Slobodeniouk leads Beatrice Rana & the London Philharmonic Orchestra

The London Philharmonic Orchestra © Benjamin Ealovega

This week the London Philharmonic Orchestra presents two performances of a programme under the title Heroes and Heroines – one at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and the second at the Brighton Dome. The Orchestra is led by Dima Slobodeniouk, with Beatrice Rana as guest soloist, playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 1. Also on the programme is Sibelius’ Second Symphony and Stride, a work by Tania Léon.

Dima Slobodeniouk, said by the New York Times to have given “one of the most auspicious New York Philharmonic debuts of recent years”, last year ended a 9-year tenure as Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia. He was Principal Conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra from 2016 to 2021, and Artistic Director of the Sibelius Festival. Maestro Slobodeniouk works with some of the world’s major orchestras, such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, London Symphony Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Concertgebouworkest and the NHK Symphony Orchestra. Among the highlights of this current season are debuts with orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Wiener Symphoniker and Danish National Symphony, with return visits to the Boston Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic and Oslo Philharmonic orchestras, and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia.

Multi award-winning pianist Beatrice Rana, whose playing – according to The Times – has ”a kind of Orphic seductiveness, a transcendent lightness of touch”, performs at some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals, including Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Musikverein, Berlin Philharmonie, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert and Royal Festival halls, Philharmonie de Paris, the Verbier Festival, Mostly Mozart Festival and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. She has toured Europe with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, with the Bayerische Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Seguin, and Asia with the Orchestra dell’Academia di Santa Cecilia and Antonio Pappano. In 2017, Beatrice started her own chamber music festival Classiche Forme in her native town of Lecce, in Puglia, which has become one of Italy’s major summer events. She also became artistic director of the Orchestra Filarmonica di Benevento in 2020.

Fast-moving and wonderfully melodic in true Mendelssohn style, the Piano Concerto No 1 in G minor Op 25 was written in Munich, following the composer’s extensive tour of Europe, which began in 1829. The work, which is played without breaks between the three movements, was completed in 1831 and premiered by Mendelssohn – who was himself a virtuoso pianist and organist – on 17th October of that year. Shortly afterwards, a second performance was given in London, where the work was published. Mendelssohn played it many times during his short career, and it was always received warmly both by public and press.

Sibelius sketched out the concept of his Second Symphony while staying in the small town of Rapallo on the west coast of Italy, near Genoa. He originally intended it to be a symphonic poem – with thoughts of Dante’s Divine Comedy and the legend of Don Juan on his mind – but once home in May 1901, Sibelius used the material to write a symphony, completing it in the same year. It is regarded as one of his most popular works, and was no doubt influenced partly by the optimistic future longed for in Finland at the time, but also by the natural beauty of Rapallo, which gives it a lighter tone than many of his other works. As Osmo Vänskä, Finnish conductor and highly-acclaimed interpreter of Sibelius, explained: “The second symphony is connected with our nation’s fight for independence, but it is also about the struggle, crisis and turning-point in the life of an individual. This is what makes it so touching.” The symphony was premiered by the Helsinki Orchestral Society on 8th March, 1902, with the composer conducting.

The opening work of this concert is a piece called Stride by Tania Léon, the Cuban American composer who will become the Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence for two seasons as of September this year. Kennedy Center Honoree 2022, Pulitzer Prizewinner 2021 and founding member and music director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969, Tania Léon wrote Stride as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19 to mark the centenary of American women being given the right to vote in 1920. Tania Léon focussed on pioneering feminist Susan B Anthony, who did not take ‘no’ for an answer, but kept pushing and moving forward, which is precisely what ‘stride’ means – something that is moving forward. Stride received its world premiere at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City on 13th February 2020.

Dima Slobodeniouk leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra and guest artist Beatrice Rana in works by Tania Léon, Felix Mendelssohn and Jean Sibelius on 31st March at London’s Royal Festival Hall, and on 1st April at the Brighton Dome. For further information and details on booking, please visit the London Philharmonic Orchestra website.

Information sourced from:

London Philharmonic programme notes

Dima Slobodeniouk

Beatrice Rana

Sibelius Symphony No 2

Tania Léon

Royal Festival Hall

Brighton Dome

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Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ returns to San Francisco Ballet

Sasha De Sola and Luke Ingham in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Continuing its 2023 Season, San Francisco Ballet stages Christopher Wheeldon’s magical interpretation of the story of Cinderella, set to Sergei Prokofiev‘s glorious score.

