July in Monaco always heralds a series of Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, and this year the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra has a superb selection on offer, running from 11th July to 4th August.

The series opened with a sold-out concert led by American conductor James Gaffigan, General Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia and of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra. The soloist in this concert was French pianist Alexandre Kantorow, and the programme featured the symphonic poem Le chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) by César Franck, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2, and George Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

This concert is followed on Thursday, 18th July, by an evening led by Cristian Măcelaru, Music Director Designate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Măcelaru is quoted as saying: “Art is a deep necessity in our world today, not just to portray an image or tell a story, but to communicate the deepest of our human emotions”.

The soloist is Spanish violinist María Dueñas, winner of the first prize in the 2021 Yehudi Menuhin Competition. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has praised her for the “freedom and joyous individuality” of her playing, and The Strad has described her rising-star status as “seemingly unstoppable”. She plays Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1. Also on the programme are two works by Tchaikovsky – his ever popular Capriccio Italien – inspired by the sound of bugles which the composer heard from the nearby barracks during a trip to Italy – and the symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s friend and former pupil, Sergei Taneyev.

The concert on Friday, 26th July is led by Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, said by The Times to “…. still galvanise musicians as few others ever will”. Having held the positions of Music Director of orchestras such as the Philadelphia and Teatro alla Scala, as well as Chief Conductor of the London Philharmonia, he has led ensembles such as the Berlin, New York and Vienna philharmonics, and was Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010, of which he has now been appointed Music Director Emeritus for Life.

Under Maestro Muti, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic plays the elegant Contemplazione by Alfredo Catalani and Franz Schubert’s grand Symphony No 9, known as The Great, and regarded by some as the most important of the 19th century’s post-Beethoven symphonies.

This concert will be repeated on Sunday evening, 28th July.

Thursday 1st August sees the Orchestra led by Russia conductor Stanislav Kochanovsky, he of the “aristocratic gesture” according to GB Opera Magazine. Currently Chief Conductor of the NDR Philharmonic, Maestro Kochanovsky has been described by Diapason Magazine as having “… confirmed his place among the great conductors of our days”.

The soloist in this all-Russian programme is Russian pianist Nikolay Lugansky, described by Le Monde as “… not simply the most wonderful Russian pianist of modern times; he is one of the most outstanding artists of our epoch …”. Lugansky’s album, Richard Wagner: Famous Opera Scenes, has been named one of the best classical music albums of 2024 to date by Gramophone Magazine.

Following Mikhail Glinka’s overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, he plays Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Concerto No 1 – which Moscow Conservatory Director Nikolay Rubinstein refused to play because he felt it was so badly written. Tchaikovsky, to his credit, refused to change a single note of the concerto and offered the premiere to German virtuoso Hans von Bülow who played it for an American audience, where it was hugely successful, a success followed up in Europe. The concert ends with Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from his opera Prince Igor, where the Prince and his son, having been taken prisoner by the Polovtsian leader Khan Konchak, bear witness to the slaves’ performance of these thrilling dances.

The season draws to a close on Sunday, 4th August, with Music Director Kazuki Yamada leading the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. Maestro Yamada is also Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, strengthening the link between the CBSO and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic at the beginning of the current season with performances of the Verdi Requiem and the Mahler Symphony No 2, featuring the CBSO Chorus.

The soloist in this final concert is Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski, highly regarded for his powerful virtuosity and deeply expressive approach. Having appeared with some of the major international orchestras – such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester Berlin and Dresden Philharmonic, and as an acclaimed recitalist, Trpčeski has this past season been Artist in Residence with both the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. In this concert, he plays the Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 Op, completed in 1881 as Brahms emerged from the shadow of Beethoven – a daunting inhibition surely.

Also on the programme is The Moldau, the second movement of Bedřich Smetana’s patriotic symphonic suite Má vlast (My Country), completed in 1874. Má vlast depicts the flow of the Vltava River from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside to Prague, celebrating the composer’s love of his homeland. The concert ends with Antonín Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. This is a high-spirited piece, reflecting the tumult and festivity of a carnival, which was originally the second of a trio of concert overtures depicting Nature, Life and Love. Dvořák subsequently separated the three pieces which he renamed In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello.

The Concerts at the Prince’s Palace take place in the Cour d’Honneur du Palais Princier, Monaco, from 11th July to 4th August. Tickets may be reserved on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website.

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Lead image courtesy Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo

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