Liszt & Tchaikovky

November 2, 2019 | Michigan Theater

Behind the Music

We soar through the Rocky Mountains to the Garden of Gods and atop Pikes Peak in Wang Jie’s Symphonic Overture on “America the Beautiful.” From the orchestra comes a majestic fugue which traces the silhouette of this prominent peak with faint echos of the familiar patriotic song written atop the same mountain. Cascading crowns of notes continue through Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major. Your A2SO is joined by pianist, Anton Nel displaying the pinnacle of pianistic achievement. This evening of new heights concludes with the emotional summit of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 64. The vivid colors of his penultimate symphony present “fate” as the central character while casting a mysterious veil over the secrets of his personal life.


WANG JIE Symphonic Overture on “America the Beautiful”

LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5

Anton Nel, piano

Pikes Peak, El Paso County, Colorado

Anton Nel, Piano


Anton Nel, winner of the first prize in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition at Carnegie Hall continues to enjoy a remarkable and multifaceted career that has taken him to North and South America, Europe, Asia, and South Africa. Following an auspicious debut at the age of twelve with Beethoven’s C Major Concerto after only two years of study, the Johannesburg native captured first prizes in all the major South African competitions while still in his teens, toured his native country extensively and became a well-known radio and television personality. A student of Adolph Hallis, he made his European debut in France in 1982, and in the same year graduated with highest distinction from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He came to the United States in 1983, attending the University of Cincinnati, where he pursued his Masters and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees under Bela Siki and Frank Weinstock. In addition to garnering many awards from his alma mater during this three-year period he was a prizewinner at the 1984 Leeds International Piano Competition in England and won several first prizes at the Joanna Hodges International Piano Competition in Palm Desert in 1986.

Highlights of Mr. Nel’s four decades of concertizing include performances with the Cleveland Orchestra, the symphonies of Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, and London, among many others. (He has an active repertoire of more than 100 works for piano and orchestra.) An acclaimed Beethoven interpreter, Anton Nel has performed the concerto cycle several times, most notably on two consecutive evenings with the Cape Philharmonic in 2005. Additionally he has performed all-Beethoven solo recitals, complete cycles of the violin and cello works, and most recently a highly successful run of the Diabelli Variations as part of Moises Kaufman’s play 33 Variations. He was also chosen to give the North American premiere of the newly discovered Piano Concerto No. 3 in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in 1992. Two noteworthy world premieres of works by living composers include “Virtuoso Alice” by David Del Tredici (dedicated to, and performed by Mr. Nel at his Lincoln Center debut in 1988) as well as Stephen Paulus’s Piano Concerto also written for for Mr. Nel; the acclaimed world premiere took place in New York in 2003. 

As recitalist he has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection in New York, at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, Davies Hall in San Francisco, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Internationally he has performed recitals in major concert halls in Canada, England (Queen Elizabeth and Wigmore Halls in London), France, Holland (Concertgebouw in Amsterdam), Japan (Suntory Hall in Tokyo), Korea, China, and South Africa.

Eager to pursue dual careers in teaching and performing he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin in his early twenties, followed by professorships at the Eastman School of Music, and the University of Michigan, where he was chairman of the piano department. In September 2000, Anton Nel was appointed as the Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents  Professor of Piano and Chamber music at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches an international class of students and heads the Division of Keyboard Studies. Since his return he has also been the recipient of two Austin-American Statesman Critics Circle Awards, as well as the University Cooperative Society/College of Fine Arts award for extra-curricular achievement.  In 2001 he was appointed Visiting “Extraordinary” Professor at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, and continues to teach master classes worldwide. In January 2010 he became the first holder of the new Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Piano at the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2015 he has been presenting an annual series of masterclasses in piano and chamber music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York as Visiting Professor, and also teaches regularly at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto.

Anton Nel became a citizen of the United States of America on September 11, 2003 and is a Steinway artist.

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Wang Jie, Composer


At the forefront of the younger generation American composers, Wang Jie has emerged as one of the most evocative musical voices. Ranging from elegant to campy, her works are powerfully engaging, richly orchestrated and rhythmically vibrant. One day she spins a few notes into large music forms, the next she calls Zodiac animals to the opera stage – a rare trait in today’s composers.

