The historic city of Nuremberg in Germany may be more easily recalled for the famous trials that were held there between 1945 and 1946 to account for crimes committed during the Holocaust. But it was also a part of the period of cultural awakening that was the Renaissance in European history. In Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), the revolutionary German composer, known for his dark, mournful operas, for once composes an epic comedy in three acts. Set in Nuremberg of the mid-16th century, the crux of this opera concerns the city's guild of Master Singers, a grouping of lay poets and musicians who are master-craftsmen of ordinary trades. There's a goldsmith, a town clerk, a shoemaker, barber and baker. And a cobbler-poet at the forefront. A knight falls in love with the daughter of a goldsmith who decides to give away his daughter's hand to the winner of a singing competition on a Midsummer’s Day in this upbeat, celebratory opera composed and written by Wagner in the 1860s.
On 4 September, Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) will perform the prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with renowned Russian conductor Alexander Lazarev, who is performing in India for the first time. Mumbai-based SOI, founded in 2006, is India’s first and only professional orchestra, and they have been roping in international conductors and soloists for their annual festivals since inception. SOI's Autumn 2018 season, which will be held at the National Centre for the Performing Arts from September 4 to 16, will also have a number of acclaimed international artists from the world of Western classical music including Lazarev who was the chief conductor and artistic director of the Bolshoi Theatre from 1987 to 1995. And the first person for over thirty years to hold both positions concurrently at the iconic 193-year-old ballet and opera company in Moscow. His time at Bolshoi was also a period of great political and social ferment. There was perestroika (political reforms) and later the collapse of the Soviet Union."The Bolshoi Theatre has always been a showcase for Russian culture at the highest level. During the period when I was Chief Conductor, 1987 – 1995, we also undertook an unprecedented amount of foreign touring, for instance to Tokyo, La Scala Milan, the Edinburgh Festival and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Since then, the company has travelled less, but the theatre has undergone a lengthy and extensive refurbishment and is still one of the greatest companies in the world," says Lazarev over email to THE WEEK in the run-up to his maiden India tour.
When asked about what's keeping the leading conductors of the world vexed in the digital age, he says, "In some countries that I visit, there is a crisis with audiences growing older and attendance declining. This problem does not exist in Russia where halls are full, and audiences are enthusiastic and engaged. The challenge for performers is to make every concert a special event. Nothing we do should ever be routine." His repertoire is particularly enterprising in its scope, ranging from the eighteenth century to the avant-garde. Now conductor laureate, Lazarev was principal conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 to 2016.
Beethoven and Tchaikovsky remain his chief sources of inspiration and his India stint will see him perform, apart from Wagner, Tchaikovsky's Suite No.3 and Sibelius Symphony No.2. "I have heard about the SOI from colleagues who have worked with them and I am looking forward with great anticipation to our first encounter...I am hoping I will see some sacred cows in the street on my way to the concert hall—a unique Indian experience," Lazarev adds.