Alina Nikitina, Johannes Zeinler
Kalena Bovell / Musikkollegium Winterthur
Samy Moussa / Francis Poulenc / Camille Saint-Saëns
Tonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-10-20
2022-11-06 — Original posting
Ein “spezielles” Konzert der Orpheum-Stiftung — Zusammenfassung
Das letzte der Orchesterkonzerte der Orpheum-Stiftung (Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists) im Jahr 2022 war in mehrerer Hinsicht speziell. Es war das erste Mal, dass die Orpheum-Stiftung mit dem Musikkollegium Winterthur kooperierte. Das Orchester stand hier unter der Leitung von Kalena Bovell, einer in Panama geborenen Amerikanerin mit afroamerikanischen und hispanischen Vorfahren. Sodann war die Orgel als Solo-Instrument ein Novum für die Stiftung, die Orgel selbst (gebaut von der Firma Kuhn in Männedorf) ist neu im großen Saal der kürzlich frisch renovierten Tonhalle am See, und zum ersten Mal in einem Orchesterkonzert zu hören.
Nicht ungewöhnlich war dagegen, dass die Stiftung zwei junge Talente präsentierte: die in 1984 Astana (Kasachstan) geborene Organistin Alina Nikitina, sowie den 1993 in Tulln bei Wien geborenen Johannes Zeinler.
Speziell war auch die umgekehrte Chronologie im Programm: es eröffnete mit “A Globe Itself Infolding“ für Orgel und Orchester,, geschrieben 2014 vom kanadischen Dirigenten und Komponisten Samy Moussa (*1984). Solist war hier Johannes Zeinler.
Das Programm bewegte sich danach ins letzte Jahrhundert, mit dem Konzert in g-moll für Orgel, Streicher und Pauken, FP 93, geschrieben 1938 vom Franzosen Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963), mit Alina Nikitina als Solistin.
Den Abschluss machte sodann die als “Orgelsinfonie” bekannte Sinfonie Nr.3 in c-moll, op.78, die Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921) im Jahre 1886 vollendete. Der Solist war hier wiederum Johannes Zeinler. Der grandiose Schluss dieses Werks rechtfertigt seine Platzierung am Ende des Programms.
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- Moussa: “A Globe Itself Infolding” for Organ and Orchestra (2014)
- Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in G minor, FP 93
- Saint-Saëns: Symphony No.3 in C minor, op.78, “Organ Symphony”
|Venue, Date & Time||Tonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-10-20 19:30h|
|Series / Title||Young Soloists On Stage — Orpheum Foundation|
|Organizer||Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists|
PR Agency: 2Dream Productions
|Reviews from related events||Earlier Concerts organized by the Orpheum Foundation|
Back in the big hall of Zurich’s Tonhalle am See for an orchestral concert. It’s the third concert offered by the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists in 2022. I don’t need to introduce the Orpheum Foundation (founded 1990)—over the past years, I have reviewed numerous concerts for that institution, see the link above.
Orpheum concerts come with a short presentation by the Foundation, in this case represented by Claudia Coninx-Kaczynski, daughter of the organization’s founder and president, Dr. Hans Heinrich Coninx. After that initial presentation, the concert was moderated by the radio presenter and flautist Eva Oertle.
One aspect that made this Orpheum concert special was in the choice of solo instrument, the organ. The Tonhalle concert hall (completed 1895) always featured an organ. The original organ from 1872 (then in a predecessor building / venue) was replaced in 1988. Between 2017 and 2021, the Tonhalle, actually the entire Kongresshalle building complex underwent a thorough renovation / restoration. With this the hall received its third organ, built by Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd., one of the principal organ builders in the area. This concert was the first opportunity to experience the organ as solo instrument in an orchestral concert.
As usual in orchestral Orpheum Concerts, there were two young soloists, both artists supported by the foundation—and, of course, organists:
Alina Nikitina (*1984 in Astana, Kazakhstan) received her musical education at Saint Petersburg Conservatory, completing her studies in 2008 (harpsichord), in 2012 (piano), and 2013 (organ). Further studies took her to Weimar (concert diploma), and finally to the Lucerne Conservatory, where in 2018 she completed her studies with the Diploma of Advanced Studies in Church Music on the organ. Alina Nikitina now is organist and the music director’s assistant in Visp, in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. In this concert, she was the soloist in Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani.
