Speaker 1: Where to?
Speaker 2: Carnegie hall please.
Speaker 1: Carnegie hall [inaudible 00:00:10]
Speaker 3: Here are your ticket, enjoy the show.
Speaker 4: Tickets please [inaudible 00:00:19]
Jeff S: In New York city there are lots of ways to get to Carnegie hall, the subway, a taxi or walk down 57th street. You've just found another way to get to America's most famous home for classical music. Welcome to Carnegie hall live. This broadcast series brings you Carnegie hall concerts by some of the world's most celebrated artists and you hear the performances exactly as they happen. You are part of the audience sharing the experience of music making at Carnegie hall. I'm Jeff Spurgeon
John S: And I'm John Shaffer, and there's plenty of drama and excitement in the concert you're about to hear from the Munich Philharmonic and their music director, the globe trotting Valery Gergiev. They'll play a Beethoven tribute from Jörg Widmann, contemporary German composer, Shostakovich's symphony number five, the most popular of his 15 symphonies, and the Brahms violin concerto featuring the gifted Greek soloist Leonidas Kavakos.
Jeff S: Carnegie hall live is supported in part by an award from the national endowment for the arts. Additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gilman foundation and public funds from the New York city department of cultural affairs in partnership with the New York city council.
John S: Now before we hear music, we ask the Munich Philharmonics conductor Valery Gergiev to tell us a bit about the opening piece. It's called Con brio written by Jörg Widmann and he wrote it in 2008, so we figured a lot of people here in Carnegie hall probably aren't familiar with it and Gergiev agreed with us on that point.
Valery G: It's not only hall which doesn't know this piece. The good news about Jörg Widmann is that he is a musician himself. He is the wonderful clarinetist. He even played with me as a clarinetist, Mozart concerto. I have to say it was really wonderful. He is a composer now much in demand and I think he wants to be part of German or Austrian German tradition. That's why he quotes sometimes his predecessors. He has a fantasy and imagination as a instrumentalist and certainly he uses this very well as a composer. There will be a lot of music which will be played very fast. It will be energetic, funny, public. Not only we'll hear musicians, I'm sure some of our listeners today, will see a lot happening. I think they will have a lot of fun watching, not only hearing Widmann's piece.
Jeff S: Valery Gergiev talking about the piece that's going to open this concert in Carnegie hall, live Con brio Jörg Widmann. You won't as a listener be able to see what Gergiev is talking about, but I tell you that you will hear some very unusual sounds in this work from several sections of the orchestra, but maybe most interestingly from the timpani section. The timpanist is busy this whole piece and he's not just beating a drum during that time.
John S: He's using the whole of the instrument, let's put it that way.
Jeff S: Right.
John S: His drum is more than just a drum head, as you will hear in this Jörg Widmann piece. Was interesting to hear Gergiev talking about how the music is fast and energetic because this piece is a tribute essentially, not just to Beethoven in general, but two of his symphonies in particular.
Jeff S: Right.
John S: The seventh and the eighth, both of which move along at a good clip.
Jeff S: Right. And you'll hear sections of those little motifs from those two symphonies. I think this piece is a little bit like a Beethoven dream. Little fragments of the symphony just keep flowing in and out as other things keep happening around in the orchestra. Was written in 2008 and actually premiered a year later here at Carnegie hall or rather given its first Carnegie hall performance a year later by Marcy Johnson's who conducted the premiere and the original performance in a way.
John S: And commissioned the piece.
Jeff S: That's right.
John S: And it was originally meant as kind of a prelude to an all Beethoven concert, here it's kind of a prelude to two other things. One is, the Beethoven 250th anniversary.
Jeff S: Which is more than a year away, but let's start celebrating now.
John S: Why not? And it's also kind of a prelude to Jörg Widmann's tenure here at Carnegie hall as the Richard and Barbara Deb's composers chair. He is holding that position for this 2019, 2020 season. And that means that you will be seeing and hearing a lot more of Jörg Widmann's name here at Carnegie hall throughout the next season. He is not so well known here in the States, although we've heard a couple of his pieces here in New York in the last few seasons. But I can tell you that in Europe, he is considered one of the major most popular, most often programmed composers on that continent.
Jeff S: We saw an article about him that cited a statistic from [foreing 00:05:16] track, which is an online magazine that tracks classical music listings around the world. And it claims that last year Widmann was the third most performed contemporary classical composer in the world after Avro Part and John Williams, if that's how you want to calculate contemporary classical music. But still, that's an amazing statistic for a composer who was only in his mid forties.
John S: Right. 46 years old Jörg Widmann, German clarinetist first came on the scene, first came to our attention as a musician, although now his composition career has certainly taken off and that seems to be his primary mode of musical expression these days. And the applause you hear is for the members of the Munich Philharmonic who are streaming on stage from both wings and we should probably mention Jeff, that Widmann has chosen to score his piece for an orchestra that is almost an exact copy of Beethoven's orchestra.
