A piano concerto composed under a Minnesota Orchestra centennial commission, is the most recent of many new piano works that have resulted from the close collaboration between Peter Lieberson and Peter Serkin. In 1983, the success of Piano Concerto, commissioned by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and written for Serkin, first brought Lieberson to national attention. In the ensuing twenty years, Lieberson has provided many more piano works for his friend and colleague, including piano solos, chamber works, and pieces for piano and orchestra. Serkin has recorded several of those works for BMG Classics.
Piano-centered works that Lieberson has composed for Serkin include King Gesar, written for Yo-Yo Ma, Peter Serkin, Emanuel Ax, a narrator, and a chamber ensemble, which was introduced at the 1992 Munich Biennale Festival and was recorded for Sony Classical. In 1999, Lieberson wrote Red Garuda for Serkin and the Boston Symphony. Only two months ago, Serkin and the Orion Quartet performed the premiere of Lieberson's new Piano Quintet during the opening-week festivities of Carnegie Hall's new concert room, Zankel Hall.
Conductor Oliver Knussen, too, has had the good fortune to be honored with Lieberson's music:
The Cleveland Orchestra commissioned the composer to write a 50th-birthday piece for Knussen. The resulting work, Ah, was premiered in April 2002. Knussen and The Cleveland Orchestra recorded several of Lieberson's orchestral works on a Deutsche Grammophon CD released in 2002.
In welcoming Lieberson to Orchestra Hall, tbe Minnesota Orchestra is mindful of an old family tie:
Tbe composer's late father, the revered Goddard Lieberson, was president of Columbia Records and served as the Artists & Repertoire executive of that label when the Minneapolis Symphony recorded for Columbia under Dimitri Mitropoulos. The elder Lieberson, therefore, played a significant role in this Orchestra's history, and his name has taken an honored place in the institution's archives.
Lieberson grew up in an arts-filled New York City household. His mother, ballerina Vera Zorina, had her own distinguished career. He studied at Columbia University, and his principal composition teachers were Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, Donald Martino, and Martin Boykan. In the 1980s Lieberson completed a doctorate at Brandeis University and taught for four years at Harvard, while exploring another aspect of his calling: Studies with Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist master, led him to devote many years in the service of Shambhala Training, a meditation and cultural program.
Since 1994 Lieberson has devoted his time exclusively to composition. He recently wrote Rilke Songs for his wife, mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, on a commission of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, where they were premiered.
My Third Piano Concerto, composed for Peter Serkin and commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, was inspired by certain poems I've been attracted to over the past few years. In particular, I have been drawn to the work of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I will be composing a setting of Neruda's love sonnets for my wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, on a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the 2005-6 season. The Neruda poem that I was first drawn to when drafting my concerto was Leviathan, a depiction of a huge iceberg floating on the dark Arctic sea, illuminated by flashes of soft fluorescent light. The language of the poem is passionate and wrathful. I decided then that my piano concerto would be in five movements, and each of these movements would be inspired by a different poem by a different poet.
And now the story gets a little more complicated. I chose to compose first a movement inspired by the Canticle to the Sun of St. Augustine, but when I was halfway through composing it I realized that this was not a first movement at all but rather a slow movement. I saw then that the movement inspired by Neruda's Leviathan was really the first movement. I had sketched the second and fourth movements, based on poems by TS. Eliot and Charles Wright, but now I realized that these were not intrinsic to the flow of the piece. Instead, I wrote a concluding movement inspired by Wright's Dog Creek Mainline, a poem with a lilt to it reminiscent of American jazz. So finally I ended up with a three-movement concerto, which is what I always wanted to write, but had found my way to it through these poems.
The first movement evokes the "passionate wrathfulness" I mentioned earlier in regard to Neruda's poem. This movement forms one long arch. There are interludes for solo piano along the way, but the movement may be thought of as one sustained passionate statement. The second movement, the movement inspired by St. Augustine's Canticle, has an elegiac quality - it is dedicated to the memory of my mother, who died last April. The finale is a rondo, built on a melodic-harmonic motto that initiates new material on each return. In general, this movement has a very rhythmic and propulsive feel to it, but there are also moments of quiet lyricism for the piano solo.