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Vasily Petrenko: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and very warm welcome on behalf of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to all of you here in Carnegie Hall and everybody at home listening to the radio broadcast cast.
Jeff Spurgeon: Tonight for the first time in 25 years, Carnegie Hall welcomes the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to its stage. The last time they performed here was in 1997. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Alongside is John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: We are excited to be here tonight because it's a special occasion for a number of reasons. It is the 75th anniversary season of the Royal Philharmonic and tonight on Carnegie Hall Live, they and their new music director Vasily Petrenko, have brought us an all-English program, the Four Sea Interludes by Benjamin Britten, one of his most performed pieces originally taken from the Peter Grimes, Sir Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto performed tonight by the cellist, Kian Soltani and they'll end the program with that perennial crowd pleaser, The Planets by Gustav Holst the suite that includes all seven planets.
Jeff Spurgeon: Carnegie Hall Live is supported by PwC. PwC's community of solvers works to bring the best of people and tech together to help build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. It all adds up to the new equation, more at thenewequation.com. Vasily Petrenko is leading the orchestra tonight. Highly sought after, he's played in the great halls of Europe and the United States and in opera as well. In 2019, he made his Carnegie Hall debut on very short notice. He stepped in at the last moment for Morris Johnsons to lead a concert by the Bavarian Radio Symphony.
John Schaefer: This orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, he's had a couple of months with them at home and abroad on this tour since beginning his music directorship and he told us how it's going.
Vasily Petrenko: It's honeymoon all this happening at the beginning but it's also very important here for the orchestra, its 75th anniversary. This is the tour which we're doing. We did another couple of tours already in Europe. Life is going on. The orchestra really wants to work and to me, it is very important that there is a huge potential in the orchestra and the orchestra really would like to realize it.
John Schaefer: The second piece on tonight's program will feature the cellist, Kian Soltani. He was born in Austria to a family of Persian musicians. Started playing the cello when he was just four years old. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in November of 2018, playing the Strauss Don Quixote. Tonight he is back at Carnegie Hall to play Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto. Now, this is a piece that he has played before with this ensemble.
Jeff Spurgeon: He's no stranger to the Royal Philharmonic. He was an artist in residence with the orchestra in 2019.
John Schaefer: We are looking forward to hearing Kian Soltani play the Elgar Cello Concerto which occupies a very rarefied space in the repertoire for that instrument. It's an extraordinary piece. We'll hear more about it later. Before we get to that and before we get to Holst's Planets, we'll hear Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes. These are originally from his opera Peter Grimes. In that opera, the sea is as much a character as Grimes or Ellen or any of the other "characters" in the narrative.
Conductor, Vasily Petrenko told us that Britten's description of the small village where the opera takes place is very complex. That's in contrast to another popular work about the sea.
Vasily Petrenko: In a way, this is his response to [unintelligible 00:04:25] who is a very different language but with this incredible poetry of the sea and depiction of the sea at the different time of the day, at the different calmness or storminess, at the different mood and in a different time of his life as well in Old Borough where Britten lived. You can see all that from the pebblestone's beach and you can even sense the salt and the splash of the sea in this music.
Jeff Spurgeon: Now stepping on stage is the concertmaster Duncan Riddell.
And it's music director Vasily Petrenko on stage, the musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on their feet.
A warm welcome from this audience tonight in Carnegie Hall.
[MUSIC - Benjamin Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes [applause]
John Schaefer: From the stage of Carnegie Hall, that is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko playing music by Benjamin Britten, The Four Sea Interludes from his opera, Peter Grimes. Now, well established as a concert suite on its own and certainly one of Benjamin Britten's most popular works, and perhaps you can hear why. I'm John Schaefer alongside Jeff Spurgeon. There's something so rich and cinematic about that score. It is a master craftsman at work there.
Jeff Spurgeon: We could say that for all the works on this program tonight, including the next one, which is Edward Elgar's, Cello Concerto. Elgar, best known for his enigma variations in the Pomp and Circumstance Marches for sure. He was a bit of a late bloomer, only came into prominence a little bit later in his life, in his 40s. Finished up his first symphony only when he was in his 50s.
John Schaefer: This is a late work by Edward Elgar. In fact, it's the last full-scale orchestral piece that he wrote. He wrote it in a pretty dark time, in a pretty dark place. It was 1919, the First World War had just ended. Many soldiers had not come back, and those who had come back had horrific injuries, both physical and mental, neither of which the medical establishment of the time was equipped to deal with. The continent was, as I say, in a deeply dark place. At one point, Elgar wrote, "Everything good and nice, and clean, and fresh, and sweet is far away, never to return."
