Thank you for joining us.
It is a real joy to see the London Symphony Orchestra return to concert performances at LSO St Luke's this autumn. A warm welcome to the numerous guest conductors and artists who will join the LSO in the Jerwood Hall over the coming months, and welcome back to our family of conductors: Sir Simon Rattle, Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth.
It is a pleasure to invite you to watch and listen today. I hope you enjoy the performance, and that you are able to join us again soon.
Wednesday 28 October
Mendelssohn, Boulanger & Schumann
Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Suite
Lili Boulanger D’un matin de printemps
Schumann Symphony No 1, ‘Spring’
Kevin John Edusei conductor
London Symphony Orchestra
Tonght's concert will be broadcast in the US by Stage Access
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The support of our audience has truly never been more important for the Orchestra and its world-class artistic programme. By supporting us now and in the months to come, you will help us to continue to adapt our music-making and activities to meet the challenges of these times, including sharing the gift of music with our local communities through our LSO Discovery programme.
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The LSO’s return to work is supported by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne and DnaNudge.
This performance is generously supported by our Technical Partner, Yamaha Professional Audio.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Suite
5. Wedding March
Aged only 17, Felix Mendelssohn fell under the spell of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream after reading a German translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel (who was Mendelssohn’s aunt’s brother-in-law). His celebrated Overture was the astonishing result. It evokes enchantment from the very start, when four soft woodwind chords seem to lift the curtain upon the drama. Ensuing themes characterise the play’s contrasting elements – the skittering rustle of forest magic, a tender melody for the runaway lovers, and a rustic dance for the 'rude mechanicals' with donkey-brays for the alarmingly 'translated' Bottom. There is a rapt moment of forgiveness before the woodwind chords return to close the piece as it began.
The Overture was premiered in Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland) on 27 February 1827, in a concert which marked Mendelssohn’s public debut: he performed his Concerto for Two Pianos together with Carl Loewe, and was the soloist in Weber’s Konzertstück in F minor. The precocious lad then joined the violin section to play Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. All this after having travelled 80 miles through a blizzard to reach the town.
Fifteen years later, in 1842, King Frederick William IV of Prussia invited the now celebrated composer to write incidental music for a staging of the play in his palace at Potsdam. Mendelssohn was desperately juggling a heavy schedule as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, director of the Leipzig Conservatory and director of the Music Section of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, so perhaps it was no wonder that he plundered his overture for ideas to recycle. Yet much of the music is entirely new – the Scherzo, Nocturne, Intermezzo and Wedding March that comprise the rest of the purely orchestral suite (which omits the songs and choruses) – and they seem effortlessly to reawaken the freshness of inspiration that had filled his original overture.
The Scherzo epitomises Mendelssohn’s lightness of touch and the Nocturne his lyricism, featuring a haunting French horn solo. The lovers’ confusion in the forest is expressed in the turbulent Intermezzo, which is placed third in the suite. Finally, to borrow another Shakespeare play, all’s well that ends well and the Wedding March rounds matters off in a blaze of triumph.
Note by Jessica Duchen
Grandson of the influential Jewish Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn was a remarkable child prodigy. Born in Hamburg, he grew up in Berlin, where the family settled in 1811. His parents converted to Lutheranism and, like his three siblings, Felix was baptised in childhood; nevertheless, he refused to change his surname entirely to his father’s chosen ‘Bartholdy’.
With an intense work ethic, he took great interest in culture of all kinds: he was a fine writer and painter, and corresponded with Goethe while still a boy. He remained close all his life to his elder sister, Fanny, also a prodigiously gifted composer, who was forbidden by their father to follow music as a profession.
Mendelssohn became one of the most significant musical figures of his day, as composer, conductor, pianist and educator. His grandmother presented him, while he was still a teenager, with the remarkable gift of the manuscript of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which had lain unperformed for decades; the youthful composer resuscitated and conducted it in 1829. He travelled widely, visiting Britain ten times and becoming a personal favourite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1835, he settled in the city, where he went on to found a music conservatory that became one of the most important in Europe. Somehow he also found time to marry Cécile Jeanrenaud and have five children.