This co-production with Dutch National Ballet, created and choreographed by Wheeldon, takes its inspiration from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the version by Charles Perrault, and differs from the well-known story of Cinderella in that it has no fairy godmother or pumpkin coach. What it does have, though, is a magic ‘living’ tree which serves as a focus for Cinderella after the death of her mother, and four ‘Fates’ to guide and protect her. Wheeldon has, however, retained the comedy which characterizes Cinderella’s stepmother and step-sisters – a lovely touch of humor.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

The whole production is lavish, colourful and hugely entertaining – from the larger than life creatures who inhabit the woodland, to the magnificent ball scene, and the creation of Cinderella’s coach – which is sheer genius. Following the world premiere in Amsterdam on December 13, 2012, it was described by The Washington Post as “an utterly exquisite production”. The Times (London) described it as .”.. a vibrant piece of theatre and an enchanting love story rolled into a hugely entertaining whole”, and de Volkskrant wrote: “Wheeldon turns ballet into cinematic spectacle”.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Cinderella is the result of a collaboration between some wonderfully creative artists, which Wheeldon has used to spectacular effect. The stunning sets and exquisite costumes are by Julian Crouch (the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway) special effects by Obie Award winner and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Basil Twist (the tree and that coach!), with lighting by Natasha Katz, and projection design by Daniel Brodie.

Ellen Rose Hummel and Elizabeth Powell in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Wheeldon has also retained Prokofiev’s gorgeous score which, although not as well known as that for his Romeo and Juliet, is every bit as lovely, and filled with sumptuous melodies and the full range of variations in the tradition of classical ballet. Prokofiev started writing the score for Cinderella in 1940. It was initially intended for the then Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), but due to the intervention of World War II, he moved it aside and didn’t return to it for two years. When it was finally completed, it was performed by the Bolshoi Ballet, in November 1945.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

This San Francisco Ballet presentation of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella is enchanting, touching, romantic and humorous, brilliantly conceived and a true spectacle. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Music Director Martin West, and the production opens at the War Memorial Opera House on March 31st, running for 10 performances until April 8th.

Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Further information and details for booking are available on the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet Program notes

Christopher Wheeldon

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Met Opera presents Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ ‘Live in HD’

A scene from Act I of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ with Piotr Beczała in the title role
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Viewers around the world have an opportunity to watch Wagner’s Lohengrin this weekend, either in the cinema or at home, as the Metropolitan Opera presents the latest in its award-winning Live in HD series.

This new production by internationally renowned French director François Girard is led by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin who, according to the Montreal Gazette, has “The world at his fingertips”. This production stars Polish tenor Piotr Beczala in “a shining musical performance” of the title role, which he performs with “uncanny serenity” and “total security and elegance” according to the New York Times. The virtuous duchess Elsa is portrayed by American soprano Tamara Wilson, alternating between “innocent spaciness, steely resolve, and moments of radiance …” (The Wall Street Journal).

Tamara Wilson as Elsa and Piotr Beczała in the title role of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

The cunning sorceress Obtrude is American soprano Christine Goerke of whom the Houston Examiner writes: “A voice like hers comes once in a generation…” and whom music writer Robert Levine describes as “now arguably the finest Wagnerian soprano in the world”. Ortrud’s power-hungry husband Telramund is Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin. Celebrated Austrian bass Günther Groissböck is King Heinrich, and American baritone Brian Mulligan is Heinrich, the king’s messenger. Baritone Christopher Maltman hosts the broadcast.

A scene from Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ with Tamara Wilson as Elsa, Christine Goerke as Ortrud, Günther Groissböck as King Heinrich, and Brian Mulligan as the King’s Herald
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

The original opera Lohengrin was set in Antwerp around the year 930. Wagner wrote his own libretto, as he did for all his operas, and based it on a medieval legend which has been recounted in several places, including in the poem Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach (c 1160–1220). In this production, director François Girard has placed the action in an abstract setting which is both contemporary and fantastical, based on the legend about a mystical knight who helps an oppressed maiden. He marries her, but forbids her to ask his origin or his name. When she later forgets this promise, he leaves her, never to return.

