Russia's incursion reverberates in the halls of Artis—Naples

Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News

By the time the Naples Philharmonic took to the stage last Friday, it was not a night for a review. It had been a whole week for a review. 

Russia's incursion into Ukraine hadn't just set everyone's teeth on edge. It was scrambling concert programs, changing soloists, putting musical stars identified with Russia on the spot. You couldn't even flip on a music station for respite from the angst: Sirius XM's classical station devoted a weekend afternoon to Ukrainian composers and performers.

We're going to say that Artis—Naples came out among the stars for the week, exuding supreme optimism with a full residency of Vienna Philharmonic musicians in master classes here. Underneath, however, it and the Vienna Philharmonic management were paddling like ducks from an alligator.

The March 1 conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is a major superstar who also heads the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera.

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Until Monday morning they were sleuthing out replacements for conductor Valery Gergiev and pianist Denis Matsuev, Vladimir Putin supporters who had been dropped from the tour. For this music lover, they did even better with Plan B.

While they couldn't get Yannick Nézet-Séguin for both March 1-2 concerts last week, the audience who bought tickets for March 1 came out open-mouthed. We heard that perfect synergy of talent and passion that is the "green flash" of music, a Florida panther of a performance. Most of us are lucky to see it once in our lives.

Then, to make the week friskier, there was the audience, hopped up on the adrenaline of watching the war, wanting to help. During the applause for Vienna's opening work of an all-Russian program, someone in the audience shouted, "Go, Ukraine!"  

There was more to come: The applause when Artis—Naples CEO and President Kathleen van Bergen; Vienna Philharmonic Chairman Daniel Froschauer; and the second substitute conductor, David Robertson, asked for a minute of silence for that nation on March 2. It went on long enough to qualify as a standing ovation.

Andrey Boreyko and the Naples Philharmonic at the opening 2018-19 Masterworks concert.

By the end of the week, they also had received from Artis—Naples Music Director Andrey Boreyko a personal statement condemning the war. He announced it as well at the Warsaw Philharmonic, where he is also music director. That was a difficult stand, given his musical roots at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg, Russia. It made no excuses for the Russians:

There are times when one needs to take a decisive stance and say words which will be both emphatic and unequivocal. Human life is the greatest value to me, and I therefore firmly condemn every war, including the one declared by the Russian government on Ukraine.

Andrey Boreyko, Music Director / Naples Philharmonic / Artis-Naples

The entire text appears in the side information box or at artisnaples.org.

Boreyko, above all, was working under pressure:

  • His U.S. appearances with a Warsaw Philharmonic tour, including one here April 3, had to be reprogrammed after Irish pianist Barry Douglas dropped off. (For the record, this is the second time Douglas has cancelled dates in Naples; the Grand Piano Series had to find a substitute for his Feb. 15, 2020, appearance.) 
  • He had just programmed a benefit concert he's planning to conduct for members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Boreyko has Ukrainian ancestry, and he has recorded Ukrainian composers (Valentin Silvestrov's Symphony No. 6).
  • He was writing with the realization, to paraphrase the old Hollywood warning, that after this he will never eat lunch in Moscow again. 

Artis—Naples angst wasn't confined to the management offices. Ticket takers and COVID-19 test inspectors were suffering under the problems with customers who aren't regular ones. Sending patrons over to an onsite testing area didn't seem to ruffle feathers, however.

What did was the need for grim-faced husbands to run their wives' oversize purses back to cars. They apparently weren't aware of the 14-by-6-by 4-inch limitation that has been in effect since "Hamilton" played two years ago.

One distraught woman, here from New York, she said, had come in an Uber. There was no trunk in which to store her bag, and no bag check available. It's a rare, but lamentable, predicament.

One might have also said it was given Alexander Shelley, guest conductor, and the Naples Philharmonic an extremely tough act to follow March 4, mere days after the Vienna Philharmonic performed. But both Shelley, an attentive and transparent conductor, and the orchestra worked with David Fray to make the Schumann Piano Concerto, a concentrated piece that focuses on the center of the keyboard, bright and rich. 

Shelley is the son of Howard Shelley, the philharmonic's favorite piano guest artist in its early years, and remembers Artis—Naples from his childhood.

They are obviously good memories. Shelley and the orchestra gave the Wagner "Tristan und Isolde" Suite an hour of impassioned performance. The concentration, and  appreciation, on both sides, was obvious. And any conductor who can lead an orchestra in a 65-minute performance of Wagner without so much as a page of music has our abject admiration.

The unsettling "week that was" ended with smiles all the way around the hall.

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.

Andrey Boreyko statement: full text

As Music Director of Artis─Naples and Music and Artistic Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic and at the same time a person for whom the events of the last days have been, owing to my origins, a deep personal tragedy, I have felt the need to make this statement. Because my ancestors lived in present-day Ukraine, the tragedy of that land is also my own.

There are times when one needs to take a decisive stance and say words which will be both emphatic and unequivocal. Human life is the greatest value to me, and I therefore firmly condemn every war, including the one declared by the Russian government on Ukraine. I am deeply moved by the tragedy of my brothers and sisters of Ukraine. I have close friends and acquaintances in Ukraine, who have now found themselves in great peril. I pray for them and for all the citizens of Ukraine.

I believe it is the mission of every artist to express oneself through one’s art. It was therefore, my first spontaneous and concrete reaction to decide to open my concert in Milan on February 25, 2022, with Ukraine’s national anthem.

I will do the same for my upcoming concerts, including when I conduct in the Czech Republic and in Warsaw. I will also be adding music by the great Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, who, at 84 years old, is still in Ukraine with his beloved people.

In this extremely difficult time, when shooting and explosions can be heard again in the heart of Europe, I have decided to dedicate to Ukraine and its citizens the Warsaw Philharmonic concert in Hayes Hall on April 3.

— Andrey Boreyko, Music Director, Artis—Naples