Luisi Makes Juilliard Orchestra Debut

Fabio Luisi

 (Photo by BALU Photography/Barbara Luisi)


No stranger to Lincoln Center, the celebrated Italian conductor Fabio Luisi will take a short walk north from his podium at the Metropolitan Opera on October 13 to make his Juilliard Orchestra debut. Appointed principal conductor of the Met in 2011 while James Levine (Diploma ’63, orchestral conducting) battled ill health, Luisi turned crisis into triumph with a stream of widely praised productions. In 2012, his Met recordings of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung earned him his first Grammy. 


Luisi, 55, is equally at home in the orchestral repertoire, and his appointment as successor to Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos as principal conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (starting in 2017) was announced last month—much to the delight of its musicians, whose gleeful reactions were captured in a promotional video that quickly went viral. Meanwhile, Luisi, who’s also the music director of the Zurich Opera, is showing the world that his nose is as sensitive as his ears with his new line of fragrances, FL Parfums. “This is the magic of perfume: It’s something where words are unnecessary,” Luisi told a New York Times reporter in March. “I think it’s quite close to music. After all, how do you describe a sound? It’s not only a question of words but a question of emotions.” 

Juilliard audiences will have the best of both of Luisi’s worlds, as the program of works by Schumann, Wagner, and Mozart—the Juilliard Orchestra’s season opener—features theatrical works by three composers who each created astounding legacies of both vocal and instrumental music.

Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 38, was sketched in one of its author’s characteristic creative frenzies over the course of just four days in 1841. Prior to the composition of this work, Schumann’s output had consisted primarily of lieder and pieces for solo piano. At the encouragement of his wife, Clara, herself a virtuoso pianist and composer, this symphony represents his first foray into orchestral music. Nicknamed “Spring,”  the work was inspired to some degree by the spring-themed verses of the German Romantic poet Adolph Böttger. The bouncy theme of its first movement even derives from the rhythm of the opening line of his poem “Im Tale zieht der Frühling auf” (“Throughout the valley, spring awakes”). The symphony has been a favorite with audiences and musicians alike ever since its premiere in Leipzig under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn. 

Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll was designed to be a decidedly less public piece. Presented as a gift to his wife Cosima (the daughter of Franz Liszt), this pastoral gem woke its dedicatee on Christmas morning in 1870 at the Wagners’ home near Lake Lucerne. Wagner assembled a small chamber ensemble on his staircase to serenade his wife in celebration of what had been both a turbulent and joyful year—one that had seen the birth of their son, Siegfried, as well as their long overdue marriage, the culmination of a long and notorious affair (when they met, both were married to other people, Cosima notably to Wagner’s champion, conductor Hans von Bülow). 

Though the main theme of this, one of Wagner’s few stand-alone orchestral works, did eventually find its way into Brünnhilde’s music in Act III of Siegfried, the Idyll was meant to remain a private work. It was only in 1877, when the composer was facing some financial difficulties, that he expanded the orchestration and sold it for publication. An unusually tender work for Wagner, with its gentle evocation of sunrise and birdcalls sounding through the trees of an imaginary forest, this has become one of his most beloved and—at less than 20 minutes—approachable pieces.

Finally, the winner of this year’s first concerto competition will be featured in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 the soloist will be Simon Michal. Composed in Salzburg in 1775 when its author was only 19 years old, this is Mozart at his most generous. Themes appear with felicity like characters populating a stage in this cheerful display of tenderness and restrained virtuosity. Throughout, Mozart’s unrivaled reputation as a vocal composer shines through. The second movement in particular is practically an aria for the violin.

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