Skip to content

Conductor Ono does not stand with his boots in the blubber and therefore does not go home with a passing grade

Photo: Herbie Yamaguchi

Rotterdam - That every disadvantage 'hep' its advantage is often apparent with symphony orchestras. A principal conductor, for instance, is usually in charge of his own orchestra for no more than about 12 weeks a year. He divides the rest of his time among the other orchestras he is also already chief of. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, for instance, has meanwhile risen through the ranks alongside principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and is now, therefore, also principal conductor (forward: under the term music director designate unknown to us, alongside principal Charles Dutoit) at the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the American Big Five. Hooray for Yannick, unfortunately for Rotterdam. However, this offers an opportunity for less obvious conductors to step into the spotlight and thus win several principal conductorships at the same time for hefty salaries - long live the economy of big money. Last weekend, for instance, Japanese Kazushi Ono conducted the RPhO in the Rotterdam Doelen.

A tough job awaited Ono as the repertoire is at the heart of the RPhO, especially since the last two decades, since the phenomenon Valeri Gergyev. Dmitri Shostakovich's fifth symphony is one such work. When it comes to interpreting this work, reference is often made to the statements of Mstitslav Rostropovich, friend of the composer. The 1937 work came about under the pressure of the Party and the Composers' Union, which had the upper hand in music in the then Soviet Union and by now were making life difficult for Shostakovich. A few years earlier, the Pravda made mincemeat of the opera 'A Lady MacBeth of the Minsk District' at Stalin's behest. Although Rostropovich was an ardent advocate of this work as a conductor, his assessment of the music was not always a correct one. For instance, he always maintained that the composition never had a programme despite the harsh conditions under which this work was created. Conductor Kurt Sanderling thinks otherwise. During rehearsals leading up to the premiere in 1937, he was the assistant to conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who was to conduct the first performance, and for that reason alone was repeatedly confronted with the strange Soviet practices of the time.

The programme in Shostakowich's fifth is similar to that of Richard Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben', but set in real life. In the ball in the second movement, the composer had in mind a kind of Witch's Sabbath in the vein of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The raging waltz is disturbed shortly after the start by screeching clarinets: entrée Andrei Zhdanov, the hated party boss responsible for socialist aesthetics. The ever-thundering brass sections here and there in the symphony are parried by a solo violin - the composer himself, perhaps? That's how Sanderling sees it. Sometimes the solo is sad, sometimes hopeful, but the symphony's ending is open, despite the Beethovenian repetition of the final chord. That repetition is not a finale but a pure parody of it, an open ending in that the final chord keeps rambling on and on.

Ono is a conductor who conveys elegance, and while he reflects musical structures precisely in his gestures, he does not add physical elements to them. This broke him down repeatedly in Shostakovich. The deployment of the miserable largo was a complete miss, an incredible misinterpretation. The clarinets did not screech during the waltz with which it became unclear what was actually happening in the music. And at the beginning of the final movement, Ono missed the furious accelerations that were supposed to lead to a blistering denouement of this work: Ono was too neat and too elegant. For a work like this, the conductor should dare to step into the blubber with his boots.

The Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) opened the concert. His 'A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden' is the result of a score that can be read as a graphic work of art. In tranquil orchestrations intersected by clanking hues, Takemitsu tells us of a flock of birds descending into a pentagonal garden. In terms of elegance, Ono was spot on here, but the finish on the Doelen stage was wretched. Phrasing was structurally unfinished, inserts were uneven and the essence of the music and its structure seemed to have escaped the conductor entirely.

Ono did deliver good work in Rachmaninov's first piano concerto, but programmatically, it was a mystery what such a conservative, romantic work had to do among the progressiveness of Takemitsu and Shostakowich. Nevertheless, pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk delivered a superb performance that was promptly parried by Ono. However, this was too meagre for Ono to now go home with a passing grade for the whole.

Rotterdam, large hall de Doelen: Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kazushi Ono with Alexander Gavrylyuk-piano. Works by Takemitsu, Rachmaninov, Shostakowich. Attended Friday evening, 12 November.

Découvrez Kazushi Ono, portrait du nouveau chef d'orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon sur Culturebox !

one of our members

Members of Culture Press co-own our cooperative for a small monthly or annual fee, and may also contribute content to the site when appropriate. For members with an institutional membership, we offer the possibility of posting their press releases unabridged. Also want to become a member? You can. Please visit this pageView Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)