Spotlight: Kiri Te Kanawa, Diplomat; Christoph Eschenbach, Pianist; David Robertson, Man of the Hour

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Kiri Te Kanawa, Diplomat; Christoph Eschenbach, Pianist; David Robertson, Man of the Hour
What the stars are up to onstage and off.

New Zealand-born diva Kiri Te Kanawa recently helped smooth over political tensions that threatened to disrupt this year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II fueled a rift between Australians who are loyal to the British monarchy and those who want their country to withdraw from the Commonwealth and declare itself a republic. Te Kanawa, who was already scheduled to perform at the games' lavish opening ceremonies, agreed to sing eight bars of Britain's royal anthem to honor the queen and quell threatened protests by pro-monarchy loyalists.

Before she was drafted as an impromptu musical ambassador, the soprano, a Dame Commander of the British Empire since 1982, was a major celebrity presence at the games. As one of New Zealand's most famous citizens, she was invited to spend time with the queen in her box at the stadium alongside other down-under A-listers such as Australian prime minister John Howard and the wife of Rupert Murdoch. Te Kanawa, 62, also paid a surprise visit to the New Zealand team's dinner on the eve of games to cheer on the athletes.


For the first time in 30 years, Christoph Eschenbach will appear on disc as a solo pianist. Eschenbach, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, plays six of the short piano pieces that make up Tchaikovsky's The Seasons on a CD due out April 4. The disc also includes Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony with Eschenbach conducting the Philadelphians.

Eschenbach has been conducting pretty much full time for more than 20 years, but before taking up the baton he had a successful career as a solo pianist, making his reputation as one of the first great musicians to emerge from post-war Germany. Although he hasn't recorded as a solo pianist in decades, Eschenbach still performs at the keyboard from time to time; in November he will play with the Diaz Trio as part of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society's season. Now in his third season at the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra, he recently returned from a guest-conducting stint in Paris, where he led performances of Wagner's Ring in an avant-garde production by Robert Wilson. Eschenbach heads back to Paris at the end of this month for more Wagner, although Plšcido Domingo has pulled out of scheduled performances of Die Walk‹re.


Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is now one of the most honored recording stars in his country's history. Andsnes recently picked up a record eighth Spellemann Award, Norway's equivalent of a Grammy. Andsnes won best classical album honors for his recording of Rachmaninoff's First and Second Piano Concertos. That same CD was also honored this winter by Germany's music critics, who gave it their prestigious Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik. The virtuoso has scored several other milestones so far this year. In January, he made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic, playing Haydn and Mozart during Mozart Week in Salzburg. Andsnes also performed the North American premiere of Marc-Andre Dalbavie's Piano Concerto in Cleveland and Chicago. For the spring, the 35-year-old pianist is returning to his musical roots. On a tour that will take him across American and Europe in April and May, Andsnes plans to perform Beethoven's Op. 110 Sonata, a work he played in his debut recital in Norway when he was 17.

It turns out that Valery Gergiev is human after all. The jet-setting Russian conductor, known for maintaining a grueling schedule of international appearances, found himself bedridden in London last month, the victim of a virus. Gergiev, who seems to work virtually around-the-clock, began to ail while conducting at the Barbican Center; he reportedly had to lean on the podium railing for support during the first part of the concert and he took a nap during intermission. When he began running a high fever, he was forced to retreat to bed and cancel an engagement with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the orchestra he serves as principal conductor. But Gergiev, who is also director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, incoming principal conductor of the London Symphony, and a frequent guest in opera houses and concert halls around the world, was soon back on his feet, resuming a schedule that includes not one but two complete cycles of the 15 Shostakovich symphonies to mark the composer's 100th birthday year. One cycle began in New York this month with the Kirov Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. He is conducting the other cycle in London with four orchestras: the LSO, the Kirov, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Rotterdam.


Gergiev's illness was a minor setback compared to the injury that sidelined James Levine. Levine, as most music lovers know by now, took a tumble on stage at Boston's Symphony Hall and tore his rotator cuff; he'll be on the disabled list for several months and will miss dozens of performances with the BSO and the Metropolitan Opera, both of which he serves as music directors. Levine's misfortune has meant good news for David Robertson, the music director of the St. Louis Symphony. Robertson, considered one of the brightest young American conductors, took over part of the five-city BSO tour that Levine was supposed to lead. Robertson won strong reviews at each stop. The Chicago Sun-Times called him "a talent worth hearing any time, any place" while the Washington Post said, "Robertson is clearly the young conductor of the hour."

Levine was one of a number of big-name conductors to be struck by injury or illness recently and other conductors have seized these opportunities to make impressive relief appearances. Just as the London Philharmonic was set to begin its U.S. tour, its director, Kurt Masur, pulled out because of a viral infection. That opened the door for Osmo V‹nsk‹, the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. to take his place for a series of southern California concerts. Vanska draw raves for his first performance in San Diego and even found himself being compared to Leonard Bernstein, who got his big break filling in for an ailing Bruno Walter.

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