Written by: Leonard Slatkin
The middle of May brings the current season of the BBC Symphony to a close. I will be at the Barbican for two concerts, which conclude the Orchestra’s cycle of the Symphonies of Prokofiev. The Fifth is on the first program on May 13. We played this last summer at the Proms and then took it to the Lucerne Festival. I guess it has become one of my signature pieces. Indeed, my first Grammy award was for a recording of it I made in 1984.
Also on the program are two works of personal interest. The Rautavaara Clarinet Concerto, which receives its UK premiere, and the Visions Fugitives by Prokofiev as orchestrated by Walter Susskind. The former had its world premiere in Washington earlier this season with the same soloist as we have in London, Richard Stoltzman. I was a student of Susskind in the 60s and then was invited to join him as assistant conductor when he took over the St Louis Symphony.
On the 20th, we will conclude the Prokofiev project with the composer’s last work in symphonic form, the Seventh. This is a lighter work than the symphonies that precede it, almost as if it was intended for the ballet. There are two different endings, one boisterous and the other reflective. Conductors can choose whichever they prefer. You will have to hear the concert to know my choice!
Perhaps one of the most important UK premieres will take place at this concert. It is the Second Symphony by John Corigliano. The work is based on his String Quartet, which won the Pulitzer Prize in music about 3 years ago. The Symphony is for strings only and is not just a fleshed out version of the quartet, but a complete reworking of the original piece. I attended a performance of the work with the Berlin Philharmonic and found an incredibly rapt audience for a 40-minute new work. The piece has trademark Corigliano gestures, such as quasi-improvisatory moments and portions of unabashed tonality mixed with early Penderecki sonic clusters. But it is an original and striking piece of music that stays with the listener long after the final sounds have died away. It is also very difficult.
The next time all of us meet up it will be for the First Night of the Proms. Nope, I cannot say anything about it as I write this. There are still some secrets left in the world.