The award-winning Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras (MCO) look forward to launching another ambitious season, this time featuring four major international tours and two new recordings on their SDG label. To celebrate both the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (ORR), MCO founder and artistic director John Eliot Gardiner, the winner of more Gramophone Awards than any other living artist, leads the ORR in five complete period-instrument Beethoven symphonic cycles. The tour visits the Harris Theater in Chicago and New York’s Carnegie Hall, where Gardiner is a featured 2019-20 Perspectives artist, as well as London and Barcelona, where they will be joined by members of the MCO’s innovative Monteverdi Apprentices Programme. Later in the season, Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the ORR also tour Italy, France and Austria with French Romantic choral music in “Fauré | Berlioz | Brahms.”
Meanwhile this fall, Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists (EBS) make national debuts in Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Slovakia and Uruguay with “Monteverdi | Carissimi | Scarlatti,” a program of choral masterpieces. Gardiner and the ensembles then reunite next spring for “Monteverdi: Sacred and Secular,” touring to eight prominent destinations across Europe. The ensembles round out the 2019-20 season with two new titles on SDG: a November release of Bach concertos with EBS leader Kati Debretzeni as soloist, and an April album capturing their recent live London performance of Handel’s Semele, which evoked “a touch of the sublime” (Telegraph, UK).
When the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique’s performance of Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies under Gardiner’s leadership at Carnegie Hall was released on disc, the UK’s Observer stated, “This is the most exciting Beethoven release you are likely to hear this year.” To celebrate “Beethoven 250,” the landmark anniversary that falls next year, the coming season sees the conductor and orchestra perform no fewer than five complete Beethoven symphonic cycles at high-profile destinations on both sides of the Atlantic: Barcelona’s Palau de la Música (Feb 9–14), Chicago’s Harris Theater (Feb 27–March 3), London’s Barbican Hall (May 11–16), a major European festival, yet to be announced (June 22–27), and New York’s Carnegie Hall (Feb 19–24), where Gardiner is being honored as a 2019-20 Perspectives artist. Spread over five concerts, each cycle features the Monteverdi Choir and a stellar quartet of vocal soloists in the monumental and uplifting “Choral” Symphony and presents the First Symphony alongside three relative Beethovenian rarities: excerpts from Leonore (the original version of Fidelio) and the scene and aria “Ah! Perfido,” both featuring Lucy Crowe, a soprano blessed with “artistry beyond compare” (The Independent, UK), and excerpts from Beethoven’s only full-length ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus.
“Monteverdi | Carissimi | Scarlatti”
Curated by Gardiner, the “Monteverdi | Carissimi | Scarlatti” tour showcases the virtuosity of the Monteverdi Choir and celebrates the stylistic innovations of the Italian Baroque. The program comprises Monteverdi’s final setting of the mass, which intersperses old-fashioned polyphonic choral writing with more forward-looking declamatory passages; Carissimi’s Jephte, a miniature sacred musical drama combining quasi-operatic solo writing with meltingly beautiful choruses; Domenico Scarlatti’s ten-voice Stabat mater, which fuses polyphony with passionate rhetoric; and two Italian-influenced pieces by Purcell: the almost Monteverdian Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes, one of the English composer’s few Latin text settings, and his moving eight-voice supplication Hear my prayer, O Lord. Marking the MCO’s long-awaited Russian debut, the tour launches with concerts at Moscow’s state-of-the-art new Zaryadye Concert Hall and the St. Petersburg Philharmonia. These highlight the UK-Russia Year of Music, a new binational program supported by the British Council to celebrate the two countries’ rich musical cultures. With performances in a succession of storied venues – Bratislava’s Reduta Bratislava, Rio de Janeiro’s Theatro Municipal, the Sala São Paulo, Montevideo’s Teatro Solís, Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón, Santiago’s Teatro CorpArtes, Frutillar’s Teatro del Lago, and Curitiba’s Teatro Positivo – the tour also features the ensembles’ national debuts in Slovakia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile (Sep 26–Nov 19).
