St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Date of EventSaturday, 30. 5. 2020 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 22.05
Event placeMunicipal House – Smetana Hall
- Dmitrij Šostakovič: Symfonie č. 6 h moll op. 54
- Johannes Brahms: Koncert pro klavír a orchestr č. 1 d moll op. 15
- András Schiff - piano
- Yuri Temirkanov - conductor
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- Welcome drink before a concert in one of the luxurious lounges
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The world-famous St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is returning to the Prague Spring after five years, and like for its previous guest appearance, it brings a repertoire that it is most intimately acquainted with – the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Brahms’ piano concerto will be presented by this year’s resident musician, Sir András Schiff.
The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Dmitri Shostakovich is a collocation of words that could almost be trademarked. The great modern composer is linked with the ensemble and its erstwhile chief conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky by a close friendship that spanned many years, which is attested to both by the fact that the orchestra gave the world premieres of five of Shostakovich’s symphonies and by the composer’s dedication of his “Eighth” to Mravinsky. This unique musical alliance made an indelible mark in the history of the ensemble and ushered in its great tradition of presenting major works of the twentieth century in interpretations that can be rivalled by few other orchestras around the world.
For this year’s 75th jubilee of the Prague Spring, it has chosen Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 from 1939. Although the composer initially advertised it as a monumental vocal symphony to honour the memory of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the work ended up with quite a different character, which caused real scandal among the audience. The tensive opening Largo is followed by two fast movements abounding in euphoric, even grotesque merriment and several caustic, ridiculously deformed motives that highlight utter banalities, making the symphony seem like an overt mockery of the aesthetics of then-dominant Socialist Realism. The requirements of this artistic movement included simple appeal and the removal of any kind of individualism – practically all modern styles and approaches to music were deemed unacceptable, which caused Shostakovich to be constantly ostracised by the regime.
The performance will open with Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor by Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), which is regarded as one of the largest and most demanding compositions of its kind. It is a youthfully extravagant and expressive work. Brahms wrote it while mourning the death of his friend, Robert Schumann. With it, he completely fulfilled the expectations of his somewhat older colleague, who had declared that Brahms would be the one to blaze new trails in music. As is often the case, the composition’s premiere in Hannover in January 1859 was a complete failure, as was the repeat performance in Leipzig a few days later. “The last concert was another of those in which a new-born composition is immediately put back to earth,” one reviewer wrote bluntly. History has proven the critics wrong – as it frequently does. The concerto is a challenge for every pianist, and it almost beggars belief that András Schiff even conducted it while playing at the piano on a number of occasions last season. With the baton wielded by the renowned Yuri Temirkanov, this will no doubt be a night to remember.
Yuri Temirkanov is a graduate of the St Petersburg Conservatoire, where he learnt the viola and conducting. After winning the national conducting competition in 1966 he toured Europe and the US with the violinist David Oistrakh and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1967 he was appointed assistant to the chief conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yevgeny Mravinsky, whom he succeeded in 1988. “Temirkanov and his players told stories in music. Everything was direct, vivid and full of character, […] the playing was visceral, breathless and cinematic,” The New York Times aptly describes.
In 1976 Temirkanov was named music director of the famous Mariinsky Theatre, where he excelled with performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas Eugene Onegin or The Queen of Spades, which he also staged with a 320-strong entourage at the Prague Spring in 1984. Apart from that, he has worked with the Berliner and Wiener Philharmoniker or the London Philharmonic Orchestra and has conducted orchestras in New York, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and a number of other places in the United States. In 2012 he was honoured with the Order of the Star of Italy, followed by the Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli Award two years later. In 2015 he was named honorary conductor of the renowned Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is the oldest such organisation in Russia (1882) and is also consistently lauded by critics as the country’s best orchestra. Throughout its history, the legendary ensemble has premiered a lengthy list of the masterpieces of the greatest Russian composers of the twentieth century, especially Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. From 1946 the orchestra regularly tours abroad, visiting Europe, the United States, Japan, or China. It first participated in the Prague Spring in 1955, and its present festival appearance will be its 24th. The ensemble has worked with a wide array of musicians, such as Luciano Berio, Van Cliburn, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Zubin Mehta, Nikolai Lugansky, or Gautier Capuçon. Yuri Temirkanov has headed the orchestra ever since the famous decades—long era of Yevgeny Mravinsky, which lasted from 1938 to 1988.
The pianist and conductor Sir András Schiff has enjoyed a prominent place in the classical music scene for several decades. He was very accurately described by The Independent, which commented on his Brahms recital at Wigmore Hall in London: “Schiff himself has now reached a serene plateau in life where he no longer needs to prove anything; for him each recital is simply a chance to revisit often-played works, and to hold them up to the light in ways which can gently surprise.”
Born in Budapest, Hungary, he rose to prominence with successful performances at the Tchaikovsky International Competition (1974) and the Leeds International Piano Competition (1975), which led to fruitful collaboration with leading world orchestras, such as the Berliner and Wiener Philharmoniker, the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and others. As a soloist, he soon devoted himself to the works of J. S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Chopin, Schumann, and Bartók. “He drew listeners with his singing tone, elegantly shaped phrases and exquisite contrapuntal detailing,” the Los Angeles Times explains why he has been listed among the top interpreters of these composers for many years running.
In 1990 he won a Grammy and a Gramophone Award. He has also been recognised by the Royal Academy in London, Schumann’s birthplace of Zwickau, Budapest Music Academy, or Leeds University. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 2014.