Gidon Kremer is one of the most gifted and most revered violinists of our time. Enchanting audiences for the past fifty years, he was famously described in 1976 by Herbert von Karajan as the greatest violinist in the world. Six years prior to that he was phenomenal at the celebrated International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, winning the event with his dazzling technique and fervent musical expression. An artist who sticks out from the crowd, he compiles his programmes without heed to conventional expectations or typecasting; he follows his own path. He immerses himself in works by little performed composers whom he then casts into the limelight on the international concert platform. In fact, Prague Spring audiences will have observed this at any of his previous twelve festival appearances (the first occurred in 1974). For instance, he presented Spiegel im Spiegel by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt during his recital at the 1979 edition of the festival, and this only one year after its world premiere, thus long before the piece was adopted by hordes of other violinists. Kremer has always instigated new repertoire, as a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times noted: “He has become the conscience of the music business. He has used his celebrity to promote important new music, introducing the West to such Russian and Eastern European composers as Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt. Kremer was the first international star soloist to promote Philip Glass.” His close collaboration with the above-mentioned Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, who celebrates her 90th birthday in 2021, is also reflected in Kremer’s festival programme.
Each year Konzerthaus Berlin selects an artist to whom it dedicates an entire festival. In the autumn of 2019 this honour went to Gidon Kremer. He performed seventeen concerts over a period of ten days with an impressive line-up of outstanding artists, among them Christoph Eschenbach, David Zinman and Martha Argerich. Kremer conceived his festival as a tribute to composer Mieczysław Weinberg, whose work he has been promoting for a number of years now.
Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė is a founding member of Kremer’s chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica, in which she continues to serve as principal cellist. She also appears regularly with Kremer in a trio, for which they invite distinguished pianists to join them: they travelled with Daniil Trifonov on tour to Europe and America in 2015, and in 2018 the three appeared together in New York’s Carnegie Hall. They also undertook several tours with Yefim Bronfman, Khatia Buniatishvili and Seong-Jin Cho (winner of the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition and familiar face to Czech listeners from a Prague Spring recital in 2016; he will be performing at this year’s festival with the Budapest Festival Orchestra on 24 May).
“Tsar of the piano conquered Moscow.” This was the title used by the magazine The World of Piano Competitions to introduce readers to pianist Alexandre Kantorow after his victory at the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2019. Kantorow was the first French artist to win this competition, which was won previously by distinguished pianists Mikhail Pletnev, Grigory Sokolov, Daniil Trifonov and Boris Berezovsky. He has been giving concerts since the age of sixteen, appearing with such world orchestras as the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris. His album of piano works by Camille Saint-Saëns received a Diapason d’Or and was also awarded by the French magazine Classica. After the release on the BIS label of his recording of the Lizst piano concertos, the American magazine Fanfare dubbed him “Liszt reincarnated”. The influential magazine Gramophone described Kantorow as “the real deal, a fire-breathing virtuoso with a poetic charm and innate stylistic mastery.”
“Music is a revelation which came about together with the creation of the world. And at that moment the world was filled with sound. That is music. The fusion of consonance and dissonance, expansion and direction towards the centre at a single point in time. It corresponds with creation on a universal level,” Sofia Gubaidulina (*1931) stated in an interview for Harmonie magazine. Resident in Germany, the Tatar-Russian composer often combines spiritual themes, symbolism and a certain meditative quality in her music, which she was obliged to conceal during the communist dictatorship (during the 1980s she had to keep silent about the programme of the piece The Seven Last Words of Our Redeemer on the Holy Cross). Rejoice! Sonata for violin and cello is a work which, despite its title, does not seem joyful upon first hearing. Here the composer expresses the religious theme of joy in a figurative sense: “A metaphor for the transition into an “other” reality through the juxtaposition of normal sound with that of harmonics. The possibility for string instruments to derive pitches of various heights at once and in the same place on the string can be experienced in music as the transition to another plane of existence. And that is joy.” The piece was written in 1981 for violinist Oleg Kagan and his wife, the cellist Natalia Gutman, who premiered the work in 1988. This composition in five parts lasting approximately half an hour affords the listener a truly powerful spiritual experience, a view echoed in America’s oldest classical music magazine, American Record Guide: “An exciting piece of contemporary music which in a radical fashion broadens the reception of sound. The extra frisson of a concert performance.” The violinist Gidon Kremer has been performing Gubaidulina’s works for many years, for whom she wrote her famous violin concerto Offertorium (1980). He also premiered her composition The Lyre of Orpheus from 2006, dedicated to the memory of her daughter. This piece appears on the album The Canticle of the Sun (2012) which features, in addition to Kremer, the entire Kremerata Baltica ensemble as well.
The German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major Op. 78 in the years 1878-79, when he was staying in the Karavanke mountains on the Austrian-Slovenian border. In this sonata he treats the melodies of his two songs “Regenlied” and “Nachklang” from Op. 59, thus this piece is sometimes known as the Regenliedsonate (Rain Sonata). The three-movement sonata cycle reflects the Classical form (sonata form – ternary form – rondo). Its character was described by musicologist Kai Christiansen in the following words: “[…] it is a magical work full of graceful tenderness, nobility, bursting intensity and sacred repose […] It is a Romantic sonata in the truest sense: there are literary and musical allusions to rain throughout and the prevailing serenity often gives rise to poignant reflection and nostalgia.” The work was premiered in Bonn in 1879.
Piano Trio in A minor Op. 50 by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) bears the subtitle In memory of a great artist. It is dedicated to the conductor, composer and pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, the news of whose death reached Tchaikovsky during his sojourn in Italy in 1881. The two artists were united by friendship and mutual collaboration. Rubinstein premiered a series of Tchaikovsky’s works in Moscow and promoted his music in Paris. The piece, which is sometimes referred to as a “requiem for Rubinstein”, is the composer’s only piano trio. As suggested in his correspondence with his patron Nadezhda von Meck, he gave preference to orchestral and opera composition; he found the combination of string instruments and piano more challenging. He believed the piano could be effective in only three situations: alone, in context with an orchestra, or as an accompaniment. Despite this, the Piano Trio in A minor is an exceptionally powerful work, lasting almost one hour and divided untraditionally into two movements.