Posts Tagged ‘Mariinsky Orchestra’

Flitting Thru Prokofiev

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Valery Gergiev in Munich in November 2016

Published: November 30, 2016

MUNICH — As fluent as Valery Gergiev is in Prokofiev, he had precious little to say with a cycle of the symphonies here this month. Fluency meant wise tempos, a feel for the boldness in the scores’ structures, a facility in cuing the two orchestras on duty. It also, in effect, prodded those orchestras — the Munich Philharmonic and the Mariinsky Orchestra — into articulating with dependable precision in the strings, providing expressive, at times miraculous, wind solos, and mustering energy for the colors, contrasts, metrical effects, patent ironies and elevated humor that define this repertory. But in at least five of the symphonies the man waving the toothpick showed no personal engagement with the material at hand, conveyed no sense of exploration or chance or daring. He never pursued an idea to its extreme, stressed unduly some dynamic detail or the possibilities of some internal balance or rhetorical figure, never exploited tonal beauty (or ugliness) for its own sake, or shed any degree of unconventional light on any section of these now familiar pieces. None of that. He played signalman rather than share anything of himself. If the music spoke at all, it was courtesy of the imagination of individual players or in the power of collective discipline, Munich’s or St Petersburg’s.

Gergiev’s detachment, and a bizarre kind of genius, allows him to flit undrained from one artistic commitment to the next. In this case he moved through much of Prokofiev’s canon on a single day (Nov. 13*). Symphonies Nos. 3 and 5, 2 and 7, 4 (long version) and 6, anchored concerts at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., the afternoon programs being played by the visiting orchestra, with violin concertos of Mozart separating each pairing. The two-movement Second Symphony (1924) came off best, its barely inhibited caustic din traced plainly so that the Variations outflanked the preceding Allegro ben articolato, in sonata form, as the experimenting composer perhaps wished. The Third (1928) and Fifth (1944) were a bit much before lunch. Even so, the Third, drawn from Ognenny angel, sounded pallid with last season’s methodical and heated account under Vladimir Jurowski still in memory. (Jurowski conducted the opera here the same month, to bold effect.) The MPhil played incisively in the Fifth, but countless particulars of the popular score’s middle movements passed blandly by. After a jolly traversal of the Seventh (1952) came the five-intermission day’s one unalloyed pleasure: a slow Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894), as encore, gingerly sculpted by a for once scoreless Gergiev and divinely played by the Mariinsky’s uncredited flutist. As opener to the last concert, the Fourth Symphony (1947) saw the conductor mostly hands-off, but its jerky bombast registered persuasively and superb woodwind ensemble enhanced the Andante tranquillo movement. Gergiev provided utilitarian accompaniment in the concertos: No. 1 in B-flat (1773) gaining from the fresh, stylishly poised thoughts of Vilde Frang; No. 4 in D Major (1775) conventionally but tidily contoured by Yu-Chien Tseng; and No. 3 in G (same year) subjected to Alexandra Conunova’s expressive spinning. This last soloist, although a mismatch in Mozart, held the audience in a trance with her fine dynamic control and determined focus on the musical line. Symphony No. 6 (1945) followed Conunova; we had to leave. If the day offered fewer rewards than last year’s corresponding marathon, climax of the MPhil 360° festival, it was better attended, at 70% of capacity, after a marketing push, and the animated Gasteig lobby confirmed the crowd’s immersion in the project. Medici TV equipment inside the hall no doubt captured clearer sound than the real acoustics, which remain at once bright and gallingly centerless.

[*Symphony No. 1 was played on Nov. 11.]

Photo © Florian Emanuel Schwarz

Related posts:
Maestro, 62, Outruns Players
Stravinsky On Autopilot
Trifonov’s Rach 3 Cocktail
Mahler 10 from Nézet-Séguin
Modern Treats, and Andsnes

Maestro, 62, Outruns Players

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Behzod Abduraimov concludes Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the Munich Philharmonic