A scene from Act I of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ with Günther Groissböck (center) as King Heinrich Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Lohengrin, which remained Wagner’s most performed opera for decades, was premiered at the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar on August 28, 1850, with Wagner’s friend Franz Liszt leading the Staatskapelle Weimar. Several parts of the score have become well known away from the opera house, and have been used in film scores and orchestral pieces – the Wedding Chorus being one popular example.

A scene from Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ with Piotr Beczala in the title role
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

This is Girard’s third Wagner production for the Met, and follows his productions of Parsifal in 2013 and Der Fliegende Holländer in 2020. He collaborates on Lohengrin with Academy Award-winning artist and designer Tim Yip. The Live in HD presentation is directed by Gary Halvorson.

A scene from Act I of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’ with Tamara Wilson as Elsa, Christine Goerke (background, in red) as Ortrud, Günther Groissböck as King Heinrich, and Brian Mulligan as the King’s Herald Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

This transmission of Wagner’s Lohengrin can be seen in cinemas on Saturday, March 18, at 12.00 pm ET. More information, and details on how to find your local screening, can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website.

 For audiences who do not live near a participating cinema, Lohengrin will also be available on the The Met: Live at Home platform, which offers a livestream or on-demand viewing for seven days following the performance.

Information sourced from:
Metropolitan Opera program notes

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Piotr Beczała
Tamara Wilson
Christine Goerke
Evgeny Nikitin
Brian Mulligan
François Girard
Tim Yip

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Printemps des Arts celebrates the performing arts in Monte-Carlo

This year’s celebration of the performing arts in Monte-Carlo – Printemps des Arts – is taking place from 8th March to 2nd April. This festival, under the patronage of HRH the Princess of Hanover, has supported creativity and contemporary composers for many years, and regularly commissions works to be introduced to the public – 71 pieces from 47 composers since 2004.

The opening concert was presented by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Artistic and Music Director Kazuki Yamada, and featured percussionists Julien Bourgeois and Bruno Mantovani in Steve Reich’s Clapping Music (one of the many American works in this festival), and pianist Michel Dalberto. Also on the programme were César Franck’s Symphonic Variations and Bruckner’s Symphony No 2 in C minor which was created in Vienna for the closing ceremony of the 1873 World Expo.

Subsequent concerts promise a wide range of musical delights. The Insula Orchestra, the Accentus Choir and a quartet of vocal soloists perform excerpts from Mendelssohn’s unfinished oratorio Christus and his First Walpurgis Night under the direction of Laurence Equilbey and Frank Markowitsch.

There is a special concert devoted to young musicians from the Rainier III Academy of Monaco and the region’s music schools, who present a programme of music which ranges from the Baroque to the contemporary.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra, led by Eva Ollikainen, presents Samuel Barber’s First Symphony, a piece by contemporary composer Betsy Jonas with pianist Nicolas Hodges, and Sibelius’ En Saga.

In Tribute to Chet Baker, the Riccardo Del Fra Quintet and the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie led by Léo Margue, celebrate the legendary American trumpeter in an original tribute programme, and also perform music from a star-studded range of composers – George and Ira Gershwin, Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter.

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic makes another appearance, this time with conductor Case Scaglione, in a programme which features the music of American composers Charles Ives – The Unanswered Question – and Aaron Copland’s Symphony No 3. Between these two works is the first performance of a work for reciter and orchestra by François Meïmoun, with Laurent Stocker narrating the myth of Antigone.

The final symphonic work of the festival features chamber orchestra Ensemble TM+, led by Laurent Cuniot, with an all-American programme – Steve Reich’s City Life and Elliott Carter’s Capitol of A Mirror on Which to Dwell – providing a panoramic soundscape of the United States of the 20th century.

Interspersed between these orchestra concerts is a wide selection of recitals. These include pianist Michel Dalberto with a programme of music by Franz Schubert, and in his second appearance, he performs with baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer in a selection of works by César Franck, Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré and Schubert.

The Bernard Trio performs a series of musical miniatures in Debussy’s Children’s Corner, György Kurtág’s Játékok (Hungarian for games) and pieces by Bach and Debussy. Father and son duo Aurélien Pascal on cello and pianist Denis Pascal play some of Gabriel Fauré’s works for cello and piano, three of his Nocturnes and a selection of his sonatas. American harpsichordist Jory Vinikour pays tribute to German Baroque composer and virtuoso keyboardist Johann Jakob Froberger, and also to one of his followers, contemporary composer Christophe Maudot in a premiere presentation of his Désordres passagers pour clavecin.

