The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra comes to town

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

This weekend, in its Great Performers series, the San Francisco Symphony hosts conductor Thierry Fischer, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and two fabulous French guest artists – cellist Gautier Capuçon and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Described by The Daily Californian as “one of the best and most prestigious symphonic orchestras in the world”, the Royal Philharmonic was founded in 1946 by Sir Thomas Beecham, the orchestra’s first conductor. In so doing, Sir Thomas headed a vital revival in the orchestral life of the United Kingdom following the end of World War II, and over the years he was followed by an illustrious list of Principal Conductors – including Rudolf Kempe, Antal Doráti, André Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov and Daniele Gatti.

Thierry Fishcer conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

In addition to a vast repertoire of classics, the RPO has also performed works by leading composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir John Taverner. The Principal Guest Conductor is Pinchas Zukerman, Principal Associate Conductor is Alexander Shelley, and Permanent Associate Conductor is Grzegorz Nowak. Guest Conductor Thierry Fischer – currently touring with the orchestra – has been Music Director of the Utah Symphony since 2009, and is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic.

The main work in the Royal Philharmonic’s opening program on Sunday is Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 1, with soloist Gautier Capuçon, who this season is touring widely in the USA, in Asia and across Europe. A Classic FM review of his recording of the Dvořák and Herbert cello concertos – with Paavo Järvi and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra – described his “mastery of tone and line – powerful, lustrous, beautifully focused …” as “never less than mesmerising”.

Gautier Capuçon – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The opening work of the concert is Debussy’s delightful Petite Suite, originally written as a piano piece for four hands, but played here in an orchestration by Henri Büsser.  A lovely lyrical work, it has four movements, each descriptive of its title – En bateau, Cortège, Menuet and Ballet.

The concert ends with Stravinsky’s dazzling suite of his score for The Firebird. This work, inspired by Russian folklore, was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev for a production by his newly-formed Ballets Russes, which premiered at the Paris Opéra in June 1910. Although the composer, at 27 years of age, was relatively inexperienced, he shot to international fame with this score, becoming highly regarded for the originality of his music.  Following a performance of The Firebird by the Royal Philharmonic, The Telegraph wrote that it was “both delicately beguiling and packed a punch, proving in the process why this orchestra still matters”.

Thierry Fischer leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest artist Gautier Capuçon, in a program of music by Debussy, Haydn and Stravinsky at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, January 28th. For more information, and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The second of the RPO’s two concerts features as guest artist the brilliant Jean-Yves Thibaudet, making a welcome return visit to San Francisco, with Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2. In a review of an earlier performance of this work by M Thibaudet, the South Florida Classical Review wrote that “he managed to infuse his performance with elegance and restraint”, adding that in the quiet sections, he “displayed a delicate touch and moulded the melodic contours with great subtlety”.

The concert opens with Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem The Fountains of Rome, regarded as his best known work. Depicting four of the most famous fountains in the city, it describes the Fountain of Valle Giulia, the Triton Fountain, the Fountain of Trevi and the Villa Medici Fountain.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Photo: Nick Rutter – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The final work in Monday’s concert is Stravinsky’s Petrushka – another work written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Like The Firebird, the story also has its origins in Russian folklore, and tells of the sad little fairground puppet, Petrushka – whom Stravinsky described as ” “the immortal and unhappy hero of every fair in all countries”. The ballet – with Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role – premiered in June 1913, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, conducted by  the Principal Conductor of the Ballets Russes, Pierre Monteux, who was later to become Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony.

Thierry Fischer leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest artist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, in a performance of works by Respighi, Liszt and Stravinsky, on Monday, January 29th, at Davies Symphony Hall. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Thierry Fischer

Gautier Capuçon

The Firebird

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

The Fountains of Rome



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