Denis Matsuev, Valery Gergiev and LSO Tour to Australia

November 22 2014

When the London Symphony Orchestra visits Australia in November, in a tour that sees them perform in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne following a stop-off in Singapore, their trip will provide both players and audiences with a welcome return to a country they first visited back in 1966, with conductors Colin Davis and István Kertész, and then again in 1983, with Claudio Abbado – at that time the ensemble’s Principal Conductor.

Now that vital position is held by Russian maestro Valery Gergiev, and it can be no surprise that on this occasion the orchestra’s tour repertory consists of classic works by 20th-century Russian composers that have comprised some of the most exciting moments in its programmes of recent years. With Gergiev – the LSO’s principal conductor since 2007 – the ensemble has indeed ranged widely, from Berlioz to Brahms, from Szymanowski to Messiaen – but the great works from the Russian repertoire have understandably continued to provide both Gergiev’s most admired specialism and the bedrock of programming that has been conspicuously well received by critics and audiences both in London and on other recent foreign visits.

Peerless woodwind soloists and impregnable brass place the LSO at the top of the country’s symphony orchestras

Under Gergiev the orchestra itself continues on fine form, garnering exceptional reviews in London, as well as on tour in the UK and abroad. Enthusiasm about its lush string sound, peerless woodwind soloists and impregnable brass section helps place it, by common consent, at the very top of the list of the country’s symphony orchestras – a position is has long held.

Gergiev’s focus here is on four major Russian masters. Rachmaninov – one of the last great figures of the Romantic period – is represented by his ever popular Second Piano Concerto of 1900-1 and his more elusively nostalgic Third Symphony of 1935-6. Igor Stravinsky became one of the most vigorous new proponents of modernism in such works as his exciting ballet score Petrushka (1911). Three of Prokofiev’s most popular works are featured – the delightful ‘Classical’ Symphony of 1917, the brilliant Third Piano Concerto of 1917-21, and the melodically immediate Fifth Symphony of 1944. Lastly comes the leading figure of Soviet music, Dmitri Shostakovich, whose highly entertaining Festive Overture (1954) and thrillingly dramatic Tenth Symphony (1953) complete this wide-ranging selection, which covers in total some 50 years of Russian music.

Russian pianist Denis Matsuev is the soloist on the tour, and is looking forward to making his first visit to Australia. ‘This is a landmark tour for me – I am looking forward to meeting this country, its culture, its concert halls and its audiences. And it’s twice as nice that I am going there with one of the best orchestras of the world and an outstanding conductor – my close friend, Valery Gergiev. He is like an elder brother to me: we are close in spirit, in vision, and in our musical philosophy. He has done an enormous work for the development of Russian culture.’

Rachmaninov is of huge importance to me. He plays a great role in my life and my destiny

Matsuev is playing two very different concertos by two very different composers. I asked him what made Rachmaninv's Second Concerto special. ‘It is a most popular work all over the world – everyone knows it. Rachmaninov is of huge importance to me. He plays a great role in my life and my destiny. I have recorded this concerto and I played it during the official closing ceremony of the XXII Winter Olympic games in Sochi, so I am happy to perform it again for the Australian public. I have also been lucky enough to perform and record unknown pieces by Rachmaninov on the composer's own piano at his house, the Villa Senar in Lucerne. Now I am the artistic director of the Rachmaninov Foundation, and we are planning a series of concerts and cultural events there.'

Turning to the Prokofiev, Matsuev believes its composer to be the greatest Russian Romantic. ‘His Third Piano Concerto is undoubtedly very popular as well. For me it is special because of its tragic feeling, despite being in a major key: only a genius can show unbearable anguish in a major key! I recorded this concerto with Valery Gergiev not long ago’.

This particular artistic relationship continues to be a special one. ‘Undoubtedly our personal friendship affects each performance. Moreover, we’ve performed these works many times. But every time we come on to a stage, we feel as if it is the first time we play together. Maestro Gergiev is brilliant in improvisation: his way of thinking and his musical logic are always fresh and unpredictable.’

As for Matsuev’s experiences with the London Symphony Orchestra, ‘we’ve played together many times all over the world. I believe that the orchestra is distinguished by its versatility, as every single musician is a professional on the highest level, so the orchestra can perform any music in any style with consistent professionalism and flexibility. Maestro Gergiev and I will perform the most famous works of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev in Australia, but I am sure that with such a professional and unique team we will discover new interpretations of these classic works for the public’.

The LSO tour Australia from 22-28 November, 2014.Their latest LSO Live release, Berlioz's Harold en Italie, will be exclusively released in Australia this November, before its international release in Feb 2015.

George Hall writes for the Guardian, The Stage, Opera and Opera News among others.

Sinfini Music

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