Is there any more magical or awe-inspiring venue for a symphony concert than the Courtyard of the Prince’s Palace under a starlit sky in Monaco?
Each summer, the Royal Courtyard hosts a series of performances by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, continuing the centuries-old patronage of the arts – and music in particular – by the Grimaldi Princes.
Not only does the grandeur and beauty of the Courtyard complement the calibre of the performances featured each year, but owing to its design – with walls which form a perfect trapezoid – it has excellent acoustics, producing what is acknowledged as an unusual clarity of sound.
The first concert of this year’s season takes place on 17th July, with a performance led by Gianluigi Gelmetti – until recently the Artistic and Music Director of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, who now takes the title of Honorary Conductor. The concert opens with Francesco Bongiovanni’s elegant and melodic Symphonic Overture Le Prince, in its premiere performance by the Philharmonic. This is followed by two gorgeous works by Tchaikovsky – his Violin Concerto in D major and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, with its heartrendingly beautiful main theme. The Violin Concerto – one of the most popular in the classical repertoire, yet also one of the most difficult – is performed by German violinist David Garrett, the classical artist who also has a substantial following amongst rock and pop fans with his crossover shows, and whose performances are infused with pure passion. Also on the programme is Rossini’s spirited overture to the opera William Tell.
The performance on 21st July features Israeli virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman, as both conductor and soloist, in a programme of music by Mozart. The concert opens with the overture to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, the composer’s foray into the world of fantasy and enchantment, then Zukerman plays Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 in G major, written when the composer was just 19 years of age, and regarded as the most popular of his five violin concertos. According to All Music “the sweetness and ingratiating simplicity of its melodies are surpassed by virtually nothing Mozart ever wrote”. Zukerman has been described by The Los Angeles Times as “the forever-young virtuoso: expressively resourceful, infectiously musical, technically impeccable, effortless”, adding “It was a joy to be in his musical company.” The concert ends with Mozart’s Symphony No 39, one of the last three symphonies which he wrote.
The concert on 24th July features a hugely popular all-American programme. Kazuki Yamada, the newly appointed Artistic and Music Director of the Philharmonic, leads the Orchestra in George Gershwin’s vibrant Cuban Overture, followed by his Piano Concerto in F, the most classical of all works by a composer with the unique ability to – brilliantly – transcend the boundaries between both jazz and serious music. The soloist in this performance is Cuban pianist Jorge Luís Prats, recipient of both the Alejo Carpentier and Félix Varela medals, the highest awards granted by Cuba to national and international exponents of the arts and culture. The programme ends with a flourish – Leonard Bernstein’s fabulous suite of Symphonic Dances which he lifted from his widely acclaimed score for West Side Story – a selection of pieces by turns pulsating, jazzy and hauntingly romantic.
On 31st July, French conductor Emmanuel Krivine takes up the baton to lead another programme of favourites – Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Ravel’s jazz-inspired Piano Concerto in G Major and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which was orchestrated by Ravel. Maestro Krivine, regarded as one of the most distinguished conductors of today, and known for his elegant and colourful interpretations, is the Music Director designate of L’Orchestre National de France, as of the 2017-18 season. Flamboyant French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is the soloist in the Ravel concerto, a recent performance of which was described by the San Diego Union-Tribune critic as “Not just nearly perfect. It was perfect, the best I’ve experienced in 50 years”, and the Seattle Times wrote: “It’s hard to imagine this music emerging with more loving finesse and more exquisite detail”.
The concert on 4th August is dominated by two Brazilian luminaries – orchestral and operatic conductor John Neschling and cellist Antonio Meneses. Neschling, Artistic Director of the Municipal Theatre of São Paula and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Music, leads the Philharmonic in a performance of works by Johann Strauss, Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss. The concert opens with Johann Strauss’ overture to La Chauve-Souris, more widely known as Die Fledermaus, followed by Schumann’s lovely Cello Concerto in A minor. The final work is the wonderfully melodic suite from Richard Strauss’ score for Le Chevalier à la Rose or Der Rosenkavalier, with its beautiful waltz sequences. Antonio Meneses – winner of the First Prize and Gold Medal at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow – is a frequent guest at many important music festivals, and is also a dedicated chamber musician. A member of the Beaux Arts Trio, he has collaborated with the Emerson and the Vermeer quartets, and with pianists such as Nelson Freire and Cristina Ortiz.
The final concert in this season, on 7th August, is devoted to the music of Beethoven – his Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, and Symphony No 7. Gianluigi Gelmetti again directs the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, with French pianist Philippe Bianconi as guest soloist. Hailed by BBC Music Magazine as ”a true aristocrat of the piano”, Philippe Bianconi says that the Fourth Piano Concerto is his favourite of all of those written by Beethoven, describing it as “intimate” and “poetic” with themes that have “a melodic quality that really touches the heart”. Bianconi is currently the director of the American Conservatory, located in the Palais de Fontainebleau, following in the footsteps of illustrious artists such as Nadia Boulanger – who held this position for thirty years. The faculty has also boasted luminaries such as Maurice Ravel, Marcel Dupré, Robert, Gaby and Jean Casadesus, Jean Francaix, Henri Dutilleux, Betsy Jolas and Leonard Bernstein.
The Concerts at the Prince’s Palace take place between 17th July and 7th August. Tickets may be bought in person from the box office of the Atrium du Casino de Monte-Carlo, by calling the box office on +377 98 06 28 28, or reserved online.
Palais Princier de Monaco (Prince’s Palace)
Lead image © Palais Princier de Monaco (Prince’s Palace)