French cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière won the Grand Prize in the renowned Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2017, the first time this prestigious competition has been dedicated to the cello. For his prize-winning performance, Julien-Laferrière played the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich, and he ends his Phillips concert with the powerful Cello Sonata by the same composer. Alongside this he will play Brahms’s passionate and brooding E minor Cello Sonata, sets of virtuoso variations by Beethoven and Martinů on themes by Mozart and Rossini, and the expansive Nocturne by the living French composer Thierry Escaich.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
7 Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” WoO 46
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38
Allegro non troppo
Allegretto quasi Menuetto
BOHUSLAV MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Variations on a Theme of Rossini, H.290
THIERRY ESCAICH (b. 1965)
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40
Allegro non troppo
Please note that this concert takes place at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave., NW.
Dress Code at the Cosmos Club:
Gentlemen are expected to wear jackets, dress slacks, a collared long-sleeved shirt (tucked-in) or turtleneck at all times.
Ladies are expected to dress in an equivalent fashion, which means dresses, suits, skirts or dress slacks with jackets or tops of equivalent formality. Leggings or tights, unless worn with skirts, dresses, or long jackets, are not considered to be of equivalent formality.
Military uniforms and national dress of equivalent formality are also acceptable.
Sweat suits or other athletic or sports attire, jeans or other denim garments, sneakers, flip-flops, athletic footwear and shorts are never acceptable in the public rooms.
First Prize Winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2017, Victor Julien-Laferrière is also first Prize Winner of the 2012 Spring Prague International Competition.
Born in 1990, Julien-Laferrière completed his studies at the Paris Conservatory in 2008 with Rolland Pidoux. Since 2009 he has studied at the Vienna University with Heinrich Schiff and from 2005-2011 at the Seiji Ozawa International Music Academy in Switzerland.
Julien-Laferrière has performed as a soloist with orchestras such as Orchestre National de Belgique under Andrey Boreyko, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Peter Oundjian, Brussels Philharmonic under Stéphane Denève, Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie under Frank Braley, Orchestre national d'Île-de-France, Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra, State Hermitage Orchestra, Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra, South Czech Philharmonic, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Pardubice, and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
As a chamber musician he has been invited to perform at the KKL Luzern, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Auditorium du Louvre, Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Festival de Pâques d'Aix-en-Provence, Tonhalle Zürich, Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, Al Bustan Festival, Ticino Musica Festival, Prague EuroArt Festival, Kuhmo Festival (Finland), Berne, Autunno Musicale Caserta (Italy), Besançon, Deauville festivals, Nantes Folle Journée, in the Cité de la Musique and the Salle Gaveau in Paris, and the Auditorium in Dijon.
His first recording was released in 2016 on the Mirare label with pianist Adam Laloum, and featured sonatas by Debussy, Franck, and Brahms. The recording has received a number of awards including the Diapason d’or, CHOC by Classica, ffff by Télérama, and Editors’ Choice by France Musique.
Julien-Laferrière is a co-founder of the Trio les Esprits, founded in 2009 with pianist Adam Laloum and violinist Mi-Sa Yang. Their recording of works by Beethoven and Schumann have been released to great acclaim. He has collaborated with musicians such as Augustin Dumay, Renaud Capuçon, Christian Ivaldi, Alain Planès, Vladimir Mendelssohn.
Born in 1992, Guillaume Bellom studied piano and violin from the age of six at the Besançon Conservatoire (CRR), where in 2008 he was awarded prizes for piano, violin, and chamber music.
In 2009, he was unanimously admitted to the Paris Conservatoire (CNSM), where he joined the piano class of Nicholas Angelich and Romano Pallottini. He also studied under Franck Braley, Marie-François Bucquet, Dominique Merlet, Dany Rouet, Denis Pascal, Leon Fleisher, and Jean-Claude Pennetier. He is currently furthering his studies with Hortense Cartier-Bresson.
