When it comes to conductor-less piano concertos, it is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Mozart and Beethoven performed and conducted their concertos from the piano on a regular basis. However, at some point in the early to mid-19th century (especially with the virtuosic concertos of the Romantic period), things changed and a conductor was absolutely necessary to "control the flock." So, the piano concertos of Chopin (1810-1849) are the "edge" in which they can be performed without a conductor.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor was written and performed by the composer when he was 20 years old. Written for his "farewell concert" before leaving Poland, the work includes some of the most heartfelt themes in the piano repertoire. It is no surprise that the themes have been used in numerous films, with the most recent being "The Truman Show" starring Jim Carrey.
Speaking of films, the "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is arguably his most well-known composition. Originally the second movement of his String Quartet Op. 11, the pain and passion of the work won over audiences and overshadowed the other movements of the string quartet itself. Arturo Toscanini was so taken by it that he asked Barber to arrange it for full string orchestra. Naturally, this work permeated the television and film genre. One of the most memorable was in the 1986 film "Platoon" when Willem Dafoe runs out of the jungle while being chased by the enemy only to die in a hail of bullets. According to many critics, the work "rarely leaves a dry eye."
Finally, on a lighter note, there is the Symphony No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Written in 1801, the work is strangely bright and whimsical. This is especially surprising considering that this was the same period when he realized that he was going deaf, which inspired him to write his famed will and testament before taking his own life. Meanwhile, Beethoven was suffering from severe gastrointestinal issues, which he cleverly portrays in the work through various cadences, stops, dissonances, and grace notes by the wind section (pardon the pun). So, the work, as a whole, is an example of Beethoven who, on one hand, raved against God in his will and testament, and on the other, created a musical depiction of his abdominal suffering.
Well, my short time has come to a close. If you want to hear and view a conductor-less version of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, Barber's "Adagio for Strings," and Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, then the Prescott Chamber Orchestra, conducted by yours truly, will be performing at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Prescott on Friday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $5 for students (12 to 18) and of course, free for children under 12. Discounts are offered when purchasing tickets online at: www.prescottstrings.com.