The academy calls this program “Daphnis and Chloe,” after the second work on the program. This is understandable, since the Ravel ballet has been a constant presence in concert halls, if not the ballet stage, ever since it was first performed, while the much greater work, the Rachmaninoff “Symphony No. 3,” was pronounced “stillborn” at its premiere and has languished in obscurity ever since.
The disastrous premiere of Rachmaninoff’s “First Symphony” — sabotaged, intentionally or otherwise, by conductor Alexander Glazunov, who was reportedly drunk as a skunk during the rehearsals and at the performance itself (Glazunov was also himself a damned fine composer, but must have felt himself plunging into the shadow cast by the advent of Rachmaninoff) — drove the composer into a deep funk that only therapy could get him out of. (The therapy consisted of hour-long sessions in which the therapist simply said to the composer, “You will begin to compose!” over and over — which kind of reminds me of Lucy van Pelt leaning over the orange crate bearing the shingle announcing “Psychiatric Care 5-Cents” and telling Charlie Brown, “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.”)
In fact, the “First Symphony” is not at all bad — and there are some smashing passages in it. The “Second Symphony” is the one everyone loves, and it is truly gorgeous, but long and rather static. The “Third Symphony,” my favorite, is much more dynamic and energetic, though he wrote many beautiful melodies for it.
He wrote it in his villa on Lake Lucerne, but I have always considered it his “American” symphony — partly, I suppose, because the main theme of the first movement sounds so much like our song, “Shenandoah,” but also because, in structure and soundscape, it is so much like the symphonies Roy Harris, George Antheil and Samuel Barber wrote in those same years. On the other hand, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev were also writing similar symphonies at the time. So, go figure. Still, for all of its melodic luxuriance, the Third is the most “modern” of all his orchestral works.
I own three recordings of Rachmaninoff’s “Third Symphony”: conducted by Eugene Ormandy, André Previn and the composer, respectively. I so much prefer Rachmaninoff’s version, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which he proclaimed to be the “World’s Greatest Orchestra.” Although the 1939 sound reproduction leaves much to be desired, I still find it difficult to turn to a newer recording. Rachmaninoff’s is the only version where the symphony is a living thing.
Denève (born in 1971) is a Frenchman, born and raised, who has spent most of his career conducting outside of France. A graduate of the Paris Conservatoire, he has worked as a conducting assistant to Sir Georg Solti, Georges Prêtre and Seiji Ozawa (so he knows what great conducting looks and sounds like).
In 2005-12, Denève served as music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and made several notable recordings with that band. He was also chief conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2011 until the orchestra’s merger with the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra, in 2016. He is currently music director of both the Brussels Philharmonic and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, which the great Leonard Slatkin built into a world-class orchestra during his long tenure (1979-96) as music director. As we shall bear witness, that orchestra is a star-maker.
The “Meet the Conductor” event for Denève, sponsored by Jerry and Kathleen Eberhardt, will take place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, 11 E. Anapamu St., with the Q&A led by violin fellow Daniel Joseph. (The Inaugural Meet the Conductor Series is supported by Casa Dorinda.) Admission to “Meet the Conductor” is $20, with kids ages 7 to 17 admitted free.
Regular price tickets for the concert are $55 to $100. Community Access tickets, as available, are $10, and kids ages 7 to 17, as always, are admitted free. Tickets are available from the Summer Festival (Casey) Ticket Office in person from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 6, by phone at 805.969.8787 or online at musicacademy.org.