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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Russian music to feature at the Saigon opera house

By Bradley Winterton

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HCMC – Hot on the heels of the HBSO’s Friendship Concert Vietnam – US we have a concert exclusively of Russian music. Politics and music have little in common, but this is generous gesture nonetheless.

The event, conducted by Tran Nhat Minh, will take place in the Saigon Opera House on June 11, beginning at 8 p.m.

The concert opens with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture to his opera The Tsar’s Bride (1899). This was his tenth opera (he wrote 15) and concerned the first Russian tsar, known in English as Ivan the Terrible (1530 – 1584). His is renowned for the murder of his sons and the expansion of Russia’s dominions.

Rimsky-Korsakov is best known outside Russia for Scheherazade, music previously performed by HBSO. In life he worked as Inspector of Naval Bands, and was for a time the music tutor of Igor Stravinsky.

Alexander Borodin was another 19th century Russian composer, and an extract from his only opera, Prince Igor, comes next. It is the lament of Igor’s son, Vladimir, longing for union with his beloved, Konchakovna, whose family is on the other side in the war. The soloist will be Pham Trang.

The opera concerns the 12th century struggle between Russia and the invading Polovtsians. The Song of the Polovtsian Maidens is the opera’s most famous number. Borodin left the opera unfinished on his death, and it was completed by, among others, Rimsky-Korsakov. It was premiered in 1890.

The first half of the concert concludes with a work by Georgy Sviridov (1915 -1998). He was a composer who lived mostly during the era of the Soviet Union and his work is less well-known outside Russia that that of his 19th century predecessors.

The work we will hear in Saigon is his once hugely popular music for The snow-storm (1975), originally written for the 1964 film of the same name. It was for several years used as the introductory music for the Soviet TV news broadcast and so became universally recognized in the USSR.

Three works constitute the program after the interval.

The first is Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. This lasts seven minutes and was written in 1954 as part of the celebrations accompanying the 37th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution.

In 1980 the overture was chosen as the signature music for the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Contemporaries called it a “brilliantly effervescent work” with a “vivacious energy … like uncorked champagne.”

Then follows a work by Reinhold Gliere (1875 – 1956), who was born in the Ukraine. In 1943 he wrote his Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra. It lasts for 15 minutes.

This work is a comparative rarity but is greatly admired by everyone who has heard it, The soloist in Saigon will be Pham Khanh Ngoc. A graduate of the HCMC Music Conservatory, she has written “I have worked very hard to become an opera singer.” She won second prize in the 2016 ASEAN Vocal Competition in Singapore. She is a distinguished member of the HBSO company.

Finally comes Prokofiev’s First Symphony. Subtitled “Classical”, it is a hugely attractive pastiche of traditional symphonic modes. Nothing could make easier listening, and I once knew a UK artist who was working on making a time-lapse film to this very popular music.

All in all, this concert presents a wide over-view of Russan music over 150 years. The familiar rubs shoulders with the little-known, and apt tribute is paid to a great and continuing musical tradition

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