The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, which was founded in 1882 as the court orchestra of the Romanovs and turned into an official state-sponsored ensemble after the Russian Revolution, is the Soviet Union's oldest symphony orchestra. Its fabled past included memorable collaborations with luminaries such as Glazunov, Rachmaninoff, and Bruno Walter; and during the half-century tenure (beginning in 1938) of Evgeny Mravinsky as its chief artistic guardian, it excelled in promoting 20th-century Russian music--especially the landmark works of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. This week the orchestra makes its first Chicago appearance in well over a decade, as part of an exchange program that sends the Chicago Symphony on its first Russian tour (to Moscow and Leningrad) later this month. Of the two concert programs scheduled, the one for Friday and Saturday, conducted by Mariss Jansons, looks better than Sunday's all-Tchaikovsky affair, to be presided over by Yuri Temirkanov, Mravinsky's successor. Jansons, who's among a handful of under-50 conductors to watch, will oversee a pair of works that fully deserve their concert-hall popularity: Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, the most ennobling of his late "tragic" symphonies, and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 1, his first major piano composition, praised at the time of its premiere (1912) for its unrelenting energy and its "freedom from the mildew of decadence." Of particular interest is the Leningrad Philharmonic's way of conveying the "Russianness" of Tchaikovsky's music: it alone knows how to make the barbaric emotional outbursts seem sympathetically impulsive and the strain of melancholy seem a profound gloom. The soloist in the Prokofiev is Dmitri Alexeev, whose American debut was with the CSO back in 1976. Tonight and Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666 or 435-8122.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Huf.