Picture This!

Saturday, May 5, 2018 @ 7:30 p.m. | Santander Performing Arts Center


Capriccio Italien


Piano Concerto No. 2

  • Ilya Yakushev, Piano


Pictures at an Exhibition
Michele Byrne, Artist

Music meets visual art in this unique performance. As the orchestra performs Mussorgsky’s evocative Pictures at an Exhibition, artist Michele Byrne will paint the orchestra, with her image projected on screen. This work is accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring soloist Ilya Yakushev.

About the Soloist

Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev performs at major venues on three continents. American Record Guide praised Mr. Yakushev as “one of the very best young pianists before the public today… of the highest caliber.” He is currently working with Nimbus Records to record all of Prokofiev’s sonatas.

About the Painter

Michele Byrne is known for her plein air painting, which refers to painting outdoors or in the open air. Her influences include Sargent, Toulouse-Lautrec, Berthe Morisot, and others. She has received many awards and recognitions, including Signature Membership status with the American Impressionist Society, and her work is featured in galleries across the country.

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Capriccio Italien, Op. 45…………………………………………………………………… Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Composed in 1880
Premiered on December 18, 1880 in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein

For nearly a decade after his disastrous marriage in 1877, Tchaikovsky was filled with self-recrimination and doubts about his ability to compose anything more. He managed to finish the Violin Concerto during the spring of 1878, but then had to wait more than three years for someone to perform it, and did not undertake another large composition until the Manfred Symphony in 1885. He traveled frequently and far during those years for diversion, and in November 1879 set off for Rome. Despite spending the holiday in Rome and taking part in the riotous festivities of Carnival (Tchaikovsky recorded that this “wild folly” did not suit him very well), the sensitive composer still complained that “a worm gnaws continually in secret at my heart. I cannot sleep. My God, what an incomprehensible and complicated mechanism the human organism is! We shall never solve the various phenomena of our spiritual and material existence!”

Though Tchaikovsky was never long parted from his residual melancholy, his spirits were temporarily brightened by some of the local tunes he heard in Rome, and he decided to write an orchestral piece incorporating several of them. As introduction to the work, he used a bugle call sounded every evening from the barracks of the Royal Italian Cuirassiers, which was adjacent to the Hotel Costanzi, where he was staying. He sketched the Capriccio Italien in a week, but then did not return to the score until he was back in Russia in the spring; the orchestration was completed in mid-May at his summer home in Kamenka.

The Capriccio Italien opens with the trumpet fanfare of the Royal Cuirassiers, which gives way to a dolorous melody intoned above an insistent accompanimental motive. There follows a swinging tune given first by the oboes in sweet parallel intervals and later by the full orchestra in tintinnabulous splendor. A brisk folk dance comes next, then a reprise of the dolorous melody and finally a whirling tarantella. This “bundle of Italian folk tunes,” as Edwin Evans called the Capriccio Italien, ends with one of the most rousing displays of orchestral color in all of Romantic music.


Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102……………………………………….. ……….Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Composed in 1956-1957.
Premiered on May 10, 1957 in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Anosov with Maxim Shostakovich as soloist

Standing beside the introspective and reflective creations of Shostakovich’s later years — the wondrous series of string quartets and the last three symphonies — is a large amount of immediately appealing music embodying one of his most important tenets: “I find it incredible that an artist should wish to shut himself away from the people.” One of the best-crafted among this group of film scores, tone poems, jingoistic anthems and occasional instrumental works is the Piano Concerto No. 2, which Shostakovich wrote in 1956-1957 for his son, Maxim, who was just finishing his studies at the Moscow Conservatory. The outer movements, both marked Allegro, are propelled by an almost demonic energy grown from a hybrid of march and galop. They call for an invigorating display of virtuosity — nimble, powerful, percussive by turns — that gives the soloist ample opportunity to display his technique. In contrast, the slow middle movement, for piano and strings only (with the exception of a single entry by the solo horn), is of a lyricism and tenderness reminiscent of Chopin, filtered perhaps, in its harmonic suavities, through Poulenc.

Pictures at an Exhibition…………………………………………………………. Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
Transcribed by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Composed in 1874; transcribed in 1923
Orchestral version premiered on May 3, 1923 in Paris, conducted by Sergei Koussevitzky

In the years around 1850, with the spirit of nationalism sweeping through Europe, several young Russian artists banded together to rid their native art of foreign influences in order to establish a distinctive character for their works. At the front of this movement was a group of composers known as “The Five,” whose members included Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, César Cui and Mily Balakirev. Among the allies that The Five found in other fields was the artist and architect Victor Hartmann, with whom Mussorgsky became close personal friends. Hartmann’s premature death at 39 stunned the composer and the entire Russian artistic community. The noted critic Vladimir Stassov organized a memorial exhibit of Hartmann’s work in February 1874, and it was under the inspiration of that showing of his late friend’s works that Mussorgsky conceived his Pictures at an Exhibition for piano. Maurice Ravel made his masterful orchestration of the score for Sergei Koussevitzky’s Paris concerts in 1923.

Promenade. According to Stassov, this recurring section depicts Mussorgsky “roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly, and, at times sadly, thinking of his friend.” The Gnome. Hartmann’s drawing is for a fantastic wooden nutcracker representing a gnome who gives off savage shrieks while he waddles about. Promenade — The Old Castle. A troubadour sings a doleful lament before a foreboding, ruined ancient fortress. Promenade — Tuileries. Hartmann’s picture shows a corner of the famous Parisian garden filled with nursemaids and their youthful charges. Bydlo. Hartmann’s painting depicts a rugged wagon drawn by oxen. The peasant driver sings a plaintive melody (solo tuba) heard first from afar, then close-by, before the cart passes away into the distance. Promenade — Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells. Hartmann’s costume design for the 1871 fantasy ballet Trilby shows dancers enclosed in enormous egg shells. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle was inspired by a pair of pictures depicting two residents of the Warsaw ghetto, one rich and pompous (a weighty unison for strings and winds), the other poor and complaining (muted trumpet). Mussorgsky based both themes on incantations he had heard on visits to Jewish synagogues. The Marketplace at Limoges. A lively sketch of a bustling market. Catacombs, Roman Tombs. Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua. Hartmann’s drawing shows him being led by a guide with a lantern through cavernous underground tombs. The movement’s second section, titled “With the Dead in a Dead Language,” is a mysterious transformation of the Promenade theme. The Hut on Fowl’s Legs. Hartmann’s sketch is a design for an elaborate clock suggested by Baba Yaga, a fearsome witch of Russian folklore who flies through the air. Mussorgsky’s music suggests a wild, midnight ride. The Great Gate of Kiev was inspired by Hartmann’s plan for a gateway for the city of Kiev in the massive old Russian style crowned with a cupola in the shape of a Slavic warrior’s helmet. The majestic music suggests both the imposing bulk of the edifice (never built, incidentally) and a brilliant procession passing through its arches.