The second organist, Johannes Zeinler (see also Wikipedia.de), was born 1993 in Tulln an der Donau. He studied organ, piano, and church music at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. Further studies (organ and harpsichord) took him to Toulouse in France. In recent years, Johannes Zeinler has pursued an intense international career as concert organist. He was the soloist in the opening piece, “A Globe Itself Infolding”, by Samy Moussa, as well as in Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.3 (“Organ Symphony”).
Orchestra: Musikkollegium Winterthur
It’s the first time that the Orpheum Foundation cooperated with the Musikkollegium Winterthur (see also Wikipedia). The orchestra was founded in 1875, then named “Stadtorchester Winterthur” (Winterthur City Orchestra). The organization from which the orchestra emerged actually goes back to the year 1629. Under the name Stadtorchester Winterthur, the orchestra made appearances all over Switzerland, in major as well as provincial concert venues. Only in 2000, the orchestra assumed the name Musikkollegium Winterthur, highlighting the ties to its founding body.
Conductor: Kalena Bovell
Kalena Bovell (see also Wikipedia) is American, born in Panama, with African American and Hispanic ancestors. She grew up in Los Angeles. Her first instrument was the violin. At Chapman University, she discovered her love for conducting and graduated in 2009. She worked as the orchestra director at the Loomis Chaffee School. In 2015, she staged the “Swan Princess”, an adaptation of the ballet “Swan Lake” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893). Subsequent appearances spread her name in the U.S., and in 2019, Kalena Bovell became the assistant conductor for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. As of 2020 she is the only African American and Hispanic conductor in the United States.
- Samy Moussa (*1984): “A Globe Itself Infolding” for Organ and Orchestra (2014)
- Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963): Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in G minor, FP 93
- Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921): Symphony No.3 in C minor, op.78, “Organ Symphony”
The Orpheum Foundation typically has no problem filling the big hall of Zurich’s Tonhalle am See—this time, at least a third of the seats remained empty. One may speculate whether this was because people prefer a local orchestra (I actually doubt that), or because neither the solosts nor the conductor are “big names” yet, or otherwise “known quantities”? More likely, the audience would have preferred a more traditional repertoire over the (some) slightly “peculiar” pieces in the program.
My seat was in row 14, close to the center of the hall. The concert was recorded by Radio SRF 2 Kultur, for broadcasting on 2022-11-17.
Concert & Review
Moussa: “A Globe Itself Infolding” for Organ and Orchestra (2014)
Samy Moussa (*1984, see also Wikipedia) is a Canadian conductor and composer. He was born in Montreal and completed his undergraduate studies at the Université de Montréal. He did postgraduate studies at University of Music and Performing Arts Munich with Matthias Pintscher (*1971, composer and conductor) and composer Pascal Dusapin (*1955), also participating in conducting master classes with Pierre Boulez (1925 – 2016), Péter Eötvös (*1944), and Royaumont Voix Nouvelles courses with Salvatore Sciarrino (*1947).
Starting in 2010, Samy Moussa has been conducting orchestras in Germany, as well as North America. He now lives in Berlin. Moussa’s compositorial oeuvre includes two operas, an oratorio, orchestral works with and without soloist, choral and ensemble works, chamber music, solo instrumental works, as well as songs for voice and piano.
“A Globe Itself Infolding” for Organ and Orchestra (2014) premiered and was recorded with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, with Kent Nagano (*1951) conducting, and with Jean-Willy Kunz (*1980) at the organ. In 2017, it also was performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
In this concert, the solo part in “A Globe Itself Infolding” was performed by Johannes Zeinler.
The piece opens by a single bass drum beat—somber, deep & underground, distant. I pondered what made this opening special to me? It took a few moments until it dawned on me that this must be what Ukrainians must now be hearing day in, day out: the menacing sound of a bomb exploding a few kilometers away. The reminder of a permanent threat.
The piece was written in 2014, way before the full-scale invasion took place in Ukraine, before bombs were falling. Yet, the atrocities, the unimaginable suffering that the Russian invasion is now causing to people in Ukraine will inevitably lead to flashes, to spontaneous, scary (momentary or lasting) associations while listening to music, such as this one.
