Friday 31 January 2014

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Happiness and Prosperity! Kung Hei Fat Choy.  Today is the first day of the New Year in the Chinese lunar calendar. It's much more than "Chinese New Year" or even a festival. The start of the Chinese New Year has deep cosmic and cultural significance which lasts the whole year.  This year is the Year of the Fiery Horse which happens only once every 60 years. Although there are 12  animals in the Chinese zodiac, there are five other elements that affect symbolism.

Horses are wild animals, full of energy and spirit. Fire suggests heat, light and danger. "Fire Horse" years can be unpredictable - like fires and horses - full of excitement and energy, but also tinged with danger.  Below a clip of a building in Hong Kong, 120 storeys high, lit by laser light to show a galloping horse.

"New" Baroque opera - Conti L'Issipile Wigmore Hall

The things one finds working in archives!  Counter tenor Flavio Ferri-Benedetti discovered the manuscript odf an opera so obscure it barely raises a flicker of recognition, even for Baroque mavens: L'issipile by Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (1681-1732). The plot is convoluted, as one might expect but there's some very good music therein. Read the review of the first UK performance, at the Wigmore Hall in Opera Today, by Claire Seymour HERE.

What a cast ! Lucy Crowe, Laurence Zazzo, Joihn Mark Ainsley, Rebecca Bottone, and Ferro-Benedetti himself, who not only prepared the manuscript for a performance edition but translated it into English.

The orchestra was La Nuova Musica "led from the harpsichord by founder and director David Bates, produced playing of fleetness, vivacity and charm. The Sinfonia epitomised the perfectly synchronised panache of the strings’ Italianate lines, and the striking contrasts of dynamics suggested the surprising twists and turns of the drama to follow. In the complex arias, oboe (Leo Duarte) and bassoon (Rebecca Hammond) added colour to the tutti sections; the more contrapuntal accompaniments were incisively articulated. Conti’s recitative is fast-moving, Metastasio’s lines often shared between characters; Bates unfailingly created forward motion and excitement in these exchanges, which the soloists delivered with naturalness and spontaneity. Sudden harmonic swerves and interruptions were emphasised but never mannered."

Broadcast alerts February

From Andrzej:

Friday - 31 January 2014  18.30  Jenufa  La Monnaie  Internet  Medici TV

Saturday 22 Olga Neuwirth American LULU BBC Radio 3

Sunday - 02 February 2014  15.00  Les Illusions Perdues  Bolshoi Ballet

Cinema  LIVE Feed   Monday  03 February 2014  18.00  Madam Butterfly
(Echalaz)  MET

Radio  BBC Radio 3   Tuesday - 04 February 2014  19.00 Madam Butterfly  Turin

Cinema  LIVE Feed   Thursday - 06 February 2014    Noël Coward’s Private Lives

Thursday - 06 February 2014  18.00  Fidelio  Liège  Internet  Medici TV

 Friday - 07 February 2014  19.00  Brokeback Mountain  Madrid  Interenet  Medici TV
and Arte Live web 

Friday - 07 February 2014  19.00  Puccini Gala  Genova
 Internet  Live stream 

Saturday - 08 February 2014  18.00  Rusalka  Met  Cinema  LIVE Feed 

Monday - 10 February 2014  18.00  La clemenza di Tito (Opolais)  Munich  Radio  BR

Monday - 10 February 2014  19.15  Rusalka  Met  Radio  BBC Radio 3

 Monday - 10 February 2014  18.30  La Fanciulla del West  Paris  Cinema
 LIVE Feed 

Wednesday - 12 February 2014  19.00  Don Giovanni   Covent
Garden  Cinema  LIVE Feed IS905 and IS10.02  

Thursday - 13 February 2014     The Beauty Stone (Sullivan)     Radio
BBC Radio 3 

Saturday - 15 February 2014  18.00  La clemenza di Tito
(Opolais)  Munich  Internet  Internet Stream   