Jeff Spurgeon: The transformation of the world in that war was something I think that those of us alive today cannot imagine how everything changed at that time. You can hear all of that solemnity and gravitas in this music. Four movements in this work. Instead of bringing the listener in gradually with an orchestral introduction, Elgar just drops us straight away into a very dramatic solo cello moment.
Jeff Spurgeon: Kian Soltani on stage now. Petrenko, as well, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, bringing you the Elgar Cello Concerto now from Carnegie Hall, live.
From Carnegie Hall Live, you've heard Kian Soltani and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the performance of the Cello Concerto of Edward Elgar. Backstage at Carnegie Hall, I'm Jeff Spurgeon alongside John Schaefer. We are accompanied tonight by a very enthusiastic Carnegie Hall audience and members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who've been asked to come to their feet as well, and they too, are applauding the work of this 29-year-old cellist of Persian background, born, raised in Vienna.
John Schaefer: That brings us to an intermission of this all-British program from Carnegie Hall. We've heard Benjamin Britten. We've heard Edward Elgar, and still, to come, Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will treat us to some of the most iconic music in the British repertoire. This is Carnegie Hall Live.
Carnegie Hall Live an all-British program from the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Vasily Petrenko. We've heard the Elgar Cello Concerto. We've heard the Four Sea Interludes by Benjamin Britten. After intermission, it's one of classical music's greatest hits, really, The Planets, the suite by Gustav Holst to be played by this ensemble in all its glory. It will be everybody, all the musicians, a huge arsenal of percussion all on stage for the second half. I am really looking forward to that.
Jeff Spurgeon: Oh, it's wonderful music and we know a few of those pieces very well, and then a few of them we don't know as well. We'll get to explore the whole solar system as Holst saw it.
John Schaefer: Yes. To give you a little primer into the Gustav Holst's work, we go to my co-host Jeff Spurgeon.
Jeff Spurgeon: The most important thing to remember about Holst's seven-movement suite, The Planets, is that it's not about astronomy, it's about astrology. Holst became interested in astrology as a young man, and that interest continued for the rest of his life. He called it one of his vices. Astrology is where Holst's Planets get their meanings. Mars is our small red planet, next-door neighbor, close enough to inspire dreams that we might be able to live on it someday. That's astronomy and that is not Holst.
In Astrology, Mars is about desire, aggression, anger, survival, and action. Holst's Mars is the bringer of war. In the music, the action never stops moving and never stops its unfeeling menace.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Mars, The Bringer of War]
It's terrifying. In contrast, the second planet is Venus, which Holst calls The Bringer of Peace. The astrological qualities are love, intimacy, beauty, harmony. Flutes in the violin solo help create that intimate, beautiful, peaceful atmosphere.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Venus, The Bringer of Peace]
The next planet is Mercury, the one closest to the sun, so it should be first, right? Well, Holst was interested in musical contrasts. For the composer, this one, which he called The Winged Messenger, is third. Its astrological qualities are related to communication, understanding things. Sure, you can hear a god zipping through space on winged shoes, or maybe that's the sound of all the data in our heads trying to sort itself out.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Mercury, The Winged Messenger]
Then, from Mercury's flitting, capricious energy, we go big to Jupiter, astrologically representing bounty, goodwill, a sense of humor. Holst calls Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity. The music is buoyant, expansive, and grand.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity]
There's a lot in this piece, including a tune that has its own place as a Christian hymn. Several texts have been set to it, but the best known is I Vow to Thee My Country.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: Tune in The Planets: Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity]
Then another contrast, for the movement devoted to Saturn, Holst calls The Bringer of Old Age. In astrology, Saturn is about limitations and limits. Holst, though, said he also saw Saturn as bringing a sense of fulfillment. We resist getting older, all of us, so you hear some of that pushback in this piece too, along with a sense of acceptance.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age]
The penultimate movement is Uranus, The magician with qualities of intuition, innovation, discovery, and novelty. You might be reminded of other music associated with magical power, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, maybe, as an example.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Saturn, The Magician] Holst closes his sweet very surprisingly with no great big splashy finish. Instead with Neptune, which he calls the mystic. We are sent out of this universe of atoms and molecules and matter, with the planet associated with dreams, illusion, inspiration, realms beyond.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Neptune, the Mystic]
It's not flashy, but it can still thrill with the inclusion of a very special color, a women's chorus, they sing offstage unseen, letting us ponder mysteries beyond all things we know.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets: Neptune, the Mystic]
John Schaefer: Well, there you have a little guided tour of the seven planets that Gustav Holst chose to put in his piece. Earth is not astrologically significant so it's not there and of course,--
Jeff Spurgeon: The center of the universe in astrology, no need to bother with that.
