Following a Polish and Russian evening, the Festival Orchestra's series focusing on the music of selected countries continued with France.
The concerts on February 10th, 11th and 12th opened with César Franck's symphonic poem, "The Accursed Huntsman", followed by "The Poem of Love and the Sea", a song cycle by Ernest Chausson on poems of Maurice Bouchor. The second half of the programme featured one of the most popular works of classical music concert repertoire, Berlioz's Phantastic Symphony.
The conductor was Pinchas Steinberg who has appeared with the Festival Orchestra for the sixth time. The soloist of the Chausson song cycle was Russian mezzo Yelena Zhidkova.
Born in Israel, Steinberg studied violin under Joseph Gingold and Jascha Heifetz, later completing his compositional studies in Berlin. He made his debut as a conductor in 1974 with the Berlin RIAS Symphony Orchestra. Between 1989 and 1996 he was musical director of the Vienna Radio Orchestra, between 2002 and 2005 he held the same post at the Suisse Romande Orchestra, Geneva. He has performed with almost every great symphony orchestra, from the New York Philharmonic to the Israel and the Berlin Philharmonic, and has conducted dozens of opera productions at the world’s leading opera houses, among them Vienna, where for six years from 1988 he was principal guest conductor at the Staatsoper. He has won numerous awards for his recordings of Wagner, Richard Strauss, Catalani and Massenet operas (Golden Diapason, Deutsche Schallplatten Kritik Prize, Caecilia Prize, Grand Prix du Disque). Steinberg, who was appearing with the Festival Orchestra for the sixth time, last conducted in Budapest in April, 2006.
Born in Saint-Petersburg, Elena Zhidkova made her debut at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as Olga in Eugene Onegin in the production of Götz Friedrich. Career highlights include appearances at the Bayreuth Festival, several concerts with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic, the Edinburgh and Salzburg Eastern Festivals. She also sang in Händel's Jephta with Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Berlin Philharmonie. In 2004, she made an acclaimed debut as Waltraute (Götterdämmerung) at the Teatro Real Madrid, where she returned to sing Brangäne (Tristan und Isolde). At the New National Theatre Tokyo, Elena Zhidkova sang Dorabella (Cosi fan tutte) in 2005 and returned to perform Octavian (Rosenkavalier) and Fricka (Rheingold, Walküre). At Semperoper Dresden she sang Venus (Tannhäuser) and Adriano (Rienzi). In 2008, she was Judith in an extremely successful production of Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle at La Scala Milan, a role, which she recently performed with Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall London. In 2009, she made her Bolshoi Theatre debut as Marie (Berg's Wozzeck).