Stephen Hough plays Saint-Saëns with Tortelier & Monte-Carlo Philharmonic

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Stephen Hough © Sim-Canetty-Clarke

He’s been described by Musical America as “truly an exquisite player”, The Economist has written of “the technical finesse and idiomatic authority he brings to every piece he plays”, and The Times refers to him as “the effortlessly mellifluous pianist”. This is British pianist Stephen Hough, the guest soloist appearing with Yan Pascal Tortelier and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme entitled À la française on 14th October.

À la française is one of the concerts in the OPMC’s Grande Saison series – a selection of major symphonic works given by the Orchestra in the Auditorium Rainier III, and in the Salle des Princes in the Grimaldi Forum, both of which have the capacity to accommodate the large scale works of the symphonic repertoire.

In this concert of works by French composers, Stephen Hough plays the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 5, L’Égyptien, and the programme includes the overture to Le Corsaire by Hector Berlioz, the Métaboles for Orchestra by Henri Dutilleux and Ravel’s gorgeous La Valse.

 Known for his mastery of the keyboard, Stephen Hough is also a writer and composer of note. He has a huge international following and has been recognised with numerous awards. In 2001 he was the first classical performing artist to win a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, he was awarded Northwestern University’s 2008 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano, won the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award in 2010 and in January 2014 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year’s Honors List. In 2008, Gramophone named his recording of all five Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos the most popular classical CD of the preceding 30 years.
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Yan Pascal Tortelier – Courtesy IMG Artists

During an illustrious career, French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier has led some of the world’s finest orchestras – including the London Symphony and Philharmonic orchestras, l’Orchestre de Paris, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Czech, St Petersburg and Oslo Philharmonics, Filarmonica della Scala Milan, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras. According to TribLIVE, in his 2014 appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra he gave “….. a magnificently conceived and performed account” of the Sibelius Symphony No 5.

Conductor Emeritus of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Academy of Music in London, Maestro Tortelier has this season taken up the role of Chief Conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, with whom he is said to have built a very special relationship during his recent guest appearances. Following the Maestro’s debut performance as Chief Conductor last month, Fréttablaðið wrote: “It can safely be said that Tortelier started his tenure with great style”, and, according to Morgunblaðið, “…. the new chief conductor certainly fired up the ISO which gave a passionate performance, with excellent dynamic range and lush sound”.

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his Fifth Piano Concerto during the winter of 1895-96, whilst on holiday in Luxor, Egypt – hence the ‘nickname’ which has attached itself to the concerto, but which didn’t originate from the composer himself. According to All Music, the work bears references to his stay in Egypt, such as the imitation of the croaking of frogs in the River Nile, a love song from the Nubia region along the river, and sounds which represent the turning of a ship’s propellers, as Saint-Saëns describes “the joy of a sea crossing”.  The Piano Concerto No 5 was dedicated to the pianist Louis Diémer, and premiered at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in May 1896, with the composer as soloist.

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The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in la Cour d’Honneur du Palais Princier in Monaco © Monaco Press Centre

This Monte-Carlo Philharmonic concert opens with Hector Berlioz’s Overture Le Corsaire, which he composed in Nice in 1844, and which was originally called La Tour de Nice. The work was first performed at the Cirque Olympique in January 1845, with the composer conducting, but it was revised between 1846 and 1851, at which time it acquired the name Le Corsair.

Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles for Orchestra was commissioned by the Cleveland Musical Arts Association in 1959 for the fortieth anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965. The work was dedicated to George Szell who conducted the Cleveland Orchestra at the premiere in January of that year. In his programme notes for the San Francisco Symphony, Ronald Gallman quotes the composer as saying: “The rhetorical term Métaboles, applied to a musical form, reveals my intention: to present one or several ideas in a different order and from different angles, until, by successive stages, they are made to change character completely.”

The final work in the programme, Ravel’s La Valse, was commissioned by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, and written between February 1919 and 1920, but when the impresario heard it, he couldn’t see how a dance could be set to it. Ravel was offended by Diaghilev’s remarks, and they never collaborated again, but Ravel subsequently published the score as a poème chorégraphique, with the following description: “Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, of waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.” Interestingly, George Balanchine choreographed a ballet to the tone poem for New York City Ballet in 1951, incorporating Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and La Valse into the score.

Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert featuring pianist Stephen Hough in the Auditorium Rainier III on Friday, 14th October, at 20h30.

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The Rainier III Auditorium (foreground) in Monte-Carlo © Monaco Press Centre

There are two remaining concerts in the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic’s Grande Saison season.

Au fil du Danube on 21st October is led by Lawrence Foster, with pianist Radu Lupu performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23. Also featured is Enescu’s Symphony No 3 for Chorus and Orchestra, with the Chorus of the Monte-Carlo Opera, directed by Stefano Visconti.

The concert on 26th October features the overture to Haydn’s opera Il Mondo della Luna, and his Mass in B flat major, Theresienmesse, with the Vienna Boys Choir as guest artists.

More information can be found on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website www.opmc.mc

Sources:

Artists’ websites –
Stephen Hough
Yan Pascal Tortelier

Overture Le CorsairThe Hector Berlioz website

Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 5: San Francisco Symphony programme notes – Michael Steinberg

Métaboles – San Francisco Symphony programme notes – Ronald Gallman

La Valse – San Francisco Symphony programme notes – Michael Steinberg

This article first appeared on the Riviera Buzz website

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