Reviews

Jac van Steen - Reviews

Recreating a musical landmark for the Britten weekend

On Friday October 19 the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, under the baton of Jac van Steen, performed two substantial works, the first being Britten's Cello Symphony (significantly not a concerto). It derived some of its ideas from the Shostakovich concerto and also the exceptional playing of Msitlav Rostropovich who, with his soprano wife Galina Vishnevskaya became two of Britten's closest and warmest friends. The work is not especially approachable and there is little in the way of engaging or memorable tunes that one finds in the concertos of Dvorak, Elgar or, indeed, Shostakovich. Nevertheless, the cellist Alban Gerhardt gave a splendid performance, playing with a powerful authority and the orchestral playing was both incisive and eloquent.

Shostakovitch's tenth symphony contains much arresting music and the explosive second movement is often considered a portrayal of Stalin's 'reign of terror'. It was a thrilling experience; performers and listeners right on the edge. The expansive opening movement was carefully controlled and brought to a thunderous climax but without loss of clarity. The following afternoon recreated the 1960 concert, the Britten sounding as fresh and inspired as it did when first falling on young ears as the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. BBC Young Musician winner Laura van der Heijden gave an excellent reading of Shostakovich's first cello concerto, engaging and witty in the outer movements but plumbing serious depths in the middle two movements. Her immaculate poise and control in the cadenza was quite exceptional.

To conclude the weekend Jac van Steen skilfully directed the orchestra in a brilliant display of virtuosity and elan with Rachmaninoff's third symphony. The inventive orchestration shimmered and glowed and the final bars were nothing less than breathtaking.

Gareth Jones / East Anglian Daily Times / 04 November 2019

A look back at some events of the 2019 Oxford Lieder Festival

<<............. The start to the whole Festival, which began with Norse Gods and Beowulf, was just as glorious. The first evening concert, at Oxford’s Town Hall, was orchestral: the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBCNOW) under the gigantic figure – and personality – of the orchestra’s ex-music director, Dutch conductor Jac van Steen. The pairing of here of Schubert and Grieg gained relevance from the former’s music for Rosamunde (disguised as Cyprian shepherdess, exiled, then restored as queen) in Brahms’s version; a daring orchestration of ‘Der Erlkönig’ by Berlioz; and the song ‘Prometheus’ D674 (later ravishingly orchestrated by Max Reger, D 674).


But the plum was swathes of music from Grieg’s Peer Gynt music – not just the Suites Op.46 and Op.55). Grieg had composed much ampler Peer Gynt music (Op.23) in 1874-5 for fellow-Norwegian Henrik Ibsen’s five-act play. The programme, ill-judgedly, emphasised the ‘hair-raising’ item ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, and the ‘haunting’ number ‘Solveig’s Song’. Jac van Steen would have none of this. He proved, in a way he so distinctively articulates (think of Carlos Kleiber), that less familiar passages of Grieg’s complete 26-movement Peer Gynt music were phenomenal – and, one suspects, influential on younger composers. Camilla Tilling and Neal Davies were imaginative and compelling soloists. Van Steen drew from the Welsh orchestra marvellous precision, a finely instilled sense of style, intensity, dynamic, and rubato. So the 2019 festival launched out triumphantly, and this spirit endured throughout. .............>>


02/11/2019

Comments

  1. Rob Harriessays:

    Having attended many of his concerts with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, I too am a fan of Jac van Steen. However, he was never the orchestra’s music director as stated in this review. He used to be their principal guest conductor.

    Seen and Heard International

****   Impassioned musicianship at Snape's “Britten and Russia” weekend

Snape Maltings Concert Hall interior

Snape Maltings alone has the key to Benjamin Britten’s wild parade, and the eponymous Britten Weekends every October rekindle the joy of hearing the local boy’s music in revealing contexts. Each three-day immersion brings a newly bottled concentrate of Aldeburgh Festivals gone by.

The 2019 vintage, labelled ‘Britten and Russia’, provided an opportunity for the German cellist Alban Gerhardt to explore links between Britten and Rostropovich as well as Britten and Shostakovich, with the latter’s Cello Sonata and sundry other works paired, variously, with the English composer's Cello Sonata, first and third Cello Suites and, at Saturday evening’s concert with Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the great Symphony for Cello and Orchestra of 1963.

That use of ‘great’ is deliberate, because while few of the composer’s works have so many detractors there are plenty too who count it a masterpiece (although probably not the audience member who declared loudly at the interval: “Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto tomorrow night. At last some real music”). Why does the Cello Symphony divide people so? Perhaps because of that vexatious title. The name of, say, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra kind of makes sense, but this?

There are numerous passages in which the orchestra shoulders the primary melodic material while the cello accompanies with a thrum-thrum-thrum, in an inversion of their usual concertante roles, but by the Adagio third movement the participants have reverted to type, first with a haunting solo melody that moves subtly between diatonic and chromatic intervals, through to an extended and thoroughly concertante solo cadenza. The best one can say for Britten’s provocative title is that it encourages us to listen with fresh ears; the best one can say for Gerhardt’s flawless account of it is that it will have made many friends for the music, if not that fellow at the interval. The descriptor 'symphony' may only hold up so far, but the German cellist played his part like a one-man orchestra.

Although Gerhardt’s impassioned musicianship sent the cello’s tangy timbre soaring round the brick walls of the Maltings, its volume couldn’t compare to the sonic spectacular of the 23-year-old Britten’s Russian Funeral with which van Steen and the BBC NOW had opened the concert. Horns, brass and percussion resounded with a thrill to compare with Janáček’s Sinfonietta in a six-minute piece that was way too much fun for a funeral dirge. Its insistent, Volga Boatman-esque melody sent shivers down the spine that were very much alive.

From fake Russia to the real thing, from booming Britten to music that all but tore asunder the fabric of the building, van Steen delivered a no-holds-barred account of Shostakovich’s mighty Tenth Symphony. The Dutch maestro’s musical shaping was testimony to his understanding of this repertoire, right from the vast opening movement’s dense, muscular strings that painted a desolate landscape until Robert Plane’s solo clarinet introduced a shaft of life. The ensuing second subject can be steely stuff but Jac van Steen ensured there was clarity amid the murk.

The Snape acoustic is ample, crystal clear and gripping, yet as a medium-sized venue it has built-in limiters against which Shostakovich’s massive score pounded and protested. The second movement, with its oh-so-eloquent marking of Presto inquieto, gave the ears a brief battering, while the ensuing Adagio, awash with the composer’s DSCH motif, sounded positively Mahlerian with its horn calls and edgy waltzes. Van Steen was nowhere more impressive than in shaping the closing Passacaglia: it began with a dark entry on cellos and basses, bleak and raddled with pain, that proceeded to spread like a virus through the entire orchestra. Then the chase began: jaunty at first, then hard-driven, and ultimately a showcase of orchestral virtuosity.

By Mark Valencia, 21 October 2019 - Bachtrack

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Conductor: Jac van Steen

We were excited to perform the opening night of this year’s OxfordLieder on Friday, with songs of myths, legends and Nordic landscapes conducted by Jac van Steen

Listen to the concert on BBC Radio 3 this evening at 7:30pm!
As of 14 October 2019 for 29 days !

****      Noble Elgar 2 from Jac van Steen in Belfast   

Jac van Steen, the Ulster Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, returned to Belfast in a programme to bridge time and emotion. Composed in 1991 for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Lento by Howard Skempton opened the concert.

It employs identical orchestration to the work it was conceived to complement: the prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal. The pristine intonation of the first violins marked the beginning of an exceptional evening of orchestral sound as an air of calm descended in Ulster Hall.

This expansive quasi-Sibelian piece uses just a few major and minor chords, which unfolded organically and atmospherically in Steen’s hands as he wove a tapestry of solemnity from the muted colours. Transcending time, the tranquil and hypnotic bubble of silence hanging in the ether when the piece finished was punctured by premature applause. The composer was welcomed to the platform and received warmly.

Aptly following the Skempton, Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder (orchestrated by Felix Mottl) which created another unique soundworld of heightened emotion. Replacing the advertised soloist of Christianne Stotijn was soprano Katherine Broderick. She brought an endearing innocence to the first song, Der Engel. An animated Broderick emphasised the turbulent nature of the text in Stehe still! whilst Steen mined the orchestral details, which had echoes of Tristan und Isolde.

Showing a different character in the third song, Im Treibhaus, Broderick changed the hues of her voice with subtlety and poise. Schmerzen was deeply expressive but without excessive emotion which heightened the impact of the final song, Träume, which was sung tenderly. Broderick’s clear diction was unfaltering, her voice had a rich and warm tone, projecting effortlessly over the orchestra. Steen managed the balance throughout not to overshadow Broderick, however it was the lush orchestral wash of sound which enchanted with its sheer eloquence, considered phrasing and beauty. 


Last season, Steen gave an exceptionally communicative rendition of Elgar’s First Symphony in Belfast, setting the bar extremely high for the Second. With a prevailing sense of nobility, this performance did not disappoint. An expansive work, needing careful pacing, Steen polished the jewels in this crown of Edwardian symphonic majesty to an iridescent sparkle. The tempo choices were not all as one might have anticipated, but throughout this highly engaging performance Steen knew the path he wanted to take. The first movement — Allegro vivace e nobilmente – evolved with grandeur, the darker moments present but not dwelled upon.

The undulating dynamics ebbed and flowed stylistically, each crest of sound controlled so as not to peak too soon. A reserved solemnity prevailed throughout the funereal Larghetto which had a momentum and natural breath-like phrasing. In the blink of an eye, colours changed for the third movement Presto, making the most of the central section contrasting against the Rondo theme, it was unhurried but still turbulent. Bringing the whole work fittingly to an end, with echoes of the previous movements, in the aptly taken Moderato e maestoso, Steen’s insight for the journey became apparent — deeply profound with insightful understanding. The diamond was the Ulster Orchestra itself, the sonorities, balance and connection with Steen sharing his vision for this symphony making the evening a triumph.

By Leighton Jones, 06 October 2019 on Bachtrack

No Crowd-Pleasers from the BBC Phil at Salford Quays


07/06/2019

United Kingdom Shostakovich, Prokofiev: Aleksey ‎ ‎Semenenko (violin),
BBC Philharmonic / Jac ‎van Steen (conductor). BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, 5.6.2019. (RBa)

Piers Hellawell – Wild ‎Flow

Dmitri Shostakovich – Violin Concerto No.2 in C sharp minor

Sergei Prokofiev – Symphony No.6 in E flat minor

 

The first two items in this BBC Phil concert were broadcast live on Radio 3. The orchestra was presided over by Dutch conductor Jac ‎van Steen, who is practised hand when it comes to repertoire from deep left field.

..... Van Steen directed the large orchestra which had a centrally placed harp. He did this minus baton and with detailed and expressive shoulder, arm and hand movements. He is a clear, demonstrative and very active communicator, without the eccentricities of Bernstein yet more emotive and far less impassive than Boult.

..…This is a overwhelmingly austere and desperately serious work that contrasts with the same composer’s First Violin Concerto. Van Steen, at times beaming with pleasure, conducted with baton, as he did also for the Prokofiev.

 

Prokofiev Symphony No.6 marched in. That stalking opening from the brass exercised a remorseless vice-tight grip. Van Steen caught the excoriating ambivalence of the music: its satire, its remorselessness, its drive, its valour..

 

Rob Barnett Seen and Heard



 

BBC Phil Plays British Contemporary and Czech 19th and 20th Century Music


21/06/2019

United Kingdom Matthews, Alma Mahler, Janáček, Dvořák, Martinů: Jennifer Johnston (mezzo), BBC Philharmonic / Jac ‎van Steen (conductor). BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, 19.6.2019.

 

This afternoon concert, in part (Matthews, Mahler, Janáček) broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, was directed by Jac van Steen. A fortnight ago he headed up the orchestra in a programme that included a rare performance of Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony. He is a purposeful, energetic, involving and affable conductor. On this showing, I hope that the BBC Phil will retain him again, and that he will also be favoured for the orchestra’s recording projects with Chandos.

 

The performance was vivid and quite magical. Serrated trills mark out shudders at the more grand guignol moments in the storyline. It was quite clear that van Steen enjoyed every moment, and this included a beaming smile sideways visible to the audience at one point.

All six of Bohuslav Martinů’s remarkable symphonies were composed during his exile in the USA. His Third Symphony, which is not often heard, was written in 1944 whilst he was living in Connecticut. It is dedicated to Koussevitzky, who premiered it in Boston. The three movements are Allegro poco moderato, Largo and Allegro-Andante.


The first movement, which van Steen launched very quickly, picked up on some of the airless tragedy of the same composer’s Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani. Once again there is a significant role for orchestral piano. It was the first time I had heard any Martinů symphony live. The first two movements struck me as tense yet melodious but densely concentrated. Its profile is very different from the triumphantly imaginative and lucidly scored Fourth Symphony. The free-flowing rhythmic finale drew considerable applause and some bravos, richly merited.

Rob Barnett Seen and Heard

Are we living in a new golden age of opera?


The proliferation now of opera in Britain raises the question of whether quantity compromises quality. On the basis of recent excursions, I’d say that point has not been reached. Until last weekend, I had never seen Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, but a lively production at Garsington proved well worth waiting for.


It is the operatic equivalent of a Carry On film – the story concerns a woman ordered to marry a man she’d rather not, but an ingenious plot twist ensures a happy ending – and the composer was criticised for going downmarket when it was premiered in 1866. Yet the work contains much fine music, superbly played in Garsington by the Philharmonia under Jac van Steen.

Telegraph, 16/6/2019 – Simon Heffner


……….
the bliss of the music in which the Philharmonia Orchestra shone throughout under the baton of Jac van Steen.


The Oxford Times - 4th July 2019

Shining through

 

Jac van Steen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra with the rhythmic lilt of a Czech native..

Garsington strikes gold again!

 

Hugh Canning - Sunday Times 9 June 2019

Garsington Opera’s The Bartered Bride is a Winning Summer’s Evening

The production works well in conjunction with Jac van Steen’s measured but still spirited conducting of the music…. Where the strings of the Philharmonia Orchestra are pliant and airy, the brass offer gravitas.

08.06.2019 - Read the full article at Seen and Heard International - Curtis Rogers

The Philharmonia Orchestra under Jac van Steen gave an emotionally charged and frequently thrilling account of the score.  I don’t know if this is to be recorded but it certainly deserves to be.


10.06.2019 - Read the full article at Larkreviews

The Bartered Bride, Garsington Opera review – musical glories, dramatic questions


Setting high operatic standards for Smetana in the idyllic Chilterns

























Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts plays the Circus Master in The Bartered Bride (c) Clive Barda

Musically, Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride is marvellous, vivid, dance-infused work. In the second performance of the run, conductor Jac van Steen and the Philharmonia Orchestra were achieving miracles of clarity, pacing and ensemble with it. The score is peppered with instructions to ratchet up the tempo or to pull it back, or “suivez le chant” (follow the singing), and there are always little caesuras marked which allow a breathing space before a new tempo and mood are established.

Van Steen and the orchestra were not only able to give all three acts a flow which always seemed very natural, but the dances had genuine lightness and lift, plus all the swagger and menace was there when necessary, and the moments of youthful passion too.

But most remarkable of all, there was more or less infallible co-ordination between pit and stage throughout, even with Garsington’s wide stage and a lot for the chorus to do. This is a remarkable company achievement and a real feather in the caps of van Steen and chorus director Jonathon Swinard. In the introductory talk, van Steen suggested the work needs to be heard at least three times in full performance to even start to unearth its treasures and subtleties; it would be impossible to argue with that.