John Schaefer: Of course, Pluto hadn't been discovered or then demoted by this point. It's not there either. You know having mentioned astrology, it's interesting how many composers of that time period, the first half of the 20th century, were deeply affected or inspired by astrology.
Jeff Spurgeon: More examples, please.
John Schaefer: John Cage had an astrologer who he swore by and who other composers would then go to see, the late William Duckworth would go to see her in the I went to see John Cage's astrologer, she's amazing but there were even composer astrologists here in America in the 1920s and it's sort of similar, I suppose to The Mentalist/Spiritualist movement that took hold in England in the late 19th century with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, et cetera.
Jeff Spurgeon: That was part of America too. He came here and in fact, appeared at Carnegie Hall to sold-out crowds. This was in the time after World War One when people were looking for meaning and some kind of resolution.
Vasily Petrenko, on stage, now with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and we're going to do some traveling now. Gustav Holst's The Planets comes to you now from Carnegie Hall Live.
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets] [applause]
[MUSIC - Gustav Holst: The Planets] [MUSIC - The Planets: Mercury, The Winged Messenger]
[MUSIC - The Planets: Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity]
[MUSIC - The Planets: Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age]
[MUSIC - The Planets: Uranus, The Magician] [applause]
[MUSIC - The Planets: Neptune, The Mystic] [applause]
John Schaefer: The Planets by Gustav Holst, played live on stage at Carnegie Hall by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko. Still one of the most magical endings in all of Classical music, the offstage female choir.
Jeff Spurgeon: Those are the women of New York's Musica Sacra, the longest-running professional chorus in New York City, and their conductor, Kent Tritle, who is now on stage with the singers and the Royal Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko. Stepping off stage now for just a moment, Vasily Petrenko. A quick exchange with Kent Tritle and then back out to receive the applause, which came after virtually every movement of the planets tonight in this performance.
It is a grateful audience that hears classical music these days at Carnegie Hall in a way that perhaps none of us were so grateful in the same way, for a couple of years.
John Schaefer: It is a piece that really requires everybody to be on the same page and, obviously, the members of the Royal Philharmonic and conductor Vasily Petrenko were indeed on the same pages. Once again, the conductor back out center stage, basking in the glow of the applause of the audience here at Carnegie Hall tonight.
Jeff Spurgeon: All the members of the Orchestra on their feet, and the audience as well. A standing ovation for this really wonderful program of, well, all English hits. The Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten's opera, Peter Grimes-- Oh, I believe we're going to get an encore now from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
[MUSIC - The Dance of the Tumblers: The Snow Maiden, Tchaikovsky]
Jeff Spurgeon: An encore from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko. That was The Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden by Tchaikovsky. A little music to bring us back into the world after we were headed off into the ether at the end of that Holst. Now we've got our feet planted firmly, once again, on planet Earth.
John Schaefer: Here in the wings at Carnegie Hall where, just a few moments ago, the members of Musica Sacra were helping to bring to a close the Holst suite, The Planets. We should mention they were here, Jeff because they're supposed to be off-stage, out of sight.
Jeff Spurgeon: [laughs] That's right.
John Schaefer: It adds to the mystery of--
Jeff Spurgeon: Absolutely. It's a wonderful effect, too.
John Schaefer: It's a wonderful effect, but it's an unconventional way to end a concert. The Tchaikovsky that we just heard, the kind of barnstorming, rabble-rousing thing that will send people out into the cold happy.
Jeff Spurgeon: [chuckles] We're all settled once again as we reach near the conclusion of this broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live, which is supported by PwC. PwC's community of solvers works to bring the best of people and tech together to help build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. It all adds up to The New Equation. More at thenewequation.com.
John Schaefer: Our thanks to Clive Gillinson and the staff of Carnegie Hall. WQXR's team includes engineers Edward Haber, George Wellington, Duke Marcos, and Bill Moss. Our production team?
Jeff Spurgeon: Eileen Delahunty and Lauren Purcell Joiner, with assistance from Max Fine. Carnegie Hall Live is a coproduction of WQXR and Carnegie Hall.
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