Thursday 30 January 2014

Classic ENO Peter Grimes Britten

The ENO Benjamin Britten Peter Grimes is outstanding. The cast, headed by Stuart Skelton, is superlative, and the production, created by David Alden, is extremely perceptive. This Peter Grimes is one of the ENO's greatest triumphs. Deservedly, it has been chosen as the ENO's first live HD cinema broadcast on 23rd February.(details here) Live broadcasts are costly, and not necessarily cost effective for a small house like the ENO, but this is so good that it needs to be preserved on film. Do not miss it under any circumstances. This Peter Grimes is a classic. The booing mob may think it's clever to knock the ENO but this Peter Grimes totally vindicates the house and its vision.The booing mob might think it's clever to sneer, but we need the ENO and its courage.

Last night my car was hit by a bus. Luckily I didn't get hurt but is a total write-off but lbecause the other driver didn't stop it's f'd up my insurance.  I missed the show, alas! But I wrote extensively about it in May 2009. Please read my analysis of the intelligent stagecraft HERE and HERE. Claire Seymour will be reviewing the revival as she did in 2009. Read her review of the semi-staged performance at the BBC Proms in 2012. HERE in Opera Today. 

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Schubert's birthday Schubertiade

Celebrate Schubert's birthday with a Schubertiade where the performers will be in early 19th costume! This is perfectly reasonable because the Schubertiades Schubert took part in were private, intimate affairs involving friends. It's good for young musicians to get the atmosphere.

On Monday 3/2, The Academy Song Circle presents a Schubertiade at the David Josefowitz Recital Hall at the Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1. The singers are Sofia Larsson, Tahirah Osborne, Gwilym Bowen and Bozidar Smiljanic. The pianists are Freddie Brown and Yi-Ru Hung. Enjoy!

Schubert's actual birthday (January 31st)  falls this year on Chinese New Year's Day. There's a recital at the Wigmore Hall but for songs, go to the RAM .

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Florian Boesch Wigmore Hall Prometheus Schubert Wolf

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau gave a challenging lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall yesterday, framed by two different versions of Goethe's Prometheus.

Martineau defined the mood of Schubert's Prometheus with granite-like chords.  Boesch's voice floated in quietly, all the more impressive for its restraint.  Prometheus has the world on his shoulders, he can't flinch.

Boesch's Grenzen von Menscheit was outstanding, as if the whole programme had been planned around it. This long, difficult song is often the preserve of bass baritones who emphasize its dark qualities. Boesch, however, brings out its optimism, which might, to some, be shocking. The piano introduction  begins with slow, plodding chords, reminiscent of Prometheus.  Yet Boesch shaped the opening lines with surprising tenderness, anticipating the sudden leap skywards on the word "Wolken"  The Heavenly Father is sending thunderbolts, but "mit gelassener Hand". So Boesch sang the words "segnende Blitze" employing the agility in his voice to suggest a caress.

The last four lines in the first two strophes are repeated, suggesting that the protagonist is trapped, dragged down by his burdens.  Men cannot compete with Gods. Then a transition, where Goethe repeats the words "Wellen" and Schubert  creates rolling phrases to suggest  invisible tides. "Ein kleiner Ring" sang Boesch,"Begrenzt unser Leben, und viele Geschlechter reihen sich dauernd Aa ihres Daseins..." Tremendous breath control and dignity. "Unendliche Kette." Individual men may be doomed to struggle, and to drown, but some invisible power, like the tides of the ocean, ensures that mankind will be replenished. Boesch showed how Grenzen der Menscheit, in its quiet, understated way, isn't so much about the limitations of Mankind, but about endlessly renewed horizons.

Boesch and Martineau did Wolf's Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo which Matthias Goerne and Andreas Haefliger performed at the Wigmore Hall last October (more here).  Goerne and Haefliger were exceptional, as one would expect.  In the more relaxed setting of a lunchtime recital, Boesch asnd Martineau could afford to "merely" be very good. A relative term, as these are performers of the highest calibre.  Besides, they were saving up for Wolf's Prometheus. Wolf's setting is ferocious, almost manic in its rage against the fate of the Titan, whose crime was to give light to Mankind. One can understand why Wolf, a man of extremes, would identify with Prometheus. Pounding piano figures, and demands on the voice that would frighten lesser singers.

