Tchaikovsky, Reid, and Sibelius, with Rakitina and the BSO
Saturday, April 9, and Monday, April 18, 2022
The BSO Assistant Conductor conducts a modern work by American composer Ellen Reid and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 7, and pianist Alexandre Kantorow makes his BSO debut as the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Anna Rakitina, conductor
Alexandre Kantorow, piano
Piotr TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 2
Ellen REID When the World as You’ve Known It Doesn’t Exist
Jean SIBELIUS Symphony No. 7
This concert is no longer available on demand.
Hear a preview of the program with Anna Rakitina with the audio player above (transcript below).
Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Anna Rakitina, the Assistant Conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Anna, it's so good to talk with you. And finally, a concert here at Symphony Hall, with an audience, for you to conduct. Thanks for your time today.
Anna Rakitina Thank you. Yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to make, finally, my debut concert with a live audience. It's absolutely great.
Brian McCreath Yeah. Well, and the program is one that includes three different pieces, very different from each other. And I want to ask you first about this Tchaikovsky concerto [Piano Concerto No. 2], especially because, your background, having been born in Moscow, I guess I was listening to this in rehearsal and wondering, we almost never hear this piece in this country. Is it heard more often in Russia?
Anna Rakitina Well, you won't believe, but no.
Brian McCreath Oh, OK!
Anna Rakitina No, of course, we sometimes have it, especially in the Tchaikovsky Competition. Sometimes the soloists choose this one. But yes, it's not among our standard repertoire. So it's also kind of a little unusual and fresh for me.
Brian McCreath And so, what is it about the piece? I mean, the First Piano Concerto [by Tchaikovsky] is a masterpiece, and people love it. But why do you think the Second isn't played, maybe, as often as some other concertos?
Anna Rakitina Well, it's hard to say, you never know. But I think that may be the first reason is that the original version is really long. It's about 50 minutes, and this is a kind of proper concerto with a lot of cadenza and solo places for the pianist, and much less of orchestra. And also, maybe because, well, yes, I think the main reason is that this concerto has a very lovely middle part with the triple solo with a solo violin, solo cello, and the pianist, and it's a kind of a little of chamber music inside of the concerto. It's very special and I think, yeah, it's very lovely.
Brian McCreath It is. It's beautiful to have this piano trio existing inside the orchestra for that one movement. What does that mean for you? Does that make it a harder piece to conduct in any particular way?
Anna Rakitina Oh, well, no, no, not at all.
Brian McCreath Or maybe easier?
Anna Rakitina Maybe easier. It may be easier. And I love that it becomes special not only for me, but also for the players who have such a big and great solo part inside the normal playing in the group. And the fact that they kind of go out of their group and bring their voices for the solo is also very special.
Brian McCreath Yeah. Have you worked with Alexandre Kantorow before?
Anna Rakitina No, it's my first time I've met him.
Brian McCreath OK, OK. And tell me about the way that you two have come together on this piece. Does it take a lot when you're working with a soloist you haven't worked with before to sort of navigate and know exactly how you want to approach a piece like this, especially one that isn't done that often?
Anna Rakitina Yes. But you know when when you understand each other, it's always easier. And so this is our case for today, and I think we will be all said after the last rehearsal.
Brian McCreath No doubt. No doubt. Absolutely. You also chose the Sibelius Seventh Symphony, and that piece is unusual in that it is one sweeping movement divided into sections. But I guess that's kind of my question for you. How much do you have to work to make these sections clear for the audience so that the audience understands what's going on as the symphony progresses?
Anna Rakitina Well, first thing that I did when I started to work on the symphony, I made a plan. [laughs] Where is what? And how the structure? Because sometimes we can imagine that it is kind of Fantasia symphony, but it is not. It has absolutely clear structure inside. And I think when the performer understands it himself, it becomes clear for the audience as well. So I hope that it will help me.
