Extraordinary Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra returns with Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos to Washington

Mariss Jansons
Mariss Jansons (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

Washington, D.C.­, Jan 14, 2013 (Washington Bangla Radio) Named the world’s greatest orchestra by Gramophone magazine, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam­ will perform Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on February 15. The orchestra will be conducted by its Chief Conductor, Mariss Jansons. The violin soloist is Leonidas Kavakos.

Who: Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam Mariss Jansons, chief conductor Leonidas Kavakos, violin
When: Tuesday, February 12 at 8 p.m.
Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Program: Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 Mahler Symphony No. 1
Tickets, $45-115, are available at www.wpas.org or (202) 785-WPAS (9727).

Wrote The New York Times’ Alan Kozinn in a 2010 review of Mahler’s Third Symphony, “The orchestra is in magnificent shape…it was hard not to be awed by the solidity of the horn playing in the expansive, exposed line that introduces the work. And the shapely offstage solos in the third movement, to say nothing of the solo string and woodwind lines that emerge throughout the score, provided an appealing counterweight to the high-impact full ensemble playing. The strings, particularly in Mr. Jansons's plangent reading of the finale, were rich-toned and supple, qualities matched by the remarkably focused woodwind and brass sections. And given Mahler's penchant for explosive climactic writing (as often in mid-movement as in his endings), the ensemble's percussionists were in their element.”

Founded in 1888, the Concertgebouw Orchestra was conducted for 55 years by Willem Mengelberg, who is considered to have built the orchestra into an international powerhouse. Mengelberg was a champion of both Richard Strauss, who conducted the orchestra in his own works, and of Gustav Mahler, whose complete works he conducted in a legendary Mahler Festival in 1920. The English conductor Adrian Boult said then of the orchestra, “The wonderful finish and uniform bowings of the strings, the perfection of ensemble, and balance of woodwind and the fine chording of the brass can only be achieved when orchestras are able to rehearse works until they know almost by heart not only their own parts but everyone else’s as well.” The orchestra continues to be a company of 120 virtuosos whose playing has been described as featuring “burnished strings, intensely characterful winds and brass and razor-sharp percussion.” The Royal Concertgebouw’s vast repertoire is reflected in its large discography of over 1,000 recordings. The orchestra now records on its own RCO Live label.

The Royal Concertgebouw will be conducted for this concert by Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, the fifth chief conductor in its 119-year history. Jansons’ father was conductor of the opera house in Riga and “around the age of four or five,” he said in a Guardian interview, "I made an orchestra of buttons, of paperclips, and rubber erasers - thousands of things - and I would conduct concerts." “Jansons would lay out this miniature orchestra in minute detail,” said the Guardian’s Tom Service, “with different formations for different repertoire, and conduct whole pieces from full scores. "If my mother changed one piece for another, I could recognize immediately what had been altered, that there was a button - a player - in the wrong place! I would design whole programs, and conduct them in rehearsals, after which I would clear them away, and then they would come back for the concert. I played this game for a very long time. Until I was 14 or 15.”

Jansons studied violin, piano and orchestra at the Leningrad Conservatory and conducting with Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg. He won the International Herbert Von Karajan competition in Berlin in 1971.  From 1973, Jansons worked for several years as assistant conductor of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra (now the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra) with which he toured internationally on several occasions. He has also been guest conductor of other major international orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and London Symphony Orchestras and the New York Philharmonic.

Jansons was music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1997-2004, was appointed chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2003, and became chief conductor of the Concertgebouw in 2004.

Leonidas Kavakos
Leonidas Kavakos (Photo: Yannis Bournais)

Said the New York Times of a Zankel Hall recital by Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, “Revered widely as a fiddler’s fiddler, Mr. Kavakos possesses flawless technique and a knack for conveying intensity without resorting to histrionics.” Kavakos won international recognition during his teens when he won the Sibelius competition in 1985. He won the Paganini Competition. three years later, and since then, has worked with the world’s major orchestras and conductors, forming close ties with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Iván Fischer and  the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Alan Gilbert as well as with the  Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, La Scala Filharmonica, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Watch: Leonidas Kavakos, VFO and Charles Dutoit play Bartok Violin concerto No.2 - Verbier Festival 2010

Kavakos is also a committed chamber musician and recitalist performing frequently at the Verbier, Montreux, Edinburgh, and Salzburg Festivals. Last season he began a Beethoven sonata cycle at Wigmore Hall with pianist Emmanuel Ax. They also perform the cycle at the Vienna Musikverein in 12/13 season, following which Kavakos performs the cycle in Athens, Milan, Amsterdam and Florence with Enrico Pace. Kavakos’ many distinguished chamber music partners include Gautier and Renaud Capuçon, Natalia Gutman, Hélène Grimaud, Nicholas Angelich, Nikolai Lugansky and Elisabeth Leonskaja. Leonidas Kavakos plays the “Abergavenny” Stradivarius of 1724.

Funded in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, an agency supported in part by National Endowment for the Arts.