03 June  2019 - Read the full article at TheArtsDesk by Sebastian Scotney


Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts plays the Circus Master in The Bartered Bride CLIVE BARDA

The Bartered Bride review – charm and wit in assured English village staging

Garsington Opera at Wormsley, Stokenchurch 


4/5 stars4 out of 5 stars.


Director Paul Curran transfers Smetana’s comic masterpiece to 1950s England to create an irresistibly energetic production

In the pit, Jac van Steen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra idiomatically, and the Garsington Opera Chorus energetically swirl around the stage full of life.

03 June  2019 - Read the full article at theguardian.com by Martin Kettle

Garsington Opera 2019 – Smetana’s The Bartered Bride

Natalya Romaniw, Brenden Gunnell, Joshua Bloom; directed by Paul Curran;

Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen


Smetana’s Prodaná nevĕsta, The Bartered Bride, a joyous comic opera with a serious emotional undercurrent, bubbles over with fantastic musical invention and opportunities for dance and chorus action. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this production is the sheer verve and vitality that the members of the Garsington Opera Chorus and the troupe of circus performers bring to Darren Royston’s great choreography – whether the visual routines during the Overture, the maypole sequence to the Polka at the end of the first Act, the Furiant found in the Second, and the effervescent ‘Dance of the Comedians’ in the Third.

With the settings taking the action to a church hall and kitchen, and to the local pub, around the time of the late-1950s, and with striking costuming to match, the sense of a close community is vividly presented. You felt you knew these people by the end of the evening. This liveliness is matched by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Jac van Steen bringing out all the characterisation and rhythmic energy of the score, and also a section of Má vlast whilst the clever set-change from hall to tavern unfolded before our eyes.

31 May 2019 - Read the full article at classicalsource.com - reviewed by Alexander Campbell


A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season















And, Paul Curran’s production of The Bartered Bride proved the perfect headliner for Garsington Opera’s 30th seasons. In Curran’s hands the party goes with a swing, the action is slick, and the music - with Jac van Steen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra - rouses one’s spirits.


The Chorus almost stole the show; singing so rousingly, dancing with aplomb, twisting the May-pole ribbons with dexterity and ease. And, the Philharmonia shone from the pit in glorious technicolour.

One impressive aspect of Jac van Steen’s leadership was the way in which he shaped the extended duets - as those in Act 2 for, first, Mařenka and Vašek, and then for Kecal and Jeník - clarifying the pace and nature of the changing dramatic temperature and mood, and allowing the performers to sing with flexible phrases which enhanced the dramatic naturalism. Quite frankly, it’s difficult to imagine The Bartered Bride being staged with more sincerity and charm than this. A brilliant and totally beguiling start to Garsington’s 30th anniversary season.

02 Jun  2019 - Read the full article at Operatoday by Claire Seymour


The Bartered Bride, Garsington Opera
The most brilliantly choreographed display of acrobatics imaginable

The Philharmonia Orchestra under Jac van Steen’s direction provides a perfect underpinning.

May 30, 2019 - Read the full article at Independent

The Bartered Bride @ Garsington Opera, Wormsley

There was wonderful singing from the four main Bartered Bride principals and a terrifically strong cast overall, not to mention the remarkable Garsington Chorus and the acrobats and jugglers! Natalia Romaniw and Brenden Gunnell as the young lovers were immaculate vocally, thrilling indeed.  And Stuart Jackson and Joshua Bloom each gave rounded and splendidly sung comic performances as Vasek and Kecal. And there was the additional luxury of the Philharmonia Orchestra in the pit playing immaculately and idiomatically for Jac van Steen.  A joyous evening indeed.


May 30, 2019 - Read the full article at briandickie.com

“My music is rhythmic because I am Czech… the natural music of the Czechs is rhythm – strong and agile rhythm.” (Martinů). How well the conductor Jac van Steen and the director Paul Curran understood this, and how superbly they brought it out in this joyous production of Smetana’s comic opera. This first night marked the 30th anniversary of Garsington Opera, and no better celebration could be imagined.

Jac van Steen obtained playing bristling with vigour, wit and pathos from the Philharmonia Orchestra. Sadly, illness prevented us from experiencing the second half of this wonderfully imagined and musically classy show, but testimony from reliable musician friends assures us that it was every bit as enjoyable as the first.

May 31, 2019 - Read the full article at Musicomh.com by Melanie Eskenazi

Czech mate: a hilarious and immaculately executed Bartered Bride at Garsington
















The orchestral score of The Bartered Bride has a certain uniformity of texture. But it has glorious variation in rhythm through all those dance numbers. Jac van Steen and the Philharmonia played it with charm and Bohemian lilt by the bucket load: I wondered if the orchestra has been receiving some intravenous injections of Czechness from Jakub Hrůša, one of their Principal Guest Conductors. Van Steen also had the levels beautifully controlled: in spite of there being a barnstorming chorus and various singers at different power levels, both voices and instruments were always clearly audible.


Read the full article at Bachtrack.com - By David Karlin, 30 May 2019

The Bartered Bride review at Garsington Opera – ‘the festival at the top of its game’




































Brenden Gunnell and the chorus in The Bartered Bride at Garsington. Photo: Clive Barda


The opening production of Garsington Opera’s 30th-anniversary season finds the festival at the top of its game. The Philharmonia – one of the world’s leading orchestras – is in the pit, with conductor Jac van Steen drawing from it a rich palette of tonal colours and music-making of precision. The Garsington Opera Chorus has never sounded better.

Read the full article at The Stage - May 30, 2019 - Reviewed by George Hall

Brenden Gunnell and the chorus in The Bartered Bride at Garsington. Photo: Clive Barda

The Bartered Bride review: Czech tale turns into a very English caper






With Jac van Steen conducting, the Philharmonia Orchestra matches the onstage sparkle without overpowering the singers. In an excellent cast, soprano Natalya Romaniw and tenor Brenden Gunnell are well matched as the thwarted lovers, while as the mayor-cum-marriage broker, bass Joshua Bloom has resonance and comic gravitas. In some ways, though, the star of the show is tenor Stuart Jackson; he generates empathy for the would-be fall guy, the stammering Vašek, who loses one fiancée but gains another in moments. This production celebrates 30 years of Garsington Opera, the last nine of them at the Getty family’s estate in Buckinghamshire. It gives the season a rousing send-off.

Read the full article at The Standard - May 30. 2019 - reviewed by Nick Kimberley


Until June 30 (01865 361636, garsingtonopera.org)

FIRST NIGHT: OPERA

Review: The Bartered Bride at Garsington at Wormsley


It is hard to resist the dazzle of Smetana’s score, stylishly delivered by the Philharmonia and tightly conducted by Jac van Steen

The Times, 30 May 2019:

Franck’s Aeolian winds usher in Saint-Säens and Elgar to Belfast

                                                         Louis Schwizgebel -Marco Borggreve (c)


César Franck’s symphonic poem Les Éolides, an orchestral rarity, opened this Ulster Orchestra concert under Jac van Steen. The work takes its inspiration from Leconte de Lisle’s poem, based on the Greek legend of the Aeolids the daughters of Aeolus, keeper of the winds. Premiered in 1877, this work has echoes of Wagner with its treatment of thematic material. This extremely satisfying performance was full of real conviction and superbly played. Phrases were carefully shaped, woodwind ideas growing organically out and back into the texture like gentle breezes, the strings sonorous throughout.


Saint–Saëns’ five piano concertos should be core repertoire. Each is very approachable and demonstrates the composer's gift for melody, invention and vivid orchestral colour. Apart from the Second, which gets an occasional airing, the Fifth is possibly the next most popular. Treated to a remarkable performance from Swiss-Chinese pianist Louis Schwizgebel, it’s difficult to believe he was placed only second in the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition. His sound projected effortlessly through the hall. This concerto allowed him to display all his refined technical skills with absolute assurance; hands were impeccably balanced, right-hand melodies projected with a cantabile tone, scale passages absolutely even, and staccatos crisp. Trills were measured and precise, chords voiced to perfection.

The first movement was very carefully controlled so as not to peak to early, a real intuitiveness between Steen and Schwizgebel apparent from the outset. Some gentle rubato in the orchestral passages created interest and a naturalness. The second movement quotes a Nubian song Saint-Saëns heard in Egypt at the time of writing, hence giving the work its “Egyptian” nickname. Although marked Andante, there was nothing pedestrian here. Schwizgebel played the solo part with a real sense of spontaneity and Steen’s careful orchestral direction added further freshness. Softer moments were mesmerising and the concluding bars were full of oriental mystery. The Molto allegro finale, was vibrant, exciting and fun putting the little tin hat (or should that be a fez) on a superb performance. Chopin’s Prélude in F sharp major followed as a most poetic encore, left-hand figures phrased with real sensitivity in this moment of reflective introspection.

Premiered in 1908, Elgar’s First Symphony was nine years in the making and was encouraged by Hans Richter who had given the first performance of the Enigma Variations. Throughout tonight’s performance one could hear Enigma all the way through. It was clear Steen knew both these Elgarian masterpieces intimately. This performance is one which could divide listeners. This was a rendition stripped of all foggy sentimentally, as if Aeolus’ winds had blown them all away. Steen’s approach was not only refreshing but it allowed the music to be appreciated in its rawest, simplest beauty, like heady mists dispersing to reveal the a Malvern landscape, a real breath of fresh air. 

Elgar said the opening theme of the first movement should be “noble and elevating”, something Steen seemed to keep back until its final appearance. With each reoccurrence of the theme it grew in intensity, character and mood, finally reaching its climax with a yearning, searching and questioning quality. There was such clear attention to the markings and phrasing which were executed with such musical precision from the players. The second movement had a dark foreboding to it. This movement had an aloofness, a modest restraint, but not in the British stiff upper-lip way, but something with a greater depth.

The Adagio was a moment of sheer beauty, stillness filling the hall. The brass, who had been on top form all night, shone through in the final movement; their playing was flawless, rich in tone and perfectly balanced within the orchestral palette. The return of the march theme was quicker, grander, affirmative, knowing it had found its feet marching on with a sense of musical resolution.

Time seemed to fly-by. Despite having heard Elgar’s First several times in concert, each time conducted by an Englishman, I’ve never quite ‘got it’. Tonight was different. Tonight it clicked. Perhaps it takes a flying Dutchman on Hellenic breezes to bring out the best of Elgar. 

Von Leighton Jones, 06 April 2019 - bachtrack.com


JAC VAN STEEN IMPRESSES YET AGAIN

CBSO Schumann review

Symphony Hall 


Readers will remember that the Dutch conductor Jac van Steen was high on my shortlist for CBSO principal conductor before the Mirga whirlwind hit us.. On the evidence of this matinee concert given before a packed audience, and the applause he received on both sides of the footlights, he certainly remains a firm favourite in all our hearts. His beat is clear, his gestures are understated but so communicative, and his rapport with the listeners and players is something magical.


He balanced the busy textures of excerpts from Smetana's Bartered Bride with smiling precision, coaxing awesome dexterity from the players, and then provided a neat and spirited accompaniment to Steven Osborne's busy, tireless and exhilarating account of the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto (yes, what a fortnight of this composer the CBSO players have had!).


Bouncy and skirling (what wonderful two-hand unisons in the first movement's Toytown march), Osborne wittily conveyed all the work's mock heroics, and then found unexpected depths in the slow movement's dreamy nocturne. The toccata figurations of the finale fizzed like cheap Russian champagne (and I've sunk a bit on my travels).


But then came true grandeur from van Steen, with a reading of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony which simply leapt off the page. Its admittedly thick scoring (which actually adds to its fervour) demands noble brass -- here in spades, horns, trumpets, sonorous trombones etching woodcuts of imagery into the texture -- and an inspiriting lift to phrasing and weight upon accents, all of which happened under van Steen's cultured baton.

Only one cavil, and it's nothing to do with the performance. A storage door was left open on the side of the stage, and it didn't half jar with at least one person present.


Christopher Morley - March 20, 2019 - www.midlandsmusicreviews.com

Haydnovo Stvoření s dirigentem van Steenem


"Jac van Steen přesně vystihl Haydnovu zvukomalebnost."


"Dramaturgie kromě smíšeného sboru pozvala i dva dětské sbory."


"Dueta Fajtová a Janál byla skutečným zážitkem."


Dramaturgie Symfonického orchestru hlavního města Prahy FOK připravila v předvánočním čase pražskému publiku hudební skvost. Snad nejlepší Haydnovo dílo - oratorium Stvoření. K jeho provedení pozvala nizozemského dlouholetého hostujícího dirigenta Jac van Steena. Ten si vybral jako hlavní sólistku Marii Fajtovou. Přidáme-li k tomu Kühnův smíšený sbor, pak je jasné, že se jednalo o provedení, které by nemělo nechat návštěvníky zcela chladným. (Klassikaplus)


Maria Fajtova - Jac van Steen


"Jac van Steen heeft humor van Haydn nauwkeurig weergegeven"


Het Praags Symfonieorkest FOK bereidde een muzikale schat voor in de pre-kersttijd van Praag. Misschien wel het beste werk van Haydn - het Oratorium van de Schepping, gedirigeerd door de vaste gastdirigent Jac van Steen. Hij koos als belangrijkste soliste Maria Fajtova. Samen met het gemengde koor van Kühn werd het een uitvoering die de bezoekers ontroerde.





The Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK prepared a musical treasure for the pre-Christmas time in Prague: Maybe Haydn’s best work – the Creation -  conducted by their principal guest conductor Jac van Steen and star soloist Maria Fajtova. Together with the mixed choir of Kühn, the rendition of this work left no-one untouched .


December 2018

Night of music mixes modern with a familiar classic

Ulster Orchestra, Ulster Hall

The Ulster Orchestra, under the masterly direction of its Dutch principal guest conductor Jac van Steen, featured the music of American composers with sharply contrasting styles in this packed concert organised as part of the Belfast International Festival.

The Ulster Orchestra, under the masterly direction of its Dutch principal guest conductor Jac van Steen, featured the music of American composers with sharply contrasting styles in this packed concert organised as part of the Belfast International Festival. (stock photo)


The Ulster Orchestra, under the masterly direction of its Dutch principal guest conductor Jac van Steen, featured the music of American composers with sharply contrasting styles in this packed concert organised as part of the Belfast International Festival.


The first half was dedicated to relatively modern music with a fine performance of Charles Ives' short and enigmatic work The Unanswered Question ­ - which must have raised many questions from the audience as to what it was all about. This was followed by Leonard Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's Symposium for solo violin, strong orchestra, harp and percussion. This is an extremely demanding piece in which the outstanding young Latvian violinist Baiba Skride gave a most assured and convincing performance.


The second half was devoted to the much more accessible and familiar Symphony No 9 from the New World by Antonin Dvorak. This symphony of great power and lyrical beauty is one of the most played in the classical repertoire. It was premiered in New York in 1893, but it is a mark of the ability of the highly-respected van Steen and the Ulster Orchestra that this work, first performed 125 years ago, sounded fresh and engaging in this Ulster Hall setting, as it moved through its four movements including the blissful Largo to its glorious finale.


The next main Ulster Orchestra concert on November 16 will feature another Ninth Symphony - this time Schubert's The Great.


