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Bronfman, Nelsons, and the BSO in "Prometheus, Poem of Fire"

A collage of Yefim Bronfman and Andris Nelsons. Bronfman (left) poses against a dark gray background in a navy suit and bowtie. He has dark hair hat's graying and brown eyes. He looks at the camera and smiles softly. Nelsons (right) poses against a black backgroundin a blue blazer and blue collared shirt. He has brown hair and a beard, and blue eyes. He looks camera left and smiles softly.
Dario Acosta: Brenfman; Marco Borggreve: Nelsons
Pianist Yefim Bronfman; BSO music director and conductor Andris Nelsons

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Encore broadcast on Monday, April 15

The first program in the BSO’s Music for the Senses festival centers on Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, Poem of Fire, in which the composer depicts the evolution of human consciousness. Also on the program are Anna Clyne’s Color Field, inspired in part by the vibrancy of the Mark Rothko 1961 painting Orange, Red, Yellow, Richard Wagner’s ecstatic Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, and Franz Liszt’s Prometheus.

Andris Nelsons, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Anna CLYNE Color Field
Richard WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Franz LISZT Prometheus
Alexander SCRIABIN Prometheus, Poem of Fire, for piano, color organ, chorus, and orchestra

This concert is no longer available on demand.

To hear a preview of Scriabin's Prometheus, Poem of Fire with pianist Yefim Bronfman, use the player above, and read the transcript below.

TRANSCRIPT (lightly edited for clarity):

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Yefim Bronfman, back with the Boston Symphony for, Fima, a really fascinating piece that I don't even quite know how to characterize, because it's not exactly a piano concerto, but involves a very significant piano part. That's the Prometheus [Poem of Fire] by Alexander Scriabin. Let me ask you first, though, before we even talk about this particular piece, about Scriabin's place in your life. He was a great pianist himself. So, I'm sure you've grappled with many of his works before. What do you think of when you think of Alexander Scriabin?

Yefim Bronfman You know, obviously a very important voice in music, and not only an important voice in music, but I think he's very futuristic. For me, this music, written over 100 years ago, sounds modern, and the fairy tale behind it somehow translates into some futuristic and realistic picture. And he incorporated color, and his imagination has no boundaries. It's kind of, you know, "So where did you go and where are you going now?" And there's another surprise, and then another surprise. And yet the material is very compact. That's a mystery about those great composers. They can work with just one interval for 40 minutes, and it's always interesting. And he's one of them. He's just so fascinating this way. I don't have much experience with Scriabin. And this piece, this is the first time I'm playing it. I think probably everybody's playing for the first time because this is not done often, but it's great fun, and it's great to discover this kind of a new language almost.

Brian McCreath Well, tell me, it's your first time playing this piece. So, you've spent some time with the score, I'm sure, the overall score, not just your part, to sort of understand it with this chorus that comes in at the end and a really huge orchestra. What do you see as the pianist's role in this vast set of forces that are on the stage?

Yefim Bronfman You're right, it's not a piano concerto, and it's neither a part of the orchestra. It's somehow a voice that I think he created of the color that he created, to have a piano that does introduce major moments in it. Just when the piano enters for the first time out of this very foggy beginning, almost like the creation of the universe. He always thought big, Scriabin. And then when the piano comes in, it's like humanity coming to power, and it decides to make order. And then that fight begins between piano and orchestra. It's not always in harmony, the piano part, sometimes it is, sometimes it's in friction with the orchestra. And I think he makes a very strong point of bringing in piano for that piece. But that territory that I'm left with, it's neither part of the orchestra nor a piano concerto. That is something that is a mystery to me, and I think it is a mystery. The whole piece is a mystery, and I think that it should remain that way.

Brian McCreath I love, though, the idea that you mention, that it brings a clarity, because there is so much going on in the orchestra that to have the listener be able to focus on your part for those little moments when you almost need something to hang on to. And yet I also kind of wonder, maybe it's also there because Scriabin simply thought as a pianist; he was such a great pianist himself. Does the piano part lay well under the hands, or is it particularly challenging in how the notes are arranged for the hands?

Yefim Bronfman Well, let me tell you that this piece is unlike anything I've ever played on a piano. You almost need to create a new instrument called pianino, I don't know... But it's a very peculiar way of writing, and that needs adjustments, and it's very exposed for as little as one plays. But every time you play it, you feel that he's challenging you, and he wants to find a new language for the pianist, I think. And he succeeds marvelously. Except it's our problem now to deal with it. But after you spend time with it, and I have over the last few years because don't forget this piece was originally scheduled during the pandemic. We were supposed to do it here two years ago, and it was canceled because the whole season was basically canceled, and especially with the chorus and the huge orchestra, the piece was not performed. So, this is like a carry over for after two years. So I already spent time then trying to learn it. And so, when I came back to it, it was somewhat already related.

Brian McCreath Of course, here in the hall, the listeners will be able to also watch some amazing lighting effects that are going on, that Scriabin himself had in mind. We don't know exactly what he had in mind, so it's a little bit of a of a new creation based on ideas that Scriabin left behind. As you're playing, are you aware of the lighting? Does it help you? Does it get in the way for you? Is it a little bit of a distraction? I don't know, what is your relationship to the lighting that's going on in the hall as you're performing?

Yefim Bronfman I don't really know yet because we haven't rehearsed the lighting. The lighting is an important tool in that piece, obviously. It's in the score. It says luce, which means light in Italian. You know, it just shows that he wants music to be very theatrical, and it'll be interesting to see what happens with the lights and his imagination. And as I said, he is very much into the future. And I think that today in music, you hear all kind of effects around it. And he's one of the first people to do that. It's like when Cubism was invented, it was very futuristic, but yet it speaks to us today. And Cubism was invented by some Russian painters, not Picasso. Cubism was already invented by forgotten and forbidden Russian painters, during the Soviet Union, who have already painted in something called Cubism. And it’s the same with this music. I think it's very inventive and very, very much into the future.

Brian McCreath And I'm glad to know that your efforts over the last few years, learning this piece and then doing it here in the hall, will be extended into Tanglewood, where this piece will be performed again. And I'll be very curious to see what the setting of the Koussevitzky Music Shed does for this piece, compared to here in Symphony Hall. 

Yefim Bronfman Yeah, it'd be interesting to see the transformation of this performance. We start here, we play three performances, and then a couple of months later we do it in a different space. And I think that Tanglewood will be very good because it has a bigger stage and bigger space, and the chorus will be comfortable on stage and the musicians will be comfortable. And I think it will have a different light on it, no pun intended. So, I'm really looking forward to that experience.

Brian McCreath Wonderful. Yefim Bronfman, it's so good to see you again. And I'm always thrilled when you're here. But this piece is really something special. So, thanks for your time today.

Yefim Bronfman Yes, I'm very honored to be part of that project. Thank you for having me.