THE 2017 SEASON IN SAN FRANCISCO

OLGA KERN, piano

Sun, Feb. 12, 2017 at 3 pm

PINCHAS ZUKERMAN, violin

Sat, Feb. 25, 2017 at 8 pm

AUGUSTIN HADELICH, violin

Mon, March 13, 2017 at 8 pm

PAVEL HAAS QUARTET

Sun, March 26, 2017 at 3 pm

RAFAL BLECHACZ, piano

Tues, April 4, 2017 at 8 pm

JEAN-EFFLAM BAVOUZET, piano

Sun, April 9, 2017 at 3 pm

QUATUOR DANEL

Mon, April 24, 2017 at 8 pm

WIDMANN-ALTSTAEDT-VONSATTEL TRIO

Sat, April 29, 2017 at 8 pm

BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS

Sun, May 14, 2017 at 3 pm

All performances are at Herbst Theatre

Single tickets will be available Jan. 1, 2017

Click HERE to purchase subscription packages to our 2017 season in San Francisco.  The Early Bird FULL SERIES, available until Sept. 1, is only $306 ($34 per concert).

The Legendary Pinchas Zukerman

The Legendary Pinchas Zukerman Charismatic Pianist Olga Kern Chopin Gold Medalist Rafal Blechacz The Electrifying Pavel Haas Quartet
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OLGA KERN, piano

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2017 at 3 PM

SCARLATTI Three Sonatas
BEETHOVEN "Waldstein" Sonata, Op. 53
SCHUMANN Kinderszenen, Op. 15
LISZT Reminiscences of Mozart's "Don Juan"

 


“Kern's musicality radiates off the stage and saturates the hall, and it is joyously, intensely alive.  Call it star quality”

—Washington Post

Recognized as one of her generation's finest pianists, the charismatic Olga Kern jumpstarted her U.S. career by winning the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the first woman to do so in more than thirty years.

First prize winner of the Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition at seventeen, Ms. Kern is a laureate of many international competitions. In 2016 she served as Jury Chairman of both the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition and first Olga Kern International Piano Competition, where she also holds the title of Artistic Director.

Ms. Kern opened the Baltimore Symphony’s 2015-2016 centennial season with Marin Alsop. Other season highlights included returns to the Royal Philharmonic with Pinchas Zukerman, Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice with Giancarlo Guerrero, Rochester Philharmonic and San Antonio Symphony, a month-long tour of South Africa visiting the Cape and KwaZulu Natal philharmonics, Israeli tour with the Israel Symphony, solo recitals at Van Wezel Hall, 92nd Street Y, and recitals with Renée Fleming in Carnegie Hall and Berkeley.  In 2014-15 she appeared with the NHK Symphony, Orchestre National De Lyon, and the orchestras of Detroit, Nashville, Madison, New Mexico, and Austin as well as giving a recital at Seattle’s Meany Hall. 

Ms. Kern has performed in such concert halls as Carnegie Hall, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Symphony Hall in Osaka, Salzburger Festspielhaus, La Scala in Milan, Tonhalle in Zurich, and the Chatelet in Paris.  Her discography includes her Grammy nominated recording of Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations and other transcriptions (2004), Brahms Variations (2007) and Chopin Piano Sonatas No. 2 and 3 (2010). She was featured in the award-winning documentary about the 2001 Cliburn Competition, Playing on the Edge.

ARTIST'S WEBSITE

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PINCHAS ZUKERMAN, violin
with ANGELA CHENG, piano

SATURDAY, FEB. 25, 2017 at 8 PM

MOZART Sonata in G Major, K. 301
BEETHOVEN Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 12 No. 3
BRAHMS Sonatensatz (from FAE Sonata)
BRAHMS Sonata No. 3 in D minor

"Mr. Zukerman is a total hedonist at heart, and without pressing or forcing his instrument he generated a warm, liquid sound that effortlessly filled the hall."

—The New York Time

The multiple Grammy-winning Pinchas Zukerman is equally respected as violinist, violist, conductor, pedagogue and chamber musician.  His musical genius, prodigious technique and unwavering artistic standards have inspired audiences and critics alike over four decades.

