Press Release

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Jonathan Biss
Beethoven/5 Vol.1

Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto

Brett Dean
“A Winter’s Journey”

Catalogue Number: ORC100291

Release Date: Apr 26th

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Pianist Jonathan Biss and Orchid Classics release volume one of the Beethoven/5 Commissioning Project

Celebrating the Legacy of Beethoven through Five Unique Perspectives, Biss has partnered with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and more than fifteen other orchestras in commissioning five new concerti as companion works for the five concerti of Beethoven

In April, Orchid Classics will release the first volume of the series, beginning with Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto, the ‘Emperor’, together with its companion work by one of today’s most significant composers, Brett Dean

BEETHOVEN/5 VOL. 1

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat major, Op.73, ‘Emperor’
1. I Allegro
2. II Adagio un poco moto
3. III Rondo: Allegro, ma non troppo

Brett Dean (b.1961)
Piano Concerto (Gneixendorf Music – Eine Winterreise)
4. I Ankunft. “Gneixendorf? Das klingt wie eine brechende Achse!” — Arrival. “Gneixendorf? That sounds like a breaking axle!”
5 II Die Abreise. Schwer gefasste Entschlüße (Muß es sein?) — Departure. Difficult Decisions (Must it be?)
6. III Epilog. Plaudite, amici, comoedia finita est. — Epilogue. Applause, friends, the comedy is over.

Jonathan Biss, piano
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
David Afkham, conductor

Jonathan Biss on Beethoven/5

Good music you identify with your ears; the greatness of great music is a thing you feel in your bones. Listening to it changes your body chemistry and, if only for a moment, your worldview. If you are lucky enough to make your life and livelihood playing music, there is a further way you can identify a great piece: it keeps changing as you change. It expands right along with your perceptivity; its possibilities are endless.
Beethoven’s piano concerti are the very essence of great music: instantly riveting and infinitely interesting. Each of them reimagines what a piano concerto can be, and does so with Beethoven’s signature intensity. These works are confrontational and spiritual in equal measure; they make grand statements and ask questions without answers. Their scope is vast.
The problem, if there is a problem, is that they are ubiquitous. They are constant presences on concert programs and recordings. With so many opportunities to hear them, there is a tendency to forget to listen to them. Hearing them is more than pleasant, but it will not alter your body chemistry; that takes listening. Hearing without listening downgrades them from vital works of art to comfortable pieces of furniture.
Living with the Beethoven concerti is a gift, but it is also work. You need to decide to keep your ears open to their wonders, and to let new wonders in. It is far easier to assume you already know everything there is to know about them, but in doing so, you lose access to their urgency and their power.
That is one of the reasons that Beethoven/5 has been such a thrilling and necessary project for me. (The other reason, of course, is that it has brought five brilliant new works into my life.) I am not a composer. Even the works that I love the most and have played for the longest remain mysterious to me: I cannot begin to understand how a person imagined them. Watching Brett Dean, who understands this process as well as anyone, reckon with the Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto has thus been exhilarating and also edifying. Gneixendorfer Musik is a raucous and moving essay on Beethoven’s vitality and frailty, and it takes his fifth piano concerto as its point of departure, quoting from it liberally, though always through a distorting lens, and always with Dean’s own distinctive voice at the forefront. It is a work of astounding creativity whose subject is Beethoven’s astounding creativity.
Playing Gneixendorfer Musik has been a gift all on its own, but I am just as grateful for the effect it has had on my relationship with Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto, and with Beethoven in general. Having done the (punishing, frankly) work of getting the Dean into my fingers, head, and heart, the radicalness of the work that inspired it has moved to the front and center of my consciousness. I might not be any closer to understanding how Beethoven and Dean do what they do, but I know why. Every innovation in the Beethoven concerto – and there are so many, starting with the very first chord, which is not the start of a theme, but a call to action from orchestra to pianist – is an expression of a need, a statement of self. When Beethoven, again and again, sheds the regalia of the home key of E flat major, and takes us to B Major – distant, vulnerable, radiant – that is a statement of self. When he takes the otherwise straightforward theme of the finale, and puts its emphases on all the beats where you least expect them, that is a statement of self. When he stretches the proportions of the first movement far beyond those of any previous piano concerto, and nearly to their breaking point, that is a statement of self. Every musical choice is a statement of self. The choices in Beethoven’s music seem inevitable – that is his greatness – but they are radical. With the addition of Brett Dean’s Gneixendorfer Musik to my repertoire and my life, I have no excuse for forgetting it.