Brian McCreath Absolutely. But you've conducted orchestras in lots of different places, a lot of time in Los Angeles, but you've also studied in Germany. You've recently conducted Chicago, New York. And I know that you weren't doing Sibelius everywhere. But Sibelius strikes me as a composer that really highlights the character of an individual orchestra. And I just wonder if that has something to do with why you chose this piece for this concert, with the Boston Symphony's character.
Anna Rakitina Well, you know, you have a very smart idea. Yeah. [laughs] One of the reasons, maybe, is, you know, the symphony has a great, great trombone solo. We have a just marvelous player. And I'm very happy that he is playing this, and he does it brilliantly.
Brian McCreath Yeah, that's Principal Trombonist Toby Oft, yeah, Toby Oft.
Anna Rakitina And another thing that came to my mind when I thought about Sibelius is this string section. It Is absolutely, it always sounds absolutely amazing at the BSO. And I'm just glad that I have it for Sibelius!
Brian McCreath Well, say more about that if you can. This is a little bit hard to put into words, I know, but, especially recently being with New York, being with Chicago, your experience in Los Angeles, what is it about the Boston Symphony string section that is a little bit different? Is there a way to put that in words at all? I know it's hard, but...
Anna Rakitina Well, you know, yes, a little hard because it also depends very much on acoustic. That is absolutely great here in [Symphony Hall], and not every orchestra is so fortunate to have this. And somehow, I think that it also has an impact on the players, because when they feel that the hall gives back so much, they also give much, much more. And the quality of the sound became more beautiful. And for me personally, of course, working with the people who know me already quite close and whom I know very well is, of course, very relaxing, and I can do more things that I have in mind.
Brian McCreath Very different from dropping in on the Chicago Symphony on short notice for a week, right?
Anna Rakitina Yes. That was also a very great experience of collaborations with people. Always give me a very, very kind and happy impressions.
Brian McCreath Absolutely.
Anna Rakitina Yeah. But it feels almost like home.
Brian McCreath Yes. Excellent. Had you known the music of Ellen Reid before taking on this program?
Anna Rakitina No, that was suggested by Tony Fogg [BSO Vice President, Artistic Planning], and I am so grateful for him to give me this this piece to consider, because, yeah, when I just opened the score and listened to it, yeah, it had a very great impression, especially with this beautiful, slow movement suddenly happens after the Agitato. And yeah, it's very strong work.
Brian McCreath Yeah, it's a piece called When the World As You've Known It Doesn't Exist. And tell me about that feeling for you. Do you sort of feel that emotion in this music?
Anna Rakitina Well, you know, I feel so, so many things that really, really in this piece, I am totally not sure whether Ellen has deliberately put everything in this piece. But I mean, even, there is something in common, even, with the Seventh Symphony of Sibelius. I don't know why it happens. Maybe just because I work at the same time on these pieces. But yes, somehow this kind of, another world in the piece.
Brian McCreath So, say more about that. When you feel these pieces next to each other, what is it that connects them? You say "another world." Is there a way to go further with that?
Anna Rakitina Yes, but somehow the technique of expression feelings through writing the music is so special in Sibelius and in Reid's piece. And it somehow even in this technique, it has something in common in writing, the way they change the harmonies, that it happens so smooth and so unmeasurable. And the way they, well, yeah, it's hard to explain.
Brian McCreath Actually, what you just said is beautiful. That's already something that we can sort of, like, think about as these two pieces... It's such a fascinating thing, right, to program music that suddenly takes on a character you didn't know before, you know, on an individual basis. But next to another piece, it's like, oh, there's something there that I didn't know.
Anna Rakitina Yeah, yeah, that's true.
Brian McCreath As Boston continues to get to know you, you know, you've conducted at Tanglewood and the virtual concert you did last season, but I'm interested in your sort of path to conducting, and what it is that motivated you to pursue this particular avenue in music as opposed to something else? How did conducting sort of come to you as the direction you wanted to pursue?
Anna Rakitina Also, hard to say because my dream job was singing, I wanted to become a singer for a very, very long time, and I didn't consider conducting at all. And that was just a coincidence that I tried. And then my teacher suggested I continue. And I am still continuing. [laughs]
Brian McCreath Yeah, that's interesting, though, because singers, I mean, there are some, but you don't often hear of singers turning to conducting.