Jeff S: That's right. So he's using the same instruments in the same proportions, but some of the sounds you hear would have been a surprise to Beethoven and the musical audiences of his time. The musicians are all standing and accepting this applause from a most appreciative and virtually sold out house here tonight at Carnegie hall. And now they've taken their seats, we'll get a bit of tuning and then the arrival of Maestro Gergiev will come. It's hard to keep track of Valery Gergiev because he's usually in one place just long enough to do a concert and maybe a rehearsal and then he's got to catch a plane because he's got another date, could be halfway around the world in the next 15 or 20 minutes.
John S: I can't help thinking there is some kind of quantum physics at work here. You know how tiny quantum particle can literally be in two places at once. I can't figure out how this guy travels the world conducting so many orchestras. He holds a number of different positions, but this one, the Munich Philharmonic is a position that he has held for a number of years. He clearly enjoys working with this orchestra. He clearly enjoys hearing the sound of the double basses because he has requested that the bases in the orchestra be placed up on a riser, which I don't think we've ever seen here at Carnegie hall before.
Jeff S: It's slightly unusual configuration. Yes, you're right. That they are... and they've taken up really all the space on the orchestral stage. There will be more musicians later on in the program, especially for the Shostakovich fifth symphony. But, that's right, the half dozen bases that are playing this piece are off the ground, six or seven inches in the back on the stage. Right.
John S: And we asked one of the orchestra members why they had done that and he said, "Gergiev wants to hear the bases. He wants everybody to hear the bases." Well, we've got an almost breathless pause from a sold out Carnegie hall as we await the arrival of conductive Valery Gergiev to perform Con brio, a work full of energy and verve by Jörg Widmann to be played by the Munich Philharmonic.
Jeff S: It's the touch of Beethoven in this particular concert. There's going to be so much Beethoven heard at Carnegie hall over the next 12, 13, 14 months. Beethoven's birth date is December 16th and the 250th anniversary of that birth is not this coming December, 2019 but rather in 2020 but the world, all the world is celebrating Beethoven's 250th and that celebration has already been underway here at Carnegie hall and throughout the season here at Carnegie hall, there are going to be many performances by many orchestras of the Beethoven symphonies. One complete cycle. It's going to be happening from John Elliot Gardiner, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and a number of other orchestras are bringing Beethoven symphonies to Carnegie hall this year. You'll hear a number of those programs as well here on Carnegie hall live. But tonight's Beethoven is just a reference, [crosstalk 00:09:16] yes, by the composer Jorg Widmann. And now the Munich Philharmonic is on its feet and their chief conductor, Valery Gergiev is on stage, turning to the audience to bring you Jorg Widmann's Con brio from Carnegie hall live.
John S: On stage at Carnegie hall, that is the Munich Philharmonic directed by Valery Gergiev and a performance of Con brio, a work by the German composer Jorg Widmann, a work inspired by Beethoven, a virtuosos showpiece for the orchestra, especially for the long suffering timpanist who is instructed to miss the drum head more than he actually hits it, surrounded by for timpani and he does a lot of whacking and whacking of the rim and the sides to produce all kinds of strange effects. And Jeff, it is a witty piece. Every time you think that Widmann's, there it is, there's the quote from Beethoven. It turns into something else.
Jeff S: It is. I will say again, a Beethovenian fever dream. And it just is a great, great ride and got a wonderful reception from this Carnegie hall live audience as this concert begins by the Munich Philharmonic. The next work on it is going to feature the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos. In his early fifties one of the leading violin virtuosos in the world. His career took off when he was in his late teens. He won the Sabelius competition in 1985, got first prize in the Paganini competition. Plays that music absolutely thrillingly. Andy also won the [Naburg 00:10:57] competitions as well.
John S: And speaking of Sabelius, he actually recorded the original version of the Sabelius violin concerto, which is not the version that we've all come to know and love. He was the first one to record this more difficult showy version that Sabelius had withdrawn. His from a musical family and his grandfather was a folk Fiddler in Greece and that kind of background could come in very handy, for this piece. The Brahms violin concerto is full of references to folk music, Hungarian folk music, the so called [foreign 00:11:31] musique, the gypsy music that Brahms was so for of.
Jeff S: And a unlike lots of concertos, this work isn't as much of a showpiece for the soloist from some perspectives as it is an integrated part of the orchestra. There was a famous complaint, maybe Hans Von Bulow, the conductor said this, that this is a concerto that was not written for the violin, but against it. Well, Valery Gergiev kind of proved that idea for us.
Valery G: First of all, orchestra cannot compete with a soloist, orchestra should not feel like he's our competitor. We have to remove him. We have to push him away. We have to follow when needed. We have to lead when needed, but we have to deliver, bring to the public all the riches of this wonderful composition, which includes many, many contributions from the orchestra, solo contributions, sectional contributions, but I personally love contrast.
John S: Well, there is contrast to plenty in the Brahms violin concerto when Valery Gergiev mentions solo contributions, it's not just the solo violinists. There is a famous solo oboe part in the second movement, so famous in fact that the 19th century violin virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate, a composer himself refused to play this piece saying, "I don't want to stand there violin in hand and listen to the oboe playing the only melody in the Adagio."