Published: November 22, 2015

MUNICH — At five o’clock last Sunday afternoon, Munich time, three Mariinsky Orchestras began to play. Two of them launched into Pikovaya dama and Die Zauberflöte at the Mariinsky complex in St Petersburg. The third, here at the Gasteig, opened the accompaniment to a witty Shchedrin vocalise. Such are the possibilities with a roster of 335 musicians, the world’s largest. At the concert, though, the Mariinsky name was bizarrely buried. “MPhil 360°,” screamed the program book cover, “das Festival der Münchner Philharmoniker,” nowhere mentioning the Russian orchestra. The missing credit no doubt mattered less to Valery Gergiev, who now helms both orchestras (or all four, depending on how you count), than the furthering of his new goals: to better relate the Munich Philharmonic to citizens of all walks of life and to programmatically “bridge … German and Russian orchestra culture.” And in this the first MPhil 360° went far, as a lobby- and hall-based three-day jamboree with interviews and attractively priced music in varied formats. Indeed Gergiev himself went far, conducting as festival climax on Sunday five hour-long, off-subscription concerts centered on the Prokofiev piano concertos. Nine hands of Herbert Schuch, Denis Matsuev, Behzod Abduraimov (pictured), Alexei Volodin and Olli Mustonen partnered him at 11, 1, 3, 5 and 7 o’clock, respectively, while scores by Haydn, Mozart, Weber, Reger, the Munich composers Hartmann and Widmann, besides the Munich-based Shchedrin, offered mostly pertinent, mostly Germanic counterforce.

Fortunately for the MPhil’s amenable Intendant, Paul Müller, the extravagant project, at least Sunday’s marathon part of it, proved a logistical and artistic success, even if attendance hovered at 50% of the Gasteig’s capacity. It may or may not have been smart to let the Russians do 60% of the work — assigning them the first two concerts in addition to the five o’clock and leaving less than two hours of music to the day’s titular heroes — but orchestral standards held up throughout as numerous manned Medici TV cameras rolled. As if conducting 300 minutes of music was not enough, Gergiev amiably stood through solo encores and was available for interview during the intermissions. Not incidentally, he dedicated all the concerts to victims of the Islamist murders in Paris.

Hearing five pianists emphasized the disparity of the concertos. The scoring of the compact D-flat-Major work (1912) favors the orchestra, which was dazzlingly unchecked in this performance so that Schuch’s fleet playing could not consistently be heard. Volodin’s sparkle and linear integrity in the left-hand Fourth Concerto (1931) could not overcome the perception, in context, of a drop in creativity in the writing; the pianist more fully advertised himself with a blistering account of the Precipitato from Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7. Mustonen presented the first three movements of the madly insistent Fifth Concerto (1932) as a unit, with its Toccata a backstop on essentially percussive ideas. But he attempted a round open sound for many figures, quite divergent from, say, Ciani or Béroff. His Larghetto and Vivo offered unforced contrast.

The concertos from 1921 and 1923 fared best. Although Abduraimov’s light touch demanded cupped hands to the ears, he breezed fluently through Concerto No. 3, finding playfulness in its angularity, nonchalance in its lyricism. His reading had a crystalline quality underpinned by decisive, shapely phrasing in the left hand, qualities that rendered uncommon detail in the Variations. To the G-Minor Second Concerto, summit of Prokofiev’s work in this form, Matsuev brought power and evident consideration of its 32-minute arc. Robust rhythms, neatly accented quiet passages, a frame to justly billet the big cadenza, flashes of droll humor in the Intermezzo — and the pianist barely glanced at Gergiev, who took his cues where he could. As encore came Rachmaninoff’s picture etude The Sea and the Gulls, equally intense and played with command of the long line.

If support from the podium in the concertos wasn’t always sensitive, repertory choices elsewhere mostly played to Gergiev’s strengths. The day got off to an alert start with a technically fine performance of Prokofiev’s First Symphony (1917) from the Mariinsky Orchestra. Next came a real Classical symphony, Haydn’s Bear (1786), but this lacked elegance and, consequently, expressiveness. Weber’s Romanticism bookended the second concert and concerto. His Freischütz Overture (1821) benefitted from the maestro’s energy shots at vital moments; the 1841 Berlioz arrangement of his Invitation to the Dance shimmered transparently.

When the MPhil showed up at three o’clock, a closer rapport was apparent between conductor and players (versus two years ago). Reger’s harmonically alluring Vier Tondichtungen nach Böcklin (1913) showcased first the strings (in an Elgarian picture with chances for the concertmaster), then the refined winds, next the whole orchestra (in the duly macabre third tone poem, Die Toteninsel), and finally Munich’s percussion section (in an exuberant bacchanal colorfully scored).

Two hours later the Mariinsky musicians were back, still on superb form, for that vocalise, the episodic and folksy Tanya-Katya (2002) with creamy-toned lyric soprano Pelageya Kurennaya; Hartmann’s Suite from Simplicius Simplicissimus, assembled in 1957 from the revised version of his 1935 opera, in a lively, at times jazzy mix of styles relished especially by the principal trombone; the concerto with Volodin; and, wrapping up a long haul for them, Naughty Limericks, the gaudy 1963 Shchedrin piece, which poorly followed the Prokofiev but was loudly applauded in the presence of the elderly composer, a friend of Gergiev’s. The MPhil’s second concert began with Jörg Widmann’s raucous concert overture Con brio (2008), again unhelpfully programmed with Prokofiev. The composer-clarinetist then played, or rather milked, Mozart’s A-Major Concerto, K622, jumping about the stage like an excited six-year-old, before Mustonen walked on to conclude this engrossing, unrepeatable venture.