Anna Rakitina Well, yes, because I don't have any degree and education in singing. I was a musicologist for a very long time. And so maybe because of this, I took conducting, and that was easier because already ear training and everything and it worked for me. And yes, I don't know how it happened.
Brian McCreath Oh, that's OK, too, to suddenly find yourself here, and you're conducting the Boston Symphony, that's an OK life, too! Well, tell me this. You say that you worked as a musicologist and in fact, you have a PhD. I mean, there's not a lot of conductors with PhDs.
Anna Rakitina Yeah, it's about Rachmaninoff chamber music, basically the Romances, so, songs.
Brian McCreath Yeah, yeah. And so, when you've lived that deeply with a particular corner of music, how does that affect the way that you might approach other music? Do you find that you're very, very deep background in Rachmaninoff helps you understand, or gives you a slightly different perspective on, say, Tchaikovsky, or any of the other music that you conduct?
Anna Rakitina Well, I also thought about it, and I think that the training that I gained while I studied, just, we were trained to analyze the music, and we were trained to kind of understand this, and understand the structures, and through the structures and through the way it's written, understand the meanings of the piece. So I think it generally was very helpful for conducting career.
Brian McCreath Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Especially when really start conducting a lot, you have to analyze scores very quickly.
Anna Rakitina Exactly.
Brian McCreath Yeah, yeah. Tell me about your your experience in Los Angeles. You were a Dudamel Fellow.
Anna Rakitina Oh yeah!
Brian McCreath Which is a fantastic program that really brings along conductors.
Anna Rakitina Yes. And I'm so grateful that I had it in my life. And yeah, it's amazing. And it's a great chance for the young musicians to gain the experience, to meet fantastic and wonderful people, and artists are top level artists. And yeah, I was fortunate to get this fellowship, and I was fortunate to make a concert with the Philharmonic. And that was a concert for kids. And that was Peter and the Wolf, Prokofiev, so we had fun!
Of course, absolutely! That's a fantastic piece and always fun. But tell me about the experience of conducting Los Angeles, Boston, as we've mentioned, New York, Chicago, and then other orchestras that I know that you also conduct, say, Pasadena or the Elgin Symphony in Illinois. These are fantastic community level orchestras. And how much can you take from one of those areas to the other?
Anna Rakitina Yeah, you know, well, it always depends not on the general level of the orchestra, but also on who exactly is playing. Because if people understand you, it becomes suddenly very easy to get what you want no matter if is it a big and famous orchestra or a smaller one. So it's very important to get the understanding with musicians and to get the connection with them. So, this is the thing that I am trying to to get at the first minutes on podium.
Brian McCreath Absolutely, yeah. So it's to establish a connection to the musicians from the moment that you step in front of them is a really important thing. Yeah, and that doesn't matter whether it's Elgin or the BSO.
Anna Rakitina Yeah, yeah, it's very important everywhere, I think.
Brian McCreath Sure. And one of the ways that you've been able to observe that happen, and maybe learn from it, is is working with Andris.
Anna Rakitina Oh, of course, absolutely.
Brian McCreath So tell me about working with Andris.
Anna Rakitina Oh yes, Andris is such a great, I mean, he is not only the world class conductor and great musician and has genius musicology, but he's also a great, kind supporter. And he helped me so, so much, so many times, with all my scores, with playing in the rehearsal. What is also very important, the way that you build the rehearsal and what you have in mind when you step on the podium. So yes, it's just amazing also that I have a chance to meet him here.
Brian McCreath Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Well, Anna Rakitina, it's great to, of course, see you around the hall a lot, but really great to see you on the podium this week. That's a really wonderful thing. And you're conducting at Tanglewood this summer as well.
Anna Rakitina Oh, yes. Yes, I will, hopefully.
Brian McCreath Oh, absolutely. OK. Well, thanks a lot for your time today, I appreciate it.
Anna Rakitina Thank you very much. Thank you.