Events / Events Outside Tokyo

A Russian maestro of Prokofiev

by Tai Kawabata

Russian conductor Alexander Lazarev, who became chief conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2008, aims to lead the orchestra in performing the seven symphonies by his compatriot Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) over a period of three years.

On June 19 and 20, he will conduct Symphony No. 2 at Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the second of the series following concerts on Jan. 16 and 17, when he conducted symphonies No. 1 and No. 7.

His future Prokofiev symphony schedule is: Oct. 23 and 24, Symphony No. 3; March 12 and 13, 2010, Symphony No. 4; October 2010, Symphony No. 5; and June 2011, Symphony No. 6.

Prokofiev was a pioneer in the Russian avant-garde movement in the early 20th century. Interestingly, Lazarev says that while the symphonic works of the near-contemporary Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) were influenced by the Austrian composer/ conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Prokofiev — who left Russia in 1918 after the Russian Revolution but returned permanently to the Soviet Union in 1936 — inherited the tradition of Russian symphonies as represented by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-93).

Born in July 1945 in Moscow, Lazarev studied first at St. Petersburg Conservatory and then at Moscow Conservatory under Leo Ginsbourg, graduating with first-class honors. He won the first prize in the Soviet Union’s national competition for conductors in 1971, then first prize and the gold medal in the Karajan Competition in Berlin in 1972.

Lazarev worked for 22 years at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater from 1973, serving as both chief conductor and artistic director from 1987-95. He says that his experience there, familiarizing himself with the operas and ballet music of Prokofiev, has provided him with an important basis for conducting the symphonies. Because of this experience, when performing the symphonies he pays great attention to enhancing the audience’s understanding of the music.

Before the June 19 and 20 Prokofiev concerts, however, Lazarev will lead the JPO in three other concerts. Those programs will present Ravel’s Piano Concerto and two other pieces (Noriko Ogawa, piano) and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (arranged by Ravel) on June 7 at 2 p.m. (Suntory Hall; ¥3,500 to ¥7,500); Weber’s Euryanthe Overture, Schumann’s Piano Concerto (Kei Ito, piano) and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 on June 13 at 6 p.m. (Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall; ¥4,500 to ¥7,500); and then a repeat of the same program on June 14 at 2:30 p.m. (Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, Ikebukuro; ¥4,000 to ¥7,000).

Then, the June 19 and 20 concerts (at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively) will feature Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 Mozartiana, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 (Nicola Benedetti, violin) and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 2 (Suntory Hall; ¥3,500 to ¥7,500).

For tickets, call (03) 5378-5911 (10 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays), fax (03) 5378-6161 or call 0570-02-9990 (Ticket Pia), or visit For some concerts, there are discounts for wheelchair users and people under 26 or over 64.