Two years after his last amazing visit to the OSM, Jacques Lacombe returns to conduct the orchestra on two consecutive evenings in performances of two major Russian works.
Maestro Lacombe has a very special relationship with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. In a telephone call from Monaco, where the run of an opera he is conducting is ending, he told us “I am virtually a child of the OSM: I grew up with the orchestra when I was a student at the Montreal conservatory.”
From being a regular audience member at OSM performances, Jacques Lacombe would later become one of the orchestra’s key figures. He became the assistant conductor and then brilliantly held the position of principal guest conductor until the arrival of Kent Nagano in 2006.
Even now, as he distributes his time between the Bonn Opera House in Germany, the Orchestre symphonique de Mulhouse in France, the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières (he was born in Cap-de-la-Madeleine), and his many engagements around the world, Jacques Lacombe still has a special place in his heart for conducting the OSM.
In an article about him in Le Devoir in 2016 when he last conducted the orchestra, Lacombe described how he felt: “We’ve known each other for such a long time that the respect, trust and understanding between the musicians and me always generate some sparks that make the audience feel they are experiencing something unique and very special.” He added that he would fondly remember his last performance in Montreal in 2016 for a long time.
“The OSM is one of the few orchestras in the world that really has its own style, and its orchestral culture is imbued with rigor and discipline. It is the most European of North American orchestras because it is an ideal blend of North American practicality and efficiency with European charm.”
The maestro returns to Montreal on February 7 and 8 for a program of Russian music that features two giants of 20th-century music, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
The pièce de résistance will be Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, the work that the composer himself said was his proudest accomplishment. The symphony, composed in the summer of 1944, was initially taken to be a celebration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
A chance occurrence during its first performance in January 1945 has entered the history books. When the composer had mounted the podium in the great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory to conduct his own work, artillery salvos suddenly thundered in honor of the Red Army, which had just crossed the Vistula in Poland on its march towards Berlin. According to a pianist in attendance, Prokofiev’s baton was already raised, but “he waited, and did not begin until the gun fires ceased.”
Maestro Lacombe is thoroughly familiar with this symphony, which he has conducted on numerous occasions, but never with the OSM. As is his frequent practice, he will conduct the work without a score.
Lacombe believes that Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 is one of the major orchestral works of the 20th century because it is much more than a patriotic ode to Soviet military glory and even goes beyond Prokofiev’s own description of it as “glorifying the grandeur of the human spirit, praising the free and happy man.” However, “the work also has some very somber moments. The same image— of Münch’s painting The Scream— always comes to mind during the third movement.”
Whereas this Symphony is one of Prokofiev’s most often performed works, Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 2, opening the concert, is seldom programmed. Russian-born violinist Alina Ibragimova will perform the concerto in Montreal. “The contrast between the two works will make for a very interesting union,” concludes Jacques Lacombe, who is eagerly looking forward to working with the OSM musicians again.
The Jacques Lacombe and the Russian Soul concerts are on Wednesday, February 7 at 7 pm and Thursday, February 8 at 10:30 am, at Maison symphonique de Montréal.
Following Wednesday’s performance, the conductor will attend the Club des jeunes ambassadeurs de l’OSM “Après-ski” cocktail event for young adults 34 and under.