Wolf emphasizes defiance. Martineau's playing was demonic, Boesch's singing intense and emotionally ravaged.  "Hier sitz' ich, forme Menschen Nach meinem Bilde. Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei, Zu leiden, zu weinen, Zu genießen und zu freuen sich Und dein nicht zu achten, Wie ich!"  Wolf knew about Nietzsche and his fate, so similar to Wolf's own. This insight makes the interpretation of the song even more poignant. With his sensitivity to text, Wolf would have connected his own creativity (and frustration) with Prometheus's mission to create a new race of men.

Prometheus, Michelangelo, the protagonist in  Grenzen von Menscheit and Wilhelm Meister, the Harpist in the Schubert Harfenspieler songs earlier in the recital, share in common stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. They create, therefore they live, even if they are themselves effaced. This programme was wonderfully well thought through and will, no doubt, in time mature into a larger conceptual collection.
The recital ended with Hugo Wolf Gebet. "Herr, schicke, was du willst,", the poet challenges God. But the poet is Eduard Mörike whose wry humanity appealed so much to Wolf. "Doch in der Mitten liegt holdes Bescheiden". Happiness doesn't come from extremes but from being "in the middle", knowing one's boundaries.

Please also see
Luca Pisaroni Italian Lieder
Christoph Prégardien Magic and Mayhem

Monday 27 January 2014

Italian Lieder Luca Pisaroni Liszt Wigmore Hall

At the Wigmore Hall, London, Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger presented an inspired programme: Lieder in Italian. The core Lieder repertoire is solidly Austro-German. Writing Lieder in Italian poses challenges: different syntax, different sounds, different sensibilities. Pisaroni is Italian, and a very well established opera singer. He brought great insight to an unusual programme. 

Beethoven's In questa tomba obscura spans the cusp between Classicism and Romanticism. This song reflects the early 19th century fascination with death, but also the tradition of seeking inspiration from Classical Antiquity. Rieger played the slow, solemn chords so you could imagine an ancient marble monument. Pisaroni's dignified tone added human richness. Then, faster figures  suggesting wind and the rustling of leaves. One could almost visualize a landscape by Claude or Poussin. 

Having established the tone with Beethoven, Pisaroni and Rieger turned to the songs of Johan Friedrich Reichardt, born a generation before Beethoven and an associate of Goethe, Schiller and Gottfried Herder. Pisaroni sings a lot of Mozart, who also wrote art song, but Reichardt's settings of Petrarch fitted the Lieder-oriented programme well. In his first Wigmore Hall recital (more here) , Pisaroni sang Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets (S270) The Reichardt and Liszt settings compared would be a miniature lesson in music history. Hearing Reichhardt, one recalls Goethe's conservatism about song, and his supposed disregard for Schubert. The songs are beautiful, but formal: Liszt's settings are freer and much more expressive. Incidentally, Reichardt's daughter, Louise, an exact contemporary of Beethoven, wrote Lieder in a more "modern" style, and was highly regarded. 

Brahms Funf Gesänge  op 72, formed a bridge between Reichardt's almost pre-Lieder style and the 19th century sensibilities of Franz Liszt. Liszt's songs i n many ways aren't Lider is the Schubert, Loewe or Schumann sense but songs for piano with voice accompaniment. Liszt's more florid form suits an Italian temperament, even when the texts are in German. Pisaroni is wise to make Liszt another of his specialities. It's interesting to compare Liszt's version of the Goethe poem Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß with the settings by Schubert and Hugo Wolf. Reichardt and Zelter made settings of that, too. Liszt's Drei Lieder aus Schiller's Wilhelm Tell (S292) on the other hand are exqusitely vernal, piano decorations trilling brightly, creating the impression of spring and mountain vistas. I thought of those sub-genres, the Alpine operas of Catalani (La Wally) and even the Bergfilme of Franck, Riefenstahl and Luis Trenker, when Pisaroni sang the Der Alpenjäger, with a piano part as formidable as a rugged cliff face.