To read more from Jonathan Biss about Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, please visit jonathanbiss.com/program-notes.

Brett Dean
Piano Concerto, Gneixendorfer Musik – Eine Winterreise
(Gneixendorf Music – A Winter’s Journey)
Back in 2013 I had the great pleasure of spending a summer in Lower Austria as composer-in-residence of the Grafenegg Festival. On a free afternoon, my wife and I went for a drive along the Danube River and found ourselves waylaid by an intriguing road-sign pointing towards a “Beethovenhaus” in the small village of Gneixendorf. We then discovered what has to be one of the most mysteriously fascinating episodes in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Having accepted an invitation from his brother Johann and sister-in-law Theresia to spend some time away from Vienna at their spacious Landhaus, Ludwig van Beethoven and his troubled nephew, Karl, arrived in Gneixendorf in late September of 1826. After only a few days, a heated argument between Ludwig and his brother led Beethoven to leave his brother’s house and take up rooms at a nearby house owned by the wealthy businessman, Ignaz Wissgrill. Beethoven ended up staying in the house at Schlossstrasse 19 for more than two months, going for regular walks and composing his final string quartet, op.135, as well as completing revisions and metronome markings for his 9th Symphony. He returned to Vienna on December 1st on an open horse-drawn carriage in freezing conditions. He never fully recovered from the severe pneumonia contracted on that journey and the ailing composer succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver the following March.
My piano concerto takes this unexpected and memorable brush with cultural history as one of its starting points. As the last of Jonathan Biss’s set of commissions for his Beethoven/5 Project, it’s conceived as a response to Beethoven’s remarkable final piano concerto, the “Emperor”. While this was Beethoven’s last-ever work for solo instrument and orchestra, dating from 1809 and revised two years later, it’s not really a late work. However, in finding inspiration not only from this great piece but also from the story of his ill-fated time in Gneixendorf, my new concerto is an attempt to enter into the state of mind of the composer as he confronts profound familial conflicts as well as failing health towards the latter stages of his life.
The concerto is in three conjoined movements and their individual titles are well-documented quotes and anecdotes taken from this final phase of Beethoven’s life.
In performance, the piano soloist begins the piece from within the orchestra, seated at an upright piano with super sordino (or practice pedal). This muffled, indistinct sound may be seen as a metaphor for Beethoven’s worsening deafness. Already by the time of writing the Emperor Concerto, his condition prevented him from performing the solo part himself. By the time he visited his brother Carl in 1826, he was profoundly deaf. This “hidden” or muted beginning may however also be seen in the context of the great composer Ludwig being hurled into a traumatic domestic situation that, for all his fame and esteem, he could not control or master.
After a scurrying opening section in which the disadvantaged soloist battles to cut through various instrumental textures, an orchestral tutti allows the soloist the opportunity to move to the more usual, centrally positioned grand piano.
From this point, the soloist’s statements become more definite and central to the musical argument. There are a couple of further short visits to the upright piano later in the piece, each time providing a stark contrast to the sonic power and presence of the modern concert grand.

Brett Dean, November 2023

Pianist Jonathan Biss and Orchid Classics release volume one of the Beethoven/5 Commissioning Project

Celebrating the Legacy of Beethoven through Five Unique Perspectives, Biss has partnered with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and more than fifteen other orchestras in commissioning five new concerti as companion works for the five concerti of Beethoven

All ten concerti have now been recorded by Biss and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, to be released in five forthcoming volumes

In 2015, acclaimed pianist Jonathan Biss embarked on a groundbreaking journey with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, launching the Beethoven/5 commissioning project. Now, after nine years of collaboration and creative exploration, the project has yielded a remarkable collection of five new piano concertos, each written by a distinguished composer in response to one of Beethoven’s iconic works.

