Orpheum Foundation Promotes Young Soloists; Neville Marriner Still Going Strong

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Prokofiev, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky  Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Aaron Pilsan (piano), Kian Soltani (cello), Sir Neville Marriner (conductor), Tonhalle,  Zurich    6.9.15 (JR)

Prokofiev:              Symphony No. 1 “Classical”
Mendelssohn:         Piano Concerto No. 1
Tchaikovsky:          “Rococo Variations” for cello and orchestra
Mendelssohn:         Symphony No. 4 “Italian”



The Orpheum Stiftung (Foundation), based in Zurich, was founded 25 years ago to promote young soloists, more specifically to give them concert exposure. The musicians are selected not by way of competition but by a committee consisting of such luminaries as Barenboim, Domingo, Haitink, Jansons, Jordan, Mehta and Zinman. Orpheum alumni count amongst their number no less than Nicola Benedetti, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Baiba Skride, Truls Mørk, Rafal Blechacz, Yuja Wang and Martin Grubinger – the list goes on.

The series of four concerts at the Tonhalle in Zurich, to celebrate Orpheum’s 25th anniversary, started a week ago with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow under Fedoseyev showcasing a young French cellist, Aurélien Pascal, and Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko. The Wiener Symphoniker was next up under Philippe Jordan with Kyoungmin Park (viola) from Korea together with ex-Orpheum soloist Nikolaj Znaider.

I attended the third of the series, the Tonhalle Orchestra under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. Apparently, the moderator told us, this was the third time Sir Neville had assisted Orpheum. Conducting obviously keeps you young and alert, for there were hardly any signs that Sir Neville is 91. Although he was probably always economic with his gestures, he seemed full of vigour and attentiveness.

Prokofiev’s “Classical” symphony rarely gets played nowadays, too long for an overture, too short for a proper first half, but here it made for a perfect curtain-raiser. The opening Allegro was not taken too fast, allowing the final “Molto vivace” to sizzle with considerable élan. It’s a sunny work and the players smiled all round.

The pianist, a mere 20 years old, from Austria (with Rumanian roots) is studying with Lars Vogt in Hannover. It’s probably still too early to call him a rising star, but he is a self-assured young man with considerable talent, both technically and musically. He enjoyed himself at the keyboard and that sense of enjoyment infected the audience. The concerto itself is lightweight but not completely undemanding. The first movement is rather non-descript, the spirited final movement has the most to offer listeners with its catchy melody and nimble finger-work required from the soloist. It was lots of fun and required plenty of skill: I’m sure Aaron Pilsan will be a name to watch.

After the interval, a second self-assured youngster, Kian Soltani, also resident in Austria but with Persian roots, took to the stage with his cello, wearing an Oriental-style cream blouson. The “Rococo Variations” are effervescent, highly enjoyable, with some tricky passages technically. Soltani captured the hearts of the audience with playing of great assurance, virtuosity and sensitivity. He was lyrical when required but passionate in the more stirring passages.  The reception he received was raucous. Another name, most certainly, to watch.

Finally, it was Sir Neville’s turn once again to send the audience away on a “high” with a fizzy performance of Mendelssohn’s charming “Italian” symphony. The strings in particular were glorious, the area where Sir Neville has his strengths from all those decades and recordings with the illustrious Academy of St. Martin-in- the–Fields. Tempi were spot on, it was all foot-tapping stuff. So, a concert in which one could admire the talents of two up-and-coming young soloists, look forward to their burgeoning careers, and look back on the long years of expertise of one the world’s great old conductors, still going strong.

The fourth Orpheum concert (on 12th September) will feature the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic under Kristjan Järvi and soloists Heigo Rosin, an Estonian percussionist and Hyeyoon Park, a Korean violinist.

John Rhodes

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