Author Archives: Georgina Williamson

Image © Edward DeArmitt/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Juanjo Mena Returns to the Pittsburgh Symphony to Glowing Reviews

March 2022

Juanjo Mena has enjoyed glowing reviews following his concerts with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on 11th and 13th March. The repertoire featured Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with Pablo Sáinz Villegas, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra.

“Guest maestro Juanjo Mena also demonstrated an uncanny ability to nudge the audience as well as the orchestra. He kicked off the evening in earnest with a spectacular take on Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony.” […] Mena and the orchestra were marvelous. Unhurried, precise, explosively exciting — the orchestra brought its “A” game on Friday.”

– Jeremy Reynolds, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Image © Edward DeArmitt/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Review: National Symphony Orchestra, Washington

November 2021
“The National Symphony Orchestra was led by the Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, who struck precisely the right balance of body and soul in a program bookended by Schumann and Brahms […] the former chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic made a memorable mark. He’s got a way with conjuring and releasing pressure, and can just as easily construct towering columns of sound as scatter them into clouds. […] Mena’s nimbleness was a large part of what gave the overture to Schumann’s 1848 “Manfred” the humanity required to hear the composer’s heart in the chest of the Byronic hero. It was one of the best openers I’ve heard all season. [In Brahms’ Third Symphony] Mena and the orchestra managed its triumphant tuttis as carefully as its many intimacies — the way the first movement quite literally peaces out; the design of the woodwinds that so beautifully illuminates the andante and accentuates the aching grace of the third movement.”
– Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post

The Spanish National Orchestra releases its double CD of works by Joaquín Rodrigo

November 2021
This double CD, dedicated to orchestral works with soloists by Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999), has been released to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It encompasses over four decades of Rodrigo’s compositional activity, from the early Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto, a song cycle composed in 1935, to the late Concierto como un divertimento for cello and orchestra, written in 1981. The disc features the cellist Asier Polo (Concierto como un divertimento and Concierto in modo galante), Laura Salcedo, Principal Second Violin of the Spanish National Orchestra (Concierto de estío), the French harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet (Concierto serenata, Sones en La Giralda) and the soprano Raquel Lojendio (Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto).
The CD is available for purchase or download here.

Rodrigo: Orchestral Works with Soloists

This double CD, dedicated to orchestral works with soloists by Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999), has been released to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It encompasses over four decades of Rodrigo’s compositional activity, from the early Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto, a song cycle composed in 1935, to the late Concierto como un divertimento for cello and orchestra, written in 1981. The disc features the cellist Asier Polo (Concierto como un divertimento and Concierto in modo galante), Laura Salcedo, Principal Second Violin of the Spanish National Orchestra (Concierto de estío), the French harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet (Concierto serenata, Sones en La Giralda) and the soprano Raquel Lojendio (Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto).

The CD is available for purchase or download here.

Bruckner Symphony No.6

Considered by some to be the ‘Cinderella’ of his symphonies, the Sixth Symphony of Anton Bruckner was composed in 1879 – 81. It may well demonstrate a reaction to the severe criticism of the first Viennese performance, in 1877, of his Third Symphony, which Eduard Hanslick described as ‘a vision of how Beethoven’s Ninth befriends Wagner’s Walküre and ends up being trampled under her horses’ hoofs’. Much the shortest of his mature symphonies, the Sixth also reverts to a more classical form than its predecessors.

This recording was made in 2012, during the first season of Juanjo Mena as Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, and just a month before their acclaimed performance of the work at the BBC Proms. It been selected by BBC Radio 3’s Record of the Week and Gramophone’s Essential New Classical Release.

The Classical Review notes that Juanjo Mena “proves himself a master of this difficult score.“…Program notes are erudite and engaging … sound is spectacular, and the playing of the BBC Philharmonic is impassioned – clearly Mena inspires them” […] “If pressed to recommend a single recording, Haitink’s last recording with the Bavarian RSO has a natural authority … Yet Mena, for the most part, is equally impressive, and I admire his imaginative ideas and willingness to take interpretive risks. This is an intensely musical performance and would welcome more Bruckner from this team.”

You can see the full track listings and download the audio here.

Juanjo Mena’s Bruckner 6 with the BBC Philharmonic is released on Chandos Records

Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic’s acclaimed reading of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 has been released on Chandos Records. It was recorded in their studio at MediaCityUK back in 2012, just before Mena and the Orchestra performed the piece at the BBC Proms.
The recording has been selected by BBC Radio 3’s Record of the Week and Gramophone’s Essential New Classical Release.
The Classical Review notes that Juanjo Mena “proves himself a master of this difficult score.“…Program notes are erudite and engaging … sound is spectacular, and the playing of the BBC Philharmonic is impassioned – clearly Mena inspires them” […] “If pressed to recommend a single recording, Haitink’s last recording with the Bavarian RSO has a natural authority … Yet Mena, for the most part, is equally impressive, and I admire his imaginative ideas and willingness to take interpretive risks. This is an intensely musical performance and would welcome more Bruckner from this team.”
For more information, to purchase and to listen, please visit the Chandos Records website.

