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Flanders Symphony Orchestra to perform Stravinsky’s 'dream work' Petrushka in Brussels on 16 May

20:00 20/04/2022
In partnership with Flanders Symphony Orchestra

The Flanders Symphony Orchestra is preparing an evening of extraordinary classical music at Bozar on 16 May. The programme offers Stravinsky’s sumptuous 1947 version of the ballet Petrushka, the Second Concerto for Piano by Rachmaninov with Russian-Lithuanian star pianist Lukas Geniušas and a contemporary piece by Ward De Jonghe.

“Petrushka is a dream work for a conductor,” says Kristiina Poska, who leads Flanders Symphony Orchestra (Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen) in its concert tour of Flanders and Brussels from 5 to 22 May. Currently in her third season as the orchestra’s chief conductor, the Estonian tells The Bulletin about the joys and challenges of performing the symphony version of Petrushka, among other works in the programme.

What’s so special about this concert programme?

A true dream for every conductor, Stravinsky’s Petrushka combines so many bright colours and bouncing sounds, the baton almost dances on its own. Rachmaninoff wrote his famous second piano concerto after a period of major depression. Fortunately, the hypnotherapist Nikolaj Dahl helped him climb out of that dark pit. The Russian-Lithuanian pianist Lukas Geniušas feels perfectly Rachmaninoff’s virtuoso melancholy. Ansatz is a new work by Ward De Jonghe (part of the orchestra’s project SOV Composers’ Academy, which sees the young composer search for a way to retain the traditional role of harmony, inspired by Rameau and Poulenc.

SOV Academy at Bozar

How does the 1947 version differ from Stravinsky’s original ballet and have you made any adaptations?

Compared to the original ballet, Stravinsky changed the score quite a bit. Originally, Petrushka was conceived as a concert piece for piano and orchestra. In the 1947 version, which the composer preferred himself, he moves again towards this spirit as he gives a more important role to the piano, which I think fits the piece very well. He also added new tempo markings and wrote a new ending suited for concert performances. He didn’t seem happy with this new ending, so we play the one from the original ballet. The 1947 version became a standard piece of the symphonic repertoire.

What are the challenges in conducting this work?

For a start it’s an extremely difficult piece, both for the musicians and myself. From a technical point of view, it demands all the musicians to sit on the tips of their chairs and to play complicated rhythms and tempo changes with the precision of a Swiss watch. Of course, it’s my duty to inspire them and to offer them the most clear way of conducting in order for the puzzle to come together. Secondly, a concert version does not include the visual aspect of the ballet. So we have to characterise the story of the piece in a very convincing way with the musicians becoming the protagonists. In combination with the technical difficulties, they have to delve into the characters of the story and bring them alive with all the gestures and rhetoric needed. Together with the musicians, I have to make the story visible through the world of sound and colour. 

Have you previously worked with the pianist Lukas Geniušas?

The plan was to work with him in Latvia, where I’m principal guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Last year we met during rehearsals, however he tested positive with Covid. I was very sad as I could feel already during this brief encounter that he’s an exceptional musician. As Lukas was on our list of soloists to work with, I’m very happy we could invite him to Belgium and to combine Petrushka with Rachmaninov’s eternal Second Piano Concerto. 

How have you been preparing and rehearsing for the Bozar concert?

This is my third season with the Flanders Symphony Orchestra. During the first, we encountered for the first time Covid and we could only could play a few concerts for limited audiences. During my second season - also during the pandemic - we transformed ourselves and found ways to deal with this difficult situation. We were, as artists always have to be, very creative in developing a whole set of activities in order to explore repertoire, develop our sound and explore new horizons.

The result were new projects focusing on the support of young talents. We also recorded many symphonic pieces, which we published on CD and on our social media. We feel that because of this creative boost we are even stronger now and ready to embrace our audiences again. Some recent highlights have been a wonderful tour both in Belgium and abroad with the famous Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, performing Pärt and Fauré. More recently we toured my home country Estonia, where we performed some of the most intense concerts in my career. 

Petrushka concert tour in Brussels and Flanders 5 to 22 MayPhotos: portrait of Kristiina Poska © Kaupo Kikkas; the SOV performing at Bozar © Wouter Maeckelberghe. Sorry! Our prize giveaway has now closed and the winners have been notified.

Written by The Bulletin with Flanders Symphony Orchestra