My Russian tour was organised by Elena Kostyuchenko from Peter the Great Music Academy (Saint Petersburg) in collaboration with Valeria Gorokhovskaya from Holland-Russia (The Hague). They arranged everything concerning flights, hotels, programs and finances. I was very happy about that, because I could concentrate on studying my scores (as I posted on Facebook: more than 4 kilos!).
A few days before my departure to Russia, Carla Leurs – who would play with me the violin concerto by Stravinsky in Samara – fell ill. After many mails, telephone calls and visits to the Visa Centre and the Russian Consulate in The Hague, we managed to replace her by my son Maxime. We changed the violin concerto to the one by Bruch and the Theme and Remembrance from Schindler’s List by John Williams – as Carla would have played – stayed on the program. Special thanks to Valeria Gorokhovskaya who did the almost impossible to get the visa for Maxime.
On Tuesday, May 17, I left for Samara (Russia) to start an exciting period of conducting three different Russian orchestras in almost three weeks.
Because of an official ceremony concerning the relationship between Russia and Bulgaria, there was no rehearsal on Wednesday, so I started my first rehearsal on Thursday: Dvoraks 8th symphony, Kabalevskys overture “Colas Breugnon” and the short piece “La Lucerna del Mondo” by Jacob ter Veldhuis. The sheet music of this last piece appeared not to be present, so after a telephone call to Donemus, we could start rehearsing this piece the next day. For the orchestra, this was not an easy piece. On Saturday, my son Maxime joined the rehearsal with Bruchs violin concerto and “Remembrance and Theme” from “Schindlers List” by John Williams. After having played together the Sibelius concerto during his final exam in The Hague, this was the second time we worked as a family team. Although the acoustics of the hall were not super (rather dry), it was no problem at all for Maxime to be heard in every place of it.
On Sunday, there was the concert. I guess that about 700 people came to listen. It was a huge success: long applauses and many bravos. A quote of one of the musicians: “It has been a long time since I saw our public give a standing applause after a symphony!” The audience was very enthusiastic about Maxime as well: it was his first concert in Russia and I was very proud of him.
After the concert, many musicians came to me, telling me (with the help of our interpreter Mariana) that they would like me to come again, not only because they enjoyed the week with me and learned a lot, but also because of the intense expressive and musical interpretation of the works. The director of the orchestra told me she would for sure ask me for a guest conducting in the ’17-’18 season.
On May 28, I took the plane from Samara to Yekaterinburg. In this city, I would work again with the BACH Chamber Orchestra after more than 20 years. The first time I worked with this fantastic orchestra was in 1993 when we recorded a CD in Moscow. In 1995, I played with them a program in Yekaterinburg and in Magnitogorsk.
During the rehearsals, we worked on intonation, phrasing, musical expression, quality of sound etc. The quality of the orchestra grew very fast. In the program, there were not only the known composers Janacek, Glazunov and Saint-Saëns, but also the composers Karaev (from Azerbaijan) and Shalygin. Maxim Shalygin lives in the Netherlands and he wrote a beautiful “Lullaby”.
The local newspapers and the Ural Television made a report of the preparation of the concert by means of an interview and a lot of pictures and videos. Take a look here
The performance was in the Music House in the centre of the city on May 27. It has a very nice acoustic and the size of it perfectly fits to the orchestra and the public. Although the concert was not perfect from a technical point of view, the orchestra played with a lot of musical energy. Also after this concert, the director of the orchestra asked me to come back in one of the coming seasons.
During my stay in Yekaterinburg, I met my friend Dmitri Liss (chief conductor of the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra) and his wife Olga Viktorova (composer). We discussed a lot about the musical situation in Russia and the Netherlands (Dmitri is the new chief conductor of the philharmonie zuidnederland). He invited me to conduct his orchestra in Yekaterinburg in the season 2017-2018.
On May 28, I left Yekaterinburg, leaving behind the warm-hearted musicians of the BACH Chamber Orchestra and my friend and colleague Dmitri Liss, knowing I will see them again soon.
After my successful guest conducting last October with the Nizhny Novgorod Philharmonic Orchestra (works by R. Strauss, Scriabin and Stravinsky), I was very pleased to meet the orchestra again. This time, my concert would be part of the Dutch Music Days during the Sacharov Festival, which is of great importance with musicians like Spivakov, Bashmet and Matsuev. On the program three works: “The Birds” by Diepenbrock, “Goldrush Concerto” by Jacob Ter Veldhuis and the brand new orchestral version (Anthony Fiumara) of “Canto Ostinato” by Simeon ten Holt. On all three compositions, we worked very hard.
The piece by Diepenbrock is composed in a late romantic, sometimes impressionistic style. I explained where it is about and asked for many different musical expressions like joy, mocking, trouble, happiness etc. in which the orchestra succeeded very well.
Together with the percussionists Dominique Vleeshouwers from the Netherlands and Sergei Buranov from Russia, I decided to place them in front of the orchestra and not – as the composer wrote in his preface – behind the orchestra. The advantages of being seen and heard by the audience as well as by the orchestra itself, of having the opportunity to play musical nuances, rather than playing everything loud from the rear of the stage, and of having a close connection between soloists and conductor, were more important than my problems not being able to judge about the balance between the soloists and the orchestra (we checked this with recordings in the rehearsals and with feedback from musicians in the hall). After all, it appeared to be a very good decision. The piece was difficult for the orchestra, but after having rehearsed it four times one hour and having played it in the general rehearsal, the concert performance was very satisfying. Click here for a fragment of the last movement.
Another challenge was Canto Ostinato. The orchestra was divided in two separate, mirrored orchestras. Because of the key of the piece (b flat minor), and because of passages in high registers, there were some intonation problems in the beginning of the rehearsal process. This piece lasts about 50 minutes. The hundreds of repeats appeared to be no problem and the concert performance was a combination of real dignity, trance and expression.
Look at and listen to an excerpt: here
During the concert on June 2, the hall was almost full, that means there must have been about 800 people in the audience. The public was very enthusiastic, as was the orchestra. And again, many players begged me to come again to work with them.
After some delay at the airport of Nizhny Novgorod, I travelled home without problems on June 3. There appeared many photos and videos (especially on Facebook) of my concerts in the days that followed. Once again, I want to thank Valeria and Elena for the outstanding organisation of my Russian tour, but also all those Russian people who made this trip to a fantastic experience for me.