In 2011 he also joined the violin class of Roland Daugareil, Suzanne Gessner and Christophe Poiget at the Paris Conservatoire (CNSM).
Bellom was winner of the piano prize in the Besançon Jeunes Musiciens competition in 2008, following which he performed the Grieg Piano Concerto and the First Piano Concerto of Brahms with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Besançon. He performs regularly at the Fondation Singer-Polignac in Paris, where he has been artist in residence since 2012.
His interest in chamber music has led to appearances at festivals including those of Deauville (Festival de Pâques and Août Musical). He also collaborates with his brother, the cellist Adrien Bellom and more recently with violinist Amaury Coeytaux and cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière. He premiered Danse encore, a trio by the composer and pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, at the Chapelle du Méjan in Arles.
In 2014, Bellom performed the Animal Carnival by Saint-Saens at the Champs-Elysées concert hall in Paris, and won a prize at the Rhine Gold Foundation. In 2015, he won the first prize at the international piano competition of Epinal, France. In 2016, he won the first prize of the Thierry Scherz competition in Gstaad, Switzerland.
His first solo album, featuring pieces by Schubert, Haydn and Debussy, was released in early 2017. His great interest in chamber music, shared with his friend Ismaël Margain, lead them into joining various ensembles such as those performing at the Deauville Festival of Music. They play piano four-hands together and have made two recordings dedicated to Mozart and Shubert under the label Aparte/Harmonia Mundi.
Ludwig van Beethoven, 7 Variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, WoO 46
The young Beethoven’s patron and employer in Bonn was Elector Maximilian Franz, (born in Vienna in 1750), the youngest child of Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa, and the brother of Marie Antoinette. The Elector maintained an opera company and Beethoven played viola in the orchestra. It was here, both as a player and member of the audience, that he came to know and admire Mozart’s operas. Beethoven wrote four sets of variations on arias from Mozart's operas, and the variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen were composed shortly after he attended a performance of Die Zauberflöte in the Vienna Hoftheater at the beginning of 1801. The original song is a duet between Pamina and Papageno, and Beethoven mirrors this dialogue in his variations, making the two instruments–the cello and piano–equal partners. The piano takes the role of Pamina, while the cello is Papageno. The variations are witty and inventive, involving light-hearted exchanges between the two instruments, and also some more dramatic confrontations. The mood changes for the fourth variation, in E-flat minor, and the sixth variation is a rapturous slow movement in miniature, while the final variation brings back the main theme, just before the work ends with two peremptory chords.
Johannes Brahms, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38
Brahms began his E minor Cello Sonata in the summer of 1862, but it was not until 1865 that he completed the work. The main themes of both the first and third movements allude to Bach’s Art of Fugue, but Brahms’s treatment of these ideas is firmly in the Romantic tradition. The first movement opens with the cello introducing the principal theme, accompanied by tentative piano chords played off the beat, before the same theme passes to the piano. The second group of themes ends with a particularly lyrical idea in B Major that closes the exposition. A turbulent development section leads to a return of the main theme, this time accompanied by a melancholy falling motif in the piano as well as the off-beat chords. The coda brings the movement to a tranquil close in E Major. Brahms originally wrote two central movements: the present Allegretto quasi Menuetto in A minor, and an Adagio that he abandoned. The Allegretto has a kind of folkish charm, as well as an ingenious Trio section derived from the same musical idea. The finale opens with the grandest of fugues, though the movement is broadly in sonata form. Whereas the first movement ended with a mood of consolation, the finale is dark, dramatic and intense to the end. The work was dedicated to Brahms’s friend and fellow-composer Josef Gänsbacher. It was published in 1866 by Simrock–Brahms had mischievously sold him the sonata by telling him it was “easy to play.” The first public performance was given in Basel, Switzerland, on February 12, 1867 by Moritz Kahnt and Hans von Bülow.
