Traditionally, December on the Riviera sparkles with a tempting array of concerts and productions, so here we take a look at some of the cultural highlights of the Christmas season.

For concert-goers in Nice there’s a wonderfully jazzy Gershwin concert courtesy of the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and Musical Director György G. Ráth. On the programme are all the Gershwin favourites – his Cuban Overture, the dazzling Rhapsody in Blue, his tone poem An American in Paris and his gorgeous Concerto in F.

Jozef Balog courtesy Opéra de NiceThe soloist in these performances is Hungarian pianist József Balog, acclaimed for both his technique and the sensitivity with which he plays. The 2017-18 season will see him perform across Europe, as well as in China, Kuwait and Turkey, and he will also appear at a number of festivals, including the Bellagio and the Budapest Spring festivals. In a well-timed prelude to his appearance in Nice, Mr Balog has just released an album of music by Gershwin on the Hongaroton label, with transcriptions by Earl Wild and Beryl Rubenstein.

József Balog plays Gershwin with György G. Ráth and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra on 8th and 9th December, at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. Tickets are available online.

On the following evening, you can hop over to Monte-Carlo for a performance by Kazuki Yamada and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra billed as Coup de foudre. Their guest artist is the “superb” (New York Times) multi-award-winning French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet who has attracted wide acclaim for his interpretation of Ravel’s captivating Concerto for the Left Hand – one of the featured works. Also on this programme of French music is Debussy’s Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra – Bavouzet’s performance of which was described as “magical” by AllMusic – and Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique – his autobiographical portrayal of an artist’s obsessive passion for a beautiful woman.

Coup de foudre takes place at the Auditorium Rainier III on Sunday, 10th December at 18h00. For tickets and further information, visit the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website.

Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard steps onto the podium for the next performance by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic – appropriately titled Aurore boréale. Currently Chief Conductor – and Conductor Laureate Designate – of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Maestro Dausgaard is also Chief Conductor Designate of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Honorary Conductor of the Orchestra della Toscana (ORT), Honorary Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director Designate of the Seattle Symphony.

In this concert, one of the foremost cellists of our time, Norwegian artist Truls Mørk, plays the Elgar Cello Concerto. Gramophone, Grammy, Midem and ECHO Klassik award-winner, Truls Mørk – in a performance of this work last year – made his 1723 Domenico Montagnana “sing with unforced splendor” wrote The New Yorker. According to The Daily Telegraph, “Mørk’s cello playing, delicate yet forceful, is a treat in itself”.

The programme also features two works which are being peformed for the first time in Monte-Carlo – Albert Schnelzer’s A Freak in Burbank and Carl Nielsen’s 1916 Symphony No 4, known as The Inextinguishable, so called because, in the words of the composer, it conveys what music is capable of expressing – “… the elemental Will of Life. Music is Life, and like it, is inextinguishable”.

Thomas Dausgaard leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in Aurore boréale at the Auditorium Rainier III on Friday, 15th December. Further information and tickets are available on the OPMC website.

Still in Monte-Carlo, we turn to ballet, with two performances presented the Monaco Dance Forum – Marco Goecke’s Nijinski and Moses Pendleton’s Viva Momix Forever.

Winner of the 2006 Monaco Dance Forum’s ‘Nijinsky’ Prize for the best emerging choreographer, Marco Goecke has – like a number of other choreographers – been drawn to the story of the legendary Russian dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky. This work, which he choreographed for the Gauthier Dance // Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart in 2016, is set to music by Frédéric Chopin and Claude Debussy, and has been widely and enthusiastically acclaimed. Marco Goecke has also created works for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Hamburg Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, the Norwegian National Ballet, the Leipzig Ballet and the Zurich Ballet.

Nijinski – a production by Theaterhaus Stuttgart in collaboration with Schauburg Munich – will be performed by Gauthier Dance // Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart at the Salle Garnier, Opéra de Monte-Carlo on 14th and 15th December.

Viva Momix Forever is a collection of the most significant works of American choreographer Moses Pendleton, founder and Artistic Director of Momix, his company of dancer/illusionists. He created this programme in 2015, to celebrate the Company’s 35th anniversary – and it’s a combination of fascinating and beautiful pieces, some new, others masterpieces from the company’s repertoire – Momix Classics, Passion, Baseball, Opus Cactus, Lunar Sea, Botanica – and his latest success, Alchemia.

Moses Pendleton’s Viva Momix Forever is at the Grimaldi Forum on 16th and 17th December.

Jean-Christophe Maillot’s superb 2014 creation for the Bolshoi Ballet, The Taming of the Shrew, has been a huge success. Maillot won a 2015 Golden Mask Award for the choreography, as did each of the two Bolshoi stars, Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov for their performances. The production has been on tour, been screened in cinemas around the world, and now Monte-Carlo audiences have an opportunity to see this ballet reworked for Maillot’s own company, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Set to a selection of works by Dmitri Shostakovich – mainly those written for the cinema – Maillot’s inspiration for the ballet came from Shakespeare’s play depicting the battle of wills between the flamboyant Petruchio and the quarrelsome Katharina.

Design for The Taming of the Shrew is by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, lighting by Dominique Drillot and costumes by Augustin Maillot. Assistant choreographer is Bernice Coppieters.

Performances take place at the Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum, from 28th to 31st December, 2017, and 2nd to 5th January, 2018. The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Lawrence Foster, with some performances led by Kalla Kuusava.

Tickets for all three productions are available online, and in person from the Grimaldi Forum (Tuesday to Saturday from 12h to 19h), Tel. +377 99 99 30 00, or from the Atrium of the Casino de Monte-Carlo (Tuesday to Saturday from 10h to 17h30), Tel. +377 98 06 28 28, as well as from FNAC and Carrefour.

Ballet Nice Méditerranée also ends the year on a high note, with a programme of two gorgeous, but tragic, classical works – Serge Lifar’s 1942 pas de deux, Romeo et Juliette, remounted for the Company by Artistic Director Éric Vu An, and Dinna Bjørn’s production of August Bournonville’s La Sylphide.

The pas de deux, set to Tchaikovsky’s sublimely beautiful Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, traces the heartbreaking story of Shakespeare’s two young lovers as they follow their hearts and pursue their dreams to their ultimate tragic deaths. Lifar himself said that Tchaikovsky’s overture corresponded perfectly with his own concept of Shakespeare’s drama – its portrayal of the depth of love which the young couple have for each, other and the way in which the story evolves.

Romeo et Juliette Opéra de Nice
August Bournonville created his production of La Sylphide for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836, basing it on the 1832 original by Filippo Taglioni, but with a new score commissioned from Herman Severin Løvenskiold. Dinna Bjørn – a former dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, and one of today’s few distinguished Bournonville specialists – is well placed to recreate this work for Ballet Nice. Her production is considered the most faithful to the Bournonville original.

Set in Scotland, La Sylphide tells of a young bridegroom who is tempted away from his bride by an ethereal spirit, on the day of his wedding. Despite his better judgement, he follows the spirit into the woods, but when he kisses her, his embrace proves fatal, and he has to deal with the consequences of his folly. Discovering that he’s also lost his bride to his friend, he’s left with the realisation that in trying to possess that which is unobtainable, he’s lost everything in life.

Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents the pas de deux, Romeo et Juliette and La Sylphide at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur from 23rd to 31st December. The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra is led by British conductor David Garforth .

Tickets may be bought by calling 04 92 17 40 79, or online.


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All photos courtesy Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur; lead image and Roméo & Juliette photo © Dominique Jaussein


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