Robert Schumann: Overture, Scherzo and Finale, op. 52 (with additional movement, Childhood Dreams, composed in the style of Schumann by Paul Chihara)
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 54
Performers: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; Christian Zacharias, piano
Venue: Carnegie Hall
Composer Paul Chihara discusses Schumann with WNYC's John Schaefer
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Robert Schumann's burst of orchestral writing in 1841 produced a pair of symphonies, the Overture, Scherzo and Finale and the music that would become his Piano Concerto in A minor.
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Pianist Christian Zacharias solos in Schumann's Piano Concerto, a piece the composer rebuilt in 1845 from an earlier, single movement work.
One of the cliché criticisms of Robert Schumann is that he lacked talent for writing orchestral music. Critics and musicians still nitpick over muddy textures in his symphonies and awkward solo writing in his concertos.
These complaints have led to a certain amount of meddling in Schumann's music. Conductors and composers, including Schumann himself, have re-orchestrated some of the symphonies. This Carnegie Hall concert, by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, features two orchestral pieces by Schumann that have been remodeled, so to speak—one by the composer himself, and another by Paul Chihara.
Recently, Chihara grafted a new movement onto one of Schumann's lesser-heard works, the three-movement Overture, Scherzo and Finale.
"It's a strange piece because it's like three-fourths of a symphony," Chihara says. "By the way, we're not the only ones to say that. Clara Schumann herself said to Robert, 'What have you done?' And so no one knows how to program this piece, but it is very beautiful."
Chihara noticed that Schumann's three-legged original was lacking a slow movement. So he turned to the composer's popular piano suite Kinderszenen for inspiration. Choosing the sections called "Child Falling Asleep" and "About Foreign Lands and People," Chihara constructed a new, gently flowing third movement, which he titled "Childhood Dreams."
Also on the concert program is Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, performed by soloist Christian Zacharias. The music began its life in May 1841 as a single movement Phantasie for Piano and Orchestra. Robert's wife Clara (a renowned concert pianist) gave the first performance a few months later.
Schumann himself revamped this piece in 1845. Some say it was Clara who encouraged him to transform the music into a full-fledged concerto. If so, her instincts proved to be spot-on. Schumann added two more movements, and the resulting Piano Concerto in A minor has become one of the most popular romantic piano concertos in the repertoire.
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: The Sound of Democracy
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is acclaimed for its music-making, but also for its innovative business model. Throughout the group's 35-year history, there has never been a conductor.
Before each concert, Orpheus members elect principal players. This core becomes a management team for the concert. They decide on the style and approach for the music. But at rehearsal, everybody has input, and part of the job is to both talk and listen.
The players also raise funds, plan educational programs, and make hiring decisions. It all works so well that Orpheus has become a management consulting group. The ensemble presents workshops for corporations around the world on what they call "the Orpheus Process," with corporate managers watching the group's rehearsal procedures.