By Alf McCreary - November 5 2018

Il Tabarro/Gianni Schicchi

Norwegian Opera & Ballet: Two short operas by Puccini in one evening


Il Tabarro/Gianni Schicchi conductor Jac van Steen in Oslo


« The orchestra and the attentive conductor Jac van Steen clearly distinguishes the distance between the inner melody lines written to seduce, and the more crooked sounds and tonalities, for example, it appears when someone on stage is lying and really turns the music into theatre music. »


Dagsavisen - 12.okt.2018


« Jac van Steen makes Puccini's music exhale and swing and adds both excitement, emotion and momentum exactly where it is needed. This is playful and uplifting opera music – the quick proof of why Puccini is one of the big ones. »


Aftenposten - 12.okt.2018


« Conductor Jac van Steen lets Puccini's music be as sophisticated bombastic as it is, and he leads the orchestra into some violent fortissimo parties. It sounds wonderful and the dramatic effect is the maximum… »


Scenekunst - 9.10.2018

          Twenty magical years


The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra turns 20 this year and so does classical music prodigy Tengku Ahmad Irfan Tengku Ahmad Shahrizal. It was fitting then that the two performed together for the recent gala concert which kicked off the new 20th Anniversary Special season at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. Music lovers were treated to four enchanting 19th century works from two Czech and two Russian composers.


Classical music prodigy Tengku Irfan and the MPO, conducted by Jac Van Steen, presented a memorable concert which kicked off the 20th Anniversary Special season at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in Kuala Lumpur recently.


Easing the audience into the mood were two overtures, starting with The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana, that provided a sampling of the comic opera filled with humour, exuberance and melodic invention. Helmed by Netherlands-born conductor Jac Van Steen, the MPO painted an aural picture of joy and delight, punctuated by riotous moments as well as softer and delicate passages. The upbeat sounds of merrymaking, laughter and revelry continued with the next overture through Antonin Dvorak’s Carnival, this time conducted by Tengku Irfan, who has grown by leaps and bounds.


Led by Van Steen, the MPO was Irfan’s perfect foil as it provided the sonic breadth and depth to the young soloist. From the highly recognisable opening pomp from the horn section to the various alluring violin phrases, it was definitely one of the highlights of the night. The post-interval portion had Van Steen once again conducting the MPO in a magical performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s four-movement symphonic suite, Scheherazade. Based on well-known tales from The Arabian Nights, the 47-minute work saw the MPO showcasing its orchestral splendour which made it easy for the imagination to run wild, which was the perfect closure to the two-hour gala concert.


By Aref Omar - August 24, 2018

    20 years of excellence


The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary by holding a gala concert at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP). The concert featured the eminent Dutch conductor, Jac van Steen, and Malaysia’s young music star, Tengku Irfan.


Those in attendance were treated to Smetana’s Bartered Bride Overture led by van Steen, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture conducted by Tengku Irfan, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 led by van Steen with Tengku Irfan on piano (pix). Closing the evening’s festivities was Rimsky-Korsakov’s wonderful Scheherazade, a beautiful retelling of the 1001 Arabian Nights in musical form. The charismatic van Steen conducted the movement.


By Azizul Rahman Ismail - August 24, 2018

MPO kicks off 20th season with spectacular gala concert


The first concert of a philharmonic orchestra's new season often sets the tone for what's to come for the rest of the year. For the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) that is celebrating its 20th year, a gala concert could not have been more fitting.

Kuala Lumpur: A fine and glorious presentation of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Jac van Steen for their 20th Anniversary celebration – August 2018


Short video of the rehearsal at Kuala Lumpur “click”

Chetham's Symphony Orchestra Concert - The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.


jac van steen chetham july 2018

If I were only able to use one word to sum-up this evening's concert, it would be 'Wow!"


Normally, when reviewing students' performances some little leeway and consideration for their tender years and lack of experience is necessary. Not here!  And when the oldest musician could only be 18, the maturity, level of understanding of the pieces' requirements, and their individual and cumulative musicianship was beyond reproach.


Playing in the famed and hallowed space that is the acoustically perfect Bridgewater Hall, Manchester's classical music jewel, as well as having a chorus of over 140 singers and a mezzo-soprano soloist to contend with, this must have been both simultaneously a daunting but thrilling adrenaline rush  But to watch them as they played these two substantial works one could be forgiven for thinking that they were used to doing just this and taking everything so very much in their stride.


Before I comment on the music however, I want to make a special commendation to the conductor this evening, Jac Van Steen. He obviously has extensive experience of working with orchestras-in-training so to speak, as he knew exactly and precisely how to draw the absolute best from every section, every instrument with just the simplest of gesture, and the musicians responded with alacrity.


His control over such a large group of people was superb, bringing the choir in and out and controlling every instrument with aplomb, almost as though he were the music itself.  Conducting at its finest.


In the first half of this evening's concert, we heard one of Edward Elgar's more seldom performed large orchestral works, but a work of exquisite beauty with his signature all over it. I write of his 'The Music Makers' . But as great as this work is, it is also something of an enigma (excuse the Enigma Variations pun here please!) inasmuch as it is his only work to use such a configuration of female soloist, choir and orchestra; his only work to reference so many of his other tunes, and his only work to truly show Edward Elgar the man. What do I mean by this statement? In utilising Arthur O'Shaughnessy's poem 'The Music Makers' - a poem which can only be read by the reader wearing his heart on his sleeve, Elgar sets his own emotively powerful music giving away more of himself in this work than perhaps in any other. And as the movement dies away with a plaintive but soulless recurrence of the opening theme...'we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams' he shows us a man (himself) who knows despair, pain, and death. It is not the happy jingoistic ending that perhaps it would have been if composed by someone else.


As I have already mentioned the orchestra were flawless in their interpretation and playing of this piece, and the chorus of singers... comprised of both  The Chetham's Chorus and The St. George's Singers, were superb and their diction immaculate.


The mezzo-soprano soloist, who doesn't start to sing until half-way through and then there is seemingly no stopping her, was this evening Margaret McDonald. A rich, mellow tone and perfect pitch with dynamic contrasts made this interpretation, and she was very pleasing on the ear. Sadly this evening though it was her diction which failed. Both myself and my companion remarked at how hard it was to understand her poor enunciation.


After the interval and the choir had gone. Just the orchestra now to delight us with the extended version of Gustav Holst's suite, The Planets.


15 years after Holst completed his Planets suit, another planet, Pluto, was discovered [never mind that the scientists are still debating exactly what a planet is and whether or not Pluto counts as one], and so some 70 years later, the final movement of Holst's work was extended with the addition of a new 'movement' - 'Pluto', which was composed by Colin Matthews in the style of and in deference to Holst, even bringing back the wordless offstage female chorus Holst scored for his Neptune.


Once again the orchestra were flawless and jaw-droppingly good. Again the orchestra demonstrated a knowledge and feel for this piece which took my breath away. These are, I would have thought, majority final year students, and so this concert will have been their swansong with Chetham's. I can honestly see no reason at all why every single musician this evening shouldn't be able to go into further training or find work within the profession without any difficulty, and I wholeheartedly wish them all every success in their so doing.


Meanwhile I look forward to hearing (and seeing) what joys await me with the newer students at Chetham's come September.


Bravissimi tutti.


Matthew Dougall - Sunday, 8 July 2018

Music review: Thea Musgrave at 90, City Halls, Glasgow ****


By Ken Walton - Monday 18 June 2018

Jac van Steen, Peter Marks, Thea Musgrave, Evelyn Glennie after the successful celebration concert for Thea’s 90th birthday!


At 90, and despite the seemingly reassuring need of a walking stick, Thea Musgrave is as sharp as a tack. The Edinburgh-born composer, who has lived in America most of her life, was in Glasgow for a celebratory birthday concert by the BBC SSO, an event punctuated by a personal onstage graduation ceremony in which Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, conferred on her an honorary doctorate. Her response to the honour was both pithy and wise.


But the focus of the evening was her music, four works dating from between 1970 and 2005, interspersed with music by Aaron Copland and Richard Rodney Bennett. What struck me most about the Musgrave works we heard was the enormous warmth and emotion contained within them. This was no more so than in the gorgeous Song of the Enchanter, written as a homage to Sibelius and certainly sharing that composer’s sharply defined sense of colour and mood, never mind the unashamed quotes.


Under Jac van Steen, the SSO sounded its old self, self-assured with a sense of unanimous spontaneity and thrill of the chase. The opening cast a mystical, impressionistic spell; the whole performance bristled with shimmering detail and pungent delight. Copland’s Symphony No 2 – a brilliantly abstract into manner of Stravinsky – acted like a palate cleanser before percussionist Evelyn Glennie and oboist Nicholas Daniel joined the orchestra for

Musgrave’s double concerto, Two’s Company.


This was pure theatre, Glennie opening onstage with the SSO, while Daniel entered from the rear of the hall, throwing seductive musical phrases in her direction. The wooing continued as they found new positions in and around the orchestra before musically embracing front stage. Again, delicious

colourings from Musgrave, and a work that never loses direction or consuming interest. The second half opened with Rodney Bennett’s Celebration (if you didn’t know the composer, you’d have sworn it was by Walton), serving as a fanfare to the final two Musgrave works.


First up, the earliest to feature, the 1970 Memento Vitae, another composer homage, this time to Beethoven. It served to remind us of Musgrave’s younger, more austere style, but equally her penchant for the dramatic. The colliding extremes of dynamic and idiom struck me as intoxicating pre-echoes of James MacMillan. The evening ended with a storming performance of Phoenix Rising, its gutsy all-embracing language serving as an apt summation of Musgrave’s fertile creativeness.

Stamina and skill from violinist Tasmin Little at Ulster Hall


jac van steen ulster april 2018

The Ulster Orchestra's successful current season is characterised by a shrewd mixture of familiar much-loved pieces balanced by music that is perhaps less well-known to local audiences.


This was the key to the latest concert under the baton of Jac van Steen, the orchestra's principal guest conductor, who expertly set the stage for a special evening with Sibelius' tone poem Pohjola's Daughter.


The main feature in the first half was the 8th Symphony by distinguished English composer David Matthews, now 75, who was present in the Ulster Hall for what was the piece's Belfast debut.


After a lively introduction there was an elegaic and almost Mahlerian second movement in G minor, where the composer paid tribute to a friend who died when Matthews was writing it. The final movement was in sharp contrast and featured four exuberant dance tunes. The theme for one of these came to the composer during a walk in the woods when he had no paper - but he wrote the notes down on a leaf from the forest. He told the story in a lively pre-concert talk with van Steen, and it was quite a privilege to hear a composer share such inner thoughts about the elusive creative process.


The second half belonged to international violinist Tasmin Little, a visitor here during the darkest days of the Troubles and who is still a great favourite with the Ulster Orchestra and local audiences.


She performed superbly Elgar's lengthy Violin Concerto, a musical tour de force which requires enormous technical skill and stamina, not only from the soloist but also the from conductor and the orchestra, who combined almost flawlessly to give an inspiring account of this masterpiece.


There was enthusiastic and sustained applause at the end. Next Saturday the mood will change when the Ulster Orchestra and conductor Stephen Bell pay tribute to Abba in the Waterfront Hall. It will be a sell-out.


Belfast Telegraph - Alf McCreary - April 16 2018

BBC NOW / Van Steen review


Dynamic showcase of young Welsh composers

Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff


An invigorating, emotional programme of works by Boden, Lewis and Puw showed how committed conductor Jac van Steen is to championing new talent.


In his relationship with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Jac van Steen’s championing of a younger generation of Welsh composers is remarkable. His vigour and commitment constitutes its own advocacy.


The new clarinet concerto by Mark David Boden (not to be confused with Mark Bowden, former BBC NOW composer-in-residence and member of the Camberwell Composers’ Collective) was written for the orchestra’s principal clarinettist Robert Plane.


By way of invoking common ground, Boden homed in on their shared passion for running in movements entitled Adrenaline, Isotonic, Threshold and Hypertension.


Rather than elevated in aesthetic or philosophical terms, this was hyper-energetic, brimful with motor energy, with Plane’s tireless virtuosity speaking for itself.


Sarah Lianne Lewis chooses evocative titles. Her 2017 piece Is There No Seeker of Dreams That Were? took its title from the American poet Cale Young Rice’s New Dreams for Old, and sought instrumental colours to reflect his themes of loss and grief. Lewis was particularly concerned to convey the waves of emotion that rise with their own uncontrollable dynamic, and the inherent austerity of this vein carried more force than the moments of ostensibly consoling tonality.


Guto Puw’s Camouflage was also premiered, a piece in which textures and characteristic sounds merged and re-emerged in the overall picture, as in nature. The music’s constant ebb and flow always held the ear. It was also rather telling that Puw, in his deeply instinctive pursuit of a higher integrity and purity, was unafraid to camouflage himself. Large-scale works by Alun Hoddinott and Michael Berkeley, showcasing what is stylistically a brilliant chameleon ensemble, completed an invigorating evening.

Guardian logo

   

    Rian Evans - Thu 29 Mar 2018

300 Zuhörer hören Passionsmusik „Polyptyque“ in der Christophorus-Kirche


Werne - Mit wütenden Akkorden wendeten sich die Streicher gegen die Solovioline, deren leises Flehen einsam über dem Orchester schwebte: Eine Dichte von Emotionen erfüllte am Palmsonntag die St. Christophorus-Kirche. Zum Beginn der Karwoche erklang dort eine Passionsmusik aus der Feder des modernen Komponisten Frank Martin, kombiniert mit Chorälen von Johann Sebastian Bach.


Unter dem Dirigat von Jac van Steen (r.) erklang am Sonntag die Passionsmusik „Polyptyque“ in der Christophorus-Kirche.     © Schwarze


Etwa 300 Zuhörer lauschten dem Konzert unter der Leitung des international auftretenden Dirigenten Jac van Steen. „Polyptyque“ nannte Frank Martin (1890-1974) sein Werk, nach einem mehrteiligen Altarbild im Dom von Siena.


Dieses Polyptychon habe ihn inspiriert, wie die Musikwissenschaftlerin Andrea Knefelkamp-West in einer Einführung vor dem Konzert erklärte. Allerdings wollte der Schweizer Komponist die Bilder nicht musikalisch nacherzählen, sondern seine Empfindungen beim Betrachten der Szenen in Musik verwandeln. „Wir hören sozusagen die Atmosphäre“, sagte Knefelkamp-West.

Deutsch-niederländischen Kooperationsprojekt


Und die wurde getragen von einem deutsch-niederländischen Kooperationsprojekt: Den Part der Solovioline übernahm Annemieke Corstens, Dozentin an der Musikhochschule Tilburg und Ehefrau von Jac van Steen. Dazu spielte das FMP Orchester Tilburg, bestehend aus jungen niederländischen Musikstudierenden; die Bach-Choräle sang das Verina-Ensemble aus Werne.


Den musikalischen Auftakt übernahm der Kantor von St. Christophorus, Dr. Hans-Joachim Wensing, mit einem Orgelstück von Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), „Jesus nimmt das Leiden an“. Die Klangwelt dieses Stücks kündete von innerer Zerrissenheit, in seinen angespannten Tonsprüngen und fliehenden Läufen. Zwischen bedrohlicher Tiefe ließ Wensing helle Töne wie verloren wirken.

