Cellist John-Henry Crawford to Release New Album Of Dvořák & Tchaikovsky With San Francisco Ballet Orchestra

The album is set for release on June 28.

By: May. 28, 2024
Cellist John-Henry Crawford to Release New Album Of Dvořák & Tchaikovsky With San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Cellist John Henry Crawford will release his fourth album, Dvořák & Tchaikovsky, on Friday, June 28, 2024 on Orchid Classics. Recorded with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra led by Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West at George Lucas's famed Skywalker Sound, the new album focuses on two works by the title composers: Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations and Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor. Two singles will be released in advance of the album: Rococo Var. 6 on Friday, June 7, 2024 and Dvorak Mvt. 3 on Friday, June 21, 2024.

While neither of the featured composers was a cellist, both of these works took on their unique character through the influence of a particular cellist chosen to premiere the work. Each piece becomes a case study in synergy - and occasional conflict - between a composer's vision and the hands-on influence of the artist selected to bring it to life. For Crawford, the selections also represent key influences on the path to professional musicianship.

"This album and the repertoire chosen is an homage to my formative years as a cellist," Crawford says. "The first time I heard Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations at age 11 was at a concert by my hometown symphony, and that performance sparked a love for the cello repertoire that grew year after year and ultimately led me to pursue music as my life's work. I never knew until then what the cello was capable of, and after the first hearing I remember begging my mother for a recording of the piece. Incidentally, she found one sitting on her shelf of Rostropovich which featured both the Rococo Variations and Dvořák's magnificent cello concerto. I listened to the record on loop while I did homework as a middle-schooler and daydreamed about one day performing both pieces. This album is a tribute to that record, which surely inspired a whole generation of cellists, including myself."

Composed in 1876, by which time Tchaikovsky was a leading figure on the Moscow music scene, Rococo Variations reflects the composer's love of 18th century music. Taking the structure of a theme and seven variations, the composition blends elements reminiscent of Mozart, Haydn and others, while incorporating harmonic quirks that identify it unmistakably as a work by Tchaikovsky. Characterized by conversational exchanges between cello soloist and ensemble, the work weaves together variations of disparate tempo and mood, from the wistful third variation to the spinning, balletic trills of the fifth, the mournful waltz captured in the sixth, and the sprightly dancing finale and coda.

Controversially, though, decisive features of the work were determined not by the composer but by cellist Wilhelm Fitzhagen, a frequent collaborator to Tchaikovsky who had been handpicked by the composer to premiere the piece. Given unusual leeway to contribute his own edits, Fitzhagen made substantial cuts and alterations, going so far as to delete one variation altogether. Fitzhagen's interventions drew vehement disapproval from Tchaikovsky's publisher, Pyotr Ivanovich Jürgenson - and discomfort from the composer himself - but were allowed to stand, becoming cemented in the final composition that remains the standard text today. While the work remains notable for its "patchwork" quality, it is today understood more as an intriguing composite of artistic visions - and less in terms of a soloist's presumptuous interference.

In terms of its composition, Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor is also closely linked to a specific cellist - though not all would go according to plan when it came time for its premiere. Dvořák took on the composition while in the United States, inspired in part by a work by the American composer-cellist Victor Herbert, starting work on the piece in 1894 and completing it a year later. The work was dedicated and composed specifically for the Czech cellist Hanuš Wihan, a close friend to Dvořák who was meant to perform its premiere. However, complications arose when the premiere was awarded to the Philharmonic Society in London and a date was set for the performance - a date when Wihan would be unavailable. Dvořák fought to change the schedule, but lost out to the decision of the Philharmonic Society, which selected British cellist Leo Stern to perform in the premiere. Thanks to intense study with the composer, Stern put on a much acclaimed performance that set the tone for this work. By turns dramatic and intensely lyrical, the concerto is known for its impassioned orchestral introduction, moments of deep intimacy and lithe solo passages. The song-like central Adagio is almost improvisatory in its gradual unfolding and development of its opening melody, while the finale concludes this work on a note of verve and grace.

Dvořák & Tchaikovsky is Crawford's fourth album on the Orchid Classics label. His first three albums - Dialogo (2021), Corazón: The Music of Latin America (2022) and Voice of Rachmaninoff (2023) were all recorded alongside pianist Victor Santiago Asunción and all placed in the top 10 on the Billboard charts.

About John-Henry Crawford

Louisiana born cellist John-Henry Crawford has been lauded for his "polished charisma" and "singing sound" (Philadelphia Inquirer). In 2019, he won First Prize in the IX International Carlos Prieto Cello Competition and was named Young Artist of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation, and in 2021, he was shortly after named the National Federation of Music Clubs' 2021-2023 Young Artist in Strings.

His most recent album, Corazón: The Music of Latin America (Orchid Classics - June 2022) was selected as Editor's choice in Gramophone Magazine and was #5 on the Billboard Classical Charts in its first week. Crawford's debut album Dialogo (Orchid Classics - June 2021) appeared on the Billboard Top 10 chart as well as the top 5 on iTunes and #1 on Amazon's Classical New Releases. Gramophone Magazine wrote, "There's such a rich variety of colour, touch and texture, and as much vulnerability as dramatic intensity... A splendidly satisfying recital on all counts," while The Strad claimed, "The clean, close recording is like seeing everything through a very powerful lens... a striking interpretation."