In April Orchid Classics will release the first volume of the series, beginning with Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto, the ‘Emperor’, together with its companion work by one of today’s most significant composers, Brett Dean.
Of Dean’s work Gneixendorfer Musik, ‘A Winter’s Journey’, Biss observes: “Watching Brett Dean reckon with the Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto has been exhilarating and also edifying. Gneixendorfer Musik is a raucous and moving essay on Beethoven’s vitality and frailty, and it takes his fifth piano concerto as its point of departure, quoting from it liberally, though always through a distorting lens, and always with Dean’s own distinctive voice at the forefront. It is a work of astounding creativity whose subject is Beethoven’s astounding creativity.”
The Beethoven/5 project represents a profound effort to engage with Beethoven’s monumental influence on the musical landscape. Biss explained, “Each of Beethoven’s five piano concertos is pathbreaking in its own way, and each is gloriously, unmistakably him — full of spirituality, play, and fierce conviction. These pieces are so ubiquitous, though, that it is easy to lose sight of how revolutionary — how vital — they are. One aim of this project is to put that aspect of Beethoven’s music front and centre.”

He continues that the project “takes five different compositional voices — from different parts of the world and different musical traditions — and asks each of them to write a work which, in whatever way they see fit, responds to one of the Beethoven piano concerti. The varied and riveting results are a reminder that Beethoven’s voice is simply too powerful to be ignored.”

Both works on Volume 1 were recorded live in concert at the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of David Afkham.

Jonathan Biss
Piano
Having performed with major US and European orchestras and in all of the leading halls in the USA, Europe and Asia, Biss is not only in demand as a soloist and chamber musician across the globe but is also recognised as a teacher, writer and musical thinker. Biss writes extensively on his repertoire and has authored four audio and e-books, including UNQUIET: My Life with Beethoven (2020), the first Audible Original by a classical musician and reached the top ten in the Audible charts.
Coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, Biss concluded over a decade-long immersion in the composer’s music, which included concert series, recordings, writings, lectures, and his project Beethoven/5, a series of commissions of Beethoven-inspired works of which this recording is one of the pairings. Through the course of his Beethoven study, Biss recorded the composer’s complete piano sonatas and Orchid Classics released the nine-disc sonata cycle box set. He offered insights to all 32-landmark works via his free, online Coursera lecture series Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, a course which has been taken by more the 150,000 people worldwide. During the Covid-19 pandemic, in a virtual recital presented by the 92nd Street Y, Biss performed Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas for an online audience of more than 280,000 people, one of the first major at-home concerts of the early pandemic era.
Biss has spent many summers at Marlboro Music and was named Co-Artistic Director alongside Mitsuko Ushida in 2018. Chamber music holds great importance for Biss and the ethos of Marlboro Music – to take time to truly explore and delve into the depths of each piece – is something that he takes with him to his other musical collaborations.

Biss represents the third generation in a family of professional musicians including his grandmother Raya Garbousova, one of the first famous female cellists (for whom Samuel Barber composed his Cello Concerto), and his parents, violinist Miriam Fried and violist/violinist Paul Biss. Growing up surrounded by music, at the age of six he began his piano studies, with his first musical collaborations alongside his mother and father. He studied with Evelyne Brancart at Indiana University and Leon Fleisher at the Curtis Institute of Music. He has since appeared with major orchestras internationally, including in the U.S. with the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics; the Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco Symphonies; and the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras. In Europe, he has appeared with the BBC Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Berlin, Staatskapelle Dresden, and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, among many other ensembles.
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
More than 100 exceptional musicians make up the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, a multiple-award-winning ensemble renowned for its high artistic standard and stylistic breadth. The first radio orchestra was founded in 1925, coinciding with Sweden’s first national radio broadcasts.
Daniel Harding has been Music Director of the SRSO since 2007, with 2019 seeing him appointed as the orchestra’s first ever Artistic Director. His extensive tenure will last throughout the 2024/25 season. “It is increasingly rare for the relationship between a conductor and an orchestra not only to last for more than a decade, but to keep growing,” Harding says about working with the orchestra, “it is also rare for an orchestra of the highest musical standard to also very obviously want to keep on growing.”
The orchestra tours regularly, receiving invitations from all over Europe and the world. Recent highlights include two programmes at the Musikverein in Vienna, with programmes including Robert Schumann’s Manfred performed with the Wiener Singverein and actor Cornelius Obonya, and Schumann’s Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff. Additionally, Harding and the SRSO performed an all-Sibelius programme at the Sibelius Festival in Lahti, Finland, featuring María Dueñas in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto.
Upcoming projects include playing major works by Mahler, Strauss, Alfvén and Mozart together with Christian Gerhaher and Maria João Pires, both regular musical partners of Harding and the orchestra. Venues include the Elbphilharmonie, Concertgebouw, KKL Luzern, Philharmonie de Paris and Müpa Budapest.
The SRSO remains a cornerstone of Swedish public service broadcasting, its concerts heard weekly on the classical radio P2 and regularly on Swedish national public television SVT. During the pandemic, its much appreciated on-demand streamed concerts on Berwaldhallen Play brought further worldwide attention to the orchestra.
The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra has an extensive and acclaimed recording catalogue. Recent releases include Jesper Nordin’s triptych Röster for orchestra, works by Britten featuring Andrew Staples and the orchestra’s own solo hornist Chris Parkes, and Eduard Tubin’s Double Bass Concerto with the orchestra’s solo bassist Rick Stotijn. Music Director Daniel Harding’s other recent, noteworthy recordings with the SRSO include Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust, Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem featuring Christiane Karg and Matthias Goerne, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.
Two of the SRSO’s former chief conductors, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have since been named Conductors Laureate and make regular appearances with the orchestra.

