Thornton Symphony Concert Program
Under the instruction of artistic leader and principal conductor of the USC Thornton orchestras Carl St.Clair, the USC Thornton Symphony presents an evening of concertos in Bovard Auditorium.
The evening features Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor and Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto. Clarinetist Ray Wywant, violinist Yue Qian and pianist Rixiang Huang are featured soloists.
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218
Yue Qian, violin
W. A. Mozart
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 57
Raymond Wyant, clarinet
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Rixiang Huang, piano
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Clarinet Concerto, Op. 57
In what appears to be a persistent theme throughout music history, Carl Neilsen sits alongside several major classical composers that chose to write for clarinet in their final years. The most notable occurrences of this phenomenon include Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet, Brahms’ two Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120, and Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet. While composing these pieces, all aforementioned composers were suffering from a decline in health and were subsequently forced to confront their mortality. Modern clarinetists are therefore tasked to perform with a certain sensitivity towards the internal conflicts and nostalgias felt throughout these works, while also representing the composers’ most mature styles.
Carl Neilsen composed his Concerto for Clarinet in 1928 while battling a plague of increasingly severe heart attacks, which began in 1926 and resulted in his death in 1931. These five years challenged Neilsen emotionally and physically, during which his compositional output slowed. Nielsen’s life circumstances can be loudly heard throughout his Concerto for Clarinet, as it is riddled with elements of conflict and lacks resolution, reflective of Neilsen’s struggles with health and mortality.
Neilsen’s interplay of the clarinet and snare drum are emblematic of this conflict, as they are often pitted against each other. The former is presented as a protagonist haunted by its antagonist, the snare, always threatening and disruptive, perhaps an agent representing death. Neilsen also creates a point of conflict between the soloist and orchestra, for there exists a level of independence between the two, marked primarily by the presence of two complete cadenzas for the clarinet, as well as a distinct separation of range, musical style, and thematic material.
Perhaps the most striking element of conflict in this work is the absence of “progessive tonality,” a compositional technique regularly used by Neilsen. Progessive tonality occurs when a piece begins in an initial tonic key and and ends in another final key, often serving as a depiction of growth or arrival. Despite several tonal struggles between the keys of F and E, the work begins and ends in F major, purposefully avoiding progressive tonality and a strong resolution to the final tonic. Nielsen leaves listeners in a dark place with an overwhelming feeling of non-resolution, surely representative in some capacity of his own emotional state and resignation towards death.
Melissa Frisch (Clarinet, MM 2024)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218
In his signature cheeky humor, Mozart would’ve surely considered himself the greatest keyboard player in all of Vienna – scratch that – in all the world! It goes without saying that Mozart regarded himself as equally virtuosic in his abilities on violin. In a 1777 letter to his father, Mozart relished in the success of a recent performance of his Divertimento in B flat, K. 287, bragging that he played “as though I was the greatest violinist in all of Euroupe. They all opened their eyes.” Mozart’s self-praise was without exaggeration, for in his fathers eyes, those of a leading pedagogue of violin and author of an Essay on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, his son was a champion of the instrument. In a letter to Mozart, Leopold indulged, “You yourself do not know how great you play the violin…when you play with energy and with your whole heart and soul, yes, indeed, as if you were the first violinist in all of Europe.”
Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major was the fourth of five that he wrote between the months of April and December 1775, while posted in the musical household of Count Hieronymus Colloredo, Archbishop of Salzburg. Mozart and the Archbishop had a poor relationship, as the latter’s tyrannical attitudes and exemplary boorishness made him hated by his citizenry and Mozart alike. Mozart felt oppressed by the Archbishops overreach of power and ultimately their relationship came to a vehement end, with Colloredo’s Chief Steward kicking Mozart down a flight of stairs in the household’s establishment.
It is unclear whether Mozart wrote his fourth violin concerto for himself or for Antonio Brunetti, Colloredo’s Neapolitan concertmaster, but sources suggest that it was likely composed for Brunetti, on account of his virtuosic abilities. The first movement is a call to arms with a militaristic fanfare theme, sung in a heroically high register of the violin. From the first, we depart to a typical Mozartean second movement, full of the reflective, graceful, and impassioned voices of opera. The final movement contains all the humor and energy for which Mozart is so loved, combining an elegant Contredanse with a rustic jig, leaving listeners to go on their merry way with a happy Mozart melody in their heart.
