Tour review: The OSM sparkles in Krakow and Salzburg

It’s time to take stock as the musicians of the OSM and their conductor make their way home after playing in Krakow, Poland, and opening the prestigious Salzburg Festival in Austria.

On July 20, Kent Nagano and the OSM opened the 98th edition of the Salzburg Festival to a full house of 1400 spectators. It was the orchestra’s fifth visit to Austria, but nevertheless their first appearance at this grand international festival — making the OSM the first Canadian orchestra in history to appear at the Salzburg Festival.

This inaugural concert was part of the Festival’s Ouverture spirituelle series, dedicated to sacred music, and took place at the Felsenreitschule, a mythical venue carved from the native rock, which lent itself marvelously to such a dramatic work. A recording of the performance was made and will be released in 2019 on the label BIS Records.

Two days earlier, the OSM performed the piece before an audience of 1700, including the composer himself, at Krakow’s ICE Congress Centre.


Hot off the press

The concert was the subject of several articles and reviews in some important Austrian media outlets. The reviews were favourable towards the OSM’s interpretation of this monumental and rarely-performed work by Penderecki.

Critics emphasized Kent Nagano’s musical vision and profoundly spiritual reading of the work. They also praised the excellence of the musicians and the soloists, Sarah Wegener (soprano), Lucas Meachem (baritone), and Matthew Rose (bass), as well as narrator Slawomir Holland.

The day after the concert, the major Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung, which boasts 800,000 readers and was founded in 1904, said:

“Conductor Kent Nagano, who in both new and not-so-new music always excels in revealing the timeless characteristics, the DNA of musical expression, fills the role of director as much as conductor in this relentlessly dramatic work. He stages the events around the last journey of Jesus Christ as a universal human thriller, unfolding before the eternal rock of the Felsenreitschule.”

The critics were equally laudatory at the prestigious daily Die Presse, one of the country’s leading newspapers:

“Nagano chose not the ‘earthly’ path, direct and dramatically absorbing, but rather the ‘spiritual’ approach, indicating the path of the Great Beyond.

“Thanks to the impeccable intonation of the Krakow Philharmonic Choir and the Warsaw Choristers, the intensity of the soloists and finally, the members of the OSM, the highlights included not only the passages of great power, but especially those extremely soft passages, for example in the whispering strings.”

Finally, Montréal journalist Arthur Kaptainis, who has been following the OSM’s journey after having attended their July 13 concert at the Festival de Lanaudière, noted in an article published on Classical Voice North America:

“The point is that the various materials should make a fluid and dramatic whole, as they did under Nagano’s exacting baton, both in the modern ICE Congress Centre in Krakow on July 18 and in the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg. Decades after his work as an amanuensis to Olivier Messiaen, the 66-year-old American conductor – music director of the MSO since 2006 – remains a master of modern music.”

The OSM will leave on tour again twice more in the next year. This autumn, from September 9 to 19, the orchestra will visit six communities in Nunavik and the Côte-Nord. A chamber opera entitled Chaakapesh: The Trickster’s Quest, a special commission from author Tomson Highway and composer Matthew Rickets for this tour, will have its world premier in Montréal during next season’s opening concert on September 6 and 8.

In the spring, a large European tour will take place from March 11 to 23 in eight cities, including Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Essen, Vienna, Brussels, Munich, Ratisbonne, and Berlin. Guest soloists will include Marie-Nicole Lemieux and pianists Rafal Blechacz and Jean-Yves Thibaudet.


These programs will also be performed in Montréal before the tour:

February 24 for The Rites of Spring and the Wesendonck Lieder with Marie-Nicole Lemieux,

February 27 and 28 for the Rafal Blechacz program (Piano concerto no 23),

March 5 and 6 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto no 5).