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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tchaikovsky's Last Symphonies Kick Off Season

RNOIn addition to Tchaikovsky, other composers such as Mozart and Skryabin will be represented during the weeklong festival.

Moscow’s 2009-2010 classical music season gets under way Monday with the first in a weeklong marathon of concerts at the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theater, which bears the title “The Large Festival of the Russian National Orchestra.”

On the podium throughout will be the RNO’s founder and artistic director, Mikhail Pletnyov.

Established in 1990 as Russia’s first privately financed orchestra since before the Revolution, the RNO has long been regarded as Moscow’s and perhaps the entire country’s finest orchestral ensemble. On the highly publicized list of the world’s 20 best orchestras that appeared last year in the British magazine Gramophone, it was one of only three Russian orchestras to be included, placing 15th, perhaps unjustly a notch below the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, but nonetheless a notch above the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

On Monday’s opening festival program are Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s last two symphonies, Symphony No. 5 and the “Pathetique” Symphony No. 6.

Most likely, they will receive finely honed performances, as both works have been in the orchestra’s repertoire since its earliest days.

Indeed, Pletnyov led the “Pathetique” in the very first of the orchestra’s many recordings. Released in 1991, it was described then by one eminent British critic as “an awe-inspiring experience.” Another Gramophone list, released in 2005, included it among the 100 greatest classical recordings of all time.

On the festival’s schedule for Tuesday is a concert performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” Pletnyov has enjoyed considerable success with opera in recent years, leading concert performances of a brilliant version of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” earlier this year and the premiere of a new staging at the Bolshoi two years ago of Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades.”

For the major roles in “The Magic Flute,” the RNO has assembled an outstanding group of soloists from Germany and Britain, including German soprano Simone Kermes, whose appearances in Moscow of late have turned her into something of a cult figure among local opera fans. Given the quality of the cast and Pletnyov’s proven mastery of Mozart’s music, the festival’s “Magic Flute” could well come to count as one of the most memorable operatic events of the new season.

Still more of Mozart is to be heard at Wednesday’s concert. The centerpiece of the program is the composer’s seven-movement, 50-minute "Gran Partita," a work of glorious melody scored for 12 wind instruments and a double bass. Also scheduled are Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp and two 20th-century works by Russian composers, the Concerto for French Horn and Orchestra by Reinhold Gliere and the mystical Symphony No. 2, subtitled “The Poem of Ecstasy,” by Alexander Skryabin, a composer for whom Pletnyov has long shown a special affinity.

Music by Tchaikovsky reappears Thursday with the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1, an all-too-frequently played work that might seem a rather uninspired choice for festival purposes. But the choice could prove to be thoroughly justified in view of the RNO’s acquisition as soloist of the exceptionally talented British-Australian pianist Stephen Hough. Also on the program is Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

Friday’s concert is due to bring a rare performance of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s complete incidental music to the play “Peer Gynt” by his fellow countryman Henrik Ibsen. Interspersed with music will be excerpts from the play, in Russian translation, delivered by veteran star of the Russian stage and screen, Vasily Lanovoi.

Mozart’s music makes a final appearance on Saturday’s program, when a 15-year-old wunderkind from the United States, Conrad Tao, plays the solo part in the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 20. The program also includes dance, with a choreographic setting by one-time Bolshoi star dancer Vladimir Vasilyev of “The Ancestor Suite” by California-based businessman and composer Gordon Getty, a son of the late oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Getty has been an important patron of the RNO since its very beginnings and, from time to time, the orchestra has paid homage to his generosity by performing one of his compositions.

Pletnyov has long had a special affection for Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. According to a pianist friend of mine who, as a student, roomed not far from Pletnyov in the Moscow Conservatory’s dormitory, he was repeatedly heard in those days playing piano arrangements of music from “The Nutcracker.”

To conclude Saturday’s concert, Pletnyov turns to another Tchaikovsky ballet, “Swan Lake,” leading the RNO in his own choice of excerpts from its score.

Sunday’s festival finale includes music by seven composers, among them, of particular interest, Nikolai Golovanov, who is principally remembered not as a composer but as one of the Soviet era’s most brilliant conductors, and Britain’s Malcolm Arnold, whose music has rarely if ever been heard by Russian audiences.

For a full program of "The Large Festival of the Russian National Orchestra" see Rno.ru. Tickets to festival concerts can be purchased at the box office of the Bolshoi Theater, located at 1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad. Metro Teatralnaya. Tel. 250-7317.