Mr. Zukerman's 2015-2016 season included over 100 performances throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. In his seventh season as Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, he lead the ensemble in concerts in the United Kingdom and on an extensive U.S. tour. Additional orchestral engagements include the Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and New World Symphonies, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for tour dates including New York’s Carnegie Hall.  He visited the Mariinsky, Korean Chamber and San Carlo Orchestras, toured with Salzburg Camerata and Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz and returned to Australia for appearances with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane and West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth. He performed recitals in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Australia, and toured with the Zukerman Trio in the US, Italy, Spain, Australia, Japan and throughout South America.  In 2016, he begins his tenure as Artist-in-Association with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1948, Pinchas Zukerman came to America in 1962 where he studied at The Juilliard School with Ivan Galamian. He has been awarded the Medal of Arts, the Isaac Stern Award for Artistic Excellence and was appointed as the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative's first instrumentalist mentor in the music discipline. Mr. Zukerman's extensive discography contains over 100 titles, and has earned him two Grammy awards and 21 nominations. This season sees the release of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 and Double Concerto with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and cellist Amanda Forsyth, recorded in live performances at Ottawa’s Southam Hall.

ARTIST'S WEBSITE

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AUGUSTIN HADELICH, violin
with JOYCE YANG, piano

MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2017 at 8 PM

BEETHOVEN Sonata in G Major, Op. 30 No. 3
BRETT DEAN Berlin Music
MOZART Sonata in D Major, K. 306

STRAVINSKY Divertimento after "The Fairy's Kiss"
TCHAIKOVSKY Waltz-Scherzo

“Hadelich plays with dazzling technique, a gorgeous tone and penetrating, spontaneous musicality”

—The New York Times

Acclaimed for his phenomenal technique, poetic sensitivity and gorgeous tone, Augustin Hadelich has performed with such orchestras as the BBC Symphony, Danish National Symphony, German Radio Philharmonic, Dresden Philharmonic, Finnish Radio Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Malaysia Philharmonic, Netherlands Philharmonic, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, NHK Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, São Paulo Symphony and Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. He has collaborated with such conductors as Roberto Abbado, Marin Alsop, Herbert Blomstedt, James Conlon, Christoph von Dohnányi, Alan Gilbert, Sir Neville Marriner, Peter Oundjian, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Edo de Waart and Jaap van Zweden.

Highlights of his 2015/2016 included the Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (in Carnegie Hall), the London Philharmonic (including a recording), Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphonies of Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Louisville, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Oregon, Seattle and Vancouver.

He has given recitals at Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw, The Frick Collection, Kennedy Center and the Louvre, as well as chamber music societies in Detroit, La Jolla, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Vancouver. Chamber music partners have included Inon Barnatan, Jeremy Denk, James Ehnes, Richard Goode, Midori, Vadim Repin and Mitsuko Uchida.  Festival appearances include Ravinia, Grand Teton, Aspen, Bravo! Vail Valley, Chautauqua, the Hollywood Bowl, Marlboro, and Tanglewood.

Mr. Hadelich was the 2006 Gold Medalist of the Indianapolis Violin Competition. The son of German parents, he was raised in Italy and studied with Joel Smirnoff at Juilliard. He currently resides in New York City, and plays on the 1723 “ExKiesewetter” Stradivari violin, on loan from Clement and Karen Arrison through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

MR. HADELICH'S WEBSITE

Silver medalist at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, the charismatic Joyce Yang is blessed with “poetic and sensitive pianism” (Washington Post) and a “wondrous sense of color” (San Francisco Classical Voice).  She has performed with the N.Y. Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony and played recitals at such prestigious venues as Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and Zurich’s Tonhalle.

MS YANG''S WEBSITE

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PAVEL HAAS QUARTET

SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2017 at 3 PM

MARTINU String Quartet No. 3
DVORAK String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96 "American"

SMETANA String Quartet No. 1 in E minor "From My Life"

 

 

The Pavel Haas Quartet, based in Prague, has established itself as one of today’s great chamber ensembles, performing at the world’s most prestigious concert halls and recording five award-winning CDs.

The Quartet is known for their exciting performances at such venues as Wigmore Hall, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Palais des Beaux-Arts Brussels, Auditorio Nacional Madrid. Zurich Tonhalle, Munich Herkulessaal and and Luxembourg Philharmonie.  Recently they have had residencies at Cologne Philharmonie, Birmingham Town Hall and the Prague Spring Festival.

The Pavel Haas Quartet records exclusively with Supraphon. Their 2013 recording featuring Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor 'Death and the Maiden'  was awarded Gramophone’s Best Chamber Music Record in 2014. Gramophone commented: “They represent the best qualities of the Czech tradition – warmth, sonorousness, individuality, intensity; but what’s striking here is their fearless risk-taking, their fervency and the absolute confidence with which they propel you through these masterpieces.” The Strad recommended the performances as “supreme… vivid and compelling”, BBC Music Magazine as “essential listening”, and Fonoforum a “blazingly vivid account of enthralling veracity.”  The quartet’s previous recording, a disc of Dvořák’s String Quartets, earned Gramophone’s Record of the Year and The Sunday Times raved “Their account of the ‘American’ Quartet belongs alongside the greatest performances on disc.” 

