(photo: Patrice Nin)

Tugan Sokhiev and Nikolai Lugansky

Russian music should be melancholy and voluminous – or at least that’s the cliché. Tugan Sokhiev, Music Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, provides proof of the contrary. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade develops oriental charm and impressionist richness of colour, while a tongue in cheek charm repeatedly shines through in Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations, regardless of their tremendous virtuosity. Nikolai Lugansky will debut as piano soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Tugan Sokhiev Conductor

Nikolai Lugansky Piano

César Franck

Le Chasseur maudit

Sergei Rachmaninov

Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra op. 43

Nikolai Lugansky Piano

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite op. 35

Dates and Tickets

Thu, 13 Oct 2016, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:00

Serie F

Fri, 14 Oct 2016, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:00

Serie B

Sat, 15 Oct 2016, 19:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 18:00

Serie H


“Rachmaninov is an incredible figure in Russian music history. Every time I listen to him or play him, I fall more in love with this music.” Nikolai Lugansky, who when just 19 recorded a CD of all the Études-Tableaux by his great role model, is now considered one of the world’s best Rachmaninov interpreters – he approaches the polychromatic, shimmering melancholy of the Russian composer virtuoso with just as much filigree elegance as virtuosic force. He studied with, among others, Tatiana Nikolayeva, who in turn studied with the renowned pedagogue Alexander Goldenweiser, and who as a celebrated Bach interpreter inspired none other than Dmitri Shostakovich to his Preludes and Fugues op. 87. Lugansky, who experienced his international breakthrough in 1994 upon winning the Tenth International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, once dumbfounded his teacher by memorising the entire score of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, which is riddled with the greatest of technical hurdles, in just three days. At his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Tugan Sokhiev, Nikolai Lugansky is bringing along the work considered the culmination of Rachmaninow’s piano composing: the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini op. 43, a series of 24 variations on Paganini’s well-known Caprice No. 24 for solo violin, which had already inspired Liszt, Schumann and Brahms to compose variations. The work reaches its quirky and humorous high point in Variation No. 7, in which, as a reference to the famous “devil’s violinist”, you hear the “Dies irae” sequence.

The evening also starts in a balladic way, with César Franck’s symphonic poem Le Chasseur maudit based on Gottfried August Bürger’s romantic ballad “The Wild Huntsman”: the four-part work climaxes in the wild ride of the accursed, condemned as a blasphemer to be hunted through the world by hellhounds until the Last Judgement. The concert concludes with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherazade, whose exotic richness of colour anticipates the subtle sonorities of French impressionism. “The programme that I […] had in mind”, wrote the composer, “was individual episodes from Thousand and One Nights; they are strewn in all four movements of the suite: the sea and Sinbad’s ship, the fantastic narrative of Prince Kalendar […] and the ship that breaks against a cliff surmounted by a bronze horseman.”

About the music

The Last Judgement and Beyond

Franck, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov as Composing Exorcists

France’s romanticists avoided the nirvana of eternal ideas. They longed for Napoleon, for a restoration of the national stature lost at Waterloo. The genres of the symphony, symphonic poem and sonata cultivated by the Germans were met with complete indifference, on the other hand. There was one exception, however: Hector Berlioz was extremely fond of large orchestral forms; he maintained close contact with the German music scene at times and attracted more attention on this side of the Rhine than in Paris. Berlioz’s music did not enjoy a renaissance in France until after his death in 1869, resulting in the rehabilitation of the symphonic poem, which had been viewed with disfavour until then. In the course of this reorientation French composers also increasingly turned to German themes, although this did not appear to be particularly opportune after the war of 1870/71.

