6th Swiss Charity Concert
Victor Dijon von Monteton / Praga Camerata
Rossini / Mendelssohn / Dvořák
Tonhalle Zurich, 2016-09-08
The festival summer 2016 with its countless concerts with high-profile / world-class stars serving a vast audience of festival pilgrims was about to come to a closure. Festivals are organized by and performed to the benefit of an organizer or an organization such as a community. The primary goal is to attract festival tourism, and to generate various forms of (touristic) fringe benefits. Festival concerts often combine traditional repertoire with moderately modern music, sometimes even avant-garde (short, mostly!).
Recently, I had the chance to review a concert of a different type: a charity concert, i.e., an event for the benefit of a charitable organization. Here, the repertoire was not focusing on educating an audience by expanding its listening repertoire: it relied upon standard repertoire, to serve an audience of illustrious donors. This is a circle of concert attendees that is notably different from standard subscription audiences. I was pleased to see that the big hall of the Tonhalle in Zurich was remarkably well filled.
The event in question was the 6th Swiss Charity Concert, the sixth instance of a series of annual concerts that Victor Emanuel Dijon von Monteton created back in 2011, to the benefit of Save the Children.
The orchestra in this concert was certainly not one of the world’s top ten—rather one that is not very well-known in Switzerland. Still, the Praga Camerata was created by the notable Czech conductor Václav Neumann (1920 – 1995), back in 1961. Today, the ensemble consists of a core of 15 string players. For this concert, the orchestra appeared in a substantially expanded formation.
The orchestra was conducted by the creator of the Swiss Charity Concert series, Victor Emanuel Dijon von Monteton. Monteton (he introduces himself as “Victor Dijon”) was born 1984, into ancient French nobility. He received his first piano lessons at the age of 3. His musical education took place in Prague, under Jiří Malát, then in Mannheim (Peter Eicher), in Helsinki (Jorma Panula), and finally in Karlsruhe under Olga Rissin-Morenova, where in 2004 he passed his final exam with excellent result. With this, he started a career as pianist and conductor, more and more focusing on conducting. Meanwhile, he lives in the Zurich area, where (as a true multi-talent) he also did an MBA. He now is (primarily, presumably) pursuing a career as management consultant.
This year, the organizers did not just hire a young soloist. Instead, they decided to perform a competition. The winner of that competition had the opportunity to play a violin concerts on the occasion of this event. The Swiss Charity Award 2016 went to the German violinist Mira Marie Foron, born 2002 in Stuttgart (see here for another, recent press article). Mira Marie Foron started playing the violin at age 5. After half a year already she passed the exam for entering the Conservatory (Musikhochschule) in Hannover. In 2015 she switched to the Conservatory in Detmold, where she is now studying with Prof. Koh Gabriel Kameda. With her 14 years of age, she has already won several prizes art competitions, and she has made public appearances with various orchestras: a promising young talent!
Rossini: Overture to the Opera “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”
As an adequate opening for the concert, the evening started with the Overture to the Opera “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville), composed 1816 by Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868). Rossini was a true master at catching the attention of the audience from the very first bars of an overture. This overture is no exception: from the very beginning, it “pulls in” the audience and keeps its attention. The build-up deploys almost magnetic forces, through the clever use of crescendo and accelerating motoric rhythms.
The Praga Camerata may not be known everywhere these days, but it is an experienced, seasoned ensemble. It delivered a solid, clean performance, directed (without baton) by Victor von Monteton. One could probably feel that von Monteton (as conductor) is not an “opera insider”. He started the overture with lots of momentum — too much momentum, in my opinion. The “Rossini effect” would have been stronger, more dramatic with a beginning that is more retained in dynamics and tempo. This would have allowed for more crescendo and acceleration, hence yield additional tension. However, the Tonhalle is not an opera house, and the music that followed wasn’t an opera either. After all, we were in a concert evening where the “action” (the music) was additionally “diluted” by short spoken addresses.
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64
The creation of his Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64, took Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847) several years, from 1838 up till 1845. In 1835, Mendelssohn had become principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, where he elected his friend, the violinist Ferdinand David (1810 – 1873) to be concert master. He wrote the concerto for his friend, who also premiered the work in 1845. The performance in 1845 was under the direction of Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817 – 1890), who stepped in, as the composer was ill. Mendelssohn conducted a second performance that year, with his friend Ferdinand David playing the solo again. The concerto features three movements:
- Allegro molto appassionato
- Allegretto non troppo — Allegro molto vivace
In this concerto, Mira Marie Foron made her appearance: she is a self-confident, undaunted young artist, with amazing artistic abilities. I don’t want to compare her interpretation with that of mature, top-level artists: that would be unfair. So, my brief comments are merely a description of how I experienced her playing, without wanting to rate it.