Jeff S: Well Sarasate could get away with saying that. So the concerto has had an interesting life in terms of its reception, but audiences love it and it really is a great show piece for a great soloist. And we have one here to join Valery Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic, Leonidas Kavakos, that's his instrument you're hearing as John Schaffer and I are backstage here at Carnegie hall waiting for the second work on this concert to begin. We have a sold out house here at Carnegie hall. The house is dark and we just need a Maestro and for the soloist to walk on stage. So just a few more moments and the performance will begin.
John S: And I think they may be waiting for us, in fact.
Jeff S: Yes, it's happened before in this broadcast.
John S: It's happened before because as we may have mentioned from time to time, we are literally on the other side of the stage doors with the musicians and now we have Leonidas Kavakos and behind him, Valery Gergiev taking their spots at center satge.
Jeff S: Stage door opened quite promptly. We are both very happy to tell you and you'll be happy to because it means an even quicker beginning for this work. And members of the Munich Philharmonic are offering applause and very sincere salutes to this renowned soloist Leonidas Kavakos. That applause that you're hearing is for him as he turns with a bow to the audience and now Valery Gergiev comes before the orchestra. It's the Brahms violin concerto from Leonidas Kavakos, Valery Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic from Carnegie hall live.
John S: The violin concerto by Brahms played live on stage at Carnegie hall by the violinist Leonidas Kavakos with Valery Gergiev, conducting the Munich Philharmonic in this live broadcast from Carnegie hall. The a conductor and the violin soloist sharing a hug on stage in front of a very enthusiastic audience, a sold out crowd here at Carnegie hall. I'm John Shaffer, alongside Jeff Spurgeon.
Jeff S: We're just backstage watching the enthusiasm that all of these players are expressing for one another now the orchestra on its feet, but Kavakos making a large gesture of applause toward his colleagues on stage, very much appreciating their work. I thought that attention was so completely evident to in that middle movement, John. Kavakos and all of those beautiful solo lines were coming out of the orchestra, they were really just, they were doing chamber music. It was just beautiful.
John S: And for the first half of the second movement, Kavakos without much to do himself was actually back to the audience facing the orchestra so he could watch the oboe solo unspool before him.
Jeff S: Really taking it in, it's just, just lovely. And then you hear this very enthusiastic reception that this great artist is getting those cheers are for Kavakos as he comes back on stage now with Valery Gergiev behind him. Wonderful to hear such a great sound of enthusiasm for a great artist here, solo bow now for Kavakos. Once again he makes it why gesture of applause to all the members of the Munich Philharmonic who are returning it to him. There's great, great respect among these musicians on stage tonight here at Carnegie hall.
John S: He'll want to be careful with that applauding gesture as he's holding onto his 1743 Stradivarius fiddle there.
Jeff S: That sounds like the worst part of being a violinist, is taking care of the baby your whole life. Oh my goodness.
John S: It never gets any older somehow.
Jeff S: That's right.
John S: Beautiful performance to conclude the official first half, although I can't help but notice since he's standing right in front of us that Leonidas Kavakos is tuning as if to say, I'm not quite done yet.
Jeff S: The audience doesn't sound like it's quite done at all with him either. So I think we have some accord on both sides. Here he comes again. Listen to these cheers.
John S: Back at center stage at Carnegie hall in the Isaac stern auditorium, the big hall here are Carnegie, thunderous cheers and applause for the Greek violinist who is also a conductor himself, Leonidas Kavakos.
Jeff S: Wonderful encore, gratefully by this Carnegie hall audience by the violinists Leonidas Kavakos. He holds his violin to his heart, it's a gesture of appreciation to the audience and the members of the Munich Philharmonic orchestra is still on stage and then comes off. Now what was he playing? Well, we're tilted to work by the great Romanian proposer George Enescu. We will have to get certainty on that from the player himself, perhaps in a few minutes. We're hoping to have a chat with him in just a bit, so we'll confirm that. Started out sounding like [foreign 00:18:19] as you said, John.
John S: Well, it certainly sounded Eastern European and if it were in that Enescu, it would make sense because of course the Brahms violin concerto ends with that third movement that's full of the sort of Hungarian gypsy sound that Brahms mind so often and so well.
Jeff S: And so some of those gestures that we heard earlier are repeated in this encore.
John S: Right. Because Enescu in a couple of his pieces, the third sonata for example, that sonata is in that style. It's actually baked into the title of the piece, the full title of which eludes me at the moment, but it's something about the [foreign 00:18:53] It's definitely that kind of sound world.
Jeff S: So we'll hopefully get a clue in just a moment or two. We have reached intermission at this concert by the Munich Philharmonic at a Carnegie hall with Maestro Valery Gergiev, and after a fabulous performance of the Brahms violin concerto and a very intriguing and ear catching and delighting encore, we are very pleased to welcome to our Carnegie hall microphones, the man himself, Leonidas Kavakos. Congratulations on a wonderful performance. Thank you.
Leonidas: Thank you very much.