Jac van Steen dirigiert mit straffer Hand


„Polyptyque“ differenzierte dieses Stimmungsbild weiter. Sehr sanglich und lyrisch setzte die Solovioline – die Stimme Jesu – ein. Ein starker Kontrast zur lärmenden Aufregung, die im Orchester losbrach. Noch ist es die begeisterte Aufregung, mit der Jesus am Palmsonntag empfangen wird. Bereits im zweiten Bild bereitet sich Jesus auf seinen Abschied vor: Ganz zart und behutsam spielte Annemieke Corstens eine traurige Weise; qualvolle Momente wechseln mit beherrschter Fassung. Das Orchester kommentiert mit aufwallendem Crescendo. Die Gefühlswelt eines Menschen im Angesicht des Todes ergründete Annemieke Corstens in ihrer ganzen Bandbreite. Sie nahm sich Zeit, lange Melodiebögen auszukosten und ließ im nächsten Moment den Bogen in schriller Beklemmung auf den Saiten tanzen.

Vibrierende Spannung


Im IV. Bild, im Garten von Gethsémané, lag eine vibrierende Spannung in der Luft, so sehr rieben sich Orchester und Solovioline aneinander. In den eigenen Melodien des Soloinstruments wurde die Einsamkeit Jesu spürbar. Die artikuliert vorgetragenen Bach-Choräle verstärkten diesen Impuls. Das Verina-Ensemble intonierte mal ruhig und gefasst, dann wieder mit einer fast wütenden Entschlossenheit.


Frank Martin hat sich in vielen Kompositionen an Bach orientiert und so ließen sich die Choräle nahtlos in das moderne Stück einfügen. „Man muss nicht religiös sein, um zu diesem Werk einen Zugang zu finden“, sagte Jac van Steen, der mit straffer Hand dirigiert hatte. „Daraus sprechen Emotionen und Gedanken, die auch so ankommen.“

   

    27.03.2018

Debussy’s Centenary Anniversary Celebrated in Cardiff


Debussy, Mozart, Messiaen: Steven Osborne (piano), Ladies of RWCMD Chamber Choir, BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Jac van Steen (conductor). St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 23.3.2018. (PCG)


Debussy – Nocturnes; La Mer                                     Listen to this concert from March 24 onwards, available for 28 days


Mozart – Piano Concerto No.27


Messiaen – Les offrandes oubliées


jac van steen cardiff 23 march 2018

This concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 as the principal part of the opening evening of that channel’s weekend-long commemoration of the centenary of Debussy’s death in 1918.


It well deserved its honourable place. In the first place, no expense had been spared to comply with the composer’s requirements for the music. We were given all three movements of the Nocturnes, including the often-omitted final Sirènes with its demand for an additional wordless chorus of female voices.


In fact, Debussy’s demand here is remarkably modest: he specifies a total of sixteen voices only in total, and clearly envisioned them as part of the orchestral texture rather than a featured element in the whole.


The programme listed 27 singers, but here it seemed that we were restricted to Debussy’s specified sixteen (or thereabouts), which meant that the vocal sounds ebbed and flowed within the pictorial description in a manner which seemed to reflect exactly the composer’s intentions. Jac van Steen resisted any temptation to hurry the music either here or in the opening Nuages, where he allowed the sense of lowering menace to make its impact in a suitably discreet manner. Between these two darker contemplations, the central Fêtes had all the excitement and bustle that one could wish, without excessive speed; the central distant march on muted trumpets was precisely pointed, rather than the flurry that it can sometimes become in more excitable hands.


In the second place, a serious attempt was also made to comply with Debussy’s extraordinary demands for individual string players in La mer. And they really are extraordinary: halfway through the first movement the score trenchantly and uncompromisingly specifies ‘16 violoncellos’ and the divided writing thereafter clearly shows that this is no simple mistake. Debussy’s stipulation nevertheless remains puzzling (even Wagner managed to make do with 12 cellos in The Ring), since nowhere else in the score does he suggest that he is anticipating the use of an exceptionally large body of strings. Here the BBC National Orchestra of Wales squeezed a dozen cellists on to the right-hand side of the stage, which meant that they outnumbered the violas; but carefully judged balances meant that the overall sound was not disturbed, except possibly in the masking of one or two of the lower-lying woodwind solos. Thanks, too, are due to Jac van Steen for re-instating Debussy’s trumpet lines (frequently omitted) during the final pages of the last movement; their absence leaves a gaping hole in the onward thrust of the musical development, even if Debussy does seem at various stages to have contemplated their removal.


At the beginning of the second half of this concert, we were given a rare opportunity to hear Messiaen’s early Les offrandes oubliées, written at the end of his student days when the composer was just twenty-one. The opening movement showed, as one would expect, the strong influence of Debussy (who had died just over a decade earlier); but the eruptions of the central section demonstrated the emergence of a newly forceful sense of purpose, following in some ways the example of Stravinsky in The Rite of Spring but adding to that a sense of ecstatic elevation which reminded me in some ways of Florent Schmitt’s music of the 1920s. Then in the final movement we suddenly emerged into the full splendour of Messiaen’s mature style: a prolonged movement, scored principally for strings, achieved a sense of contemplative peace which anticipates in many ways the similar movement in the Turangalila Symphony written some fourteen years later. Some of the delicately divided scoring even suggested the presence hidden somewhere in the orchestra of the ondes martenot which was later to colour the composer’s imagination so characterfully. This was Messiaen’s first substantial orchestral score, and it was an amazing achievement.


Amongst these hothouse blooms, Mozart’s final piano concerto might have seemed in severe danger of appearing over-delicate or even pallid. But Steve Osborne, no mean Debussy exponent in his own right – his recording of the Préludes was short-listed the following morning by Radio 3 as one of their chosen best, ahead of such illustrious names as Gieseking and Béroff – was clearly alert to the temptation to inflate the score, and his delicate ornamentation of Mozart’s original piano line never set a foot out of place. Indeed, these decorations (which Mozart would of course have fully expected) would hardly have been noticeable to any listener without the score in front of them. Osborne also allowed a sense of fun – and some sly rubato – to creep into the reiterations of the principal theme in the rondo; and he followed up the concerto with Canopes from the second book of Debussy Préludes. He should be thanked for letting his listeners know what he was playing, as so many performers fail to do (and I know this is an important point for many in the audience).


Jac van Steen is to be thanked, also, for announcing to the audience the encore which he and the orchestra provided after La mer – Ravel’s orchestration of Debussy’s Danse, otherwise known as the Tarantelle styrienne. This is a notoriously difficult orchestral showpiece – the young Ravel’s writing for the brass in places seems to demonstrate the triumph of optimism over practicality – but the performance here managed to stay on the rails through all the syncopated rhythms and provided a suitably festive atmosphere to bring this magnificent and highly enjoyable concert to an end. The recording, as usual from this source, remains available to listeners on the BBC iPlayer for a further month.


Paul Corfield Godfrey - 25/03/2018 - Seen and heard

Debussy, Mozart and Messiaen at St David’s Hall


After work (and a pint or two) on Friday evening I headed to St David’s Hall for a concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen. The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 so you can listen to it on the iPlayer for a month.


Claude Debussy

Two of the four pieces on the programme were by Claude Debussy (abovel, to mark the centenary of his death which was 100 years ago today (on 25th March 1918).


The concert opened with Debussy’s Nocturnes and ended with La Mer, both works consisting of three movements for a large orchestra and showing the vivid chromaticism and lush orchestration that typifies so many of his compositions. The last movement of Nocturnes includes some wordless singing, which was performed beautifully by female singers from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.


The second piece was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat Major K. 595, with soloist Steven Osborne. This, Mozart’s last piano concerto, is a nice piece, well played by both pianist and (pared-down) orchestra but I felt it was a rather incongruous piece for this programme. It was probably chosen because it is in some sense a valedictory piece, but all it did for me in this concert was emphasize how much the harmonic vocabulary of music expanded between Mozart and Debussy, and left me feeling that the Mozart piece was rather trite in comparison.


After the wine break we heard a piece that was completely new to me, Les Offrandes Oubliees by Olivier Messiaen, a wonderfully expressive piece with wildly contrasting moods, clearly influenced by Debussy but with a distinctive voice all its own. Messiaen is one composer I definitely wish I knew more about.


After the superb La Mer which ended the published programme, something very unusual happened for a classical concert in the UK: there was an encore by the orchestra in the form of a dance by Debussy orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.


All in all, a very enjoyable evening and a fitting tribute to Claude Debussy, a composer who was both modernist and impressionist and whose influence on the development of music is incalculable.


In the Dark / Telescoper - March 25 2018

Pianoconcertos Mozart Jac van Ste

The characteristic unifying Mozart’s masterpieces in this double CD set is the sterling artistry of Valerie Tryon, partnered in the works for two and three pianos by Peter Donohoe and (a name new to me) Mishka Rushdie Momen.


This release concentrates on Mozart’s concertos for one, two and three pianists but one should not consider the works without orchestra as mere fillers - certainly not in these performances. As an aside, it may say something about the long-held current view of Mozart’s solo piano music that it is very rarely heard these days in public recitals – by no means as often as the music demands – but its expressive (and indeed structural) qualities are not such as should remain the province of specialists.


The four concertos form the larger part of the music in this set, and one must applaud the decision to include the Concerto for Three Pianos, which is at times disparaged by those who ought to know better. This concerto - on disc, at any rate – is often trotted out for familial (Menuhins) or ‘star-studded’ (Barenboim, Ashkenazy, T’Song; Eschenbach, Frantz, Helmut Schmidt) reasons. Mozart’s Concerto for Three Pianos may not be one of his greatest works, as ‘Mozart in F major’ implies for some people, but there is more within this music than is often revealed by performances which appear to regard the work as one Mozart wrote with his rubber-stamp outfit.


It is true that K242 was written quickly, and that the third solo part is easier to play than the others (as the circumstances of its commission virtually demanded), but such is Mozart’s genius, so wonderfully revealed in this performance, that we remain unaware of the subtleties lying behind the score, and when performed – as here – with spacious tempos and a genuine sense of ‘give-and-take’ between the soloists, the stature of this work is revealed as we rarely experience. This is an enthralling performance, the most purely musical account I have heard.


It may seem strange to begin my comments on arguably the least significant work here, but I do so to indicate the consistent interpretative quality of these artists, not least that of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, whose partnership is of a high order, the fine musicianship of Boris Brott adding to one’s heightened appreciation of what is, after all, a masterpiece.


The two-piano Concerto K365 is an even finer work of art than its three-pianos predecessor; it  was written immediately following the sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, and these concurrent double concertos show aspects of Mozart’s approach to the compositional problems inherent in concertos for multiple soloists. As in the three-piano Concerto, one sometimes hears this work rattled off by star soloists without too great a thought being given to the nature of the music itself. But not here. In this fine performance, Valerie Tryon and Peter Donohoe deliver an account of impressively consistent perception. The interpretative accord between Tryon and Donohoe is matched by the orchestral contribution, which is superb, the ‘give-and-take’ between the soloists, inherent in the medium, being as one.


In the solo concertos, of course Valerie Tryon comes ‘into her own’ in performances of outstanding musical insight and technically expressive command. The first movement of K466 is sturdy, but not such as to cover the natural underlying sense of foreboding – rather expressing the strength of an individual who is inherently troubled. Her first entry is one of inner strength, yet always intensely musical and sensitive in, as it were, facing up to facts rather than being overwhelmed by them, made more compelling by her profound ability to phrase beautifully at high speed – note particularly her shaping of the first movement cadenza.


This last comment may equally be applied to that in K 467. In this masterpiece, a very different work, of course, composed just a month later, which retains aspects of the deep seriousness of its predecessor, if perhaps more enigmatically expressed, Tryon gives a performance of equal interpretative stature. There are no mannerisms in her playing, permitting nothing – as often happens with less insightful soloists – to come between composer and listener. In the solo concertos, the RPO is under Jac van Steen, who directs with admirably coherent musicianship.


The two works without orchestra are also admirably performed; the Sonata is far more than a brilliant showpiece, its character full of profound and masterly insights – wholly displayed for us in this affectionate and vital reading. But the astonishing C minor Fantasia is an equally remarkable achievement - in Tryon’s hands, this rare music is given with total commitment. But, as Michael Quinn’s excellent booklet notes tell us, what we hear is not 100% Mozart, for  his original 20-odd bars for violin and piano were extended to around 70 bars and completed after his death for solo piano by Maximilian Stadler. Tryon plays it in such compelling fashion that I don’t really care who composed what – it is an unknown masterpiece in her hands, fulfilling this double-album as a highly significant addition to great Mozart recordings.


Robert Matthew-Walker - Fanfare

Geheimnis von Meer und Begabung

Emmanuel Tjeknavorian


Die Geige ist seine Bestimmung: Emmanuel Tjeknavorian


Innsbruck – Wasser, Wellen, sanft und reißend, Landschaft und Impressionismus, vielleicht auch des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen prägten das März-Konzert des Tiroler Symphonieorchesters Innsbruck diese Woche im Congress.


Am Dirigentenpult war der Niederländer Jac van Steen, erfahren und temperamentvoll, ganz drin in den Werken und einsatzfreudig ganz bei den Musikern.


Drei Préludes des heurigen musikalischen Jahresregenten Claude Debussy, über deren lebensprühender Orchesterfassung von Colin Matthews das Klavieroriginal in den Hintergrund trat, sowie „Die Okeaniden“ von Jean Sibelius zeigten den symphonischen Zugriff auf dieses Programm. Es endete mit der besonderen Herausforderung von Debussys „La Mer“ voll Impetus und Leidenschaft, aber auch interpretatorischer Sorgfalt: Gleichnis für die Unergründlichkeit und Urgewalt des Meeres.


Dazwischen in Sibelius’ Violinkonzert die Begegnung mit dem blutjungen Geiger Emmanuel Tjeknavorian. Da geht ein Stern auf, ein Geigensänger von unbeschreiblich reiner Innigkeit, dessen perfekte Technik auch die schwierigsten Passagen, Flageolett-Kantilenen und Doppelgriffpassagen, mühelos in Musik verwandelt. Er ist zutiefst Lyriker, doch mit Temperament und Drive, ein Farbenzauberer mit umfassbar schönem, warmen Klang bis in die extreme Höhe. Das Orchester holte Steens Dramaturgie bei den Zwischenspielen in großen Wellen in den Vordergrund, der Geige aber und auch den vorzüglichen Holzbläsern verschaffte er stets den nötigen Raum.


Tief berührend, gedachte Tjeknavorian in der Zugabe, ganz unter dem Eindruck der Todesnachricht, mit einem Volkslied seines armenischen Herkunftslandes eines prägenden Lehrers. (u.st.)


Tiroler Tageszeitung vom Sa, 17.03.2018


International Piano Competition Hastings 2018

Russian pianist takes the Hastings prize


Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition reached its climax on Saturday night with performances from the remaining three finalists. HOT correspondent Heidi de Winter was there to enjoy the denouement of another gripping contest. Photos by Bob Mazzer.


And the winner was…Roman Kosyakov. A Russian player, currently studying in Birmingham, won the 14th HIPCC and a cheque for £15,000 playing a Russian composition – Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No 1 – in the finals of this outstanding competition. He was also chosen by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to receive their prize of £500 for the competitor they most admired.


Roman Kosyakov in action

Roman Kosyakov in action.


We were initially treated to our second finals rendition of the Prokofiev No 3 – love it, hate it, I can’t make up my mind – masterfully played by the graceful Fanya Lin wearing her trademark waterfall black gown. The RPO, under the baton of Jac van Steen, were on top of their game, particularly the percussionist playing the castanets so accurately in this piece, as Fanya Lin flicked down the keyboard with syncopated staccato runs.


