Saturday, April 17, 2021, 8:00 pm
at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum


Brannon Cho,cellist Eric Lu, pianist
appears courtesy of Warner Classics

Avery Fisher Career Grant 2021 Recipient




Robert Schumann :
Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major, Op. 70

Ludwig van Beethoven :
Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69
Allegro ma non tanto
Scherzo. Allegro molto
Adagio cantabile – Allegro vivace

~ Intermission ~

Sergei Rachmaninoff :
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor Op. 19
Lento – Allegro moderato
Allegro scherzando
Allegro mosso

Free admission, donation appreciated.
Face mask and social distancing mandated.
Children under 6 not admitted.

Reservation required

Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts


Quote from Nicolas Sterner of The Boston Musical Intelligencer, in a title “Rendering Warhorses With Apollonian Clarity”

“ Enjoying our first in-person concert in a year, we joined 60 socially distanced people on Saturday night at the Gardner Museum. NEC Artist Diploma laureate, cellist Brannon Cho, and Leeds International Piano Competition gold medalist Eric Lu, brought out warhorses: Schumann, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. These two artists performed their “set” with a technical mastery and perfunctory polish emblematic of the up-and-coming generation of young soloists and recitalists. ... Since the cello parts are mostly written subordinate to the dazzling keyboard passagework crafted by the pianist-composers. Even more challenging, the cellist must compete with a massive Steinway Model D. Cho and Lu surmounted these difficulties with moderate ease, aligning in exemplary ensemble clarity within a somewhat narrow expressive range. “

photos: Chi Wei Lo and Xiaopei Xu

With permission from pianist Robert Finley, quotes from his comments on concert April 17, 2021 by Brannon Cho and Eric Lu:

“Last night I went to my first concert in Boston since before the pandemic started. It was a piano and cello recital given by Eric Lu and Brannon Cho in the new Calderwood Hall of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This was the first concert I had been to in that hall.

“I enjoyed the concert tremendously. Brannon Cho produced a lovely singing tone on the cello with superb intonation, and very expressive playing. Eric played wonderfully as always, and it was a very moving performance. He is one of the most musical and best pianists I have ever known. They both played extremely well together.

“Eric and Brannon received tremendous applause and cheering from the audience. They gave a lovely rendition of Vocalise by Rachmaninoff for an encore. Bravissimo and congratulations to them for their absolutely divine concert.

“It was so good to go to a concert again after being under lockdown at home for so long. The Calderwood Hall has very good acoustics. It is square shaped with several balconies. Due to Covid precautions, there were 64 people in the audience. Everyone wore a mask and the seats were spaced widely apart. My seat was on the ground floor, a few feet away from the piano. Kate Liu turned the pages for Eric. She is a marvelous pianist and gave a recital of music by Handel, Chopin and Schumann a few weeks ago in the same hall. I watched the recording and congratulated her. Her Schumann Fantasy was particularly moving. “

Eric Lu pianist

Avery Fisher Career Grant 2021 Recipient

“Leeds winner Eric Lu showed an astonishing command of keyboard tone and color.. the sign he is already a true artist. It was a spellbinding experience.”
The Guardian


“Lu’s playing is in a rare class - sensitive and emotionally intuitive.”
BBC Music Magazine

Eric Lu won First Prize at The Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018, the first American to win the prestigious prize since Murray Perahia. He made his BBC Proms debut the following summer at the Royal Albert Hall, and is currently a member of the BBC New Generation Artist scheme. Eric is an exclusive Warner Classics recording artist.

Highlights of the 2020-21 season include debuts with the London Symphony Orchestra (Marin Alsop), Seattle Symphony (Thomas Dausgaard), Oslo Philharmonic (Constantinos Carydis), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (Thomas Dausgaard) and Detroit Symphony (Eduardo Strausser). He will also give recitals at the Elbphilharmonie, Queen Elizabeth Hall (International Piano Series), Cologne Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, NY’s 92nd St Y, and NCPA in Beijing.

In recent seasons, Eric has appeared in recital at Amsterdam Concertgebouw, BOZAR Brussels, Philharmonie Luxembourg, Wigmore Hall, St. Petersburg Philharmonia, Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris, Seoul Arts Centre, Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, Grand Theatre Shanghai, and Sala São Paulo. He has collaborated with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Vasily Petrenko), The Hallé (Sir Mark Elder and Tomáš Hanus), Shanghai Symphony (Long Yu), Warsaw Philharmonic (Niklas Willén), Singapore Symphony (Darío Ntaca), and Swedish Chamber Orchestra (Thomas Dausgaard and Martin Frӧst). He also went on tour with the Orchestre National de Lille (Alexander Bloch). In 2019, Eric replaced Martha Argerich in Singapore, and Nelson Freire in São Paulo.

In 2020, Warner Classics released Eric’s first studio album, featuring the Chopin 24 Preludes, and Schumann’s Geistervariationen. It was met with critical acclaim, including BBC Music Magazine’s ‘Instrumental Record of the Month’. In 2018, Eric’s winning performances of Beethoven and Chopin from The Leeds with The Hallé and Edward Gardner was released by Warner. He has also released a Mozart, Schubert and Brahms recital on Genuin Classics.