Jeff S: We have one burning question, can you tell us what the encore was exactly?
Leonidas: The encore was Romanian violinist composer George Enescu. He composed a big chain music piece for violin and piano called, impressions of childhood. And this is the first movement which is the beggar. That's what... so apparently he had this image of somebody playing on the street. That's not exactly the same the environment here.
Jeff S: I think you could've gotten about anything you asked for from this audience.
Leonidas: Given the fact that there's so much, folk music involved in the-
John S: In the Brahms.
Leonidas: ... Brahms violin concerto-
Jeff S: As john had mentioned.
Leonidas: ... this has of course, lots of central European folk music element. So I thought it makes a nice...
Jeff S: It was perfect.
Leonidas: ... compliment to do.
John S: We were also wondering about the cadenza's that you play in the Brahms violin concerto first movement, third movement. [crosstalk 00:20:30] it's the Joachim?
Leonidas: Yes, absolutely.
Jeff S: Have you-
Leonidas: Joachim was a great help to Brahms for this concerto. In fact, the [inaudible 00:20:40] tin he first movement ,in the shape that we know today is Joachim's suggestion.
John S: It's not even in the printed score just says-
Jeff S: It was suggested [crosstalk 00:20:48] Have you ever done so? Have you ever written your own cadenza for this work?
Leonidas: No. I tell you why, because in the violin repertoire, we have so few pieces whether it's actually a cadenza written that composer was present, especially from that era. 20th century is a different story, but in that era and before, whereas for all the piano concertos, more or less, you have cadenza written by the composer, here we don't. And Joachim presented this to Brahms and Brahms really liked it so this was done in his knowledge. So I think this is the closest we can have. And in fact, I think it's a great cadenza because it manages to capture very well what's happening in the first movement and not make an extra point by itself, but become a real continuation to what has happened before and prepare extremely well. A genius way I would say, what's coming after the coda section.
Jeff S: Haven't you been tempted to write your own? It says right there, you can do it.
Leonidas: I know one can do it, but once you do it only when one feels there is a need for it, not out of a personal ambition. And therefore, for instance, the Beethoven concerto, which I have just recorded, there is no cadenza for the violin version, but there is a cadenza for the piano version of the same piece that he wrote a little later. Which is absolutely outrageous because especially for the piano, it's like a very simple, so to say a piece to play, but that Cadenza is like the whole universe goes in there, and it's like five and a half minutes long. It's enormous.
John S: So it's a piece unto itself.
Leonidas: Absolutely. And for that, I have managed after years to create a violin version because again, as I said, I think we have clearly the themes that Beethoven chose for the cadenza, the material that is, and that brings us as close as possible to the composer at least, and that's what we would all like [crosstalk 00:23:01]to do.
Jeff S: Go ahead John.
John S: Leonidas, yesterday we had a string quartet performing in our studio downtown and I mentioned that tonight we would be seeing you here on stage at Carnegie hall and the string players all did the same thing. They did this gesture where they raised their wrist and lowered their fingers and they were wondering how does he do that? How does he play like that? Do you hold the bow in a strange way? And if so, why? And how do you do that? How do you play that way?
Leonidas: Well, in fact, with all respect, I will say that it's amazing how people forget or don't observe. The way I hold the bow is the old Russian school in fact. And that comes from the [inaudible 00:23:47] school. And when you look at the old masters such as Heifetz and his class, they held the bow this way.
Jeff S: In short, you're doing it right, is what you're saying.
Leonidas: No, there's no right or wrong.
Jeff S: Okay.
Leonidas: But I'm just trying to say that, that this way, that is the, let's say, the older way. People are astonished by that.
John S: Yeah.
Leonidas: Even though when you look at the only photo that we have, not photo, have to say drawing of Paganini for instance, the same kind of bow hold, and Heifetz, which is the most famous violinists of our times, he did the same thing. And so therefore when everybody knows these people and how they played, I really cannot understand why my way is range. But I tell you something, there is a reason also because when I started studying the violin, I learned up until the age of 20 years, I used to play the way everybody does now, holding the bow.
Leonidas: And I have decided to change because I think and I was convinced from my practicing and my listening to my playing that this bowl hold allows bigger breadth to the sound. So it's an equally big volume, if not bigger, but not forced. It's a rounder tone. And also let me tell you that first of all, if you just hold your hand in the violin position, the wrist is gonna fall towards the earth, it's not going to stay horizontal to the arm, first and second. That way I have the same position on the frog and on the tip of the bow. I don't need to change my wrist position. So that is maybe two technical-
Jeff S: No, no, no, no.
Leonidas: ... talk now.
Jeff S: It's wonderful and it answers another question which we heard, which is, why does it seem sometimes like your bow is three or four feet long, but you've answered that question, from the technical way that you deal with the instrument. Thank you. We had a great performance and a post performance clinic too. This has been very special.
John S: Yeah.
Leonidas: Thank you very much.
John S: Leonidas Kavakos-
Leonidas: A pleasure.
John S: ... thank you so much for stopping by.
Leonidas: Thank you very much.