Then Rixiang Huang performed the Liszt Concerto No 1 to the near-capacity audience. This time the fearless RPO triangle had a starring role – extraordinary how one tiny percussion instrument can completely control the mood of a movement.


Bill Turnbull once again compered with utmost professionalism, mastering the complexities of the programme and calling the circle audience to order when they were late returning after the interval. There was an atmosphere of joy and awe in the White Rock Theatre and the people of Hastings blew away the sometimes stuffy demeanour of classical audiences. These touches are what will put “The Hastings” (as opposed to The Leeds) on the map.


Finally the dashing Roman Kosyakov – a tall man with a halo of curly hair – took the stage, producing a tone from the Yamaha piano fit to dominate a large orchestra. He was uncharacteristically inaccurate in the opening few bars and I think that relaxed him enough to let go and just enjoy himself.


Tentacles crossed


I once again sat next to the impressively educated Ditchling gentleman who had so confidently foreseen last year’s winner. I wondered if he was the pianistic version of Paul, the octopus who could apparently predict the football results. Unfortunately, his tentacles were crossed this year as he was way off the mark with his assessment.


Jac van Steen conducted both evenings with great skill and gave a fatherly hug to a couple of the male players when they had completed their performances. He knows the scores of these pieces inside out and held all the contestants in safe hands.


So it’s over for another year – the stand-out Hastings classical event for those of us who love the piano. The winner will be giving further local recitals this year, but every contestant is a worthy laureate, as Frank Wibaut, the artistic director, so wisely said in his speech.


Having appointed a new chief executive, Helen Winning, the competition is guaranteed to return in 2019. The Kowitz family foundation once again bankrolled much of the event. They are incredibly generous.


What could they improve? Not much. The attention to every detail of the competition – publicity, volunteers, host families, public pianos, rehearsal pianos, accompanists, repertoire, judges, prizes – all faultless. If there was one thing I would like to see next year, it would be a hydraulic piano stool to obviate all the fiddling around when the girls have to play after the boys.


The whole competition is pretty close to perfection. All we need is a capacity audience for every day of the event and we will have created a piece of heaven on earth. And that is down to the people of Hastings.

Fanya Lin

Fanya Lin.


Su Yeon Kim was awarded second prize, third was Gen Li, fourth Fanya Lin, fifth Rixiang Huang and sixth Kyoungsun Park. Roman Kosyakov will be invited to give the Summer Prizewinner’s Picnic Recital at Fairlight Hall on Saturday 1 July.


Monday, Mar 5, 2018  http://hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/arts-culture/music-sound





Don’t let the strange cover photo put you off (conductor looking into camera, soloist looking in a completely different direction). This is a valuable release and very well recorded (Ben Connellan in the Blackheath Concert Halls).


The Concerto by Francisco Mignone (1897-1986) – composed in 1958, though you’d never guess from its lyrical, tonal language – is given an authentic reading by Clélia Iruzun, a friend of the composer since childhood.


Her booklet note tells us his widow, Maria Josephina, learnt the work with him and that ‘during our recent meetings I played it for her and she gave me valuable advice’. This seems to be the only available recording of the piece, something I find rather surprising, for it might well be, as Iruzun avers, ‘the best piano concerto written by a Brazilian composer’.


It is certainly more enjoyable than any of those by Mignone’s more famous compatriot Villa-Lobos. You can hear in the course of its three movements echoes of Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Ravel but also the playful exuberance and rhythmic vitality of South America. My guess is that this cracking performance will tempt many others to take it up.


Iruzun pairs it with Albéniz’s Piano Concerto, written quite early in his career (1887) and still relatively unknown. The composer of Iberia has yet to emerge with his unique voice but that does not mean the work is unattractive or poorly crafted. In fact, the reverse is true (you would, for instance, be hard of heart not to respond to the first movement’s second subject), and van Steen and Iruzun combine to give it its finest outing on disc since Felicja Blumental in the 1970s (both far preferable to the lacklustre Melani Mestre on Hyperion), though I am unsure why Somm lists the second movement simply as Andante when in the score it is clearly headed Reverie et Scherzo.


Iruzun ends the disc with two solo works apiece from each composer, well played but very much space fillers. I should have preferred another piano/orchestra work: there was room for Tavares’s riotous Concerto in Brazilian Forms.


Author: Jeremy Nicholas

Evening of concertos a triumph for Ulster orchestra

Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. Ulster Hall, Belfast




The Ulster Orchestra continued its successful season with a wide range of music in a jam-packed Ulster Hall on Friday night. It began with a glowing performance of Edward Elgar's elegant Introduction and Allegro under the direction of its ever-welcome principal guest conductor Jac van Steen, who always brings out a special sound from the strings.


There was a chilling contrast in the performance of Sibelius' Symphony No 4, though for the uninitiated the introduction in the concert programme listed it as the '7th'. This bleak, yet at times briefly lyrical work, was written during a crisis in the composer's life when he was suffering from throat cancer. Fortunately he recovered.


But his pain and fear are embedded in the work, which, technically, is one of his best, and van Steen and the ensemble gave a deeply thoughtful interpretation of this difficult piece. It is miraculous to think that it was the same composer who went on to write his evocative and powerful Fifth Symphony, his most popular masterpiece. The music of Anton Dvorak is also greatly popular because of its long stretches of musical sunshine, as well as the shadows.


Internationally-distinguished soloist Johannes Moser brought out all the sunshine, and a few shadows, in his superb performance of the composer's Cello Concerto. This, too, had its moments of sadness near the end for an unrequited love, but it finished in triumph. The soloist was rightly given a rapturous reception and he generously responded with an encore, the Sarabande from Suite No 1 by Bach.


Belfast Telegraph - Alf McCreary - January 22 2018


MIGNONE Piano Concerto 1. Valsa de Esquina: No. 1; No. 5. ALBÉNIZ Piano Concerto, Op. 781. Suite Espagnole: No. 1, "Granada"; No. 5, "Sevilla" Ÿ Clélia Iruzun (pn);

Jac van Steen, cond; Royal PO Ÿ SOMM CD265 (68:08)


Francisco Mignone (1897-1986) was a Brazilian composer of Italian extraction. (In later life he claimed his favorite composer was Puccini.) His reputation never reached the international level of that of his compatriot Villa-Lobos, though during his lifetime he was well known in his home country. He seems to be remembered now mostly for his solo piano music, which includes a number of Valses Brasileiras.


Clelia Iruzun, Jac van Steen

A complete disc of Mignone's piano music appeared in 2007 played by the pianist on this issue, Clélia Iruzun. She has also recorded his exuberant Fantastia Brasilerira No. 3 in its smaller version for piano and string orchestra; one of four works composed between 1929 and 1936 to bear that title. (There was also a compelling disc of Mignone's two string quartets, which I reviewed in Fanfare 36:1).


Mignone's large-scale three-movement Piano Concerto dates from later in his career, having been written in 1958. While Robert Matthew-Walker's informative note suggests this work retains a Brazilian folk-music influence, there is no denying it is something of a stylistic mix.


Much of the solo writing is reminiscent of Gershwin's Piano Concerto, and (like Gershwin) the composer is inclined to abruptly break into a big tune with Rachmaninov-inspired arpeggio piano accompaniment. The opening of the Allegretto marziale finale is a pure Prokofiev march––almost to the point of satire––although on the theme's return it is softened. In between big romantic statements are cheeky scherzando passages, piquantly orchestrated: the two extremes are heard within the first few minutes of the piece. As a whole, the concerto comes across as an extended divertissement and is great fun as long as you don't expect strict formal continuity or a strongly individual voice.


The Piano Concerto (or Concierto Fantástico) was Isaac Albéniz's major concert work of the 1880s. The composer played the solo in the work's Madrid premiere under Tomás Bretón in 1887. Just before embarking on this composition Albéniz had met Felipe Pedrell, a musicologist and teacher who had a great influence on him (also on Manuel de Falla), and who steered Albéniz towards writing in a distinctively Spanish style.


The three-movement Piano Concerto is still less overtly Spanish than the composer's late masterpiece Ibéria. As concertos of this period go, particularly those written by virtuoso pianists, its three movements are tightly knit and not overwhelmed by keyboard pyrotechnics. The orchestral writing, not Albéniz's strong point, seems perfectly adequate for its purpose and not in the least clumsy. Considering the 80 years that separate them, these two concertos have much in common, notably a lightness of touch and idiomatic writing for the solo instrument.


The performances are first rate. As I have indicated, the Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun is a specialist in this corner of the repertoire, and she displays both the sensitivity and the easy bravura required. Her thoughtful rubato saves the waltz theme in the first movement of the Albéniz concerto from tipping into banality. Van Steen's Royal Philharmonic is alert to unexpected mood changes in the Mignone and unobtrusively supportive in the Albéniz. Recording balance between the piano and orchestra is a model of how it should be done. As a bonus there are four solo tracks: two movements from the much better known Suite Espagnole of Albéniz, and two of Mignone's languid waltzes. To these Iruzun brings real charm.


This disc of what might have been mere curiosities is lifted to a higher level by the excellence of the performances.  Phillip Scott



ALBENIZ, MIGNONE: Iruzun / RPO / van Steen (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 265) ****


The composer Francisco Mignone (1897-1986) is little known outside his native Brazil where he was renowned as the “King of the Brazilian Waltz”. You can hear why in his two short solo works included here as a bonus, the first and fifth Valsa de Esquina from the set of twelve he composed between 1938-1943. They are immediately attractive and infectious pieces played with great élan by Clélia Iruzun for whom, as a schoolgirl in the 1970s, Mignone wrote solo piano works.


Mignone’s love of dance forms is apparent in his colourful piano concerto from 1958 where Iruzun is equally at home, with excellent support from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jac van Steen. Their performance of Isaac Albeniz’s rhythmically snappy and vibrant Concierto Fantastico is equally persuasive. But in Iruzun’s hands Albeniz’s Granada and Sevilla (from Suite Espagnole) suggest that his and Mignone’s genius lay in the shorter solo forms.


Norman Stinchcombe

Translucent sounds: Vaughan Williams, Sibelius and Dvořák in Belfast


In a concert set to become one of the highlights of the Ulster Orchestra's season, young Dutch violinist Rosanne Philippens impressed with her bold tackling of Sibelius’ concerto. The Ulster Orchestra was on flying form, with a mesmerising rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, superbly led by Principal Guest Conductor Jac van Steen.


Dirigent Jac van Steen Ulster Orchestra

Van Steen had set out to strip the Fantasia, a firm favourite among British audiences, of baggage accrued over more than a century of overbearing, indulgent performances. Instead, he sought to evoke a somewhat leaner sound, focussing on the work’s very essence, an interpretation paying respects to both the setting of its première in Gloucester Cathedral in 1910 and, crucially, the complex yet clarion hymnal writing of the Renaissance composer. The approach worked a treat. The orchestra’s string section, divided into three groups, played with a real sense of purpose, precision and the attentiveness. Here, with the Ulster Hall’s fine acoustics proving ideal for string sounds, the players marvelled from the piece’s serene beginning.


Van Steen allows the intricate layers of Tallis’ contrapuntal choral writing to shine through, its nuanced textures uncluttered. Recreating the spatial distance between players in the nave of the original cathedral setting by placing the ensemble of nine instruments behind the main body effectively suggested the echoes of antiphonal choral composition. The swifter tempo and transparent sound brought further benefits, facilitating contrast between ensemble playing and the string quartet’s “singing”, and rendering the expansive sounds of the vertical, organ-like chords at the piece’s climax towards the end all the more thrilling.


Next on the programme was the concerto with soloist Rosanne Philippens, substituting for Esther Yoo, who had withdrawn from the concert a few days earlier due to injury. Philippens made a strong case for her fearless approach to weighty repertoire in this performance. Sibelius' concerto famously ended in disaster at its Helsinki première in 1904, as the soloist was not up to its abundant technical challenges. With the 1905 revision, it quickly developed into one of the most treasured pieces for the violin, and remains one of the most demanding also. After its reticent, enigmatic opening, the Allegro moderato unfolded into its sweeping first theme. Philippens attacked the movement’s virtuosic cadenza with great panache, her playing positively unleashed throughout the breakneck runs awash with double stops and arpeggios. The absence of any safety net distinguished her interpretation and made this a joy to hear and watch. Only on a couple of occasions did her otherwise impeccable balance of control and abandon lapse, resulting in minor imprecisions.


The breathy octave scales were suitably eerie in Philippens’ rendition and her lyrical passages were poised throughout. The darkly lit beauty of the Adagio di molto could have done with a slightly restrained tempo to allow the soloist to develop her tone further and shape the movement’s long thematic lines. In the final movement (Allegro ma non tanto) Philippens played out her affinity for fiery tempi and dance rhythms. Urging the orchestra forward, she delighted in the energetic opening theme, her bowing rendering it rather more sprightly than melancholic. Her performance, which was followed by the Gavotte en rondeau from Bach’s Partita no. 3 (maybe dance was the alternative theme of the evening!), was received with enthusiastic applause.


For the concert’s second half, the Ulster Orchestra offered a convincing delivery of Dvořák's Seventh Symphony. While the playing was perfectly adequate, the orchestra could not quite replicate the excitement and verve of the first half. Jac van Steen’s decision to take the Scherzo at a much faster tempo than has become the standard performance practice made sense in theory, but the orchestra failed to completely translate this attack into the buoyancy demanded by the movement. The counter-rhythms of the Bohemian furiant dance were insufficiently pronounced as a result. Overall, however, this was a night to remember, with the audience at the packed Ulster Hall thoroughly enjoying itself.


By Judith Wiemers, 03 December 2017

Ulster Orchestra: Stand-in earns deserved ovation for superb Sibelius

Ulster Orchestra: Ulster Hall, Belfast


Imagine being asked to play the technically-demanding Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Ulster Orchestra at very short notice, and then taking to the stage at a packed Ulster Hall only a few days later.


Rosanne Phillipens, standing in for the indisposed Esther Yoo, rose to the occasion superbly on Friday evening and deservedly received a prolonged standing ovation.


She in turn was so impressed by the reception that she ended her debut in Belfast with a Bach encore. No doubt she will be invited to return.


Her performance of the Sibelius concerto on a Stradivarius, which was particularly impressive in the familiar final movement, was partly due to the well-judged accompaniment by the Ulster Orchestra under the direction of fellow Dutch national Jac van Steen, the principal guest conductor, who is always welcome in Belfast.


The success of the concert owed much to the imaginative planning, which showed off the orchestra's range to the fullest extent.

This included a sensitive interpretation of Ralph Vaughan Williams' spellbinding Fantasia On A Theme Of Thomas Tallis, which was based on a mid-16th century psalm tune by the composer.


The second half of the concert featured Antonin Dvorak's lively Symphony No 7 in D Minor, with van Steen leading the ensemble exuberantly through the well-known third movement, and the thrilling finale, to sustained and well deserved applause. The Ulster Orchestra is playing arguably better than at any time in its history, and the Friday concerts are drawing in highly appreciative crowds to the Ulster Hall.


As the orchestra continues its Christmas season with next weekend's performances of Handel's Messiah, it deserves its own best possible Christmas present with a guarantee of continued Government funding to maintain its excellent momentum.


By Alf McCreary - December 4 2017 - Belfast Telegraph

Jac van Steen's clear vision on Mahler's 9th Symphony


jac van steen operaplus

Jac van Steen surprised us very nicely and his precise idea of the interpretation of Mahler´s 9th Symphony brought the Prague Symphony Orchestra to good performance, based mainly on concentration and the output of individual players.


