Jeremy Yudkin is a professor of music at Boston University. His gives preconcert talks for Tanglewood weekends every Friday at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. at Lenox Town Hall.

Paul Lewis with Piano (Harmonia-Mundi).jpg

Pianist Paul Lewis will play all five of Ludwig von Beethoven's piano concertos in 48 hours at Tanglewood, in three consecutive concerts that begin with BSO co-commissioned works by contemporary American woman composers. 

LENOX — This weekend, at Tanglewood, we shall witness some remarkable events: a tour de force of concentration and musicality in English-born pianist Paul Lewis’ traversal of all five of Ludwig von Beethoven’s piano concertos in less than 48 hours, in three consecutive concerts, each featuring the music of contemporary American women composers. These works are juxtaposed, placing the new and modern against masterpieces of 200 years ago. Also remarkable (and important) is the performance of a symphony by a shamefully neglected French woman composer of the 19th century.

At the age of 50, Lewis has garnered most of the accolades available to professional musicians in the United Kingdom. His recordings of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt have been included on the “best of” lists published by Gramophone magazine. He has been appointed artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition. And he was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for services to music. His playing has been widely praised for its firm imagination, clarity and depth.

The feat of performing all five of the Beethoven concertos in one weekend is not unprecedented, but it is a feat, nonetheless. Lewis has played them all before, of course, and some years ago he did so in one eight-week season of the BBC Promenade Concerts. He has also toured with complete programs of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.

The Beethoven piano concertos span the years of Beethoven’s earliest maturity to the age of 39, when he was in full command of his unique and visionary style. The piano was Beethoven’s own instrument, and the concertos were written for him to play, until he could no longer hear well enough to perform in public. The Concerto No. 2, which has Mozart still strongly in mind, was actually the first he wrote. The Concerto No. 5 was given (not by Beethoven) the sobriquet “Emperor,” which captures the scope and power of its first movement but not the hushed magic of its Adagio or the lurching and headlong irregularity of its finale.

A FOCUS ON CONTEMPORARY WOMEN COMPOSERS

Like many cultural and artistic organizations across the United States, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has recently come to recognize the gaps in its musical programming over the 140 years of its existence and is now making efforts to feature the music of Black and Latino composers and works of women composers, especially contemporary composers. This weekend, each of the three concerts will open with a BSO co-commissioned piece by an American woman composer — Julia Adolphe, Caroline Shaw, and Elizabeth Ogonek. In addition, Sunday's concert will feature a symphony by the 19th-century French composer Louise Farrenc.

Adolphe, 34, has written numerous orchestral works, including a viola concerto, "Unearth, Release," that brought her to critical notice in 2016, as well as many instrumental chamber pieces and songs. Friday’s concert brings us her new work “Makeshift Castle,” which, according to the composer, “captures contrasting states of permanence and ephemerality, of perseverance and disintegration, of determination and surrender.”

On Saturday we hear Shaw’s “Punctum,” a piece originally written for string quartet. It is a meditation on one phrase and particularly on one chord from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” Roland Barthes, the French literary critic, describes a “punctum” as a singular detail in a work of art that captures your attention. Shaw, 39, was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 — at the age of 30 — for her unaccompanied choral work “Partita for 8 Voices” and has just won a Grammy for the song-cycle “Narrow Sea.”

Ognonek, 33, is a composer and assistant professor of composition at Cornell University. Her works are eclectic, ranging from unusual instrumental chamber works to a piece for narrator and clarinet, a violin concerto, and orchestral works. She was a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow in 2012 and spent three-years as the Mead composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday the Boston Symphony Orchestra performs the world premiere of her “Starling Variations.”

Also on Sunday, we have the opportunity to hear one of the finest works of the shamefully neglected composer Farrenc, who was a contemporary of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann and as gifted as them. She fought sexual discrimination all her life, finally succeeding at being appointed professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory, a prestigious position she held for 30 years. It is only very recently that her works have begun to be performed and recorded. We shall hear her strong and expressive Symphony No. 3.

UNDER THE SHED

A look at Tanglewood concerts at the Koussevitzky Music Shed this week ...

8 p.m., Friday, July 29: Andris Nelsons conducts Julia Adolphe and Beethoven featuring Paul Lewis, piano

Over this weekend’s three BSO concerts, Andris Nelsons and his frequent collaborator, English pianist Paul Lewis, perform all five of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano concertos. Each of these concerts opens with a BSO co-commissioned piece by an American woman. This concert features composer Julia Adolphe's "Makeshift Castle," a BSO co-commission. Other works featured are Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 3. Ticket includes admission to the 6 p.m. Prelude Concert. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

10:30 a.m., Saturday, July 30: Rehearsal: Andris Nelsons conducts Elizabeth Ogonek, Farrenc, and Beethoven featuring Paul Lewis, piano

Rehearsal for Sunday's afternoon concert. Gates open at 9 a.m.

8 p.m., Saturday, July 30: Andris Nelsons conducts Caroline Shaw and Beethoven featuring Paul Lewis, piano

Nelsons and Lewis collaborate on the second of three concerts encompassing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos in one weekend. This concert features Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw’s "Punctum." Originally for string quartet, this world premiere of the orchestral version is a BSO commission. Other works featured are Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Piano Concerto No. 4. Ticket includes the 6 p.m. Prelude Concert. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m., Sunday, July 31: Andris Nelsons conducts Elizabeth Ogonek, Farrenc, and Beethoven featuring Paul Lewis, piano

Nelsons and Lewis collaborate on the third of three concerts encompassing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos in one weekend. This concert features the world premiere of composer Elizabeth Ogonek's "Starling Variations," a BSO co-commission. Ogonek is a 2012 Tanglewood Music Center Fellow and has been composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Other works featured are Louise Farrenc's Symphony No. 3 and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor." Gates open at noon.

Jeremy Yudkin is Professor of Music at Boston University.  His gives pre-concert talks for Tanglewood weekends every Friday at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. at Lenox Town Hall.