Conductor Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra visit the fountain of youth for the Masterworks season opener on Friday, Oct. 7. All repertoire in the concert was written when composers - Elgar, Prokofiev, Copland and Gershwin - were in their 20s and 30s.
It all begins with Edward Elgar's "Serenade for Strings" in E minor, Op. 20, a jewel of a piece that has a significant place in the composer's oeuvre.
"It marks the beginning of Elgar's composing career," says Sewell in an email. "It's his first work that still remains standard in the repertory today, and which he was very satisfied with."
"Serenade" is elegantly structured with gentle lines and a warm ambiance. But melancholy prevails in the second movement larghetto that reminds us of the quiet resignation we hear at the end of Mahler's Ninth Symphony.
Sergei Prokofiev was still a student at St. Petersburg Conservatory when he wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10. His mischievous side comes through in the sassy first-movement piano entrance. The second movement andante reveals a quiet, romantic Prokofiev, but he's back to his old tricks in the rollicking allegro.
Russian-born pianist Ilya Yakushev makes his WCO debut with the concerto. Sewell knows Yakushev from their collaboration at the Syracuse Symphony in 2010. "He is an electrifying player," says Sewell. "He's incredibly expressive and, in a concert situation, always in the moment."
Aaron Copland's "Music for the Theatre" was written during the Roaring Twenties, a time that demanded an American sound. "'Music for the Theatre' is his first foray into composing in an American style or 'voice' that utilized jazz and popular elements," says Sewell. The piece was dedicated to conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who premiered it with the Boston Symphony in 1925.
A year before Copland wrote "Music for the Theatre," George Gershwin sat on a train listening to the rhythm of the engine and the clickety-clack of wheels against the tracks. The rhythms inspired the creation of "Rhapsody in Blue" in 1924. After the clarinet opens with its famous glissando to a high B-flat, Gershwin introduces a variety of saucy rhythms, spicy harmonies and some very virtuosic piano playing. The music swings unpredictably, fast and insistent one second, slow and dreamy the next. Yakushev returns for this jazzy, bluesy, classical masterpiece.