His propensity for overwork nevertheless led to tragedy: he died at the age of 38 in 1847, having suffered a series of strokes, just six months after his sister Fanny had succumbed to the same fate.
Composer profile by Jessica Duchen
D’un matin de printemps
With tragic irony, Lili Boulanger’s brief, joyous evocation of a spring morning dated from 1917, while World War I was raging and her own untimely death was just a year away. Suffering from what was probably Crohn’s Disease, she had been told in 1916 that she would likely have only two years to live.
This short tone poem started life as a duo for violin and piano; Boulanger soon adapted it into a trio for flute, violin and piano, then a duet for flute and piano, and finally, early in 1918, the orchestrated version.
D’un matin de printemps has a sibling work: the contrasting, somewhat funereal D’un soir triste (Of a Sad Evening). The pair share a triple metre and a main theme, but together may show two opposing sides of the composer’s own character. They were the last orchestral pieces she completed alone; as her strength failed, she was obliged to rely on her sister, Nadia, to help commit her music to the page.
The music is highly characteristic of Boulanger’s style: forthright, yet harmonically ambiguous, bearing clear influences from both Fauré and Debussy. Indeed, the opening theme seems a fresh and extrovert cousin to the flute line that begins the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Rhythms are sharp and spirited, outlines cleanly etched, yet the harmonies are restless and malleable, often turning to the shadowy. The piece falls into three parts with a sensuous central section marked ‘mystérieux, expressif, rubato’ before the dancelike principal idea returns.
Note by Jessica Duchen
Lili and her sister Nadia Boulanger were born in Paris, daughters of a French musician and a Russian princess. Both were encouraged towards music from early childhood by the composer Gabriel Fauré, a close family friend who identified that Lili had perfect pitch when she was only two years old. Lili, a child prodigy, was attending classes at the Paris Conservatoire with her elder sister by the age of five.
Aged 19, in 1913, she enjoyed a celebrated success as the first woman ever to win the Prix de Rome. The coveted composition prize sent its victors to the Villa Medici in Rome for an intensive period of creative work. Boulanger made the most of her stay there, but was already ill with a malady that was termed intestinal tuberculosis, but is thought now to have been Crohn’s Disease.
Too much has been made of her as a sickly, ill-fated beauty – a remarkable misrepresentation. Far from matching that archetype, she was a rebellious, alternative, intellectual and energetic young artist, furious that her life would be cut short. Undaunted by her illness, with her sister Nadia she worked to organise efforts to support French soldiers in 1917.
She battled her disease to compose as much as possible in what time she had, dictating her last work, the Pie Jesu, to her sister from her sickbed. Her distinctive musical voice possesses charm and melodic invention, but at heart it has a powerful, dark undertow and leans beyond impressionism towards the modernistic. Boulanger defied fate to complete some 50 works before her death in 1918, aged 24.
Composer profile by Jessica Duchen
Symphony No 1 in B-flat Major Op 38, 'Spring'
1. Andante un poco maestoso – Allegro molto vivace
3. Scherzo. Molto vivace
4. Allegro animato e grazioso
It seems astonishing that a work as well-nigh perfect as the ‘Spring’ Symphony could leap fully formed from Schumann’s imagination in just four days. It was January 1841, four months after his marriage to Clara Wieck, and he was turning at last to orchestral music, where he hoped to fulfill their mutual dreams. Until then, the majority of his works had been for piano and, in 1840, Lieder. Yet Clara had noted in her diary: 'His compositions are all orchestral in feeling ... My highest wish is that he should compose for orchestra – that is his field! May I succeed in bringing him to it!'
Schumann, for his part, wrote to Louis Spohr: 'I wrote the symphony in that rush of spring which carries a man away even in his old age, and comes over him anew every year.' The orchestration was complete by 20 February and on 31 March the work received its world premiere at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.
The symphony employs cyclical elements, an idea gleaned from Schumann’s musical idol, Beethoven (who had used this device in his Symphony No 5), and also refers back to an idea from one of Schumann’s own piano works. The first movement opens with a long, slow introduction, which gives way to a bustling sonata-form Allegro. Later Schumann told the conductor Wilhelm Taubert that the first trumpet call should seem 'like a summons to awaken. In the following section ... it might be possible to feel the world turning green; perhaps ... a butterfly fluttering; and in the Allegro the gradual assemblage of everything that belongs to spring.'