In the 2nd movement: Jac van Steen again did not rush with the tempo and in first theme of the movement he allowed to distinguish all sections of instruments separately. Generally, for me, it has been one of the best interpretations of this movement, I have ever heard.


Prague, November 2017


JAN PRŮŠA, 16.11.2017, Opera Plus


.....read more

 


Symphony on the border of music and silence

jac van steen foto Petr Dyrc


Jac van Steen is not the type of conductor-extrovert, he does not accent himself.


His artistic CV is interesting enough, it is worth attention and respect,  and it confirms that this close collaborator of the orchestra is relevant, and is an internationally acclaimed and respectctful personality….


….. In  the same way he carefully mediates the message and the legacy of Mahler´s music – honestly, respectfully and all out, but never for effect, never  obtrusive…


Peter Veber, 16.11.2017,  Harmonie


.....read more



Wien, Volksoper, Die Räuber von Giuseppe Verdi,



Schillers Familiendrama um Franz und Karl Moor an der Volksoper


Unter dem Dirigat von Jac van Steen lief das Orchester der Volksoper Wien zu wahren Höchstleistungen auf. Kraftvoll kernig, dann wieder lyrisch, gleichzeitig immer rücksichtsvoller Partner der Sänger.


Von Marcus Haimerl -  IOCO Kritik, 24.10.2017

weitere Vorstellungen


„Die Räuber“: Stilistische Eleganz und stimmliche Irrelevanz


Immerhin führt Jac van Steen das Orchester beinahe angriffig durch die Partitur und versucht, die dem frühen Verdi noch stark eingeschriebenen volksmusikalischen Zitate nicht zu stark herauszuarbeiten.


Volksblatt.at - 15.Oktober 2017

 

 

 

Volksoper: Stummfilmblick in Verdis Werkstatt


Regisseur Alexander Schulin siedelt Verdis „Räuber“ nach Schillers Drama zwischen Expressionismus und Opernkonvention an. Unter Jac van Steen sucht eine weitgehend achtbare Besetzung nach einem deutschen Verdi-Stil.


.. Jac van Steen am Pult ist zu danken dass in den Cabaletten grundsätzlich beide Strophen ausgeführt wurden und man so deren musikalisch-formalen Sinn richtig erfassen köntte..


Die Presse.com - von Walter Weidringer - 15 Oktober 2017



Wenn "Die Räuber" auf der Bühne verunglücken 

Jac van Steen leitete das Orchester der Volksoper mit viel Schwung und Elan…


Nachrichten.at - 16.Oktober 2017

 

 

 

Zurücklehnen und genießen


Regisseur Alexander Schulin dachte sich offenbar „Zurücklehnen und genießen“, denn dieses kann man mit Dirigent Jac van Steen wunderbar tun.


Mottingers-meinung.at - Oktober 18, 2017



Giuseppe Verdi, "Die Räuber": Hass und Eifersucht zerstören die Wiener Volksopernbühne


Jac van Steen dirigiert die Musik an der Volksoper sehr energetisch. Er lässt sich von der Komposition mitreißen und feuert die Musiker zu einer bombastischen Spielweise an. Laut und reißerisch vom ersten Augenblick an interpretiert van Steen das Werk auf eine kraftvolle Weise. Gestochen scharf rufen die Blechbläser im Vorspiel ihre Töne in den lautstarken Streicherteppich hinein. Die Musiker spielen fokussiert und verschmelzen zu einer Masse. Hoffentlich weicht diese Konzentration des Orchesters in den Folgevorstellungen keiner routinierten Werkmüdigkeit, wie sie bei häufig gespielten Repertoirewerken leider oft zu bemerken ist. Liebes Orchester der Volksoper Wien, bitte erhaltet diesen freudigen Elan beim Musizieren aufrecht!


Regie und Bühnenbild gehen bei der „Räuber“-Version an der Volksoper Hand in Hand. Zusammen mit der mitreißenden Interpretation der Musik durch Jac van Steen ist diese Inszenierung eine tolle Produktion, die sicher auch viele Opernneulinge begeistern kann. Diese zweieinhalb Stunden Musik in der Volksoper Wien lohnen sich. Bitte mehr davon!


Klassik-begeistert.de - von Charles E. Ritterband - 16. Oktober 2017




Wiener Volksoper: Verdis „Räuber“ als sehenswerter Raritäten-Abend


Danke, Wiener Volksoper!


Und auch Jac van Steen im Graben mag es grobmotorisch,  effektiv, nuancenfrei – aber mitreißend. So geraten diese Wiener „Räuber“ immerhin zu einem gut konsumierbaren Raritäten-Abend.


Klassiker.welt.de - von Manuel Brug

 

   

 

„Räuber“ in der Volksoper: Hatschende Angelegenheit


Dabei hat man im Haus am Gürtel mit Jac van Steen einen Dirigenten, der das Orchester bestens im Griff hat, der Verdis Musik ernst nimmt und sehr um musikalische Konturen bemüht ist. Jac van Steen setzt bei dieser Räuberpistole auf Dramatik, aber auch auf Transparenz, ist in den Arien und Duetten den Sängern ein aufmerksamer Partner und prononcierter Taktgeber.


Dass die „masnadieri“ (so der italienische Originaltitel) nicht zu den allerbesten Verdi-Opern zählen, machen Dirigent und Orchester in vielen Phasen weitgehend vergessen.


Online-nachrichten.eu -



 

"Die Räuber": Die Quadratur des Bühnenkubus


 

Der Ansatz wird später in keiner Weise mehr weiterverfolgt. Dabei motiviert Dirigent Jac van Steen das hauseigene Orchester zu Höhenflügen: Kernig und martialisch klingt die Sphäre der räuberischen Handlungsstränge, elegant fließen die Lyrismen der Liebesdinge und Heiratspläne. Und auch gesungen wird bei der neuesten Volksopernpremiere fulminant bis achtsam. - derstandard.at/2000066048481/Die-Raeuber-Die-Quadratur-des-Buehnenkubus


der Standard.at - von Daniel Ender - 16. Oktober 2017

 

 

 

Verdi’s family drama:

Die Räuber at the Volksoper

 

The orchestra sounded sprightly under Jac van Steen’s baton, and balance was appropriate thanks to the strength and focus of all lead voices as well as Verdi’s effective instrumentation.


Bachtrack.com - von Chanda VanderHart,

15 Oktober 2017

 

 


Mit Ignoranz für das Feine


Dirigent Jac van Steen und das Volksopernorchester breiten den Sängern einen fein gewebten Klangteppich. Doch mit Ausnahme des Chores und einer Nebenrolle schlagen sie das Angebot aus, musizieren zu können, ohne forcieren zu müssen. Selbst wenn das Orchester weiche Pianotöne anschlägt, bügelt Tenor Vincent Schirrmacher als Karl mit voller Lautstärke drüber. Dauer-Forte in größter Textdeutlichkeit: Dass er diese schwere Partie auf diese Weise durchsteht, ist beachtlich. Es wirkt fast schon absurd, dass allein David Sitka in der kleinen Rolle des Hermann auf das musikalische Konzept von Jac van Steen einzugehen scheint


Wiener zeitung.at - von Reinhard Göweil - 15. Oktober 2017

Sunday Times 2 July 2017


At the Wormsley Estate, I caught another opera about homicidal marital jealousy, Debussy’s altogether more restrained, chiaroscuro study of dysfunctional family life, Pelléas et Mélisande. It’s Garsington’s first production of this elusive, enigmatic masterpiece, and it wisely engaged the Philharmonia Orchestra, whose playing under Jac van Steen left nothing to be desired   

Garsington Opera: Pelleas et Melisande


A very wet evening seemed quite appropriate for Debussy’s only opera, the downpour reflecting the decaying splendour of the palace within which the action unfolds in Michael Boyd’s lucid presentation. More than anything else it was the clarity of the text which impressed and the refusal to try to explain what Maeterlinck wished to remain mysterious. We were constantly challenged to try to understand relationships which were elusive and shifting before our eyes.


In this Paul Gay’s Golaud was masterly. His gruff exterior seemed to hide an emotional core which never quite makes sense of his situation, to the point where even the death of Pelleas and Melisande lay outside of his understanding.


Andrea Carroll’s Melisande is probably the most enigmatic I can recall, the voice radiant yet the character always distant and reserved. Even at the end we have very little understanding of who or what she is. If Jonathan McGovern’s heroically sung Pelleas is more straightforward, his emotional understanding is complex and his relationship to Melisande always tentative, even in their final scene.



Brian Bannatyne-Scott brings dignity to Arkel and William Davies’ Yniold is given much more to do than normal. His finding of the crown in the second act is convincing if sinister, and his dragging off of Melisande’s soaking dress, impressive.


In the pit, the Philharmonia Orchestra more than justify their new relationship with the company. The sound is glorious and the interludes in particular had a lucidity and body to them which radiated throughout the house. Jac van Steen’s approach to the score was equally fluid, with attention to detail and phrasing always impressive.


Pelleas is not an easy work, either to stage or for the audience. It does not seem an obvious summer festival choice, yet it was more than vindicated here. Let us hope that this new approach from Garsington is the start of a long and fruitful collaboration.


June 30, 2017

www.larkreviews.co.uk



The main musical satisfaction of Garsington’s new Pelléas et Mélisande was the intense playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra


The main musical satisfaction of the evening was the forthright, intense playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra, which will be making regular appearances at Wormsley, and was encouraged to give its utmost by Jac van Steen.


June 2017 read more.........

Handsomely conducted by Jac van Steen, the Philharmonia are making their Garsington debut. Their playing is glorious, though just occasionally, on the opening night, they threatened to engulf the singers at climactic moments.


June 2017 read more.........

But while Boyd’s characters freeze or stand helpless, the Philharmonia Orchestra under Jac van Steen leave us in no doubt about the brooding, sometimes raging passions they’re unable to express. This is a brilliant, uninhibited reading of Debussy’s not entirely restrained score. While Golaud gives a few cursory tugs at Mélisande’s hair after catching her in flagrante delictu with Pelléas on the balcony, the orchestra swirls and heaves his repressed violence; and while the lovers declare their passion at 20 paces in the penultimate scene, van Steen and co. itemise their true desires. The playing throughout is superb.


June 2017 read more.........

Garsington have just begun a five-year collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra and this was a fortuitous opera with which to open that partnership, for the players are fresh from their Aix-en-Provence performances of the work last summer. Under Jac van Steen’s baton the Philharmonic created exquisite soundscapes in the orchestral interludes and punctuated the vocal lines adroitly. Van Steen went for a less-is-more approach, and it worked well; he refrained from overt emotionalism and let the score speak, and there was a keen sense of unity and consistency between instrumental and vocal lines.


The details of Debussy’s music-painting were gorgeously crafted: the throbbing oboe that accompanies the dejected Golaud in the forest; the fateful chiming of the clarinet when Pelléas presses Mélisande to tell Golaud the truth about her lost ring, whose fall into the unreachable depths of the well is conjured by slithering harp glissandi; the tense, short crescendos for the lower strings, bassoon and timpani which depict the closing of the castle gates.


June 2017 read more.........


This season Garsington launches a collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which plays in the pit for the first time under Dutch conductor Jac van Steen. Their interpretation of Pelleas et Melisande conveys a wonderful range of tonal colours, while its dramatic flow is unstoppable. Rarely has this extraordinary score revealed such exquisite beauty and yet equally hit home with such devastating power.


June 2017 read more.........

This was the Philharmonia Orchestra's house debut in the pit, and under Jac van Steen's unfailingly sensitive and idiomatic baton it delivered a performance to match last year's Aix-en-Provence triumph with Esa-Pekka Salonen.


June 2017 read more.........

Beginning a new five-year association Garsington and allowing the company to increase the number of operas presented each summer, the Philharmonia Orchestra produced a luxuriant and multi-layered sound, and if conductor Jac van Steen’s tempi were sometimes on the languorous side, there was always the sense of forward impetus and of the music driving the story.


June 2017 read more.........

The production marks the launch of Garsington Opera’s collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra in which the ensemble will perform at one production in each of the festival’s forthcoming seasons. This was an auspicious beginning as, under Jac van Steen’s direction, Debussy’s music variously shimmered and shuddered as it unfolded the shifting emotional and psychological states of the characters. Indeed, although the orchestra’s sound was ideally recessed and soft-grained (with particularly subtle integration of the horns and brass) van Steen ensured the score remained alert and responsive – with a beating heart, as it were – and so acted as a vital dimension to the drama in seeming almost to reveal more about it than the characters themselves know. The music swelled and surged where it should, with Golaud’s murderous attack on the lovers rightly registering as the shattering climax (the performance reaching its only fortissimo here), but van Steen secured a seamless drawing away of the orchestral tone from the foreground after such high points, such that each scene was fluidly, organically structured. With the sea and water referenced several times in the work, the same seething and receding textures as are palpable in La Mer (composed shortly after the opera) were evident here.


June 2017 read more.........

Garsington Opera has secured a five-year partnership with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the first outing of which is this Pelléas. Under Jac van Steen, the Philharmonia musicians surpassed themselves in the beauties of Debussy’s score, explaining the truths that the characters avoid so successfully, and saturating the music with a sure French sensibility.


June 2017 read more.........

The Rust-Belt Country House Opera that Pleases All the Senses

This production marks the beginning of Garsington Opera’s association with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and it gave a stunning account of itself under the baton of Jac van Steen, who is conducting Debussy’s only opera for the first time.


......With a uniformly excellent cast, a classy orchestra, terrific conductor and a glorious set, it seems strange to say this – but the great thing about this production was Michael Boyd’s direction.


June 2017 read more.........

Dutch Mahler’s Third with the Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK


Prague, Municipal House


Gustav Mahler

As I attended only the second of the two concerts at the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague, on Thursday 27.4., featuring Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor, I’d like to think it was the better one of the two.


The Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK hosted Dutch guests – the mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn and conductor Jac van Steen – and both performances were held under the auspices of HE Mr. Eduard W. V. M. Hoeks, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Czech Republic.


Alongside them were Pueri gaudentes (chorus master Zdena Součková), the Radost Praha Children’s choir (chorus master Jan Pirner) and the Prague Philharmonic Choir (chorus master Lukáš Vasilek).


The symphony, known to be colossal and the longest opus in the standard repertoire, is not colossal in the sense of the sound power throughout the whole of the work; colossal is its length, despite the composer abandoning the idea of a seventh movement - a decision some of us welcome and some may regret.


Although the first movement, stretching over half an hour, points towards a long evening, the structuring of the subsequent musical flow brings so many remarkable moments and transformations that the almost two-hour-performance (including breaks) is not exhausting.


The opening movement, marked as Kräftig. Entschieden (Strong. Decisive) is filled with wind music - performed here in a remarkably faultless manner - starting with a powerful horn octet fanfare, a solid manly and reliable trombone entrance, an ostinato solo horn display and a theatrical

presentation of off-stage percussion instruments - in this case a temporary open space behind the stage.


The appealing reminiscences to brass band march-music were led by the conductor so as to correspond with the serious intentions of the composer, and the movement was further adorned with an excellent violin solo by the concert master Jiří Hurník, and the flutes. The relatively short second movement, Tempo di menuetto, with a lyrical oboe entrance, was set and led by Jac van Steen in a very mild manner and built like a serenade intermezzo with an engaging melody like that of a spa milieu.


