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The Moscow Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 50th anniversary season with a NY concert

January 03, 2006


Program Features Orchestral Arrangements by MCO Founder Rudolf Barshai, and Ms. Podleś Performing the Rossini-Sciarrino Joan of Arc Cantata and the Mussorgsky-Shostakovich Songs and Dances of Death.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 50th anniversary season with a New York concert on Sunday, February 26, at 3:00 p.m. at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, that combines an homage to its founder, Rudolf Barshai, with the only New York appearance of the season of contralto Ewa Podleś, a favorite MCO soloist.  The MCO’s American music director, Constantine Orbelian, has programmed two works that Rudolf Barshai orchestrated for the MCO:  five of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, originally written for piano, and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor, arranged from the String Quartet No. 8.  Ms. Podleś will be featured in the rarely-heard Joan of Arc Cantata by Rossini, a work for voice and piano heard here in a recent orchestration by Salvatore Sciarrino; and Shostakovich’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death – a work that Podleś and Orbelian recorded for the Delos label.  Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, “La Passione,” opens the program.

The collaborations of Ewa Podleś and Constantine Orbelian – whom Opera News called “the singer’s dream collaborator” – have been hailed both onstage and on disc; they have made two recordings together, Russian Arias and Handel Arias.  Of the 2002 Russian Arias disc that featured Songs and Dances of Death, Mussorgsky’s last song cycle consisting of four gripping tales of Death stalking its victims, Opera News wrote, “[Podleś] and Orbelian are obviously comfortable working together, and their comparable talents and outlook raise everyone, including the excellent Philharmonia of Russia, a notch or two.  …  Songs and Dances of Death [is] tailor-made for Podleś’s voluptuous, Slavic sound and the psychological clarity she always brings to a text.  …Podleś can turn on a dime; you can almost hear Death’s jaws snap shut as she finally snatches up the child.”  Podleś calls Songs and Dances of Death “a masterpiece of drama like a play on the stage.”  

This performance marks Podleś’s and Orbelian’s first together of Rossini’s Joan of Arc Cantata, a reflection by the martyr on the eve of battle; they will perform it using a 1989 orchestration by Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino that was premiered by Teresa Berganza. The San Francisco Chronicle has described the work as “something of a signature piece for Podleś,” and the San Diego Union-Tribune said in 2003, “Her Joan of Arc could have conquered enemies with her voice, which soared, swooped and made difficult ornamental flourishes do exactly what she wanted.”   .
The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, called “the greatest chamber orchestra in the world” by Dmitri Shostakovich, was founded in 1956 by Rudolf Barshai, a violinist and violist who founded the Philharmonic and Tchaikovsky string quartets before forming the MCO, which quickly became known for the suppleness and clarity of its sound and the transcriptions for chamber orchestra that Barshai himself arranged, two of which will be performed on this program.  In 1991, the American pianist Constantine Orbelian was invited to become the MCO’s music director in 1991, thus becoming the first American to hold that post with a Russian ensemble.

Since 1991, Orbelian has toured internationally with the MCO, and created a series of recordings on the Delos label that currently numbers nearly 30.  Allan Kozinn wrote in The New York Times in 2001, “In recordings conducted by Rudolf Barshai … the [Moscow Chamber Orchestra] had a rich, focused sound with a particularly Russian edge that made it ideal for Shostakovich and appealingly exotic in the Germanic classics.  Since 1991 the orchestra has been led by an American, Constantine Orbelian, and has produced an expansive series of recordings for the Delos label; on disc its sound is as warm and textured as ever.”  For his remarkable achievements with the orchestra, Orbelian was awarded the title "Honored Artist of Russia" by President Putin in 2004, and under Orbelian's leadership the Orchestra was accorded the honor of "Academic" in its official Russian title (The State Academic Chamber Orchestra of Russia).  Orbelian is a central figure in Russia’s musical life; in September 2004, it was he who conducted legendary pianist Van Cliburn and the Moscow Philharmonic in a special memorial concert at Moscow’s Great Hall dedicated to the children of Beslan, and his frequent collaborations with Russian star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky included a spectacular May 2005 concert in Moscow’s Kremlin Palace commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, with 53 heads of state in attendance.

2006 Concerts – Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Renée Fleming, and Ewa Podleś
Constantine Orbelian begins 2006 with collaborations with three of the most stellar singers performing today.  His ten-concert U.S. tour with the Philharmonia of Russia in January includes five concerts with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky – Jan. 15 at the Los Angeles Opera House; Jan. 18 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; Jan. 22 at Davies Hall in San Francisco;  Jan. 25 at Lincoln Center; and Jan. 31 in Miami.  He then returns to Russia for two concerts featuring both Hvorostovsky and soprano Renée Fleming – Feb. 6 in Moscow, Fleming’s Moscow debut; and Feb. 9 in St. Petersburg.  On February 15 and 17, he leads the MCO in two concerts in England; the latter at London’s Barbican Centre with Hvorostovsky and the Yale Alumni Chorus, and they then return to the U.S. for an 11-concert tour leading off with two dates with Ms. Podleś – Feb. 22 at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall and Feb. 26 at Lincoln Center.