Samy Moussa probably was rather thinking of a geological event (a distant earthquake, maybe). Do my associations imply that I’m superimposing extra, “external” content / meaning to this music? I don’t think so. Rather, I believe that such “spontaneous mental / emotional links” are in the very nature of music—if not its very purpose.
The Music, the Performance
The dark opening beat resonates in the orchestra, as a standing tone, covering many octaves, gradually growing in amplitude: the “harmony of the spheres”? Additional drum beats waken up additional tones, building up in volume, the organ injects new tones into the orchestra, descending from the high descant into the bass, forming a standing major chord. Arpeggiated octaves on the organ then trigger harmonies, gradual modulations, growing in richness in waves, all at a calm, resting pace. A piece seemingly senza misura—if it weren’t for Kalena Bovell’s regular, clear (yet inconspicuous) gestures. Visually, the conductor formed the center of the action, “structuring the course of time”.
As the volume builds up, the organ assumes a more central role, forming a broad climax, together with the glittering, shiny sounds of the metallophones in the percussion. Into the resting (or gradually modulating) chord(s), the organ injects brief, descending motifs. These begin to “stick”, then the orchestra mirrors these falling chords.
While building up to a new climax the roles gradually change. Now, it’s the orchestra that provides the impulses for the organ, with ascending motifs. The organ dominates the soundscape with intense sound planes. Does this reversal express the “infolding” of the world, the globe? An intense dialog, an exchange of again descending motifs between organ and orchestra evolves.
Into a sudden pp silence, the woodwinds inject melodies, deploy a somewhat melancholic, late-romantic soundscape. To me, the music brought associations with music by French 20th century composers, such as Maurice Duruflé (1902 – 1986). Intense ringing, migrating harmonies, moving into frictions that dissolve again, growing into a big, glorious climax, slowly collapsing to a solemn, soft drone chord. Into this, the organ injects short, melodic fragments, motifs, bird calls, maybe. Erupting ascending motifs, solemn, endlessly progressing harmonies, heavy brass. The music widens to an intense, static, affirmative drone—while the timpani close the piece with an “unfinished motif”: an abrupt, open ending.
A note aside: the title is interesting, as geometrically, it is impossible to “fold a globe in” without breaking its surface—certainly not into itself, i.e., inside out…
A Concert Organ?
Sure! A concert organ must be able to cover a vast range of sonorities and colors. In Samy Moussa’s composition, the instrument demonstrated its ability to mix with orchestral sounds—from soft string tones to the full sound of a rich brass setting. It must be able to mold with the orchestra, as well as setting brilliant highlights without overwhelming the soundscape. In this first demonstration, the instrument did an excellent job, both with soft, mellow flue registers, as well as in setting accents / highlights with reed stops. An very pleasant, even fascinating, promising experience—not just because of Moussa’s excellent composition.
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in G minor, FP 93
Composer & Work
The French composer and pianist Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963) produced a broad oeuvre consisting of ballet, opera, orchestral works, concertos, vocal / choral works with orchestra, chamber music, piano works, choral and other vocal works.
His Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in G minor, FP 93, is a composition from 1938. It premiered 1939 in Paris, with Maurice Duruflé (1902 – 1986) at the organ. It consists of a single movement featuring the following tempo annotations:
Andante — Très doux et intense — Allegro giocoso — Subito andante moderato — Animez un peu — Tempo allegro: Molto agitato — Très calme: Lent — Tempo de l’allegro initial — Tempo d’introduction: Largo
Among the works in this event, Poulenc’s composition comes closest to what people might expect from a “real organ concerto: “proper solos” with the full sound of a (concert or church) organ. The smaller accompaniment alone (just strings and timpani) put the organ into a more central role.
Organist and Assistant
For Poulenc’s concerto, the organ console remained in the same position, at the front edge of the podium, to the left of the conductor. Alina Nikitina took the “driver seat”, while Johannes Zeinler acted as assistant on the left of the console. His task consisted of switching between pre-registered stop combinations (registrations)—discreetly, with the help of two buttons at the left edge of the console. This allowed Alina Nikitina to maintain closer contact with orchestra and conductor.
