Visiting Professor of Music Jordan Randall Smith had always wanted to direct a performance of composer Clara Schumann’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The problem was, it’s a tricky piece to perform; few pianists were willing to accept the challenge.
Soloist Naomi Niskala has taken on the challenge.
The Susquehanna University Orchestra Concert will perform Clara Schumann’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, among other works, on Saturday from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at Stretansky Concert Hall, located in the Cunningham Center for Music and Art.
“It’s a difficult piece to perform,” Smith said. “I was thrilled when Dr. Niskala said yes to learning it.”
This is the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth. A child prodigy, she wrote the concerto when she was 14 years old.
“She was really one of the leading pianists of her time,” said Niskala, associate professor of music at Susquehanna University. “Which at that time was unheard of because she was a female. That did not happen.”
The concert is part of a celebration of Schumann’s birthday, with a focus on women and music.
“People say there was not much music written by women over the centuries, but that’s not true,” Smith said, adding that the work of female composers has been suppressed or neglected over time. “It needs to be performed. It’s a really great treat to bring out works by women, especially Clara Schumann.”
Clara Schumann was an important figure in her own right, Smith said, but was also married to notable composer Robert Schumann. Together they had eight children and befriended other prominent composers like Johannes Brahms.
Niskala called Schumann’s music a crowd pleaser.
“It’s a good piece to listen to. It gives good insight into her power and ability to grab an audience,” she said.
Amy Voorhees, assistant professor of music at Susquehanna University, will guest conduct the orchestra and the University Choir in selections by Mozart. The concert will also include Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41.
Audience members might recognize the finale of that work, nicknamed the Jupiter Symphony. It uses a range of compositional techniques, including a complicated five-voice fugato that represents the five major themes of the piece.
“To make all of them work together in harmony is exponentially difficult,” Smith said. “I can’t think of any other composer who has done it. It gives the impression of a rich conversation.”
Saturday’s performance of Schumann, Mozart and other music is free and open to the public.