The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the world famous concert hall from which it takes its name - the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam - jointly celebrate their 125th anniversary this year, and the Orchestra is celebrating this historic occasion with a world tour. It will visit six continents during 2013, the first orchestra ever to do so in the space of a year, and will perform 48 concerts in 30 cities - in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.
In the first concert of its US tour, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, led by its Principal Conductor, Mariss Jansons, will appear at New York's Carnegie Hall on February 13th and 14th, presenting two programs: Bartók’s Violin Concerto No 2 - with soloist Leonidas Kavakos - and the Mahler Symphony No 1 on February 13, and Richard Strauss' Death and Transfiguration, followed by Bruckner’s Symphony No 7 on the 14th. Interestingly, both Mahler and Strauss conducted the RCO on more than one occasion, often in performances of their own works.
The Concertgebouw, hailed by Gramophone magazine as “the world’s greatest orchestra”, is constantly lauded by critics and audiences for its unique sound, and whilst the exceptional acoustics of its Amsterdam home play an important role in upholding this reputation, it’s also universally accepted that outside the Main Hall, there is no other orchestra which sounds quite the same.
The ensemble has had only six principal conductors since its founding, and comprises 120 musicians from over 20 countries. According to the RCO’s website, despite its size, “the orchestra actually functions more like a chamber orchestra in terms of the sensitivity with which its members listen to, and work in tandem with, one another. Indeed, this requires both a high individual calibre and a great sense of mutual trust and confidence”.
Mariss Jansons has been Principal Conductor of the RCO since 2004. A native of Latvia, he initially studied violin and conducting in what was then known as Leningrad. He continued under the tutelage of Hans Swarowsky in Vienna, and Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg, and - following an appointment as assistant to Yevgeny Mravinsky with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic (an orchestra which his father had also conducted) - Mr Jansons held the position of Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also served as Music Director of the Pittsburgh and Bavarian Radio symphony orchestras, and has appeared as a guest conductor with the Berlin, Vienna, and London Philharmonic orchestras, as well as leading orchestras of the United States. In addition to a number of distinctions which he has already received, Mr Jansons will, in June this year, be awarded the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for his life and work in the service of music.
Leonidas Kavakos was still in his teens when he won the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in 1985 and, three years later, the Premio Paganini competition. He has since built a reputation as “a violinist and artist of rare quality, known at the highest level for his virtuosity, superb musicianship and the integrity of his playing”. He appears with some of the world’s major orchestras and conductors, and during this 2012-2013 season he is the focus of the London Symphony Orchestra's UBS Soundscapes LSO Artist Portrait, and Artist in Residence at the Berlin Philharmoniker.
Mr Kavakos is also known for the depth of expression which he brings to the great concertos of the 19th and 20th century, and for his interpretations of Bach and Mozart. He is a committed chamber musician and recitalist, and regularly appears at the Verbier, Montreux-Vevey, Bad Kissingen, Edinburgh and Salzburg Festivals. Mr Kavakos plays the 1724 "Abergavenny" Stradivarius.
Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No 2, which was written between 1937 and 1938, was dedicated to the Hungarian violin virtuoso, Zoltán Székely. Bartók had planned to write a set of variations, but Székely preferred a standard, three-movement concerto. According to Phillip Huscher, in his program notes for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2006, “Székely got his three movements and Bartók got his variations (the second movement being possibly the most formal set of variations Bartók wrote in his career, and the third movement being a variation on material from the first)”. The work was premiered at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on March 23, 1939, with Zoltán Székely as the soloist, and Willem Mengelberg conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 1 was composed mainly between late 1887 and March 1888, although it includes music which he had written previously. First performed at the Vigadó Concert Hall in Budapest in 1889, it wasn’t well received, and some major revisions were made for the second performance which took place in Hamburg, in October 1893. After Mahler had made still more alterations, the final version was premiered by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra on November 20, 1889, conducted by Mahler himself.
Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, which opens the concert on February 14, is a tone poem for large orchestra - portraying the thoughts running through the mind of a dying artist. He recalls his childhood innocence, the struggles of his adult years, and the worldly goals which he achieved. Finally, before he dies, he receives the transfiguration for which he longs "from the infinite reaches of heaven". The work was composed between the summer of 1888 and November 1889, when Strauss was in his mid-20s, and dedicated to his friend, Friedrich Rosch.
Bruckner’s Symphony No 7 is one of his best-loved works, and his most successful. Melodic and moving, it embraces a wide range of emotions, from sombre through to joyful, and the Adagio, which is partly a memorial to Wagner, is considered by many to be the greatest piece that Bruckner wrote. The symphony was written between 1881 and 1883, and dedicated to Ludwig II of Bavaria. It premiered in Leipzig on December 30, 1884 at a performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Nikisch.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, under the direction of Mariss Jansons, appears at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, February 13 and Thursday, February 14. For further information and tickets, visit the Carnegie Hall website.