Jacek Kaspszyk was born in Biała Podlaska, Poland. He studied conducting as well as music theory and composition at the Fryderyk Chopin University, in Warsaw, under Stanisław Wisłocki. In 1978, Kaspszyk was appointed first conductor of the Polish Radio and Television Great Symphonic Orchestra and in 1980 ascended to the post of Music Director. In 1982, he relocated to London, where he worked as a conductor. Between the years 1991 and 1995, he served as the first conductor and music consultant of the Nord Nederland Orkest and in 1992 was the main visiting conductor of the English Sinfonia. In 1998, Kaspszyk took the post of Artistic and Musical Director of the Grand Theatre - the National Opera in Warsaw and in 2002 became the General Director. Leading the ensemble of Grand Theatre, Kaspszyk recorded Straszny dwór, which was awarded a platinum record, as well as Ubu Rex and Król Roger, which received a nomination for the 2006 Recording of the Year Award presented by BBC Music Magazine. Jacek Kaspszyk served as the Artistic Director of the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra from 2006 to 2012 and has served as Music Director of the Polish Radio National Symphonic Orchestra in Katowice, since 2009.
Nikolai Demidenko is a Russian-born pianist. He studied at the Gnessins Music School with Anna Kantor prior to attending the Moscow Conservatory under Dmitri Bashkirov. He was a winner of the Montreal International Music Competition in 1976 and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1978. Among his numerous recordings are the Gramophone Editor’s Choice award-winning album of Medtner and Music for two Pianos, works by Rachmaninov, awarded BBC Music Magazine Best of The Year and Diapason D’Or, and the Scriabin and Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos awarded the BBC Music Magazine Best of The Year and Best Concerto Recording of The Year by Classis CD. Nikolai’s Chopin CD released in 2008 for Onyx Classics won the MIDEM 2010 Special Chopin Award for a new recording and his Chopin CD for AGPL won the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik. In 2014, Mr Demidenko was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Surrey in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the field of Music and the University. Demidenko currently serves as ‘Soloist-in-Residence’ with Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed his First Piano Concerto between November and December of 1874 and completed the orchestration in February. The work was revised in 1879 and again in 1889. The piece is dedicated to Hans von Bülow and premiered on October 25, 1875, at the Music Hall in Boston with Benjamin Johnson Lang conducting a freelance orchestra. Hans von Bülow appeared as the soloist. Upon finishing the initial sketches of the piece, Tchaikovsky sought the advice of Nikolay Rubinstein, director of the Moscow Conservatory, concerning the technical matters of the solo part. Tchaikovsky had planned his concerto especially for Nikolay, having studied under his brother, and intended to dedicate the work to him as well as have him perform the solo at the premiere. However, after their initial meeting, Tchaikovsky reported, “It appeared that my Concerto was utterly worthless, absolutely unplayable; passages were so commonplace and awkward that they could not be improved; the piece as a whole was bad, trivial, vulgar.” Tchaikovsky was so furious that he returned home to make only one change in the score. He eliminated the name of Nikolay Rubinstein and substituted it with the pianist Hans von Bülow.
Bülow, who had been a champion of the composer, performing his pieces throughout Europe, gladly accepted the dedication, writing upon receiving the score, "The ideas are so original, so powerful; the details are so interesting, and though there are many of them they do not impair the clarity and unity of the work. The form is so mature, so ripe and distinguished in style; intention and labour are everywhere concealed. I would weary you if I were to enumerate all the characteristics of your work, characteristics which compel me to congratulate equally the composer and those who are destined to enjoy it." The reaction of the first audience was so overwhelmingly positive that it demanded an encore of the entire last movement. The success of the premiere performance must have puzzled Rubinstein, but eventually, the two men reconciled their differences. Tchaikovsky incorporated some of Rubinstein’s suggestions in the 1889 revision, and Rubinstein eventually made the work one of the staples of his performing repertory.
In recent years the opening passages of the First Piano Concerto have become an almost cliché example of what laymen think of as classical music. However, in the modern piano repertoire, it ranks among the great Beethoven Emperor Concerto, the Grieg Piano Concerto and the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto, which having all become immortal, do not evoke such a powerful response as Tchaikovsky’s masterwork.
It has been proven that Dmitri Shostakovich began sketching his Tenth Symphony as early as 1951, though he completed it in the autumn of 1953. It was premiered on December 17, 1953, with Yevgeny Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic, in Leningrad. Customarily, sources claim the summer of 1953 as the date of composition because it has long been thought that Stalin's death in March of that year provided the main impetus for the work. The second movement, in particular, is understood to be a portrait of the deceased tyrant. A statement from The Soviet Composer’s Union proclaimed the piece, “A work of pessimistic optimism.” Shostakovich spent most of his career falling in and out of favour with the Communist authorities, in fact, there is still much debate and speculation over with which side his sympathies lied. Wars, hardships, repression and fierce criticism affected the composer throughout his life.
For nearly fifty years, he strove to write the ‘Shostakovich symphony’ and many consider No. 10, composed mid-career, to be his most perfect realization. Shostakovich was perhaps the only composer born in the 20th century to develop a consistently recognizable type of symphony, akin to those of Beethoven, Mahler, or Sibelius. He composed a cycle of 15 symphonies containing a district autobiographical thread and deep reflection on his country’s political history. The majority of his works build upon traditional categories, however, what Shostakovich did with those categories was utterly unique. His scherzos are grim and sarcastic and his opening movements are often slow and deliberate. Along with the beloved First and Fifth symphonies, the Tenth is the composer’s most frequently performed. A recent compilation by Peter Laki of the Kennedy Center lists no fewer than 47 recordings of the piece, including a version for piano-duet performed by the composer and his friend, Mieczyslaw Weinberg.
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator