When 2015 Sir George Solti Foundation Award winner Vladmir Kulenovic was chosen as music director of the Lake Forest Symphony four years ago, he wanted to program all the symphonies written by some of the most famous composers of all time.
Two of those composers are Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn.
The News-Sun asked Kulenovic, who holds graduate degrees in conducting from the Julliard School of Music and the Peabody Institute, via email to talk about the April 7 and 8 concerts in Lake County, where he will direct music from Beethoven and Haydn.
Q: Why have you chosen those two particular composers and where are you in the rounds?
VK: (German philosopher Friedrich) Nietzsche once said of Haydn: "So far as genius can exist in a man who is merely virtuous, Haydn had it. He went as far as the limits that morality sets to the intellect."
Beethoven, Haydn's own student, took his genius even beyond the aforementioned limit through his nine symphonies. We will conclude the Beethoven part of this cycle for his 250th Birthday in 2020. The Haydn symphony cycle will take the Lake Forest Symphony over a century to conclude, since he wrote 104 symphonies. But (we) will finish it for sure.
Q: Classical musical lovers are familiar with Beethoven's fifth and ninth symphonies. What can you tell us about No. 2? Why is it a masterpiece and how does it compare with or relate to his later pieces?
VK: The second symphony is perhaps the most challenging and autobiographically significant. Beethoven wrote it during his stay at Heilingenstadt, (now part of Vienna) where he faced the fact that his deafness (was) incurable and put his anguish into his farewell note, the Heiligenstadt Testament. The symphony on the other hand, is a motivated and relentlessly optimistic work testifying to Beethoven's resolve to go on living and writing.
Q: Haydn wrote 104 symphonies — how do his early ones, including his fourth symphony compare with the latter ones?
VK: Haydn was quoted as saying: "I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original." Both No. 4 and 104 share the same great quality: originality.
Q: What do you particularly like about these two pieces?
VK: They are both in D major, which was an intentional programming move on my part, and they share an incredible amount of similarities and contrasts. The second movements of both symphonies are particularly revealing: while Haydn looks to the past of Bach, Beethoven looks forward to Brahms.
Q: Tell us about the cellist, Jay Campbell, and why you asked him to perform the Haydn concerto with the orchestra.
VK: It was actually Jay's own choice. I follow a strict principle to never tell soloists what to bring to a concert, but always ask them what their choice is. This concerto is one of the most challenging in the repertoire, both technically and stylistically. Jay is one of the most vibrant cellists in the U.S today. He plays a lot of contemporary music, and what I like about his playing of the traditional repertoire is that he interprets those old works with the same vigor that a piece has when it is premiered. We always should regard every piece of music like it is a premiere.
Q: What's coming up in the future for Lake Forest Symphony?
VK: We are releasing two commercial CDs on the Cedille records label next year and looking into a great season program for 2018-2019 season, which will be announced within weeks. We will be celebrating major anniversaries of Debussy, Bernstein, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, as well as the bicentennial of our own state of Illinois.
Sheryl DeVore is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.
Lake Forest Symphony
8 p.m. April 7, 2018, Lake Forest
Lake Forest Academy Cressy Center for the Arts, 1500 W. Kennedy Road, Lake Forest
2 p.m. April 8 in Grayslake
James Lumber Center, 19351 Washington St., Grayslake