February 19, 2017

Juho Pohjonen, piano

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Returning to our series, pianist Juho Pohjonen is one of the brightest young instrumental artists to emerge from Finland. Widely praised for his broad range of repertoire from Bach to Salonen, Mr. Pohjonen’s interpretations are known for their intensity, thoughtfulness and fearless musical conviction. For us he will perform works by Franck, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Beethoven's Eroica Variations.

Artist Website: http://www.kirshbaumassociates.com/artist


Chromatic fantasia and fugue                            JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
      in D minor, BWV 903 (1723)                                                    (1685–1750)


Variations and Fugue in E-flat Major                 LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
on an original theme - “Eroica Variations”, Op. 35                    (1770-1827)

       Introduction:  col basso del tema: Allegretto
       Variations 1 - 15
       Finale: Alla Fuga.  Allegro con brio.  Andante con moto




Prelude, Fugue and Variation Op. 18 (1884)                        CESAR FRANCK

       Prelude. Andantino piacevole
       Fugue. Allegretto ma non troppo
       Variation. Tempo di Prélude


Gaspard de la nuit (1908)                                                       MAURICE RAVEL
        Ondine, Lent
        Le Gibet, Très lent
        Scarbo, Modéré

Juho Pohjonen has recorded for DaCapo and Music@Menlo "Live"

Exclusive Representation:
Kirshbaum Associates Inc.

711 West End Avenue, Suite 5KN
New York, NY  10025 



Program Notes

Michael Lebovitch

JS BACH: Chromatic fantasia and fugue, D minor, BWV 903

The term “Fantasia” (or Fantasy) dates from the 1500s.  It was applied to musical forms without any particular structure.  Its roots are in improvisational mode of music and the emphasis is on inventive play to highlight the skill and imagination of the composer, and of the performer.  Not published until 1802, this work had a profound influence on composers of the Romantic era.  In it, Bach clearly contrasts the flood of harmony, the freedom and spirit of a fervent Fantasy, in which two toccata-like episodes frame a long, expressive recitativo. 

The Fugue begins in a strict style but gradually loosens, revealing elements of the Fantasy.  It opens with a long and complex semi-tonal subject.  The Fugue has three sections:  every entry of the theme contains an element of uncertainty, yet each seems to be anticipated by the previous one.  The first section stays mostly in d minor, while the second section modulates as the theme is introduced in distantly related keys.  The third section again returns to d minor and ends with bravura passage work and scales with “organistic” octaves doubling in the bass, not unlike the closing of a toccata.  Compared to the fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier, this fugue is treated much more freely.


BEETHOVEN: "Eroica” Variations, Op. 35

We recognize the Theme from almost the first note.  In fact, Beethoven used this motif on four different occasions (always in the same E-flat Major key):  first, in his ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus”, and second, in 12 Contredanses No. 7, both from 1801.  Then, in these Variations op. 35, and finally, in 1803, in the finale of his “Eroica” Symphony No. 3.  The Theme must have had a special meaning to Beethoven, perhaps an affirmation of his belief in himself?

What gives the work such a unified character is that the fifteen variations follow one upon the other with an almost symphonic inevitability, creating an impression that the work was created in one mighty sweep, capped by a majestic fugue.  Overall, the mood of the 15 variations is cheerful and occasionally comic.  It is remarkable that music of such transcendental control and confidence should have emerged from the pen of a man who only recently had, in the throes of deep depression, found himself contemplating suicide.  The abounding joy and humor which permeates the entire work is all the more surprising in the light of the composer's dark emotional and physical state.

Beethoven composed the Op. 35 variations, together with the Variations Op. 34, in 1802 and they are considered his first mature sets of variations, worthy of an opus number.  The Variations Op. 35 are built on a bass line motif, much in the manner of a Baroque passacaglia.  But unlike in the earlier form, Beethoven always had in mind a fully harmonized theme, which only emerges after a separate introductory set of three variations on the bass alone.  The variations gradually become more and more complex rhythmically and harmonically, and also explore new pianistic sonorities (the piano was evolving rapidly at this time, manufacturers expanding its range and the depth of sonority.)

The Fugue follows the Largo variation No. 15, and, in a way, is itself a variation, recalling the “theme” of the introduction.  If we then count the two more short variations at the end of the work, and the two variation in the introduction, we really should not only be talking about 15 Variations and Fugue, but rather of a large, complex variation structure that virtually defies a reasonable sounding title: Introductory variations + 15 variations on the same harmonic structure + Fugal Variation on the Theme of the Introduction, and a Two-Variation coda.

Which all goes to show - you can’t tell a piece of music by its title.


CESAR FRANCK:  Prelude, Choral et Fugue

Franck’s Prelude, Choral and Fugue of 1884 is a late composition of his last years.  The connection to the Baroque can be derived from the work’s title.  Franck’s strong admiration of JS Bach is unmistakable, and the insertion of a Choral between the Prelude and Fugue is a testament of Franck’s deep Catholic faith.  And yet, just by listening to the flowing arpeggio passages in Choral, reminds us that Franck is a composer of the Romantic period.  The Fugue is very skillfully executed and requires a pianist with considerable technique.  


MAURICE RAVEL: Gaspard de la nuit

Maurice Ravel was one of the 20th century composers responsible for the reform of piano music style.  His brilliant and distinctive idiom is characterized by an incredible talent for form and structure, a cold and yet colorful and scintillating sparkle, a sharp alteration of the most varied effects, and this incredible combination of pianistic virtuosity and heartfelt lyricism that forever endeared his music with audiences.

