National Philharmonic of Russia Begins Debut U.S. Tour

Classic Arts News   National Philharmonic of Russia Begins Debut U.S. Tour
Tonight the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, conducted by artistic director Vladimir Spivakov with pianist Olga Kern as soloist, makes its United States debut in Palm Desert, California.

The performance kicks off a 36-concert, 15-state U.S. tour, which concludes on April 10 in Clearwater, Florida. Major cities on the schedule include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Miami. The NPOR's New York City debut will be on March 19 at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.

The repertoire for the tour is all Russian, with works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich. Kern will be the soloist for all the concerts; these will be her first appearances in this country with an orchestra from her homeland.

The National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia was founded in January 2003; Spivakov was immediately named artistic director and principal conductor. The orchestra is based at the new $200 million Moscow International Performing Arts Center, of which Spivakov is president. One of the largest such complexes in Europe, the MIPAC is the first "Palace of Music" built in Russia in more than 100 years. The Center also hosts Spivakov's International Foundation, which supports talented young musicians in Russia and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

It wasn't exactly a smooth start, however. In September 2002, Spivakov resigned from his position as music director and chief conductor of the privately funded Russian National Orchestra, which had by then established a respected discography and an international reputation. He made his abrupt departure one year before his contract was due to expire; later reports stated that the RNO had decided not to renew his contract. In any event, Spivakov convinced the Russian federal government's Ministry of Culture to give him $2 million to establish a new orchestra, which he christened the Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra (RNPO).

Unsurprisingly, the original RNO was unhappy about the similarities between the two names. So Spivakov's new orchestra changed its name from RNPO to NPOR — the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia. (The ensembles' names in Russian are very close to their English equivalents, so the potential for confusion was present both at home and abroad.)

During the first years of its existence, the NPOR has performed with artists including Krzysztof Penderecki, James Conlon, John Lill, Natalia Gutman, Gidon Kremer, Jessye Norman, Plácido Domingo, Jos_ Carreras, Kiri Te Kanawa, Dmitry Hvorostovsky, Sergei Leiferkus, Maria Guleghina and Juan Diego Flórez.

Earlier this month, Delos International Classics released NPOR's newest CD, of Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6.

Spivakov, also a prominent violinist and chamber musician, began his conducting career in 1979 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival. A respected guest conductor with such renowned orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the London Symphony, he has also founder and artistic director of the Colmar International Festival in France, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

He also founded the "Vladimir Spivakov Invites" Festival, the first of which was held in 2001 and featured the soprano Jessye Norman making her debut appearance in Russia. The series also included a concert with Spivakov and violist Yuri Bashmet, which festival organizer Olga Izmailova said at the time was the other "sensation" of the festival. She explained that Bashmet and Spivakov had refused to speak to each other for many years due to "professional difference" — and that this concert was a celebration of their renewed friendship.

Olga Kern's career took off in 2001 after she won the 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition — the first woman to achieve this distinction in more than 30 years.

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