Date of EventMonday, 25. 5. 2020 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 22.10
Event placeMunicipal House – Smetana Hall
Price350 - 900 CZK
- Bohuslav Martinů: La Bagarre H 155
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Op. 55 “Eroica”
- John Adams: Saxophone Concerto
- Peter Oundjian - conductor
- Prague Symphony Orchestra
- Patrick Posey - saxophone
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The Prague Spring audience has had multiple occasions to appreciate the extraordinary talent and charisma of the Canadian conductor Peter Oundjian. In 2013 the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France opened the festival and gave an excellent Czech premiere of the French-based Czech composer Kryštof Mařatka’s grandiose new work, Attraction. “Four years ago, Oundjian passed the stress test when he conducted the high-profile opening concerts of the festival,” a reviewer wrote in Hospodářské noviny in 2017, when the Canadian returned to the Prague Spring at the head of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “This year he has been nothing but smiles throughout his whole stay in Prague. Oundjian exuded unbridled energy – perhaps because the Torontonian was conducting his favourite works – Dvořák’s ‘Seventh’ and Smetana’s overture to The Bartered Bride.”
And true enough, vitality and zest are characteristic not just of his approach to conducting, but of all of his activities in the music scene. We can see this both when he was the first violinist of the famous Tokyo String Quartet (1981–1995) and throughout his 14 years at the head of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (2004–2018), where he is credited with significant innovations to programming and with raising the ensemble to a world-class format. “Under Mr. Oundjian the orchestra has maintained its shine, but now it packs a firm punch as well,” comes high praise from Allan Kozinn of The New York Times.
Oundjian also has a strong connection to the United Kingdom – he is a graduate of the Royal College of Music, his accomplishments as a student earned him the Tagore Gold Medal, presented by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, at the mere age of 20; in 2012–2018 he headed the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. His last concert as the ensemble’s music director took place in September 2018 at the famous BBC Proms in London, where he conducted Britten’s War Requiem. “This Prom was undoubtedly the most moving of the season for me,” praised Paul Driver in The Sunday Times. One point of trivia is worth mentioning in this context: as a 10-year-old chorister, Oundjian took part in the recording of Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the direction of the composer himself.
He is a frequent guest of American orchestras, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and numerous others. “Things tend to go very well whenever Peter Oundjian makes a guest conducting engagement with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His return this weekend for a program of works filled with color and melodic adventure is especially rewarding,” writes Tim Smith from the Baltimore Sun.
It is chaos dominated by all the emotions of enthusiasm
The programme of his Prague Spring concert will perfectly complement all of Oundjian’s strengths. He will start off the evening with Bohuslav Martinů’s The Tumult, a work of the 1920s, when audiences desired music with a tempo to match the rapid, rushing development of the whole of society. Arthur Honegger composed the eulogising Pacific 231 as a tribute to the fastest train engine of the world, Darius Milhaud wrote the song cycle Machines agricoles. Surrounded by the vibrant vibes of Paris, Martinů would not stay behind. The printed programme text for the world premiere of this nine-minute composition contains the composer’s own characterisation: “La Bagarre (The Tumult) is packed with a sense of motion, exuberance, crushing tumult. It is the movement of large crowds in an uncontrolled, violent race. […] It is a boulevard, stadium, crowd, multitude, which is in a delirium and dressed as one body. It is chaos dominated by all the emotions of enthusiasm, struggle, joy, sorrow, surprise. It is chaos controlled by a common sensibility, an invisible union that urges everything forwards, that moulds the vast mass into a single element, full of unexpected, uncontrollable events.”
This orchestral miniature will be brilliantly followed up by one of the late works of the American composer John Adams, Saxophone Concerto. Although the two compositions were born almost 90 years apart, they share their inspiration in jazz, their fusion of tradition and modernity, and their impeccable understanding of rhythm. Peter Oundjian has placed much focus on Adams’ oeuvre in recent years. His recording of Naïve and Sentimental Music and Absolute Jest earned him a nomination for the BBC Music Magazine Award in 2018.
A concerto for this fearless musician
John Adams (*1947) composed Saxophone Concerto in 2013. Adams’ father had played in swing bands for a number of years, and so their home library was well stocked with records by prominent jazzmen. Adams has given the saxophone a prominent role in many of his works, whether it was his opera Nixon in China, the symphonic Fearful Symmetries, or City Noir with its demanding solo for alto sax. He was inspired to write the concerto after making the acquaintance of the virtuoso saxophonist Tim McAllister during rehearsals for City Noir. “When one evening during a dinner conversation Tim mentioned that during high school he had been a champion stunt bicycle rider,” John Adams remembers, “I knew that I must compose a concerto for this fearless musician and risk-taker.”
Although most people think of the saxophone as a jazz instrument, Adams wanted to overcome this stereotype. “While the concerto is not meant to sound jazzy per se, its jazz influences lie only slightly below the surface. I make constant use of the instrument’s vaunted agility as well as its capacity for a lyrical utterance that is only a short step away from the human voice,” he explains.
For the Prague performance, the solo part will be tackled by the American Patrick Posey, whom The New York Times characterises as “brilliantly stylish”. He regularly collaborates with leading American orchestras, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic or the San Francisco Symphony. He is often approached by major contemporary composers – in Carnegie Hall alone, he has performed under the baton of John Adams, Thomas Adès, Peter Eötvös, or Michal Tilson Thomas, when conducting their own works.
The second half of the evening is centred around the period of Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770–1827) life following the Heiligenstadt Testament – a letter that he wrote to his brothers in 1802, but never sent, in which he informs them of his bitter struggles with life. His justified fear of his gradual and irreparable loss of hearing drove him to even contemplate suicide. Yet in the document he confides that he had decided to live on – through music and in its service. Symphony No. 3 was completed two years after this event. The title name is “Eroica”, meaning “heroic”. It is easy to understand that Beethoven sought encouragement from heroes in such a plight. Much has been written about the circumstances of Beethoven’s original dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte, which the composer decided to revoke when Napoleon declared himself emperor. Beethoven then dedicated the symphony to the memory of all heroes. If we consider the harsh realities of his life, it will hardly be exaggerated to say that Beethoven also made the symphony a tribute to his own brave struggle.