David Afkham
Conductor
Known for his impeccable technique and compelling artistry, David Afkham has received worldwide acclaim and is one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation. Afkham is the Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España, a position he has held since September 2019. Prior to this role, Afkham enjoyed a highly successful tenure as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor since 2014.
Afkham’s impressive career has been marked by a series of critically acclaimed performances and collaborations with some of the world’s leading orchestras. He has appeared with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Staatskapelle Berlin, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Munich Philharmonic, hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt, SWR Symphonieorchester, Vienna Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, as well as with the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra among others. On tour, he has appeared with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Staatskapelle Dresden, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
With regular appearances in North America, Afkham has previously led the Boston Symphony in Tanglewood, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, and Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in New York.
Successes at the opera pit, include performances of Richard Strauss’s Arabella at the Semperoper Dresden and a new production of the work at the Teatro Real, Madrid. Afkham has also conducted productions of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel & Gretel at the Frankfurt Opera, Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Staatsoper Stuttgart and Alberto Ginastera’s Bomarzo at Madrid’s Teatro Real. He also conducted Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, later reviving the production for performances in the UK and Ireland for Glyndebourne on Tour. Furthermore, he conducted semi-staged projects with the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España, including Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, Tristan und Islolde, Strauss’ Elektra and Salome and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle.
Born in Freiburg, Germany, Afkham began piano and violin lessons at an early age. He went on to study piano, music theory and conducting at the Freiburg Music University, before continuing his studies at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt in Weimar. Afkham was the first recipient of the Bernard Haitink Fund for Young Talent and has assisted Maestro Haitink on several major projects, including complete symphonic cycles with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra. From 2009-2012 he was Assistant Conductor of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.
Afkham won first prize at the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition in London in 2008 and was the inaugural recipient of the Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award in 2010.

Brett Dean
Composer
Dean was born and studied in Australia before moving to Germany, where he was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic for fourteen years, during which time he began composing. His music is championed by many of the leading conductors and orchestras worldwide, including Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, Andris Nelsons, and Marin Alsop. Much of Dean’s work draws from literary, political, environmental or visual stimuli, including a number of compositions inspired by artwork by his wife Heather Betts.
Dean began composing in 1988, gaining international recognition through works such as his clarinet concerto Ariel’s Music (1995), which won a UNESCO Composers award, and Carlo (1997), inspired by the music of Carlo Gesualdo. In 2009 Dean won the Grawemeyer Award for violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing, and in June 2017 his second opera Hamlet was premiered at Glyndebourne Festival Opera to great acclaim, winning the 2018 South Bank Sky Arts Awards and an International Opera Award. Dean also appears with many of the world’s leading orchestras and ensembles both as a conductor and as violist, performing his own Viola Concerto and chamber music.
Brett Dean is Composer in Residence at Wigmore Hall for the 2023/24 season, where he has curated a series of programmes and features as conductor and performer. The residency includes the first complete performance of Dean’s Hommage Etudes as well as the premiere of a new solo piano work, co-commissioned by Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Wigmore Hall and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Other highlights of the 2023/24 season include the world premiere of a new work commissioned by the Scharoun Ensemble, and the French premiere of In This Brief Moment with the Orchestre National de Lyon. Elsewhere, Dean performs recitals with Lotte Betts-Dean, conducts the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, and is Composer in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music.

The works of Brett Dean are published by Boosey & Hawkes.

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