When Australian conductor Simone Young witnessed the construction of the Sydney Opera House as a child, she said to herself that one day she would perform there. And she did: Young is now one of the world’s leading conductors in opera houses and on concert stages alike. Daniel Müller-Schott joins the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra to perform Schumann’s Cello Concert; according to the Dutch daily newspaper de Volkskrant, Müller-Schott can play even the stars from the sky.
Simone Young has more than made her mark in the world of classical music and particularly opera. On moving from Australia to Germany, she was assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin State Opera and the Bayreuth Festival and to James Conlon in Cologne. Life there was not always easy: “I was the youngest person on the music staff. I was a woman, and pregnant too. Plus I was Australian.” Since then, she has nevertheless won great esteem in Germany, as Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Philharmonic 2005–2015, winner of the Conductor of the Year award during her first season there and of the prestigious Brahms Prize of Schleswig-Holstein. Outside Germany, she has also been the first woman to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic and at the Bastille and the Vienna State Opera.
Daniel Müller-Schott (b. 1976) has been the soloist with top orchestras and conductors too numerous to list since his debut with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra on tour in 1993. His first great success was victory in the Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Moscow in 1992, after which a grant from the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation allowed him to study for a year with the legendary Rostropovich in Paris. Mutter and Müller-Schott have together often been the soloists in the Brahms double concerto and in works for chamber ensemble. The Schumann concerto is one very close to Daniel’s heart, and has been ever since he first heard it at the age of five; he just happened to hear it with his mother and vowed he would one day be a cellist. It is a permanent item in his repertoire and he recorded it with the NDR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach in 2009. Müller-Schott last appeared with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 2011. He plays the “Ex Shapiro” cello made by Matteo Goffriller in Venice in 1727.
Gioachino Rossini: Overture to Il Signor Bruschino
Composer of 39 operas, three Masses and six string quartets, most of them before the age of 40, Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) had a very pragmatic approach to his art. He liked to compose in bed, and if a ready sheet of manuscript slipped under the bed, he would compose another rather than retrieve it. He hated writing overtures and would always leave the job until the last moment. He caused many an opera director grey hairs, and if all else failed would simply recycle something he had used before (as in the case of the overture to The Barber of Seville). After completing Wilhelm Tell in 1829, he gave up composing in favour of a life dedicated to culinary pleasures (cf. the Tournedos Rossini).
Signor Bruschino was a one-act farce with a plot that follows an age-old scheme: a soprano and tenor fall in love, but a bass messes everything up. Naturally there are masks involved, and numerous misunderstandings. The violinists create a special effect by tapping on their music stands with their bows.
Robert Schumann: Cello Concerto, Op. 129
Though first and foremost a pianist, Robert Schumann (1810–1856) was very familiar with the cello. He played it as a child, and after damaging his finger, even considered making it his main instrument. His concerto was not, however, a great success. First, he vaguely called it a ‘concert piece’, and second, it was more of a poetic work characterised by singing lines and beautiful sounds than a chance for the soloist to show off in the customary way. Cellists declined the honour of premiering it after a few rehearsals and publishers turned up their noses. A week after submitting the finished score for publication, Schumann tried to drown himself in the Rhine. Not until after his death was the concerto first performed, in 1860. The soloist was the highly-esteemed Ludwig Ebert, but the orchestra could not be bothered to rehearse it and it was left to gather dust. Even today, opinions of it vary, and it has never won the unquestioned status of, say, the Romantic masterpieces by Elgar and Dvořák. The concerto is in three movements performed without a break.
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, “Tragic”
Franz Schubert (1797–1828) was only 19 when he wrote his symphony in C minor. He had been writing symphonies since he was 16 but only ever completed seven, and his best-known is, paradoxically, his Unfinished (8). Not until some time after completing No. 4 did he add the word “Tragic” to the score. Could he have done this simply to arouse his publisher’s interest? If so, he failed, because like most of his symphonies, No. 4 was not premiered until years after his death, in 1849. Another reason why it failed to make an impression may have been that Viennese audiences did not look upon him as a symphonist, regarding him more as just a writer of songs (some 600 in all).
For here is a symphony full of life and vigour, not pain and sorrow. The main theme of the first of the four movements is a quotation from Beethoven’s string quartet Op. 18/4. The second is one of Schubert’s most melodic and devoid of any suggestion of tragedy. The third, a Minuet, is surprisingly capricious for a dance, and although the fourth returns to the depths of the first, there is at most only a hint of tragedy