When I asked Christian Zacharias artistic partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and virtuoso pianist/conductor if he ever gets nervous before performances, he replied, "No I don't have time!"
During Saturday night's concert broadcast, live at 8 p.m. on Classical MPR, Zacharias will be so busy pulling music together, he truly will have just enough time for one pre-concert ritual before he sits down to perform and conduct Schumann's Piano Concerto: soak his fingers in warm water.
The concert is true to form for the SPCO. It's music never-before played by the orchestra in a set of luxuriously colorful miniatures called Legends by Antonin Dvořák, a set that brought this once provincial composer to the attention of Brahms and soon, to the world.
The concert begins with one of the most important and unusual sonic experimentations of the early 20th century, Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie Concertante, with two stereophonic string orchestras in dialogue with a trio of soloists, harpsichord, piano and harp. Neo-classic in character, the theme comes as a surprise in its modernity. Zacharias tells me that the work is complex and intricate, so his talents as a conductor and "accompanist" will be put to the test.
But, as if nothing had transpired in the first half of the program, Zacharias then takes the stage as both a soloist and as a conductor in Schumann's romantic gift to his wife and muse, the piano concerto. The most thrilling part of Zacharias' performing is how he always searches for the composer's intent and puts the music first, at all times, above the required virtuosity to play the music. This Schumann is not traditional. It's unsentimental even when it's electrifying in the changes of mood.
As the final concert of the season and from the SPCO"s new home in the Ordway, it's a concert not to be missed!
Listen to the live broadcast of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, led by Christian Zacharias, on Saturday, June 6, at 8 p.m. Alison Young hosts.
ProgramChristian Zacharias, conductor
Sivan Magen, harp
Ilya Poletaev, harpsichord
Pedja Muzijevic, piano
DVORAK: Selections from Legends
SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor