The second concert of the Phoenix Symphony’s season is tonight. With Music Director Michael Christie’s pending departure, we, again, have the opportunity to enjoy a guest conductor. Tonight, Tito Muñoz will conduct the symphony is a diverse program of pieces from the early to mid-20th century. The program consists of:
- The Overture to The School for Scandal, written in 1931 by American Samuel Barber.
- Piano Concerto in G Major by the French composer Maurice Ravel, written about 1930.
- Symphony No. 10 in E minor by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, first performed in 1953.
American born Tito Muñoz, formerly Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, is currently the Music Director of the Opéra national de Lorraine and Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy. He has been praised for his “natural facility and convincing musicianship on the podium”. Mr. Muñoz studied violin at Julliard and conducting at the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen.
The guest soloist for the Ravel Piano Concerto is Benjamin Hochman. The Israeli-born pianist was winner of 2011’s prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. He has been described by the New York Times as a “gifted, fast-rising artist”. Quoting from the biography on the artist’s website; “His eloquent and virtuosic performances have earned him critical acclaim and his rare combination of bravura and poetry has excited audiences and critics alike.” Mr. Hochman studied at the Conservatory of the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem and with Emanuel Krasovsky in Tel Aviv. He is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Mannes College of Music. He is currently on the piano faculty of the Longy School of Music of Bard College.
It should be an interesting program. I am not familiar with the Barber piece. It was his first composition for full orchestra. It was inspired by the Sheridan play which I’ve read and seen. If it does justice to the play it should be enjoyable.
Piano concertos are always fun to watch. Our seats are on the left aisle so we have a great view of the pianist’s hands when they are performing. I think I have heard this concerto once before. Ravel is most famous, of course, for his Bolero, a piece he felt was more popular than it deserved to be, and for his popular arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition.
Shostakovich is an interesting composer though, for me, his life is more interesting than his work. He was a famous composer in Soviet-era Russia who ran afoul of the Stalinist-era authorities of state-run art more than once. In the 1930’s he fell from favor and was publicly criticized for allowing too much western, romantic, influence into his composition; especially the influence of Mahler. He returned to a more traditional style and was rehabilitated in the years before WWII only to be denounced again in 1948 for the ‘formalism’ of his work. The symphony being performed tonight was written during the period of the second denunciation but was not premiered until after Stalin’s death in 1953.