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Wednesday 23 June 2021 6.30–7.45pm
BBC Radio 3 Rush Hour Concert:
Benjamin Grosvenor

Schumann Kreisleriana
Ginastera Danzas Argentinas
Ravel Gaspard de la nuit

Benjamin Grosvenor piano

Recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 logo

LSO St Luke's Jerwood Hall

© Matthew Weinreb

LSO St Luke's Jerwood Hall

© Matthew Weinreb

LSO St Luke's Jerwood Hall

© Matthew Weinreb

© Matthew Weinreb

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Robert Schumann

Kreisleriana Op 16

✒️ 1838 | ⏰ 34 mins

1 Äuβerst bewegt (Extremely animated)
2 Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch (Introspective and not too fast)
3 Sehr aufgeregt (Very agitated)
4 Sehr langsam (Very slowly)
5 Sehr lebhaft (Very lively)
6 Sehr langsam (Very slowly)

7 Sehr rasch (Very fast)
8 Schnell und spielend (Fast and playful)

In 1835 Schumann fell in love with the budding piano virtuoso Clara Wieck. Clara returned his feelings, but her father was displeased with the attachment, and forbade the couple to meet. Schumann poured out his feelings in letters and piano compositions. He composed Kreisleriana in just four days in 1838. He wrote to Clara that it contained ‘a wild, unbridled love in places, together with your life and mine, and many of your glances’. Apparently, Clara was somewhat taken aback by the work’s wild inventiveness.

Kreislerianas title refers to Johannes Kreisler, the moody musical genius created by the writer ETA Hoffmann. The work also reflects Schumann’s sense that he had two compositional personalities, the impulsive Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius. Rather than tell a specific story, it depicts various moods. Its careful tonal structure and polyphonic (multi-voice) textures reflect Schumann’s studies of Bach’s keyboard music.

In the rapid first movement, stormy outer sections bookend a gentler central one. In the second, two passionate outbursts interrupt the calm principal theme. The lively third movement features a leaping motif and dialogue between the two hands. Low sonorities dominate the fourth movement, which has an improvisatory quality. In the fifth, playful outer sections characterised by dotted rhythms contrast with an expansive, impassioned central episode. The sixth begins as a tranquil lullaby but quickly loses equilibrium, only regaining it in the closing bars. Schumann’s love of Bach is most apparent in the bravura seventh movement with its fugato and closing chorale. The final movement’s predominantly light-hearted – though not wholly untroubled – music brings the work to a calm albeit enigmatic conclusion.

Note by Kate Hopkins

Robert Schumann
1810 – 56 (Germany)

Composer Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau, Germany into a literary family. In 1829 he travelled to Leipzig to study law, but soon took instead to piano studies with the professor Friedrich Wieck – whose daughter, Clara, still a child, soon became famous as a virtuoso prodigy throughout Europe.

By the time Clara was 16, she and Schumann were deeply in love and wished to become engaged. Such was Wieck’s virulent opposition that after four hopeless years the young couple sued him for the right to marry – and won. It was for Clara, during the turbulent time preceding this happy outcome, that Schumann wrote a flood of piano music, often filled with musical messages to her. The couple subsequently had seven surviving children; Clara, as a celebrated pianist, remained the family’s chief breadwinner.

In his adult life, Schumann lived with mental ill health – possibly a bipolar disorder, probably syphilis, likely a combination of both – Schumann approached composition with obsessive energy. When depression struck him, however, he found it impossible to write at all. Starting out as an original, radical figure, he leaned towards experimental forms and groundbreaking expressive means, from which Clara sometimes tried to discourage him. He worked extremely fast, often devoting himself to creating works in one medium for a year or more. Arguments continue today about the effect of his worsening mental health upon his late works.

In 1854 Schumann suffered his ultimate breakdown, attempting suicide. Thereafter he entered a mental hospital at Endenich, near Bonn, where he died in July 1856, aged 46.

Profile by Jessica Duchen

Alberto Ginastera

Danzas Argentinas Op 2

✒️ 1937 | ⏰ 8 mins

1 Danza del viejo boyero
2 Danza de la moza donosa
3 Danza del gaucho matrero

Alberto Ginastera is one of Argentina’s most famous composers. He composed Danzas Argentinas in 1937, while he was a student at the Buenos Aires Conservatory. The piece reveals his fascination with his native country’s traditional songs and dances.

Danza del viejo boyero (Dance of the old herdsman) has an especially striking feature: the piano left hand only plays black notes, and the right only plays white ones. Despite the resultant bitonal jangle, this dance is surprisingly melodious. It is also rhythmically lively – the old herdsman has energy! The final chord is made up of the notes that guitarists customarily use to tune.

Danza de la moza donosa (Dance of the lovely girl) is in a lilting 6/8 time, and ternary (A–B–A) form. The delicacy of the outer sections contrasts with the expansive passion of the central one, and the dance ends quizzically on a quiet atonal chord.

