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Kyu-Young Kim reflects on Christian Zacharias’s tenure

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At the conclusion of Christian Zacharias’s tenure with the SPCO, Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim reflects on the pianist’s relationship with the SPCO.

We are in our second of three weeks celebrating the Artistic Partnership of Christian Zacharias, one of the greatest pianists on the planet and a wonderful interpreter of the classical repertoire, particularly the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that forms the heart of our repertoire. This week’s program, Haydn Symphony No. 84 (one of the six Paris Symphonies), Mozart’s early Piano Concerto No. 9, nicknamed Le Jeunehomme, and selections from Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice, could be called “From Vienna to Paris, with love.” All the pieces were written by Viennese composers, but with a strong connection to Paris. It is a great example of Christian’s thoughtfulness in programming—subtle, clever, heartfelt, and something that always adds up to more than just the sum of the parts. 

At the heart of the program is a selection of gorgeous arias from the earlier Vienna version (1762) of Orpheus, and two of the most famous instrumental numbers from the 1784 Paris version of the opera. Christian has referred to it as the “Listener’s Digest Version” of the opera, since it captures the heart of the story of the opera (the scene where Orpheus attempts to lead his beloved Euridice from the underworld), and is bookended by the dramatic “Air of the Furies” and the famous “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.” We welcome two singers with beautiful voices: mezzo Adriana Zabala as Orpheus and soprano Ilana Davidson as Eurydice.

Parisians in the 1780s were crazy for the symphonies of Haydn, and the Paris Symphonies, commissioned and premiered by Chevalier de Saint Georges, the concertmaster and director of Paris’s top orchestra, were all rapturously received. The Chevalier is also known as one of the first classical composers of African ancestry, and we will play one of his symphonies next season.  

Christian’s performances of Mozart piano concertos with the SPCO have been peak experiences for the SPCO and our audiences for more than a decade, and Le Jeunehomme, written for a young Parisian pianist named Victoire Jenamy, is the greatest of the early concertos. My favorite moment is when a lovely Minuet suddenly appears in the lively Rondo last movement. As is often the case with Christian’s programs, we end with the concerto rather than the symphony. It is just impossible to top Christian directing from the keyboard and the inspiration he provides to the ensemble by direct example of his playing—the gravitas, elegance, immaculate attention to voicing and inner lines, incredible sense of pacing and structure, and beauty of sound. It is always an honor to share the stage with Christian. And then afterwards to share a drink of his favorite Summit Extra Pale Ale!