Photo © Andrea Huber

Related posts:
Salzburg Coda
Stravinsky On Autopilot
Manon, Let’s Go
Gergiev Undissuaded
Time for Schwetzingen

Gergiev Undissuaded

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Valery Gergiev at Munich Rathaus in 2013

Published: May 20, 2014

MUNICH — In a rambling, two-page “personal statement” to Munich Philharmonic subscribers made public today (May 20), Valery Gergiev stressed the role of music as bridge-builder and affirmed his now divisive assumption of the post of Chefdirigent of the orchestra, effective in fall 2015.

The statement covers a grab bag of topics, from Realpolitik to the Russian Orthodox faith, from Mariinsky Theater duties to a Munich Stravinsky cycle, from Glinka’s Europeanization of Russian music to recent Ukraine “events.” Coyly, it acknowledges that “future political developments could give rise to problems.”

One bizarre paragraph refers to the Russian people’s continuing support for “taboos that have not applied in Western countries for many years,” presumably a reference to non-advances in human rights. “With respect to my personal stance,” it states, “there is no one in my ensemble and team who could accuse me of anything. One of my most important principles is respect for others and their personal lives.”

This effort by Gergiev was in part an outcome of a politically forced meeting he had with the orchestra’s Intendant Paul Müller and the City of Munich’s Kulturreferent Hans-Georg Küppers three days ago (May 17) in Linz during a Mariinsky Orchestra visit to Austria. The encounter had been expected to take place in Munich late this week when the touring Russians arrive here, and it may have been moved up (and away) to refract attention.

Photo © 2013 Wild und Leise

Related posts:
Gergiev, Munich’s Mistake
Maestro, 62, Outruns Players
Busy Week
Jansons! Petrenko! Gergiev!
MPhil Vague on Gergiev Hours

Gergiev, Munich’s Mistake

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Valery Gergiev signs contract at Astana Opera in April 2014

Published: April 9, 2014

MUNICH — Not a week goes by here now without media mention of Valery Gergiev. The musical friend of Vladimir Putin and, more to the point, high-profile employee-to-be of the City of Munich inspires comment even in modest suburban newspapers. Many want his alarmingly long contract (2015–20) shredded.

But the Russian maestro was already a rotten choice as Chefdirigent of the tax-payer-funded, city-run Munich Philharmonic before Putin upset Pink List politicians over human rights and the Green Party over Crimea.

His repertory limitations, his work habits and his first loyalties all portend a discordant, creatively stunted tenure during which Munich, despite its €800,000-a-year* wage, has no hope of being the artist’s top priority. If not shredded, the contract of Feb. 2013 should certainly be adjusted.

Gergiev is globally known from his base at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, where he operates a network of répétiteurs and conducting assistants who extend brand “Gergiev” beyond the physical and temporal limits of one person.

Seven days ago, for instance, he entered a principal guest conductor agreement (pictured) with Astana Opera, the expensively housed company of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the flat and flashy Kazakh capital.

Munich’s old and Astana’s new money follows Gergiev earnings at the London Symphony Orchestra, where his stint as principal conductor (2007–15) resembles good preparation for the job here.

But London’s one-night, one-program pattern suits the Russian’s lickety-split scheduling better than Munich’s (American-style) weekly program iterations. Example: he is this week able to dart to New York for a Strauss concert between two different LSO Scriabin programs three days apart.

As one MPhil insider earnestly phrased it last December, peripatetic Gergiev “must reinvent himself” so that he can stay in one place, with one program and one group of musicians, for a whole workweek, build partnerships through rehearsals he himself leads, and mine the interpretive depths.

Good luck with that. And the reinventing would need to extend to repertory: Munich concertgoers enjoy their Slavic diversions but expect passionate leadership in Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner. Alas, in 25 years as a star, Gergiev has acquired no reputation in these composers. Ditto for Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn.

“It’s political,” everyone says, when asked why Gergiev was chosen. They mean he was chosen by city politicians — not friends of Putin, of course, but people whose collective knowledge and consensus thinking permit little beyond the purchase of a big name, which Gergiev undeniably is.

In their wisdom, in 2009, they “lost” the MPhil’s hot-property Generalmusikdirektor Christian Thielemann, and followed up in 2010 by replacing him with the jaded Lorin Maazel (for 2012–15). Decline has followed.

