The traditional series of summer Concerts at the Prince’s Palace by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra continues this week in the magnificent setting of the Courtyard of Honour. The performance, led by Czech conductor Tomáš Netopil, features music by Francis Poulenc and Bedřich Smetana, and the guest artists in the Poulenc Piano Concerto are Katia and Marielle Labèque.
The Grimaldi Princes have a history of appreciation and patronage of the arts, particularly music, and in 1959, Prince Rainier III initiated the series of Summer Concerts in the Courtyard of the Prince’s Palace in Monte-Carlo, situated high on a rocky promontory overlooking the city of Monte-Carlo and the Mediterranean. Owing to its architecture, the Courtyard is known to have excellent acoustics and an unusual clarity of sound, and – with its sweeping staircase, and floor paved with millions of white and coloured pebbles – it forms an enchanting backdrop to these performances.
Tomáš Netopil, a frequent guest of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, is Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and General Music Director of the Aalto Musik Theater and Philharmonie Essen, with whom he celebrates his eighth season. Recent highlights include performances of Orfeo ed Euridice, Salome, Così fan tutte, Rusalka, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Pique Dame, and Der Rosenkavalier, and additional guest conducting performances this season include appearances with Dresdner Philharmonie, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra.
Katia and Marielle Labèque are described by the New York Times as “The best piano duo in front of an audience today”, and The Times in London writes: “Whether Mozart or Stravinsky, their musical line always sounds as if it’s being woven for the very first time… But the illusion of improvisation is the genius of their performances. In all their recordings there is a deceptive sprezzatura that is born of throwing the preparation to the winds and hanging onto each other’s ears.”
The Labèque sisters have played with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and Baroque music ensembles. They have appeared at festivals worldwide, and collaborated with some of the best-known contemporary composers. They played the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Double Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra – by whom it was commissioned – the world premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos with John Storgards and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the first performance of this concerto by the Czech Philharmonic under Semyon Bychkov, and they will premiere Nico Muhly’s new concerto In Certain Circles with both the New York Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris in the forthcoming 2021/22 season.
The concert opens with Poulenc’s delightful score to Les Biches, the one-act ballet choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, and premiered by the Ballets Russes on 6th January 1924 at the Salle Garnier in Monte-Carlo.
This is followed by Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D Minor, a work commissioned by the Princesse Edmond de Polignac, (born Winnaretta Singer, heiress of the American Singer sewing machine fortune). During his late teenage years, Poulenc joined a group of early 20th century young French composers known as Les Six who eschewed the accepted classical establishment in favour of a style of their own, nevertheless borrowing characteristics from composers ranging from Bach and Mozart to Stravinsky and even Maurice Chevalier – a style described by Poulenc himself as “wildly eclectic” – which rather characterises this Piano Concerto as well. Written as a work of pure entertainment, it was premiered by Poulenc and his friend Jacques Février in Venice, on 5th September, 1932.
Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) is a cycle of six symphonic poems which he composed – as individual pieces – between 1874 and 1879. Smetana referred to the work as “musical pictures of Czech glories and defeats”, each movement being a self-standing symphonic poem with its own story, inspired by the legends and landscapes of his Bohemian homeland. The final work in this concert features the first and third of these symphonic poems – Vltava (the Moldau in German) and Šárka. The first poem traces the path of the Vltava River from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the countryside to the city of Prague. Šárka is based on the legend of a spurned maiden. Each of these poems was premiered separately between 1875 and 1880, and it wasn’t until 5th November, 1882 that Má vlast was premiered in its entirety in Prague.
In this performance in the series of Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, Tomáš Netopil leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and guest artists Katia and Marielle Labèque, in a programme of music by Poulenc and Smetana, on Thursday, 22nd July. Tickets may be reserved online.
Information sourced from Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra programme notes