28 Jun Moscow Philharmonic Society
Moscow Philharmonic Society
In the history of classical music, Russia stands amongst the greats for its contribution to the arts. This July, Stingray Classica is dedicating three consecutive Fridays to some of the greatest Russian composers and conductors to have ever lived, performed by some of the best modern talents Russia has to offer.
Our first dedication is to the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, considered the head architect of the Russian Style of classical music. He was part of The Mighty Handful, a group of five composers who dedicated their careers to developing and promoting a Russian classical music style that actively avoided Western methods. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, for his part, masterfully composed orchestras inspired by classic folk and fairy-tails.
Performing two of his famous operas, featuring the famed Flight of the Bumblebee, is The Russian National Orchestra (RNO). Russia’s only government-independent principle ensemble is also the first of their country to win a Grammy Award. In 2004, they won Best Spoken Word Album for Children for their recordings of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Jean-Pascal Beintus’ Wolf Tracks. In 2008, critics assembled by Gramaphone called RNO one of the top orchestras in the world.
Conducting the RNO is their founder and artistic director, Mikhail Pletnev. At the age of 13, Mikhail Pletnev got accepted to the Moscow Central Music School after six years under the famous pedagogue Kira Alexandrovna Shashkina. Pletnev went on to win a Gold Medal at the VI International Tchaikovsky Competition, launching his international career. Pletnev has been going from strength to strength ever since, winning many awards, including a Grammy in 2005 for Best Chamber Music Performance with Martha Argerich.
The following Friday, we celebrate the work of Sergei Rachmaninoff by playing one of his lesser-known works: the Piano Concerto No. 1. Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff learned to play the piano at the age of 4 and used his natural talents to compose works that made full use of the instrument’s capabilities. His Piano Concerto No. 1 was written when he was 18, inspired by the tranquillity and beauty of the private country estate he was staying at during his spring break. He dedicated this work to his advanced piano teacher Alexander Siloti, who often played the piece on which Pletnev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is based: the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 by Edvard Grieg. Grieg was a figurehead amongst Romantic era composers whose work has become part of the standard classical repertoire worldwide.
Some years later, Rachmaninoff revised his first piano concerto. Despite significant improvements, audiences were not impressed by it. As Rachmaninoff complained: “I have rewritten my First Concerto; it is really good now. All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily. And nobody pays any attention. When I tell them in America that I will play the First Concerto, they do not protest, but I can see by their faces that they would prefer the Second or Third.” His annoyance was well-founded. None other of Rachmaninoff’s revisions became as successful as this one did.
Great piano concertos deserve great piano soloist; Boris Berezovsky won a Golden Medal at the 1990 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. The Times described him as “an artist of exceptional promise, a player of dazzling virtuosity and formidable power.” We leave Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in his capable hands.
Conducting the night’s performance is one of Rachmaninoff’s greatest fans: Alexander Sladkovsky, who founded a festival called the International Sergey Rachmaninoff White Lilac Music Festival. Alexander Sladkovsky is one of Russia’s most prized modern conductors. He received a People’s Artist of Russia title for exceptional merit in developing the performing arts.
The final performance will be that of Camille Saint-Saëns’ best-known work, the Piano Concerto no. 2, Op. 22. The story of Saint-Saëns is one of talent obvious to all who witnessed it. “It is not generally realized that he was the most remarkable child prodigy in history, and that includes Mozart,” wrote music critic Harold C Schonberg. Another fan, Franz Liszt, legendary composer and pianist, declared Saint-Saëns as the best organist in the world. No other successful French composer wrote piano concertos before he did.
Saint-Saëns wrote his Piano Concerto no. 2 in only three weeks. With little time to prepare, the premiere was a disappointment, but eventually, the work became his most popular piano concerto. Mikhail Pletnev, founder of the RNO and piano virtuoso, shall be our soloist for the evening.
These concerts got recorded at the iconic Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, known for its unique historic architecture and near-daily performances. The venue welcomes all forms of music and is actively involved in the development of young musicians.
Friday Evenings in July on Stingray Classica (ch 332) from Friday, 2 July