Onegin1

In the end of January I flew again to Krasnoyarsk, where I hold the position of Principal Guest Conductor at the Philharmonic. As you know, Krasnoyarsk is in the heart of Siberia, where temperatures can be extreme. Just before my flight I checked the reports and it was -40 degrees Celsius in Krasnoyarsk! Luckily by the time I got there the weather was a bit milder - just around -37 degrees.

This time my plan was to stay for two weeks and conduct three concerts at the Philharmonic, but I was also invited to conduct the new premiere of Evgeny Onegin directed by Neeme Kuningas at the Krasnoyarsk Opera & Ballet Theatre. That meant, that practically every day I would spend the days at the Philharmonic rehearsing the symphony orchestra, and evenings at the Theatre working with the singers. This pace of working gave me a little hint about how the life of a certain well known Russian maestro must be (without administrative duties, of course).

My first concert at the Philharmonic was with a great Russian cellist Alexander Ramm (a prize winner in the previous Tchaikovsky Competition) who played the Rococo Variations and Pezzo Capriccioso by Tchaikovsky. The second half of the concert was Mendelssohn's 5th symphony, "The Reformation". As a side note, by the concert day my back muscles were really sore from working around the clock, although it's very rare that I would get tired or sore from conducting (I am proud of my good "conducting ergonomy"), and when I told about it at the Philharmonic I was right away directed to the masseuse of the ballet troupe who treated my back three days in a row!

The second concert at the Philharmonic was a parade of young pianists from the local music college, and all eight of them were playing different works, by Bach, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Schumann, Gershwin, Glazunov, Skriabin and Shchedrin. This was a lot of work since some of the pieces I conducted for the first time. Luckily the students were very well prepared and we had some really great moments at the concert.

The following day I had my third and last concert at the Philharmonic during this trip, and it was a children's concert we did with a narrator, and the theme was romanticism in music. We played of course Wagner, Brahms, Schubert etc. But during the same evening I had my operatic debut in Russia, conducting the new Evgeny Onegin at the Krasnoyarsk Opera & Ballet Theatre, as part of the Opera Stars festival, and about that I have some more things to say.

We actually had two premieres of the opera this same weekend, the other conducted by the theatre's staff conductor Alexandr Kosinsky, and the other by me. Kosinsky's cast was all local singers, but since my performance was part of the Opera Stars festival I had a cadre of guest soloists in my cast: Eugenia Dushina (Tatiana), Anastasia Lepeshinskaya (Olga) and Tomas Pavilionis (Lenski). Aleksandr Mikhalyov from Krasnoyarsk was an excellent Onegin, as well as another local talent Larisa Plotnikova in the part of Filipievna.

I enjoyed tremendously working with my cast as well as with the correpetiteurs and the orchestra, not to mention the chorus and the ballet which we did not have in our "student Onegin" in Helsinki a year ago. The staging by Neeme Kuningas was very respectful to the score and the epoch, and in his direction he wanted to emphasize the natural innocence of the young characters on stage. The minimalistic sets were created by Ervin Õunapuu, and the brilliant costumes by Anna Kontek. I wanted also to be as faithful to the original score as possible, which resulted in two quite different interpretations of the work tempo-wise, but luckily both conductors did not only have their own casts of singers but also different players in the pit.

Despite the mixed reviews we all felt that this Onegin was a great success to our team and just the right thing to do, bringing a new, more modern (and maybe more "European"?) angle of a standard repertoire piece to the musicians and the public alike. I hope to return to Krasnoyarsk to conduct this production still many more times.