The Kennedy Center

Piano Trio No. 2 (2011)

About the Work

Image for André Previn Composer: André Previn
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

André Previn-composer, conductor, pianist, author-is among the most prodigiously talented musicians of our time. Born in Berlin in 1929 to a family of Russian-Jewish descent, he studied piano at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik until his parents were forced to flee Germany by the Nazis in 1938. The Previns then settled briefly in Paris, where the nine-year-old André continued his studies at the Conservatoire with Marcel Dupré, before moving permanently to Los Angeles; the young musician became an American citizen in 1943. Though Previn was a student of Max Rabinowitsch in piano, Joseph Achron and Ernst Toch in theory, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in composition, his earliest professional experience, gained even before he finished high school, was as a jazz pianist and an orchestrator for MGM Studios, where a distant cousin, Charles, was music director. Previn joined the staff of MGM upon his graduation and composed his first film score, The Sun Comes Up, in 1948. He also built a reputation at that time as a jazz pianist and recorded a number of successful albums. In 1951 he began studying conducting with Pierre Monteux, then music director of the San Francisco Symphony, and soon left MGM to work as a freelance orchestrator of film scores, receiving thirteen Academy Award nominations and winning Oscars for Gigi (1958), Porgy and Bess (1959), Irma la Douce (1963), and My Fair Lady (1964), and to develop his career as a concert pianist and conductor. He guest conducted widely following his podium debut in St. Louis in 1962 and was appointed music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1967. The following year, he was named principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1979; he has been the orchestra's conductor laureate since 1993. Previn has also served as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1976-84), Los Angeles Philharmonic (1985-89), London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1985-91), and Oslo Philharmonic (2002-06). In 2009 he was appointed principal guest conductor of Tokyo's NHK Symphony Orchestra.

André Previn has guest conducted leading orchestras throughout the world, and served as artistic director of London's South Bank Festival (1972-74) and the 1981 British Music Festival in Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as faculty member at the Berkshire Music Center. He is one of the most recorded musicians in history, with more than 200 releases and 10 Grammy Awards. Though Previn's appearances as a pianist have been limited because of the scope of his work as a conductor, he has been heard regularly in chamber music and as soloist-conductor in concertos by Mozart. He has returned to jazz in recent years, recording with guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Ray Brown, and touring Japan, Europe, and North America with the André Previn Jazz Trio. Previn's works as an author include Orchestra, André Previn's Guide to the Orchestra, and Music Face to Face, a series of conversations with British pianist, composer, and broadcaster Antony Hopkins. In 1991 Doubleday released his memoir, No Minor Chords-My Early Days in Hollywood, chronicling his years as composer, arranger, and orchestrator at the MGM Studios. In January 1996 André Previn was awarded an Honorary Knighthood (KBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. His additional distinctions include the Kennedy Center Honors (1998), Musical America's Musician of the Year (1999), Glenn Gould Foundation Prize (2006), and lifetime achievement awards from the London Symphony Orchestra, Gramophone magazine, and Grammy Recording Academy.

Previn has composed in both popular and concert genres: scores for the musicals Coco and The Good Companion and the films Bad Day at Black Rock, Subterraneans, and Two for the Seesaw; a Symphony for Strings; a half-dozen concertos; Overture to a Comedy, Principals, Reflections, and Diversions for orchestra; numerous chamber and piano works; a theater piece for actors and orchestra titled Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, with words by Tom Stoppard; and song cycles for Kathleen Battle, Barbara Bonney, Janet Baker, and Sylvia McNair. On commission from the San Francisco Opera, he created an opera based on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. The opera, with a libretto by Philip Littell and soprano Renée Fleming as Blanche Dubois, was given its premiere by the San Francisco Opera in September 1998; its recording on Deutsche Grammophon won a Grand Prix du Disque. His second opera, Brief Encounter, was premiered by Houston Grand Opera in May 2009. His recent concert compositions include the Cello Concerto (premiered by Daniel Müller-Schott and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in June 2011), Triple Concerto for Horn, Trumpet, Tuba and Orchestra (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and its principal brass players, March 2012) and Piano Trio No. 2 (Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, May 2012).

Previn composed his Piano Trio No. 2 in 2011 for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio on a commission from Music Accord, a consortium of ten major chamber music presenters that has commissioned more than twenty new works from leading American composers since its founding in 1997. The Trio No. 2 opens with tentative rising figures in cello and violin answered by sustained chords in the piano. The motion soon becomes more continuous and leads to a wide-ranging theme in the strings. The rhythm abruptly turns more insistent with a repeated-note piano figure that accompanies an intense, small-interval theme initiated by the violin. Contrast of mood and melody is provided by a lyrical strain introduced by the violin and counterpointed by the cello. Following an increasingly animated passage and the return of the piano's repeated-note motive to support first a syncopated cello melody and then muted, flying-scale figurations in the violin, the lyrical melody becomes the subject of a brief developmental episode. The repeated-note music is heard one final time before the movement closes with a reference to its opening measures. The slow second movement is in two large formal paragraphs. The first is based on a long, expressive, arching melody first sung by the cello alone before being joined by violin and piano. The second section, begun after a quick climax, takes as its theme a melody of falling, three-note phrases led by the violin. Fragmented echoes of the expressive opening theme provide the movement's coda. The finale is in a free three-part form (A-B-A), with a modern analogue of the skipping rhythms of a traditional gigue at beginning and end, and a cross-rhythm, triple-meter section with a long, graceful violin theme at the center.