Yuri Serov

Ltihuanian National Philharmonic Orchestra with Modestas Pitrénas
Eliane conducting the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Orchestra

Musica Romantica 2018
Musica Romantica 20 Years Old
Long Live Music!

It's hard to imagine, but the festival is already 20 years old. These years have seen many changes; but as before, on these marvelous days in August, musical nights of the topmost level are being held in Saas-Fee, filling the Alpine village with sounds of music, which amazingly harmonize with eternal snowy mountain tops.
It's hard to choose the very very best, for there were too many bright impressions in those ten days filled with live sounds of music. I will try to tell you about things that will really long stay with us, that make the festival unique of its kind, and that urge you to wait for the next year impatiently and with joyful expectations.
First of all, the big luck of this festival, the invitation of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra with its young new chief conductor Modestas Pitrénas. Along with pianist and conductor Eliane Rodrigues, main star Música Romântica and its inspirer and guardian, the guests from Vilnius became a center of creative attraction: charming and disciplined, musically generous and passionate, skilful and uninhibited.

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony favored to us the first night (08.08.2018) is among the festival's key events. Under the baton of Eliane Rodrigues, the orchestra from Vilnius steadily guided the audience through the heroic idyll of the first movement, through the inspired allegretto and stream of turbulent energy in the scherzo to the final indomitable rhythms, to the glorification of really universal joy and might. In the first part of the concert, the orchestra's string group performed Mozart's early D major Divertimento (I'm not sure the attribute "early" is applicable to Mozart) with fascinating easiness, and then Eliane Rodrigues soloed in a clear and lucent manner in Mozart's Concerto in A major KV414, an opus very dear to her, that had an important role in her life. We could hear Eliane's personal emotions in refined over the years but still unbelievably fresh intonations of the soloist.

The cello concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold was excellently performed by Justus Grimm (10.08.2018), an amazing musician with deep insight into every intonation and every melodic turn. It seems that there is no such thing as unimpressive or second-rate sounds for him, that he has experienced and elaborated any detail of the score - and lovingly presented it to the listeners. The warm and rich sound of his cello filled the Pfarrkirche of Saas-Fee, so that it became clear why symphonic music of this undeservedly forgotten original composer, whose flower of life coincided with forced emigration and work (brilliant work!) in Hollywood, can be more and more often heard in concert programs of prominent musicians.
In the same concert, a great impression was created by the orchestra's performance of the powerful and darksome Die Toteninsel (Isle of the Dead), a symphonic poem by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The picture of remarkable Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin miraculously returned to its country of birth in unbelievably beautiful sounds of the Russian genius admirably played by Lithuanian musicians.
The program was topped off by the sparkling and poetic concerto of Grieg played by Eliane Rodrigues brilliantly and reverently, with virtuoso soaring, freely, but also tactful in dealing with this music loved by everyone. Modestas Pitrenas and The Lithuanian Orchestra followed her with evident pleasure, painting the sound texture of Grieg's masterpiece with precise sound of the winds and warm enchantment of the strings. And a true ensemble came out of it, a complete fusion, a synthesis immersing the listener into the very essence of the action onstage.

Schubert's trio in Es-dur, Op. 100 major performed by Eliane Rodrigues, Justus Grimm, and violinist Tatiana Samouil (12.08.2018) is one of the strongest impressions of the whole festival. I felt it sounded like a ready recording for a compact disk. The composition of enormous size (even for Schubert) was listened to in one breath. Very different in their artistic approach, on their vision of sound, intonation, or flow of musical time, the virtuoso soloists fused into a superb ensemble, delighted in passing the sublime Schubert themes to each other, every time painting them with new colors and emotions. That was just the case when inner creative freedom of everyone did not disunite the ensemble, but united it. Robert Schumann said once that Schubert's music was full of "divine longueurs." I remembered this phrase when listening to the Trio, as I wished that the music would last forever..
A version of Piano Concerto by Gershwin in F was delivered very interestingly in the same concert. The version for two pianos and multiple percussions is for chamber performance, enabling to highlight many details but also having all the merits of a full-scale symphony scoring, the most essential merit being maybe the inimitable Gershwin drive. The soloists were Elian Rodrigues and Nina Smeets, mother and daughter, teacher and pupil, looking so much alike, and so complementing each other in music.

Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky (13.08.2018) is a composition that is probably beyond the program framework of Música Romântica familiar to us. But oh how great it is that this Russian ballet requiring enormous strain, musicianship, and I daresay some professional courage from the orchestra was performed this year. I feel that the audience duly appreciated the musical adventures of Petrushka, a traditional character of Russian folk puppet shows; he's made of straw and sawdust, but nevertheless life wakes up in him, and human emotions grow. Due to historical irony already customary to us, the opus replete with Russian folklore intonations was composed in the Swiss town of Morges, three hours' drive in a present-day car from Saas-Fee. The author, in his own words, was endlessly walking along the shore of Lake Geneva trying to hear, and then to embody in sound the noises of a winter Shrovetide open-air celebration in Admiralty Square in St. Petersburg. Stravinsky conceived Petrushka as a virtuoso composition for orchestra with piano solo. Eliane Rodrigues handled her very difficult part excellently, leading the way for the Lithuanian musicians powerfully and rhythmically. Maestro Pitrernas deserves words of utmost delight. His excellent manual technique, his conducting gestures that are clear and demanding at the same time, and perfect knowledge of the score became the basis of the impressive performance of Petrushka.

The festival's Russian night (15.08.2018) was also quite a success. Could it be otherwise when the charming sounds are heard of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Italian Capriccio, pieces doomed to success? Moreover, the musicians from Vilnius, many of whom are directly related to the Russian instrumental school, play music of Russian composers frequently and impressively. Still, I would be right if I said that the performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 for piano with orchestra by Eliane Rodrigues became the absolute pinnacle of Musica Romantica 2018. It was a tremendous delight for me to accompany Eliane in that concert. Her unexpected tempos, vigorous passages, and nearly lethargic retardations made the performance of this piano opus, a most popular and frequently-played one, unique and unlike any other interpretations.
The most important thing is limitless Rachmaninoff lyricism reined that throughout the concert, revealed by Eliane with her characteristic sincerity, virtuosity, and rich piano sound.

It has become a wonderful tradition to finalize the festival with film music. Eliane Rodrigues always presents this concert as the host in her own right: she carefully selects pieces for the program, conducts, plays piano solo, narrates, and makes a farewell show in the best sense of the word, after which you desire to revisit Saas-Fee a year later by all means. In the year 2018 too, movie hits gave us much joy, with Alan Menken and Henry Mancini, Charlie Chaplin and John Williams. Overcrowded hall, happy faces of listeners, smiling musicians, and the starry Alpine sky above after the concert - could one wish a greater feast?
Bravo Eliane! Bravo Musica Romantica!

Yuri Serov - Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Volgograd Philharmonic Orchestra