“Distancing ourselves physically but not emotionally”: Minnesota Orchestra, March 2020

March 2020

Last week the Minnesota Orchestra took the difficult decision to cancel forthcoming performances with immediate effect, as a preventative measure against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). We had enjoyed a wonderful week of rehearsals of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with the superb Kirill Gerstein. The concert on Friday 13 March went ahead without public, for the live radio broadcast on Classical MPR. We wore concert dress, an excellent decision taken by the orchestra, as it helped us focus under unprecedented circumstances, and the concert was an incredibly moving experience for us all.

I would like to sincerely thank each and every member of the Minnesota Orchestra and Kirill Gerstein, not only for their willingness to go ahead with the broadcast, but also for the exceptional level of the concert, an experience I will never forget. We were all touched by the many messages on social media from the public who were listening live, and I think the words of Warren Park who kindly wrote to the Star Tribune express it much better than I do:

“What a wonderful experience for us out in radio-land, social distancing ourselves physically but not emotionally. Many, many thousands of listeners tuned in throughout the 46 broadcast stations in the MPR network. Thank you so, so much Minnesota Orchestra, for letting us hear you play, even though the concert had been canceled. Wow! We deeply appreciate it. You are wonderful musicians and the finest humans.”

Thank you, Mr Park, we will play for you in person before too long.

Superb reviews for Manuel de Falla’s “La Vida Breve”, which is released on Chandos

“…A characteristic of Mena’s musical approach is a strongly lyrical, poetic style. He has a gift for bringing out the gentler aspects of any piece he conducts. That is very much the case here, in a profoundly beautiful, even devout, performance of this classic of Spanish music. This beauty of sound is matched in a characteristically warm Chandos recording, admirably suited to a performance such as this. Throughout one is conscious of the love thrown over the whole work, as well as the meticulous preparation of all involved. A great deal of thought has gone into the recording, with all-Spanish forces, apart from the ever-admirable BBC Philharmonic. The RTVE Symphony Chorus obviously flew to Manchester for the occasion. This opera, despite its brevity, depends very much on the quality of the chorus, and the authenticity pays dividends…” (Michael Wilkinson, musicweb-international.com)

“… Mena prises open textures and sonorities with great subtlety and attention to detail, so that we’re fully able to appreciate the shifting colours of Falla’s writing for strings and woodwind, much indebited to Dukas and Debussy, and his refined yet telling use of brass and percussion. The playing immaculately blends clarity with sensuousness, while the Coro de la Radio y Televisión Española sing with admirable warmth of tone…” (Tim Ashley, Gramophone Magazine)

“I admired Mena’s previous release of Falla’s masterworks so his refined ear and idiomatic flair pays dividends here, aided and abetted by superb recorded sound – the haunting opening with offstage men’s chorus ideally balanced and the anvils for once sound convincing.” (Warwick Arnold, Limelightmagazine.com.au)

“…This Chandos recording really gains in having been captured in an extraordinarily clear, spacious but not over-resonant acoustic. This allows much of the brilliance of the orchestration to register as never before. Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic have worked hard to get these aspects dynamically balanced…” (Alexander Campbell, classicalsource.com)

“… Mena’s enthusiasm for the work must have rubbed off on [the orchestra], because they are instrumental in creating the work’s all-important atmosphere. Those dark, sinuous strings of the opening are hair-raisingly good, as are the sparkling Act 2 dances and the bright winds of the Intermezzo…. This disc is worthwhile, particularly as proof that a British orchestra can play Spanish music like the best of them.” (Simon Thompson, musicweb-international.com)

You can purchase the disc, download the audio and see full track listings here.

Falla: “La Vida Breve”

La vida breve is the first great work by Manuel de Falla, not only on account of the brilliance of his achievement, but also because in this score the powerful musical personality of the composer shines through. It introduces an orchestral scope that was previously unheard of in Hispanic musical theatre; there are direct references to folklore; there is the very remarkable role of the choir, and the incredible ability to evoke the magic of the Albaicín in Granada. The idea of the story came to Falla when he read, in the periodical Blanco y Negro, a short poem of clear social content, written by Carlos Fernández-Shaw, which would become the heart of the libretto.
‘I am filled with emotion at the prospect of releasing this disc, because for all Spanish conductors Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve is the highpoint of Spanish opera and a fundamental work in our repertoire.’ – Juanjo Mena

You can see the full track listings and download the audio here.