More conventionally lyrical and Lisztian, Die Loreley, which suited Pisaroni's gift for breathing sensual colour into words. Pisaroni and Rieger followed this with Uber Allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (S3062) and Die Drei Zigeuner (S320). Angelika Kirchschlager sang this with Yves Thibaudet at the Wigmore Hall last week (more here). Both very good performances, though very different. Pisaroni's bass baritone is swarthier and masculine, bringing out the male bonding implicit in the song, even if the tessitura is a little high. Rieger's assertive playing suggested macho bravado. For an encore, Liszt's Im Rhein in schönen Ströme (S272) and O Liebe, so lang so Leben kannst (S298/2)

This recital is available online for a week on BBC Radio 3 with the added bonus of Reichardt's Harpsichord Sonata. 

Sunday 26 January 2014

Chaliapin Ivan the Terrible rare screening

Feodor Chaliapin, the legendary bass in a silent movie? That's no contradiction in terms, because Chaliapin is a brilliant actor in the grand manner, even when he doesn't sing. The film "Ivan the Tterrible (1915) receives a rare screening on 30 January at the Pushkin House in Bloomsbury Square, London. The restored version was originally seen in Moscow in 2001, but this version has new English subtitles, specially created by film and music historian Paul Fryer.

The film is well worth seeing because it's the closest we can get to early opera performance practice. Obviously, no sound. Nor is it a "filmed opera" like the DVDs we get today. Instead, it's an attempt to reproduce on silent film something of the operatic experience. The title "Ivan the Terrible" is a bit of a misnomer, since the film was based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's The Maid of Pskov. "Ivan the Terrible" is better box office. Besides Ivan was one of Chaliapin's signature roles: his presence was the draw. Indeed, the idea for the film came from his supporters, who understood how the power of cinema could preserve performance and bring opera to new audiences.  Nowadays it is fashionable to sneer at "crossover" musicians, but until only very recently, many crossed genre. There's lots on this site on Richard Tauber's adventures in cinema, and on music for film by serious composers like Hans Eisler.

Ivan the Terrible folows the plot of The Maid of Pskov so faithfully that it can be watched withoiut sound or subtitles, as long as you're familiar with the opera. Princess Olga of Pskov is in her garden, hearing lurid tales of Ivan's destruction of Novgorod.  The staging is very art nouveau, sculpted lines with a "river" of shining white light in the background. It looks as if it's painted backdrop. Scenes are shot on diagonal horizons, to create a contrast of dark and light. Even the scenes shot in the open air are stylized rather than naturalistic. The acting is similar, designed perhaps to semaphore meaning to audiences up in the galleries of a theatre. In silent film, actors also need to ham because the medium was so restricted.  Cinematographers hadn't quite mastered verité or the art of close-up.

Chaliapin  really had presence. In still photos, we don't realize just how tall he was and how he must have dominated the stage. Later, Chaliapin appears in a coat of armour with a peaked helmet which makes him look like a giant. He beats up Matuta who has captured Olga, and takes her with him to his camp. He has a secret.  He won't hurt Olga. though he rages theatrically on his throne. The battle is a nice crowd scene, shot economically on the same small set/area by the "river" from different angles. In the confusion, Olga is killed. Her lover, Tucha, a stock Romantic hero in breeches, falls over her body weeping, then scrambles down tyhe same steep slope most of the other characters have slid down before him, and drowns in the river. Chaliapin, maddened by grief, wanders down a diagonal path, and wails over a locket, revealing that he was the lover of Olga's mother, and is her father.  Ivan's not terrible, at all.

