Course – Uppingham School
Orchestral Performance – Uppingham School Memorial Hall
Soloist – Meng Yang Pan (Piano)
Meng Yang Pan was born in China in 1985. She began to learn the piano at the age of 3 and has since gone on to win several international piano competitions. These include first prize in the Young Pianists’ Competition, France in 1999, and second prize in the Young Pianists’ Competition, Germany in 2000. She currently studies with Tessa Nicholson at the Purcell School of Music. We are delighted that we have been able to work together with the Uppingham Piano Course to find such a wonderful young soloist for this concerto.
The Wasps Overture – Ralph Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams was a great-nephew of Charles Darwin and one of the foremost and most distinctive English composers of the twentieth century. In 1909 he was invited to provide the incidental music for a Cambridge University production of Aristophanes’ 2,300 year old comedy The Wasps. The 37-year-old composer had been studying with Ravel in Paris and was also beginning to find his characteristic English voice, rooted in folk song and with a rumbustious sense of humour. Both of these elements of his style are evident in the overture he wrote for this play, as is the influence of Ravel’s orchestration, particularly in the harp and flute sounds. The buzzing of the wasps opens the piece and a vigorous English march and cantabile folk song melody provide much of the material which follows.
Le Tombeau de Couperin – Maurice Ravel
Ravel (1875-1937) was three years younger than Vaughan Williams, but sufficiently well established for the older man to seek him out as a composition teacher. Much of his work was heavily influenced by forms and structures of music of earlier times, though always interpreted in a modern way rather than slavishly imitated. Although he is renowned as a masterful orchestrator of other people’s music – not least his 1922 version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – he was also one of the most influential and idiomatic writer of piano music.
Between 1914 and 1917 he wrote a six movement piano suite as an homage to the great 18th century harpsichordist Francois Couperin. He used Baroque dance forms, but the movements also honoured the memory of friends who were killed during the First World War. He orchestrated, with wonderful skill, four of the movements for small orchestra in 1919. They are: Prelude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon.
Piano Concerto No 1 in Bb minor, Op 23 – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
There can be no more familiar and rousing moment than the first four horn notes which begin this concerto. Tchaikovsky began to write the concerto in November 1874 and completed it on 21 February 1875. Its first performance was in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 October of that year. Tchaikovsky, never the most confident of composers, was shattered by the opinion of the foremost pianist of his day, Nikolai Rubenstein, that the work was unplayable and poorly composed. Nevertheless, he dedicated it to Hans von Bulow, the conductor of Wagner’s later operas, who played the first performance. According to a contemporary account he gave all the orchestra leads himself and bombarded the conductor, orchestra, audience and music with curses throughout the performance. We are trusting this will not happen this afternoon.
1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
The first movement begins with the chords mentioned above and then one of the most romantic of all melodies is announced on violins and cellos. These two elements continue until a fast section (Allegro con spirito) is introduced by the piano and a sonata form movement takes over. The striking first theme of the movement never returns.
2. Andantino simplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I
The slow movement begins with pizzicato, muted chords accompanying a beautiful flute melody. Before long, this gentle movement is interrupted by a much more furious waltz, said to be based on a popular song of the day. After a short piano cadenza the opening mood is restored.
3. Allegro con fuoco
This opens with a lively and compelling dance-like section, based on a Ukrainian folk song. Towards the end the mood undergoes a number of changes and the heroic last melody emerges triumphantly.