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Prelude (trans. Lortie) and Liebestod (trans. Liszt) from Tristan und Isolde

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)


Fire music from Die Walküre (trans. Hugo Wolf )

Réminiscences de Don Juan, A Concert Paraphrase

MOZART/LISZT (1756 -1791)


Siegfried Idyll (trans. Josef Rubinstein)

Overture to Tannhäuser

Louis Lortie

Richard WAGNER


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Anniversaries in recent years have given pianists an “excuse” to revisit geniuses such as Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt. As I was looking into the 2013 anniversary year, I noted that the two main composers were Wagner and Verdi, certainly not famous for their piano compositions. Having been immersed in Liszt’s works for the past couple of seasons, I thought it would be fascinating to look at the opera world of the 19th century distilled for the concert hall, mostly by that supreme master of transcriptions. Although there is an occasional recording featuring such works, it is still rare to hear a whole evening of orchestral paraphrases in recital. The genre has often been regarded as a shallow display of keyboard pyrotechnics for young virtuosos seeking instant fame. I decided that it would be a nice challenge to assemble a collection of works that would give some “lettres de noblesse” to music that has great depth and survives the absence of argument and text very well, with the bare bones of the music itself gaining a totally different layer. I think this is well in line with the meaning of the experience of a recital today, with that je-ne-sais-quoi that cannot be accessed through the internet or the experience of recorded music. –Louis Lortie

about the ProGraM

Saturday, January 26, 2013, 8pm Soka Performing Arts Center

about the ProGraM

Tonight’s Louis Lortie recital is an evening at the opera. One would not generally find pianos on stage at the opera, but piano transcriptions of scenes from operas have long been popular. No less a master than Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was accustomed to performing such creations on his own recitals, and crafted dozens of such transcriptions himself, focusing the grandeur of opera into a single pair of hands at the keyboard. Several of Liszt’s transcriptions are featured tonight, along with some by other artists, including Lortie himself. No orchestra, no singers, and yet plenty of fine opera music: that’s our menu for the evening. Richard Wagner

WAGNER: TrisTan und isolde – PRELUDE (TRANSCRIBED BY LOUIS LORTIE) AND LIEBESTOD (TRANSCRIBED BY LISzT) Of all the many composers whose works Liszt transcribed, the most frequent name is that of Richard Wagner (1813-1883); the two men were colleagues, close in age, and more briefly in-laws. They already knew each other well at the time that Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde premiered June 10, 1865. At that time, its opening prelude was already familiar to many, as it had been performed separately from the opera as early as 1857. That prelude became infamous for its unusual harmonies, and its melodies derived from taking those harmonies and playing their individual notes sequentially. It was a radically new way of working with harmony, and at the time, it was solely Wagner’s. Liszt never found the time to transcribe the prelude for piano, so Mr. Lortie has crafted his own version. However, Liszt did turn his attention to the opposite end of the opera, the famed “Liebestod,” or “love-death.” In the original version, it is an extended closing scene for the featured soprano. After much turmoil, Isolde has seen her beloved Tristan die and now faces her own death: not from a weapon’s blow or from illness, but from love. Her feelings for Tristan are

so profound that with his passing, she too must die, here with music of extraordinary beauty. Liszt’s transcription dates from 1867, only two years after the opera’s premiere.

WAGNER: “MAGIC FIRE MUSIC” FROM die Walküre (TRANSCRIBED BY HUGO WOLF) It is the closing scene of the second of the four operas that make up Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle. The Valkyrie Brünnhilde, having broken the laws of the gods, is to be punished by Wotan, king of the gods, who is her father. He would rather forgive her, but the laws forbid it. She will be placed in a magic sleep and left on a rock, protected by a ring of fire, and there she shall remain until the greatest of all heroes comes to awaken her. Wagner’s music for the scene blends melodic fragments that represent sleep (a drowsy, falling phrase), fire (a lively, nervously dancing phrase), and the hero himself (bold and declamatory). Austrian composer/pianist Hugo Wolf (18601903), a great admirer of Wagner’s works, was moved to transcribe it for solo piano.

LISzT: REMINISCENCES OF don Juan Not a transcription of a single scene from Mozart’s powerful opera Don Giovanni, this is instead a new composition in which Liszt blends various themes from different scenes of the opera, each given his own personal interpretation. Hence the title, for here he is reminiscing about the opera, and the feelings it provoked in him. The work begins with the intimidating statue music of the Commendatore, which in the opera appears in the overture, though also in the penultimate scene when the Commendatore’s statue has come to take Giovanni off to hell. Then he treats the duet “La ci darem la mano” from Act I, when Giovanni is doing his best to seduce a not-entirely-reluctant bride. Lastly, he moves on to Giovanni’s effervescent Champagne Aria, from Act I, its nimble figurations ideally suited to Liszt’s extravagant technique. Dating from 1841, the score proves Liszt’s awareness of how positively his audiences received vividly colored interpretations of familiar opera themes. It is as though Liszt were declaring, “Remember how it used to sound? Here’s how I’d have done it if it were mine.”

other and also for their children. The youngest of those children, Siegfried, was then a toddler, though his parents had been married for only a few months. Originally intended for chamber ensemble, it was transcribed for piano by Josef Rubinstein, a close friend of the Wagners.

