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Swiss cheers as Lucerne orchestra begins China tour

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-15 07:53

Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly (center) and 18-year-old Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev (left) perform with Lucerne Festival Orchestra at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Saturday.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Lucerne Festival Orchestra has launched its latest tour in China, with two concerts at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the orchestra are performing in Shanghai and will wrap up its China tour with a concert in Shenzhen on Oct 19, which will also be the orchestra's first performance in the city.

Under the baton of Italian conductor, Riccardo Chailly, Lucerne Festival Orchestra brings repertoires including Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 3 in D Minor, Op 30, Symphony No 3 in A Minor, Op 44, and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 6 in A Minor. Eighteen-year-old Russian pianist, Alexander Malofeev, will join the orchestra for its China tour.

Back in 2009, Lucerne Festival Orchestra made its debut in China with two concerts held at the NCPA under the baton of conductor Claudio Abbado.

In 2017, the orchestra returned to the capital with two concerts held at the NCPA. Last year, the orchestra spent a week in residence in Shanghai from Oct 18 to 22, which received a warm feedback from the Chinese audience.

"Why do we come to the same place again and again? If you want to grow a friendship, if you want to grow and really create an audience, you have to work in the dimension of sustainability. We've made lots of friends in China and, within a few years, we have built up a fan base here. We are very happy about that," says Michael Haefliger, who was appointed as Lucerne Festival's executive and artistic director in 1999.

The festival takes place annually from mid-August to mid-September in the central Swiss city of Lucerne. In 2018, the festival celebrated its 80th anniversary.

In 2017, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was invited to perform during the festival, the first Chinese orchestra to participate.

The history of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra can be traced back to 1938, when Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini convened acclaimed virtuosos of the time into an elite ensemble with the legendary Concert de Gala. Some 65 years later, conductor Abbado and Haefliger founded the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which made its public debut in August 2003.

"Every summer, top musicians from European orchestras, including famous soloists, chamber musicians and renowned music teachers, come together in Lucerne to form an ensemble under the banner of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, setting the tone for the opening week of the festival with several symphony concerts," says Haefliger. "With each season coming to an end, musicians of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra tour together internationally for two and a half weeks. It has become a tradition."

"My experience with the orchestra is unique since my father, who plays the viola, and my sister, who plays the harp, both perform with me," says violinist Raphael Christ, who has been with the orchestra for 13 years and now plays as concertmaster. "It's more like a family reunion," he jokes.

Chailly has been the Lucerne Festival Orchestra's music director since the summer of 2016, following conductor Abbado's death in 2014.

"I want to bring a new dimension to the orchestra, such as new repertoires and new knowledge, rather than changing anything. It's important to preserve the tradition of the orchestra," Chailly says.

He also notes that the ensemble has performed programs of Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and Maurice Ravel. In his fourth year with the orchestra, he is devoting himself to Russian symphonic music, with works by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky.

"Rachmaninov's demanding Symphony No 3, which premiered in Philadelphia in 1936 to mixed acclaim, was composed in nearby Hertenstein on Lake Lucerne. The piece shows us a deep musical root from the past," says Chailly. "We want to show the audience both the beauty and the difficulty of the piece."

As the music director of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam from 1988 to 2004, and heading the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra from 2005 to 2016, Chailly is known as one of the most adept interpreters of Mahler.

He put Mahler's Symphony No 6 on the program list because the piece, which is also known as Tragic, depicts the power of fate and is one of Mahler's most personal works.

"We have been impressed by Chinese audiences which, within a short amount of time, have grown into one of the main classical music audiences in the world. We want to return to celebrate the joy of music," says Chailly.

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