Great Conductors at the Bolshoi: Gennady Rozhdestvensky


Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s links with the Bolshoi Theatre go back many years. He made his debut at the Bolshoi in 1951 when, as a student at the Moscow Conservatoire’s Faculty of Opera and Symphony Conducting, he conducted Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. From 1951-60 and 1978-82 Gennady Rozhdestvensky was conductor at the Bolshoi. From 1965-70 he was the Theatre’s Chief Conductor and, during the 200l/02 jubilee season, he was General Artistic Director. He celebrated his 80th birthday at the Bolshoi. The following productions for which Maestro Rozhdestvensky was Music Director were memorable events in Bolshoi Theatre history: (ballets) Shchedrin’s The Humpbacked Horse, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Bizet-Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite, Khachaturyan’s Spartacus; (operas) Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmailova, Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery (among his more recent premières is the new production of The Tsar’s Bride). In The Great Conductors at the Bolshoi concert cycle Gennady Rozhdestvensky will present a Czech program.

From the second half of the 19th century cultural links between Russia and Czechoslovakia improved: in the 1860’s Balakirev produced Glinka’s operas in Prague; Tchaikovsky’s visit to the Czechoslovak capital in 1888 was a real triumph. Dvořák’s concerts in Petersburg were also very successful; the best operas of the 20th century Czech composer Leoš Janáček (Káta Kabanová and From the House of the Dead) were based on outstanding works of Russian literature.

The plan of Antonín Dvořák’s (1893) Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) relates to the period when the composer was living in the United States where he had been appointed director of the New York Conservatoire (it was at this time he also wrote his Cello Concerto which enjoyed equal popularity). In the hurly-burly of New York life, and in his journeys over the American prairies, the composer returned in his thoughts to the images of his distant homeland; nevertheless, American folklore which had made a great impression on him (including the American negro spirituals and the Red Indian epos The Song of Haiwatha reworked by Longfellow) is reflected in the music of his last symphony, in which the old and new world were woven together in a large-scale symphonic composition.

The Glagolitic Mass for soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ (1926), one of Janáček’s most monumental works, is written to the complete text of the Catholic liturgy, but translated into Old Church Slavonic glagolitsa (in Moravia, where the composer was born, the Cyril-Methodius tradition had deep roots). A profoundly religious man, formerly the organist and precentor of St. Augustus in Brno, Janáček invested his mass with all the sincerity and depth of his religious belief, he meant it though for concert performance. The state of religious reverence, man’s awe before the Creator and the World are combined in the Mass with striking ‘operatic’ effects, and a bold and unusual combination of chorus, orchestra and organ. The musical language of the Mass is based on national sources of Czech folklore and Western Slavonic Church singing.