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A concertmaster is brought to tears by his conductor

We have just received this letter from Sergey Ostrovsky, first violin of the Aviv String Quartet, who has been working in Valencia, Spain, with the visiting conductor Riccardo Chailly. ‘I just wanted to share my joy working with this unique musician,’ he says. Here is his report.sergey ostrovsky
During last month Orchestre de la Communidad Valenciana at Palau des les Arts, collaborated with Maestro Chailly both as opera conductor ( La Boheme) , and as a symphonic master (Beethoven’s 9th).  I usually never write such a review , especially since I was the concertmaster for the whole period.

But something inside of me is demanding, absolutely demanding, to share my impressions from this month with those of you who care and are still able to feel the difference between ordinary work and creation, between mediocre cynical jokes of orchestra musicians and the fire in their eyes, the difference between the concert where you look at your watch and think, what to cook for lunch tomorrow, or plan the students’ schedule, and the concert, which passes in a moment and you want to stop this moment as one of the most exciting moments of your life….

Very hard to avoid comparisons, and I truly don’t want to under estimate the greatness of the Maestri I was lucky to work with during my 18 years career as a concertmaster. But Maestro Chailly is bringing me to tears every concert, or performance of La Boheme and my colleagues – orchestra musicians from around the globe – they do agree, this happens very very rarely.

Ricardo Chailly arrived in Valencia in mid November and stayed in the city the whole month (unlike many other conductors who fill in their schedules with concerts an rehearsals during the free days, and unlike myself, who had to leave 4 times in between, and I am NOT proud of it).
He rehearsed the Opera with the singers, stage, and than – orchestra, very intense, yet , supportive and patient, but demanding full concentration and flexibility, from all – singers- soloists and orchestra, working on the details, colours, nuances and finally- the structure. Once, as a student, I liked to ask all my teachers-performers- how do the fight the routine and tiredness of playing the same pieces over and over again.

Many gave answers(!) , some didn’t get my question – like Reiner Schmidt, who is never ever bored and even felt insulted, when I asked . Some gave a very popular answers , fitting good on a TV show, ( “… Its like…. To fall in love again at the age of 70…). The best answer for me , came from Valentin Erben , the cellist and a founder of Alban Berg Quartet, ” Working on a details , always getting deeper into the music , and being inspired by the details, nuances , colours… will recharge you and bring life to the piece again”..

So, here, working with Maestro Chailly, I enjoyed so much watching him fully concentrated and inspired by getting the nuances, articulation details, colours, and finally succeeding to build up both, Opera and a Symphony, to a very fine performance, and the level of the alertness, from excellent and motivated musicians of OCV Palau des les arts, was at its highest point.

One would cynically say- ” Oh, he knows both pieces very well and , of course, knows – how to make the orchestra prepared- he had plenty of time..”
Yes, but, not only time and preparation mattered this time.

We see often very experienced conductors , who are working only on their way to shine at the performance, and the rest doesn’t appeal to them.
Ricardo Chailly, his commitment , commitment of a true musician, and full engagement as a professional, till the last minute of the rehearsals, ( and rehearsing before EVERY PERFORMANCE with the soloists of “La Boheme” to make the shaky points more convincing that night) showed us, the younger generation of musicians, the best way to treat the preparation time and always to improve, constantly to grow and to develop.

And now- to show time.

riccardo chailly

I could never imagine myself enjoying playing opera for so many times in row. Not a great opera fan , I could maybe enjoy once or twice , playing something like “Lulu” of Berg or “Ariadne” of Strauss, but an Italian opera , for already 5 performances, is keeping me on the edge of my chair , and that is, no doubt, the Maestro Chailly impact on me.

And I so often played Beethoven 9th Symphony. Ricardo Chailly , with his dedication to the spirit and an old fashioned Toscanini-like, manner of bringing this work to life- makes the OCV sound at its very best , which is a highest level, those who know the orchestra of Palau des les Arts, will understand… The good news is that we still have one more “Boheme” and one more adventure trip on a well known road with Beethoven and the Greatest Conductor I ever worked with- Maestro Ricardo Chailly… I wish more people from Central and Northern Europe could join us for these moments …
Sergey Ostrovsky, Dec 17,2012.

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  1. Barbara Ruggeri says:

    For me the greatest conductor in the world is John Axelrod who did the most fabulous performance of Tristan und Isolde with Angers – Nantes Opera which led to his appointment as Music Director of Orchestre des pays de la Loire. The orchestra is so blessed to have Maestro Axelrod as their musical master

  2. Bravo Sergey, Thank you for making this important statement!
    Love you! Constance xx

  3. Graf Nugent says:

    Nice to read something positive about a conductor for a change! His recording of Bohème with Alagna/Gheorgiu/Kennlyside et al is also superb.

  4. I was there. And, speaking with members of the orchestra, everybody had the same sensation of something absolutely special. Discovering Chailly lots of little details normally lost in the surface of the score, was the best conducted Puccini that I have seen in my life.

  5. Petros Linardos says:

    Thank you for posting this. Always good to hear insider views on musicianship, especially if that musicianship is of the highest order. And I am very happy that there is no focus on age. Besides, judging from recent recordings, to me Chailly seems to be better than ever before, no matter how good he was in his 20s.