Crawford commands a strong Instagram presence, having attracted tens of thousands of viewers to his project #The1000DayJourney, where he films artistic cinematic videos daily from his practice and performances for over 50,000 followers (@cellocrawford) to give a glimpse into the working process of a musician.

At age 15, Crawford was accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music to study with Peter Wiley and Carter Brey. He continued to complete a Master of Music at The Juilliard School with Joel Krosnick, an Artist Diploma at the Manhattan School of Music with Philippe Muller. Other equally important musical mentors have been such artists of note as Lynn Harrell, Zuill Bailey, Andres Diaz and Hans Jorgen Jensen. He has given concerts in 25 states as well as Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Mexico, and Switzerland at venues such as The International Concert Series of the Louvre in Paris, Volkswagen's Die Gläsern Manufaktur in Dresden. Crawford gave his solo debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra as First Prize Winner of the orchestra's Greenfield Competition.

Crawford's numerous competition prizes also include Grand Prize and First Prize Cellist at the 2015 American String Teachers National Solo Competition, the Lynn Harrell Competition of the Dallas Symphony, the Hudson Valley Competition, and the Kingsville International Competition. He has been a fellow at the Verbier Festival Academy, Music@Menlo, the Perlman Chamber Music Program, Music from Angel Fire in New Mexico, the National Arts Centre's Zukerman Young Artist Program in Canada, and The Fontainebleau School in France.

Crawford is from a musical family and performs on a rare 200-year-old European cello smuggled out of Austria by his grandfather, Dr. Robert Popper, who evaded Kristallnacht in 1938 and a fine French bow by the revolutionary bowmaker Tourte "L'Ainé" from 1790. In addition to music, he enjoys learning languages, performing magic tricks, and photography. Learn more at www.johnhenrycrawford.com.

About San Francisco Ballet Orchestra

Under the direction of Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is internationally recognized as one of the foremost ballet orchestras in the world. After decades of using freelance musicians, the Orchestra was founded in 1975-as Performing Arts Orchestra-under Music Director Denis de Coteau. The Orchestra performs all of San Francisco Ballet's repertory programs at the War Memorial Opera House, and has accompanied other companies including Hamburg Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Bolshoi Ballet, and The Royal Ballet. The Orchestra has established a critically acclaimed discography of 21 recordings, beginning with Paul Chihara's The Tempest in 1982.

In 2015, the Orchestra won two Grammy awards in the classical music category for Ask Your Mama, composer Laura Karpman's setting of Langston Hughes' poem "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz." The Orchestra has appeared in televised recordings such as the inaugural Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance broadcast of previous SF Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet, and PBS's Great Performances: Dance in America broadcasts of John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid, Lar Lubovitch's Othello, Tomasson's Nutcracker, and former Co-Artistic Director Michael Smuin's productions of The Tempest, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, and A Song for Dead Warriors.

About Martin West

Martin West is acknowledged as one of the foremost conductors of ballet, garnering critical acclaim throughout the world. In 2005 he joined San Francisco Ballet as music director having been a frequent guest since his debut two years earlier He was previously principal conductor of English National Ballet and has worked with many of the top companies in North America such as New York City Ballet, Houston Ballet, and The National Ballet of Canada as well as The Royal Ballet in England and The Dutch National Ballet. He is also the founding music director of Ballet Sun Valley.

In his years as music director, West has been credited with raising the standard and profile of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra to new levels and has made a number of critically acclaimed recordings with them, including the complete scores of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, and excerpts from Delibes' Coppélia and Sylvia. He and the Orchestra have also made many world premiere recordings; including music by composers such as Bizet, Moszkowski, Shinji Eshima and Maury Yeston. Their recording of Lowell Liebermann's Frankenstein was recently release on Reference Recordings and their recording of C.F. Kip Winger's Conversations. With Nijinksy was nominated for a GRAMMY Award. In addition, West conducted on the award-winning DVD of John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid as well as Helgi Tomasson's productions of Nutcracker for PBS and Romeo & Juliet for Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance. During the Covid pandemic, West and the orchestra managed to create a number of recordings for the SF Ballet digital season, including the entire 30 min score for the world premiere of Wooden Dimes - recorded individually at home by the players and compiled and edited together by West. Born in Bolton, England, he studied math at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge University, before studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music and London's Royal Academy of Music.

Dvořák Tchaikovsky Tracklist

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) - Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op.33
1. Moderato assai quasi Andante - Thema: Moderato semplice [2:41]
2. Var. I: Tempo della Thema [0:54]
3. Var. II: Tempo della Thema [1:19]
4. Var. III: Andante sostenuto [3:57]
5. Var. IV: Andante grazioso [2:05]
6. Var. V: Allegro moderato [3:46]
7. Var. VI: Andante [2:45]
8. Var. VII e Coda: Allegro vivo [2:19]

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) - Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, Op.104
9. Allegro [15:11]
10. Adagio, ma non troppo [12:35]
11. Finale: Allegro moderato [12:48]

Total Time: 60:10

John-Henry Crawford, cello
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
Martin West, conductor

Recorded at Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, California on March 23-24, 2023
Producer & Engineer: Adam Abeshouse