Classical 99.5 | Classical Radio Boston
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mendelssohn and Janáček with Mena and the BSO

Juanjo Mena
Courtesy of the Artist
Juanjo Mena

Saturday, September 4, 2021
8:00 PM

In an encore broadcast, Juanjo Mena conducts Mendelssohn's gracefully lyrical Violin Concerto with soloist Julian Rachlin and the hyper-charged brass fanfares of Janáček's Sinfonietta.

Juanjo Mena, conductor
Julian Rachlin, violin

HAYDN Symphony No. 44, Trauer
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
JANÁČEK Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen
JANÁČEK Sinfonietta

Encore broadcast from February 2, 2019

Hear a preview of the concert with Juanjo Mena in the audio player above.


Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Juanjo Mena. He's back in Boston for music by Haydn and Mendelssohn and Janacek, really kind of an odd set of composers, not expected. So I'm really interested in getting into sort of how these different pieces came to live together on this program. But Juanjo, let me ask you first. The 44th Symphony, what we call the "Mourning" Symphony, or "Trauer" Symphony, by Haydn, not often done. And I wonder what led you to want to do this piece. In rehearsal, I just noted you with some very specific ideas about phrasing for the orchestra. And tell me about the symphony and your attachment to it, why you wanted to do it here with the BSO?

Juanjo Mena [00:00:39] I think deciding is always a luxury to do with this orchestra because they have a lot of quality to do this music, this very difficult music, as Mozart. And yes, true, I love this symphony. When I was very, very young, I did [it] with the school orchestra in my city in Spain, in the north of Spain. And later, I think it's one of the more unknown symphonies of Haydn, and one of the more beautiful, because the contrast between the movements are amazing. All the things are beauty. It's very sweet; at the same time it's powerful, you know, it's amazing, wonderful symphony. And I don't know why it's not so often in the repertory. You know, I talk with the orchestra now and they never played, and they love it, love this amazing, amazing, wonderful symphony.

Brian McCreath [00:01:29] Yeah. I guess maybe part of it is that when people think of Haydn, they think of the elegant, the majestic. They don't so much think of the emotion, you know, and that's where this symphony comes in, right? There's so much emotion in it.

Juanjo Mena [00:01:40] You know, how important was Haydn in the "sturm und drang," the famous movement that change the direction of the classical music to the romanticism, in some points of view. They developed the symphony, developed sonata form, developed all the things. And I think this is a good connection also with the concerto, no? With Mendelssohn. Because we feel the same bright colors, the happy character in some moments, and more dramatic in others, but with a lot of class, as you told, was always, was a big man with big class, Haydn, no? And I think it's a lot of these also in the Mendelssohn concerto, yeah. It's so important for the change of the music.

Brian McCreath [00:02:20] It is. It is. And that's why, again, I wanted to see about how these pieces are living together. Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, we hear it a lot, which is nothing wrong with that. It's always great to hear this concerto, but there's a way that maybe it shows up and we don't think about it in relation to other pieces on the program. And I guess I hear what you mean, that there's brightness, but a little bit of melancholy, a little bit of sadness that goes into the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. And tell me about Julian Rachlin and his playing and what he brings to it.

Juanjo Mena [00:02:49] Yeah, I think the good thing of these two first half, the first half that we have in this program, is that we have the symphony in E minor, and the concerto is in E minor. So we do [SINGS], and we do [SINGS]. It's quite the same, and also in the concerto, it's [SINGS]. And we have also in the second movement, [SINGS], you know? Is plenty of similar things, you know, in the last movement, about the energetic of the last movement also, it's very similar things. To play with Julian Rachlin is a pleasure. He is a man with so long business in music, you know? He started very, very, very young and now is with a lot of knowledge, a lot of character at the same time and now is in love also, I think, very clear, because he played with amazing spirit, romantic, no, the concerto, but with a lot of knowledge. We met years ago in Bilbao, I think 25 years ago, something like this. And we play several times together. And he's the quality of the sound, the quality of the bright core of the violin is amazing.