The politicians do not decide unaided, however. A consulting board called the Philharmonische Rat liaises between the orchestra’s Intendant Paul Müller and Munich’s city council, which approves budgets and major contracts. The Rat includes councilors, orchestra members, Müller, and Hans-Georg Küppers, the city’s Kulturreferent. If nothing else, processes are peaceful. The recent difficulties in Minneapolis and San Diego cannot be imagined here.

Ironically, while Rat members can speak freely, Gergiev is expected to constrain his speech — not weigh in on matters like Crimea that needn’t concern a Moscow-born Ossetian based in St Petersburg — and acquire the diplomatic tact of a City of Munich employee, a world-roaming cultural ambassador whose every move and view will reflect on Munich, Bavaria and Germany.

Predictably he hasn’t. By hailing the Crimea change, even in his current status as an MPhil guest, he may have done more to curtail his Munich future than any problem of scheduling or repertory weakness could have.

The Green Party on Mar. 27 forced instructions to Küppers and Müller: chat with the maestro during his next visit, bitte, and illuminate the boundary between free speech and employee discretion.

They can try. Gergiev is in town next month with his beloved Mariinsky Orchestra. More productive, though, would be a chat that dilutes the publicly signed Chefdirigent deal into a guesting plan like Astana’s. Time remains on Maazel’s contract to research and court a more suitable replacement, allowing Gergiev to remain Gergiev, and Munich to savor the scores he leads best. Without the negative attention.

[*The salary reportedly paid to Christian Thielemann, whose title indicated a slightly loftier position. The incumbent, Lorin Maazel, is Chefdirigent, as was James Levine before Thielemann.]

Photo © Astana Opera

Related posts:
Jansons! Petrenko! Gergiev!
Gergiev Undissuaded
Maestro, 62, Outruns Players
Concert Hall Design Chosen
Stravinsky On Autopilot

Jansons! Petrenko! Gergiev!

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Munich Frauenkirche and view toward the Alps

Published: January 23, 2013

MUNICH — With the city council’s blessing today of Valery Gergiev’s hire as the next Chefdirigent of the Munich Philharmonic, all three of the Bavarian capital’s globally renowned orchestras will be in Soviet-born hands by late 2015. This September, 40-year-old Kirill Petrenko of Omsk, Siberia, finally takes over the theater-based Bavarian State Orchestra; his appointment was announced in 2010. Riga-born Mariss Jansons, 70, has been Chefdirigent of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2003; his present contract is expected to be lengthened, reflecting a collegial tenure. (Munich’s three other professional orchestras, the Münchener Kammerorchester, the Münchner Rundfunk-Orchester and the Münchner Symphoniker, have German conductors.)

The when and who of Gergiev’s appointment, leaked last week by the Abendzeitung newspaper, are a surprise. It was only four months ago that Lorin Maazel began his leadership of the MPhil. Contrary to one London report, Maazel was never announced as “temporary” Chefdirigent. His main contract covers the period 2012–15, and he additionally helped during the sudden gap that followed predecessor Christian Thielemann’s deeply lamented exit. It is not clear whether the 82-year-old French-born Pittsburgher would have preferred to retain the position. Anyway, recent Munich concerts led by him have lacked spark.

Moscow-born Gergiev, 59, is another prominent name for Munich but hardly one associated with the Beethoven-Brahms-Bruckner repertory that has defined the MPhil in its finest seasons, under Ferdinand Löwe (1908–14), Rudolf Kempe (1967–76) and Thielemann (2004–11). He is not known for Mozart or Schubert and is no Mahlerian either. A 2010 Verdi Requiem at the MPhil’s acoustically appalling Gasteig home suffered from misshapen phrases and apparent under-rehearsal. Not even a 2011–12 Shostakovich cycle, divided between the MPhil and the Mariinsky Orchestra, brought consistently probing and satisfactory results. But Gergiev’s finger-wiggling, turn-the-page spontaneity can work wonders in coloristic music or in episodic works, or in passages laden with irony or humor. His Mussorgsky and Prokofiev are unsurpassed, his Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky much admired. The conductor is surprisingly adept, too, in certain scores by Berlioz and Wagner.

Gergiev will relinquish his job as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, it seems, near the time his new duties start, which the Abendzeitung gives as 2015. The MPhil job has an undisclosed contract length; it paid a reported €800,000 annually during the last Thielemann years.

Photo © Landeshauptstadt München

Related posts:
Gergiev, Munich’s Mistake
Berlin’s Dark Horse
MPhil Vacuum: Maazel Out
Maazel: ’Twas Always Thus
Gergiev Undissuaded