Yuri Temirkanov has had what one would have to call a great career. Born in the Caucasus in 1938, he moved to Leningrad at thirteen to study violin. He soon switched to conducting and graduated in 1965. Two years later, Temirkanov made his debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic, then the greatest orchestra in the USSR, and was immediately invited to become assistant conductor by Yevgeny Mravinsky, then the greatest conductor in the USSR.
A man on the move, Temirkanov left the Philharmonic the following year to become principal conductor of the Leningrad Symphony and then music director of the Kirov Opera and Ballet before eventually succeeding Mravinsky at the helm of the Philharmonic. And there Temirkanov has remained as the orchestra's artistic director and chief conductor, through the fall of the USSR and the name change back to the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in 1991.
On Sunday, November 4, at Hill Auditorium, Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg return to Ann Arbor, he for the sixth time, they for the tenth. Anyone who's attended any of Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg's previous appearances already knows what to expect: a conductor of flawless technique and consummate control and an orchestra of blazing virtuosity and unsurpassed power. They'll be opening with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture and closing with Prokofiev's Second Suite from his Romeo and Juliet ballet, giving them a chance to show off just what makes them one of the great European orchestras.
In part, it's the orchestra. The St. Petersburg's strings can sear as well as soar, their woodwinds sing as individuals but blend as a chorus, their brass blow like a cool breeze and blast like a Molotov cocktail. In part, it's the conducting. Through supple tempos and expressive phrasing, Temirkanov keeps his eye on the long line and the final climax but never neglects details of color or articulation. Together, they are impossible to mistake for any other conductor and orchestra, and the chance to hear them should never be missed.
Appearing with them will be the young German violinist Julia Fischer. Hailed as not just an outstanding violinist but a superlative musician, Fischer will be performing Beethoven's wonderfully lyrical Violin Concerto. She played it last year with the Baltimore Symphony under Temirkanov — he was music director there from 2000 to 2006 — and the audience gave her what the Sun music critic called "the longest standing ovation I have witnessed." One can hardly wait.
[Review published November 2007]
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