Brian McCreath [00:04:12] Yeah. Wow. You draw some connections between those two pieces that I never really got before. And now we're going to hear them together in this concert. So they'll be right there, right there before us. Well, and then the second half, these two pieces by Leoš Janáček. And, you know, one of the things that we we are told about Janáček is the relationship of what he writes to his language, that it's all about the Czech language and the rhythms and the sort of cadences of the Czech language. I wonder, as the conductor, have you taken it on to actually learn a little bit about the Czech language, or is that not actually very important in terms of interpreting the music?

Juanjo Mena [00:04:51] Oh, it's very important. Also, for example, with Kodály, with "Peacock Variations" is the same. You must understand the language because the accent of the phrases is always in the first bit, you know, [SPEAKS CZECH], and you see in this Sinfonietta, for example, when your trumpets do [SINGS], you know? But at the same time, the language is also, the color of the language is also creating these mixtures, the sonorities and these crazy things for moments. But as you look very well at the score and you do with [indistinct], the contrast is amazing, it's wonderful there. Something for example, is in the Sinfonietta, a moment with a very fast passage in the flutes and in the clarinets, [SINGS], you know, and in this you listen and you see something of the Czech, or the Hungarians, all these are, you know, they are very talented, [SINGS]. First of all, knowing the tune, knowing the sound, you know, but the character is this is open, no? It's for these, I was talking with the first clarinet here, and he mentioned that all clarinetists of the Boston Symphony and also Karl Leister told him this passage mustn't be exactly precise. All this is more decorative than something that is really active and theatric, with a lot of theater. There are a lot of energy, more open than to be a good, wonderful, clean passage. Not possible, it's a dark passage.

Brian McCreath [00:06:34] That's great. Wow. Yeah, well, we'll listen for that specifically. With "The Cunning Little Vixen," is this one of those suites from an opera where it works just as concert music, or do you kind of feel like you have to know something about the story to understand what the orchestra is trying to get across?

Juanjo Mena [00:06:54] Yeah, it's true, in Janáček, in the operas, the character is more symphonic than operatic, in some point of view. It's very clear. It's plenty of ideas. It's colorful, it's plenty of ideas of beautiful things. It's beauty. When you see "The Cunning Little Vixen," it's amazing, beautiful colors, and it's happy, no? And also the [indistinct] is a lot of contrasting movements, is very difficult music to make. And I think they didn't play "Cunning Little Vixen," they didn't play in years here, and the orchestra struggled yesterday. They were completely exhausted after rehearsal. But this was very, very demanding, is very difficult to play. It's plenty of wonderful and beautiful ideas, crazy ideas, and I think these operas are more symphonic operas than other ones in the repertory.

Brian McCreath [00:07:49] That's interesting. Yeah, that's an interesting way to look at it. The Sinfonietta, because of the the extensive brass sections, it always has struck me as one of the pieces that might be more different than others when you go from orchestra to orchestra. So when you conducted this before, I just wonder, I mean, from your perspective, you I'm sure you've done it in other places. And do you hear that? Do you hear different orchestras sounding very different in this piece?

Juanjo Mena [00:08:16] Yeah, I clearly do. I conducted this piece in Germany last year and on the character of the brass, you know, this brass with power, but also with [indistinct] character, ensemble, very strong one, no? OK, is something of this in this type of music. But in the Czech, there are also a lot of influence of Germany, of course, but there are people more happy and more open and more flexible, I think that is. No, honestly, I am very happy now with Boston Symphony because the quality of the brass, the quality of the sound, OK, they can play forte or fortissimo while the quality is always something that is beauty. Always is around some beautiful intonation and we are playing forte as written, and I think it's closer to the Czech because this was a big party first of all. And Janáček tried to demonstrate the power of the life, the power to be free, you know, on all these brass around. But these people must be happy. You must be enjoying it. No strong and dark. You know, you understand me. And I think it's amazing to be here. You go to Spain or to Italy, impossible, it's too bright. You know, it's too [SINGS], it's too active, it's too... exciting and a lot of, you know, but it's a wonderful time here.

Brian McCreath [00:09:43] Yeah. Juanjo Mena. So good to talk to you. So good to have you back. And I've been looking to this program since last summer, so I'm glad you're here. Thanks a lot for your time. I appreciate it.

Juanjo Mena [00:09:50] Thank you.