Andante — Très doux et intense — Allegro giocoso —
Already the fanfare-like opening bars present the full sound of the organ’s plein jeu (ff, just accompanied by soft timpani and double bass pizzicato). The following orchestra solo (Très doux et intense) is very expressive and elegiac, with short organ solos with soft, mellow and mysterious flue sounds.
A recitative in cello and double bass is initially reflective, pondering, then coming to an affirmative conclusion. This instantly reminded of the bass solo in Beethoven’s Ninth. Dissonant tutti sound clusters on the organ lead into the Allegro giocoso. Here, it was up to Kalena Bovell to take the lead: she firmly guided the orchestra through the marked orchestral theme (in an alternating dialog with the full-sounding organ): not just giocoso (jokingly, playful), but rather grumpy, moody—and precise in the coordination, with concise punctuations and staccato. Brilliant!
Subito andante moderato — Animez un peu —
After a big crescendo to ffff in the strings (fff on the organ), a brief, sudden silence leads to the Subito andante moderato, with gentle, but clear flue tones from the organ—Andante religioso, so to say. The orchestra then expands this with harmonious, romantic and melodious intermezzo segments, exposing its warm, dense string sound.
At , the scene livens up, where a high capricious new theme appears in the violins, expectation and expression build up. Kalena Bovell was able to maintain the tension, if not suspense, as the music gradually accelerated (even prior to the Animez un peu, ), building up to a dramatic, urgent conclusion. Interestingly, the short, strongly contrasting, 3-bar Assez librement passage prior to the Tempo allegro evoked associations with serene, meditative music by Arvo Pärt (*1935). Anticipation, foresight?
Tempo allegro: Molto agitato —
The Tempo allegro: Molto agitato segment is the virtuosic culmination of the concerto, both for the organ, as well as for the orchestra. Wikipedia states that the organ part is “easy”, to adapt to the abilities of Princess Edmond de Polignac (1865 – 1943), who commissioned the work. Nevertheless at least, Poulenc’s writing is very effective—the organ and the interpretation sounded fairly spectacular.
Très calme: Lent — Tempo de l’allegro initial — Tempo d’introduction: Largo
The “slow movement”, Très calme: Lent, is elegiac, highly expressive. Kalena Bovell had the advantage of having full view onto the string orchestra. In the Tempo de l’allegro initial, she effortlessly maintained excellent coordination within the orchestra, as well as with the soloist. The catchy theme felt suitable for a mobile, mechanical organ at a fair—or it reminded of a Sortie by one of the great French organ composers of the past century, building up to another, spectacular climax.
Poulenc then returns to the opening theme, with a brief Plein jeu organ solo. In the subsequent, tremulating sotto voce, the solo viola and cello imitated the organ’s trembling with a fitting, very expressive vibrato / tremolo: almost too sweet as a composition. I can’t blame the string soloists, of course—they needed to match the organ’s tremulant. The ending in the 5-bar ff subito organ solo, terminated with a loud, fff chord in the orchestra is spectacular, but extremely short.
An excellent composition to present the sound of the organ—and a rewarding piece for the organist: well done, congrats!
Overall Rating: ★★★★
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No.3 in C minor, op.78, “Organ Symphony”
Composer & Work
- Adagio — Allegro moderato — Poco adagio
- Allegro moderato — Presto — Allegro moderato — Presto — Maestoso — Allegro moderato
The organ appears towards the end of either movement only: in the Poco adagio segment (the “slow movement”) of Part I, and in the last two segments (Maestoso — Allegro moderato, the actual “Finale“) of Part II. Only in the latter instance, its presence really comes to full bearing.
For the Saint-Saëns symphony, the podium was rearranged: the organ console now sat in the center of the podium, facing Kalena Bovell and the audience. After all, the composition is not an organ concerto, but primarily a symphony. The rear left of the podium was occupied by a Steinway D concert grand (2- and 4-hands), the lid half-closed. Here, the organ solo was again played by Johannes Zeinler.
I. Adagio —
Is it by coincidence that the opening bars of the Adagio reminded me of the beginning of the Vorspiel to the opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)? Without the famous Tristan chord, of course, just in the attitude. Tristan pre-dates Saint-Saëns’ symphony by almost 30 years! The Allegro moderato brought another association, this time to the main theme in the first movement in the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor, D.759, by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828). Again: mere coincidence?
