Kristian Järvi shares with Arvo Pärt not only his native Estonia, but also, above all, a lifelong friendship. Thanks to his father, the famed conductor Neeme Järvi, to whom Pärt dedicated his Symphony No. 3, Kristian Järvi’s first encounters with Pärt’s music came at a very early age. The fact that he truly understands this music is shown not only by their many years of friendship, but also by the numerous recordings of Pärt’s music that have been highly acclaimed by critics. Swansong, which was premiered in January of 2014, was commissioned by the Mozartwoche festival in Salzburg, and it is an orchestral version of the composer’s earlier composition for choir accompanied by organ titled Littlemore Tractus. In it, Pärt set to music the words of the last tractus by Cardinal John Henry Newmann (1801–1890), one of the key figures in the modern history of the Roman Catholic Church. Swansong thus represents the composer’s return to this brief, poetic text, which is brought to life here purely through the sound of the orchestra.
The evening’s soloist will be the pianist Lukáš Vondráček, who will be presenting Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor Op. 40. It is far from every pianist who has the courage to play this beautifully conceived, technically demanding work. It was with yet another of Rachmaninoff’s compositions – the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor – that Lukáš Vondráček mesmerized the jury at the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, and he is one of the few pianists in whose hands that concerto becomes a true musical delicacy. The evening will conclude with the massive Sinfonia Domestica Op. 53 by Richard Strauss, who musically depicted one day in the life of his family in this highly personal work.
Lukáš Vondráček began playing piano at an early age. After his studies at the University of Katowice and the Vienna Conservatory, he became a graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston and a laureate of a number of international competitions. One of his greatest successes was undoubtedly his recent triumph at the world-famous Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, Belgium. In the course of his career, he has given over a thousand concert performances at such venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall, Victoria Hall in Singapore, and Suntory Hall in Tokyo, often under the baton of distinguished conductors (Christoph Eschenbach, Marin Alsop, Paavo Järvi). “Lukas Vondracek ambled amiably on to the stage, smiling with humility before sitting down to play with spiky seriousness and unwavering intensity.,” commented the critic Peter McCallum on the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald. “if his recital was an accurate reflection of his artistry and capabilities, it would not be long before his name reaches all corners of the world,” prophesied a critic from one of Asia’s most distinguished daily newspapers, The Straits Times.
Kristian Järvi, a conductor of Estonia origin, is regarded as one of the most versatile and imaginative figures of the contemporary classical music scene. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and of the University of Michigan, he is regularly engaged in projects combining music with the visual arts, lighting design, and modern technologies. He has over sixty recordings to his credit, including several film soundtracks (Cloud Atlas) and collaborations with a number of interesting figures from the worlds of both music (Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Anoushka Shankar) and film (Tom Tykwer, the Wachowskis). The breadth of his interests is shown by the fact that in 2016, he became an official member of the Estonian Olympic Committee, the first and only non-athlete to do so. This is because he is at the forefront of the initiative Sound of Estonia, which draws attention to the importance and power of the combination of a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Last season, the Czech Philharmonic celebrated the 120th anniversary of its founding. Under the leadership of its present principal conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, its prestige has increased abroad as well, as is documented by its numerous tours of the USA, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and other European countries. The orchestra has also won great acclaim for its recordings of the works of Antonín Dvořák recently issued on the Decca label. It regularly appears on major stages abroad (Musikverein, Carnegie Hall) and collaborates with leading soloists (Anne-Sophie Mutter, Joshua Bell) and conductors (Valery Gergiev, Fabio Luisi) from around the world.
So the whole concept of this programme is that it is music that has been influenced by a journey to a new paradigm, a new dimension, a new realm.
In Strauss’s case, this involves something very different, in a far-away place. He was planning a trip to New York, and at that time, that was quite an undertaking. The piece he was taking with him had already been composed in Berlin, and he already had in mind something new. He didn’t really know what New York would be like, but he imagined it would contain new sounds, and it would create a new atmosphere. The symphony is about his own domestic life, which is a very mundane subject, but the symphony is not mundane at all; he created these fantastic new pieces under the influence of preparing to visit America, thinking about what the audience there would want to hear. In doing so, he created new sounds, producing something very similar to what American film music would become. His use of a whole saxophone quartet was novel, as was the idea that he was creating musical emotions – this was not just evolutionary, but revolutionary.
The second work is a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was essentially listening to Gershwin when he was sitting in the audience at the performance in Town Hall in 1924, and he came away from that performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue thinking “Wow, I need a concerto exactly like that”, so he turned his Fourth Piano Concerto into that type of a piece, which is, in my opinion, a jazz piano concerto.
The first piece really has nothing to do with the content of this programme. That is just an added bonus from Estonia, being that I am Estonian, and I conduct Arvo Pärt, but other than that, it is just a beautiful piece by Arvo Pärt, which I feel very close to, depicting nature, swans, and the beauty of this great country that I come from. So, there you go.
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