Jeff S: It was just great. Thank you so much.
Leonidas: Thank you very much.
Jeff S: We are here at intermission at Carnegie hall live.
John S: Yeah.
Jeff S: And we have a couple-
John S: [crosstalk 00:26:03] was a name I did not expect to hear...
Jeff S: Well these are-
John S: .... coming out on the air today.
Jeff S: That's right. But the great tradition continues and that is a wonderful thing. And we're going to talk with a couple of more musicians who are members of the orchestra to after we hear a little bit of music here at intermission.
John S: We mentioned Pablo de Sarasate before, who famously refused to play the Brahms violin concerto that Leonidas Kavakos just played so well for us. And I mentioned that Sarasate was a composer himself. This is Leonidas Kavakos performing his romanza andaluza.
John S: Once again, Leonidas Kavakos playing violina and Rico Pache playing the piano. This is Pablo de Sarasate's romanza andaluza, opus 22 number one. I'm John Shafer alongside Jeff Spurgeon. We're backstage at Carnegie hall. Carnegie hall live is supported in part by the national endowment for the arts on the web at arts.gov. Additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gilman foundation and public funds from the New York city department of cultural affairs in partnership with the New York city council.
Jeff S: Carnegie hall live comes to you on classical New York, 105.9 FM at HD, WQXR Newark and 90.3 FM WQXW Ossining. It's an admission at Carnegie hall. We have the Shostakovich symphony number five to come in the second half of this concert by the Munich Philharmonic and their music director and conductor, chief conductor about Valery Gergiev. But right now before us, we have a couple of members of the orchestra cellist, Manuel, Fondonama and violist Constantine Zelheim. Gentlemen, thank you for taking time out of your intermission to speak us.
Manuel: Thanks for having us.
Fondonama: Thank you very much.
Jeff S: Manuel, you have some experience in the United States. You went to Yale.
Manuel: Yeah. In fact, I went to Yale, Yale school of music. I studied with the wonderful Aldo Parisot and my wife's from the Hudson Valley. [crosstalk 00:27:58]
Jeff S: Is that where you met her at Yale?
Manuel: No, I actually met her in Berlin, she's a violinist and we studied at the Berlin conservatory.
John S: And you've been with the orchestra for over 20 years.
Manuel: Over 20 years, yes.
John S: So you've seen some changes. What about the orchestra, has it changed substantially over the 20 plus years?
Manuel: Well the orchestra changes constantly. We have 120 members and so we have, I would say maybe 10 new members every year, but...
John S: But a bigger pictures, I don't mean like the individual players, but the orchestra as an entity.
Manuel: Well I would say the level of technical playing has risen over the last 20 or 30 years. But the sound of the orchestra hasn't changed that much and which is something we try to conserve and which our conductors also work on, that the sound of our orchestra stays.
Jeff S: Can you say more about that, because it seems like such an elusive thing, the personality of an orchestra?
Manuel: Well, I mean, we have the privilege of choosing our chief conductors at the orchestra. So we try to choose chief conductors who like the sound and who want to preserve and develop it. And so we've worked with Sergiu Celibidache for almost 20 years and he really helped shape our sound a lot. And Christian Tillaman and Lauren Mozelle and alternate James Levine and now Valery Gergiev, built on that sound and they try to keep it and shape it but still keep this dark German sound.
Jeff S: Is that something that happens in your conversations with your sections? Is this something that you speak about cellist to cellist, violist to violist? Maybe not. Maybe it's just something that it's the water you drink, I don't know.
Fondonama: But you mentioned the right way. I personally learned it from my older colleagues in the orchestra, how to, for example, how to do treble or how to vibrate, how to phrase. And I'm in the orchestra for 14 years now and I came after Celibidache, so I learned two traditions that were kept since the time of Celibidache. So it's last until now.
Manuel: It's sort of in the DNA of the orchestra and it gets passed along to the new members.
Jeff S: It's an elusive thing, but it's also a very real thing.
John S: When you talk about, for example, Vienna, and they have, the winds have a different sound because they're slightly-
Manuel: Different instruments.
John S: ... different instruments.
Fondonama: The oboe for example.
John S: Yeah. But Munich, I mean, you're using the same instruments presumably-
Manuel: We do, yeah.
John S: ... that they use in Berlin or London or Paris or New York. So yeah, it's-
Manuel: No, it's a way of playing. And Gergiev really wants this kind of sound and I think that's what interests him also being chief conductor in the German orchestra, in the Russian orchestra because they have really different sounds.
Jeff S: And he's got to keep both of those things separate. Constantine, I want to ask you, you started out playing the violin?
Fondonama: Yes. That's right.
Jeff S: So when did that happen? When did you become a violist? How did that occur?
Fondonama: I fell in love with the lower strings of the violin. I used to laugh and to play on the G string on the violin and that's why my teacher just asked me maybe, would you consider to just start and try the Viola and I felt a bit embarrassed at first, but then I really fell in love at the age of 18 and started to play Viola and yeah, that's what I do until now.
John S: And now you have the Viola quartet.
Fondonama: Oh yes. Yeah.
