By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
One of the world’s finest symphony orchestras will be making its first appearance in San Diego on March 4 at the Civic Theatre, thanks to the La Jolla Music Society.
The 160-year-old Vienna Philharmonic has as its motto six words from Beethoven’s preface to his Missa Solemnis: “from the heart, to the heart.”
Beethoven’s heartfelt words and works inspired the creation of this orchestra, but it’ll be presenting two other great German romantics here — Brahms and Schumann. And they’ll be under the baton of Russian-born Semyon Bychkov, who has been musical director of an international trio of orchestras: the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln in Cologne, Germany, where he was principal conductor for the past 13 years.
A frequent guest conductor in the U.S. and Europe, Bychkov is married to Marielle Labèque, who, with her sister, Katia, comprises the acclaimed piano duo known as the Labèque Sisters. Music is obviously a family enterprise: Bychkov’s brother, Yakov Kreizberg, is chief conductor/artistic advisor of the
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra
, and principal guest conductor of the
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
, the other major orchestra in Vienna.
Unlike most symphony orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic has no principal conductor. Instead, since 1933, they’ve had a succession of guest conductors, including such luminaries as Richard Strauss, Arturo Toscanini, and
- Semyon Bychkov’s name isn’t quite as well known, but his reputation is impressive: He’s been called elegant, exemplary, and exciting, “a beautiful moulder of orchestral colour.”
On the March 4 program is Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, which the Vienna Philharmonic originally premiered the year it was written —1877. Bychkov has been hailed as a sensitive interpreter of Brahms, whose four symphonies he recorded with the WDR Orchestra.
“For a conductor, the most difficult question in Brahms is balancing the classical discipline and the romantic spirit,” Bychkov said. “The music of Brahms is always intimate, no matter how loudly it’s talking.”
The La Jolla Music Society has come a long way since its beginnings as a chamber music group in 1968. It now presents not just classical music, but contemporary music, jazz, and dance, and it’s gone beyond the borders of La Jolla to include larger venues like the 730-seat Birch North Park Theatre and the 2960-seat Civic Theatre downtown.
LJMS programming has become even more adventurous since Christopher Beach took the helm as president and artistic director in 2005.
Beach’s background encompasses both music and theater, including positions at the Metropolitan Opera and the Santa Fe Festival Theatre, which he started in 1980. More recently, as director of The Performing Arts Center at New York’s Purchase College, he is credited with turning a rather modest program into a major arts complex.
So he’s no stranger to large undertakings, and the March 4 concert is certainly LJMS’s largest, involving the transport of 125 members of the Vienna Philharmonic and four years of negotiations and planning.
“We’re the ones who bring the world to San Diego,” Beach said. “So when the possibility of bringing an orchestra here that was on everyone’s list and had never been here before arose, I said: ‘This is exactly what we’re about!’ ”