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Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, choclo, suspended cymbal, glass chimes, gong, guiro, tamburo, tam-tam), strings, and solo piano. First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 21, 1999 with pianist Olli Mustonen, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting (world premiere). Commissioned by Savcor [Hannu and Ulla Savisalo] for Olli Mustonen and the LAP.
Rodion Shchedrin was born in Moscow into a musical family; his father was a composer and a teacher of music theory. He studied at the Moscow Choral School and at the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied composition and piano. His graduation concert at the Conservatory in 1954, in which he performed the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1 himself, introduced him professionally, highlighting both his virtuosic piano abilities and his tremendous talent as a composer. He remained a research assistant at the Conservatory from 1955-59, taught composition there from 1965-69, and was awarded an honorary professorship in 1997. For over a decade he spent much of his time and energies heading the Russian Federation of the Union of Composers -- having succeeded its founder, Dmitri Shostakovich (at the request of Shostakovich and of his colleagues). In 1992 President Boris Yeltsin awarded Shchedrin the Russian State Prize for his work The Sealed Angel, based upon Russian liturgy.
Rodion Shchedrin is commissioned and performed by the world’s leading conductors and orchestras. His catalogue of works now include two operas, several ballets (many of which were dedicated to or written for his wife, Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Assoluta with the Bolshoi Ballet), five concertos for piano and orchestra, solo concertos for trumpet and for cello, five concertos for orchestra, choral works, piano sonatas, 24 preludes and fugues for piano, numerous chamber works, and incidental and film music. His best known work and the work which launched his international career was his Carmen Suite, a series of vignettes written for his wife and the Bolshoi, based on themes from Bizet’s opera Carmen.
The composer himself, however, regards his piano concertos as among his most important compositions. "Each of my piano concertos… has coincided with a new phase in my development as a composer," wrote Shchedrin in 1996. Indeed, each of his concertos is remarkably different. The First is quasi-romantic -- he himself calls it a naïve work which harkens back to the concertos of Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff. The Second (1966) is more adventurous: "it reflects my earliest experiments in 12-tone composition and jazz," he wrote. The Third Concerto (1973) is a serious and abstract work, shockingly dissonant at times, with a devilishly difficult solo part. Each of these works was premiered by the composer performing the solo part.
The Fourth Concerto moves in yet another direction. It is an expressive and lyrical work with sparkling washes of sound and masterful orchestral interplay with the piano -- again, a very strenuous and challenging workout for the soloist.
Clearly, Shchedrin is a composer who is his own person. He has succeeded in synthesizing traditional and new forms (he calls himself a "post avant garde" composer). His attraction to Russian folklore, folk music, poetry, and literature is strongly evident, making him a pre-eminently Russian composer, though he eschewed the “party line,” was never a member of the Communist Party, or a member of the "official" union of composers. The Piano Quarterly said of the composer: "For one who spent a long and successful career as a… Soviet composer, Rodion Shchedrin has written steadfastly individual music that has gained recognition in the West as the work of a highly imaginative and gifted artist."
The composer has supplied the following note for the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 5:
"I have always been attracted to the piano concerto genre. I myself played the premieres of three of my piano concertos, which is incidentally in keeping with an ancient tradition in Russian music (Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich). The three movements in the concerto obviously contrast with one another, but the thematic material of the first movement runs throughout the whole work, only changing in mood, light, and aspect. I attempted in the finale to repeat the crescendo ‘movement’ of Ravel’s Bolero, but in the completely different tempo of a virtuosic, impetuous toccata. The soloist’s part is naturally ‘bright’ and ‘illuminated’ (the pianist has two solo cadenzas) but there is also equally virtuosic ‘work’ for the orchestra and the conductor… These days, styles in contemporary music are discussed more than anything else. Perhaps I am overly old-fashioned, but for me the most important has always been the voice of compositional intuition and the desire for mutual understanding with the listener.
"The Piano Concerto No. 5 was written this year, in 1999, with Olli Mustonen in mind -- the concerto is dedicated to him."
Composer Dave Kopplin, who holds a Ph.D. from UCLA, is a writer and program editor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl. He teaches music at Loyola Marymount University.