The Quartet burst onto the world stage after winning the Paolo Borciani competition in 2005.  In 2007 the group was an ECHO Rising Star, resulting in a tour to major concert halls worldwide, took part in the BBC New Generation scheme between 2007-2009, and in 2010 was awarded the Special Ensemble Scholarship of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

The Quartet takes its name from the Czech composer Pavel Haas (1899-1944), who was imprisoned at Theresienstadt in 1941 and tragically died at Auschwitz three years later.

ARTIST WEBSITE

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RAFAL BLECHACZ, piano

TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2017 at 8 PM

BACH Four Duets
BEETHOVEN Rondo in G Major, Op. 51 No. 2
BEETHOVEN Sonata in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3

CHOPIN Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 No 2
CHOPIN Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor
CHOPIN Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49

"Rafal Blechacz, the young Polish virtuoso who gave a powerhouse debut recital in Herbst Theatre Sunday night, has fingers of steel and plenty of stamina, but more rewardingly, he has a distinctive point of view. His Chopin is a far cry from the droopy, speculative rhapsodist that so many pianists give us; in Blechacz's world, Chopin is a vigorous, forthright presence." 

—San Francisco Chronicle

“One of the most finely honed pianists of his generation, his playing is full of flair and charm and sparkles with wit and character. He conveys both serious intent and huge enjoyment, giving the music shape and driving momentum. Do hear him.”

—BBC Music Magazine

 

In October 2005, in an spectacular outing this 20 year old Polish virtuoso swept the field at the Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw:

  • The Gold Medal (unanimously awarded; the Silver Medal was not granted)
  • Best Performance of the Mazurkas
  • Best Performance of the Polonaises
  • Best Performance of a Concerto
  • Best Performance of a Sonata

Thus, Mr. Blechacz won every prize it was possible to win.

His coup in Warsaw electrified the musical world, and doors immediately opened for him at the most prestigious concert halls in London (Wigmore), Amsterdam (the Concertgebouw), Moscow (with the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev), Munich, Brussels, Madrid, Tokyo, etc.   Critics and audiences alike were vociferous in their acclaim, and we were very lucky to engage him in his debut US tour in 2008, and then again in 2011.

Mr. Blechacz’ star has continued to rise. In 2014 he won the prestigious Gilmore Award, which includes $300,000 in cash. 

Each time we present this stunning artist, he sells out Herbst Theatre and the crowds go wild. Don’t miss his triumphant return in 2017!

ARTIST'S WEBSITE

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JEAN-EFFLAM BAVOUZET, piano
San Francisco RECITAL Debut

SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 2017 at 3 PM

HAYDN Sonata TBA
BEETHOVEN Sonata in D Major, Op. 10 No. 3
RAVEL Miroirs
DEBUSSY L'Isle Joyeuse

 


“Bavouzet's playing has precision, finesse and fiery elegance.”

—The Guardian

One of the most engaging performers on stage today, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet regularly works with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pierre Boulez, Vladimir Jurowski, Vasili Petrenko, Daniele Gatti, Valery Gergiev, Kiril Karabits, Neeme Järvi, James Gaffigan, Ivan Fischer and Krzysztof Urbánski.

He has recently appeared with the San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, Dallas, Seattle, Pittsburgh and New Jersey symphony orchestras as well as the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the  Orchestra National de Lyon and Orquestra Sinfonica do Estado de São Paulo. Festival appearances include La Roque d’Anthéron, Mostly Mozart and the Proms with the BBC Philharmonic

Mr. Bavouzet is regularly invited to give recitals at London’s Southbank Centre and Wigmore Hall, Cité de la Musique, BOZAR,  the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing (where he received the Classical Elites Beijing Instrumental Recital of the Year award), the Concertgebouw, Sociedad Filarmónica de Bilbao and the Moscow Conservatory.

He records exclusively for Chandos and his current recording projects include a complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas cycle. His recordings of Debussy and Ravel have earned him two Gramophone awards, two BBC Music Magazine awards and a Diapason d'Or, whilst his first volume of Haydn's Piano Sonatas received a Choc de l'année.  In 2012 Gramophone nominated Bavouzet as one of their Artists of the Year, and also in 2012 he was named ‘Artist of the Year’ at the International Classical Music Awards.

Mr. Bavouzet was invited by Sir George Solti to give his debut with the Orchestre de Paris in 1995 and he is widely considered to be the Maestro’s last discovery. He has also made a transcription for two pianos of Debussy’s Jeux, published by Durand with a foreword by Pierre Boulez. 