Right from the start, the artist convinced with her full, solid tone. She played with the momentum and drive that is natural to her age. Both the agility of her left hand, as well as her bow technique were amazing, from the first bars up to the spiccato sections in the final movement. While technically, she appears to be “there” already, one can certainly expect her interpretation to undergo substantial evolution over the coming years.
She should and will add dynamic differentiation (it takes courage to expand the soft playing into p, pp, even ppp, particularly in front of an orchestra). Also, her vibrato is in need to further refinement (right now it is rather uniform and ubiquitous). Similarly, one can expect to see progress in the area of agogics, phrasing and articulation (the latter is often a bit too concrete, still). But Mira Marie Foron’s intonation is strikingly firm, even in extreme heights—though one could hear limitations in the very rapid passages.
One should keep in mind that Mendelssohn’s concerto is very demanding. It’s not easy to add personality, a personal touch to the solo part, as Mendelssohn’s writing is full of motoric, rapid passagework (typical for this composer).
Encore — Ysaÿe: Sonata for Solo Violin in D minor, op.27/3, “Ballade”
As encore, Mira Marie Foron selected the Solo Sonata in D minor, op.27/3 by the Belgian composer Eugène Ysaÿe (1858 – 1931). That’s a challenging, 6-minute piece in a single movement, in which Mira Marie Foron’s art will grow substantially over the coming years. The sonata bears the surname “Ballade” and depicting the characteristics of the art of Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955).
It is my hope that the young artist will be able to retain her self-confidence over many years to come. I’d be happy to see the ginger of her hair appear on stage again!
Dvořák: Symphony No.9 in E minor, op.95, B.178, “From the New World”
The concert ended with the Symphony No.9 in E minor, op.95, B.178 by Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904). This symphony with the title “From the New World” is Dvořák’s last contribution to the genre, composed 1893, during his stay in the United States (1892 – 1895). It is by far the composer’s most popular symphony, and certainly the one that appears in concert programs most often. The composition features four movements:
- Adagio — Allegro molto
- Scherzo: Molto vivace — Poco sostenuto
- Allegro con fuoco
As it is so well-known, I will not describe the composition in detail. It is a work full of captivating melodic inventions. Despite its title (and the place of its creation), the symphony retains the characteristics of Czech music during the 19th century.
Naturally, the Praga Camerata is intimately familiar with this music. Maintaining coordination with all the rhythmic intricacies of Czech music was no particular challenge for the musicians in this ensemble. Victor Dijon von Monteton’s interpretation featured clear tempo structures: he avoided an excess of rubato. This is in line with Dvořák’s score, which contains detailed instructions on where to use ritardando or accelerando, and how much. Overall, von Monteton offered a solid, convincing interpretation.
Maybe the orchestra’s playing sometimes was rather robust than delicate. In loud passages, the secondary voices were in danger of getting lost. For example, I almost failed to hear some of the horn fanfares in the Scherzo. Lighter articulation and more dynamic differentiation would have been helpful.
I. Adagio — Allegro molto
It was somewhat of a pity that in the opening movement, the exposition was not repeated. In a sonata movement (such as this one), the repeats helps the listener in identifying the themes, the structure of the movement. But I assume that this omission was done for reasons of timing.
The benefit of not repeating the exposition in the first movement was, that the Largo with its wealth of beautiful melody lines in the woodwinds ended up with more relative weight within the symphony. At the beginning of this movement, Dvořák asks for ppp. This is hardly achievable—with any brass section. However, this is an inherent limitation, not specific to the musicians in this concert. Plus, the beauty of the wind solos in this movement turned this into a negligible detail.
III. Scherzo / IV. Allegro con fuoco
Both the Scherzo and the final Allegro con fuoco are virtuosic, demanding on the orchestra. Conductor and the orchestra mastered this very well.
Over all of the symphony, both the wind sections and the percussionist are of particular importance. They all deserve a special mention in this concert: well done! The audience and donor community was enthusiastic and obviously happy with the concert: mission accomplished!
For the same concert, I have also written a (much shorter) review in German for Bachtrack.com, see also the note at the top. This posting is not a translation of the Bachtrack review.