César Franck: Le Chasseur maudit

Despite his German ancestry César Franck showed little interest in the literary works of the neighbouring country. Only at the suggestion of two students did he turn to Gottfried August Bürger’s Der wilde Jäger [The Wild Huntsman] in 1882. The ballad describes how a Count of the Rhine sets out for the hunt on a Sunday morning, showing no respect for people or animals, and is finally cursed by God. Franck’s synopsis of the story, written for the first edition of the orchestral score, concentrated on four sections: the sound of pealing bells and religious songs on Sunday, interrupted by the hunting horn of the sadistic Count. – His pack of hounds chases relentlessly through the fields; no appeals of his attendants or pleas by the peasants help; the Count leaves only ravaged ground in his wake. – Suddenly there is a long silence; the horse refuses to go further, the horn is silent, a voix lugubre (gloomy voice) announces to the aristocratic brute that as punishment for his sacrilege he will be chased through the world by demons forever.

The music follows the action closely, including onomatopoeic effects such as church bells, horn calls and horses’ hoofbeats. The deeply religious Franck shifted the emphasis of the horror story, however: he devoted less time to the Count’s wild ride than the curse and punishment. The composer was not content with depicting shocking events but accentuated the moral message of the material.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite op. 35, based on One Thousand and One Nights, also sends a message that goes beyond its obvious content. The oriental subject matter has a deeper political meaning: it reflects the increasing expansion of the tsarist realm as far as Tbilisi, Tashkent and Samarkand, but can also be regarded as an expression of sympathy for the people of the Caucasus and the Silk Road, who were even more severely oppressed by the Romanovs than the Russians themselves. As far as content is concerned, the four-movement symphonic suite follows a course similar to that of Franck’s tone poem: the depressing initial situation is reversed during the work.

A synopsis preceding the score briefly outlines the story of One Thousand and One Nights: “Sultan Shahriar, convinced of the falsehood and infidelity of all women, has vowed to put each of his wives to death after the first night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saves her life by entertaining him with wonderful tales for a thousand and one nights. Overcome by curiosity, the Sultan postpones her execution from day to day and finally abandons his cruel plan. Scheherazade recounts many marvellous tales to Shahriar, drawing from the verses of the poets and the words of folk songs, connecting fairy tales and stories.”

Two not exactly insignificant details are missing from this scenario. For one thing, the most famous book of fairy tales in the world, translated from Persian into Arabic, probably originated in India. The action takes place “in the peninsulas of India and Indochina”, that is, not in Arabia but in an Orient as seen from Damascus or Baghdad. Secondly, Scheherazade deliberately asks her father for permission to marry Shahriar because she wants to put an end to the Sultan’s murderous practice. Thus, the women are saved thanks to a woman, not because of autocratic magnanimity.

Rimsky-Korsakov had no intention of composing a symphonic manifesto for the emancipation of women. Nor was he interested in correcting ingrained clichés of Western perceptions of the Orient – on the contrary, “despotism” and “sensuality” left their imprint on both leitmotifs: the Sultan’s theme at the opening, with three imperious trombones, and the Scheherazade motif in the solo violin, which follows immediately.

The first movement takes the listener to the South Seas, where Sinbad must endure a violent storm, while the second presents the adventures of the Kalendar prince, the most impressive of which is his flight with the roc, a giant bird. The following Andantino quasi allegretto, with a prince and princess as protagonists, is full of vibrant eroticism. The finale culminates in another storm at sea, from which Sinbad – magically drawn to the bronze horseman on a rocky island – this time cannot escape. In the end Scheherazade survives without an exorcistic resolution – good triumphs humanely, even though Sinbad goes down in the roaring waves.

In later years Rimsky-Korsakov dispensed with descriptive movement titles; he wanted the listener to hear Scheherazade as a symphonic fantasy with a magical character and not as actual programme music. His attempt to avoid lapsing into a descriptive aesthetic was carried to absurd lengths by the choreographer Michel Fokine in 1910, when he favoured the Paris Opera with a ballet version of Scheherazade.

