From Mozart to Strauss, Jan Jezioro, Artvoice

This weekend, Buffalo Philharmonic music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium in Kleinhans this Saturday at 8:30pm, and on Sunday at 2:30pm for a BPO program featuring the Austro-Germanic composers Mozart, Franz Schreker and Richard Strauss. Making his welcome BPO return engagement, pianist Eldar Nebolsin will be the featured soloist in Mozart’s sublime final concerto for piano, the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K.595. 

Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Nebolsin started studying piano as a five year old. At the age of 17 he moved to Madrid, continuing his studies with the Russian pianist Dmitri Bashkirov. Nebolsin rapidly developed a career as an international soloist, appearing with top flight orchestras such as the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, as well as with leading American orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. In 2012 Nebolsin moved to Berlin where he is now professor of piano at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule für Musik.

Nebolsin previously appeared with the BPO in 2009 as soloist in Ernst von Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song. The performance was recorded and later released on an all-Dohnányi Naxos CD which garnered universal critical approval, such as this from Classics Today: “JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic play this music really well, and they are lucky to have a piano soloist in Eldar Nebolsin more than up to the formidable task that Dohnányi sets for him”.

When interviewed, Nebolsin recalled that “working with JoAnn and BPO was a truly enjoyable experience. She is a great musician but what also has impressed me was her warmth as a person, a quality which could be felt on stage as well. For me as a soloist, the human connection, the ‘chemistry’ with a conductor, is not less important than his or her musical quality.”

Mozart composed his last piano concerto without a commission, less than a year before his death, without even knowing if he would ever have the chance to perform it in public, at a time when his personal financial situation was dire, yet the influence of none of these factors is apparent in the introspective Concerto No. 27.  Although Nebolsin has not yet recorded any Mozart, he says “I have played quite a few Mozart concertos, in fact, almost all of the important ones. Mozart, for me, reveals his most incredible genius in his operas and to me it has always been very important to approach his music and particularly his concertos from operatic spring board. You must use a lot of imagination to transform a piano concerto in an exciting interaction between different characters, just as it happens in Mozart’s operas”.

Nebolsin has developed an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of Chopin which comes through on the pair of all-Chopin CD’s that he recorded for Naxos. When asked if there are similarities between the ways that he approached Chopin, and the way that he approached the music of Mozart, Nebolsin replied “It’s an interesting question. Of course, we need to know the peculiarities of each composer, his or her own language, the pianos they played on, the influences they absorbed and so on. For instance, when you play Mozart on the instrument of his time, you immediately understand the importance of the clarity of articulation, perhaps even more than the singing quality. His music not only sings but more often speaks to you. But in a way there is something similar in all music. No matter if we speak of Chopin, Mozart, Ligeti or Beatles, music is a succession of sounds organized harmonically, rhythmically and motivically. If we take a seventh diminished chord, it will always convey the idea of tension. If, on the contrary, after a dominant we play a harmonic resolution, it will naturally sound as a relaxation. If we play a dotted or double dotted rhythm it will convey more energy than a simple triplet, for example. This is of course a simplification. But, basically, when I practice any piece of music, I try to understand and grasp this inner logic of harmony, rhythm and motives which go beyond the style and language of any composer.”

Nebolsin is an active chamber music player, and he acknowledges its importance for his career as a soloist: “Chamber music is sublime. Take Beethoven – his best pieces of music were written for chamber ensembles. There is a certain magic in chamber music playing, when you can create on stage, spontaneously change something, and feel that your partners immediately reacted to your impulse or vice-versa. Chamber music is the best antidote to artistic ego. Everybody should regularly play chamber music. And yes, if you have a good chemistry with a conductor and orchestra, sometimes you have chamber music making with 80 musicians. When this occurs, it’s indescribable!” Nebolsin also observed: “I have some projects in the near future to play and possibly record Mozart conducting from the keyboard”; BPO audience members this weekend will have an excellent opportunity to hear a preview.

A few years back JoAnn Falletta programmed and then recorded a critically acclaimed all-Strauss CD that in addition to the popular Der Rosenkavalier Suite include two rarities, Symphonic Fragment from Josephs-Legende and Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten. Building on that winning tradition, this weekend’s program will include the BPO premiere of a new arrangement of music based on a Strauss opera, the Ariadne auf Naxos Symphony-Suite. According to D. Wilson Ochoa, then the music librarian of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, when he “discovered the breathtaking music from Adriane auf Naxos” he “began a search to see if an orchestral suite of this music had been made so that the NSO could play it in concert, and was shocked to discover that this had never been done”. Assembling a suite of symphony length from elements of both the 1912, and the revised 1916 versions of Strauss’ opera, Ochoa retained the same instrumentation as the opera while adding an English horn to portray some vocal lines.

The program also includes selections from The Birthday of the Infanta, a brilliantly orchestrated 1908 ballet score composed by the little-remembered Franz Schreker. Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s novella of the same name, the work neatly captures the hothouse atmosphere of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Tickets and Information: 885-5000 or