LISzT: OvERTURE TO Tannhäuser Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser premiered in Dresden on October 19, 1845. Four years later, with its composer in political exile in Switzerland, Liszt transcribed several sections of the work for solo performance in his recitals. In so doing, he was able to remind listeners what they were missing with Wagner being forcibly away. Like many an opera overture, this one draws upon some of the big musical moments from the opera itself, most prominently the title character’s passionate love song and a chorus of pilgrims passing by the Wartburg Castle in central Germany. It is, by turns, ecstatic or reverent, and makes the most of the varied sound colors that an extraordinarily gifted pianist, such as Liszt, could draw forth from the instrument.

© Program notes by Betsy Schwarm, author of “Classical Music Insights” and “Operatic Insights”

WAGNER: siegfried idyll (TRANSCRIBED BY JOSEF RUBINSTEIN) Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, written in 1870 as a birthday gift for his second wife Cosima, derived its themes from earlier compositions. One is the 1876 opera Siegfried, from which he borrowed the horn call and the melody of the forest bird, as well as the major love theme, a theme that is sung with great force and exuberance on stage, but here takes on a far more gentle character. Wagner also quoted melodies from an uncompleted string quartet he had sketched some years before and a lullaby that he had composed in 1868. Combined, the two themes comprise a domestic portrait, lyrically depicting the love of the parents for each


Celebrated for his interpretation of Beethoven, Mr. Lortie has performed complete sonata cycles at London’s Wigmore Hall, Toronto’s Ford Center, Berlin’s Philharmonie, and the Sala Grande del Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan. Die Welt described his Berlin performances as “possibly the finest Beethoven since the time of Wilhelm Kempff.” With the Montréal Symphony, as both pianist and conductor, he has performed all five Beethoven Concertos and all of the Mozart Concertos. Louis Lortie (Photo: Elias) Mr. Lortie has also won widespread acclaim for his interpretations of Ravel and Chopin. He performed the complete works of Ravel in London and Montréal for the BBC and CBC, and is renowned all over the world for his recitals of Chopin’s complete Etudes. Of his Queen Elizabeth Hall recital, the Financial Times wrote: “Better Chopin playing than this is not to be heard, not anywhere.” In 2011 Louis Lortie celebrated the bicentenary of Liszt’s birth by performing the complete Années de Pèlerinage at Germany’s Liszt Kunstfest Weimar, Berlin’s Radialsystem, the Bayreuth Festival and Rheingau Musik Festival, the Aldeburgh Music–Snape Proms, Brussels Radio 3 Festival, Lisbon’s Centro de Belem, New York’s Lincoln Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, in Portland, La Jolla, Los Angeles, Orange County, Toronto, Ottawa and Washington D.C., at the Savannah Festival and opened the 2011-12 Cliburn Concerts Series. Other 2011-12 engagements included playing with and conducting the Kremerata Baltica at La Scala di Milano, Slovenian Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony and the Quebec Symphony, concerts with the Toronto Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the symphony orchestras of Sydney, Bournemouth, Saint Louis, Calgary, North Carolina, San Diego and Oklahoma City, and a performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Brussels Brahms Festival. Louis Lortie has performed with, among other conductors, Riccardo Chailly, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Charles Dutoit, Kurt Sanderling, Neeme Järvi, Sir Andrew Davis, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Sir Mark Elder and Osmo Vänskä. He has also been involved in many chamber music projects, with musicians such as Frank Peter Zimmermann, Leonidas Kavakos, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Jan Vogler, Augustin Dumay, and the Takács and Tokyo Quartets. His regular piano-duo partner is fellow Canadian Hélène Mercier, with whom he has made successful recordings on the Chandos label.

about the artist

French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie has attracted critical acclaim throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States, not least for extending his interpretative voice across a broad repertoire range rather than choosing to specialise in one particular style. The London Times, describing his playing as “ever immaculate, ever imaginative,” has identified the artist’s “combination of total spontaneity and meditated ripeness that only great pianists have.”

Louis Lortie program  

Louis Lortie program info

Louis Lortie program  

Louis Lortie program info