Born in Shanghai shortly after the Culture Revolution, Ms. Wang was raised in an era of breathtaking economic and cultural expansion. She was a known piano prodigy by the age of five. A scholarship from Manhattan School of Music brought her to the US where she began her composition studies under the tutelage of Nils Vigeland and later with Richard Danielpour at the Curtis Institute of Music.

While a student, her tragic opera NANNAN was showcased by New York City Opera’s annual VOX festival. This led to the production of her chamber opera FLOWN, a meditation on lovers who must part, by Music-Theatre Group. The Emily Dickenson inspired song cycle I DIED FOR BEAUTY was featured at the opening ceremony of Beijing Modern Music Festival. Her piano trio SHADOW dramatizes the inner life of an autistic child. It was featured by the New Juilliard Ensemble at the Museum of Modern Art and was subsequently presented by Continuum at Merkin Hall’s “China in America”.

Not yet 30 years old, Ms Wang won the coveted Underwood Commission, and her concert opera FROM THE OTHER SKY was the centerpiece of the American Composers Orchestra’s season opening concert at Carnegie Hall. During that same year, the Minnesota Orchestra, led by Osmo Vanska, performed her SYMPHONY NO.1 as part of “Future Classics” series. Most recently, SYMPHONY NO.2, commissioned and premiered by Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin was streamed live to global audiences. OBOE CONCERTO, co-commissioned by The Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress and The League of Composers Orchestra, premiered at NYC’s Miller Theater with NY Philharmonic’s principle oboist Liang Wang as the Soloist.

From the beginning of her career, Jie has won enthusiastic critical response. The New York Times described FROM THE OTHER SKY as “clear, lucid and evocative”, and OBOE CONCERTO as “ interesting things to say and intriguing ways to say them”. thought her concert opera to be “far more fun than one is supposed to have at a concert of ‘serious’ music”. Minnesota’s Pioneer Press claimed that SYMPHONY NO.1 is “self-assured” and “fascinating.” Reviewers have cited her music as “introspective” (The New York Times) and “scrupulously crafted composition that embraces both Chinese and Western modern classical expression” (Pittsburgh Times Review).

In addition to her successes in concert halls, Ms Wang was the recipient of several Toulmin Foundation grants and a McKnight fellowship. She was named a Schumann fellow at the Aspen Music Festival where she studied with Christopher Rouse and Marc-Andre Dalbavie in the Master Class program, and a McCracken Fellow at the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Other honors include multiple ASCAP awards, citations from BMI, Opera America, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, most recently a Koussevitzky Prize from the Library of Congress, and the Elaine Lebonbom Prize from Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Ms. Wang is a publishing member of ASCAP. She lives on Upper West Side with Pilot, a now exceedingly rare Sealyham terrier. Aside from composing, she is an avid hiker, rock climber, and a ringer softball player all over Manhattan. She bats left and throws right.

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Fast facts


The Transformation Technique

For much of his early career, Franz Liszt was focused only on his development as a virtuosic pianist. With a strong desire to shift his focus towards composition, Liszt was appointed the music director at the Court of Weimar. With the position came a reduced travel schedule freeing up  time for his compositional pursuits. One idea that stood out during this period was the “transformation technique.” Liszt takes a single theme through a prolonged series of changes in tempo, timbre, rhythm, among other parameters. This technique is heard throughout both of his piano concertos giving them a greater sense of coherence as a substantive form is able to grow from a minimal amount of material. 


A Hidden Program?

In his second trilogy of symphonies, Tchaikovsky admits explorations of fate and death are fundamental to the musical ideas presented. During this time, the prodigious composer was facing a series of personal and psychological battles with depression, fear associated with his sexuality, and the early death of his mother. The composer had grown less fond of the idea of providing detailed and elaborate program notes such as those provided with his first trilogy of symphonies. The more minimal and obscure notes accompanying his later symphonies leave audiences searching for the intersections between Tchaikovsky’s grief-stricken personal life and his lush, expressive, and ambitious music.


By the numbers

Altitude of Pikes Peak (feet)

Liszt's years at Weimar

Musicians in Your A2SO

2019/2020 Season Schedule

September 13, 2019 | Ax Plays Brahms

October 12, 2019 | Made In America

November 2, 2019 | Liszt & Tchaikovsky

November 9, 2019 | The Music Of Star Wars

December 13, 2019 Holiday Pops

January 18, 2020 | Mozart Birthday Bash

March 14 & 15, 2020 | Best Of Broadway

March 21, 2020 West Side Story

April 25, 2020 | Measha & Mahler