In the DW Festival Concert, violinist Augustin Hadelich performs Beethoven’s complex Violin Concerto in D Major.

Inspired to create contemporary music that reflects the challenges of the age, from economic crises to pandemics and the climate emergency, Cologne-based Japanaese composer Malika Kishino looked to English poet T. S. Eliot.

His celebrated 2022 poem “The Waste Land” described how severe drought created sand-filled streets and dead landscapes, a scene compounded by post-World War One economic hardship.

ALSO READ: Bonn’s Beethoven Festival for ‘all the people’

The last section of the poem, “What the Thunder Said,” inspired Kishino to compose her piece of the same name that was commissioned in 2021 by the WDR Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Cristian Macelaru.

In this episode of DW Festival Concert, you’ll listen to Macelaru leading the WDR Symphony Orchestra and cello soloist Oren Shevlin in a live recording from the 2022 Beethoven Festival.

Beethoven’s ‘peculiar’ violin concerto

While Kishino’s composition may have sounded unusual to some, it’s interesting to remember that many other pieces which we consider standard today were originally perceived as different, peculiar or even as radical breaks with musical tradition.

Beethoven’s Violin Concert in D Major, Op 61 is one of them.

The composer wrote the work for violinist Franz Clement, who received bravos from the audience at the premiere in 1806.

But the critics were unimpressed.

They described the piece as disjointed, its motifs as tedious, and said the sections in the highest register were too difficult for the soloist to play in a refined and precise manner. In the following years, the piece was barely performed.

However, one should take critics with a grain of salt. After all, today, the iconic composition is widely performed by acclaimed violinists such as Augustin Hadelich.

“The Beethoven Violin Concerto is one of the greatest pieces written for the violin and one of the greatest pieces of music,” Hadelich told DW on the sidelines of his performance.

“It’s a piece that I want to play as many times as I can in my life, really. With this piece, I never get bored,” he said. “I just love it more and more.”

The 38-year-old virtusoso was born in Italy to German parents. His career began in the US, where he is well-known, while his prominence in Europe has grown more recently.

Incidently, Beethoven is said to have struggled to write for the violin. The concerto in D major is his only finished concerto for the instrument, yet today it’s a standard of every violinist’s repertoire.

Still, some two hundred plus years after Beethoven wrote it it remains a tricky piece to perform well due to its long passages in the high register.

Regardless, Hadelich gives an expressive performance on his warm-toned Guarneri del Gesu violin from 1744. His high notes are incredibly light, precise and imbued with emotion.

From Beethoven to Brahms

Cristian Macelaru has been chief conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra since 2019.

Born in Romania, he began his career as a violinist and conductor in the US. Macelaru considers the WDR Symphony Orchestra to be one of the greatest professional orchestras in Germany, and he wants to broaden the orchestra’s activities and raise its prominence on the international stage.

In this episode, we will be listening to composer Johannes Brahms’ famous Piano Quartet No 1, with a special arrangment created by Arnold Schoenberg in the early 20th century.

Schoenberg was a great admirer of Brahms’ music in his youth, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he orchestrated the piano quartet.

When the piece premiered in 1937 in Los Angeles, the performance’s conductor, Otto Klemperer, apparently said: “You don’t want to listen to the original quartet anymore – that’s how beautiful the arrangement sounds.”

Schoenberg’s waltzes

Many people associate Schoenberg with atonality, and for good reason. His development of the twelve-tone technique took Western classical music in radical new directions. However, in his younger years, his compositions were in fact quite tonal.

In 1897, Schoenberg composed ten waltzes for string orchestra. At the time he was playing cello in an amateur orchestra that was conducted by his teacher, Alexander Zemlinsky, who said his pupil had just as much fire in him as he did wrong notes.

It’s likely that Schoenberg composed these waltzes for that orchestra that remain relatively unknown today.

So it’s a real treat that we’re going to hear three of them now, in a concert recording from 2021. Finally, we’ll hear the crowd-pleasing encore from that concert. It’s another piece by Brahms, his Hungarian Dance No. 5.

And that brings today’s show to an end. We hope you enjoyed the program. Thanks to sound engineer Christian Stäter and producer Gaby Reucher.

We love feedback, so drop us a line at [email protected] if there is anything you’d like to share. Do join Cristina Burack again for more exciting classical music in the next Deutsche Welle Festival Concert.

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