Our Principal Guest Conductor Antony Hermus promises an “amazing” programme of Shostakovich and Prokofiev for the first orchestral concert in the Kirklees Year of Music 2023, in Huddersfield Town Hall on Thursday 26 January.
The Dutchman – who will also be conducting Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos on our mainstage from next month – is looking forward to being part of the district’s year-long celebration of music, and welcoming audiences new and old to Opera North’s concerts in Huddersfield and Dewsbury Town Halls.
For the first concert of 2023, Antony and the Orchestra of Opera North will be joined in Huddersfield by the brilliant Moscow-born Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg as soloist in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto.
Prokofiev himself was a superb pianist, and combined his composing with a hugely successful career as a solo performer. Full of his trademark wit and style, the Third Piano Concerto demands great skill and instinct of the soloist as they tussle with the orchestra.
“Boris is an amazing virtuoso”, enthuses Antony. “He won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2013, and he’s made an international career since then. If there’s ever the possibility to work with a pianist, I always try to get Boris: we love working with each other because we are on the same wavelength musically”.
Taking up the second half of the concert, Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony is a huge work, both in scale and significance: “It was premiered in 1953 just after death of Stalin, under whose regime Shostakovich suffered a great deal”, explains Antony.
“The second movement is devilish, Satanic music, which many people take to be Shostakovich’s portrait of Stalin. It’s only four minutes long, almost all fortissimo, and at the end it feels like a thunderstorm has passed”.
The next movement contains more portraits, in the form of musical codes, as Antony reveals: “The famous motif of ‘D-SCH’ (short for ‘Dmitri Schostakowitsch’) appears here, and also in the fourth movement, made up of the notes D, S (es-Moll, German for E-flat) C and H (the note B in German). It’s as if Shostakovich is saying ‘Here I am!’
“Another code in the third movement refers to the composer’s love for his student, Elmira Nazirova: a solo horn plays the motif ‘E-La–Me-Re-A’ several times”.
Shostakovich invited Elmira to the Moscow premiere of the Symphony in December 1953 and, amid a flurry of passionate letters, told her that the idea for melody came to him in a dream. Their correspondence dwindled following the performance, but in carving their names into this work, the composer left a lasting record of his intense infatuation with his gifted pupil.
“Huddersfield Town Hall is a really wonderful concert hall”, Antony continues. “You have the feeling of intimacy, as if you’re in the middle of the sound. You can sit close to the orchestra and really feel the vibes – and I can tell you, with these two works, vibes will come through!”
Dewsbury Lunchtime Concerts begin on Wednesday 25 January with the Opera North Piano Quintet featuring Guest Leader Andrew Beer of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, in a concert centred around a performance of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major.
Tickets for orchestral concerts in the Kirklees Concert Season start at £13, anyone aged 16 or under can see an orchestral concert for just £1, and tickets for under 30s and full-time students are priced at £4.