Sublime Scots, a Dane and another Rach
CAMA’s centennial season continues tonight at the Granada, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, led by new maestro Thomas Søndergård and with noted pianist Olga Kern as soloist on Rachmaninoff.
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with Olga Kern, piano
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Granada Theatre, 1216 State St.
Cost: $39 to $119
By JOSEF WOODARD
CAMA, deep into its centennial season, continues to live up to the title of its ambitious orchestra-presenting program, “The International Series,” in many ways.
Tonight at the Granada Theatre, the spotlight turns back to the British Isles with the arrival of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, on the heels of recent concert appearances by the Russian National Orchestra and the London-based Philharmonic Orchestra
Repertoire-wise, as well, tonight’s fare delves into established Euro-centric territory, with symphonies by the great Finnish composer Sibelius (Symphony No. 7) and 20th century Russian Prokofiev (Symphony No. 5), as opening and closing events.
For a concerto in the middle, the Granada will get another robust dose of Russian post-romantic mainstay Rachmaninoff — the subject of an all-Rachmaninoff menu on the Russian orchestra’s program in February, and presently sharing a 100th birthday year with CAMA.
Tonight’s featured taste of Rach comes in the form of his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” as played by the estimable Russian pianist Olga Kern. Ms. Kern is the first woman to win the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, in 2001, and her local performance history includes recitals at the Lobero and Arlington Theatres over the past decade-and-a-half.
For further internationalist credibility, the Scottish orchestra — founded in 1891 — is being led by a Dane, Thomas Søndergård, currently in his first season at the helm. Mr. Søndergård, a former orchestral percussionist whose resume so far includes guest conducting gigs with the Chicago Symphony, Orchestre National de France, BBC NOW, and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, comes to head up the RSNO after five years as principal guest conductor there.
He has come to know the ensemble — which he likes to refer to as the “instrument” — and places a premium on freshness of collective sound and repertoire.
Although the orchestra’s touring program stopping at the Granada tonight is fairly down-the-middle, he told the British music publication Rhinegold that “everything we hear should take us somewhere different. I find that if an orchestra, the instrument the audience are listening to, don’t play anything other than the standard repertoire, they don’t develop in the way a normal artist would develop. I’m always ready to try something new, because what’s the alternative; always to ride on safe fields?”
In his view, practice makes — or at least properly aims at — perfection.
“That’s the conductor’s job,” he says, “to rehearse. I’ve worked with conductors like Paavo Berglund, who is one of my heroes, who once told me after a rehearsal that his work was done and he wasn’t so keen about the concert. It was clear that when he came on stage, it was not for him — it was for the audience. What really made him live and breathe every day was to work with the musicians, and he did that in rehearsals, which is why he was such a great conductor.”
Mr. Søndergård also believes in the common practice of switching out primary conductors, as a way of giving the orchestral a diverse musical environment over the course of a season. As he said in an interview with the national newspaper, The Scotsman, “Orchestras can get too much of the same face. I remember, as a player, when poor conductors could be too present. You need variation to keep developing. The same faces, the same gestures, might be good for continuity, but not always for creativity.”
RSNO’s Søndergård era is officially underway, and its new head brings along his values of respect for both new and old/standard repertory. Tonight’s musical plate features symphonic items just off to the left of the mainstream docket, from Sibelius and Shostakovich, and a fit warhorse in the Kern-featured Rachmaninoff opus.
As he asserted, “Classical repertoire is important in teaching an ensemble to articulate. It’s like taking them back to learning the alphabet.”