'It’s important to go back to our origins, because if we experience how art relates to traditional cultures, and how we belong to those traditions, we can be open to other cultures,' says Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda.
The problems we face today – with globalisation on one side and the sobering power of individual states on the other – are partly due to a lack of knowledge about our origins. As artists, we can bring people together to show how many influences our roots have on music. If we share this information with the widest possible audience, we can help.
You can hear the original sources of the composers’ inspirations in many of this season’s works. Kodály’s spectacular Dances of Galánta are based on old Hungarian dances, with a flavour of the Danube and ‘Mitteleuropa’.
Everything Shostakovich composed is 100 per cent Russian – he dug inside the soul of Russian society and people. Even if he tried to accomplish the dictates of the Soviet Union in order to survive, in composing his music he was also a critical element of that environment. We continue our project of recording his symphonic cycle for LSO Live with Symphonies Nos 1 and 4.
Symphony No 1 is the piece with which the composer graduated from the then Petrograd Conservatory. It’s not a large-scale work, lasting a little over half an hour, but it is a mature attempt to write an important symphony. There are, as with any youngster, a lot of ideas and enthusiasm – maybe even too many ideas. When one is young one wants to show off one’s imagination.
No 4 is a problematic work because Shostakovich composed it immediately after the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which had led to him being denounced for writing advanced modern music, and the symphony was rejected. It’s important to see how Shostakovich received the symphony from the hands of Mahler and developed it in his own personal way. From Symphony No 4 onwards, his symphonies become Mahlerian in spirit, not only in following Mahler’s poetry, but also in terms of what a symphony is supposed to do – how it depicts society. In any Mahler symphony you can recognise the sounds he experienced as a child in Bohemia and it’s the same with Shostakovich. The noble, trivial, vulgar, tender, grotesque elements are all there in all his symphonies.
I like doing the complete symphonic cycle, because we follow Shostakovich on a journey from being a talented, extroverted, enthusiastic composer through to his last symphony, No 15, which is gloomy and introverted – a deep reflection about duty, the role of the artist in society and also death, because he knew he didn’t have much time to live.
Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings is a ghostly work, with quotes from Beethoven’s ‘Apassionata’ Sonata and a fox-trot finale surrounding one of the most beautiful adagios. We will have the fantastic LSO Principal Trumpet Philip Cobb playing the solo, and I’m looking forward to hearing the deep knowledge of music, and especially Russian music, that Daniil Trifonov will bring. His musical integrity is astonishing.
Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3 doesn’t need any explanation – it’s famous for the most virtuosic technical skills required of the soloist. The main test is how to keep the interest alive when you present a familiar piece to the audience, but that’s an exciting challenge.
Balakirev’s Islamay is one of the most difficult pieces for solo piano and the Italian Count Cassela left us a great gift by orchestrating it, managing to honour Balakirev’s devilish imagination. It’s interesting for a non-native to put across a point of view of a country and for us to see how this reflects in the music. It’s another way to break down prejudice and to make contact. Evaluating our differences is an opportunity to develop our knowledge.
We will perform the orchestral premiere of James MacMillan’s All the Hills and Vales Along and his Trombone Concerto. MacMillan was composer-in-residence when I served as Chief Conductor at BBC Philharmonic so I know and love his work. We are living in a moment of great change and while it’s important to go back to our origins, we must also to be ready to move forward. We have to give today’s important composers the possibility to compose and to display their output. Music has not stopped talking to us. We can’t guarantee that in one hundred years time certain music will still be performed, but that is not the point. If we look at music from the time that Mozart composed, today we perform about three percent of that output and the rest is forgotten. History will be the judge of the legacy we pass to the next generation.
Half Six Fix
I’m looking forward to taking part in another Half Six Fix in 2019. I don’t like to be seen as detached just because I’m on a 20cm-high podium. These concerts create excellent contact with the audience and break down the mythological wall. After World War II, myths were needed, but today we need to present quality music in the most approachable way, and not to look detached from the rest of society. Simon Rattle is passionate about this idea and I agree with him. The audience shouldn’t feel passive but an active part, giving us energy to help us perform even better.
Working with the LSO
I love the LSO and when I’m away from them too long I miss them. It’s about their commitment: they want to perform, and they perform not only in concerts, but also in rehearsals. They are efficient, in typical British orchestral style, but they fill this efficiency with soul, with deep heart. They have so much experience, with Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev among others, and each conductor brings their own personality, but the orchestral members are chameleons – they can adjust themselves to play just in the right way. Our communication is very fluid and natural. I don’t dictate anything – I just beg them to produce the sound I have in my head. As a conductor, I am a beggar.
James MacMillan Trombone Concerto
James MacMillan All the Hills and Vales Along
Half Six Fix: Strauss & Shostakovich
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3
Strauss Triple Bill
Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1 for Piano, Trumpet & Strings