Allegro moderato —
The orchestra arrangement was traditional, with the two violins on the left, which should help the coordination. Yet, despite Kalena Bovell’s clear gestures, the coordination in the chains of staccato semiquavers proved tricky—within the strings, but especially between strings and the woodwinds. One may attribute this to the fact that the Tonhalle is not the orchestra’s home venue. Luckily, after a while, the situation improved, these minor issues moved out of the focus.
With the arrival of C major after [G], the orchestra offered impressive coherence and excellent sonority. More allusions here, this time to the Symphony No.3 in E♭ major, op.97 (“Rhenish”) by Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856). All in all, the symphony very much felt like a high-romantic (if not early romantic) work—despite being composed near the end of the 19th century.
The return to C minor (around [L]) brought back the staccato semiquaver chains—and now, the performance felt much more coherent and unified: it had drive and maintained the tension. My only quibble: after [O], the pp sounded rather like mf—but then, there are limits as to how soft a woodwind instrument can play.
In the Poco adagio—actually the slow movement—the organ forms a solemn, harmonious sotto voce foundation, into which the orchestra (initially the string voices) play a very nice, calm, intense and “endless” melody—a marvelous invention! Kalena Bovell’s conducting gestures seemed to shape melodies and phrases, following the elegiac emotions, the subtle, warm, cantabile character of the movement, maintaining intensity and the solemn pace. Touching, indeed!
A short, descending organ line leds into a discourse in which the string voices exchange short, linked semiquaver motifs, with discreet, soft organ support. At [U], tranquil cello and double bass motifs switch to a more earnest, if not slightly menacing atmosphere, later brightening up, raising expectations. Here, the registration made the organ interjections sound like a harmonium—almost. The movement turns longing, wistful, introverted, full of sadness. Highly emotional, ultimately transcending into a world beyond. Again very touching, which may explain the spontaneous applause.
II. Allegro moderato — Presto — Allegro moderato — Presto —
Saint-Saens’ tempo annotation for the opening segment is Allegro moderato (3/8 = 80)—a challenge in maintaining coordination and cohesion of the repeated semiquavers. In fact, for the orchestra, this felt like at the limit, maybe a tad too fast. Yet, Kalena Bovell managed to maintain tension and drive, never giving in for an easier pace.
The Presto (3/8 = 138) seemed even more challenging—though here, the listener’s attention turned towards the ascending piano scales (brillante). New material appears, the music continually builds up momentum, tension and drive.
The Allegro moderato returns. Here, the composer even specified 3/8 = 84, though I did not sense a faster pace. This is followed by a second Presto, now enriched by a solemn chorale melody in the brass. A fugato is launched, but soon abandoned for a suspenseful ppp transition to the final parts.
★★★½ / ★★★
The Maestoso is the opening of an uplifting, exhilarating Finale, demonstrating the power of the new organ in all its glory. The blocks of broad, bright plain jeu chords on the organ surround two short fugato segments.
Then, the orchestral texture turns broader—and softer, while the two pianists decorate the soundscape with glittering semiquaver figures—a sky full of sparkling stars. That’s just a one-time episode, as the Maestoso culminates in 1-bar fanfare blocks in organ (tutti) and strings, alternating with strong signal bars in the winds (particularly brass), further brightened up by shiny high percussion. Irresistible!
That’s not the end of the symphony, however. Saint-Saëns appears to tackle a veritable fugue (Allegro moderato). The idea of a fugue is soon given up in favor of a consequent build-up. He continues to inject new material, masterfully arranged, consequently accelerating.
A solemn chorale melody dominates the dense orchestral textures. An inspiration by the Symphony No.5, op.107, “Reformation Symphony” by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847)? In this work, Saint-Saëns not only exploited the best of his abilities (as he stated himself), but he also appeared to sum up the highlights of the romantic music in the 19th century—up to exhaustive climaxes and the breathless, euphoric ending. If that music isn’t enthralling, what else is?
Overall Rating: ★★★★
The author would like to express his gratitude to
- the Orpheum Foundation and 2Dream Productions for the invitation to the concert, and
- Ms. Jacqueline Haberl, 2Dream Productions for forwarding the photos from the event.
With the exception of the artists’ press images at the top (and the composers’ portraits), all photos are © Thomas Entzeroth, Zürich