Los Angeles Music Preview: NICHOLAS McGEGAN & SEAN CHEN (Pasadena Symphony)

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by Tony Frankel on January 4, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


In a program in which familiarity breeds joy, the Pasadena Symphony begins the New Year with three of the most popular pieces in the repertoire, led by the insanely affable and exuberant Nicholas McGegan: Prokofiev’s short but mighty Photo from PASADENA SYMPHONY AND POPS by Kay E. KochenderferClassical Symphony, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, best known as Emperor.

There is a certain irony in the subtitle of Emperor that was later given to the Fifth, but never used by the composer himself. By the spring of 1809 when Beethoven was creating his Concerto, the last person he would have wanted to honor was the emperor of the day, Napoleon Bonaparte. Years earlier, he had obliterated a dedication to the French leader he’d once admired from the title page of his Third Symphony—Eroica—when he learned that Napoleon had just crowned himself Emperor. “Now he will become a tyrant like all the others,” the composer raged.

Nicholas McGegan, 8/13/11.

Now in May 1809, Napoleon’s armies were actually besieging the city of Vienna. Beethoven’s home was in the line of fire of the French cannons, and he was forced to flee to his brother’s house, where he holed up in the cellar with a pillow pressed to his still sensitive ears. But his work on his new Concerto did not cease.

And yet in many ways Emperor, taken in a more generic sense, is an appropriate title for this concerto. It is a work of imperial size and scope—particularly in its huge first movement—and it reflects its war-ridden era in its virile, martial tone. Its key—E-flat major—was one of Beethoven’s favorites and one he associated with heroic thoughts (it is also the key of the Eroica). Sadly, Beethoven was never able to display his own powers as a pianist with this work. Although he had introduced all his other keyboard concertos to the public, his deafness was too far advanced for him to risk playing the 1810 premiere in Leipzig.


For McGegan’s highly anticipated return, pianist Sean Chen will bring to life Beethoven’s sublime, beautiful, and exuberant piano concerto. A Van Cliburn competition winner, Chen has earned accolades for “alluring, colorfully shaded renditions “(The New York Times), and was recently named a 2015 fellow by the prestigious Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing Arts. While he was born in Florida, Mr. Chen actually grew up locally in Oak Park near Agoura Hills.  He returns to his Southern California roots for this exclusive engagement.

photos courtesy of Pasadena Symphony

Pasadena Symphony
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Sean Chen, piano
Prokofiev: Classical Symphony
Schubert: Unfinished Symphony
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor
Saturday January 9, 2016 at 2:00 and 8:00 pm
Ambassador Auditorium
131 South St. John Avenue in Pasadena
for tickets, call (626) 793-7172 or visit Pasadena Symphony

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