Gautier Capuçon Does Double Duty in Dvorak
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
While listening to Dvorak’s 8th Symphony after the break at a Great Performers concert played by the PKF-Prague Philharmonia at Davies Hall in San Francisco last weekend, I was shocked to spot French virtuoso cellist Gautier Capuçon-- who had just performed the demanding 45-minute Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor before the intermission-- sitting inconspicuously in the middle of the orchestra’s cello section, playing along with the ‘tutti’ cellists, a smile on his face and fun in his eyes.
When I checked with Gautier Capuçon’s management the next day to find out what had been going on, they confirmed the 36-year old French virtuoso did indeed join the cello section of the orchestra and had done it purely for fun, wanting to enjoy music- making with the orchestra a little bit more, but at the same time not wanting to be put in the spotlight for doing this.
This was Mr. Capuçon’s third concert with the Prague ensemble and the first time he joined the cello section of the orchestra for the second half of the concert. No wonder the French virtuoso didn’t do an encore after the Dvorak despite a rousing reception from the San Francisco audience-- he still had the second half of the program to play.
When the concert was over, members of the orchestra’s cello group gathered round the French star; they hugged and kissed one another and took pictures. What a joyful scene to witness—a true community of artists-- and I doubt whether even 5 percent of the audience knew what special thing had been going on.
My wife has been going to concerts for 70 years and had never seen it. I telephoned the artistic director of one of the most celebrated orchestras in Europe who has attended hundreds of concerts in his lifetime to ask whether he had ever seen it. He hadn’t though he had heard of it happening. He told of the celebrated cellist Lynn Harrell, who joined the musicians union in LA in order to be able to play Wagner’s Ring.
I suspect Mr. Capuçon felt at home with the PKF-Prague Philharmonia because they are unpretentious, enthusiastic and talented young European musicians-- and their excellent conductor, the Frenchman Emmanuel Villaume, clearly is a friend.
Listening to the youthful Czech ensemble play Smetana and Dvorak, I was struck by the fact that a relatively unknown and obscure orchestra actually could play the great Czech composers better than many of our leading and most prestigious symphony orchestras, yet another reminder of the dangers of being too impressed with status and prestige.
The evening began with a wonderfully nuanced and lyrical interpretation of Smetana’s Vltava (The Moldau) from Ma Vlast (My Homeland). I was greatly moved by it.
Next up was Mr. Capuçon and Dvorak’s great Cello Concerto in B minor, undisputedly the greatest cello concerto ever written. Brahms is alleged to have said to his good friend Dvorak, “Why in the world didn’t I know one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known I’d have done it long ago”.
Mr. Capuçon’s interpretation of the Dvorak masterpiece is more lyrical than heroic though the Frenchman does have a big tone. I felt in the beginning of the concerto the soloist and the orchestra were still getting used to one another but things came together in the rhapsodic Adagio movement where Capuçon’s lyrical talents came to the fore. The Allegro moderato Finale provided the virtuoso an opportunity to show off his superb technique and the ability to communicate Dvorak’s powerful feelings of sadness and tumult over the serious illness of his first love Josefina.
Moving from the world of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto to that of his 8th Symphony is like coming out of a dark world of unrest and longing into one of geniality and peace. Rafael Kubelik, the great Czech conductor, is reputed to have said to his musicians at a rehearsal: “Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle—they always call to the dance.”
The 8th Symphony does precisely this—‘call to the dance’. The 3rd movement, a gorgeous waltz, represents Dvorak at his best. For me, it the highlight of the Symphony—and the Prague musicians did it full justice on this occasion. But I must admit to becoming somewhat distracted after my wife pointed out Mr. Capucon tucked away in the middle of the cellists.
In the future whenever I hear Dvorak’s 8th Symphony, I suspect I will be thinking of the French virtuoso, unimpressed by his own grandeur, having a great fun time with his cello comrades.