Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko makes a welcome return to Davies Symphony Hall this week, to conduct the San Francisco Symphony in Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 – with guest soloist Sa Chen – and the Symphony No 12, The Year 1917, by Shostakovich.
Vasily Petrenko was educated at the St Petersburg Capella Boys Music School – the oldest music school in Russia – and then studied at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. Having achieved considerable success in a number of international conducting competitions, he began his career as Resident Conductor of the Mikhailovsky Theatre (formerly the Mussorgsky Memorial Theatre of the St Petersburg State Opera and Ballet) where he is now Principal Guest Conductor. Maestro Petrenko has served as Chief Conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, and Principal Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. He is currently Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras.
Regarded as one of today’s most promising young conductors, Vasily Petrenko has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, has frequently appeared at the BBC Proms, and toured with the European Union Youth Orchestra. Having made his debut in opera at Glyndebourne, he has 30 operas in his repertoire, and appears frequently in major opera houses around the globe. In 2007 Maestro Petrenko was named Young Artist of the Year at the annual Gramophone Awards, in 2010 he won the Male Artist of the Year at the Classical Brit Awards, and his recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second and Third Symphonies with the Liverpool Philharmonic won the 2012 ECHO Klassik Award for Newcoming Conductor of the Year.
Sa Chen, “one of the brightest performers of her generation” (Classic FM), makes her debut with the San Francisco Symphony. She is the only woman in history to win prizes at all three of the world’s most prestigious piano competitions – the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, the Leeds International Piano Competition, and the Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Fort Worth – and her interpretation of the music of Chopin is particularly highly regarded. Ms Chen’s 2008 album of the two Chopin Piano Concertos was named Best CD of 2008 by Classic FM, and in 2010, the government of Poland honored her with a ‘Chopin Arts Passport’ for her activities during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the composer’s birth.
Ms Chen is rapdily establishing an impressive international reputation, having appeared with the some of the world’s finest orchestras, and with conductors such as Semyon Bychkov, Edo de Waart, Sir Simon Rattle and Myung-Whun Chung. A keen chamber musician, she has recently collaborated with Gidon Kermer and Natalie Gutman, appeared at the Schleswig Holstein Festival, the Rurl Piano Festival in Germany, the Lockenhaus Music Festival in Austria and the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France, and earlier this year completed a 20-venue recital tour of Germany.
This week’s program opens with Samuel Barber’s 1931 Overture to The School for Scandal. With a lifelong love of literature, Barber frequently included references to literary works in his compostions, describing this overture as “a musical reflection” of the spirit of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 comedy of manners, The School for Scandal.
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 was the first work which he composed following the disastrous reception of his Symphony No 1. The several years of depression which followed – during which he underwent a course of hypnotherapy – ended with the composition of his Second Piano Concerto – confirmation that he had emerged from a very distressing period of his life, and that his self-confidence had been restored. This concerto has become one of his most enduringly popular works, the slow movement of which featured memorably in the soundtrack of David Lean’s 1945 masterpiece, Brief Encounter.
The Shostakovich Symphony No 12 is subtitled The Year 1917, portraying the upheavals in Russia of October and November that year. It was composed in 1961, on a commission from the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party, and is dedicated to the memory of Lenin. Following years during which Shostakovich had fallen in and out of favor with the Soviet rgime, this work appeared to have been an atonement for what were perceived to have been the composer’s past misdemeanours. Whatever the truth, San Francisco Symphony program annotator Scott Foglesong describes it as “a flamboyant program symphony in the grand manner, big, bold, and brassy”.
Vasily Petrenko leads the San Francsico Symphony in works by Barber, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich – with guest soloist Sa Chen – in two performances at Davies Symphony Hall, on April 23 at 2.00 pm and April 24 at 8.00 pm. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
On Saturday evening, April 25, the San Francisco Symphony presents composer Tan Dun’s Martial Arts Trilogy – scenes from three of his renowned films – Hero, The Banquet and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These scenes will be played on a big screen while the San Francisco Symphony, led by British-born conductor Damian Iorio – in his debut with the Symphony – performs the scores, with soloists Ryu Goto (violin), Peter Wyrick (cello) and Robin Sutherland (piano).
For more information and tickets, see the San Francisco Symphony website.
Sunday afternoon at Davies Symphony Hall presents another of the popular series of chamber concerts, curated by musicians of the Symphony. It features Hindemith’s String Quartet No. 4, Opus 22, Spohr’s Nonet in F major, Opus 31, and Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A major.
The San Francisco Symphony website has more details and information on purchasing tickets.