The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018-19 season opens this month, with Principal Conductor and Artistic Director Kazuki Yamada directing a programme of music by Verdi, Shostakovich and Beethoven.
The guest soloist is Russian violin virtuoso, Maxim Vengerov – this season’s Artist in Residence – and the featured works are Verdi’s overture to his opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1, and Beethoven’s Symphony No 5.
Now entering his third season with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, Kazuki Yamada is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Suisse Romande Orchestra, with which he made his European debut in 2010. In his home country, he is Principal Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Music Partner with Sendai Philharmonic and Ensemble Orchestral Kanzawa, and Music Director of Yokohama Sinfonietta, which he founded when was still a student. He indulges his passion for choral repertoire as Residential Conductor of the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus.
Maestro Yamada’s most recent appointment is that of Principal Guest Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a role which begins this season. He made his debut with the CBSO in 2012, has made regular return visits since then, and led the Orchestra on a highly successful tour of Japan two seasons ago. One of Kazuki Yamada’s most high profile appearances was conducting Côme de Bellescize’s 2015 staged version of Jeanne d’Arc, with Orchestre de Paris at the new Philharmonie hall in the city. The character of Joan of Arc was performed by Academy Award-winning French actress Marion Cotillard.
Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov – described by Anne Midgette in The Washington Post as “one of the most brilliant violinists you’ll ever hear” – gave his first recital in his home town of Novosibirsk at the age of five. He won first Prize in the Junior Wieniawski Competition in Poland when he was just ten years old and, in 1990, at the age of fifteen, he took top honours at the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition. Among his more recent accolades are a Gramophone Award in 1996, and a 2004 Grammy for his recording of the Britten Violin Concerto.
Among Maxim Vengerov’s major achievements was his appointment as Envoy for Music by UNICEF – the first classical musician to receive this honour. He has also had a viola concerto written for him by Benjamin Yusupov, he toured with the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in 2006, and a year later made his debut at Carnegie Hall. In 2013, the annual Vengerov Festival was launched in Tokyo, and in 2014 he graduated as a conductor with a diploma of excellence from the Moscow Institute of Ippolitov-Ivanov. He has appeared with orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the BBC Symphony and the Mariinsky Theatre orchestras, as soloist and/or conductor, and performed and toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic.
The concert opens with the overture to Verdi’s opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) – the theme of which was so memorably used in the 1986 film Jean de Florette. Premiered in St Petersburg on 10th November 1862, the opera was later revised by Verdi, and the version which premiered in Milan in February 1869 – with a new overture, the addition of a final scene to Act 3, and a new ending – has become the standard performance version. The opera recounts the story of the young nobleman Don Alvaro who falls in love with Leonora, daughter of the Marquis of Calatrava. The Marquis, fiercely against a union between his daughter and Don Alvaro, is accidentally shot by Alvaro, and Leonora takes refuge in a monastery. Alvaro joins the army, and becomes friendly with Don Carlo – not aware that he is Leonora’s brother. When they discover each other’s identity, Don Carlo is set on revenge for his father’s death, but he’s fatally wounded by Alvaro in a fight. Alvaro summons help, Leonora arrives to tend her brother, and he stabs her in the heart.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto has proved to be one of the most popular, yet technically challenging, concertos of the 20th century. It opens with almost eerie and sinister undertones, before changing its character entirely in the upbeat, and – by comparison – lyrical second movement. The slow movement is described by Gerard McBurney (writing for the Boosey & Hawkes website) as “a stark Passacaglia”, followed by what’s known to be one of the longest and most challenging cadenzas in the classical repertoire, requiring tremendous virtuosity.
The inspiration for the concerto came from Shostakovich’s great friend, the legendary Russian violinist David Oistrakh, but it was written – in 1948 – during a time in the composer’s life when he was distinctly out of favor with the Soviet authorities, and the victim of public humiliation – condemned as being a ‘bourgeois sympathiser’ and a ‘counter-revolutionary’. Upon completion of the work, Shostakovich decided that the time wasn’t right for the concerto to be played in public, and it wasn’t until two years after Stalin’s death that the work was premiered, on October 29th, 1955, by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Evgeny Mravinsky, with Oistrakh as soloist.
The final work on the programme is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with its stirring, and instantly recognisable, opening bars – which the composer is alleged to have described as “fate knocking at the door.” The Symphony wasn’t exactly rapturously received at its premiere in Vienna on December 22nd, 1808, which is hard to believe, but it’s grown in popularity over time, and is today one of the most popular and frequently played works in the classical repertoire.
According to Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, what makes it stand out to the degree that it does, is that the Symphony ” … represents a moment in history, it represents a moment in the way that we think about ourselves. It’s a psychological diary of sorts … ” Here he explains his rationale:
Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of music by Verdi, Shostakovich and Beethoven, with guest artist Maxim Vengerov, at the Grimaldi Forum on September 21st at 20h30. For tickets and further information, visit the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra website.
Lead image and New Season poster courtesy of OPMC; Beethoven image: Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1819 or 1820 – via Wikimedia Commons