Melissa Frisch (Clarinet, MM 2024)
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1843)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is recognized today as one of the greatest concertos ever written, although it has also garnered a reputation of extreme technical difficulty and intimidated many pianists throughout history. Josef Hoseman, to whom the concerto is dedicated, never publicly performed the work, stating that it “wasn’t for him.” Gary Graffman, an American classical pianist whose career ran alongside that of Rachmaninoff, lamented that he had not learned the concerto as a student, when he was “still too young to know fear.”
Rachmaninoff premiered the work himself in November of 1909 with the New York Symphony and Walter Dramrosch as conductor, as part of an American tour. A few months later, Rachmaninoff gave a performance that he treasured as one of his most memorable, with the New York Philharmonic and Gustav Mahler at the podium. The concerto was well received by audiences, the New York Tribune praising its “essential dignity and beauty,” although critics also decried its length, a substantial 45 minutes. After Rachmaninoff’s tour, the work was scarcely performed for decades, likely due to its daunting technical difficulties, but was championed in the 1930s by Vladimir Horowitz, thereafter causing the piece to be widely performed.
The concerto opens with a simple germinal melody that transforms and reappears throughout the piece; in recalling how he wrote his principal melody, Rachmaninoff remarked that “it simply ‘wrote itself!’…If I had any plan in composing this theme, I was thinking only of sound. I wanted to sing the melody as a singer would sing it.” Throughout the three movements of the work Rachmaninoff shapes his musical ideas into gentle, and sometimes harrowing waves that rise and fall around climactic moments. Listeners can hear the voices of the Russian countryside, the asylum in which Rachmaninoff composed the masterwork; the harmonies of the fresh foliage, rustling woods, and tinted horizons served as great inspiration in his imagining of this composition.
In an interview with NPR, contemporary pianist Yuja Wang offers an insightful opinion that Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 reminds her of jazz piano by Art Tatum, in which the pianist improvises on a simple idea that grows into something beautifully complex. She states, “That’s how the piece is written: It’s a huge work for 45 minutes, but everything is interconnected.”
Melissa Frisch (Clarinet, MM 2024)
About the Artists
Carl St.Clair is internationally recognized for his distinguished career as a professional conductor and master teacher. He has had a continuing relationship with the USC Thornton School of Music for over 25 years as conductor of the USC Thornton orchestras and a faculty lecturer in conducting. In 2012, he took on an expanded role as artistic leader and principal conductor of the USC Thornton orchestras.
The 2022-2023 season marks his thirty-third year as music director of the Pacific Symphony. He is one of the longest-tenured conductors of the major American orchestras. St.Clair’s lengthy history solidifies the strong relationship he has forged with the musicians and the community. His continuing role also lends stability to the organization and continuity to his vision for the symphony’s future. Few orchestras can claim such rapid artistic development as the Pacific Symphony—the largest-budgeted orchestra formed in the United States in the last 50 years—due in large part to St.Clair’s leadership.
During his tenure, St.Clair has become widely recognized for his musically distinguished performances, his commitment to building outstanding educational programs and his innovative approaches to programming. In April 2018, St.Clair led the Pacific Symphony in its sold-out Carnegie Hall debut as the finale to the Carnegie’s yearlong celebration of pre-eminent composer Philip Glass’s eightieth birthday, ending in a standing ovation and with The New York Times calling the symphony “a major ensemble!” He led the Pacific Symphony on its first tour to China in May 2018, the orchestra’s first international tour since touring Europe in 2006. The orchestra made its national PBS debut in June 2018 on Great Performances with Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” conducted by St.Clair. Among St.Clair’s many creative endeavors are the highly acclaimed American Composers Festival, which began in 2000; and the opera initiative, “Symphonic Voices,” which continues for the ninth season in 2019-20 with Verdi’s Othello, following the concert-opera productions of Madame Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Aida, Turandot, Carmen, La Traviata, Tosca and La Bohème in previous seasons.
St.Clair’s commitment to the development and performance of new works by composers is evident in the wealth of commissions and recordings by the Pacific Symphony. The 2016-17 season featured commissions by pianist/composer Conrad Tao and composer-in-residence Narong Prangcharoen, a follow-up to the recent slate of recordings of works commissioned and performed by the symphony in recent years. These include William Bolcom’s Songs of Lorca and Prometheus (2015-16), Elliot Goldenthal’s Symphony in G-sharp Minor (2014-15), Richard Danielpour’s Toward a Season of Peace (2013-14), Philip Glass’ The Passion of Ramakrishna (2012-13) and Michael Daugherty’s Mount Rushmore and The Gospel According to Sister Aimee (2012-13). St.Clair has led the orchestra in other critically acclaimed albums including two piano concertos of Lukas Foss, Danielpour’s An American Requiem and Goldenthal’s Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Other commissioned composers include James Newton Howard, Zhou Long, Tobias Picker, Frank Ticheli, Chen Yi, Curt Cacioppo, Stephen Scott, Jim Self (Pacific Symphony’s principal tubist) and Christopher Theofanidis.