The Diotima Quartet rounds off the festival with two concerts, the first featuring György Ligeti’s String Quartet No 1 Métamorphoses nocturnes, Philippe Schoeller’s Extasis for string quartet (a work commissioned by the festival) and Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No 6. In the second concert, the Diotima Quartet plays Ligeti’s String Quartet No 2, Bartók’s String Quartet No 1 and Steve Reich’s Different Trains.

Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo takes place from 8th March to 2nd April, and further information, as well as details for ticket reservations, can be found on the festival website.

Poster courtesy Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo

A version of this article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Chailly and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra celebrate Rachmaninoff anniversary with Mao Fujita

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra © Simon Van Boxtel

April 1st this year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest of Russian composers – Serge Rachmaninoff. Conductor emeritus Riccardo Chailly leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a commemorative concert of two of Rachmaninoff’s major works – his Piano Concerto No 2 featuring the young Japanese guest soloist, Mao Fujita, and his Symphony No 1.

Serge Rachmaninoff – United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Probably one of the last great figures of the tradition of Russian Romanticism and certainly one of the great piano virtuosos of the 20th century, Serge Rachmaninoff composed some of the most beautiful and memorable music in the classical repertoire. Although plagued by self-doubt and uncertainty, he was lauded as a concert pianist and a prolific composer – among his most important works are three symphonies, four piano concertos, his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, his choral symphony The Bells, the Vocalise, Symphonic Dances and a number of preludes and romances. He has strong links with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, having appeared in fifteen concerts with the Orchestra between 1908 and 1938, and – because he was so impressed by the Orchestra’s performance of his Symphony No 2 – he dedicated The Bells, to the ensemble.

Japanese pianist Mao Fujita makes his debut this week with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in his first appearance at The Concertgebouw. Regarded as one of the world’s most promising talents, Fujita’s wide-ranging repertoire ranges from the music of Mozart to the Romantic era. He has been invited to appear at some of the most prestigious festivals, including the Verbier Festival, and in January debuted at Carnegie Hall, following which the New York Times wrote: “When his fingers touched the keys, … waves of airy filigree, beautifully formed and finished, emerged in almost uninterrupted streams for his two-hour solo recital”. The Times has said: “Fujita is a musician of tremendous versatility and taste, with a poetic sense of pulse and eloquent, insightful, fearless articulation”.  Recent and future career highlights include performances with the Munich Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonique de Radio France, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Deutsche Symphonie-Orkester and Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI. He will also be undertaking a tour with the Filarmonica della Scala this year.

The concert opens with Mao Fujita’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2, one of his best-loved works. Composed in 1901, it was the first success which Rachmaninoff had achieved since the failure of his First Symphony, and was dedicated to the psychiatrist Nikolai Dahl whom Rachmaninoff had consulted as a result of the deep depression he had fallen into after the premiere of the First Symphony, and who helped the composer regain his self-confidence. Restoring Rachmaninoff’s position as one of the world’s greatest composers, the Piano Concerto is regarded by many as one of the most romantic concertos ever written, and was used to great effect in David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter.

The Rachmaninoff Symphony No 1, which comprises the second half of this concert, was composed between January and October 1895 at his Ivanovka estate in Russia. The symphony had a disastrous premiere in 1897, though. The orchestra was said to have been under-rehearsed and the conductor somewhat inebriated, and the subsequent reviews were scathing. Rachmaninoff was devastated, and the Symphony was sidelined. When Rachmaninoff departed Russia in 1917, he left the manuscript there, and instrumental parts were subsequently found in the Belyayev Archive of the Leningrad Conservatory Library. The Symphony was reconstructed, and performed once more in Moscow in 1945 – two years after the composer’s death – and on March 19, 1948, the work was given its American premiere by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although rarely performed, the Rachmaninoff Symphony No 1 has proved to be a masterpiece.

Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly, former chief conductor of the Concertgebouw, leads the Orchestra and guest artist Mao Fujita, in a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Serge Rachmaninoff at The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The performances run from 8th to 12th March. Further information, and details of reservations, are available from the Concertgebouw Orchestra website.

Information sourced from:

Concertgebouw Orchestra programme notes

Serge Rachmaninoff

Riccardo Chailly

Mao Fujita

Mao Fujita

Rachmaninoff Symphony No 1

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