Hans Graf is polishing his Russian languages skills. The Houston Symphony's maestro will need them when he jaunts to Moscow to lead his ensemble as part of the Seventh Annual Festival of the World's Symphony Orchestras, which runs from June 1 to 11.
The two-concert engagement is particularly significant: The Houston Symphony will be the first American orchestra to participate in the tuneful 10-day bacchanal, considered by many to be the apex of the Russian capital's classical music scene, which also celebrates the country's national holiday, Russia Day, on June 12.
In the past, only Asian and European groups were invited. This year, the festival opens the opportunity to the Houston Symphony and two Latin American orchestras — the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Cuba and Orquestra Filarmonica de Bogota, Colombia — in the company of homegrown classical troupes, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and Yaroslavl Academic Symphonic Orchestra.
The Houston Symphony will be the first American orchestra to participate in the tuneful 10-day bacchanal, considered by many to be the apex of the Russian capital's classical music scene.
The Bayou City musicians will be fresh of their Carnegie Hall appearance as part of the Spring for Music 2012 festival in May.
As such, the orchestra will recycle some of the repertoire including Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11 in G Minor Opus 103 "The Year 1905," from its "Two Faces of Shostakovich" program, and append Mozart's Symphony No. 38 "Prague," Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 and John Adam's Doctor Atomic Symphony.
Why the Houston Symphony?
Professionally, the ensemble has a strong history of championing music of Russian origins. After giving the North American premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, five months after the world premiere in Russia, the Houston Symphony released the first commercial recording of the pièce de résistance a month later.
On a personal note, Graf was a pupil at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Alongside his Russian wife Margarita, the Slavic language rolls easily off his tongue.
Moreover, we can't help wonder if the scheduling of an American and a Cuban orchestra on Russian soil is by chance, or whether someone somewhere thought it would be curious to program art troupes from countries which butted warheads not too long ago.
Think: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.