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New artistic partner Christian Zacharias debuts with SPCO this weekend

The artistic partnership model of management has been a tremendous boon to the creativity of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra since it was first implemented in 2005. With a rotating cast of four artistic partners setting the musical agenda in collaboration with the core musicians in the SPCO, the orchestra has become more daring, diverse, flexible and dynamic in what it offers to the public.

The SPCO’s latest artistic partner is 59-year-old Christian Zacharias. Renowned first as a pianist (he won the Van Cliburn in 1973) and later as a conductor (beginning in 1992), he will be showcasing both skills during his debut performances for the SPCO this weekend.

The all-French program begins with Zacharias at the podium conducting Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne Suite” in its rarely heard complete original version for chamber orchestra. He moves to the piano for the first of two pieces by the 20th century composer and pianist Francis Poulenc, “Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet,” a bold and whimsically lush composition written early in his career, before his manic depression, admission of homosexuality and re-embrace of the Catholic Church rattled his environment.

Zacharias is back conducting the next piece,  “Pastorale d’ete” by Arthur Honegger, who, like Poulenc, was one of a group of young composers from the Roaring 20s dubbed Les Six by the French music writer Henri Collet. “Pastorale d’ete” is a tone poem that mixes the bucolic and the bluesy to evoke memories of summer in France. The evening concludes with the second Poulenc selection, “Sinfonietta,” which, while written in his more serious later phase, is described in the program notes as having “all the virtues of a good French pastry, being light, easily digested and delicious.”

Here is the opening movement of the Poulenc sextet.

Here is the Honegger tone poem as played by the Netherlands Philharmonic Radio Orchestra.

Here is an excerpt of Zacharias conducting and commenting on the Poulenc “Sinfonietta” with the Goteborgs Symfoniker.

Christian Zacharias conducts the SPCO at the Ordway Center Friday, Nov. 27, at 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13-$41 on Friday morning and $11-$59 Friday and Saturday nights.

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