In yesterday’s column, Part 1 of an interview, Maestro Jacques Lacombe told Examiner.com what drew him to Michael Tippett’s Symphony No. 4, “Birth to Death,” and the tricky business the audience faces in determining when to applaud any composition. Today his comments focus on performances abroad and especially on his love for the creative output of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose Sixth Symphony is the centrepiece of the Winter Festival now underway at New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO).
- Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite;
- Jacob Ter Veldhuis’ Tallahatchie Concerto; and
- two works by Samuel Barber, namely, Night Flight and Symphony No. 1 in One Movement, Op. 9.
It’s off to France Sun., Feb. 17, for a concert performance of Georges Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers) by Orchestre de chambre de Paris, with the maestro at the helm of a cast starring French tenor Roberto Alagna as Nadir. Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze will perform the role of Leila; baritone Alexandre Duhamel, that of Zurga; and French bass Nicolas Courjal, Nourabad.
Fri., Mar. 1, marks Jacques Lacombe’s debut with Toledo Symphony, leading a diverse program of:
- Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau du Couperin;
- Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, with soloist Georg Klaas; and
- Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral.”
Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony also features as the final work of six NJSO concerts led by Maestro Lacombe in as many venues throughout the state the latter half of January. The first three, January 18-20 (in Trenton, Red Bank, and Englewood), open with Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, with soloist Garth Greenup. The last three, January 25-27 (in Princeton, Newark, and Morristown), couple the Beethoven with two works based on Shakespeare’s fantastical drama The Tempest: Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Tempest Fantasy-Overture and Jean Sibelius’ incidental music to The Tempest. Members of Bonnie J. Monte’s Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey will appear in the first half of the concert.
When asked what he likes about Beethoven in general and the Sixth Symphony in particular, Jacques Lacombe enthused:
I never get enough of Beethoven. His symphonies abound in youthful energy, such as the Scherzo (third movement) of the “Pastoral” Symphony with its [humming] dah•da•dum, da•da•dah. It is incredible how Beethoven wove melodies from very simple subjects throughout a very simple structure, yet the genius of it rests in how he built and embellished those melodies while leaving the structure totally clear. The “Pastoral” Symphony’s F-Minor Allegro (fourth movement) is the first really good example of a storm depicted by an orchestra. Beethoven is the best wakeup call you can get. If you really want to get going in the morning, put on a Beethoven symphony.
The jet-propelled maestro, who says he rarely suffers jet-lag and sleeps well during flights, soon reunites with tenor Roberto Alagna for the February concert mentioned above. Theirs is a collaboration that spans many years.
Roberto Alagna performed the title role of Jules Massenet’s Werther when Maestro Lacombe made his debut at Metropolitan Opera Jan. 2, 2004, replacing on short notice conductor Michel Plasson. Other distinguished cast members were Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova as Charlotte, Werther’s love interest, married to Albert, performed by American baritone Christopher Schaldenbrand; Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova played Sophie, Charlotte’s younger sister; and American bass-baritone Paul Plishka was their father, the widower Bailiff.
At the time Werther was Jacques Lacombe’s most-performed opera. He knew it inside out and conducted all six performances from memory, without a score. “I was in my element,” he says, “like a fish happily swimming in water. It was the perfect scenario for me. Working with the Orchestra of Metropolitan Opera was amazing; they are the Rolls Royce of orchestras.”
Werther is one of four Massenet operas Maestro Lacombe conducts. The others: Sapho, Le Cid, and Hérodiade, the story of the martyrdom of John the baptiser. “Massenet doesn’t get the recognition he deserves,” he lamented. “He is terribly underrated. He had a unique way of setting French text to music, sometimes placing emphasis on the wrong syllable, which, if faithfully observed and executed by performers, produces a special, albeit small, dramatic effect.” Here’s hoping the maestro gets his wish of a Massenet revival.
The conductor debuted at Royal Opera House of London’s Covent Garden, leading Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu in critically acclaimed performances of Puccini’s Tosca.
More recently, last June, Maestro Lacombe led Puccini’s La Bohème at Covent Garden. Appearing as the main love interest were Roberto Alagna as the penniless poet Rodolfo and his now-estranged wife, Angela Gheorghiu, as his new neighbour Mimì. Their appearance marked the twentieth anniversary of their first collaboration, when they met and fell in love performing those roles on that very same stage. It seemed as though difficulties that led to their performing separately the year before had been resolved. News of their decision to divorce took the maestro by surprise, but he respects them for their obviously difficult decision.
At a reception last month to welcome President and CEO Richard Dare to NJSO, Jacques Lacombe said, “A conductor does nothing. I know, I’ve tried it myself doing this [gesturing as if with baton in hand] before my bathroom mirror. I get nothing. It takes a great orchestra before I can say I do anything of importance.”
Whether leading the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra or the world-class NJSO, the busy maestro seems to get plenty. Audience members can attest that they are on the receiving end of something truly great.
Subscribe for free to my columns. Have your friends do the same! Just use the links below to take you to the respective pages; then click the “Subscribe” button, and you’re a few easy steps away from receiving a free E-mail message each time I publish an article. You will never be charged for subscribing or for reading E-mail notices or articles.
Newark Performing Arts column
Finally, leave a polite comment below about your attendance at performances or your plans to attend.