Jeremy Yudkin: At Tanglewood, a weekend full of Beethoven piano concertos and new works by American women composers | Berkshire landscapes

LENOX — This weekend, at Tanglewood, we will witness remarkable events: a tour de force of concentration and musicality in the English-born pianist Paul Lewis‘ traversal of Ludwig von Beethoven’s five piano concertos in less than 48 hours, in three consecutive concerts, each featuring the music of contemporary American female composers. These works are juxtaposed, placing the new and the modern against masterpieces from 200 years ago. Equally noteworthy (and important) is the performance of a symphony by a shamefully neglected 19th-century French composer.

By the age of 50, Lewis has garnered most of the accolades available to professional musicians in the UK. His recordings of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt have been included in the “best of” lists published by Gramophone magazine. He was appointed artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition. And he was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to music. His playing has been widely praised for its firm imagination, clarity and depth.

The feat of performing all five Beethoven concertos in one weekend is not unprecedented, but it is a feat nonetheless. Lewis has played them all before, of course, and a few years ago he did so during an eight-week season of BBC Promenade Concerts. He also toured with complete programs of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas.

Beethoven’s piano concertos cover the years from Beethoven’s early maturity until the age of 39, when he had mastered his unique and visionary style. The piano was Beethoven’s own instrument, and the concertos were written for him to play, until he could no longer hear well enough to perform in public. Concerto No. 2, which always has Mozart in mind, is in fact the first he wrote. Concerto No. 5 was given (not by Beethoven) the sobriquet ‘Emperor’, which captures the range and power of its first movement, but not the hushed magic of its Adagio or the wavering, rushing irregularity of its finale.

A FOCUS ON CONTEMPORARY COMPOSERS

Like many cultural and arts organizations across the United States, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has recently recognized the shortcomings of its musical programming over the 140 years of its existence and is now striving to feature the music of black and Latino composers and works by female composers, especially contemporary female composers. This weekend, each of the three concerts will open with a piece co-commissioned by the BSO by an American composer — Julia Adolphe, Caroline Shaw, and Elizabeth Ogonek. Additionally, Sunday’s concert will feature a symphony by 19th-century French composer Louise Farrenc.

Adolf34, has written many orchestral works, including a viola concerto, “Unearth, Release”, which brought her to notice in 2016, as well as numerous chamber instrumental pieces and melodies. Friday’s concert presents us with her new work “Makeshift Castle”, which, according to the composer, “captures contrasting states of permanence and ephemeral, of perseverance and disintegration, of determination and abandonment”.

On Saturday we will hear Shaw’s “Punctum”, a piece originally written for string quartet. It is a meditation on a phrase and more specifically on a chord of “St. Matthew Passion.” Roland Barthes, the French literary critic, describes a “punctum” as a singular detail in a work of art that captures your attention. Shaw, 39, was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 – aged 30 – for her unaccompanied choral work ‘Partita for 8 Voices’ and just won a Grammy for the song cycle ‘Narrow Sea “.

Ognonek, 33, is a composer and assistant professor of composition at Cornell University. His works are eclectic, ranging from unusual chamber instrumental works to a piece for narrator and clarinet, a violin concerto and orchestral works. She was a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow in 2012 and spent three years as Mead’s Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performs the world premiere of its “Starling Variations”.

Also on Sunday, we will have the opportunity to hear one of the most beautiful works of the shamefully neglected composer Farrenc, a contemporary of Félix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann and as gifted as them. She struggled all her life against gender discrimination, eventually succeeding in being appointed piano professor at the Paris Conservatory, a prestigious position she held for 30 years. It is only very recently that his works have begun to be performed and recorded. We will hear his powerful and expressive Symphony No. 3.

UNDER THE SHED

A preview of Tanglewood’s concerts at the Koussevitzky Music Shed this week…

8 p.m., Friday July 29: Andris Nelsons conducts Julia Adolphe and Beethoven with Paul Lewis, piano

During the three BSO concerts this weekend, Andris Nelsons and his frequent collaborator, the English pianist Paul Lewis, perform the five piano concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven. Each of these concerts opens with a piece co-commissioned by the BSO by an American. This concert presents “Makeshift Castle” by composer Julia Adolphe, a co-commission of the BSO. Other works presented are Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 3. The ticket includes admission to the 6 p.m. prelude concert. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

10:30 a.m., Saturday July 30: Rehearsal: Andris Nelsons conducts Elizabeth Ogonek, Farrenc and Beethoven with Paul Lewis, piano

Rehearsal for the Sunday afternoon concert. Doors open at 9 a.m.

8 p.m., Saturday July 30: Andris Nelsons conducts Caroline Shaw and Beethoven with Paul Lewis, piano

Nelsons and Lewis collaborate on the second of three concerts encompassing Beethoven’s five piano concertos in one weekend. This concert features “Punctum” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. Originally for string quartet, this world premiere of the orchestral version was commissioned by the BSO. Other works presented are Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Piano Concerto No. 4. The ticket includes the 6 p.m. prelude concert. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m., Sunday July 31: Andris Nelsons conducts Elizabeth Ogonek, Farrenc and Beethoven with Paul Lewis, piano

Nelsons and Lewis collaborate on the third of three concerts encompassing Beethoven’s five piano concertos in one weekend. This concert features the world premiere of composer Elizabeth Ogonek’s “Starling Variations”, co-commissioned by the BSO. Ogonek is a 2012 Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center and was Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The other works presented are Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”. Doors open at noon.