In the penultimate concert of the 2017-18 Grande Saison series, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra pays tribute to the genius of Leonard Bernstein in the year of his Centennial, with two works by the American composer and conductor.

Taking the title Mare Nostrum, the performance also features music by Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy, marking the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s death. Bernstein adored the music of both. Leading the OPMC is charismatic French conductor Stéphane Denève, and the soloist is Scottish-born violinist, of Italian descent, Nicola Benedetti.

Stéphane Denève who – unsurprisingly – loves the music of France, is currently Music Director of the Brussels Philharmonic, and the latest news on this partnership is that he has just extended his contract for a further three seasons – from 2019 to 2022. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Music Director Designate of the St Louis Symphony, and – as a firm supporter of 21st century music – Director of the Centre for Future Orchestral Repertoire.

Maestro Denève has also served as Chief Conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, has appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras and has a close relationship with some of the brightest stars in the classical music firmament. Also highly accomplished in the world of opera, he has led productions at venues such as the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Festival, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Gran Teatro de Liceu, La Monnaie, Deutsche Oper Am Rhein, and at the Opéra National de Paris.

Nicola Benedetti is the soloist in Bernstein’s Sérénade d’après le Banquet de Platon (Serenade after Plato’s Symposium), a work which she played last month with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra – of which the Baltimore Sun wrote: “..The superb, Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti, in her BSO debut, delivered the solo part with a sweet, but penetrating, tone and a keen sense of the music’s rich character”.

Ms Benedetti is regarded as one of the most influential classical artists of today – combining her impressive technical skill with a powerful stage presence and her high-profile advocacy of classical music. She has appeared with an astonishing line-up of some of today’s most illustrious conductors, and performed with many of the world’s finest orchestras.

A firm champion of music education and young talent, Ms Benedetti has established her own education and outreach project, The Benedetti Sessions, which gives many young string players the opportunity to attend masterclasses and appear with her. She has presented these Sessions at the Royal Albert Hall, Cheltenham Festival and Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, as well as in the USA and Australia.

This concert opens with a real Bernstein favorite – the boisterous and highly-charged overture to his operetta Candide – an adaptation of Voltaire’s 1758 satirical novella on the fashionable philosophies of that time. Hugely popular as a standalone concert piece, this overture is tuneful, pacy and fun.

The second work by Bernstein – although written in the same year as Candide (1954) – couldn’t be more different. A violin concerto in all but name, the Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, is regarded as one of Bernstein’s most lyrical orchestral works. The inspiration came, he says, “from a rereading of Plato’s charming dialogue, The Symposium” – which explores love through a series of speeches in praise of Eros, delivered by some of the great thinkers of Athens at a symposium, which in ancient Greece, was simply a drinking party.

Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande suite was commissioned by Mrs Patrick Campbell in 1898 – to serve as the incidental music for an English language production in London of Maurice Maeterlinck’s play of the same name. The play, a dreamlike fairy tale, revolves around the love of the fragile Princess Mélisande for Pelléas, the younger brother of her husband, Golaud. Fauré later took three of the pieces from the work that he created for the play, and re-scored them as a concert suite – to which he later added a fourth piece from the original work, the Sicilienne.

The Prelude depicts the forest in which Golaud first sees Mélisande, and La fileuse portrays Mélisande at her spinning wheel. In the Sicilienne, Fauré paints a portrait of Mélisande, and the final piece – La mort de Mélisande – accompanies her funeral cortége. It’s also the music which was played at Fauré’s own funeral in 1924.

Claude Debussy is often referred to as a musical Impressionist – a description against which he riled. However, according to Classical Notes – in a quote from writer David Ewen – “for Debussy color, nuance, mood, atmosphere and sensation were far more significant than drama or realism – his music is intended to appeal to the senses, not the intellect”, so the description is not entirely inaccurate.

In Debussy’s La Mer – subtitled Three Symphonic Sketches – he shows his gift for projecting moods and conjuring up images of the ocean, reflecting his love of the sea. The first movement, From Dawn to Midday On The Sea, depicts the changes of light on the water as the day unfolds. The Play of Waves gives a sensation of the movement of the water, and Dialog Of The Wind And The Sea depicts the heaving swell of storm-tossed waves and the effects of the elements on the water.

Stéphane Denève leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest soloist Nicola Benedetti, in works by Bernstein, Fauré and Debussy, on Friday, 8th June, at Auditorium Rainier III. Prior to the performance, there’ll be a presentation by André Peyrègne on the works to be played.

For reservations, visit the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website.


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Lead image by Jordan Mixson on Unsplash

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