Danza del gaucho matrero (Dance of the outlaw cowboy) is a rondo, full of infectious syncopated rhythms. Dissonant chromatic episodes alternate with melodious tonal ones. Ginastera’s instructions include furiosamente (furiously), mordento (biting) and salvaggio (wild). The dance ends with a fortissimo flamboyant glissando.

Note by Kate Hopkins

Alberto Ginastera
1916 (Argentina) – 1983 (Switzerland)

Composer Alberto Ginastera

© Lebrecht Music Arts / Bridgeman Images

© Lebrecht Music Arts / Bridgeman Images

One of Argentina’s musical royalty, Alberto Ginastera’s musical talents were spotted early and he won his first composition prize aged just 22. He came to prominence with his two ballet works, Panambi and Estancia, both of which highlight the composer’s immersion in folklore music, predominantly that of the Gaucho, the skilled nomadic horseman, an important part of the Argentine cultural tradition.

Ginastera became better-known through his international career. Like Dvořák before him, he lived for a while in the US, immersing himself in life at the famous music school Tanglewood, where he met and studied with Aaron Copland. On his return to Argentina the unstable Péron government – the reason he’d left Argentina in the first place – was still in power, a repressive regime that Ginestera did not agree with, that led to troubling arguments. He managed to stand his ground and wrote some of his most memorable compositions during this time, including Variaciones concertantes.

During the 1960s, Ginastera's music took on a more contemporary feel and he wrote a number of his most memorable works with significant folk influences during this time, such as his Harp Concerto (1965), Estudios sinfónicos (1963), and his opera Don Rodrigo. But wranglings with the government took their toll, with three years of nothing. All ended happily: he finally emigrated to Geneva with his second wife and muse, the cellist Aurora Natola, and found a new lease of life, composing works, many inspired by her, until his death in 1983.

Profile by Sarah Breeden

Maurice Ravel

Gaspard de la nuit

✒️ 1908 | ⏰ 21 mins

1 Ondine
2 Le Gibet
3 Scarbo

Gaspard de la nuit is Ravel’s most challenging work for solo piano. He wrote it in 1908, and his friend Ricardo Viñes gave the premiere at Paris’s Salle Erard on 9 January 1909.

The three movements are each inspired by a prose-poem from Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la nuitFantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot (1842). Ravel was drawn to the work because of its focus on the fantastic and the macabre. He was amused by the author’s claim that the devil had written the book, noting ‘Gaspard has been the very devil to finish, which is not surprising since he is the author of the poems’.

'Ondine' depicts the seductive legendary water-nymph. Its melodies gradually emerge from a cascade of accompanying acquatic figuration. The luminous textures are reminiscent of Ravel’s earlier Jeux d’eaux.

'Le Gibet' evokes a stark desert landscape. A man’s dead body hangs from a gibbet, illuminated by the setting sun. Chromatic chord progressions and fragmentary melodies unfold around the constant B-flat ostinato of a tolling bell, signifying death.

Scarbo portrays a malevolent nocturnal goblin who terrorises the sleepless. Dance rhythms feature prominently: pianist Roy Howat has noted the ‘mix of waltz and flamenco’. With its repeated notes, sudden dynamic contrasts, leaps, trills and rapid chords, 'Scarbo' is one of the hardest pieces in the piano repertory: another pianist, Steven Osborne, has likened playing it to solving multiple quadratic equations at speed. Ravel aimed to create a work as difficult as Balakirev’s piano showpiece Islamey – and he certainly succeeded.

Note by Kate Hopkins

Maurice Ravel
1875 – 1937 (France)

Composer Maurice Ravel

Ravel himself knew that he was not the most prolific of composers. ‘I did my work slowly, drop by drop. I tore it out of me by pieces,’ he said. There are no symphonies in Ravel’s oeuvre, and only two operas, and although we often think of his music as rich and picturesque like, say, Debussy, Ravel conceived most of his music on the smallest of scales. Even his orchestral works and ballets often grew out of pieces for piano.

But from these small kernels Ravel had the ability to create colour and texture like no other. He was a master of orchestration, with a fastidious eye for detail and a keen awareness of both the capabilities and the limitations of each instrument. Though he is often categorised as an ‘impressionist’ (a label he disputed), thanks to the sweeping colours and textures of his scores, and their shifting, ambiguous harmonies, there is nothing vague or imprecise about his music.

Ravel drew his inspiration from the likes of Rameau, Couperin, Mozart and Haydn, and considered himself first and foremost a Classicist, a master of precision and invention. He held melody in the highest regard, and whether composing his grand orchestral masterpieces like Daphnis et Chloé and Boléro, the fiendishly difficult solo piano works such as Gaspard de la nuit, or the deceptively simply Pavane pour une infante défunte, this unswerving commitment to melody shines through.