Born in Massachusetts in 1997, Eric Lu first came to international attention as a prize-winner at the 2015 Chopin International Competition in Warsaw aged just 17. He previously won the 2015 US National Chopin Competition, and was awarded the International German Piano Award in 2017. He is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, studying with Robert McDonald and Jonathan Biss. He is also a pupil of Dang Thai Son. He is now based in Berlin and Boston.

Brannon Cho, cellist

Described by Arto Noras as “a finished artist, ready to play in any hall in the world,” cellist Brannon Cho has emerged as an outstanding musician of his generation. He is the First Prize winner of the prestigious 6th International Paulo Cello Competition, and is also a prize winner of the Queen Elisabeth, Naumburg, and Cassadó International Cello Competitions.

Brannon Cho has appeared as a soloist with many of the top orchestras around the world, including the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels Philharmonic, and Orchestre Philharmonique Royale Liège, under world-renowned conductors such as Susanna Mälkki, Stéphane Denève, and Christian Arming.

As a lover of chamber music, Brannon Cho has shared the stage with artists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Christian Tetzlaff, Gidon Kremer, and Joshua Bell. His recent festival appearances include Marlboro, Kronberg Academy, Music@Menlo, and Verbier. In addition, Brannon Cho is a scholarship holder in the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, and the recipient of the 2019 Ivan Galamian Award, which was previously held by James Ehnes.

Brannon Cho’s recent and upcoming solo performance highlights include debuts in Wigmore Hall, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, the Cello Biënnale Amsterdam, Kumho Art Hall in Seoul, Konzerthaus Berlin, Seoul Arts Center, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

Born in New Jersey, Brannon Cho received his Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music under Hans Jørgen Jensen. He was awarded the prestigious Artist Diploma from the New England Conservatory, where he studied with Laurence Lesser. Today, he is in the Professional Studies program at the Kronberg Academy, under the tutelage of Frans Helmerson. Brannon Cho is sponsored by Thomastik-Infeld, and performs on a rare cello made by Antonio Casini in 1668 in Modena, Italy.

By Dr. Jannie Burdeti

Robert Schumann: Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major, Op. 70

Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, poignantly displays the fullness of the composer’s love and passion. Its Adagio is home to an intimate conversation between two instruments, full of yearning and tenderness—so much in fact that the work was originally titled Romanza and Allegro. The year of composition of the piece, 1849, was an extremely prolific time for Schumann’s chamber music writing, a period when he produced a number of other Romanzen for voices. While the Adagio and Allegro was written originally for horn and piano, in the music, Schumann notes that the horn part may also be performed on the violin or cello, and today, many violists also enjoy performing this work. The composer was no doubt fascinated with the French horn at the time, choosing to compose works that displayed the instrument prominently, such as Konzertstück, Op. 86, a concerto for four horns and orchestra, and Jagdlieder, Op. 137, for four horns and male chorus.

As one might imagine, the Adagio and Allegro suits the French horn superbly, in a way that allows its most iconic characteristics to emerge, particularly its warm, lyrical nature, as well as a heroic quality that pervades the second movement.

Schumann’s music is often thought of as representing his two alter egos: Florestan (the energetic and extroverted) and Eusebius (the introverted and poetic). These are two characters he used profusely in his literary contributions to the Neue Zeitschift für Musik (New Periodical for Music), of which he was the editor for ten years. In the same vein, the Allegro acts as a sort of literary foil, contrasting the warm sentiments of the Adagio with a true outpouring of passion and intensity. The fervor bursts forth the moment the piano launches an A-flat-major chord and the two instruments, with ceaseless triplets, rush forth with boundless energy amid delightful, continuing dialogue.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69

Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 69, marks a watershed in the history of the cello repertoire. For some time already, Beethoven had been experimenting with the cello as a solo instrument. His Triple Concerto of 1803 (with its famously difficult cello part), the three Razumovsky Quartets, Op. 59, of 1808, and the Ghost Trio of 1809 all advanced the role of the cellist from an advocate of baselines to one of a soloist, competing even with the tessitura of the violin.

As if to further assert the cello’s breakthrough as a solo instrument, this sonata, written in 1808, begins with the cello alone. It plays an extraordinarily lyrical and congenial theme, while the piano finishes the thought in an improvisatory manner. A repeat of the opening theme is then heard in octaves in the piano. What is utterly remarkable about this opening theme is that it becomes the DNA of the entire sonata, melodically and tonally. The first four notes of the theme, A-E-F#-C#, generate motives, as well as entire key areas.

After a variant of the first theme is heard, in the opposing minor mode and with contrasting character, the second theme, in E major, emerges as a falling arpeggio in the piano (with the two hands in imitation), with the cello playing a rising scale in counterpoint. This is a prime example of the axiom that Beethoven creates the most beautiful music from nothing more than mere scales and arpeggios. The development centers harmonically on two main key areas, F# minor and C# minor, which also coincide with the third and fourth notes of the opening theme. The return of the opening theme in the cello is interwoven with a piano line.

