European Tour 2019: Three Soloists, Four Major Works


During the European tour that will last until March 25, the OSM is accompanied by three internationally-renowned soloists who will perform major works from the repertoire. This is your opportunity to learn more about these artists, the works that they will present, and especially the masterwork of the tour: Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Camille Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 5

An accomplished musician and an impressive virtuoso, French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is known for his warm and lively interpretations. A recording veteran with over 50 albums to his name, including many with Decca, he has received rave reviews for the piece that he’s performing with the OSM, Saint-Saëns’ Concerto No. 5, The Egyptian. The Sydney Morning Herald observed that Thibaudet’s playing “sparkled with well-calibrated brilliance and poised charm.”

As the composer was a great traveller and admirer of the Middle East, Saint-Saëns’ last concerto, The Egyptian was inspired by a voyage along the Nile. It was composed in the city of Luxor, renowned for its famous temple. Saint-Saëns wrote it to perform himself at the 50th anniversary of his debut at Salle Pleyel. During an interview in Los Angeles, Jean-Yves Thibaudet explained how much he loved this rarely-performed concerto:

“Saint-Saëns was a big virtuoso and he wrote it for himself, basically just to show off all the things he could do at the piano, which are amazing. So it’s extremely difficult and demanding, technically, very exciting, but it’s also very exotic. There’s a lot of interesting moments of colours, of harmonies, of the interaction between the orchestra and the piano and I think it’s a really interesting experience – it’s a little bit extravagant.”

Thibaudet first collaborated with the OSM in 1986. He was subsequently invited back as a soloist nine times over the years, most recently just prior to the tour, representing an ongoing friendship over 32 years between the pianist and the OSM.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder

With Wesendonck Lieder, Marie-Nicole Lemieux harkens back to the repertoire of her very first recording, in 2000, after her victory at Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth Competition.

Known and loved as much in Europe as in Québec, Marie-Nicole Lemieux is a frequent guest soloist of large orchestras, but her relationship with the OSM and Kent Nagano, whom she calls “kindly”, is a special one. As she mentioned recently in an interview with La Presse, the maestro gave her very valuable advice following a 2007 tour with the OSM, which was to take a break and preserve the national treasure that is her voice. Over the years, she has been a guest soloist of the OSM on numerous occasions.

The great contralto and native of Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean has been charming European audiences for a long time, notably in the role of Mrs. Quickly in the opera Falstaff. She debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York last January in Pelléas et Mélisande.

Mathilde Wesendonck, a poet and the young wife of philanthropist Otto Wesendonck, a patron of Wagner, is the author of the five poems that make up this cycle. Completely smitten with her, Wagner wrote to Franz Liszt that he wished to “erect a monument” to this romance by writing a masterpiece. It’s safe to say he succeeded!

Rafał Blechacz et le Concerto pour piano no 23 K. 488 de Mozart

A winner of the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2005, Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz has been a guest of the OSM many times: notably last February 27, performing the same Mozart concerto, and earlier in a Chopin recital as part of the 2014 Classical Spree festival as well as Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 in 2015.

In addition to having given concerts together many times, Rafał Blechacz and Kent Nagano also have in common a high-voltage intellectualism when it comes to artistic reflection. While Nagano has set down his profound thoughts on music and the role of the musician in his book Expect the Unexpected (French title: Sonnez, Merveilles!), Rafał Blechacz has completed a thesis as part of a doctorate in philosophy, in which he examines the role and freedom of the interpreter. Great minds think alike!

Since his Chopin Competition victory, Rafał Blechacz has worked on an album with Deutsche Grammophon, recording works by Chopin, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. This pianist’s rich, intimate, and profound playing goes perfectly with the sombre beauty and intelligence of Mozart’s Concerto No. 23, celebrated as one of the composer’s most beautiful pieces for the sad and poignant melody of its Adagio.

Concerts: March 11 in Dusseldorf, March 17 in Vienna, and March 22 in Regensburg.

Stravinsky's Rites of Spring

During their European odyssey, the OSM will perform Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring no less than seven times! A deeper look into the history of the orchestra reveals just how significant the Rites have been: by the end of this tour, the OSM will have interpreted this legendary piece 70 times. A spectacular work par excellence, the Rites were notably performed during the 1984 Europe tour and in the USA in 2016. It was also performed twice at Carnegie Hall.

It was especially thanks to a recording under the direction of Charles Dutoit that the OSM established itself as a leading performer of Stravinsky’s masterpiece. Recorded in 1984, the album remains a paragon.

The music of Stravinsky has always been part of the OSM’s regular repertoire, especially Petrushka  and the Firebird Suite. The orchestra has recorded 14 of the composer’s works in total. On the other hand, not many people know that in 1946, Igor Stravinsky visited Montréal in person, attending a performance of the Concerts symphonique de Montréal (the OSM’s former name) at the Auditorium Le Plateau!

With a renewed musical vision under the baton of Kent Nagano, the Rites are being performed in Dusseldorf, Essen, Vienna, Paris, Munich, Regensburg, and Berlin.