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is Artistic Director of the Lofoten Piano Festival in Norway.

ARTIST'S WEBSITE

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QUATUOR DANEL
San Francisco DEBUT

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017 at 8 PM

DEBUSSY String Quartet
WEINBERG String Quartet No. 5
BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op. 130

 

 

 

The French/Belgian Quatuor Danel has been at the forefront of the European music scene ever since its founding in 1991, with major concert performances worldwide and a number of groundbreaking recordings that have won important international awards.  Although well established in Europe, the Quartet made its American debut only during the 2015-16 season, including concerts in New York and Washington, D.C.

With a sound suffused with warmth and romanticism, the ensemble is famous for their bold, concentrated interpretations of the string quartet cycles of Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Shostakovich, and Weinberg. Their performances of the traditional quartet repertoire has won them lavish praise from both the public and the press. Russian composers have a vital place in the group’s repertoire: their recently reissued recording of the complete Shostakovich cycle (Fuga Libera, 2005) is considered one of the benchmark interpretations of these quartets.

In addition, over the past three years the Quatuor Danel has championed the almost-unknown quartet oeuvre of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, the neglected contemporary of Shostakovich.  Besides recording these works for the CD label CPO, the Quartet often includes them in their concert programs. The quartet have also collaborated with major contemporary composers such as Wolfgang Rihm, Helmutt Lachenmann, Sofia Gubaidulina, Pascal Dusapin, and the stars of the younger generation including Jörg Widmann and Bruno Mantovani.

The Quartet’s upcoming concerts will take them to the major halls in Brussels, Amsterdam, Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid, Vienna, Berlin, Beijing, Tokyo, and New York; they are equally comfortable when playing in lesser-known, intimate venues. The Quatuor Danel is a regular guest at the major European festivals, and in the summer of 2016 made its North American debut at the Ottawa ChamberFest. Upcoming recording projects of the Quatuor Danel consist of the three Tchaikovsky quartets, the Quartet and Piano Quintet by Franck and a longer-term project combining all the string quartets of Haydn with late Beethoven.

ARTIST'S WEBSITE

 

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WIDMANN-ALTSTAEDT-VONSATTEL TRIO
San Francisco Debut

SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 2017 at 8 PM

SCHUMANN Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102 No. 1
RAVEL Sonata for Violin and Cello
BEETHOVEN Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 "Archduke"

 

 

 


Violinist Carolin Widmann’s activities span the great classical concerti, new commissions specially written for her, solo recitals and a wide variety of chamber music and period instrument performances, including play/direction from the violin.

She regularly premieres new works, including a violin concerto written recently for her by Julian Anderson that was jointly commissioned by Seattle Symphony, London Philharmonic and Deutsche Symphonie-orchester Berlin. She was also recently Artist in Residence at the Alte Oper Frankfurt with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Ms Widmann has played with Leipzig Gewandhaus, Orchestre National de France, Tonhalle Zurich, Czech Philharmonic, Vienna Radio Symphony, London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Bayerische Rundfunk, with such distinguished conductors as Sir Simon Rattle, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Sir Roger Norrington and Vladimir Jurowski.

Voted “Artist of the Year” at the 2013 International Classical Music Awards, Ms Widmann is a highly regarded chamber musician and is Artistic Director of Germany’s oldest chamber music festival, the Sommerliche Musiktage Hitzacker. She regularly appears at such widely known festivals as Berliner Festspieler, Salzburg, Lucerne, Festival d' Automne and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Her discs of Schubert and Schumann sonatas received critical acclaim including the “Diapason d'Or” and the German Record Critics' Award. In 2006, Carolin Widmann's debut CD, “Reflections I”, was named “Critics' Choice” by the German Record Critics’ Award Association.

MS WIDMANN'S WEBSITE

After winning several international competitions and awards (including a Borletti Buitoni Trust Fellowship in 2009), German/French cellist Nicolas Altstaedt performed with the Vienna Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel at the Lucerne Festival. A BBC New Generation Artist from 2010 to 2012, he has performed with all of the BBC Orchestras, at the Proms, and at Wigmore Hall.

He has appeared with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and Simon Bolivar Orchestra; the Radio Symphony Orchestras Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Helsinki; the Vienna, Melbourne and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras; the Bamberger Symphoniker; Czech Philharmonic, Cologne Philharmonie and the Munich, Zurich and Stuttgart Chamber Orchestras, with such conductors as Sir Neville Marriner, Sir Roger Norrington, Sir Andrew Davis, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Neeme Järvi and Dennis Russell Davies.

