Reviews

Jac van Steen - Reviews

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.

 

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

 

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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