Great Performances

S48 E30 | FULL EPISODE

Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2021

Enjoy the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual summer night concert under the direction of guest conductor Daniel Harding with piano virtuoso Igor Levit at Austria’s Schönbrunn Palace.

AIRED: August 27, 2021 | 1:24:17
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

[ Applause ]

-The audience here in the gardens of Schoenbrunn

has been limited by pandemic restrictions.

Tonight a grateful orchestra extended invitations

to medical professionals on the front lines

and local elementary school teachers.

These 3,000 souls extend a heartfelt welcome

to conductor Daniel Harding and the Vienna Philharmonic.

[ Orchestra playing ]

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The music of Verdi's "Sicilian Vespers"

ushers in our evening's theme of yearning for distant lands.

Tonight, Daniel Harding,

a regular visitor with the Vienna Philharmonic,

is making his Summer Night debut.

Together, he and the orchestra

have just returned from a tour in Scandinavia.

In a moment, they will be joined by the Russian pianist

Igor Levit to perform Sergei Rachmaninoff's

"Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

Closely resembling a piano concerto

but all in one movement,

the piece comprises 24 variations on a theme

that Niccolo Paganini,

known as the "Devil's Violinist,"

had used in the last of his "Caprices for Violin."

Rachmaninoff also incorporated the Dies irae,

or Day of Wrath, motif from the Mass for the Dead.

For Levit, Rachmaninoff is at least as demonic as Paganini,

and the Rhapsody, in spite of all its brilliance

and virtuosity, represents not only the demonic,

but also hints at loss and death itself.

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[ Applause ]

Igor Levit played the demonic

"Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

The New York Times describes him as

one of the most important artists of his generation,

and The New Yorker raves that he is like no other pianist.

[ Cheering and applause ]

Levit himself says that he strives to place his art

in the context of social events,

and understands it as inseparably linked to them.

As such, this piece represents a fitting tribute

for our audience here in these perilous times.

Interestingly, he always learns a new piece

from the sheet music only -- without the piano.

He carries it around with him for months

and has to "know it first" before he plays it.

For an encore, Igor Levit has chosen one of

Ludwig van Beethoven's irresistible bagatelles,

"Fur Elise."

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[ Applause ]

With this encore, Igor Levit honors the Vienna Philharmonic

which was founded 179 years ago

to play the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Returning soon to the stage

is the 45 year old English conductor Daniel Harding.

He is Music and Artistic Director

of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

and Conductor Laureate of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Interestingly enough, in tune with tonight's wanderlust theme,

he is also a qualified commercial airline pilot.

So let's jet off to the mean streets of New York

with this musical retelling

of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" --

"West Side Story."

The first of our four dances, the Prologue,

symphonically illustrates the growing rivalry

between two teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

Next, "Somewhere" imagines a world where the two gangs

are united in friendship.

In the fantasy Scherzo,

they break away from the gritty streets,

and find themselves in a playful sphere of air and light.

Finally, with the Mambo, we are back in the real world

and the dance at the gym.

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-Mambo!

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-Mambo!

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[ Applause ]

-Mambo -- the Symphonic Dances

from Bernstein's "West Side Story."

[ Applause ]

Next a piece inspired by Greek mythology

that describes a flute-playing faun --

half man, half beast --

waking from his afternoon sleep.

Still lost in the world of his dreams,

the faun is obsessed with erotic fantasies

of his encounters with passing nymphs.

Debussy's score of 1894,

a key work of musical impressionism,

stretched the traditional system of keys and tonalities

to their limits, and would profoundly affect

the composers of the 20th century.

Pierre Boulez observed, "The flute of the Faun

brought new breath to the art of music."

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[ Applause ]

Now, with space travel on our minds this summer,

the next piece transports us not to Mars but to Jupiter.

The most massive of the planets,

it was named for the god of thunderbolts,

of light and sky, of the grape and the new wine,

of dancing and celebration,

from whom we take the word "jovial."

The composer gives us an unmistakably English Jupiter,

whose central tune became one of Britain's most popular

patriotic hymns, "I Vow to Thee, My Country."

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[ Applause ]

To quote Dorothy after her travels in Oz,

"There's no place like home."

For the Philharmonic, that sentiment applies to

their beloved Vienna.

They perform approximately 40 concerts here annually.

In summer the orchestra is in residence

at the Salzburg Festival,

while international touring of more than 50 concerts each year

completes their busy schedule.

So now, with our yearning for distant places sated,

the orchestra bids farewell with Johann Strauss's

"Viennese Spirit" waltz.

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To find out more about this

and other "Great Performances" programs,

visit...

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"Summer Night Concert 2021"

is available on Blu-ray, DVD and CD.

To order, visit shopPBS.org,

or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

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[ Applause ]

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