Ewa Podleś
With her distinctive, dramatic voice of staggering range, agility and amplitude, Ewa Podles is widely regarded as the world's foremost contralto. Her engagements include returns to the Seattle Opera (Handel's Giulio Cesare and Wagner's Ring cycle); San Diego Opera (Giulio Cesare), Canadian Opera Company (title role of Rossini's Tancredi, Klytamnestra in Strauss' Elektra); two roles at the Houston Grand Opera: Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera and the Marquise in Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment; Isabella in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri at Puerto Rico's Teatro de la Opera, Bertarido in Handel's Rodelinda at the Dallas Opera and Gluck's Orphée at Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of New York. Verdi has figured prominently of late, including rapturously received performances of Il Trovatore (Azucena) at Milwaukee's Florentine Opera, Un ballo in maschera (Ulrica) at Michigan Opera Theatre and with the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall, and especially as Eboli in the Opera Company of Philadelphia's Don Carlo. Her 2005-2006 season also includes recitals at Boston's Jordan Hall, Vancouver's Chan Centre and on the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society series, as well as concerts with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and Tancredi in concert under the auspices of the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mme. Podles has also sung a Rossini concert, Giulio Cesare, and Jocasta in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex with the Canadian Opera Company; Adalgisa in the Seattle Opera's Norma; and Erda in the Dallas Opera's Siegfried. She appeared with the San Francisco Symphony (Verdi Requiem and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky), Detroit Symphony (Mahler's Second Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde), Philadelphia Orchestra (Das Lied von der Erde), Orchestre National de France and Seattle Symphony (both in Mahler's Third Symphony), Montreal Symphony (Mahler's Kindertotenlieder); Moscow Chamber Orchestra (Baroque and Rossini arias at Carnegie Hall); and been guest soloist with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and National Arts Centre Orchestras; National Orchestra of Spain; Pittsburgh, American, Toronto, NHK Tokyo, and New World Symphonies; Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; and Hong Kong and Dresden Philharmonics; under such conductors as David Atherton, Leon Botstein, Myung-Whun Chung, Neeme Järvi, Armin Jordan, Lorin Maazel, Nicholas McGegan, Constantine Orbelian, Libor Pešek, Donald Runnicles, Gerard Schwarz, Alberto Zedda, and Pinchas Zukerman. A particularly acclaimed recitalist, she has been on the major art-song series of Cleveland, Atlanta, St. Paul, Chicago, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Toronto, Moscow, Warsaw, Montreal, San Juan, Québec, and New York (Alice Tully Hall and the 92nd Street Y). She has sung principal roles at the Metropolitan and Vancouver Operas; Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin and Deutsche Oper Berlin; Frankfurt Alte Oper; Gran Teatre del Liceu; Teatro Bellini; La Scala; La Fenice; Teatro San Carlo; Warsaw's National Theatre; Théâtre Châtelet, and Opéra Bastille. Festival invitations include New York's Bard Festival, Aix-en-Provence, Flanders, Montpellier, and Lanaudière. Her many collaborations with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre includes two Deutsche Grammophon recordings: Handel's Ariodante and Gluck's Armide. Other recent issues include two acclaimed Delos recordings: Handel Arias and Russian Arias, both with Constantine Orbelian, and on Arabesque a CD of Chopin songs with pianist Garrick Ohlsson, with whom she often appears in recital.

Constantine Orbelian
“Constantine Orbelian stands astride two great societies, and finds and promotes synergistic harmony from the best of each.” (Fanfare)  The brilliant American pianist /conductor is a central figure in Russia’s musical life. As Music Director of the celebrated Moscow Chamber Orchestra and Permanent Guest Conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Orbelian has a unique leadership position with two of Russia’s most illustrious orchestras. His appointment in 1991 as Music Director of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra was a breakthrough event: he is the first American ever to become music director of an ensemble in Russia. This “American in Moscow” is also well known as a tireless champion of Russian-American cultural exchange and international ambassadorship through his worldwide tours with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. In January, 2004, President Putin awarded Orbelian the coveted title “Honored Artist of Russia,” a title never before bestowed on a non-Russian citizen.

