There are thousands of “love songs” I could have listened to today in my daily Listening Time. After all, it’s the weekend of Valentine’s Day, and there is Rachmaninoff and Schubert and Liszt and Wagner and Puccini and Mahler and Grieg and Elgar and … the list goes on and on! I found myself drawn not to these great operatic or Romantic composers, but instead to a piece and a performance that represents a different kind of love song. This performance of Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto, performed by Martha Argerich and the Toho Gakuen Orchestra conducted by Yuri Bashmet, seems to be the perfect depiction of love on many levels.
First, there are all the levels of love expressed by the great composer himself. In 1945, Bela Bartok was living in exile in New York City, far from home and from the life of the countryside he had once loved and explored. His life had been ravaged by war, by separation and loss, by obscurity in a country which did not yet recognize him, by financial difficulties and now by incurable leukemia. In 1945, in fact, Bartok was dying.
His third piano concerto was intended to be a surprise birthday gift to his wife, Ditta Pasztory, who was also an accomplished concert pianist. He knew he was dying, and this gift would possibly give her a source of income and concertizing after his death. He did not live to finish the concerto. His pupil Tibor Serly completed the last 17 measures from notes left by the composer. This double labor of love is a joyful celebration of life – a gift not only to his wife, but to all the generations to come. The 1st and 3rd movements are filled with passion, excitement and a spirited dance of life. The 2nd movement, marked Adagio Religioso, gives us a deep reverence, followed by trills of birdsong, the first blooms of spring, the rushing waterfalls, the symphony of insects that so deeply reflect Bartok’s love of nature.
This performance combines the passion and talent of a Hungarian composer, a world-renowned pianist from Argentina, a brilliant young orchestra from Japan, and a great Russian conductor. Music, and the love of music, cross all barriers to speak a universal language, as this highly-acclaimed performance demonstrates.
The orchestra in this performance is the result of still another labor of love. Toho Gakuen was founded in 1948 in Kudan (Tokyo) as a music school for children, and two years later opened the Toho High School of Music, to provide quality musical education to teenage girls. The College of Music was a pioneer in offering university-level degrees in music in Japan. In 1995 the Toho Orchestra Academy was established in Toyama and in 1999 opened the Toho Gakuen Graduate School, which offers postgraduate degrees.
It’s a joy to watch and hear these youthful performers, most of whom are young women. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such thundering applause after a performance – the seemingly endless ocean of cheers, stomping of feet, clapping of hands is still another expression of love – for the music, the performers, the conductor, and the life force which Bartok expressed with such intensity and beauty.
Happy Valentine’s Day – hope you enjoy this heart-felt gift of music!
- Adagio religioso (begins around 8:00)
- Allegro vivace (begins around 18:46)