  6. What a fine encomium from one great musician for another. Thank you for sharing this letter.

  7. John G. Deacon says:

    I, too was present at the Dec.8th Bohème and last night for the Beethoven and was overwhelmed to hear this superb orchestra under a world-class conductor proving it could play as a world-class ensemble (to say nothing of the wonderful opera house chorus). They truly excelled themselves on both occasions.

    I had organised some 100 people in two buses to come to the Bohème performance, from Jávea & Moraira, and this proved to be one of the most moving performances (of very many) in my life (starting with Bjorling – ROH 1960) !.

    I have never before seen so many wiping away their tears at the end – your writer and his companions included. This moving tribute is now being circulated to our 1000+ mailing list (

    Aside of a strong cast the Bohème performance also included a Colline – Gianluca Buratto – who is, I believe, set for a very distinguished career.

  8. Well, it’s a good thing thing that Mr. Ostrovsky is enjoying himself now because as he knows perfectly well, he and 282 of his co-workers at the Palau are in serious danger of losing their jobs right now.

    I don’t quite understand why he doesn’t mention the labor situation in which the Palau is embroiled at the moment. Perhaps this letter is a cathartic response what’s going on there. Maybe by writing this letter he’s trying to save his job. Who knows. But as wonderful as Maestro Chailly may be, this letter is not necessarily a spontaneous testament of praise. It’s coming from the concertmaster of an orchestra where 40% of the players stand to lose their jobs shortly.

    It’s common knowledge that the Palau is in serious trouble. Their budget was recently slashed by, as I recall, 50%. An E.R.E. has just been presented there. This is an extreme measure whereby the Spanish govt. allows management to modify or terminate tenured workers’ contracts in order to save the company. The Palau is about to be restructured into a company called CulturArts which will eliminate the jobs of up to 40% of the employees. This includes the orchestra.

    On opening night of this Boheme of which Mr. Ostrovsky writes so glowingly, musicians and chorus distributed pamphlets in protest, defending their position. There was an incident where the start time of a performance was delayed as the musicians and chorus stood and requested a moment of silence. I believe their manifesto was read aloud to the audience at that time. The audience applauded. The protests are continuing.

    Here’s a report of the Boheme opening night protest:

    And here’s a report on the continuing protests from ONE DAY AGO:

    I wish them.Mr. O strovsky and his colleagues the best of luck with their battle. It’s nice to hear that Maestro Chailly has made this difficult time more bearable for them.

    • What Sergey described, Rodolfo, is the capacity of art to transcend the daily struggle for subsistence. I, and other readers, have every sympathy for the millions in Spain who are suffering economic privation. You do their cause no service by attempting to distract from an extraordinary artistic experience, achieved against overwhelming odds. NL

  9. See, Rodolfo, You probably dont know who I am and that I have no fear of losing any job,
    And I am holding the protest Manifests in my hand every night there and leading for the protest playing before Boheme performances. But being a professor of Geneva Haute Ecole de Musique, Aviv Quartet Violinist and a soloist, I would never write about a guest conductor in order to save my job . I am fighting to save other people jobs, but me, I am just amazed by Chailly and shared it. What a tactless comment!!!

  10. You’re right, of course and your point is well taken. But this letter, to me, is over the top. Extraordinary artistic experiences are certainly worth noting. But Mr. Ostorovsky’s letter, under the present circumstances and with the details about himself that he includes, seems to me to be a bit self-serving.

    Why not simply write the letter to Maestro Chailly himself or share the experience privately with colleagues? Why grandstand in a public manner like this at this particular time? To me it lacks maturity and good taste.
    He is calling attention to himself and to his position with this letter.

    I also find it odd that he says nothing about the labor situation of his orch. which is a key factor here. This seems less than honest, in my opinion.

    • He wrote the letter to me. I decided to publish it in the public interest. Please stop trying to impute impure and vainglorious intentions. There is an unpleasant tone to your comments.

  11. Wonderful letter, thanks Norm for publishing this nice opinion! It is so important to keep idealism in art!!! Even in this difficult time for culture..

  12. Well, Sergey, I have to say I didn’t look at my watch once! The Beethoven concert was indeed a magical performance and I have nothing but admiration for everyone involved. What a shame that the orchestra is going to be decimated.

  13. I enjoyed your report, Sergey! Very well written. I don’t see at all, how it could POSSIBLY be construed as an attempt to save one’s own position, and I don’t think the bean counters in Valencia would be moved one way or the other anyway. I read it as simply “a great day at the office, and catch Maestro Chailly if you can.” Thanks for letting Norman share it with us.

  14. Menahem Breuer says:

    I can understand Sergey Ostrovsky so well indeed; his letter brings me back many years ago – the great Dimitri Mitropoulos visited Israel for the first time and we performed under his direction Puccini’s “Tosca”. These were endless, unforgettable moments during rehearsals and performances (at that period: 9 times!). From that time on I fell in love with Puccnni’s music. Mitropoulos himself was so much excited about his visit, that he declared prior departing that “From now on – I shall return here every year to work with this great orchestra!”. Unfortunately, he passed away several months later… His unique personality immensely inspired many of the great musicians – like Leonard Bernstein and others. Good to learn about the excitement of musicians these days!

    Menahem Breuer
    Concertmaster emeritus of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

  15. Johny Bellogio says:

    Chailly is an absolute master musician!!

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