Later this month, September 17–19, we celebrate Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada's return to Houston with Beethoven’s immortal Fifth symphony. This much anticipated concert includes Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano on the program, with soloists Concertmaster Yoonshin Song, Principal Cello Brinton Averil Smith, and world-renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman. Below, Brinton shares insight into his concert preparation, collaboration with esteemed soloists, and excitement over working with Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada once again.
Houston Symphony: How much does performing a concerto with three soloists add to the complexity of the work? How do you cope with the added complexity?
Brinton Averil Smith: In a way it is actually more comfortable. A typical concerto is soloist vs the orchestra, but here you have two friends with you and performing this concerto has some of the most enjoyable aspects of chamber music. The Triple is famous for having a very difficult cello part, so it can be stressful in that way, but at the same time it is so nice to be performing with friends. One of the most difficult things about this concerto is finding a way to arrange the three instruments so that we can all see each other and the conductor! Many different solutions have been tried but none are ideal...
HS: Will the three of you rehearse together before joining the full Symphony onstage? Have you and Yoonshin performed in this capacity (in a small chamber ensemble) with Yefim Bronfman before? What do you anticipate/look forward to about this experience?
BAS: We will rehearse to unify musical ideas and come to some general agreements, but only perhaps a day or two before the first rehearsal with orchestra. I have known Yefim for more than 30 years and I will never forget the first time I saw him solo with the New York Philharmonic, back when I was still a student at Juilliard. It was a kind of superhuman force that I remember vividly to this day. He has everything: fire, technique, brilliance, musicality, sentimentality. He is one of my very favorite pianists and I've had the chance to play the extended solo in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major with him a few times, but I'm particularly excited to work side by side with him, as well as to make my first concerto performance together with Yoonshin in what I hope will be a long musical partnership.
HS: How do you make artistic decisions as an ensemble?
BAS: We must come to mutual agreement, but I don't think it will be hard. In the Triple concerto I am particularly conscious of the tempo, as I am convinced that many performances are too slow and make the piece a bit lugubrious. Beethoven always marks his tempos on the very fast side, and I think that faster tempos make this piece sparkle. Hopefully I can convince my friends of the same, but if not...the piano is loudest so we're taking his tempo!
HS: This will be Music Director Andrés’ first concert with the Houston Symphony since February 2020. What are you most looking forward to about his return?
BAS: In some ways it seems like a complete lifetime ago, so much has happened in the last 19 months, so many performances, such a different world. And yet Andrés’s return heralds both a return to normalcy and also the beginning of a final season that will allow us to really savor and appreciate the gifts that he has brought to our orchestra. He has such a natural, clear, and organic feel for music and it's hard not to leave his rehearsals with a smile on your face. I love working with him because I know that for him it is always about making the music come to life for the audience.
HS: Which movement is your favorite to play and why?
BAS: Although the second movement is by far the shortest, it is for me the most meaningful. This was very typical of Beethoven. He was happy to show you storms and rage, invention, humor, or frenetic energy, but he rarely gives us a full slow movement where he opens his heart to the world. He was, in a way, very private. However, the incredible emotional depth of the brief slow movements he does give us more than compensates for their brevity. The outer movements of the Triple are a fun, good time. The brief slow movement is the one that stays in my head and heart.