Richard Wagner – Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act 1 (1859)
With the utterance of four notes, classical music changed forever. Now known as the Tristan Chord, Richard Wagner’s opening to Tristan und Isolde must have astonished the first audiences who heard it. Totally unconventional in this context, the striking discord with which the German composer opens his opera evolves into a further unresolved discord. The unprecedented use of chromaticism, tonal ambiguity, orchestral colour and harmonic suspension that follows influenced a swathe of composers to formulate their style either in accordance with or in contrast to Wagner’s bold statement. This influential cluster of notes which opened the door to modern music will provide the opening to this concert, preceded by a talk by David Horne, who will delve deeper into the ‘Tristan chord’.
Sergei Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No 3 (1921)
Completed in 1921 from sketches which he began in 1913, this is Prokofiev’s most played piano concerto – and for good reason. It contains some of the Russian composer’s most lyrical and melodic writing. With themes that stick with you long after listening, it’s probably the most accessible of the composer’s five concertos. That’s not to say that it’s an easy listen, though. Containing some of Prokofiev’s most rambunctious musical proclamations and demanding a great deal of technical dexterity, his third concerto makes for a thrilling live experience. Whimsical, rhapsodic and tempestuous, its genius is spread equally across three sections, in which the orchestra plays almost as important a role as the soloist. From the snowballing energy of the opening movement to the concerto’s surging denouement, it’s an exciting ride that’s sure to thrill at RNCM.
Modest Mussorgsky (arr Ravel) – Pictures at an Exhibition (1922)
Taking just three weeks to compose, Mussorgsky’s tribute to his artist friend Victor Harmann was originally composed as a series of ten piano pieces. He wrote the pieces after visiting an exhibition of around 400 of Harmann’s works at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. It was Maurice Ravel, though, 48 years later, who produced the orchestral tapestry that we know and love today. Though Mussorgsky’s piano series was orchestrated by a number of composers – Rimsky-Korsakov being one of them – Ravel’s version outstripped its competitors in the brilliance of its colours and in its sheer ingenuity. Applying artistic license to some particulars of notation and dynamics, Ravel transformed the work with his own orchestral palette. The result is grandiose and tender in equal measure.
Aaron Breeze – New Work (2018)
Further contorting the idea of originality will be Aaron Breeze. An RNCM composer, Breeze has penned a response to Mussorgsky/Ravel’s seminal work, especially for this concert. It will be interesting to see what new picture the young composer has decided to add to this enchanting exhibition.