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MasterWorks V has potential to be season's best

March 13, 2003|by Elizabeth Schulze

With its final MasterWorks program of the season, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra has saved the best for last. Comprised of two major works, Chopin's Concerto No. 2 in F minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 21, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100, the audience will be treated to masterful and committed performances by young, up and coming soloist Esther Budiardjo and the excellent musicians of the orchestra. In short, this concert lives up to its MasterWorks title.

I've had the pleasure of working with Ms. Budiardjo in the recent past, when both of us appeared with the Omaha Symphony as guest artists. I was immediately struck with her brilliant mind and superb technical gifts. But it was her total immersion into the work at hand, her grasp of the spirit and intention of the music that impressed me the most. I knew at once that I wanted to invite her to Maryland so that our audiences could experience the beauty and lyric quality of her playing.

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Chopin's Concerto No. 2 is a perfect vehicle to show off the most appealing possibilities of this great musical instrument. Indeed, the composer devoted his whole compositional life to exploring the depth and breadth of expression almost exclusively through this instrument. When one thinks of piano music, the works of Chopin must top the list of favorites. This concerto was one of the works with which the composer established himself as a public performer. As was quite common in previous centuries, virtuosic performers were also composers, often of merit. A division between composer and performer developed in the 20th century, when the increasing demand by audiences for older, established works and the insistence on perfection in performance out-weighed the motivation for artists to create works for themselves to further their reputations and careers. Interestingly, this has not been the case in the pop music world, where the newest is nearly always considered the best.

Prokofiev was one of the last great performer-composers of the 20th century. All five of his piano concertos were written as vehicles to further his career as a soloist. But while he devoted much of his compositional energy to that instrument, he set his sights on a wide range of musical genres, composing music for film, opera, ballet, theater, orchestra, chamber groups and even political occasions.

Both Chopin and Prokofiev found success as expatriates living in Paris. Though separated by a century, both composers found the city flourishing artistically. Both knew some of the greatest writers and artists of their day, many of them expatriates themselves, who were changing the face and direction of the arts dramatically. Chopin never left Paris, but Prokofiev, homesick for his native Russia, returned home and to virtual imprisonment. The excesses of Soviet repression were heaped on Prokofiev and this constant censorship eventually destroyed him.

Nevertheless, Prokofiev's musical output during this difficult period includes some of his most popular and artistically strong works, including his Symphony No. 5. Based on themes developed during time spent in Paris, this dazzlingly popular work was considered by Prokofiev to be "the culmination of a long period of my creative life ... a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit."

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