Jeff S: Tell us about that. How does the Viola quartet work? You just don't have quite the range of say a cello.
Fondonama: Yes, that's right. But we try to cover the range of this wonderful orchestra or to show the range and to the emotions of this wonderful instrument with our ensemble. And it's next to the human voice or it reminded us of the human voice, so to say.
John S: Yeah.
Fondonama: It's hard to express, but... And maybe you can understand if you listen to that kind of music.
Jeff S: That's lovely. And violas need defenders because I'm constantly attacking them. So good for you for standing strong.
Jeff S: Constantine Zelheim is a violist in the Munich Philharmonic. Manuel Fondonama is a cellist. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. You want to have a chance to get ready to play some Shostakovitch for us.
Manuel: Thank you very much.
Jeff S: Thanks [crosstalk 00:32:40] for joining us here at the Carnegie hall microphones, Jeff Spurgeon and John Schafer. We're backstage at center mission here at Carnegie hall and the orchestra's milling around. They're all enjoying intermission, but getting ready to take on Shostakovich's fifth symphony just pretty soon. Now in addition to his work in concert halls and opera houses around the world, Valery Gergiev is also chairman of the Tchaikovsky competition and we wanted to talk to you about that just a little bit tonight. The competition was begun by Nikita Khrushchev in 1958. That's the competition that was won by the American pianist Van Cliburn. Such a major cultural moment in the cold war.
Jeff S: The Tchaikovsky competition's been held every four years since then for pianists and violinists later on cellists and singers and even violin makers became part of the competition. Gergiev succeeded [foreign 00:33:29] as chairman of the competition 10 years ago and something about the situation bothered Gergiev, namely that there was no place in it for brass or wind players. Gergeiv wanted to fix that and this year he did.
Valery G: I knew that it will be a fantastic news for millions of woodwind or brass players worldwide and I received such an emotional statements and people simply being grateful. Not only people who had the chance to participate or win, but simply people who heard the news and some of them prepare for next competition. We were very, very lucky to hear unbelievably gifted young musicians playing flute or oboe clarinet, to player can be shockingly impressive here. Chinese horn player, 20 years old, Chinese, most incredible fact of his [inaudible 00:34:22] is that he studied only in China. He studies with his father who is a horn player and he was one of two gold medal winners in Nebraska.
John S: That is the Chinese French horn player, Yun Zeng, and just to be clear, he is Chinese, the horn is a French horn. Gold metal winner in his instruments first ever Tchaikovsky competition, which took place this past summer along with the first Tchaikovsky competitions for other wind and brass instruments. And Yum Zeng there playing in an arrangement of the andante movement of Tchaikovsky's first string quartet, and playing it on the French horn.
Jeff S: And winning a competition with it, first time that brass and wind instruments were part of the Tchaikovsky competition, Valery Gergiev moving the traditional law. Well, intermissions almost over, in fact the orchestra's about to go on stage to get ready to play the fifth symphony of Shostakovich. Seen by so many people as in document of the oppression in Soviet Russia in the 1930s, the composer was constantly walking a fine line between party politics in his own personal creative expression then. Valery Gergiev told us that he sees this symphony has a reputation of the, or rather a representation of the turbulence of Russia and all of Europe in that decade.
Valery G: It was clear that he expressed the most phenomenal even dramatic and even tragic feelings of millions of people who lived not only in Russia, in entire continent, in Europe. First of all he couldn't ignore it. Second, he is a composer, as a prophet also was hearing the trouble, hearing the tragedy. It was becoming like everyone was facing a huge fire which would burn so many lives and so many cities in so much of cultural. But his symphonies are a document of a [inaudible 00:36:59] where people lived from early thirties to early fifties I would say easily.
John S: Valery Gergiev talking about the Shostakovich fifth symphony, referring to Shostakovich as a prophet who could hear the trouble unfolding in Europe at the time and also kind of a documentarian of Europe in the 1930s and forties. Now for some scholars, the last movement of this fifth symphony, the march is seen as a kind of forced rejoicing, but Valery Gergiev interprets it differently.
Valery G: For me, it's not that jubilant can of march, it's just pride. Proud young men with colossal gifts tells the world, I'm going on, I'm continuing with my symphonies and the country and the musical tradition and my colleagues. No matter what, we will continue." And that's why we perform his music. He was right. He continues.
Jeff S: Valery Gergiev, speaking about Shostakovich and his fifth symphony and the March that was referred to in the late 1970s in a memoir that Shostakovich wrote as being about the idea of having to rejoice. And that memoir itself has come under question for its authenticity.
John S: Yeah, very controversial.
Jeff S: but I really appreciate Valery Gergiev Gare interpretation. That's a new way to listen to this for me tonight.
John S: Well, you know, there are people who have said that this is an expression of genuine patriotism on Shostakovich's part at a time where Russians were being sort of forced into a corner by the looming threat of fascism and central Europe. And then there are other people who, yes, say that this isn't genuine patriotism, but a kind of subtle way of poking at that nationalist feeling.
Jeff S: Right.
