Rite in harmony

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MPO principal conductor Sergey Smbatyan conducts the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra as it premieres The Rite of Spring in Malta. The Sunday Times of Malta catches up with him prior to leading this monumental work. 

MPO principal conductor Sergey Smbatyan conducts the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra as it premieres The Rite of Spring in Malta. The Sunday Times of Malta catches up with him prior to leading this monumental work. 

Riots ensued following the premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913. What is so revolutionary about the work?

The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s famous ballet, is a revolutionary artwork both in its ideology and musical structure. Time gives the exact evaluation of any work. And time played an unusual game with this ballet: years after the initial scandal, it was recognised as a masterpiece.

During the premiere, the Paris audience was shocked, evidently still not ready to absorb what was being presented. Time was also needed to grasp Stravinsky’s innovative ideas. Nowadays, The Rite of Spring is one of the most loved works that represents the harmony between humanity and nature, and the rebirth.

Which traits render this work so technically complex?

Stravinsky always strived for discoveries. He expanded the boundaries of musical formation and changed the composers’ attitude towards rhythmic structures. In The Rite of Spring, rhythm prevails, a powerful feature maintaining the dynamic tension within the music.

On September 14, together with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, we shall endeavour to convey these characteristics to patrons.

Contrastingly, Rachmnaninoff’s Piano Concerto is full of lyrical melodies. What features have allowed the work to become such a popular composition with audiences?

Indeed, we have chosen a fascinating concert programme for classical music lovers, presenting the works of the two greatest authors of the 20th century Russian composition school – Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. Certainly, the concert programme is based on contrasts between Stravinsky’s revolutionism and Rachmaninov’s lyricism. The Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of the most famous works ever written for piano, revealing the composer’s lyrical nature expressed in an incredibly poignant way.

Rachmaninoff endured years of hardship prior to this work – triggering a creative crisis. Yet, this concerto re-established his status as a composer. The whole spectrum of emotions accumulated during those preceding years are put in evidence – elements which we shall seek to portray, together with pianist Alexei Volodin.

You will be leading the premiere of The Rite of Spring in Malta. How challenging yet exciting is this scenario?

It is truly compelling to perform Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the first time. Music itself is an emotional yet sensitive activity, essentially requiring an immersive journey in the works to be performed.

Yet, my experiences collaborating with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra kindles my belief that we shall fully convey Stravinsky’s revolutionary mood to the audience.

You were recently appointed principal conductor of the MPO. Are you relishing this opportunity and how do you envisage nurturing your relationship with the musicians?

Being appointed to this role is truly a great honour and an exciting prospect. I have worked extensively with the MPO, both locally and during international concert tours. Throughout the years, we have learned from each other, helped each other and shared some fantastic performances in prestigious venues around the world.

The MPO is an orchestra of the highest calibre with its unique traditions. I truly love my job and the people I work with and I believe this feeling is reciprocated by the musicians. Indeed, any success is a result of teamwork, dedication and mutual respect – values which are going to be the base of our work. Hence, I am fully confident that we are going to succeed in our joint efforts.

Your forthcoming commitment with the orchestra is the MPO Moscow Tour. Having led the orchestra in its recent tours, can you share your views on the ensemble’s foray into international circles?

Our first concert tours, initially in Europe and afterwards in the US were the catalyst for artistic collaborations and enhanced visibility within the international music community. Currently, the MPO enjoys a high reputation, offering the ensemble the possibility to tour more frequently.

I believe that our upcoming concerts in Moscow with acclaimed soloists, including Ray Chen, Shlomo Mintz and Alessandro Taverna, will ensure further artistic development for the orchestra, leading to increased opportunities for the MPO to perform worldwide.

Sergey Smbatyan will be conducting the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra at the Mediterranean Conference Centre on September 14. The concert will also feature pianist Alexei Volodin in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. For tickets, visit www.showshappening.com. More information is available on dev.maltaorchestra.com.