Hans Graf Talks Ravel & Debussy

Hans Graf Talks Ravel & Debussy

Maestro Hans Graf
Houston Symphony Conductor Laureate Hans Graf. Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

This weekend, the Houston Symphony welcomes back Conductor Laureate Hans Graf for a program of Debussy and Ravel. Recently, I got to ask Maestro Graf a few questions about this shimmering program of musical Impressionism.

Calvin Dotsey: Ravel is known as one of the greatest orchestrators of all time. In terms of orchestration, do you have any favorite passages in Mother Goose or the Piano Concerto in G that stand out to you as particularly ingenious?

Hans Graf: Mother Goose is very moderate in terms of Ravel’s orchestrations, modest and beautiful. It has a couple of characteristic moments, like the contra bassoon solo depicting the Beast asking Beauty for mercy. There is also the Sleeping Beauty Pavane, with its clean clarinet and flute lines that are unlike anything else Ravel composed. The concerto is more like a piece of chamber music. Ravel used the clean colors of the orchestra’s instruments instead of thick combinations, which results in some of the greatest soli for the winds in all of the orchestral repertoire! There are some particularly famous solo parts for piccolo​,​ trumpet, bassoon, and English horn. In fact, Ravel’s wind soli parts in the concerto are so virtuosic that they’re always on the excerpt lists for auditions!

CD: Ravel and Debussy are often grouped together on concerts, recordings and in music history books. What are some of the most notable differences in their styles?

HG: If I had to describe each composer in two words, Ravel would be precision and brilliance, and Debussy would be warmth and color. Debussy is more improvisational, full of the unexpected, not at all “square.” Ravel is much more strict. Both are exceptional composers!

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker
Pianist Jon Kimura Parker

CD: Jon (Jackie) Kimura Parker is a pianist with whom you’ve worked a lot.  What is it about his playing and his approach that appeals to you?

HG: I know him as a pianist of vigorous brilliance! We have never performed the Ravel concerto together. Ravel’s writing is gentle and small, but quite brilliant and bright – on the other end of the spectrum would be something very heavy, like Rachmaninoff. The Ravel concerto’s piano part is glassy and clear, lean and precise. It will be very wonderful for Jackie, because he has such a controlled power and brilliance when he plays, which will lend itself perfectly to Ravel.

Don’t miss Hans Graf with the Houston Symphony!

Ravel & Debussy
October 23, 25, 26, 2014
Hans Graf, conductor
Jon Kimura Parker, piano

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