John S: And the thing is, the great thing about art is both of those views can be right.
Jeff S: Absolutely.
John S: So when you listen to this performance of the Shostakovich fifth symphony about to unfold onstage here at Carnegie hall tonight, whatever your opinion of the pieces is, is the correct opinion. I mean that's just the way art should work.
Jeff S: And that's how you should hear it as well. When this work was given its premiere, the applause afterwards by the audience in Russia lasted for half an hour. So it clearly spoke to the people of that time then not only in that final movement, but in the beautiful Largo movement that precedes it. There is some glorious movement that has some reflection in attitudes of Russian liturgical music. There's a slight reflection of some themes there. I think they are not as evident to audiences in the United States, but it certainly touched the Russian people with that at that time.
John S: And we also, people who've heard a lot of Shostakovitch, he has a reputation for a sardonic, a cervic quality, and certainly you'll hear that, but the guy knew how to write a beautiful tune and this piece really is a celebration of his favorite instrument, the orchestra.
Jeff S: That's right. Dimitri Shostakovich's, his symphony number five. You're about to hear it now from the Munich Philharmonic and music director and conductor Valery Gergiev.
Jeff S: An incredible musical statement from a man aged 31 when he wrote the symphony. Dimitri Shostakovitch, his symphony number five. You've just heard a performance from Carnegie hall live by the Munich Philharmonic and their chief conductor and music director Valery Gergiev. The Maestro is stepping off stage for a moment. The orchestra on its feet and well...
John S: So is most as the audience.
Jeff S: So is most of the audience indeed, after that performance. Backstage, I'm Jeff Spurgeon along with John Schafer. The hair just comes up on the back of your neck every time you hear the symphony.
John S: It's, I mean, each of the movements is its own kind of grand statement. The opening movement, that dramatic opening that has spawned a hundred different TV theme songs and then the beautiful Largo slow movement, the third movement and that finale that has engendered so much controversy and conversation. What does it mean? What was Shostakovitch trying to tell us? Well, I think he's telling us, "Hey, I know how to write for this orchestra." And you mentioned he was only 31, but he was a master orchestrator by that point.
Jeff S: Well, he'd written four symphonies before that and a couple of operas as well. So it's evidence of his extraordinary talent for sure. The cheers you're hearing from the crowd here in Carnegie hall are for various members of the orchestra being singled out by Mr. Gergiev just pointing across the stage to many of the musicians of the Munich Philharmonic. As for that last movement, Jack Sullivan notes in the writing that he did for the playbill for this performance, a quotation from conductor Marin Alsop who says that Shostakovich has become a receptacle for people's polarized political viewpoints. But, he says Marin Alsop says the symphony is complex, conflicted, and yet offers an opening for hopelessness and for a certain nobility in survival. And that is a great, very close to what Valery Gergiev told us today, that he believes that final movement March is a statement by a proud young man who says, "I'm going on, I'm going to continue to write symphonies to make music no matter what."
John S: And worth mentioning that Shosatkovich was under intense pressure from the Soviet government at the time that he was writing this. He had virtually been blacklisted because of his opera Lady Macbeth of mtsensk.
Jeff S: And that didn't mean that he wouldn't get free tickets to the next symphony hall concert. That meant that his life was under threat.
John S: Exactly. And so this piece was written under extraordinarily difficult personal circumstances for a still young composer. And what we just saw on stage with the, the conductor pointing to the different sections of the orchestra. I mean, it's an acknowledgement by the Valery Gergiev of the way in which Shostakovich marshaled his forces. That every section of the orchestra has a responsibility, a big audible responsibility to the recreation each time of this piece.
Jeff S: The ubiquity of this kind of music in the world, allows us to take it for granted. But a symphony orchestra is an amazingly cooperative institution. If everybody isn't on board, it can fall apart. And a great ensemble like this takes enormous pride in bringing their individual and collective skills together. And it is part of the reason why this music continues to have such power in our lives. Well more than 75 years after it created.
John S: Valery Gergiev back out on stage again. The audience reluctant to let him leave. I mean he's left the stage several times. They keep calling him back and he is back at center stage now with the Munich Philharmonic basking in the warmth of the sold out crowd here at Carnegie hall tonight.
Jeff S: Even beyond warmth. That audience is hot for this conductor and this orchestra after the performance they gave. Most of the audience on its feet along with all of the members of the orchestra. Interestingly, John, Gergiev did not use a conductors podium for most of this concert.
John S: I noticed that and that's actually one of the things that I was hoping to ask Valery Gergiev and here he is us.
Jeff S: What a fortunate thing that Valery Gergiev has just stepped up the microphone. What a thrilling performance of thrilling concert. Thank you Maestro.
Valery G: Excellent.
Jeff S: Incredible thing. We wanted to ask you about the podium. You didn't use the podium very much tonight.
Valery G: No, I don't think a podium is needed. I'm not such a short man and also I think eye contact is for me much better with the musicians when I'm really close to them. I'm on the same level. I don't want to look at them from-
John S: From on high.
