Soprano Pretty Yende Joins Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the MET Orchestra at Carnegie
By Joshua Rosenblum, Contributing Writer, May 30, 2018
Pretty Yende and the MET Orchestra return to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. for the last in its series of three concerts there this season, each led by a different conductor. Following on the heels of conductors Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla and Gianandrea Noseda, Michael Tilson Thomas, aka MTT, takes the podium for his debut with the orchestra, in the wake of his announcement that he will step down in 2020 as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, a post he has held for twenty-five years.
Joining MTT will be the striking young soprano Pretty Yende, who made a splash at the Metropolitan Opera this season in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. It is somewhat unusual for a vocal soloist to anchor two of the three pieces on an orchestral concert, but Yende, a South African soprano of Zulu heritage, will lend her dulcet tones to a pair of contrasting, substantive works: Mozart’s virtuosic motet Exsultate, jubilate and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major. Mahler incorporated melodies from his Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs into all of his first four symphonies, and in the fourth, he appropriated an entire song, “Das himmlische Leben” (“The heavenly life”) for the last movement. While Yende has performed the Mozart before, this will be her first time singing the Mahler.
The soprano has a particular affection for singing in New York. “I have always been happy here, since my MET debut in 2013 in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory,” she says. “The audience’s passion for music and performers is indescribably wonderful, and there’s a buzz in the air here that is just vibrant and full of life.” She returns to the MET next season as Leïla in Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles and Marie in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment.
Yende, who initially planned to be an accountant, discovered opera in high school after hearing the now iconic British Airways commercial that featured the famous “Flower Duet” from Lakmé. MTT experienced a similarly life-changing experience when he heard the music of Mahler for the first time when he was thirteen. The composer’s music has figured prominently in his career. In addition to countless performances, MTT led The Mahler Project, a seventeen-disc set that includes all the symphonies and all the orchestral songs, recorded live with the San Francisco Symphony between 2001 and 2009. It was released in installments over ten years and later as a complete boxed set.
MTT is also a longtime champion of the composer Carl Ruggles and conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic in a 1980 LP recording of his complete works that was rereleased on CD in 2012. Ruggles’s Evocations, which opens the program, was originally written for piano. The composer adapted it for full orchestra, and it remains probably his best-known work after Sun-Treader, the large-scale orchestral piece inspired by Robert Browning’s poem “Pauline.” One recording of Evocations is listed by The Guardian as one of “The 101 strangest records on Spotify.”
Cover: Pretty Yende; courtesy of artist.