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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