Cardiff music graduate steps in for Gergiev at LSO concert
Cardiff Music graduate Michael Francis (BMus 1997) had an extraordinary 'break' early this month when he was asked at less than 48 hours' notice to deputise for the London Symphony Orchestra's incoming Principal Conductor, Valery Gergiev.
On 13 January, Michael conducted the LSO in two works by the distinguished Russian composer, Sofia Gubaidulina, in the BBC festival 'A Journey of the Soul': Fairytale Poem (1971) and Pro et contra (1989). With just two days to go, Gergiev came down with a viral infection, and the LSO had to find replacements. Michael, who has been one of the LSO's doublebass players since 2003, was asked if he would conduct two pieces, which he had already begun to study (he puts his enthusiasm for studying the scores of new repertoire down to his analysis classes at Cardiff!).
In fact, this was not the first time that Michael had been asked to step onto the conductor's rostrum at the LSO. Last summer, during a tour of Lithuania and Russia, Gergiev was late arriving at a rehearsal of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. Rather than waste time, the LSO asked Michael to take the orchestra through the Symphony, which he did, with great aplomb. On his arrival, Gergiev is reported (in the January 2007 issue of BBC Music Magazine) to have exclaimed: "A star is born!". The photos to the right were taken during that rehearsal in Vilnius.
The audience reception of Michael's two Gubaidulina performances in London this month was extremely enthusiastic. As the Barbican Director, Sir John Tusa, said during his presentation of the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the concert two days later: "Perhaps the fairytale will come true for Michael Francis".
The music critics also singled out Michael for his performances:
- "The conducting honours with the LSO, meanwhile, were shared by Michail Jurowski (father of Vladimir) and Michael Francis, ... the latter doing incredible things with the vast, forbidding architecture of Pro et Contra." (The Guardian, 16.01.07)
- "Pro et Contra [was] cohesive, with moments of remarkable colour. It held the not-immodest audience spellbound." (The Independent, 16.01.07)
- "Only one advertised star went missing: the conductor Valery Gergiev, kept away by a viral infection. Every manager's worst nightmare, this; though it ended in triumph for young Michael Francis, the LSO double-bass player and aspiring conductor drafted in for two items - including Pro et Contra, the biggest, most Russian, most mystifying of all. He didn't turn a hair." (The Times, 17.01.07)
- "[I]n Gergiev's absence, the LSO played two works by Gubaidulina under one of its bass players, Michael Francis, who supplied a clear beat and a carefully calibrated dynamic framework with none of the eccentricities one associates with top-drawer maestri. The sound was radiant, the ensemble precise." (The Independent on Sunday, 24.01.07)