Mariss Jansons with Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Centre, 24th November 2017

Originally published on Art Around the Globe in Nobember 2017

On Friday the 24th November 2017 classical music lovers at the Barbican were able to assist at the event which even deserved an entry to Wikipedia. The world-reknowned Latvian maestro Mariss Jansons was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, which has been one of the highest honours in the world of classical music. Before the awards ceremony the London public has had a chance to enjoy two pieces of music characteristic for their grandeur conducted by the maestro. The concert themed ‘War and Piece’ included Beethoven’s Piano Concerto № 4 and Prokofiev’s Symphony № 5. As the RPS Gold Medal was initiated in 1870, the centenary of Beethoven’s birth, the choice of the programme was quite symbolic. It was also 40 years since Jansons recorded Prokofiev’s symphony with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987, so both pieces were celebratory of the long-standing traditions. It showcased Mariss Jansons’ collaboration with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) which has been productively developing since 2003, and also featured the internationally aclaimed Yefim Bronfman as the soloist for the Beethoven concerto.

Bronfman and Jansons made the decision to open the languid and philosophical side of Beethoven for us. Bronfman always stayed on the quieter and lighter side of musical touch and fled through the concert with triumphant, but almost eery swiftness, always controling the stylistic continuity within each movement of the concerto. Jansons, although his own style is quite different, supported the soloist’s decision and never allowed the BRSO to overpower Bronfman — it was one of the cases when the pianist indeed led the whole orchestra and had long solo passages, including the concerto’s opening and its cadenza. Bronfman had an incredibly pure sound and was exceptional in the second (andante con moto) movement where each of Beethoven’s notes formed a transparent thought never interrupted by sudden emotional changes of music dynamics. He finished with an encore, playing Schumann’ Arabesque, which again showed the audiences’ Bronfman’s lightness of touch and approach to music making.

But it was the second half that brought out the depths of dramatism of Janson’s signature style of conducting and was quite in contrast with the first half of the evening. The Symphony, one could be sure, had a strong personal connection for Jansons who was born in the war-time Riga in 1943 after his mother had been smuggled out of the Riga ghetto. Prokofiev was penning his symphony during the summer of 1944, just a year after Jansons’ birth, while the war was still going on. The symphony has an epic style of musical development and seems to lead the listener to the heights and possibilities of human life that could be led in the vicinity of the war which like a volcano opens new horizons, while crushing the existing foundations of life. Jansons conducted this symphony with the exceptional emotional intensity. It seems that when he is conducting the listener, even the most unexperienced one, could follow the symphonic panno as the powerful, ever-changing and dynamic story, with Jansons’ presence and leading thought constantly felt its main force. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was the perfect medium for revealing Jansons’ mastery in changing the slightest nuances of sound from sudden plunges into flutes’ pianissimo to rapturous and pulsating grand movements with the trumpets and clarinets ripping the air in the Barbican. Jansons finished with the encore from Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliett’, conducting the funeral march of Tybalt with rapid movements of one hand and with the orchestra following the maestro as one powerful musical body.

Mitsuko Uchida’s kindly commemorated Jansons’ achivements in the end of the evening while presenting the Gold Medal to him. Intensity of maestro’s musical style was mentioned by his long-standing collaborator and friend, and Jansons responded with some thoughts about the future of conducting profession in response. The audience was standing for the final rounds of applause, as it indeed felt it was part of the musical evening which had its deserved place in the contemporary history of classical music. While storing the emotional mementos of the eveningin the depths of our memories, we hope to see and hear Mariss Jansons conduct in London again.

Originally published at Art Around the Globe