His regular chamber music partners include Alexander Lonquich, Vilde Frang, Barnabás Kelemen, Pekka Kuusisto, Antoine Tamestit and Quatuor Ébène. He is a guest artist of the Chamber Music Society Lincoln Center New York and plays at the top international festivals.

Mr. Altstaedt is currently artist in residence at the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonie at Musikverein Graz. In addition, in 2012 he was chosen by Gidon Kremer to become his successor as artistic director of the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival in Austria. Since then the festival players have toured to other venues, including Mozarteum Salzburg, Wiener Konzerthaus, Musikverein Graz, and Concertgebouw Amsterdam.

MR. ALTSTAEDT'S WEBSITE

 

In recent years, the Swiss-born pianist Gilles Vonsattel has made his Boston Symphony, Tanglewood, and San Francisco Symphony debuts, while performing recitals and chamber music at Ravinia, in Tokyo, at Wigmore Hall, Bravo! Vail, Music@Menlo, the Gilmore festival, the Lucerne festival, and in Munich. 

He has appeared with the Warsaw Philharmonic, Calgary Philharmonic, Edmonton Symphony, l’Orchestre Symphonique du Québec, Boston Pops, Staatskapelle Halle and L’orchestre de chambre de Genève.

 

Chamber partners include James Ehnes, Nicolas Altstaedt, David Shifrin, David Finckel, Jörg Widmann, Gary Hoffman, Carter Brey, Anthony Marwood, Paul Neubauer, Phil Setzer, Emmanuel Pahud, Karen Gomyo, David Jolley and Ida Kavafian. He has performed with the Pacifica, Orion, Ebène, Danish, Daedalus, Escher, and Borromeo Quartets.  Vonsattel has worked with such notable composers as Jörg Widmann, Heinz Holliger and George Benjamin.

In 2016-17 he performs with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, the Vancouver Symphony and with Jörg Widmann and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.  He will perform in Seoul and Beijing, and will tour with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

 

Mr. Vonsattel is a laureate of the Naumburg (top prize), Geneva and Honens competitions, and is recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant.  He received degrees from Columbia University and Juilliard, where he studied with Jerome Lowenthal. He is on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and resides in New York. Gilles Vonsattel is a Steinway Artist.


MR. VONSATTEL'S WEBSITE

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BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS

SUNDAY, MAY 14, 2017 at 3 PM

 

PROGRAM To be announced

Few musical works are as beloved as the six "Brandenburg" Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach. These six works display a lighter side of Bach's imperishable genius. Yet they came into being as an unexpected gift. That's what happened in 1721 when Bach presented the Margrave of Brandenburg with a bound manuscript containing six lively concertos for chamber orchestra, works based on an Italian Concerto Grosso style. The Margrave never thanked Bach for his work--or paid him. There's no way he could have known that this gift--later named the Brandenburg Concertos--would become a benchmark of Baroque music and still have the power to move people almost three centuries later.

The Concertos are a highlight of one of the happiest and most productive periods in Bach's life. At the time he wrote them, Bach was the Kapellmeister--the music director--in the small town of Coethen, where he was composing music for the court. Since the Margrave of Brandenburg seems to have ignored Bach's gift of concertos, it's likely that Bach himself presided over the first performances at home in Coethen. They didn't have a name then; that didn't come until 150 years later, when Bach's biographer Philipp Spitta called them "Brandenburg" Concertos for the very first time, and the name stuck.

Each of the six concertos requires a different combination of instruments as well as some highly skilled soloists. The Margrave had his own small court orchestra in Berlin, but it was a group of mostly mediocre players. All the evidence suggests that these virtuosic Brandenburg concertos perfectly matched the talents of the musicians on hand in Coethen. So how did a provincial town get so many excellent musicians? Just before Johann Sebastian arrived in Coethen in 1717, a new king inherited the throne in Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm I became known as the "Soldier King" because he was interested in the military strength of his kingdom, not in refined artistic pursuits. One of his first royal acts was to disband the prestigious Berlin court orchestra. That threw many musicians out of work, and as luck would have it, seven of the best ones were snatched up to work in Coethen by its music-loving Prince Leopold. That's why Bach found such a rich music scene when he started to work there. It gave him the luxury of writing for virtuosos and they let him push the boundaries of his creativity. Concerto No. 2, for example, has the trumpeter play high flourishes. No. 4 allows the solo violin to soar.

Even though he himself didn't call them the "Brandenburgs," Bach still thought of them as a set. What he did was compile them from short instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements he had already written. Then he re-worked the old music, often re-writing and elaborating where he saw fit.