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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Pairs Brahms, Chen

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Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 3 (1883), suggested to the great composer that he consider the subtitle of “Eroica” for the work. Never eager to draw comparisons with his predecessor, Beethoven, Brahms demurred. But with its strange mix of heroism and formal logic, we can surely understand Maestro Richter's feelings.

Brahms' Third Symphony comprises four movements of deeply expressive music, alternately tempestuous, melodious, mournful, intense and serene. Compared to its three siblings, this symphony in F major is the most compact and dramatically concentrated. Each movement is remarkable in its own way, but the conclusion of the allegro finale impresses most as it gradually winds down to blissful silence by way of gorgeous strings.

Prior to embarking upon his professional career, Qigang Chen had to endure years of “re-education” during China's Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, he emerged to study abroad, landing in Paris at age 33, where he became the last composition student of Olivier Messiaen, with whom he studied until 1988. Of recent note, he was music director of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

One of Chen's finest and most ambitious works strives to reconcile the composer's Eastern heritage and Western musical education. Iris dévoilée, or Iris Unveiled (2001), is a nine-movement piece for soprano soloists and traditional Chinese instruments alongside a large orchestra.

Edo de Waart conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in performing Brahms and Chen on May 4-5 at Uihlein Hall. For the Chen piece, the MSO is joined by sopranos Meng Meng and Xiaoduo Chen and instrumentalists Wu Man, Hong Wang and Yang Yi.
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