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Russian orchestra, Russian music at Mondavi

By
March 21, 2011 |

Yuri TemirkanovW

Details

What: The St. Peterburg Philharmonic, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov and featuring cello soloist Alisa Weilerstein

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Tickets: $45-$89 general and $22.50-$44.50 students, http://www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787

The Mondavi Center will feature a Russian orchestra with a distinguished history performing Russian music on Saturday, as the St. Petersburg Philharmonic comes to town.

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic traces its history back to 1882. Among the artists who’ve been associated with the orchestra are the composer Tchaikovsky (who conducted his Sixth Symphony with the group shortly before his death in 1893), and pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Sergei Prokofiev (performing his own concertos), among many others.

During much of the Soviet era, the orchestra was known as the Leningrad Philharmonic.

Since 1988, the orchestra has been led by conductor Yuri Temirkanov, who is guiding the orchestra on its current 15-city American tour. Born in 1938, Temirkanov made his youthful debut with the orchestra in 1967. As his career advanced, Temirkanov served from 1978 to 1988 as the conductor of what was then known as the Kirov Opera and Ballet (now known as the Mariinsky Theatre), another of the great cultural institutions of St. Peterburg (Leningrad).

Over the years, Temirkanov has conducted just about all of the major European and American orchestras. Now in his 70s, he is once again touring with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

On the program will be the “Russian Easter Overture,” written in 1888 by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, another great figure in the musical life of St. Petersburg, who conducted the St. Petersburg Philharmonic on occasion. Also on the program is the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich, dating from 1959. Shostakovich spent much of his life in Leningrad, and the Leningrad Philharmonic premiered his First Symphony in 1926.

The soloist for the Shostakovich concerto will be Alisa Weilerstein, an American who grew up in a musical family. Her father was the first violinist with the Cleveland Quartet (now disbanded) for 20 years; her mother is a pianist.

When Weilerstein was 4 years old, and suffering from the chicken pox, her grandmother presented her with a cello made out of a Rice Krispies cereal box, with an old toothbrush for an endpin. The instrument apparently captivated her imagination, and she soon started lessons on a real cello.

In addition to pursuing a career in music, Weilerstein went on to earn a degree in Russian history at Columbia University, and she has been associated with Russian orchestras for several years. She appeared at the Mondavi Center in 2006 with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, performing Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” — which is also the piece that she played in her 1995 professional premiere, at age 13, with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Weilerstein has been described by New York magazine as “arguably Yo-Yo Ma’s heiress apparent.” Not that Ma, who is 55, is planning on retiring anytime soon; in fact, he will be appearing at the Mondavi Center on April 8 with the Silk Road Ensemble, giving local audiences the opportunity to hear and compare Weilerstein and Ma within a few weeks of each other.

Weilerstein took a major stride in her career last April, when she made her Berlin Philharmonic debut under conductor Daniel Barenboim, performing the Elgar Cello Concerto, and earning glowing reviews. Now approaching her 30th birthday, just this month she signed an exclusive recording contract with the Decca label, and her first album will feature the Elgar concerto, as well as contemporary American composer Elliott Carter’s Cello Concerto, with Barenboim conducting the Berlin Staastkapelle.

Rounding out the orchestra’s program on Saturday will be the Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms — the composer’s final symphony, dating from 1885.

—Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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