From Russia with Klychkov

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic comes to town.

Yuri Temirkanov (photo credit: STAS LEVSHIN)
Yuri Temirkanov
(photo credit: STAS LEVSHIN)
‘This piece is sacred for this hall, for this orchestra,” says Lev Klychkov, the concert master of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, as we sit in the city’s magnificent Philharmonic Grand Hall. Built in 1839, the hall boasts beautiful white columns that emanate stability as if to say that art is here to stay; rows of elegant white chairs upholstered with dark red velvet; gorgeous chandeliers suspended from the high ceiling; and a huge concert organ on the stage.
This positively is the Old World and the old cultural tradition.
Klychkov is speaking about the Seventh Symphony by Dmitry Shostakovich, which will be performed by the acclaimed St.
Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under its renowned music director maestro Yuri Temirkanov on May 9 in Tel Aviv. The following day, the orchestra will perform pieces by Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov with pianist Nikolai Lugansky as soloist.
The choice of the concert date is not accidental. In Russia on May 9, the victory over Nazi Germany is celebrated, while Shostakovich’s monumental Seventh, dubbed the Leningrad Symphony, is dedicated to the 900-day siege of Leningrad.
On August 9, 1942, Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was performed in Leningrad. There are conflicting accounts as to when the composer began writing the symphony. According to official sources, he composed it in response to the invasion of German hordes in Russia. But according to Testimony, his memoirs, published in 1979 in the West by Russian musicologist Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich had planned the symphony before the German attack. He obviously had other enemies of humanity in mind when he composed the terrifying invasion theme of the first movement. According to Testimony – and not only – the Leningrad that Shostakovich had in mind was the one that Stalin destroyed and Hitler merely finished off. Although the authenticity of Volkov’s book has been doubted, there is the fundamental truth behind this suggestion.
Founded more than 100 years ago, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic is Russia’s oldest symphony orchestra. Many renowned musicians performed in the Grand Hall. And pieces of major Russian composers were premiered in the hall with its excellent acoustics.
World-renowned conductor Evgeny Mravinsky managed the orchestra for 50 years, from 1938 until his death in 1988, shaping the ensemble and bringing it to international fame.
“I consider myself lucky to have this experience of playing with Mravinsky on the podium,” says Klychkov. “Just imagine – back in the 1938 he entered an orchestra with great traditions. Do you remember the winding stairs behind the scene we passed by? That was where Sergey Rachmaninov was sitting as he wept after the failed premiere of his First Symphony in 1897. And look at this,” he points at a heavy note stand made of dark wood.
“From this podium, Tchaikovsky conducted, and later, Richard Strauss. The orchestra was made up of first-rate players who remembered great conductors and at first were quite skeptical about the young maestro, sometimes making him cry. But eventually, Mravinsky created an ensemble with a recognizable sound, which was applauded throughout the world.”
Klychkov stresses that the Philharmonic Orchestra is “the product of the city of Saint Petersburg and its music school.
The latter was founded by legendary violinist and violin teacher Leopold Auer, to whom the world owes an entire galaxy of outstanding musicians, Yascha Heifetz among them. After the Revolution, Auer, together with his students, emigrated to the West, thus contributing immensely to the development of the world violin school. Rich, flexible singing sound of the strings has always been characteristic of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and we do everything we can to keep this tradition alive.”
For 30 years now, the orchestra has been headed by renowned symphony and opera conductor Yuri Temirkanov. Born in 1938 in the Caucasus, Temirkanov studied viola and violin, playing and later conducting in Leningrad Conservatory. He catapulted to a globe-trotting career before reaching 30. After winning the All- Soviet National Conducting Competition in 1966, he was invited to tour Europe and the US with violinist David Oistrakh and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. During his more than 50-year career, he has been heading orchestras in Russia, as well as has been holding positions at the world’s leading orchestras.
In 2015 he was awarded by Teatro La Fenice the A Life for Music prize, unofficially known as the Nobel Prize for musicians.
Says Klychkov, “Temirkanov builds on young musicians, and all of them join the orchestra through open auditions. He listens attentively to all opinions but ultimately pronounces a verdict of his own. For years, Temirkanov served as Mravinsky’s assistant, but the difference between the two is striking. Rehearsals of the former were all tension and fear of occasionally playing a wrong note, and I don’t think that was good for the performance. This was not only about Mravinsky’s closed and detached character – it was the spirit of the totalitarian time. While Temirkanov simply loves us musicians, often asking:, “Play this phrase to me interestingly. Play, and I will follow you.”
Klychkov accentuates, “I think that the current style of the St.
Petersburg Philharmonic is an amalgam of the ultimate precision achieved by Mravinsky and the precious freedom of expression, this fresh air brought about by Temirkanov. That is why I am so happy that we are bringing to Tel Aviv such a variegated program, which includes the somber masterpiece by Shostakovich, Rachmaninov’s captivating piano concerto and the pictorial Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.
I believe that under Temirkanov, the orchestra will present to the Israeli audience all the hidden gems of the score.”
The Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”) by Shostakovich will be performed on May 9 at Heichal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv, preceded by a lecture by Israeli composer and classical music promoter Gil Shohat. On May 10 at the same venue, the orchestra will perform Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, with Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky as soloist. The program also features Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.
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