The next movement is a scherzo and trio, usually reserved for the third movement of a sonata. As is common in Beethoven’s hands, the scherzo (originally meaning “joke”) takes on a rather brusque humor. In this instance, it is full of syncopated, off-kilter jabs that persist, unresolved, until the trio section. The opening theme is presented by the piano, then continued by the cello. The scherzo culminates when, for the first time, the two instruments jointly play the main theme with the backdrop of a raucous left hand in the piano. The trio section is pastoral, reminiscent of the Sixth Symphony, as if trying to find the calm in the middle of the storm. It is a hurdy-gurdy melody, with an ostinato hum in the background that never calms, but continues on like an energetic engine. The traditional ABA form of this movement is extended with literal repetition into ABABA.

The slow movement in this work serves as an introduction to the finale, a structural idea Beethoven reused, as in the Waldstein Sonata and the Triple Concerto. The finale has a capacity for cheerfulness that far exceeds any of the preceding musical material. The accompaniment of the piano is an energetic pulsation of chords, or to borrow Konrad Wolff’s words about the Waldstein Sonata, “a vibration of the instrument of such communicative power that it will stay in the listener’s mind throughout the entire movement, just as if the vibrating basses were continued from beginning to end.” This effect is very much present throughout the duration of the movement. The development goes through the traditional circle of fifths and chromatic meandering before the return is almost stumbled upon. The coda consists of an extraordinary lyrical line in the highest registers of the piano, creating one of the most enchanting moments in the entire work. The ending concludes with a veritable “vibration” of joyous A-major chords, bringing the entire large-scale work to a symphonic close.

Sergei Rachmaninov: Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19

Rachmaninoff wrote his Cello and Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 19, around the same time as his famous Second Piano Concerto. With this streak of creativity and success, it is hard to imagine that only a few years earlier, in 1897, the composer had fallen into a deep depression after an extremely poor and ill-received performance of his First Symphony. Rachmaninoff became so apathetic to composition that he likened himself to a stroke patient who had lost the ability to use their limbs. Even an arranged meeting with an admired writer, Leo Tolstoy, did not improve his frame of mind. Ultimately, he was advised to see a family friend, the physician Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who offered him hypnosis and brought him out of his cloud of self-criticism. Soon thereafter the well-loved Second Piano Concerto and the Sonata for Cello and Piano were conceived—the former of which he dedicated to Dr. Dahl. While there are no direct connections between the two works, they do share many similarities. Unsurprisingly, his sonata is sometimes thought of as a concerto for piano, due to its massive scope, symphonic qualities, and technical demands it makes on the pianist. Rachmaninoff dedicated the work to his best man, Anatoli Brandukov, and four months later, married his fiancée after their long, three-year engagement.

The sonata opens almost mystically, like a meditation upon a questioning two-note motive, or in the words of Steven Isserlis, with “incense-filled colours.” One can hear the melodies wafting up as the piece is conjured into being. After the slow introduction, a torrent of notes and energy is released in the piano, while the cello sings a long-breathed melody with hints of the Dies irae. The Dies irae motive returns later in the work (e.g., as a bass line in the piano part in first movement, in the treble part of the piano in the second movement), and the motive itself is a compositional idea Rachmaninoff often used in other works as well. The second theme of the movement, first heard in the piano, contrasts the previous section with a more relaxed and contemplative feeling throughout. Subsequently in the development, Rachmaninoff reintroduces the opening’s two-note motive, but with a reinvigorating, fervent obsession. What follows is a truly pianistic and exuberant cadenza-like section that increasingly reaches a climactic point, bringing about the return of the opening, not unlike the structure of the Second Piano Concerto’s first movement.

The second movement is feverish and demonic—it begins with a rhythmic drive and pathos that bring to mind Schubert’s famous Erlkönig. The two-note motive borrowed from the previous movement emerges as part of a descending passage that can be heard in the instruments’ dialogue. Interspersed throughout the movement are short respites from the franticness that inhibit the former feelings of urgency. The passages of heart-aching melodies characteristic of the Russian Romantics reach their climax in the middle “trio” section of the work, where the piano and cello engage in a duet overflowing with lyricism. Yet this last moment of reprieve is ephemeral, and the listener is thrown once again into the fury of the opening music.

The theme of the slow movement uses a bell-like motive of four repeated notes first heard in the previous movement. The melody that is exchanged between instruments is so simple yet profound, accompanied by kaleidoscopic harmonies in the backdrop. In many ways, this movement embodies the heart and soul of the whole work.

The last movement is overflowing with elation and exultation, following the trials and depths of despair heard in the previous movements—it is akin to a Beethovenian finale, with triumph emerging after struggle. It was premiered with a quiet ending, but Rachmaninov added the joyful and energetic coda ten days later.


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Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts
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updated 2021