What: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis
Tickets: $50-$89 general, $25-$45.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, (530) 754-2787
One of the world’s better-known orchestras — the London-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra — visits the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on Friday, Jan. 27, under the baton of prominent conductor Charles Dutoit, with veteran pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as the soloist.
The program features mainstream 19th century works that share what might be considered a vacation element; all three pieces on the program were written when the respective composer was relaxing away from home. It was common for composers and writers of that era (as well as this one) to leave the hubbub of the city for a quiet countryside retreat to focus on completing an artistic project.
Opening the concert will be an overture by Hector Berlioz — “Le Corsaire” — written while the composer was staying in the French city of Nice on the Mediterranean coast during the summer of 1844. The inspiration stems in part from a book that Berlioz was reading at the time: “The Red Rover,” American writer James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of pirates, adventure and romance. During the composer’s day it was something that readers nowadays might consider a high-class, page-turning “beach book.”
Also on the program is the Symphony No. 5 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky — composed in 1888, largely during Tchaikovsky’s spring and summer stays at a rented home in the quiet country village of Frolovskoe, where the composer enjoyed long walks and planted a flower garden in addition to working on the score. The Tchaikovsky Fifth, with its heroic and sometimes brassy themes, has long been a favorite with the public.
Local audiences also will have the opportunity to complete January’s “Tchaikovsky Doubleheader”; the San Francisco Symphony already performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 at the Mondavi Center on Jan. 5.
Also featured will be the Piano Concerto No. 5 by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, nicknamed the “Egyptian,” because it was written when the composer left the chilly Paris winter behind to enjoy a stay in the warm, sunny land of the pharaohs.
The second movement contains an African-derived melody, and the concerto also contains passages that hint at Spain and even the faraway island of Java. The composer, while generally considered an artistic conservative, loved to travel, and kept his ears alert while on his journeys.
Conductor Dutoit of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is quite a traveler himself. Born in Switzerland, Dutoit served for 25 years as the artistic director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal in Canada, for 10 years as the conductor of the NHK Symphony in Tokyo and for a decade as the leader of the Orchestre National de France.
He is currently the chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with which he has been associated in various capacities for some 30 years, in addition to serving as the principal conductor of the RPO since 2009.
Dutoit also has conducted at many of the world’s major opera houses, including Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Teatro Colón in Argentina.
Pianist Thibaudet earned a Grammy nomination for his recording of the Saint-Saëns “Egyptian” Concerto in 2007 (conducted by Dutoit, leading the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande). Thibaudet has recorded more than 40 albums, including music of French composers like Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
He has also issued a 2010 disc of jazzy George Gershwin compositions (Gershwin and Ravel were linked in several ways), and other albums featuring music by jazz greats Duke Ellington and Bill Evans.
Thibaudet also has recorded music for films, including the score of the 2005 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” He recently told the Los Angeles Times that he takes movie music quite seriously because “so many of the great (20th century) composers wrote for the movies: Shostakovich, Korngold.”
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was organized in 1946 by the flamboyant and independently wealthy conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. He was known for his colorful quotes; he once disparaged the sound of a harpsichord as resembling “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm.”
Incidentally, Beecham and the RPO recorded the Berlioz “Le Corsaire” Overture in 1951.
After Beecham’s death in the 1960s, the RPO leadership passed to other high-profile conductors, several of whom were also celebrities, including Antal Doráti, André Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov and Daniele Gatti.
The orchestra’s Mondavi concert will begin at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27. Tickets are $50-$89 general, $25-$45.50 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.