One of the greatest of his piano pieces is Gaspard de la nuit, which Ravel completed in 1908, and which is subtitled “Fantasies after the manner of Rembrandt and Callot”.  The three music poems reveal a new scope in piano sound, and require enormous technical skill from the performer.  The first poem (Ondine) tells the tearful tale of a water-nymph singed by the fire of earthly love.  We hear the sound of rippling water which introduces a plaintive, melancholy melody.  The middle piece (The Gibbet) starts, and ends, with bell sounds over the horizon.  The mercilessly steady rhythmic procession, almost entirely in pianissimo, with strange, “errant” harmonies – all to create a tension that is not fully resolved.  The closing piece (Scarbo) again creates a nightmarish, diabolical scene, with sharp turns and twists, and with extremely complicated rhythms.    The flashing melodic fragments give the impression of ironic grimaces rather than a true melody.  The technical difficulty of this cycle cannot be dismissed as mere virtuosity, for they serve to express Ravel’s intent perfectly.


About the Artist

Celebrated as one of Finland's most outstanding pianists, Juho Pohjonen is widely praised for his stellar musicianship and distinctive interpretations of a broad range of repertoire from Bach to Salonen. His interpretations are known for their intensity, thoughtfulness and fearless musical conviction. A favorite of Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Pohjonen garnered high accolades for his most recent performances of Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 5 in G Major: “His playing is simply extraordinary. This was a night when a good view of the soloist’s hands was worth extra money. It was a performance worth recording of a work worth hearing.” (The Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Juho Pohjonen began the summer of 2016 with his Grant Park Festival debut, performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with conductor Carlos Kalmar. Other highlights of the summer include performances at the Santa Fe and La Jolla Music Festivals as well as the Moritzburg Festival in Germany. His 2016-2017 season includes his third invitation to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Robert Spano, as well as his debut with the Vancouver Symphony and conductor Constantin Trinks in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1. He continues his close association with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a program of Mendelssohn and Schubert at Alice Tully Hall, performs a chamber program at the Library of Congress and gives recitals in New York City and Howland, New York.  European highlights include a performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto with the Szczecin Philharmonic and Rune Bergman, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 with the Finnish Radio Orchestra and Tomas Djupsjöbacka, as well as a debut with the Antalya State Symphony and conductor Adrian Prabava, performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Pianist Juho Pohjonen performs the Presto from Aleksandr Scriabin's Sonata no. 2 in g-sharp minor, op. 19, "Sonata Fantasy."

Recent highlights include highly praised performances of Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic and conductor JoAnn Falletta as well as performances of the same work across England with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits. Mr. Pohjonen opened last season with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in performances of the Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5 and Jeffrey Kahane, and made his debut with Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich performing Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto with conductor Lionel Bringuier. In addition, he gave a stunning recital debut at the Ravinia Festival, performed Mozart in Seoul with the KBS Symphony Orchestra, as well as in Mexico’s Palacio De Bellas Artes with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and a U.S. tour with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Recently, Mr. Pohjonen has also performed with Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Helsinki Philharmonic with Olari Elts, Bournemouth Symphony with James MacMillan and Iceland Symphony with Francois-Xavier Roth. He appears frequently with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, since being selected as one of the musicians to join the “CMS Two Residency Program for Outstanding Young Artists” from 2009-2012.

Mr. Pohjonen has given recitals in New York (Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center), Washington, D.C. (Kennedy Center), San Francisco, Vancouver, Detroit, La Jolla and in London (Wigmore Hall), Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Warsaw, Hong Kong, Antwerp, and at the Lucerne Piano, Gilmore, Savonlinna, Bergen and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festivals. He has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Danish National, Malmö, Finnish Radio Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Scottish Chamber and Philharmonia Orchestras, Bournemouth Symphony, Zagrebacka Filharmonija and Lahti Symphony, with which he toured Japan.

Mr. Pohjonen's debut recording Plateaux features Scandinavian composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's piano concerto Plateaux pour Piano et Orchestre with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and solo piano piece For Piano. His sensational opening recital at Music@Menlo’s 2010 Festival was recorded for the Music@Menlo Live 2010 series. The albums, entitled Maps and Legends: Disc 8, features Mozart's Sonata in A Major, K.331, Grieg's Ballade in g minor in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Folk Song, Op. 24 and Handel's Suite in B-flat Major.

Schubert Fantasy in C major for Violin and Piano - Benjamin Beilman and Juho Pohjonen

Mr. Pohjonen's studies began in 1989 when he entered the Junior Academy of the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki. He studied with Meri Louhos and Hui-Ying Liu at the Sibelius Academy where he completed his Master's Degree in 2008. Mr. Pohjonen has also participated in several master classes of world-class pianists such as Sir András Schiff, Leon Fleisher, Jacob Lateiner and Barry Douglas.

In 2009, Juho Pohjonen was selected by Sir András Schiff as winner of the Klavier Festival Ruhr Scholarship. In addition, he has won numerous prizes in both Finnish and international competitions, including First Prize at the 2004 Nordic Piano Competition in Nyborg, Denmark, First Prize at the 2000 International Young Artists Concerto Competition in Stockholm, the Prokofiev Prize at the 2003 AXA Dublin International Piano Competition and a prize at the 2002 Helsinki International Maj Lind Piano Competition.

‘If we needed proof that exciting new talent is in the pipeline, there was the marvelous American debut of Juho Pohjonen at [Carnegie's] Weill Recital Hall. Mr. Pohjonen offered a formidable mixed program, topped by thrilling accounts of two fiendishly difficult works by a fellow Finn, Esa-Pekka Salonen.'
-The New York Times