In 2006 and 2007, St.Clair led the orchestra’s historic move into its home in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The move came on the heels of the landmark 2005-2006 season that included St.Clair leading the symphony on its first European tour—nine cities in three countries playing before capacity houses and receiving extraordinary responses and reviews.
From 2008-2010, St.Clair was general music director for the Komische Oper in Berlin. He also served as general music director and chief conductor of the German National Theater and Staatskapelle (GNTS) in Weimar, Germany, where he led Wagner’s Ring Cycle to critical acclaim. He was the first non-European to hold his position at the GNTS; the role also gave him the distinction of simultaneously leading one of the newest orchestras in America and one of the oldest in Europe.
In 2014, St.Clair became the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Costa Rica. His international career also has him conducting abroad several months a year, and he has appeared with orchestras throughout the world. He was the principal guest conductor of the Radio Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart from 1998 to 2004, where he completed a three-year recording project of the Villa–Lobos symphonies. He has also appeared with orchestras in Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South America, China, Thailand and Malaysia and in summer festivals worldwide. In North America, St.Clair has led the Boston Symphony Orchestra (where he served as assistant conductor for several years), New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver symphonies, among many.
Carl St.Clair is a strong advocate of music education for all ages and is internationally recognized for his distinguished career as a master teacher. He has been essential to the creation and implementation of the Pacific Symphony’s education and community engagement programs including Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles, Heartstrings, Sunday Matinées, OC Can You Play With Us?, arts-X-press and Class Act. In addition to his professional conducting career, St.Clair has worked with most major music schools across the country. In 2018, Chapman University President Danielle Struppa appointed St.Clair as a Presidential Fellow, working closely with the students of the College of the Performing Arts at Chapman University. St.Clair has been named “Distinguished Alumni in Residence” at the University of Texas Butler School of Music beginning 2019. And, for over 25 years, he has had a continuing relationship with the USC Thornton School of Music where he is artistic leader and principal conductor of the orchestral program.
Yue Qian, Violin
Chinese violinist Yue Qian enjoys music-making, strives to express through the violin, and believes that music truly brings people together. As a member of the Beijing Contemporary Soloists, a recent CD “Jade” was released under NAXOS China featuring music by prominent contemporary Chinese composers. Qian has performed worldwide with appearances at Verbier Festival in Switzerland, Ferme de Villefavard in France, Music@Menlo, Taos School of Music, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival, Heifetz International Music Institute, and Beijing Modern Festival.
Qian is also keen on community engagements and teaching. Together with Midori Goto, She has interacted with communities in the Los Angeles Area, Mexico, Japan, and Sri Lanka. A former chamber music faculty at the Tianjin Juilliard School Pre-college division, she is currently a chamber music coach at the Colburn Community School, and an instructor of the music minor/non-major program at USC Thornton of School of Music.
Qian’s early music education begins with Hui Zhu, Shanghai Conservatory Middle School with Binyou Zhou, and Interlochen Arts Academy with Yuri Namkung. Later her mentors included Midori Goto at USC Thornton of School of Music, Ronald Copes and Sylvia Rosenberg at the Juilliard School, and she is currently pursuing her DMA degree (Doctoral of Musical Arts) at USC with Bing Wang.
Raymond Wyant, Clarinet
Ray Wyant studied under Janet Averett in the San Francisco Bay Area before attending the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. There, he remains a student under the tutelage of Yehuda Gilad as a senior undergrad. Ray has occupied the principal clarinet chair of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, with which he toured Europe under the baton of Christian Reif and Michael Tilson Thomas. In the past, he has appeared as a soloist with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and California Youth Symphony. Recently, Ray competed at the 2022 Carl Nielsen International Competition as the only American participant in the clarinet category. He has also participated in the Philadelphia International Music Festival Competition where he was a finalist.