Bohuslav Martinů, Variations on a Theme of Rossini, H. 290
The theme used in the Variations on Theme of Rossini (1942) was one Martinů had probably known since his youth, when he used to play violin parts in quartet arrangements of 19th-century operas and he later encountered Paganini’s variations on the same theme, taken from Rossini’s opera Moses. In October 1942–as a refugee in America escaping from war-torn Europe–Martinů used the Rossini-Paganini theme for his own set of variations. They were commissioned by (and dedicated to) Gregor Piatigorsky, one of the pre-eminent cellists in the US at the time. After a short piano introduction, the theme is presented straightforwardly by the cello, with only a few changes in articulation and a piano accompaniment marked by spiky rhythms. Martinů consulted Piatigorsky closely on technical matters and in the first and second variations he explores the virtuoso possibilities of the cello and piano, with brilliant writing colored by Martinů’s characteristic lightly-spiced harmonies. In the third variation (Andante) he creates an expressive contrast, with a movement that is quite remote from the original theme. The fourth and final variation intensifies the flamboyant mood of the first two, ending with a shortened repeat of the theme. Piatigorsky gave the first performance in New York City on May 1, 1943.
Thierry Escaich, Nocturne for Cello and Piano
Thierry Escaich is a composer and organist, one of the successors to Maurice Duruflé at the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, and a professor of composition and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire. He has written a number of orchestral works (performed in Europe and the US) and has given extended improvisations in public on both piano and organ, sometimes as accompaniments to film music. Escaich composed the Nocturne for Cello and Piano in 1997 and the first performance was given on April 28, 1997 by François Salque (cello) and Claire-Marie Le Guay (piano) at the Maison de Radio France in Paris. Escaich himself has written a description of the work that captures its shifting moods:
The Nocturne begins in a particularly dark and desolate atmosphere. A slow melody is torn apart by disjointed intervals and, seeming to turn in on itself, it is distilled by the cello while the piano provides icy punctuations. The only change of climate in this first period comes with the sudden reversal of roles in which the piano takes up the melody with force, with violent interjections from the cello, before the austere and pared-down mood of the opening returns. The two instruments are then engaged–in an atmosphere full of expectation–to a brief game of reflections around a persistent high G-sharp, from which emerges the first expressive theme of the work, a sort of long elegiac phrase on the cello sounding like a premonition of what will be the climax of the whole piece.
The formal process controlling the rest of the work is almost cinematographic: a lively dance with an irregular and particularly complex rhythm is born in the distance, constantly interrupted by flashbacks from the beginning. It is only gradually that a fusion takes place between these various characters that all oppose each other initially. For example it is the disjointed intervals of the opening theme that create the harmonies of the tempestuous central section even before its melodic shape reappears. This fusion ends in an increasingly frenzied whirlwind, leading to the second expressive climax of the work, a long cry followed a relentless descent, burying any hope that the dance theme might be reborn. The coda only the despairing darkness of the piece.
Dmitri Shostakovich, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40
1934 was a turbulent year in Shostakovich’s private life: he began a passionate affair with the 20-year-old interpreter, Yelena Konstantinovskaya, and as a consequence, became temporarily estranged from his wife, Nina. The Cello Sonata was written under strained circumstances: after a blazing row with Nina, in August 1934, he started work on the piece and it was finished a month later. It was written at the suggestion of the cellist Viktor Kubatzky to whom it is dedicated, and who gave the first performance at the Leningrad Conservatory on December 25, with Shostakovich at the piano. From a stylistic point of view, it marks an interesting point in the composer’s development. He had not composed any chamber music since the early 1920s, and the Cello Sonata shows a move towards a simpler and more direct language after a decade of ferocious modernism. The opening melody harks back to a kind of lyrical late-Romanticism, but the second movement is more rugged and brutal, a kind of folkish, mechanistic dance. The Largo is the emotional heart of the Sonata, it is followed by a Rondo full of sinister urgency and rushing scales–Nicolas Slonimsky described these as sounding “like Czerny gone berserk.”
Nigel Simeone, 2017