24th April 2018
Anyone listening to the Munich Philharmonic’s programme under Semyon Bychkov would have been surprised. Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from his jazzy, internationally successful musical, West Side Story, in an arrangement for two pianos and percussion was followed in the second half by Rachmaninov’s similarly named work composed only 16 years earlier reviving memories of his Russian homeland with heart-rendering melodies. The centre of the programme was Luciano Berio’s experimental post-modern symphony. Less than 30 years separate the two world premieres, yet the compositions are worlds apart. Bychkov however managed the balancing act, and presented a programme that was both exciting and unusual…
In Sinfonia, Luciano Berio created an experimental, new sound world combining words and music with electronic elements. The London Voices interpreted the dense network of dissonant sounds, fragments of words and ironic comments. Bychkov, who placed the London ensemble right in front of him, balanced orchestra and singers. The second movement contained a lamentation for the murdered civil rights activist Martin Luther King, while the third movement featured a musical collage based on the Scherzo from Mahler’s Second Symphony with references to Strauss and Ravel as well as quotes from Beckett’s The Unnamable. While in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony the brass sets in with jubilant fanfares, Berio instead overlays the sound with screeching clusters, which Bychkov relished, allowing them to burst over the audience. In the last phrase, which Berio added later, the piece finally disintegrated, picking up phrases from earlier in the work and connecting them.
The Munich Philharmonic ended the evening with Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, proving its versatility spectacularly. Bychkov had rehearsed the Orchestra meticulously, paying attention to every tonal detail. At the same time, the combination of sentimental melancholy and rhythmic expression seemed as lively and natural as only a few orchestras can manage. The saxophone solo soared over the orchestra and seemed even more poignant than usual. Bychkov kept the waltzes of the second movement pleasantly understated and discreet, as he spurred the Philharmonic to the rich sounds of the finale. He interpreted the nostalgic dances without sentimentality, and with a fine sense of the appropriate mood.
18th April 2018
Magic of opposites
Semyon Bychkov swirled powerfully on his return to the rostrum of the Dresden Staatskapelle and the audience rejoiced.
I’ll listen to that again on the radio, a visitor said at Monday’s interval at the Semperoper. Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia, part of the Dresden Staatskapelle concert recorded by MDR Kultur, had surprised him. The work completed in 1969 is considered one of the great Italian’s best-known works. But what does “known” mean in terms of contemporary music? This stormy “Sinfonia” is rarely programmed, especially with traditional orchestras such as the Staatskapelle. And it would not have been heard in Dresden were it not for the change of conductor that had become necessary. Semyon Bychkov conducted the new programme. The prominent stand-in for the indisposed Myung-Whun Chung, is from a not particularly illustrious chapter in the history of the Semperoper. Bychkov had left the House in 2003 and stayed away. In the meantime the grass has grown. The international conductor was happy to return, which happened earlier than planned. The Staatskapelle played along.
Monday evening’s concert was full of dedication, emphasis and exchange. For Semyon Bychkov, Luciano Berio (1925-2003) is not just any composer “whom one ought to play”, but through friendship became an existential experience. Although he felt excluded initially, “something began to change in me” after he heard a concert conducted by Berio. One could feel the friendship between composer and conductor in the Sinfonia, whose eight voices were vividly spoken, whispered and sung by the London Voices. Bychkov let light into this impulsive driven, unwieldly yet beautiful music, which overflows with quotations from Mahler to Beckett. Despite this, it should not be forgotten that Bychkov is in good company of those conductors who prefer the classical-romantic repertoire. The “Russian soul” is one explanation, but there seems to be something of an advantage in a common origin. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony rose naturally, without melancholy ever setting in. Thematic developments worked conclusively, increasingly hitting the mark, while lyrical passages such as the horn solo in the slow movement touched a hall that stayed deathly quiet. At the end of the evening, there were cheers. Conclusion: stirred-up by Bychkov, the Staatskapelle made intoxicating music, even when they were lured far away from their core repertoire.
31st March 2018
In 2017, Semyon Bychkov took Wagner’s tempi for Parsifal at a broad and solemn pace. However, at Thursday’s opening at the Wiener Staatsoper, Bychkov’s direction was briskly dramatic, full of life and flexibility. Igniting Wagner’s magnificent sonic arcs with concentrated power, he drew out the already startling detail. The Orchestra of the Staatsoper followed him perfectly, impulsive in the dramatic clusters and the treacherous rumblings of Klingsor’s Act, with a feeling both for its luminosity and for its shadows. It gave the impression of being drug-induced, just as Wagner dreamt it.
31st March 2018
What can one say about Semyon Bychkov’s interpretation: as with the première, he gives the orchestral prhases the impression of being seemingly endless interwoven arcs, making the whole work seem as one, while at the same time illustrating each subtle sonic detail of the action and the text: the sensual flowing vocals of the new Kundry, Anja Kampe, embed themselves on itself on a cushion of strings, entwined by seductive woodwind lines…