The Zagreb Philharmonic makes its home in the Vatroslav Lisinki Concert Hall in the Nu Zagreb neighborhood. It was opened in 1973 and has undergone at least two major interior renovations, but its exterior remains essential in its late-mid-century style. It has 1841 seats with no balconies and no side boxes. The floor of the hall is a continuous slope from the stage level to about three stories. There are no center columns, so there are unbroken sight lines throughout. The visible walls of the auditorium are covered in a rich, golden brown, walnut-colored wood. The stage appeared to be exceptionally wide, with space to house the organ console, the pipes of which are located behind the stage. The auditorium is very important to the sound of this orchestra as will be noted.
The orchestra tuned on stage, much like is done in the US, but unlike what is done in Vienna, for example. The concertmaster tunes the orchestra by actually walking through it to each section. The audience never once rose to its collective feet for a standing ovation, as seems to be de rigueur in the US.
The program began with Shlomo Mintz conducting “Hommage a Bach” by Croatian composer Boris Papandopulo, who lived from 1906 to 1991. Mostly unknown in U.S. concert halls, he created a large body of works ranging from ballets, to operas, to chamber works. This “Hommage” was derivative and unimaginative, but sounded like the master in modern dress.
The next work was Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins- likely one of his most popular and frequently heard works. Maestro Mintz was joined by Ukraine-born violinist Orest Shourgot, who was once concertmaster of the Zagreb Philharmonic. He currently holds Croatian citizenship. The two violinists created musical magic in this performance. It was note-perfect, and showed a warmth and regard for the music that was impressive. Mintz, of course, is one of the leading violinists today, and Shourgot seemed equally gifted. This was a magnificent performance.
The final work on the program was Brahms’s Symphony No. 2. This was the work that demonstrated the magnificent acoustics of the Lisinsky auditorium. The hall provides warmth and beautiful reverberation, without a trace of muddiness. This was particularly noticeable when the tympani played; each strike was crisp and clean, but never cold. In addition, the first and second violins were nicely spotlighted, yet always integrated with the sound of the entire orchestra. It was not a perfect performance (the horns had occasional trouble), but it was transcendent. The sound of the orchestra was so burnished that it was easy to totally engage the thinking brain, and simply enjoy a masterpiece- played by a wonderful orchestra, led by a talented conductor in a lovely sounding hall. This is when one can truly appreciate the power of a grand work by a grand master.
When the concert was over, it was a short walk through the Viennese-like lower town, past Zagreb’s beautifully lit Baroque museums to the city center. In all, the whole evening was gorgeous.