Dilijan Players

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Dilijan Chamber Players Makes Its Center Debut with an All-Russian Program

"He is the greatest master of counterpoint in Russia; I am not even sure there is his equal in the West."
– Tchaikovsky on Sergei Taneyev, his protégé, champion and friend.

Music teacher/composer Sergei Taneyev (1856–1915) and his influence on a younger generation of composers is showcased in an all-Russian program by the Los Angeles-based Dilijan Chamber Players, making its Segerstrom Center debut. The program features works by four of Russia's great composers from the 19th and early 20th centuries: Sergei Rachmaninov's Trio Élégiaque No. 1 in G minor; Dmitri Shostakovich's Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108; Alexander Scriabin's Prelude in D-flat Major, Op.17, No. 3 and Op. 59 No. 1 and No. 2; and Taneyev's infrequently performed gem, the Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 30.

Sergei Taneyev's piano quintet is preceded by works that reflect his impact on Russian composers. Taneyev came from a wealthy family and after he demonstrated an early aptitude at the piano, was given an outstanding musical education. He entered the Moscow Conservatory at the age of 9 and studied for nine years; he became a brilliant pianist and the first student to win the Conservatory's gold medal in both performance and composition. Taneyev studied composition at the conservatory under Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with whom he became a close, trusted friend. Tchaikovsky often asked for his friend's advice, and while he did not always appreciate Taneyev's blunt opinions, he came to rely on his sound musical suggestions. Taneyev was trusted with giving the first Russian performance of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto as well as performing as soloist for the Russian premieres of Tchaikovsky's other works for piano and orchestra.

Taneyev himself was a prolific composer, pianist (taught by Nikolai Rubinstein), teacher of composition and author. He taught harmony, piano and composition at the Moscow Conservatory for many years and later was appointed its director. After four years Taneyev resigned the post and happily returned to a career as a concert pianist and composer. His musical composing style was more cosmopolitan European in sound than Russian, and reflected the popular romantic harmony and composition style of his era. At his death in 1915, Taneyev left a large catalogue of works, including four symphonies, keyboard and choral works, and an impressive number of chamber pieces.

Taneyev's students included Rachmaninov (1873–1943) and Scriabin (1872–1915), who were fellow pupils at the Moscow Conservatory and friends until Scriabin's death, despite their differences in musical styles. Taneyev's influence, as well as Tchaikovsky's, can be heard in Rachmaninov's work. He was known for his rich harmonies and sweeping lyricism, and is considered one of the last connections between the 19th century Russian Romantic composers and those of the modern era.

Rachmaninov was raised in an aristocratic family that fell on hard times as he grew up. After a number of personal family tragedies that affected his school work, his mother took the advice of another family member and enrolled 12-year-old Rachmaninov in the Moscow Conservatory where he excelled. By the time he graduated he had composed pieces that have entered his canon of works, and won the Great Gold Medal, awarded only twice before.

Rachmaninov was a gifted pianist—he is considered one of the best of any time—and it features in many of his best-loved works. Early in his career, the poor reception of his first symphony left him depressed and unable to compose. It was only with the help of hypnosis that his career was recharged. He married his childhood sweetheart and in the first decade of the new century, Rachmaninov composed some of his greatest music, including Symphony No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 3.

But as the Russian Revolution took hold, Rachmaninov left his homeland in 1917, never to return. He eventually sailed to America and divided his time between there and a villa in Switzerland, where he wrote one of his most famous pieces, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Between the wars he developed a lucrative and busy career as a conductor and concert pianist. Rachmaninov also began recording his own music, leaving for us a remarkable catalogue of his interpretations of his own compositions which continued to reflect his Romantic influences.

Scriabin's early work also reflected the Romantic sound of his teacher: The Prelude Op. 17, No. 3 on this program is reminiscent of Frédéric Chopin. But Scriabin was the wild child who eventually moved away from his teacher's traditional music and committed to a modern, and more radical, sound: In his later work he was linked with composers that included Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and Richard Strauss. He had revolutionary ideas that reordered chords into unusual harmonies, creating a new sound that reflected his interest in spirituality and mysticism as well as synesthesia, associating colors with various tones. Scriabin also developed his own tonal world (independent of Arnold Schoenberg) that saw his theories influence classical music beyond his lifetime. (In a twist of fate, Taneyev caught pneumonia when he attended Scriabin's funeral in 1915 and suffered a fatal heart attack while he recovered.)

It is the work of these earlier masters that led to composers such as Shostakovich (1906–1975) in the post-World War I era. Shostakovich took in ideas from a range of composers both Western and Russian such as Igor Stravinsky and Gustav Mahler, and his work was alternatively experimental or conservative, depending on how the political winds were blowing through Stalinist Russia. In 1936, Shostakovich's 1934 opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, was condemned in Pravda newspaper (an anonymous review thought to have been written by Stalin himself); this was the time of the first Stalin purges and Shostakovich lost friends and relatives who were killed or imprisoned. For the next year he kept his head down and used his talents to compose film soundtracks.

The following year he was back in favor, having composed a traditional-sounding symphony that was Stalin-approved. But Shostakovich wasn't taking chances. As he explored new ideas, Shostakovich also began to use the safer quartet form—music he only performed in private settings with close friends (away from spying eyes). Nevertheless, Shostakovich developed a musical style that ranged across the board and melded a Scriabin-style dissonant sound with neo-Romantic tones of our earlier composers.

The Dilijan Chamber Players is a group of musicians who have a long-standing connection with the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, directed by Movses Pogossian. "Uniformly terrific performances," says the Los Angeles Times. For this Center concert, the musicians include Movses Pogossian, violin, Varty Manouelian, violin; Guillaume Sutre, violin; Armen Ksajikian, cello and Armen Guzelimian, piano. This particular quintet has played together only once before.

 

SAMUELI THEATER
Dates: January 14, 2016
Tickets: $29 and up
For tickets and information, visit SCFTA.org
or call (714) 556-2787.
Group services: (714) 755-0236

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The Center Applauds:
Colburn Foundation

Media Partner:
Classical KUSC Radio

 

     

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