Powell River’s resident maestro Arthur Arnold has made history with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (MSO) after releasing a world premiere recording of rare works by Soviet composer Alexander Mosolov (1900 to 1973). The CD, which arrived December 4 on the Naxos label, features Mosolov’s final symphony, No. 5, as well as his “lost” Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.
Over the past three years, Arnold, along with Russian arts entrepreneur Max Gutbrod, has overseen a restoration and resurgence of Mosolov’s compositions. Their pursuit has led Arnold on many an adventure, from snooping around the archives in the Lenin Library, to sweet-talking skeptical file clerks, to even creating individual orchestra parts from scratch.
“It’s been an awesome process because these pieces have never been recorded before,” said Arnold. “Nobody knows how they should sound, there are no traditions, and I cannot talk to the composer to ask what he intended or to check on a note that sounds out of place. The score and markings are just helpful hints to get you started on a much bigger musical journey.”
Once dubbed the “experimental head” of Soviet avant-garde music, Mosolov largely fell off the radar after his expulsion from the Union of Composers in 1936 and subsequent arrest in 1937. As a means to quell accusations of anti-Soviet propaganda and avoid further persecution, he softened his writing style significantly following his release from the Gulag in 1938. Gone were the driving, dissonant themes that were the hallmark of earlier works such as Iron Foundry and in their place were more folk-oriented motifs like the ones found in his 1939 Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.
Although the latter had all the makings of success, success never came. After an initial performance featuring famed Russian harpist Vera Dulova and maestro Aleksandr Gauk, it was soon forgotten. The manuscripts for his 5th Symphony, completed in 1965, met a similar fate and the work was never even performed in his lifetime.
“Today, Mosolov lives in drawers,” said Arnold. “I feel like I have to help him in many ways to get the recognition he deserves and to make his music sound great, because it is great music. That’s an incredible, exciting process to be involved in and I feel quite humbled by it.”
Attendees of the 2019 Pacific Region International Music Academy (PRISMA) Festival may recall hearing a Mosolov piece on the opening night program. American harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman, who won PRISMA’s concerto competition the previous year, returned to perform the harp concerto for its North American premiere. She is the soloist on the MSO’s recording as well.
“For me it was obvious to give Taylor that chance,” says Arnold. “She’s an excellent harpist, she’s proven herself at PRISMA. What a great opportunity for a young musician to have such a career boost.”
In recent months, Arnold has been asked many times about PRISMA’s plans for 2021. With the festival scheduled for June 14 to 26, organizers are cautiously optimistic for a return to live events, in adherence with any public health guidelines that may be in place at that time. They have begun recruiting a smaller orchestra comprised of only string players, and have invited the Victoria-based Lafayette String Quartet to serve as artists-in-residence. All international components of the festival are on hold until 2022. Students and guest artists for 2021 will be recruited from within BC only.
“I have missed live music intensely, making it and hearing it,” said Arnold. “To have hope that we might be able to have some sort of gathering in June, whether it’s with five people or 50 people, that’s such an incredible excitement to look forward to.”
After the success of PRISMA’s 10-part summer broadcast series, PRISMA on the Couch last June, a special holiday edition has been planned for Sunday, December 13. Beginning at 2 pm, Arnold and members of the PRISMA staff will convene over Zoom to share music and stories, with an interactive Q&A to follow. Arnold has been hard at work in his studio multi-tracking cello parts for several Christmas carols and plans to play the fourth part in real time. Attendance is open to anyone who RSVPs in advance atprismafestival.com/holidays.
“It will be a nice opening for the Christmas season,” said Arnold. “I know that people are really missing the chance to enjoy Christmas tunes in the usual way this year. I think doing this virtual event will provide a lot of happiness and joy, and I’ve been practicing like crazy to get it right.”
More information about the MSO’s latest CD and PRISMA’s upcoming projects can be found on the PRISMA website and social media channels.