Thursday, 17 March 2011

Yakov Kreizberg (1959-2011): an appreciation

Amongst my circle of friends it is typical that over dinner conversation should turn to matters musical. After a substantial debate around the merits of György Kurtág's music, I found myself faced with the question, “Which conductor do you wish you'd heard more often in concert?”
My immediate reply: “Yakov Kreizberg”.
My dinner companions nodded thoughtfully or looked perplexed, but my questioner refused to let it rest at that and pressed me for further elaboration.

I heard Yakov Kreizberg conduct on two occasions: Der Rosenkavalier at English National Opera and in concert at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra in Schumann's second symphony and Brahms' violin concerto. The soloist was his long-time collaborator Julia Fischer.

Der Rosenkavalier, I recall, was conducted rather at arm's length. I did not feel that Kreizberg was fully connected with the drama and passion that is – for me at least – so much part of the opera's fabric. The playing was perfectly correct, everything was in its appropriate place, yet whilst listening to it I remained unmoved.

My thoughts on the 2006 Schumann and Brahms concert were published at the time. Re-reading the review, I am conscious of the fact that my attention is more on Julia Fisher's solo contribution than Yakov Kreizberg's conducting in the concerto. Schumann, however, allowed Kreizberg to really grab my attention. Going back to the notes I made in the concert programme, I commented on the 'definite sense of purpose' and 'clear technique and astute ear for layering the orchestral sections […] building sonorities from the bass range upwards'. It is a shame that Kreizberg never made it into the recording studio with Schumann.

Afterwards, I headed to the Concertgebouw café to bide my time before heading back upstairs to hear Radu Lupu play Beethoven. Much to my surprise, Yakov Kreizberg took a seat opposite me shortly afterwards. Evidently still feeling the afterglow of Schumann's great passions – as was I – he sat and we conversed fulsomely whilst he consumed first a soup then chocolate cake at an alarming rate. The lasting impression was one of courtesy, utter professionalism of course, but that he treated my remarks with respect, even though it was momentarily obvious that our views differed regarding the dynamic impetus required for the first movement. (He laughed upon seeing my comment “too laboured ???”, thought a moment, and nodded slightly with a broad smile). It was easy for me to see that if he took this kind of approach with orchestras and soloists just why his colleagues have been so quick to offer fulsome praise in the wake of his untimely death following illness at the age of 51.

A varied legacy is left on CD and DVD, with several of the orchestras Kreizberg headed as chief conductor or music director represented. Early encounters on CD for Decca included two recordings of Berthold Goldschmidt's music, including the clarinet concerto. Not surprisingly his collaboration with Julia Fischer and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra features strongly on the Pentatone label. Practically every release – including of the Brahms solo and double concertos – received favourable reviews upon release. Their Mozart concertos and notable for their scale, cleanliness and unassuming style. Dvořák symphonies impress for their pliant sensitivity as much as his Shostakovich reflects the ability he had to bring out inevitability of form in the composer's writing. His only recording of a Bruckner symphony (no. 7 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra) was deservedly a contender for the 2006 Grammy Best Orchestral Performance award. Kreizberg's most recent artistic relationship was with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. They released in January this year a 3 CD set of the Stravinsky ballets on the orchestra’s own label, featuring the rising star mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic. The latest recording with Julia Fischer is due out on Decca next month, featuring Suk, Respighi, Chausson and Vaughan Williams. One wonders what else might have been forthcoming in time from Monte-Carlo under Kreizberg's baton. Only his opera repertoire is significantly under-represented, with a Don Giovanni filmed at Glyndebourne.

Returning to Yakov's interpretation of Der Rosenkavalier once more I am tempted to think that actually he got it right. Richard Strauss' music can be played coolly and largely free of traditional Viennese excess, even when it is at its most overtly romantic. Surely a key defining characteristic in any musician of stature is their ability to persuade that another interpretation is not only technically possible, but that it also makes musical sense. For that reason alone Yakov Kreizberg surely still had much to offer orchestras, soloists and audiences, making his loss all the harder to bear.

Coincidentally, if I were to be asked the question again as to which conductor I want hear more of, I would go for Yakov's older brother, Semyon Bychkov.

Image credit: Marco Borggreve


  1. Your words speak volumes of a man who left us far, far too soon. There was so much more to come. Yakov will be missed by those who knew him and came into contact with him, be they a performer or concert-goer

  2. Nice, personal perspective of Kreizberg. I can only recall hearing him twice - oddly in the same work. The first time was with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Southampton's Guildhall, the second with the London Symphony Orchestra (his debut) at the Barbican. The work on both occasions was Mahler's Resurrection. The Bournemouth performance I still remember well, quite possibly because the performance quite literally blew people away (if you've ever heard this gigantic symphony in an undersized hall you'll know the feeling). Still, a fine conductor whom I wish I had heard more of (and you know I probably did). Marc Bridle