This week, internationally renowned conductor Michel Plasson leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra in a special concert to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of French composer, César Franck.
Maestro Plasson is one of the best known French conductors, highly regarded for his interpretations of operas such as those by Gounod and Massenet as well as for conducting works by Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Wagner and Verdi. He was, until his recent retirement, music director of the Orchestre Capitole de Toulouse, and remains the Orchestra’s Honorary Conductor.
The concert opens with Ravel’s enchanting music for the Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mère l’Oye) which was initially written as a four-hand piano composition for two young friends of the composer. In 1911, Ravel transformed this work into an orchestral ballet score, with each of the seven movements depicting a character from the Mother Goose fairytales – The Dance of the Spinning Wheel (Danse du Rouet et Scene), a waltz, is followed by the Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty (Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant), the courtship between Beauty and the Beast, Tom Thumb (Petit Poucet), The Empress of the Pagodas and The Enchanted Garden (Le jardin féerique).
When war broke out in Ukraine earlier this year, Maestro Plasson invited twenty young Ukrainian musicians to join his International Academy of French Music, and included in this group were two soloists whom he selected to perform with the Nice Philharmonic in this concert – pianist Oleksandr Dzvinkovskyi and violinist Bohdan Luts.
Oleksandr Dzvinkovskyi – who will play the 2nd and 3rd movements of Ravel’s beautiful Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G major – was a foreign exchange student in the Paderewski Festival Cultural Exchange Program held in California in 2016. In 2018 he was a participant in the International Competition for Young Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz. This biennial competition is held in Kyiv, to honour the memory of the legendary pianist who was born and educated there.
Bohdan Luts is the soloist in the 2nd and 3rd movements of the gorgeous Tchaikovsky Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op 35. He studied in both Lviv and Kyiv, as well as at the International Menuhin Music Academy, won First Prize at the Lipizer International Violin Competition, Second Prize at the Il Piccolo Violino Magico International Competition for Young Violinists, the Grand Prize at the Lviv Virtuoso International Violin Competition and the Grand Prize at the Dolný Kubín International Violin Competition.
César Franck, Belgian-French Romantic composer and organist, really only fulfilled his potential as a composer in the last 10 years of his life. Born in Liège in 1822, he studied at both the Liège and Paris conservatories, dutifully fulfilling his father’s wish for him to become a virtuoso performer, but in 1846, he rebelled and left the family home. During his time as organist at the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris, he composed a handful of sacred choral works, a Mass and a set of Six Pièces for organ, but it wasn’t until 1871 that he was granted membership of the Société Nationale de Musique, confirming his status as a composer. He then started to compose works such as his Piano Quintet in F Minor, Variations symphoniques, Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano and the String Quartet in D Major, which – together with several organ pieces – set him on course to become one of the most powerful French composers in the second half of the 19th century.
It was in 1877 that Franck started work on his superb Symphony in D minor, and even though it is based on German Romantic standards, it has only three movements instead of the customary four, and many of the themes in the work are heard in all three movements. The Symphony had its European premiere in Paris in 1889, which produced mixed reviews, nevertheless it became part of the international orchestral repertoire, and has remained there to this day.
Michel Plasson leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and guest artists Oleksandr Dzvinkovskyi and Bohdan Luts in works by Ravel, Tchaikovsky and César Franck, on 15th October at 6.00 pm. The concert takes place at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur and tickets may be obtained online.
Lead image courtesy Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur