev, Gimeno, Honeck, Orozco-Estrada, Petrenko, Robertson, Slatkin, Temirkanov, Tilson Thomas, Long Yu, and Xian Zhang.
Li is an exclusive Warner Classics recording artist whose debut recital album, recorded live from the Mariinsky, was released in October 2017. His second recording for the label, released in October 2019, features Liszt solo works and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and was recorded live with Vasily Petrenko and the London Philharmonic.
Li gave his first public performance at Boston’s Steinway Hall at the age of ten, and in 2011 performed for President Obama at the White House in an evening honoring Chancellor Angela Merkel. Among Li’s many prizes, he was the recipient of the 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, a recipient of the 2012 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and the First Prize winner of the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. In 2019, he completed the Harvard/New England Conservatory joint program with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance. He is currently pursuing an Artist Diploma at the New England Conservatory, continuing to work with Wha Kyung Byun, with whom he has studied since the age of 12. When not playing piano, George is an avid reader and photographer, as well as a sports fanatic.Artists
- George Li '21 AD, piano
Hyun Ji Lee
Kwong Man To
Yi-I Stephanie Yang
So Jeong Kim*‡
Hulmin Mandy Liu
Sarah Heimberg (offstage)
Ki Yoon Park
Leigh M. Wilson+
Stephanie Nozomi Krichena‡
Leigh M. Wilson