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Monthly Archives: February 2012
It is a great honor to make my debut with the Houston Symphony this season, especially as we will celebrate together “Incantations” by Einojuhani Rautavaara, one of more than a dozen works for solo percussion and orchestra written for me in recent years. This piece has a special place in my repertoire, and is best described perhaps as the truly great “romantic concerto” for the solo percussionist. I approached this composer with the following in mind, that the end result would be a work of great drama, mystery and power, such was my experience hearing previous works of his. Also, I was thinking that the piece would most likely trace the structure of the familiar romantic concerto; employ bold sweeping themes, recapitulation of material at key moments, a haunting and beautiful slow movement perhaps, a cadenza…and indeed it proved to be so, and how! What excited me immediately about this was that as a percussionist, I had never had a chance to partake in this kind of musical structure in the pieces I play, as they are often housed in more abstract architecture. So – finally, a “classic” for my repertoire.
One of the things that so thrilled and moved me about getting this concerto off the ground was the initial trip to Helsinki to meet the great man at his apartment. Rather frail due to a very difficult health condition, I was warmly greeted at the front door, and shook the hand that in turn shook that of Jean Sibelius. No sooner had I crossed the threshold however, than Mr. Rautavaara proceeded to seat himself at the grand piano in the lounge area and launch into the searing opening theme from his latest work – a concerto for me! And this meeting was scheduled as a “meet-and-greet”! I was humbled down to my shoes.
Following this, we corresponded often, tweaking notes and percussion instrumentation, and I worked hard for about three weeks myself in the summer of 2009 to compose the cadenza, a task that I both relished and enjoyed.
Performing this work at the Houston Symphony, I am joined by the wonderful Finnish Maestro John Storgards, with whom I performed and recorded the work in Helsinki. He and Einojuhani Rautavaara are both part of the extraordinary culture for classical music that exists in Finland, and it is a thrill to share that with the audience in Houston.
For more information or to purchase tickets to this weekend’s concert, Beethoven’s Fifth, please click here.
There is always something special about bringing the music of my own country abroad. It is wonderful to meet musicians and music lovers who are sincerely interested in the traditions of distant countries. For me, the United States is indeed an extraordinary case. There is nothing really foreign to America, because all nations and cultures have settled there, and now, to an extent, feel right at home.
Dvořák and Janáček were very close, and yet musically very different. Dvořák was relatively well-balanced, with an inclination towards spirituality and conservative religiosity. A good musical example is his Te Deum, which we will perform, and also his Stabat Mater or Requiem. Janáček, on the other hand, had a revolutionary,“anti-eccliastical“ love of people and life, that you can hear in works like his Glagolitic Mass or Sinfonietta. Music as particular as Janáček’s can even sound unfamiliar to quite a number of cultivated Czechs! I am very well aware of its complexity and sauciness – his music is immensely original.
Even though it is not Czech music, Borodin also makes sense in my program, for both musical and personal reasons. First (although I don’t travel there regularly), my family is one-quarter Russian. Second, Borodin (like Janáček and Dvořák) adored Slavic culture as a whole, and especially the history and traditions of Russia.
In keeping with that theme, Janáček‘s Taras Bulba is definitely a tribute to Russian culture, and yet, Ukrainians would strongly protest hearing this. Gogol’s novel Taras Bulba belongs to them, they would proudly say. And they would be right. It is not the nationalistic aspect of this rhapsody that fascinates me. It is the drama and the transfiguration at the very end. Taras is really a hot piece – one cannot resist and can get very easily burned. It is one of the most intense symphony pieces I know. It takes time to get it under one’s skin, since Janáček’s musical idiom is like nothing else, but persistence is rewarded in the end. Since my childhood, I have simply adored this music.
I cannot wait to start working on this program. It is a most exciting journey bringing these beloved pieces to curious audiences such as you.
See you soon in the flames and sparks of Slavic music!
For more information or to purchase tickets to this weekend’s performance, Dvorak & Polovtsian Dances, please click here.