The acclaimed Polish conductor Michał Dworzyński brings two popular scores by Grieg and Rachmaninov to the podium for our second World Symphony Series concert of the season. Grieg’s ubiquitous Piano Concerto in A minor was written in 1868, the only concerto the Norwegian composer completed. It has long been championed by generations of virtuosi, not least by our soloist. the London based Australian pianist, Jason Gillham, winner of the 2014 Montreal International Musical Competition. The concerto is often compared (and recorded as a companion) to the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann. It shares the same key, and its character is palpably closer to Schumann than any other single composer. Grieg heard Schumann’s work performed by the latter’s wife, Clara Wieck, in Leipzig in 1858, and was greatly influenced by Schumann’s style, having been taught the piano by Schumann’s friend, Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel. In 1872 Johannes Brahms famously declared to the conductor Hermann Levi, “I shall never write a symphony! You have no idea what it’s like to hear such a giant marching behind you.”
The giant was Beethoven, of course, and although his music provided essential inspiration for Brahms, it also set such a high standard that the younger composer discounted his own creations in comparison. Nonetheless, the young Brahms doggedly confronted his compositional demons. He devoted fourteen years to the creation of his first symphony, beginning it in 1862; and provisionally completing it in September 1876. Revisions were made prior to its publication in 1877. This followed its world premiere on November 4, 1876, in Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany, with Otto Dessoff conducting the Grossherzogliche Hofkapelle. The work triumphed at its New York Philharmonic premiere December 22, 1877, under the baton Theodore Thomas. With good reason, it rapidly went on to claim and sustain an honoured place in international music circles.