CSO: Beethoven & Brahms

Rafael Payare and Yefim Bronfman

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Payare
, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, piano

Thursday, August 1, 2019
4:30 PM
Donor Gates Open
5:00 PM
Public Gates Open
8:00 PM
Concert Starts

Tickets: $95 / $35
Lawn: $10

Ravinia Wine Club
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5:30 p.m. in the Tree Top restaurant porch
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Beethoven:   Symphony No. 5
Brahms:   Piano Concerto No. 1

Program Notes

  • Already the most famous four notes in classical music, the opening moment of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony took on additional significance during the Second World War because of its short–short–short–long rhythm, which is the Morse code for the letter V, the unifying idiom of the Allied Powers’ “V for Victory” campaign (as well as the Roman numeral for five). That musical phrase is often said to represent “Fate knocking at the door.”
  • Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has been unfailingly popular since its first performance 210 years ago, inspiring numerous later artists’ work. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky fashioned his own “Fate” motif to similarly be the central focus of his Fourth Symphony (which will be performed at Ravinia on August 18), and, more recently, one of the most popular hits of the disco era, “A Fifth of Beethoven,” featured in the seminal film Saturday Night Fever, was an adaptation of the first movement of the symphony.
  • The musical key of C minor was the palette for several of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most emotionally “stormy” or “heroic” works, most notably the Fifth Symphony but also the “Pathétique” Sonata, the “funeral march” in the Third Symphony (performed tomorrow night), and the Choral Fantasy.


  • Unusually, the first orchestral music by Johannes Brahms ever performed was neither a symphony nor a shorter piece like an overture—it was his First Piano Concerto. And that music didn’t even start out as a piano concerto: what was originally a piece for two pianos morphed into sketches of a symphony before Brahms added back his favored instrument, the piano, to join the orchestra. Some separate musical sketches, begun around the same time, would not become his First Symphony for another 21 years.
  • The young Johannes Brahms, only in his early 20s when he wrote his First Piano Concerto, invested that music with the emotions on his sleeve. His mentor, Robert Schumann, had just attempted suicide when he began the first piano-duo sketches, and that lyrical master passed to eternity shortly before Brahms would finish the concerto. He remarked to his great friend and Schumann’s widow, Clara, that its central movement was to be a tender comfort to her.
  • Rafael Payare made his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut at Ravinia in 2015, a performance the Chicago Tribune characterized as “vigorous and vivid.” The CSO quickly sought to bring him to Orchestra Hall, luring him back just last January. Among the again-impressed audience were officials from the San Diego Symphony. That night, they heard all they needed to confirm what they’d just heard with their own orchestra just days earlier, and less than a month later Payare was announced as that ensemble’s new music director. He officially ascended to that position exactly one month ago tonight.
  • A native of Venezuela, Rafael Payare learned music through its El Sistema programs, eventually becoming principal horn of its top ensemble, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. After studying conducting with El Sistema’s founder, José Antonio Abreu, he became an assistant to such other major figures as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, and Lorin Maazel, and Payare took his first leadership post in 2014.
  • Before he took the stage with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia in 2015, Rafael Payare brought his El Sistema experience to a rehearsal of Sibelius’s Finlandia with the Circle Rockets, the inaugural student orchestra of Sistema Ravinia, which has since expanded to serve five schools in the Lake County area and the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago in addition to now two “Circle Rockets” ensembles at Catalyst Circle Rock School in Chicago.
  • At a performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Rafael Payare’s fellow El Sistema alumnus Gustavo Dudamel, Yefim Bronfman was heard to “erupt like no one else” in the work’s sharp and startling passages, as well as “scale down to gleaming delicacy, sublimely, in the slow movement” (Los Angeles Times).
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