Rixiang Huang, Piano
Praised by the New York Concert Review as “in a word, superb,” pianist Rixiang Huang has inspired glowing acclaim from audiences and critics alike for his superb artistry and passionate, charismatic performances on four continents. Since winning the first prize at the 12th Chopin International Piano Competition in Hartford and Los Angeles International Liszt Piano Competition in 2021, Huang has rapidly established for himself an international reputation. His newest CD album, Endless Passion, released in April 2022, has already earned accolades from audiences and critics; Steinway Artist Rorianne Schrade remarked that his Debussy “reflect[ed] a special sensitivity, grace, and delicate tonal shading” and his Bartók “may be one of this listener’s most enjoyable Bartók Sonata performances to date” (New York Concert Review).
Winner of an impressive array of prizes, Huang was a top prizewinner of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition, Dallas International Piano Competition, New York International Artists Piano Competition, International Piano Competition La Palma d’Oro in Italy, along with the WPTA International Piano Competition.
Highlights of the 2022-23 season include a five-city solo recital tour in China; solo recital at University of Southern California; solo recital at UWG School of the Arts in Georgia; and Rachmaninoff Piano No.3 Performance with USC Thornton Orchestra. Huang joins the artist faculty at the Monticeto Music Festival in California, Tarnow International Music Festival in Poland; Concordia University Irvine Summer Chamber Music Camp; Artcial International Music Festival in San Francisco in 2022. An immersive and versatile soloist, Huang has performed extensively all over the world in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center, Universität Mozarteum – Solitär in Austria; Santander Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria in Spain; Hamamatsu ACT Concert Hall in Japan; National Center for the Performing Arts and Beijing Concert Hall in China. His performances have been broadcast by WQXR-FM, Classic FM, Cleveland WCLV 104.9, Sarasota WSMR 89.1 & 103.9, and Corporación de Radio y Televisión Española. Mr. Huang is represented by Get Classical Music Management.
As an active soloist, Huang has appeared with leading orchestras around the world including Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London; China National Symphony Orchestra; Indonesia National Symphony Orchestra; Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in New York; USC Thornton Orchestra, and Eastern Music Festival Orchestra in North Carolina. He has also appeared as a guest artist with acclaimed string quartet Cuarteto Quiroga and was selected to participate in the Advanced Piano Trio Program by the acclaimed Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
In addition, Huang has been a featured artist at Salzburg Summer Academy Mozarteum, Orford Music Academy, Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine, Chautauqua Music Festival, Art of the Piano at the University of Cincinnati, Piano Texas, and Pianofest in the Hamptons. He has performed alongside preeminent conductors such as Jac Van Steen, Joel Smirnoff, Earl Lee, Eric Garcia, and has performed in master classes with Sergei Babayan, Stephen Hough, Arie Vardi, Veda Kaplinsky, Dimitry Alexeev, Pavel Gililov, among others.
Huang is the Founder and CEO of Empire Music Academy in California; he is also the Founder and Artistic Director of Pacific Stars International Piano Competition & Festival. His students have won prizes at numerous international, national, and local competitions such as Los Angeles Liszt International Piano Competition, Seattle International Piano Competition, Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition, WPTA International Piano Competition, International New Star Piano Competition, Bay Area Piano Competition, American Protégé, American Fine Arts Festival(AFAF), Satori Piano Competition, and many other MTAC Branch Competitions.
Huang has also been frequently invited to adjudicate piano competitions such as the Music Teachers National Association Young Artist Piano Competition, the Music Teachers’ Association of California Piano Competition, Paderewski International Piano Competition, Pacific Stars International Piano Competition, International New Star Piano Competition, SYMF, Satori Piano Competition. Huang is a member of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), the Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC), and the California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT).
Huang is currently a DMA candidate and graduate teaching assistant at the USC Thornton School of Music, studying with prestigious conductor and pianist, Jeffrey Kahane. Huang received a Master of Music in Piano Performance at The Juilliard School, studying with legendary pianists, Jerome Lowenthal and Matti Raekallio. Previously, he worked with world renowned pianists, Antonio Pompa-Baldi and Paul Schenly at The Cleveland Institute of Music, where he was awarded the Arthur Loesser Memorial Prize for outstanding achievement in piano performance. For more information on Huang’s concert schedule, please visit: http://www.rixianghuangpianist.com/
Owen Lin, concertmaster
Anna Renton, concertmaster
Bradley Adam Bascon
Sofia Llacer Chamberlain
Jenny Sung, concertmaster
Kelcey Howell, concertmaster
Alan Wang, concertmaster
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