Saint-Saens - Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major (Egyptian)

December 7, 2019

The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra presents Camille Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 103 in F Major (Egyptian) featuring soloist Saetbyeol Kim, a doctoral student of James Giles and winner in the Bienen School’s 2018-2019 Concerto/Aria Competition. Victor Yampolsky conducts. 

Allegro animato
Molto allegro

By the time Camille Saint-Saëns composed his Fifth Piano Concerto— 20 years after his Fourth—he was 60 years old, and an avid traveler who particularly enjoyed the North African countries of Algiers and Egypt. This particular concerto was written during a visit to the Egyptian city of Luxor and was eventually nicknamed “Egyptian,” but that idea did not originate with Saint-Saëns. Instead he described the work more generically as a “sea voyage” and filled it with vivid colors and characters that inspire delight and zeal to listeners and fellow-travelers. The work was premiered in in 1896 with the composer as soloist. 

The first movement begins with a duet of undulating scales between orchestra and soloist; the texture sparkles irresistibly and evokes a relaxed oceanside. Throughout staggeringly virtuosic writing for the soloist, Saint- Saëns transforms and reimagines his original material and employs a wide palate of orchestral colors. The second movement, with its modal scales and driving rhythmic accompaniment, is perhaps the most “Egyptian” of the three movements. The soloist must call upon a dramatic and expressive sensibility in cadenza-like passages meant to evoke the music of North Africa and Spain. The bustling, extroverted finale was described by one early critic as a welcome end to exotic travel: a “gay little march tune” suggesting “a happy return to Paris boulevards.”

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