Valery G: ... two meters 50 while they're seated on the chairs and on the floor. So this is for me personally, very comfortable feeling.
Jeff S: That's a small technical question for sure.
John S: And another is you don't use a Baton generally.
Valery G: Well, I use something like a small white-
John S: that's a toothpick, right?
Valery G: ... thing... No, it's not toothpick. No, no, no. It's bigger but it is something what points sometimes to a certain sharpness maybe in [foreign 00:46:13] when needed, but it's really not important. Much more important is what I already described as eye contact, the expression with very much so in the eyes or expression of your face expression brings a lot more to the sound than any gestures.
Jeff S: One of the things that we might say ties all three works on concert, the Shostakovich fifth, the Brahms concerto and Jorg Widmann's Con brio, is Beethoven. I don't know if that's too big a stretch to say that there are elements, certainly of Beethoven in the Widmann work. The Brahms concerto is written in the same key and with some of the same instrumental gestures the Beethoven used in his violin concerto. And there are some motif elements in some of the Shostakovitch that might [crosstalk 00:47:03]
Valery G: Well Shosatkovich is a great symphonist and every great symphonist owes a lot Beethoven, every, in the history of classical good music, even symphonies which are far away way from motives of Beethoven symphonies, melodies or rhythmic organizations, still they all will because as a genre is a, as a way of thinking, the philosophy of composing every, every single symphonist which can be considered seriously owes a lot of Beethoven.
John S: I have another just kind of logistical question. You're a Russian conductor with a German orchestra, what language do you speak to the musicians?
Valery G: Well, we speak, Italian because espressivo or Dolce or many, many, many, hundreds, to be honest, hundreds musicians come to a comfortable feeling that this is the quickest way. I would use also some hundred German words because while you can say the rehearsal figure blah blah blah or you can say [foreign 00:48:17] which means strong also annoying. And so that can be easy. And I work with orchestra at least six, seven years nonstop. Even when my great predecessor Lauren Mazur was with us, I took over his concerts here in a Carnegie hall that was maybe five, six years ago, six maybe years ago, five or six years ago. And that was already a certain level of friendship and cooperation established. So I came to rescue but also as a feeling of a friendship and also with Lauren himself.
Valery G: Mastero Lauren was a great colleague for me, great colleague and we met numerous times. And I believe conductor should not continue with August if he feels that there is like a wall of non understanding between them and this, I never allow myself to continue. If at all this can happen, this will be not needed at all for both conductor and orchestra musicians. But in this case we cover huge repertoire. Certainly German, Austria, certainly Russian, but also French, very, very solid French repertoire and occasionally we'd play music of other composers. I think it is natural that we look for a repertoire which will be new for the orchestra. Some of Russian repertoire was already and will be new. But some of German repertoire, I never conducted all nine symphonies of [foreign 00:50:04] as one project. I conducted maybe six of them at all, six out of nine, but now all nine and we also filmed it Metso TVN, it was also recorded live. Real life because we couldn't even do after the concerts, there are no patch because it's in a cathedral.
Valery G: They just close the [inaudible 00:50:25] they just close. But it was a great, great project and this a cycle of [foreign 00:50:33] symphonies brought us a lot closer to each other because in search of sonority, in search of the right atmosphere and spirit, the symphonies, is you have to go away from just play [inaudible 00:50:49], play piano. That's not enough at all. So some of them much mystic in this cycle and it is also very, let's put it so, it's a territory of a sacred music, sacred music. So you cannot really, demonstrate some brave gestures and get away with this. It is something else has to be established.
John S: Well that's that communication, that collegiality and collaboration. I think we heard all of that inaction tonight here at Carnegie hall.
Jeff S: We certainly did. And you have some colleagues of your own standing by led by the artistic and executive director of Carnegie hall, Clive Gillinson is here to pull you away. So Maestro Gergiev, we will thank you very much for your time on our microphone and thank you so much for thrilling [crosstalk 00:51:37]
Valery G: ... New York where I spent so many happy, I would even say years, but certainly hundreds of performances. All of them are very dear, my memory of this day is a fantastic part of my musical life. But we plan a little bit more so we will how it goes.
Jeff S: We will see you again. I'm very sure.
John S: Quite sure.
Valery G: Thanks very much.
Jeff S: Thank you so much.
John S: Valery Gergiev joining us backstage here at Carnegie hall. Carnegie hall live is supported in part by the national endowment for the arts on the web @arts.gov, additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gilman foundation and public funds from the New York city department of cultural affairs in partnership with the New York city council.
Jeff S: And we express gratitude to all the people who helped with this concert. A group of people led by Clive Gillinson and the staff of Carnegie hall along with WQXR's recording crew, including George Wellington, Norco Ocobbin, Rick Quan and Edward Haber. Our social media manager is Gretta Rainbow and Sapir Rosenblatt is our stage manager. WQXR's production team includes Christine Herskovitz, Matt Abramovitz and Eileen Delahanty. I'm Jeff Spurgeon.
John S: And I'm John Schaffer. Thank you for listening. Carnegie hall live is a production of WQXR in New York.