“Orbelian has star quality, and his orchestra plays with passion and precision,” The Audio Critic wrote of Maestro Orbelian’s acclaimed series of recordings on Delos. Orbelian’s ambitious new series of nearly 30 recordings on Delos features both the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia of Russia. With the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Maestro Orbelian is currently embarking on a series of recordings celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the MCO, and featuring repertoire either written for the Orchestra or closely associated with its illustrious history.

Orbelian’s worldwide tours with the MCO include concerts during 2005 and 2006 in New York, Washington, Miami, London, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Seoul, Prague, and Istanbul. In July, 2005, Orbelian conducted baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the MCO in a live telecast in Tokyo, followed by a concert in Tokyo’s Opera City Concert Hall, and a concert in Seoul’s Sejong Center together with Korean soprano Sumi Jo. In 2004, Orbelian conducted legendary pianist Van Cliburn and the Moscow Philharmonic in a special memorial concert at Moscow’s Great Hall, dedicated to the children of Beslan. Orbelian led New York’s only Khachaturian Centennial Concert in 2003, with the Philharmonia of Russia and rising young opera star Marina Domashenko. Opera News calls Constantine Orbelian “the singer’s dream collaborator,” and commented that he conducts vocal repertoire “with the sensitivity of a lieder pianist.” Among his recent concert appearances are collaborations with vocal stars Ewa Podleś, Roberto Alagna, Galina Gorchakova and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Orbelian’s frequent collaborations with Hvorostovsky include the spectacular “Songs of the War Years” program recorded on the Delos album Where Are You, My Brothers? and featuring songs from the World War II era. In January 2006 the “War Years” program tours New York’s Lincoln Center, Washington’s Kennedy Center, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and London. The May 2005 “War Years” concert at Moscow’s Kremlin Palace was attended by 53 heads of state from all over the world, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II. A “Hero Cities” tour of Russia followed, culminating in St. Petersburg, where both Orbelian and Hvorostovsky were awarded the President’s Konstantinov Medal. In May 2004 the “War Years” concert in Moscow’s Red Square was attended by an audience of 10,000, including President Putin, and telecast live throughout Russia and to 37 countries worldwide.

Born in San Francisco to Russian and Armenian emigré parents, Constantine Orbelian made his debut as a pianist with the San Francisco Symphony at the age of 11. After graduating from Juilliard in New York, he embarked on a career as a piano virtuoso that included appearances with major symphony orchestras throughout the U.S., U.K., Europe, and Russia. His recording of the Khachaturian piano concerto won a “Best Concerto Recording of the Year” award in the United Kingdom.

Orbelian is Founder and Music Director of the annual Palaces of St. Petersburg International Music Festival, and of Moscow’s unique concert series, “Musical Treasures at the Museums of the Kremlin.” In 2001 he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, an award given to immigrants, or children of immigrants, who have made outstanding contributions to the United States.

Moscow Chamber Orchestra
The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2006, was called “the greatest chamber orchestra in the world” by Dmitri Shostakovich, and has been brought by music director Constantine Orbelian into a new era of international activity since his appointment in 1991.

From its 1995 performance at the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the United Nations in San Francisco to its 2004 performance at the U.S. State Department commemorating 70 years of diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow, to a May 2005 V.E Day commemoration with 53 heads of state in attendance, the MCO brings its celebrated artistry to a wide range of international audiences. The MCO’s international tours typically take the Orchestra to Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Finland, Sweden, Korea, Japan, South Africa, South America, Canada, and the United States. Maestro Orbelian and the MCO now perform more than 120 concerts per year, including a sold-out subscription series in the Great Hall of Moscow’s famed Tchaikovsky Conservatory and near-annual Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center appearances since 1998. Under Orbelian’s leadership the Orchestra was accorded the honor of “Academic” in its official Russian title: The State Academic Chamber Orchestra of Russia.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra’s acclaimed series of recordings with Constantine Orbelian on the Delos label numbers almost 30 recent releases. Both in its recordings and live performances, the Orchestra has garnered critical praise. “A wonderful ensemble,” wrote BBC Music Magazine. “They truly perform as a single, luminous, singing voice,” exclaimed Sensible Sound.  Copley News Service calls the MCO “peerless among orchestras of its kind playing today.” As London’s The Daily Telegraph put it, “The musicians channel all of their emotion into the music and give performances of such passion and musicality… producing music making of both subtlety and verve.”

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra was created in 1956 by renowned conductor, violinist, and violist Rudolph Barshai. Always a magnet for the most talented musicians in Moscow, the MCO has been an inspiration to important Russian composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich, who entrusted the first performance of his 14th Symphony to the Orchestra. The MCO’s 50th Anniversary season features music written or arranged for the Orchestra, in addition to music long associated with the MCO’s illustrious history.

For further information, visit www.moscowchamberorchestra.com