The Russian National Orchestra takes to the stage at Davies Symphony Hall this week, part of a 14-concert tour, taking in 12 US cities. Led by Giancarlo Guerrero, the orchestra presents two performances, the soloist in both being pianist, Daniil Trifonov. The opening program, on February 12, features Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 and the Symphony No 6 by Dvořák. The February 13 concert includes the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4.
Founded in 1990 by Mikhail Pletnev - the Orchestra’s current Artistic Director and Principal Conductor - the RNO became the first independent orchestra in Russia’s history, and since its first performance has continued to draw plaudits and rave reviews from all parts of the world.
Gramophone magazine wrote of the RNO’s first CD, in 1991, as "an awe-inspiring experience; should human beings be able to play like this?", and referred to it as the best recording of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique in history. In 2008, a panel of international critics assembled by Gramophone nominated the ensemble as one of the world’s top orchestras.
Attracting some of the world’s finest guest conductors, the RNO tours extensively, and was the first Russian orchestra to perform at the Vatican and in Israel. It’s one of the founding orchestras of the Napa Valley Festival del Sole, and will be in residence at the Festival again this summer. The RNO is regularly invited to appear at the Schleswig-Holstein, Gstaad and Rheingau festivals, and in 2009, the Orchestra launched its own festival which is held each September in Moscow.
Giancarlo Guerrero is Music Director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and holds the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency. In 2012 he and the Nashville Symphony won their their fourth Grammy Award, the first three having been won in 2011, including one for the Best Orchestral Performance.
This season sees Mr Guerrero’s debuts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Also scheduled are return visits to the Boston, Indianapolis and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, the Philadelphia, Brussels Philharmonic, Polish National Radio Symphony and Sao Paulo State Symphony orchestras. Mr Guerrero then heads to Australia for performances with the Adelaide Symphony and Auckland Philharmonia.
Giancarlo Guerrero has a particular interest in furthering the interest of young people in music, and in music education, and each year returns to Caracas to conduct the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, and to help educate young people through the country’s El Sistema music program. He will also, this season, be working with the student orchestras of the Curtis Institute and the Colburn School.
Daniil Trifonov is regarded as one of the rising stars of the next generation of young pianists. Born in Nizhniy Novgorod in 1991, he was awarded medals in three of the most prestigious competitions in the world of classical music during the 2010/2011 season - Third Prize in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, First Prize in the Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv, and First Prize and Grand Prix at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
Martha Argerich - quoted in the Financial Times in July 2011 - said of Daniil Trifonov "..... he has everything and more. What he does with his hands is technically incredible. It’s also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that."
Highlights of the 2011/12 season for Daniil Trifonov included debuts with the Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony, Mariinsky, Israel Philharmonic and Russian National orchestras, and also at the major music festivals of Europe and the United States.
This current season sees debuts with international orchestras which include the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Cleveland, Royal Philharmonic, Budapest Festival and Orchestra Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
Tuesday's concert opens with the overture to Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, a comic opera said to have been instrumental in the development of Czech music.
It’s followed by Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 - not only one of his best-known works, but one of the most popular of all piano concertos. It’s hard to believe that Nikolai Rubinstein initially deemed it unplayable!
The final work is the Symphony No 6 by Antonin Dvořák - who is thought to have taken his inspiration for this symphony from works by both Brahms and Beethoven, and also included references to Czech folk melodies.
The concert on Wednesday evening opens with Verdi’s overture to I vespri siciliani . This opera was based on an event in Sicilian history - the rebellion of 1282 - which began at the start of Vespers, the sunset prayer marking the beginning of the night vigil on Easter Monday in 1282, at the Church of the Holy Spirit just outside Palermo. (Encyclopaedia Brittanica)
The main work is Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, regarded as the best known of his concertos, on which he began work in 1913, but didn’t complete until 1921. It was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Frederick Stock, on December 16 of that year, with the composer himself at the keyboard.
The concert closes with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4. In a letter which he wrote to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck - to whom the symphony was dedicated - Tchaikovsky likened the opening fanfare to Fate - "that fateful force which prevents the impulse to happiness from attaining its goal”. He appears to have had a deep affection for the symphony, having made a number of such references during its composition. Upon its completion he wrote: "It seems to me that this is my best work”. (Both quotes attributed to www.tchaikovsky-research.net)
The Russian National Orchestra, led by Giancarlo Guerrero, with soloist Daniil Trifonov, performs at Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 12 and 13. For information on ticketing, please visit the San Francisco Symphony website.