Program Notes: Beethoven & Ravel

Conductor Jonathon Heyward returns to the podium to conduct the Seattle Symphony with a U.S. Premiere by Hannah Kendall and works by Beethoven and Ravel, featuring pianist Conrad Tao on Thursday, February 25, 2021, at 7:30pm on Seattle Symphony Live.


Kanashibari  (U.S. Premiere)

The Making of a Composer

Hannah Kendall’s introduction to music came at an early age when her mother signed her up for violin lessons at age 4. This was not unusual, coming from a musical family: her grandfather was a jazz saxophonist, and her mother and her siblings grew up playing musical instruments. Hannah recalled, “Playing music and creating music was always a part of my childhood.”

Kendall fondly recalls visiting the library after her piano lessons to check out Bach CDs in her teenage years. Though Bach and Scarlatti were among Kendall’s primary Classical music influences, her musical autobiography is a rich tapestry of culture, time, and place. “It was just really strange because obviously I grew up in northwest London where if I’d go out with my friends I would be dancing … Grime music was becoming really popular, grime and garage, and so we would go out dancing to that sort of music and then the next night I’d be playing in youth orchestra.” Classical music. Grime and Garage. “And then in the home, being from a Caribbean background, the music at home was mostly Caribbean — you know sort of SOCA, reggae, ska, all those things. So yeah, just lots of different musical influences.” 

Hannah Kendall’s diverse musical studies continued through college, where she ultimately decided to enroll in university — as a voice major. It was one serendipitous event that started Kendall on her journey as a composer: the university changed their credit system, leaving Kendall in need of a few extra classes. She enjoyed the composition professor, and decided to take composition classes. And that was the beginning.

In the years since her introduction to composition, Hannah Kendall has composed works for voice, chorus, small and large ensemble, and orchestra. In 2019, the Seattle Symphony performed the US premiere of Spark Catchers.

About Kanashibari

In this evening’s concert, you will experience the US premiere of Kanashibari. Composed in 2013, it is one of Kendall’s earliest orchestral works. Kanashibari is a musical exploration of rest — more specifically, what can happen during sleep. Kanashibari is the Japanese term for sleep paralysis, the experience of when the mind wakes up before the body. Hannah Kendall writes,

“This piece depicts an episode of sleep paralysis. The music is mostly energetic to illustrate the extremely heightened experience. In contrast, the opening is still and soothing as though one is falling asleep. It gradually becomes more frenetic to illustrate the sleep cycles becoming out-of-sync. The middle-most section portrays hallucinatory visions of simple everyday items around the bedroom coming to life; creating a curious fantasy dream world, which comes to a sudden halt as the cycles eventually snap back together before waking.”

What to Listen For

“I think I would cling on to those contrasting moments. I think they’re very clear and I would try to determine how one responds to those contrasting and different moments. And I suppose the drama and the dramatic arc of the piece. I think that’s the clearest in, and that’s certainly something that I was thinking about when writing ...You don’t have to have any musical knowledge or any knowledge of musical terminology because as humans, we know more often than not how we feel from one moment to the next and how we respond to things. And just how different moods and characteristics can make us feel. And the beauty is that one person will think about that completely differently to the next person.”

Scored for 2 flutes (the 2nd flute doubling piccolo); 2 oboes; 2 clarinets (the 2nd clarinet doubling bass clarinet); 2 bassoons (the 2nd bassoon doubling contrabassoon); 2 horns; 2 trumpets; timpani and percussion; strings.



Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58

About this piece

Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto was composed in 1806, a year of feverish creation for him — the Violin Concerto, Fourth Symphony, Razumovsky String Quartets and Overture to Coriolan were also completed during that year or early the following year. These works are linked by a new departure on Beethoven’s part from expected musical norms. From the beginning the Fourth Concerto would have startled its first listeners, who heard Beethoven play it at a private concert in 1807.

Firstly, rather than the expected bravura orchestral opening, Beethoven begins softly with the piano alone — a series of gentle chords. Then it is the orchestra which responds at length. Such an opening leads the listener to focus on the exchanges between orchestra and soloist, a dialogue which is lyrical and regal in effect and quite different from the overt heroism of the third and fifth concertos. Almost absent are the percussive attack and flashes of stern command which characterize other Beethoven piano works. In their place merry, elegant and quicksilver flights of invention — music to delight and provide cheer.

Perhaps these unexpected turns did not endear it to the Viennese public. The concerto was only performed twice in Beethoven’s lifetime – after the private premiere, he included it in his legendary 1808 marathon concert alongside the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, thereby including it in a kind of showcase of his most ambitious new works. But several decades were to pass before it began to take its place as one of Beethoven’s acknowledged masterpieces. This prompted musicologist Charles Grove to dub the piece, ‘Beethoven’s Cinderella’ — not invited to the ball, but attending nevertheless!

Scored for  solo piano; 1 flute; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets; 2 bassoons; 2 horns; 2 trumpets; timpani; strings.



Ma Mère l'Oye (“Mother Goose”) Suite

About the Composer

Maurice Ravel was a French pianist, renowned composer, and orchestrator. Over the course of his successful career, he composed many masterpieces, including works for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. His best-known pieces include the ballet Daphnis et Chloé, Bolero, and his String Quartet in F Major.

About the Mother Goose Suite

The Mother Goose stories and rhymes have been celebrated across the globe for centuries, being first published as a collection in 1697. Indeed, many of the stories are still treasured in children’s literature today. They often share tales of magical realms, capturing the imaginations of children and adults alike. Maurice Ravel was no exception, and was particularly captivated all his life by toys, stories, and children’s imagination. Between 1908 and 1910, Ravel composed a suite of five short pieces inspired by Mother Goose tales.

Ravel composed the original piece for Mimi and Jean Gobedski, two young pianists, to play ‘four hands’ (sitting side by side at the keyboard). The Gobedskis were family friends. He orchestrated the suite in 1911, and that same year expanded the piece into a ballet.

What to Listen For

The Mother Goose Suite is filled with enchanted tales, brought to life with Ravel’s masterful orchestration. This piece invites listeners to explore and experience the masterful range of colors and textures in each short movement.

The Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty sets the enchanted atmosphere with lyrical exchanges throughout the wind section. In the second movement, Tom Thumb wanders through the forest, scattering bread crumbs to help him find his path. Birds can be heard arriving to gobble up the crumbs. The Laideronette ("Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas") story gave Ravel an opportunity to indulge in a musical representation of what, at the time, was considered an exotic East Asian soundscape. This movement introduces that distinctly different soundscape with the added textures of percussion and woodwinds. In the following movement, The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast, the voices of these characters dance around each other, intertwining in the end – a shy clarinet answered by a gruff and beastly (but captivatingly musical) contrabassoon. The Enchanted Garden brings the mystical piece to an end, while the lush textures of the strings, including a violin solo, to usher the listener to the end of the magical journey.

Over a century later, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite remains an invitation to experience a moment of musical enchantment and exquisite imagination.

Scored for 2 flutes (the 2nd flute doubling piccolo); 2 oboes (the 2nd oboe doubling English horn); 2 clarinets; 2 bassoons (the 2nd bassoon doubling contra-bassoon); 2 horns; timpani and percussion; harp; celeste; strings.

© 2021 Danielle Taylor

Posted on February 25, 2021