Valery Gergiev looks like the most exhausted man on earth; someone perpetually operating on two hours’ sleep. True or not, his conducting schedule implies as much. He seems to be everywhere all the time, and he’s seemed like that for years. It’s an evangelical fervor, the pace of someone with far too much to say and far too little time to say it.
At present, in addition to his constant international guest appearances, he’s currently principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic and the World Orchestra of Peace, artistic director of the Stars of the White Nights Festival and the Moscow Easter Festival, and chair of the Organizational Committee of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Behold in wonder. If you’ve been trying to clean out your garage for a few years, you have no more excuses.
Germane to Orange County audiences, he is also the long-standing general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, the orchestra of which (now celebrating its 235th year!) he brings to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Saturday, October 20. The week before, he’ll be conducting in Paris, Munich, and Moscow. Presumably, he eats.
The Costa Mesa appearance, courtesy of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, is the first stop of the orchestra’s 2018 U.S. tour. On the program, Debussy’s luxurious gamelan-inspired “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” and two works by Stravinsky: from his neoclassic period, the Violin Concerto and one of his early masterworks, “The Firebird.”
For the concerto, the orchestra will be joined by Hungarian violinist Kristóf Baráti. In 2010, Baráti won the Sixth International Paganini Competition, and in 2014 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize, Hungary’s highest cultural honor. In that honor, he joined the company of fellow Hungarian artists András Schiff and György Ligeti. He performs regularly with the world’s blue chip orchestras and has an extensive discography. In short, Baráti has established for himself a reputation as a leading cultural figure and is a violinist in worldwide demand.
Baráti and Gergiev are frequent collaborators, and have joined forces for this work previously; expect a lived-in performance. Baráti serves as one of the work’s great champions, and he enthusiastically embraces its thorny nature as well as its comparative obscurity.
“In the grand scheme of violin concerti, the Stravinsky is relatively unknown, and not the most popular of Stravinsky pieces, which is a challenge in itself!,” he says.
One of the work’s signatures is a stunning three-note chord that opens each individual movement. It serves, in the composer’s words, as a “passport” to the work.
“The language of Stravinsky has a very strong retrospective aspect and is often linked to Classical and Baroque ideas and the latter can certainly be heard in this violin concerto,” says Baráti. “It is a four movement piece and each movement is led by a particular chord. The listener can hear this and is somewhat the motto of the piece.
“Each movement has a very different character. The first movement is somewhat grotesque, but humorous. The second is like chamber music, the third is more singing of all movements, and the fourth has a finale feeling, with a virtuosic, energetic coda. It’s very rhythmical.”
With all those stylistic demands, then, what is the greatest challenge in performance?
“In general the biggest challenge is to fit together the rhythmical aspects with orchestra and conductor,” he says. “I don’t view this as a solo violin plus orchestra piece, but a huge chamber piece. Combining the ideas that I have, with those of the orchestral players, and conductor, is challenging and matching the flow of tempi. Not easy to play by itself, technically not easy.”
Despite having worked with Gergiev on this piece before, and having played it on numerous occasions in other contexts, Baráti must still put in an enormous amount of preparation before taking the work on stage.
“In general, I try to understand as much as possible the contents of the piece,” he says. “Not only how I am able to play it, but what should I be communicating to the listener and how to make it understandable for everybody, not just myself and other musicians. I study the piece with complete score, not just the violin part, to understand the different choices of the conductor, why he chose various instruments and not something else, what is the implication of the choices. When it comes to the first rehearsal, I try to put the ‘bigger picture’ into the music with the ideas that I have discovered in my preparation.”
That bigger picture will develop on October 20, with a pre-concert lecture by Brian Lauritzen at 7 p.m.
Peter Lefevre us a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He may be reached at [email protected].