Shai Wosner, renowned pianist, will be featured as a soloist in this weekend’s Cayuga Chamber Orchestra concert.

Shai Wosner, renowned pianist, will be featured as a soloist in this weekend’s Cayuga Chamber Orchestra concert. 

Our superb Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, after highly acclaimed presentations of Puccini’s beloved opera, “La bohème” with Opera Ithaca, and an exceptional concert of music for strings, now provides the chance to hear pianist Shai Wosner, recognized worldwide for his brilliance and inventive pairings of classical and modern masters, performing two concertos. The concert, led by the orchestra’s musical director, Cornelia Laemmli Orth, takes place Saturday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Ithaca College’s Ford Hall.

The program comprises two Mozart masterpieces, both in C major, serving as book-ends to two contemporary works, “out of the box,” as the conductor says. Opening with Mozart’s late Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467, with Wosner as soloist, the concert closes with the final Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”). In between are “Chamber Dance” by Joan Tower (b. 1938) and “The Air Suspended” for piano and strings by Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984). Both composers are American.

When we talked last week, Orth said this would be a really busy time. She arrived on Monday, and spent Tuesday shopping and cooking a Swiss dinner for 12 people—part of the CCO annual fundraising Silent Auction. “I’m just busy enough,” she laughed. The rest of the week means rehearsals. As for the soloist, she has never worked with him, so this will be a “special treat.” They meet on Friday to talk over the music and then devote that evening to prepare for the final run-through on Saturday morning. When asked about the repertory, Cornelia played the Mozart concerto as a piano student in Switzerland and has conducted it and the “Jupiter” many times. “It’s such a grand symphony,” and the idea of putting “two of the most famous works ever” on the same program is “simply amazing.” Her Musical Advisory Committee—the members are “so educated, so experienced”—also scheduled the two modern pieces she does not know. When they meet about programming, she calls it “our war room.”

The soloist comes here with an outstanding reputation. Born in Israel, he studied there and at Juilliard with Emanuel Ax. Wosner performs with leading orchestras and in solo and chamber recitals around the world. The winner of many prizes, he has received rave reviews in the New York Times, and on NPR was praised for his “keen musical mind and deep musical soul.” One critic referred to his rendering of the solo opening episode of Mozart K. 467 as a “sparkling display of flawless technique with the nuance of moonlight on a rippling lake.” Now there’s something to listen for.

Both Mozart works are very familiar. Both modern pieces, virtually unknown, are 15 to 16 minutes long. “Chamber Dance” by Joan Tower, called one of the most successful women composers of all time, was written for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which premiered it at Carnegie Hall in May 2006. Cornelia says it has never been done in Ithaca, and she is enjoying learning it, with its many little lyrical solos and duets. “The players have to dance with one another,” she adds.

The younger, not-so-eminent Christopher Cerrone was educated at Yale and the Manhattan School of Music, and at present is visiting composer at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins. “The Air Suspended” was written for pianist Wosner, who just played the world première on Oct. 23 with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra in Memphis. He then performed it in Philadelphia and at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, which had commissioned it along with two orchestras. In his preface the composer explains that this work in three movements is inspired by changes in the weather and the enormous reserves of energy required to accomplish such a transformation. The solo pianist is the energy source and plays “highly kinetic music” throughout. The strings are instructed to increase bow pressure to cause a crunching noise among other sounds. Orth finds it a fascinating piece and “absolutely spectacular.” So come and hear the traditional and the new in one evening. The concert promises to be fabulous.

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