The trumpet call matches words from a poem by Adolf Böttger:
'O wende, wende deinen Lauf –
Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf!'
O turn, O turn and change your course –
In the valley spring blooms forth!
The lyrical E-flat major Larghetto features a new motif at its conclusion – a typically Schumannian device – which then morphs into the main theme of the Scherzo; here the first trio section contains a quotation from the first movement. The finale’s joyous celebration of spring contains a theme heard in a different guise at the end of the composer’s piano cycle Kreisleriana, where its effect is altogether more ghostly and sinister.
Schumann considered titles for each movement: ‘Spring’s Awakening’, ‘Evening’, ‘Merry Playmates’ and ‘Full Spring’ – but the finale he imagined as a leave-taking; therefore, he added, he did not want it 'taken too frivolously'. It’s a typical moment of foreboding: even at the height of joy, it seems that Schumann was always aware of the fleeting nature of life and the fear of what might lie ahead. Perhaps the heightened sensibilities that result are the essence of his musical personality.
Note by Jessica Duchen
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.
Beset by mental illness – 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.
Composer profile by Jessica Duchen
Kevin John Edusei
Kevin John Edusei is praised repeatedly for the drama and tension that he brings to his music-making, for his clear sense of architecture and attention to detail. A suave and elegant figure on the podium, he has conducted widely across Europe, in particular in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, dividing his time equally between the concert hall and opera house. He conducts a broad range of repertoire from Baroque to contemporary, with a particular interest in German music from the early Romantic period and early 20th century. He is Chief Conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra.
Highlights of Edusei’s symphonic engagements include performances with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Bamberg Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony. In 2017 he made his debut at the BBC Proms with the Chineke! Orchestra and in the same year conducted John Adams' Nixon in China at the Zaterdag Matinee at the Concertgebouw. Highlights for the 2020/21 season include his debuts at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
Edusei was appointed Chief Conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra in 2014. He has been applauded for introducing an eclectic range of repertoire into the MSO concert programmes and cultivating a loyal, trusting audience. In recognition of these achievements the orchestra was awarded the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal Government in 2018. In 2019 Edusei led the MSO on their first tour of China and Korea.
In 2019 Edusei concluded his tenure as Chief Conductor of Bern Opera House, where he led many new productions including Britten's Peter Grimes, Strauss' Salome, Bartók's Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Wagner's Tannhäuser, Janáček's Kátya Kábanová, a cycle of the Mozart Da Ponte operas – described in the press as 'rousing and brilliant' – and Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, which led the Neue Zürcher Zeitung to describe him as 'the discovery of the production'.
Edusei has a varied discography, which includes recordings with the Bern Symphony Orchestra, Chineke! Orchestra and Tonkünstler Orchestra, and he is currently mid-way through a cycle of the complete Schubert symphonies with the Munich Symphony Orchestra.
Born in 1976 in Germany, Edusei studied orchestral conducting at the Royal Conservatory The Hague and the University of the Arts Berlin with Jac van Steen and Ed Spanjaard. In 2004 he was awarded the fellowship for the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival by David Zinman, in 2007 he was a prize-winner at the Lucerne Festival conducting competition under the artistic direction of Pierre Boulez and Peter Eötvös, and in 2008 he won the International Dimitris Mitropoulos Competition.
London Symphony Orchestra
© Ranald Mackechnie
© Ranald Mackechnie
Sofia Silva Sousa
Laure Le Dantec
On Our Label: LSO Live
Our Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth presents a new album of music by Debussy and Ravel. Released on 23 October, you can order it now from the LSO Live store.
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An excerpt from Schumann's 'Spring' Symphony will be available to watch for free on our YouTube channel at 7pm GMT on
Sunday 8 November
Free Friday Lunchtime Concert
Friday 13 November 12.30pm, LSO St Luke's
Fanny Mendelssohn String Quartet
Rachel Leach presenter