Sergei Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Sergei Rachmaninov would have liked to have seen his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini op. 43 on the stage, but when Michel Fokine presented the concertante variations for piano and orchestra as a ballet in 1939 the composer was not able to make the journey to London because of a fall. Rachmaninov may have intended his rhapsody as a stage epic from the beginning. In particular, the introduction of a second basic motif, the medieval hymn to the dead Dies Irae, might suggest that. It is heard several times during the work at fateful turning points and ultimately prevails over the Paganini theme, which is taken from the famous Caprice in A minor.

The legend of the “devil’s fiddler” had long fascinated Rachmaninov, although he did not hesitate to depict the tragic virtuoso using popular stereotypes, even exposing him to ridicule. The very idea of having the violinist of the century appear in a kind of piano concerto is comical. The opening also reveals Rachmaninov’s sense of humour: the rhapsody is introduced with a skeletal version of the main theme, which even in the first variation does not initially appear in its original form. It dominates the following events all the more strongly. The Dies Iraeis heard for the first time in the seventh variation, then enters almost blasphemous realms of expression in the tenth variation, a satirical march. The eleventh variation, which resembles an improvisation, is followed by an extremely meditative minuet, contrary to every tradition; a woman ensnared by Paganini appears in number twelve. The climax of the love story is the passionately lyrical eighteenth variation. The virtuoso’s decline, depicted with nightmarish intensity, follows in the last five variations, beginning with Paganini’s diabolical pizzicato. Like Franck’s “wild hunter” he must inevitably face the Last Judgement.

Volker Tarnow

Translation: Phyllis Anderson


Tugan Sokhiev hails from Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, and studied with Ilya Musin at the St Petersburg Conservatory, while also attending the conducting classes of Yuri Temirkanov. In 2000 he won the main prize in the Third International Prokofiev Competition, an award that led to his appointment as principal conductor of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the North Ossetia State Philharmonic. He attracted international attention in 2002 conducting Puccini’s La Bohème at the Welsh National Opera. Already the following year he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and in 2004 at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence with Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges. Sokhiev has been music director of the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse since the autumn of 2008. In addition, he took on the position of Music Director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin from 2012 until the summer 2016. Furthermore, he was appointed Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre and Orchestra in January 2014, where recent opera productions have included Shostakovich’sKaterina Ismailova and Berlioz’La Damnation de Faust. In addition to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra where Tugan Sokhiev has close artistic connections, he is also a much sought-after guest conductor all over the world. His debuts conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2009 and at the beginning of 2010 respectively, were immediately followed by invitations to return; in recent years, he also guest conducted the Chicago and London Symphony Orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw and the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Tugan Sokhiev last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in April 2016 conducting works by Fauré, Ravel and Franck.

Nikolai Lugansky was born in Moscow in 1972. He studied at the Central music school and later at the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory in his home town. His teachers included Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky. At 16, he received second prize at the Leipzig International Bach Competition, and second prize at the International Rachmaninov Competition in Moscow two years later. After winning the renowned International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1994, his international career took off. Nikolai Lugansky has since worked with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Valery Gergiev, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Yuri Temirkanov. More recently, he has appeared as a guest soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, the Munich Philharmonic and with the San Francisco, Boston and NHK Symphony Orchestras. In addition, he accompanied the Russian National Orchestra with Mikhail Pletnev on a European tour. Nikolai Lugansky regularly appears at the BBC Proms, the La Roque d’Anthéron international piano festival and the festivals in Verbier and Edinburgh. His chamber music partners include Vadim Repin, Leonidas Kavakos, Gautier Capuçon and Mischa Maisky. For his recording of the Rachmaninov piano concertos, Lugansky received the “German Record Critics’ Award” and the “Choc du Monde de la Musique”; In 2013, he received the “Diapason d'Or” for his recording of the Rachmaninov sonatas. Appointed “People’s Artist of Russia” in 2013, Nikolai Lugansky is the artistic director of the Rachmaninov Festival in Tambov and a patron of the memorial on Rachmaninov’s former estate, now the Ivanovka Museum, where he frequently performs. This will be the Russian pianist’s first appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

(photo: Patrice Nin)