Torments and Triumph – Bernstein & Beethoven, Part I

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Date(s) - Saturday, May 11, 2019
8:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Music Center at Strathmore

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Michael Brown, piano
Piotr Gajewski, conductor

Bernstein Symphony No. 2 (“The Age of Anxiety”)

Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor

“When I first read the book I was breathless … it is one of the most shattering examples of pure virtuosity in the history of English poetry.” Leonard Bernstein’s reaction to the 1948 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Age of Anxiety, by W.H. Auden, inspired him to create his majestic Symphony No. 2 (“The Age of Anxiety”), a work of kaleidoscopic breadth, innovative structure (the inclusion of piano solo), and powerful theatricality. Commissioned by Bernstein’s longtime mentor, Serge Koussevitzky, the symphony premiered on April 8,1949, with Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony and Bernstein himself as the soloist. The Symphony No. 2 then secured its position as one of the iconic works of 20th century music, even surpassing the fame of the poem that inspired it. In this first of two related concerts, Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” symphony is paired with Beethoven’s equally charged Symphony No. 5, a work that has been interpreted as a demonstration of the human will in overcoming adverse fate. In the same way that Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 charts the dramatic narrative embodied in Auden’s poem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 unfolds a personal narrative of the triumph of the human spirit.