This year, the Orfeón Donostiarra Choir will have a handful of maestros who are from that generation of orchestra conductors who combine the overflowing energy of youth with the maturity that comes with solid, international professional experience and who will direct the choir in several of the 18 concerts that have been scheduled so far for 2019. Thus, Pablo Heras-Casado, Iñigo Pírfano, Jonathan Nott, Daniel Harding, and Karl-Heinz Steffens will lead the choristers, as well as the regulars Sokhiev and Gergiev.
There will be two international trips with three concerts in Paris, as well as a fourth trip to the Berlioz Festival, which is held at Côte Saint-André, the hometown of the French composer.
Three Concerts at the Philharmonie de Paris
In February, the Orfeón Choir will visit the Philharmonie, the Parisian auditorium in whose inauguration the choir had the honour of participating in 2015. The group will hold three concerts for 2,400 people: On the 17th, with the Philharmonic of Munich and its choir and under the direction of Valery Gergiev (the Philharmonic of Munich's principal conductor), the group will give its rendition of Symphony No. 8 by Mahler. On the 20th and 21st, directed by Pablo Heras-Casado, it will tackle Berlioz's Requiem alongside the Orchestra of Paris and its choir, as well as the Paris Conservatory Orchestra.
The Orfeón Choir, the Philharmonic of Munich, and Gergiev will render yet again, in the French capital, Mahler's Eighth Symphony, as it was so successful last October 13th in Munich during the concert that the orchestra gave to celebrate its 125th anniversary. On this occasion, the soloists will include the sopranos Simone Schneider, Jacquelyn Wagner, and Regula Mühlemann, the mezzo-sopranos Claudia Mahnke and Katharina Magiera, as well as the tenor Simon O'Neill, the baritone Michael Nagy, and the bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin. The concert will be broadcast on Mezzo TV and Radio France Musique.
This symphony made its world debut with the Philharmonic of Munich under the direction of the composer himself, Mahler, and it is not regularly performed in the musical world because of its demanding instrumental and vocal requirements on stage. It is not known as the “Symphony of a Thousand” for nothing. For the Orfeón Choir, it is also a special piece as the group was the first to perform it in Spain during the 19th Granada Music Festival in 1970 and under the direction of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, alongside the Spanish National Orchestra.
The concert programme for the 20th and 21st of February at the Philharmonie will be comprised of Berlioz's Requiem. Coinciding at the event will be the Orchestra of Paris and its choir, as well as the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, the Orfeón Choir, and the American tenor Bryan Hymel as a soloist – all of whom will be directed by Pablo Heras-Casado (Granada, 1977). This will be the first time that this young conductor, whose career has really taken off over the last decade, will lead the Orfeón. In 2011, he made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic; in 2016 he found himself at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic, and that very year he conducted at the Carnegie Hall to celebrate its 125th anniversary. He has travelled the world working with many different orchestras.
It was, in fact, with Berlioz's Requiem that the Orfeón and the Toulouse Capitol National Orchestra inaugurated this auditorium, which is part of the “Cité de la Musique.” The piece requires a number of musicians and singers. Berlioz called it “Grand messe des morts” and, on its debut on December 5, 1837 at the Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides (Paris), there were 400 instrumentalists and choristers.
The Berlioz Festival
On August 31, the Orfeón will once again perform Berlioz's Requiemat the festival that pays tribute to this French composer in La Côte-Saint-André, Berlioz's hometown, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of his death. This performance will be with the Toulouse Capitol National Orchestra and its principal conductor, Tugan Sokhiev.
This festival normally brings together, at the end of August, around 50 activities related with the main Romanesque repertoire pieces; the majority of said activities are in thecourtyard of the Louis XI castle and they are attended by around 20,000 spectators.
Alongside the Reino de Aragón Orchestra
On February 28, the Orfeón, along with the Reino de Aragón Orchestra, will participate in the Spring Concert Season at the Zaragoza Auditorium, which is in its 25th edition this year. Both musical groups will provide their rendition of Symphony No. 2 by Mahler under the direction of Iñigo Pírfano and with the soloists Carmen Solís (soprano) and María José Montiel (mezzo-soprano).
The same programme and the same artists will offer Mahler's Second Symphony on the next day at the Kursaal Congress Centre of San Sebastián – a solidarity concert put on by the Ayete Residential College to benefit Cáritas. Said event will also be repeated at the Baluarte Auditorium of Pamplona and, in this case, the funds will go to the Core Foundation.
Mahler took six years to compose this symphony, also known as “Resurrection.” It was rendered for the first time in whole by the Berlin Philharmonic with a choir and soloists on December 13, 1895 in Germany's capital. The choir's part, although short, requires mastering the pianissimos, crescendos, and fortes – something that the members of the Orfeón are used to and that caught the eye of the late Maestro Abbado in his first encounter with the chorus in 1997, an encounter that was in connection with this piece. The next version to come was the version for the Lucerne Festival (2003), conducted by the Italian conductor, and other versions like that of Simon Rattle at the Canary Island Festival (2007), those of Paavo Järvi (2006 in Paris and 2009 in Frankfurt), and that of Michael Tilson Thomas in Madrid (2011).
Íñigo Pirfano(Bilbao, 1973) has worked as a guest conductor in Europe and Latin America with orchestras like the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, Szczecin Philharmonic, Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, Basque Country Symphony Orchestra, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Castile and León Symphony Orchestra, Navarre Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia, National Symphony Orchestra of Peru, Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Panama, etc. In 2002, he made his operatic debut with a production of Master Peter's Puppet Show by Manuel de Falla that was very much praised by the critics and the audience alike.
Tour with the Prague Opera Orchestra
In November, the choir will go to the Barcelona Auditori and to the Madrid National Auditorium to interpret the Ninth Symphony by Beethoven alongside the Prague Opera Orchestra and under the direction of Karl-Henz Steffens.
Karl-Heinz Steffens (Trier, Germany, 1961) is a clarinettist by training and teacher of music. After reaching one of the highest peaks for an instrumentalist –the position of principal clarinet in the Berlin Philharmonic– he decided to make the leap to orchestra conducting. During that time, he has gleaned his remarkable background – both in terms of orchestral music and in the opera.
Concerts “At Home”
The choir will participate in the next edition of "Quincena Musical" ("Musical Fortnight") with three concerts; the event's organisers has already mentioned that one of those concerts will be with the Orchestra of Paris and Daniel Harding as the conductor.
Nevertheless, before that festival, on March 7th, the voices of the Orfeón will unite, alongside those of Orfeoi Txiki, with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra to provide their rendition, at the Kursaal Congress Centre, of Symphony No. 3 by Mahler with the British conductor Jonathan Nott. The concert is part of the Kursaal Eszena programming.
Jonathan Nott(Solihull, England, 1962) has become, in recent years, a recognised Mahlerian after recording all of his symphonies for Tudor except for the Tenth Symphony. He is especially enthused by youth orchestras, such as the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, which he conducts. He founded, in Bamberg, the Gustav Mahler Award for Young Conductors. He has been the principal conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra since 2000, musical director of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (since 2014), and the principal conductor of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (since 2014). In 2017 he was appointed as the new conductor of the Suisse Romande.