Joseph Tong – Sibelius, Trees and New Influences
Joseph Tong, piano
Jean Sibelius Florestan Suite JS82
Jean Sibelius Six Impromptus, Op. 5
Jean Sibelius 5 Pieces ‘The Trees’ Op. 75
David Matthews Five Trees (New Work, Finland Premiere)
Jean Sibelius Huit petits morceaux, Op. 99
Jean Sibelius 10 Pieces, Op. 58
”Joseph Tong is a masterful Sibelian and brings to these remarkably varied works a measure of understanding and technical adroitness which is admirable.” Musical Opinion
David Matthews – Five Trees (2021-22)
Joseph Tong, who is a great enthusiast for Sibelius’s piano music, asked me if I could write a companion work to Sibelius’s Five Pieces for Piano, The Trees. Sibelius portrayed five Finnish trees in his work, and so I chose five British Trees. They begin with ‘The Oak’, our national tree, from which all our ships were built until the nineteenth century. It is marked Maestoso – majestic – and begins with solemn chords, which are repeated in varied form at the end. Then comes ‘The Willow’, perhaps our most graceful tree. It is a gentle Allegretto, whose starting point was the Willow Song from Shakespeare’s Othello, which is evoked rather than quoted. It ends with the song of the Willow Warbler. ‘The Scots Pine’ has a deliberately Scottish flavour. Towards the end the tree is battered by gusts of wind, but does not succumb. ‘The Apple’ is a joyful scherzo. It was the last piece to be written, in April 2022, when I could experience the lovely apple blossom. Lastly ‘The English Elm’ begins with a lament for the death of almost all our elms from Dutch Elm Disease, which I witnessed myself in the 1970s. But recently my brother Colin sent me a photograph of a fallen elm trunk on Clapham Common, where I used to live – it was a tree that I knew and which survived the disease for many years. Around the trunk many saplings were growing up. So I felt able to give my piece – and the whole work – a happy ending.
Joseph Tong biography
Joseph Tong has established a reputation as one of the most versatile and imaginative pianists of his generation. Much in demand as a soloist, duo pianist and chamber musician, Joseph made his London Wigmore Hall debut in 1997 as winner of the Maisie Lewis Young Artists Award and now gives regular recitals throughout the UK and abroad.
His CD of works by Robert Schumann for the Quartz label, recorded in 2018 at the Sendesaal in Bremen, was awarded Instrumental Choice of the month by BBC Music Magazine as well as drawing critical praise in the Sunday Times. Earlier this year, Joseph performed music by Schumann and Sibelius live on Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ programme ahead of concerts in England and Wales. This autumn he will be returning to Wigmore Hall in London for a solo recital to mark 200 years since Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy was composed.
Other recent projects include a new commission from the British composer David Matthews, a set of five pieces inspired by trees which Joseph will premiere at the Three Choirs Festival held in Hereford this summer. He will also perform the new work at the Sibelius Museum in Turku, Finland,
in August as part of an exciting collaboration with the Foundation which also includes the recording of a third album of Sibelius’s solo piano music for Quartz.
Joseph’s ongoing Sibelius recording project has seen two CDs released on the Quartz label to widespread critical acclaim. Joseph has already made several concert visits to Finland, including recitals at Ainola on the composer’s original Steinway grand piano, the Korpo Sibelius Festival, Helsinki Music Centre (Camerata Hall) and Hämeenlinna City Hall.
Other recent highlights have included recitals in Germany and Spain, at St John’s, Smith Square in London, the Presteigne Festival, St David’s Hall, Cardiff, St George’s Bristol, the Jacqueline du Pré Hall in Oxford, Newport Cathedral and performances at the Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival.
He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music (ARAM) in 2008 and is a visiting piano teacher at Wells Cathedral School in Somerset. Joseph’s Sibelius recording with the violinist Fenella Humphreys was released on the Resonus Classics label earlier this year and has recently been featured as ‘Chamber Choice’ in BBC Music Magazine.