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Sunday, October 23, 2011


(German cellist, Peter Bruns is the evening’s soloist)

Arjan Tien returns to the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra podium for the penultimate World Symphony Series 2011 Spring Season concert in the Durban City Hall on October 27. His programme showcases three emotionally charged masterworks by composers whose love for their homelands ran deep - Antonín Dvořák, Edward Elgar and Jean Sibelius.

Opening his programme with his customary sense of flair, Maestro Tien offers concert-goers a rare encounter with Dvořák’s My Homeland Overture. Written in 1882, shortly after the success of his sixth symphony, this richly rewarding work is strongly influenced by Bohemian folk songs. It was originally conceived as part of a set of incidental pieces to be performed with the play Josef Kajetán Tyl by Dvořák’s compatriot, František Šamberk. As with Beethoven’s Egmont and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the overture takes on a life of its own when played as a self-standing concert piece.

The internationally acclaimed German cellist, Peter Bruns, is the evening’s soloist. Cited by critics as a successor to the legendary Pablo Casals, he is equally at home on the concert platform and in the recording studio. Here, playing on a cello from Carlo Tononi, Venice 1730, once owned by Casals, he takes centre stage for a performance of Elgar’s great Cello Concerto in E minor.

Composed in the aftermath of a life-changing war, this deeply introspective work was written in the summer of 1919 at Elgar's secluded cottage in Sussex, where he had heard the sound of the artillery of World War I rumbling across the English Channel at night from France. A far cry from his patriotically robust compositions such as the famed Pomp and Circumstance Marches, the Cello Concerto reflects the profound effect the Great War had on the world, not least on its composer.

Its take-off in public esteem was slow, following the muted reception it received at its under-rehearsed premiere. But throughout the 20th century, in the hands of great cellists, notably Jacqueline du Pré whose passionate advocacy of the work saw it achieving wide appreciation in the 1960s, it came to be regarded as one of the cornerstones of the solo cello repertoire. Today, it rightfully holds its place in the international repertoire as its composer’s last supreme creation, both intimate and powerful, a heart-wrenching piece that seldom leaves listeners unmoved throughout its four-movement duration.

By contrast, Sibelius’ Symphony No 1, which follows after interval, evokes the sound world of a younger man, whose creative career was already in full flower when it was composed in 1899. The 33-year old composer had already made a name for himself as the creator of major works based on Finnish folklore, including Kullervo and the Lemminkäinen Suite. Coupling these works with his hugely famous Finlandia, it is difficult to separate Sibelius’s reputation as a composer whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity, with that of one of the 20th century’s most influential symphonists.

It is rewarding to listen to Sibelius’s first symphony on its own terms, noting the marvellous interplay in the solo writing for strings and winds, also to experience the work as the precursor to the other great symphonies in the creative output of a man who, uniquely in the history of music, in later life went on to become the Prime Minister of his homeland.

The concert will take place in the Durban City Hall on October 27 at 19h30. There will be a pre-concert lecture presented in association with Friends of Music at 18h15 in the Royal Hotel beforehand. Booking for KZN Philharmonic concerts and the lectures is through Computicket on 0861 915 8000 or online at