The third movement is prescribed as Comodo. Scherzando (Comfortably. without rush). It begins with an enchanting pizzicato, carries on lightly and briskly until the whole orchestra is enraptured, and when it quietens down the post-horn melody - played by Marek Zvolánek on flugelhorn - is heard off stage.


Powerful, emotionally charged and beautiful music is 2 rippled by the sound of the trumpet that stirs up the orchestra towards a dynamic flowering, and after another melodic passage comes an orchestral thunder with a characteristic kettle-drums memento and an abrupt end. In this movement the conductor returned to the appealing orchestral sound of the first movement to conclude the instrumental part of the symphony before the arrival of the choral and solo vocal sections. The fourth movement, prescribed Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously) introduces a quasi shimmering scene as suggested by the title of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Midnight Song from Also sprach Zarathustra.


The mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sang a brilliant solo, a sad desolate chant of pain in perfect harmony with the ‘night’ music; the deep emotional engagement with Mahler’s music was intensified by the violin solo performed by the concert master, and by the oboe and the horn section whose climb into a high-pitched lament added drama. The postscript belongs to the double-bass section followed by the soothingly pure children’s choir singing the excerpts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, offering a strikingly contrasting mood.


In the choral text Es sungen drei Engel (There Were Three Angels Singing) – a song based on a folk hymn – the composer turns to an imitation of an early, even Renaissance musical melos, tastefully rendered by the entire vocal and instrumental apparatus on the stage. The final movement, hymnal and majestic, is led in a symphonically peaceful melody by the conductor’s composed gestures.


Individual instrumental sections, with their distinctive colours, stand out and withdraw from the unified flow of the orchestra; and in a prolonged, gradual dynamic climb the percussion begin to come forward only to recede into the background again just before the very end. The kettle-drums, first by individual and then repeated strokes, almost bring the whole movement to a stop, except for the solitary flute. Jac van Steen shaped the final five minutes as an effective purposeful gradation in which the kettle drums strike the last bars of the symphony.


The programme notes did not include a lot of information on the work’s genesis. Mahler originally provided each movement with a title, later abandoning the idea, realising that no words can express the contents of the music. He also didn’t want to distract audiences from the music itself. The last, the sixth movement, included as a motto a quote from German folk poetry: ‘Father, look at my wounds! Let no creature be lost!’


June 2017 - Rafael Brom

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Beethoven 7th Symphony, March 2017:


………. Mr van Steen had to apply a reverse coaxing mechanism, where, rather than draw the passion out of the orchestra, he actively suppressed it, making those sad echo moments in the movement even softer than usual, creating a despairing exquisiteness to the whole thing. It was just sensational.


In many respects, the symphony is Beethoven’s Greatest Hits, with the brightness of the first movement, the playfulness of the third and the overwhelming victory of the final movement. The orchestra gave it a superb performance, and yes, excitable man in the Upper Circle Box, we all saw you on your feet conducting away to your heart’s content. We were blown away by the sheer vitality and force of the Royal Philharmonic’s performance. A great concert!


read more .......

Van Steen brings out the very best in orchestra

Ulster Orchestra, Ulster Hall, Belfast


The principal guest conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, Jac van Steen, made a welcome return to the Ulster Hall on Friday with music by English composers.


Film buffs will have been aware of William Walton's iconic Suite from Henry V, written for Laurence Olivier's film of 1944 and popular ever since.


Under the baton of the vastly-experienced Van Steen, there was a haunting beauty in Egdon Heath, composed by Holst, better known for The Planets, and less so for his setting of the Christmas carol In The Deep Midwinter.


The Vaughan Williams' Concerto in A Minor for oboe and strings was played brilliantly by the young Spanish soloist Ramon Ortega Quero, who brought out the depth and wide-ranging beauty of the music, especially in the Minuet and Musette, and added an encore.

In his entertaining pre-concert talk, Van Steen said that players of British orchestras are so familiar with Elgar's Enigma Variations that they could play it standing on their heads, without rehearsing.


He also said that the real challenge for conductor, players and the audience is to take and experience this masterpiece beyond what we are familiar with. Van Steen managed to do this, right to the stupendous finale with the mighty Mulholland Organ in the Ulster Hall in full flow.

The long applause from the capacity audience was enthusiastic, and rightly so.


Belfast Telegraph - Alf McCreary - March 6 2017



Staraufgebot in London, Wien und Paris:


Eine neue Oper über Richard Wagner und seine Familie geriet in Karlsruhe zum Publikumserfolg. An der Wiener Volksoper begeisterte eine konzertante Premiere von Erich Wolfgang Korngolds Oper »Das Wunder der Heliane«, und zum fünfjährigen Jubiläum des Opernhauses in Muscat gab sich Plácido Domingo erneut im Oman die Ehre: als Sänger sowie als Dirigent des staatlichen Symphonieorchesters.

Strawinsky und Winterthur


Zwei Werke des von Werner Reinhart geförderten Komponisten Igor Strawinsky standen im Zentrum des Musikkollegium-Konzerts vom Mittwoch.

Drei «Rückkehrer» prägten das Abonnements-Konzert des Musikkollegiums: Neben dem «Apollon musagète» und dem Oktett für Blasinstrumente von Igor Strawinsky (1882-1971), die 1931 beziehungsweise 1925 erstmals im Stadthaus aufgeführt worden waren, zählte dazu Jac van Steen, Chefdirigent des Orchesters von 2002 bis 2008. Vor bald zwei Jahren war van Steen letztmals hier zu Gast.


Einen Höhepunkt im stimmigen Programm bildete das 1932 uraufgeführte Klavierkonzert von Maurice Ravel. Zusammen mit dem 29-jährigen, technisch brillianten Genfer Pianisten Louis Schwizgebel gelang dem Orchester unter van Steen eine luzide Realisierung dieses an Farben reichen Werks; insbesondere der Schwebezustand zwischen Solo- und Orchesterpart im «Adagio» war berückend.


Eigentliches Glanzstück des Abends war jedoch Strawinskys Bläseroktett. Der Komponist begann sich hier alte Formen der Musikgeschichte anzueignen .........read more


Der Landbote - Helmut Dworschak - 23.02.2017

SYMPHONISCHES KONZERT - EIN HAUCH VON FRÜHLING


Johan Wagenaar Frühlingsgewalt, Konzertouvertüre op. 11 Robert Schumann Violoncello-konzert a-Moll op. 129 Johannes Brahms Symphonie Nr. 4 e-Moll op. 98

12.02.2017

Ein Wiederhören und ein Wiedersehen mit Jac van Steen! Und einen Hauch von Frühling bringt er mit, der beliebte Symphoniker-Chef der Jahre 1997 bis 2002. Duftig, heiter, freundlich und geschmeidig gibt sich die Konzertouvertüre Frühlingsgewalt seines holländischen Landsmannes aus dem 19. Jahrhundert, Johan Wagenaar.

Auch die Solistin von Schumanns meisterhaftem Cellokonzert kommt aus den Niederlanden: Quirine Viersen, Tochter eines Cellisten des Amsterdamer Concertgebouw Orchesters und später Schülerin von Heinrich Schiff am Salzburger Mozarteum. 1990 war sie Preisträgerin beim Pariser Rostropowitsch-Wettbewerb, 1991 beim Internationalen Cellowettbewerb in Helsinki. Und sie war die erste Niederländerin überhaupt, die einen Preis beim Moskauer Tschaikowsky-Wettbewerb gewann. Den krönenden Abschluss bildet die letzte Symphonie von Johannes Brahms – die in e-Moll mit der grandiosen Passacaglia als Finale.   ...........more

Wiener Volksoper – „DAS WUNDER DER HELIANE“


............"Am Pult werkte Jac van Steen. Er zelebrierte das Riesenorchster, bemühte sich auch sehr um die Sänger und brachte einem das Werk musikalisch sicher sehr gut näher."


5.2.2017 - Elena Habermann - Online Merker


..........more

Pers lovend over Kremer en Van Steen in Wenen


Annemarie Kremer

De Nederlandse sopraan Annemarie Kremer heeft op 27 januari 2017 de titelrol gezongen in een concertante uitvoering van de opera ‘Das Wunder der Heliane’ van Korngold in de Volskoper van Wenen. Het Volksopernorchester stond onder leiding van de Nederlandse dirigent Jac van Steen.


De pers schreef lovend over het duo:


“Dirigent Jac van Steen und das Volksopernorchester in großer Besetzung bis hin zur Orgel machten aus dieser Heliane tatsächlich ein Wunder. Allein so ein ausgefallenes wie anspruchsvolles Werk einzustudieren verdient Respekt; die bunte, doch übersichtliche und saubere Ausführung der komplizierten Details Begeisterung. Von den vielen Eindrücken dieses Abends sei jener Moment erwähnt, in dem die Streicher im Vorspiel zum dritten Akt mit perfekt synchronen Glissandi glänzten.


In der Titelpartie gefiel die Niederländerin Annemarie Kremer, dem Volksopern-Publikum als Salome bekannt. Ihrer sehnig-muskulösen Stimme hört man an, dass sie auch schon Norma, Maddalena in Andrea Chénier und Cio-Cio San gestemmt hat. So gelang es, dass ihr Sopran durch Korngolds Klangwolken wie Sonnenstrahlen auf religiösen Gemälden des 19. Jahrhunderts schien und sie im dritten Akt mit Blitzen durchzuckte.“


30-01-2017 - Opera Nederland - © Barbara Paálffy


Lees in Bachtrack

Lees in Der Standard

Lees in Wiener Zeitung

Emotionally Powerful Puccini Double Bill from Opera North


Review: Opera Ncrth, Il Tabarro & Suor Angelica; Grand Theatre, Leeds

With Michael Barker-Caven's new production of Suor Angelica {Sister Angelica}, Opera North has cornpleted Puccini's trilogy of one-act operas, Il Trittico. Paired with the fïrst panel in this triptych, Il ïabarro {The cloak}, it makes for a bleakly powerful evening, unleavened by the only comedy in the group, Gianni Schicchi.


.... It is intentionally shocking, but it works......... Jac van Steen conducts

sensitively....


.... a haunting finale. Yan Steen is especially delicate with the chamber music textures, but holds back nothing at the close.

17 Oct 2016 Martin Dreyer The Press


As a double bill, strongly cast and presented as part of Opera North's autumn Season and conducted by Jac van Steen, they devastate.

Il tabarro (The cloak) arguably contains some of the composer's most poised and finely wrought music. At the opening, the orchestra's watery undulations conjure the night heat of the river bank. Borrowing from Debllssy's example, Puccini stamps his score with pentatonic chords, a desolate sound pierced with harsh, tugging, repetitive chords. The musical tools are subtle, the result an outpouring of anguish. Puccini is intent, here, not on expansive nnelody but atmosphere, mood. In Leeds, conductor and orchestra tackled this music with sparing intensity.

The Observer 9 October


A double bill of Puccini that compels and enthrals These wonderful singers give vent to some of Puccini's most lyrical outpourings Jac van Steen coaxes a glossy Puccinian Sound and luminous detail from the Orchestra of Opera North...


Opera North's pair of Puccini melodramas are no gloomy sob-fest - review Four Stars ! The experiment works well, not least because Jac van Steen conducts both with such delicacy, holding back on the blood and guts in favour of teasing out the refinements in Puccini's orchestration and allowing the subtleties of the characters' inner situatíons to communicate without storrns battering them from the pit. What could have been a relentlessly gloomy sob-fest turns out to have its own balanced ebb and flow, richly contrasting ín tone and atmosphere.

The Telegraph


Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica review - Opera North illuminate Puccini's dark visions of loss and pain 4-5 Stars!


Jac van Steen's conducting implies the sour undertow beneath the shimmer of pious flutes and seraphic strings; even the depiction of golden light playing in the cloister fountain has no sooner been established than it appears to curdle. The sense of loss is palpable..

The Guardian


Brilliant Il tabarro and Suor Angelica complete Opera North's Puccini triptych **** Four Stars

By Richard Wilcocks. 02 October 2016 Bachtrack


The orchestra, conducted by Jac van Steen, brought out wondefully what Puccini intended - a doom-laden atmosphere where terrible disasters are likely to loom out of the river's mists......

.....Puccini totally entrusted the scene setting to the orchestra, and with the much welcomed return of the Dutch conductor, Jac van Steen, the company's outstanding musicians perfectly captured every explicit detail.

Yorkshirepost


Emotionally Powerful Puccini Double Bill from Opera North 04/10/2016

United Kingdom  Puccini: Il Tabarro and Suor Antgelica, Orchestra and soloists of Opera North, Jac van Steen (conductor), Leeds Grand Theatre,

Leeds, 1.10.2016. (JL)

Conductor Jac van Steen played a major role in bringing out the subtle orchestral textures of the mature Puccini. Above all the balance was perfegt, never drowning out the singers yet providing the power when needed. Pacing was perfect and this excellence continued with the next opera.

Seen & Heard Internatíonal


Double dose of drama

Opera North scores a hit with its robust new Puccini programme, says Richard Morrison

Opera Il tabarro / Suor Angelica

...... It's a gamble. Here, it pays offsplendidly forthree reasons: clear, unpretentious stage direction; two characterful casts; and a conductor, , ,, , who keeps the textures light and flexible while highlighting the orchestral wit in two of Puccini's most atmospheric scores.

The Tirnes


__________________________________________________

An emotional rollercoaster'

Violin Concerto World Premiere at BBC Proms

Royal Albert Hall, 27 July 2016


............ "Jac van Steen conducts excerpts from one of the most dramatic and colourfully scored of all ballets, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, a highlight of the Proms series marking 400 years since the death of Shakespeare..........."


Hanna Nepil - Financial Times - 29 July 2016



......."The conductor Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales contributed their own finesse to music of consequence and feeling.........."


Geoff Brown - The Times - 29 July 2016



......."Although Berkeley uses a large orchestra, he does so sparingly, and Van Steen’s precise direction ensured a mobile, luminous sound for a little over twenty minutes. Right quote............."


Peter Reed, Classical Source, July 2016


_______________________________________

Cosí fan tutte


Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte - Opera North - Leeds Grand Theatre


03 February 2016 to 26 February 2016


....."Jac van Steen conducts the orchestra through this emotional score with great skill, vigour and deftness of touch......"


British Theatre Guide / Mark Smith       .....more

Three Choirs Festival, Hereford Cathedral, review: 'drunk on dizzyingly sensuous sounds'


Ivan Hewett finds artistry and brilliance aplenty at Britain’s oldest music festival


..........."Conductor Jac Van Steen paced the prelude very cleverly so that its ecstatic quality shone through, without losing the character of an introduction to something even bigger, the Liebestod............ "


..........."In fact, these were no less riveting, which was thanks to Jac van Steen’s careful work in getting balances and speeds just right............"


The Telegraph / Ivan Hewitt 27 juni 2015          ......more

Garsington Opera at Wormsley


.........."Bruno Ravella’s production boasts practically perfect performances from Mary Dunleavy and Mark Stone as the tempestuous Mr and Mrs Storch, and Jac van Steen conducts with sensitivity.........."


........."The smaller roles are cast from strength – Ailish Tynan is glorious as the Storch’s knowing, put-upon maid, Anna – and there’s conducting of great immediacy and sensitivity from Jac van Steen. It’s a fine, profoundly humane achievement and well worth seeing.



Tin Ashley - The Guardian - 10 June 2015

Opera North's Gianni Schicchi and La vida breve reviewed: a flawless double helping of verismo

Both the music and stage direction are powerfully realised in this Puccini / de Falla double bill


....."The moment is superbly achieved by the director Christopher Alden and conductor Jac van Steen in their new production of Schicchi for Opera North.........."


