Over the 2015-16 season, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony will be presenting Schumann’s four completed symphonies, in a series of performances which will each include works by one of four composers – Brahms, Richard Strauss, Sibelius and Copeland. This Schumann symphonic cycle will be recorded, and released on the Symphony’s in-house label, SFS Media, at the end of the season.
The first of these performances takes place this week, and features Schumann’s Symphony No 3, known as the Rhenish, and two works by Sibelius – his Violin Concerto and his tone poem The Swan of Tuonela – marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The guest artist in the Violin Concerto is Leonidas Kavakos.
Born into a musical family in Athens, Leonidas Kavakos had won three major competitions by the time he was 21 – the Sibelius Competition in 1985, and the Paganini and Naumburg competitions in 1988. He made history with the first ever recording of the original 1903/4 version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, for which he won the Gramophone Concerto of the Year Award in 1991, and received the 2013 ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of the Year award for his recording of the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Enrico Pace. Following recordings of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra in 2013, and Brahms’ Violin Sonatas with Yuja Wang last year (“two of the starriest names in the business …. alike only in their impeccable, steely-fingered technique” said The Telegraph”), he was named Gramophone’s Artist of the Year for 2014.
As a conductor, Leonidas Kavakos has appeared with the London and Boston symphony orchestras, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Wiener Symphoniker (VSO), and Budapest Festival orchestras, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. This season he debuts with the Bamberger Symphoniker, Danish National Symphony, Netherlands Radio Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic orchestras, and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Committed to passing on his wealth of musical knowledge and traditions to future generations of musicians, he curates an annual violin and chamber music masterclass in Athens which attracts violinists and ensembles from all over the world.
Talking about the Schumann symphonic cycle, Michael Tilson Thomas says: “Robert Schumann’s music has captivated me since I became a musician. His symphonic music requires great imagination, attention, and sensitivity on the part of the orchestra and conductor alike. This project comes at an outstanding moment in the Orchestra’s history and in our relationship. I’m looking forward to sharing our fresh perspective on this songful music with our audiences.”
Schumann composed his Rhenish symphony between November 2 and December 9, in 1850, the year in which he was appointed Municipal Music Director of the city of Düsseldorf, on the River Rhine. According to Michael Steinberg (see citation below), the symphony “reflects his optimism in the face of new challenges and a fresh start among a people more outgoing than any he had known and whose ebullience delighted him”. Sadly, this happy situation didn’t last more than a couple of years, but nevertheless served to provide him with the inspiration for his Third Symphony, the final movement of which represented his tribute to the glorious cathedral in Cologne – considered one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture in Europe – and which filled Schumann with awe.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest soloist Leonidas Kavakos, in a program of music by Sibelius and Schumann, at UC Davis on November 12, and at Davies Symphony Hall from November 13 to 15. For further information, and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Steinberg, San Francisco Symphony program annotator