Profile by Jo Kirkbride

Artist Biographies

Benjamin Grosvenor

Artist Benjamin Grosvenor

British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is internationally recognised for his electrifying performances, distinctive sound and insightful interpretations. His virtuosic command over the most arduous technical complexities underpins the remarkable depth and understanding of his music making. Described as 'one in a million … several million' by The Independent, his 'astounding technical gifts, the freshness of his imagination, his intense concentration, the absence of any kind of show, and the unmistakable sense of poetic immersion directed solely at the realisation of music' have been lauded by Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Benjamin first came to prominence as the outstanding winner of the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of eleven, and he was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms aged just 19. A pianist of widespread international acclaim, he was announced Artist-in-Residence at Radio France for the 2020/21 season, in which he holds the same title also with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. In 2016, he became the inaugural recipient of The Ronnie and Lawrence Ackman Classical Piano Prize with the New York Philharmonic.

Recent and forthcoming concerto highlights include engagements with the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Gürzenich-Orchestra Cologne, the Orchestra of Komische Oper Berlin, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Hallé Orchestra, Orquesta Nacional de España, Filarmonica della Scala, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London, Royal Scottish National, San Francisco, and Washington National Symphony Orchestras as well as a tour of China with Britten Sinfonia. Benjamin has worked with such esteemed conductors as Andrey Boreyko, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Chailly, Elim Chan, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Manfred Honeck, Vladimir Jurowski, Cristian Măcelaru, Andrew Manze, Ludovic Morlot, Kent Nagano, Sir Roger Norrington, Gianandrea Noseda, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, François-Xavier Roth, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Slatkin, Nathalie Stutzmann, Michael Tilson Thomas, Krzysztof Urbański, and Kazuki Yamada.

In recital, Benjamin regularly performs at major venues such as London’s Barbican and Wigmore Halls as well as the Southbank Centre, Théâtre des Champs Elysées Paris, Munich’s Herkulessaal, Cologne’s Philharmonie, Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona, Washington’s Kennedy Center, New York’s Carnegie Hall and 92nd Street Y. A keen chamber musician, the season sees Benjamin embark on a North American tour with the Doric String Quartet, perform duo concerts with violinist Hyeyoon Park, join musicians from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France for a chamber concert, and perform at the Verbier Festival at Schloss Elmau and at Internationales Musikfestival Koblenz.

In 2011 Benjamin signed to Decca Classics, becoming the youngest British musician ever, and the first British pianist in almost 60 years, to sign to the label. His most recent CD on the label, his second concerto recording, features Frédéric Chopin’s piano concertos, recorded with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the baton of Elim Chan. Named Recording of the Month by Gramophone, the disc was also awarded a Diapason d'Or, with Diapason's critic declaring that the recording is 'a version to rank among the best, and confirmation of an extraordinary artist.'

During his sensational career to date, Benjamin has received Gramophone’s Young Artist of the Year and Instrumental Awards, a Classic Brits Critics’ Award, UK Critics’ Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent and a Diapason d’Or Jeune Talent Award. He has been featured in two BBC television documentaries, BBC Breakfast and The Andrew Marr Show, as well as in CNN’s Human to Hero series.

The youngest of five brothers, Benjamin began playing the piano aged 6. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Christopher Elton and Daniel-Ben Pienaar, where he graduated in 2012 with the ‘Queen’s Commendation for Excellence’ and in 2016 was awarded a Fellowship from the institution. Benjamin has been supported since 2013 by EFG International, the widely respected global private banking group.

LSO St Luke's exterior

© Neil Wilkinson

LSO St Luke's exterior

© Neil Wilkinson

© Neil Wilkinson

© Neil Wilkinson

Thank You for Watching

As we emerge from the most challenging period of a generation, please consider supporting our Always Playing Appeal to sustain our work at LSO St Luke's and allow us to continue sharing our music with the broadest range of people possible.

Every donation will help to support our future.

You can also donate now via text.

Text LSOAPPEAL 5, LSOAPPEAL 10 or LSOAPPEAL 20 to 70085 to donate £5, £10 or £20.

Texts cost £5, £10 or £20 plus one standard rate message and you’ll be opting in to hear more about our work and fundraising via telephone and SMS. If you’d like to give but do not wish to receive marketing communications, text LSOAPPEALNOINFO 5, 10 or 20 to 70085. UK numbers only.

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Programme Contributors

Kate Hopkins writes on classical music and on literature. Her work has featured in publications including The Wagner Journal, NB Magazine and programme books for The Royal Opera, ENO and WNO.

Jessica Duchen divides her time between writing fiction, stage works and journalism. She was classical music correspondent for The Independent from 2004–16, and has written for The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times and BBC Music Magazine, among others.

Sarah Breeden contributes to BBC Proms family concert programmes, has written on film music for the LPO and LSO, school notes for the London Sinfonietta and the booklet notes for the EMI Classical Clubhouse series. She worked for the BBC Proms for several years.

Jo Kirkbride is Head of Artistic Planning at the Dunedin Consort. She is an external assessor for Creative Scotland's Open Project Funding strand and sits on the Board of Directors for New Music Scotland.