.........."Van Steen, making a welcome return to Opera North following 2013’s excellent Peter Grimes, keeps the orchestral textures vivid and the pace fluid, operating Puccini’s sly gear-changes — the musical equivalent of switching camera angles — with a master’s touch.........."


The Spectator / Guy Dammann / 28 February 2015   .....more

Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall – Jac van Steen conducts Marche gaie, Les Heures persanes, Daphnis et Chloé and The Rite of Spring [City of Light: Paris 1900-1950]

Thursday, February 26, 2015 Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Reviewed by Colin Anderson


Jac van Steen in Royal Festival Hall, Londen

Jac van Steen with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen in Japan, this latest fixture of The City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 series was passed to the Royal College of Music.


Its Symphony Orchestra opened the concert with a very belated premiere, the Marche gaie by the short-lived Lili Boulanger (1893-1918, the younger sister of Nadia), who succumbed aged 24 to what we now know as Crohn’s Disease.


Marche gaie, seemingly a wedding piece, was listed by her in 1916 but without any sight of it at the time. The hand-written short-score was found only in 2011. It has been stylishly orchestrated for chamber forces by Robert Orledge. Of the few works that Lili left us, Marche gaie doesn’t quite fit, but it is an attractive piece of pastiche, somewhat skittish and owing something to Chabrier. Jac van Steen and the RCMSO gave it a lively birth.


Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) worked on his 16-section piano cycle, Les Heures persanes, between 1913 and 1919, orchestrating it in 1921. Four of the movements were here receiving their UK premieres! Impressionistic, exotic, sultry and shadowy, maybe each piece is stronger in colour and atmosphere than in ideas, although certainly capable of transporting the listener to celestial Arabian locales and times of day. That said, the sun-drenched streets, with much activity, relies on ‘harder’ scoring, and does so cueing comparisons with Roussel. These selections passed 15 minutes very pleasurably, evocative and vibrant music, and also intricate, requiring a deft and sensitive response, duly received.


For the familiar Second Suite from Daphnis and Chloe, a rather large RCM Chorus joined in, as per the complete ballet score, wordless of course, if just a little over-balanced at times although more successful in the hedonistic closing bacchanal. Van Steen kept the music on the move, integration his watchword, the music speaking for itself if a little coolly, not far off Ansermet in terms of wholeness and choreographic complementariness (and that’s big praise). If the frenetic ending was more Lucozade than liqueur, the musicians had the measure of the complex rhythms; and, earlier, the ‘dawn chorus’ of onomatopoeia had been skilfully negotiated and Stephanie Vici’s flute solo was suitably seductive.


It was bassoonist Catriona McDermid who with poised expression led-off The Rite of Spring, which gave both the work and Stravinsky fame and infamy at its Paris premiere in 1913. Some loose ends aside, this was a really impressive performance – for Jac van Steen’s interpretation and the students’ committed, enthusiastic and talented response. As he had for Daphnis, Van Steen saw the work whole, and it enjoyed a sense of organic growth and well-timed inevitability. It was played not as a showpiece but as music deeply-rooted in folklore, Van Steen’s conception weightier and more ritualistic than what is now the norm, RCM guns blazing but also very responsive to the eeriness that begins Part 2. In an account that really danced, and thrilled, the final ‘Sacrificial Dance’ was unerringly arrived at – through upheaval and then delirium.




Jac van Steen (GMD 2008-2013) 


Schon kurz nach seinerm Amtsantritt zeigte sich, dass Jac van Steen mit seiner künstlerischen Arbeit den Dortmunder Philharmonikern neue, qualitative hochstehende Impulse gab. So konnte van Stehen in der Oper z.B. an die große Wagner-Tradition seines Vorgängers Hans Wallat anknüpfen, ebenso gefeiert wurde er in Aufführungen mit Musik von Puccini, Strawinsky oder Verdi.


Im Konzertwesen hat es van Steen von Anbeginn seiner Tätigkeit ebenso verstanden, das Publikum zu begeistern, was sich nicht zuletzt auch in steigenden Besucherzahlen manifestiert hat. Ob durch seine große Integrationskraft, die in verschiedenen Projekten sowohl mit Dortmunder Chören als auch auswärtigen wie etwa dem Leeds-Chorus der Dortmunder Partnerstadt zum Ausdruck kam, ob durch die legendäre Aufführung des War Requiem mit dem CBSO-Chorus oder die hochkarätigen CD-Einspielungen, ob durch seine ausgefeilten Programmierungen, in denen er – die künstlerischen Abenteuer eines Rolf Agop oder Wilhelm Schüchter aufgreifend – das traditionelle sinfonische Gut mit Perlen der unbekannteren Orchesterliteratur geschickt zu verbinden weiß, ob durch seine offene, kommunikationsfreudige Art, mit der er innerhalb, aber auch außerhalb des Konzertsaals auf sein Publikum zugeht – all dies macht Jac van Steen sicherlich zu einem der hochgeschätzten Künstler in der langjährigen Geschichte der Philharmoniker, deren Jubiläumsspielzeit zum 125-jährigen Bestehen die Krönung seiner Dortmunder Amtszeit bildete. 

Opera North's sonorous Sibelius overshadows a lighter Mozart Requiem


Leeds Town Hall is a magnificent venue. Its richly decorated grand interior, with improving sayings of Victorian moral earnestness emblazoned on the upper reaches of the walls, has the audience looking towards the mighty organ pipes, resplendently painted white with colourful detail.


With the orchestra in place, centrally at the apex above her colleagues, framed by the organ and surrounded by her glistening instruments, presided timpanist Elsa Bradley like some lone Wagnerian Norn or Gothic princess, underpinning the climatic moments with her celestial thunder.


Before this imposing backdrop the orchestra conjured the presence, as though descending from heaven, of the golden knight, Lohengrin. Once the late-comers had done with their stumbling and grunting, the magic of the music wove its spell, and Jac van Steen showed himself to be the master of dramatic pacing, the arch of the Prelude beautifully shaped, enabling the climactic moment of revelation to blaze out in all its ecstatic glory. The strings were crystal clear, the woodwind well-blended and secure, and the brass resplendent.


It was then as if Lohengrin's swan had headed off to the Finnish realm of the dead, Tuonela, where things turned very dark indeed. After a preparatory abrupt, sombre rumination from the low strings there is a cello solo, the first of several in the Fourth Symphony, and Jessica Burroughs’ controlled but deeply expressive presentation of the theme was spellbinding, as she was in all her solos, fitting perfectly with van Steen's slow, sonorous and eloquent way with this work.  This wasn't the thin-sounding, astringent, icy interpretation that some ensembles aspire to for Sibelius, especially in this symphony; the Opera North orchestra in this venue achieve a wonderfully full, rounded late-Romantic sound, and it made for a very powerful performance indeed.


I have heard lighter, brighter, more urgent performances of the second movement, but this was not what van Steen and his orchestra were after, but rather a somewhat softer melancholy dance that led naturally to the slow movement where the glories of this orchestra were on full display, the intermingling and interchange of woodwind, brass and strings so beautifully accomplished. Maestro van Steen's ability to shape the structure so that the slow uncovering of the overwhelming string theme that crowns the movement, only to be downed by, as Andrew Fairley's excellent programme note would have it, ''malevolent brass'', was displayed to shattering effect. The brass, malevolent or not, were magnificent.


Come the finale we are dealing with the strangest of music, some of which Sibelius may have originally composed for a projected tone poem from the Gothic narrative of Edgar Alan Poe, Lohengrin's swan apparently now transmogrified into The Raven. The movement stutters enigmatically to an uncompromising end where screeching flutes call desperately upwards, in vain – ''Nevermore'' quoth the oboe, repeatedly.  It was  wonderfully characterised woodwind playing of great dramatic presence.  A few repeated desolate A minor chords and the music just stops. A tremendous performance, the orchestra responding eloquently to van Steen’s inspired conception.


During the interval we have to surmise that the raven metamorphosed into the mysterious man in black who, no less the stuff of legend than Lohengrin, commissioned the Mozart Requiem – though this was perhaps one metamorphosis too far: this was very definitely, as the football commentator might have it, a programme “of two halves”. The orchestra was diminished by a few desks and a measure of vibrato, and maybe because of the contrast with what had gone before, the opening of the Requiem sounded rather jaunty, with little of the sombre unease one might expect. And to begin with the choir sounded awfully far away, way back above and behind the orchestra, and lacking in focus and rhythmic security, the higher voices failing to cut through.


However, with the Kyrie fugue, things improved immensely, and indeed all five fugues (plus two repeated) in this edition of the Requiem were excellently done, exciting, energetic and serving well to establish the structural framework of the piece. Especially noteworthy is the Amen fugue, which Dr. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs has elaborated very successfully from sketches of Mozart that Sußmayr had ignored, (Sußmayr providing instead his own grand but rather unambitious Amen). This new edition also spices the orchestration with an increased but thoroughly Baroque use of trumpets and drums: it helps to maintain the dramatic colour and vitality of the work through to the end. Dr Cohrs has extended the final cadence and provided an unambiguous major chord, that the bereaved might be in receipt of some solace come the close. The two Opera North concerts, of which this was the second, constitute the edition’s UK première.


Bass Matthew Brook matched the 'wondrous sound' of Blair Sinclair's trombone in the Tuba mirum, calling us to the resurrection and the last judgement, his colleagues expanding on the awful process, and all four soloists sounded especially fine in the Recordare, pleading for “a place among the sheep”. I had the feeling that the performance improved and became more fluent as it progressed, the Offertorium coming off particularly well.


I confess I was assailed by the thought that in this great bombastic Victorian hall, as a follow-up to Wagner and Sibelius, both venue and context made irresistible the unforgiveable sin of longing for a mighty and sombre Romantic performance of the Requiem, with slower tempi and larger forces. Nevertheless, it was an intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable concert.


Ken Ward - Bachtrack - 27 October 2014

The Brahmsian orchestra at its best: Philharmonia Brahms cycle continues with van Steen


....."With an orchestra as marvellous as the Philharmonia, there is really precious little that can go wrong, even more so under the watchful eye of Jac van Steen, standing in for Andris Nelsons. Van Steen, reserved but authoritative in gesture, beamed for most of the concert, and an immaculately detailed – never clinical – sound from the orchestra reflected the loving care with which he approached some of Brahms’ most appealing music......"


....."From the opening van Steen’s masterly control was obvious. With an incredibly clear, balanced texture, graceful, rich, but never over-loud, Luke Whitehead’s contrabassoon was allowed just a sliver more presence in the tone; not enough to be inelegant, but rounding out the bass with its distinctive colour. This sort of micro-management was characteristic of van Steen’s interpretation, balancing fairly brisk and uncompromising tempi with eloquent manipulation of detail, without ever losing sight of the character in question, be it whirling gaiety as in Variation 5 or Baroque grace in Variation 7....."


....."From soaring, ecstatic ascents to shadowy whispering, everything was inch-perfect and though they clearly loved the sound they made, van Steen never let it obscure interest in other sections, or vice versa. ....."


....."Van Steen’s control of the orchestra slipped somewhat for the Third Symphony, as a few ensemble lapses clearly showed, particularly between the horns and the rest of the orchestra. This never prevented the character of the music coming through, though, and the Dutch conductor’s interpretation was one that emphasised character above all else, as well as showing a clear respect for Brahms’ masterly construction. ....."


Bachtrack -  George Slater-Walker, 14 October 2013     .....more

Unstoppable Brahms with Jac van Steen and the Philharmonia in Oxford


With a last-minute change of conductor from the excitable Andris Nelsons to the more reserved Jac van Steen, one might have forgiven a not exactly revolutionary performance. Last night’s concert was meant to be the first half of Nelsons’ Brahms cycle with the Philharmonia in the Sheldonian Theatre, part of Music at Oxford’s series, but illness unfortunately prevented him from performing. Van Steen’s lack of preparation meant it was going to be a big task to offer any new interpretations of these orchestral staples as well as preventing an all-Brahms programme from becoming uniform. However, after some reassurance from the Philharmonia, it was not going to be allowed to a problem.


Before diving full-pelt into the symphonies, the evening began with the lighter St Anthony Variations, or Variations on a Theme by Haydn. The winds were certainly not caught unawares as they opened the concert with an astonishingly warm sound, getting their intonation right immediately. With the large number of repeats written in, the variations threatened to drag.


But van Steen forbade any monotony. Through his expert sense of phrasing and by bringing out hidden voices, he ensured continued interest. Despite Brahms’ limited orchestral palate (especially in comparison to some of his contemporaries, such as Liszt and Wagner), van Steen produced a kaleidoscope of orchestral colours.


Yet the Philharmonia must be equally commended. Van Steen’s conducting during the variations was understated – wearing tails certainly did not impinge on his movement. It was as if being called in at the last minute meant that he did not entirely trust the orchestra, since he gave them every single beat. Nevertheless, the violins swirled feverishly in the fourth variation, growing through crescendos and pulling their audience into their sumptuousness. While their playing was doubtlessly expressive, the violins’ staccato lines in the second variation might have been articulated better. The finale somehow opened in a subtly grand manner, which was the ideal place to grow from. From here, the eventual development into a rich, full-orchestral sound made the entrance of the triangle (the only piece of percussion in the whole concert other than timpani) well deserved.


The following Third Symphony might be characterised as a symphony of anticlimaxes. All the movements end quietly, and its build-ups seem to die down too quickly. Van Steen took full advantage of its dramatic potential: rising to fiery climaxes, and then shamelessly taking them away, refusing to give away too much too early on. Meanwhile, the strings continued to reveal the many characters they are capable of: from the ferocious and bold, to the sweet or delicate. The central section of the first movement is one of the few places where the violas are allowed to shine – and boy did they relish it. Hearing their dark, resonant voices coming through from the middle of the orchestra was a delight. By the finale it was clear that van Steen felt more comfortable conducting this orchestra. The energy he mustered, helped by the magnificent brass and the new colour they offered, was so astounding that it felt like it could never stop. Yet after all of the momentum generated, the symphony’s close was disappointing. Although it was quiet, it could have been drawn out for longer. But for a symphony of anticlimaxes, this might have been van Steen’s (and Brahms’) point.


That Brahms’ First Symphony was nicknamed “Beethoven’s Tenth” seems bizarre, as to me the work reveals Brahms as a full-blown romantic. During the first movement, the Philharmonia brought out the darker side of its minor key, a darkness that Beethoven only sometimes hinted at. The slow second movement, with its tentative and longing string playing, was oddly reminiscent of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde prelude. It was a new aspect of Brahms that came as a surprise.


By the finale, van Steen was openly enjoying conducting such a responsive orchestra. The concentration in both players and conductor during the pizzicato build-ups translated to a huge amount of concentration from the audience. Finally, van Steen let go of his restraint, entrusting the Philharmonia with the reins when the moment was right. Any disappointment at the close of the Third was now forgotten. Starting with rumbling timpani and some of the most satisfying brass playing that I have heard, van Steen and the Philharmonia brought it to a gloriously and overwhelmingly loud close.


Although the Philharmonia will return with a different conductor to complete the cycle in January, if their playing is anything like last’s night it is certain to be a success. Whoever their conductor is, the Philharmonia are an orchestra working together. But they are not a machine-like single entity, which van Steen went to great lengths to prove. It made for an exciting concert that presented new ways of hearing these staples of the repertoire. Nelsons certainly has a difficult act to follow.


Hazel Rowland - Bachtrack - 7 October 2013