The St. Petersburg Philharmonic, under the direction of veteran conductor Yuri Temirkanov, returns to the Mondavi Center at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, with a program that will feature two major works by Russian composers: Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony.
The music of their homeland is, of course, this Russian orchestra’s specialty. The last time they visited the Mondavi Center (in 2012), their concert began with a thrilling performance of the Rimsky-Korsakov “Russian Easter” Overture, which stands in memory as one of the most stirring performance of an orchestral work in Jackson Hall in recent years.
This time around, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic is traveling with young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang. Still in her 20s, Frang won Germany’s Echo Klassik Award last year for her album (on EMI) featuring the violin concertos of Carl Nielsen and Pyotr Tchaikovsky; her other albums include a recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and sonatas by several composers. Frang made her debut with the Vienna Philharmonic under conductor Bernard Haitink at the Lucerne Music Festival in 2012. Her calendar this year includes dates with the Scottish National Orchestra (performing Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto), and a tour with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (performing Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto), as well as the Oslo Philharmonic (Béla Bartók’s First Violin Concerto). She made her debut at age 10 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
The St. Petersburg Philharmonic, formed in 1882 during the reign of Emperor Alexander III, is considered the oldest Russian orchestra. During the Soviet era, the orchestra premiered seven symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich. Yuri Temirkanov has been the orchestra’s conductor since 1988, this season marks his 25th year in the post. Temirkanov has also been active as a conductor internationally — while continuing to serve with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, he also led the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London from 1992 to 1998 , and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in this country from 2000 through 2006. Temirkanov continues to hold the title of conductor laureate with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
Tuesday’s concert at the Mondavi Center will begin with a popular curtain-raiser: Rossini’s lively Overture to “The Barber of Seville,” from the composer’s 1816 opera.
Next comes the concerto. Prokofiev wrote his Second Violin Concerto in 1935 as he was traveling between Paris, the Soviet Union and Madrid — where it was premiered — listen for the castanets that found their way into Prokofiev’s score. In the final movement, the composer has a bit of fun with the lively gypsy-style violin music that had fascinated Johannes Brahms and other late 19th century composers.
Last comes the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2. The piece was composed in 1906-07 while the composer was living in Dresden, and focusing on writing music, rather than conducting or playing the piano. Rachmaninoff approached the project with some caution — the premiere of his First Symphony in 1897 had been a disaster, leaving Rachmaninoff feeling so blue that he eventually sought treatment from a hypnotist to help restore his confidence. Fortunately, the Second Symphony was well received, and the piece was soon performed by other prominent orchestras in Europe and the United States — but in those early years, some conductors felt the piece was “too long” and chose to cut the nearly hour-long piece down to 45 minutes or so. In recent years, the Second Symphony is usually played in full.
Tickets start at $50 for general and $25 for UC Davis students, visit www.mondaviarts.org or call 530-754-2787.