IN THE WHITE LIGHT OF THE MOMENT
It should have been just another memorable concert in the hectic life of the Geneva Chamber Orchestra. However, the global Covid-19 pandemic decided otherwise and turned this summit meeting with conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy and pianist Mikhaïl Pletnev into a historical moment. Chronicle of an extraordinary adventure...in every respect.
Tuesday, 2 March 2021 was a date written in the orchestra’s calendar, just like the dates of the season’s many other concerts. The difference is that since March 2020 and the first general lockdown of the music planet (along with a good part of all other activities), it has become customary to look ahead with extreme wariness in the daily expectation of having to respond to some new slowdown measure. While concerts timidly resumed at the beginning of the previous autumn, the hammer that everybody had been dreading fell on 3 November at 3pm: the Geneva State Council decided that everything should close again ! Everything? The question arose immediately, and we already started thinking about saving what could still be saved. If rehearsals with professional ensembles following a strict sanitary protocol were still allowed behind closed doors, could a concert performed without an audience be assimilated to a rehearsal, legally speaking? The orchestra’s management breathed a sigh of relief when learning that this was the case...so the world hadn’t completely stopped turning ! The 20-21 season continued according to plan in the same splendid Victoria Hall but in front of empty chairs...and cameras. A dazzling golden age of video streaming had begun. “A strange experience for the musicians,” according to Frédéric Steinbrüchel, the orchestra’s General Manager. “You give all you can, and nobody is there to receive it”.
Weeks and months went by: the winter was critical in terms of health. Although a first timid allowance of 50 spectators per performance was announced for spring 2021, the date of 2 March still seemed as it would be without an audience. Since the orchestra had no intention of missing out on such a bill, it did its best to find another way of promoting the event. The Claves record label was approached and was won over by the idea of making a live recording of the concert. For Frédéric Steinbrüchel, who is always keen to accompany the audience in its musical experience, the challenge did not stop there: “To offer the audience something emotional and lively, and also to keep a trace of these extraordinary circumstances, I contacted the Spanish documentalist Alexis Delgado, who agreed at very short notice to come to Geneva with his team. Such an emergency situation enables things that would normally not be possible or more difficult to organise. When he arrived, the film producer explained that his work would be greatly facilitated if he could relate it to some “dramatic” underlying theme. He couldn’t have put it better: the morning of the concert, just as the filmed dress rehearsal was about to start, the sky fell down on the orchestra’s management team.
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Translation: Michelle Bulloch – MUSITEXT
MIKHAIL PLETNEV piano
Mikhail Pletnev is a brilliant pianist, a highly sought after conductor, a splendid composer, a remarkable individual, and an artist who defies conventional classifications. “Stupendous virtuosity and glittering ingenuity are the hallmarks of his piano performances. His meteoric career as a conductor seems to have made his playing even more symphonic, and his sound more imaginative.” (Die Welt)
Born in 1957 in Arkhangelsk, Pletnev demonstrated his talent early, entering the Moscow Conservatory at the age of 13. In 1978 he won first prize and the gold medal at the Sixth International Tchaikovsky Competition. He has since performed countless times as a soloist with the world’s most esteemed orchestras and conductors. In 1990, with the assent of then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Pletnev founded the Russian National Orchestra – Russia’s first non-governmental, privately financed orchestra. Today the RNO is considered one of the world’s finest orchestras; each year, led by Pletnev and other distinguished conductors, it tours Europe, the U.S. and Asia. In 1996, the orchestra performed at the opening of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Pletnev has recorded with Deutsche Grammophon since 1993, and his discs have been repeatedly nominated for Grammy Awards. “If music is crafted time, then time for Pletnev is not something that can be measured in technical terms, rather the high art of infinity, of tension and its resolution.” (Crescendo, on the Beethoven Cycle). The London Telegraph remarked, “from Pletnev’s fingers and brain come ideas that vitalise the music and make it teem with freshness and wit. [He] made the music positively leap for joy.” The Times describes his playing as “born of a prodigious virtuosity of imagination outrageous in its beauty.” BBC Music Magazine called Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonatas, which received a Gramophone Award in 1996, “piano playing at its greatest...this performance alone would be enough to secure Pletnev a place among the greatest pianists ever known.” Pletnev has also attained international acclaim for his work as a composer. The 1998 premiere of his Viola Concerto dedicated to (and performed by) Yuri Bashmet was enthusiastically received by both the press and the public. His arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty for piano are legendary – for pianists the world over they have become technical exams that demonstrate one is a master of the instrument.
Recently a journalist wrote: “A conversation with Mikhail Pletnev is like his playing. He is quiet and listens. He is tired of the same old questions; he prefers to improvise. If he does not like something, he gets up and leaves. If something interests him, he awakens and begins speaking in a voice that is obsessed, monotone and musical. Pletnev does not speak of the ordinary; he is only interested in superlatives.” Pletnev has been the frequent recipient of state honors and international awards, including a Grammy (2005). In 2007 he was awarded a Presidential Prize and Order “For Service to the Homeland.”
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