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POncE: PIAnO cOncERtO Manuel Ponce may be remembered primarily as the composer of estrellita, but his talents ran deep through a very wide range: across the span of his career Ponce was a pianist, organist, teacher, critic, editor, conductor, and administrator. Ponce showed unusual musical talent as a boy, but his early training was modest: he learned to play the piano from his older sister, and he did not go to Mexico city for formal conservatory training until he was 18. Ponce developed into a first-rate pianist, however, and in 1904 he left for europe (pausing to give a piano recital in St. Louis on the way) and remained there for five years, teaching and performing. in 1909 the composer returned to Mexico to become the piano instructor at the Mexico city conservatory. The following year Ponce composed his Piano concerto, and he was the soloist at its premiere in Mexico city on July 7, 1912. He was then 29 years old. Much of Ponce’s music springs from the music of Mexico and Spain: he used elements of native, popular, and folk music in his own songs, and some of his works—such as the Concierto del Sur, written for Andres Segovia and heard later on this program–are based on the music of a specific region. Ponce’s Piano concerto, however, is entirely free of such “national” influences. This is a big, old-fashioned virtuoso concerto— anyone hearing it without knowing its composer might well guess that it had been written in europe at the end of the nineteenth century. it is also quite a compact concerto: its three movements, played without pause, span only about twenty minutes. The Allegro non troppo opens with a brief but impassioned orchestral introduction. The piano makes its own dramatic entrance, and despite some lyric secondary material, the movement drives to a great climax, then subsides to flow directly into the Andante espressivo. Longest of the movements, this opens with an impassioned statement by the strings. The pianist takes this up, and the music builds to a long cadenza. Meditative at first, this cadenza grows turbulent as it proceeds and drives to a great climax full of hammered octaves. Pizzicato rumblings open the concluding (and very brief) Vivo, a virtuoso finale that keeps the spotlight firmly on the soloist. Ponce’s Piano concerto may not have the distinctive profile of his later music, nor is there anything distinctly Mexican about its material. But it is an attractive and pleasing work, and it gives us some sense of how fabulously talented—as both composer and pianist—its young creator was. POncE: cOncIERtO DEL SuR Manuel Ponce composed orchestral music, chamber works, piano music, and a number of songs, but he also wrote a significant amount for the guitar, encouraged in this by his life-
long friendship with Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. As early as Ponce’s long stay in Paris in 1925-33, Segovia had suggested that he write a guitar concerto, but the composer did not get around to writing it until 1941, when he was almost 60. composer and guitarist worked closely together on the concerto, and it was Segovia who gave the first performance of the concierto del Sur in Montevideo, uruguay, on october 4, 1942. Ponce was the first Mexican composer invited to tour South America, and this concert was part of that tour. The title translates “concerto of the South,” and that points to the inspiration for this music. All the thematic material in the concerto is original with Ponce, but he acknowledged the influence of Andalusian music in the outer movements and of Arab music in the middle movement, so the “south” of the title refers to the south of Spain. Ponce scored the concerto for a chamber orchestra consisting of solo woodwinds, one horn, timpani, and strings, and then he shrewdly avoided balance problems by having the solo guitar and orchestra take turns with the material. The opening Allegro moderato is an extended sonata-form movement, stretching out to over twelve minutes. it is characterized by a great deal of energy, graceful exchanges between soloist and orchestra, and a wealth of thematic ideas. Ponce offers his soloist an unusually long cadenza just before the close.
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and Borodin, both of whom had died unexpectedly in the years just before its composition.
The Moorish influence is strong in southern Spain, and this makes itself felt in the Andante, where the solo guitar has a number of exchanges with the solo winds. There is an exotic flavor to this movement, easy to sense but difficult to describe; Ponce rounds off the concerto with a vigorous finale, full of energy and high spirits. BORODIn: POLOVtSIAn DAncES FROM Prince igor Borodin was a member of The Five, the group of russian nationalist composers that included rimsky-Korsakov, cui, Balakirev, and Mussorgsky. But Borodin was a composer only in his spare time, for by profession he was a chemistry professor and research scientist at the Academy of Medicine and Surgery in St. Petersburg. So great were his professional demands that Borodin could find time to compose only when on vacation or when ill. Knowing of these demands, his friends would jokingly wish him ill health when they parted—it was their way of wishing that he could find more time to compose. one of the consequences of the demands on his time was that Borodin left several works incomplete when he suddenly died in 1887 at age 53. Among these was the one that would have been his masterpiece, the opera Prince Igor, based on the story of Prince igor of novgorod, a russian christian who in 1185 led an expedition against an invasion by the nomadic Polovetsians. Borodin worked inter3