“Monteverdi: Sacred and Secular”
It was to sing Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers that Gardiner first founded the Monteverdi Choir some 55 years ago, and the ensembles have since become a byword for “magical and memorable Monteverdi” (The Guardian). Next spring, under his leadership, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists tour “Monteverdi: Sacred and Secular,” a program combining works from the composer’s later madrigal books with selections from his Selva morale e spirituale, to the Paris Philharmonie, Zurich Tonhalle and Vienna Musikverein, as well as to leading venues in Hamburg, Aix-en-Provence, Bologna, Turin and Budapest (April 15–26).
“Fauré | Berlioz | Brahms”
On the MCO’s recording of Fauré’s Requiem, Gardiner offers a “dramatic and direct” interpretation, “with a typically splendid execution from the Monteverdi Choir” (Classic Review). The work forms the centerpiece of their final tour of the season, when Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in a program of late-Romantic French choral music. Pairing the Requiem with works by Brahms and Berlioz, this takes them to Italy’s Pavia and Udine, Austria’s Salzburg Whitsun Festival, and a major French festival, yet to be announced (May 26–June 2).
2019-20 Monteverdi Apprentices Programme
Launched in 2007, the Monteverdi Apprentices Programme was the first of its kind in the UK. Designed to follow undergraduate or postgraduate study, and typically alternating by season between string players and vocalists, it enables outstanding young musicians to spend a full year working with Gardiner alongside some of the best and most experienced musicians in the business. The 2019-20 program offers emergent young string players the opportunity to perform, tour and train throughout the season with Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Up to eight successful applicants will be fully integrated into the period-instrument orchestra’s schedule, performing alongside the ORR in concerts at home and on tour in a wide range of repertoire, as well as receiving dedicated coaching, workshops, and mentorship. As a primary focus of the yearlong program, the young apprentices will take part in the orchestra’s complete Beethoven cycles in London and Barcelona, before performing in major projects and a showcase recital early next fall. They will then be considered for further professional engagements with the ORR; indeed, of the program’s 60-plus alumni, around 70% have gone on to work as fully-fledged members of the MCO.
New recordings of Bach and Handel’s Semele
The MCO release two new titles on their SDG label this season. Due for release in November, the first features the English Baroque Soloists in four concertos by Bach: his First and Second Violin Concertos and violin arrangements of his D-minor Keyboard Concerto and F-major Oboe Concerto. Ensemble leader Kati Debretzeni undertakes the solo role, as on EBS’s previous recording of the Baroque master’s Brandenburg Concertos, of which the BBC marveled, “What more could anyone ask for?”
Due for April release, the second album captures the ensembles’ recent live account of Handel’s Semele – which Gardiner considers “Handel’s sexiest opera” – at London’s newly restored Alexandra Palace. This prompted the Financial Times to declare: “Gardiner has always been a spirited conductor of Handel and there was not a dull minute in this performance.” The Guardian found International Opera Award-winner Louise Alder “a glowing, unusually sympathetic Semele.” “She made ‘O sleep why dost thou leave me’ glow with feline post-coital bliss and turned the bravura of ‘Myself I shall adore’ into an exhilarating game. A lovely performance,” agreed the Telegraph, before concluding: “The greatest joy of the evening was generated by the wonderfully crisp and rhythmically alert singing of the Monteverdi Choir. … Sublime.”
Upcoming this summer: Benvenuto Cellini
By way of an upbeat to the new season, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Monteverdi Choir and Gardiner give staged performances of Berlioz’s first opera, Benvenuto Cellini, on a high-profile European tour that marks both the 150th anniversary of the French composer’s death and the 30th anniversary of the orchestra. Representing the work’s first modern performances on period instruments, the tour kicks off today at the annual Festival Berlioz in the composer’s birthplace, La Côte-Saint-André (Aug 29), before taking Gardiner and the ensembles to the Berliner Festspiele (Aug 31), London’s BBC Proms (Sep 2), and the Theatre of the Palace of Versailles (Sep 8). Featuring tenor Michael Spyres in the title role, it provides a fitting sequel to the ensembles’ transatlantic “Berlioz Series 2018” tour, of which the Financial Times observed: “Berlioz has no idea what he missed.”