Please see here for a complete download and review of Chaliapin in the 1933 film Don Quixote with music by Jacques Ibert and Maurice Ravel. Chalapin sings in that, gloriously parodying his stage persona. If I have time I'll write about Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the terrible, with music by Sergei Prokofiev. In the meantime, a full download of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, another Eisenstein movie, from 1937.

Saturday 25 January 2014

New - Mahogany Opera Group

Mahogany Opera and The Opera Group are joining forces to create The Mahogany Opera Group. Frederic Wake-Walker is Artistic Director and John Gilhooly is Chairman of an illustrious group of sponsors.  This could be an interesting development.  Mahogany Opera produced the brilliant  Britten Church Parables at Aldeburgh last summer - read more HERE (Curlew River)  and HERE. (The Burning Fiery Furnace, Prodigal Son).  The Opera Group was one of the most innovatiuve opera companies in this country when it was linked with John Fulljames.  They did great pieces like George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill, more HERE.

Artistic Director Frederic Wake-Walker says , “ This is a really exciting moment for The Opera Group and Mahogany Opera . We’re looking forward to the next phase ahead, to experimenting with new ideas , and realising bold, progressive projects. Mahogany Opera Group will create bespoke operas specifically customised to different spaces and places throughout the UK and internationally – presenting each distinct project with a vitality that stretches the boundaries of what opera can be and who it is for."

The first production is Gloria – A Pigtale. HK Gruber’s cabaret opera, set in a burlesque butcher’s shop, follows a lonely pig looking for love against a darkly comic back-drop of fascist politics. The co-production with Bregenz Festival and Buxton Festival takes in Hull Truck, Norwich Playhouse, Norfolk Norwich Festival, Linbury Studio (Royal Opera House), Buxton Festival and Bregenz Festival (17 May – 2 August). More details here

Friday 24 January 2014

Magic and mayhem : Christoph Prégardien Wigmore Hall

Christoph Prégardien has always been a master of creative, exciting ways with Lieder. He and Michael Gees gave a recital at the Wigmore Hall, London, which showed how vigorous the Lieder tradition continues to be.

Prégardien and Gees created a programme that illuminated the liveliness of the Romantic imagination. Nature spirits abound, and fairy tales and ghostly figures of legend. Lulled into fantasy, one might miss the hints of danger that lurk behind these charming dreamscapes. The Romantics were intrigued by the subconcious long before the language of psychology was coined.

The recital began with one of the most lyrical songs in the whole Lieder repertoire, Carl Loewe's Der Nöck (Op129/2 1857)  to a poem by August Kopisch. A Nix, a male water sprite who plays his harp by a wild waterfall. Its waves hang suspended in mid air, the vapours forming a rainbow halo around the Nix. Circular figures in the piano part suggest tumbling waters. Prégardien breathed into the long vowel sounds so they rolled beautifully We could hear what the text means when it refers to a nightingale, silenced in awe. Suddenly the magic is broken when humans draw near. The waves roar, the trees stand tall, and the nightingale flees, until it's safe for the Nöck to reveal himself again. Prégardien and Gees paired Loewe's song with Franz Schubert.s Der Zwerg (D771, 1822) to a poem by Matthäus von Collin. A queen and a dwarf are alone on a boat on a lake. Love, murder and possible suicide haunt the idyll. The Id is released, violently, in a blissful setting.

Franz Liszt's Es war ein König in Thule (S278/2 1856) sets a poem from Goethe's Faust.  Schubert's setting is more folkloric, reflecting the innocence of Gretchen sings in  the novel. Liszt's setting is more elaborate. Lovely, falling diminuendos describe the way the King drinks one last time from his chalice, before throwing it "hinunter in die Flut". Perhaps the queen who gave him the chalice was herself a nature spirit  who lived beneath the lake?  Prégardien intoned the line "Trank nie einen Tropfen mehr" solemnly : the King has died.

Prégardien has championed the songs of Franz Lachner (1803-1890), who knew Schubert, Loewe, Schumann and Wagner, and worked in court circles in Munich, where he learned only too well what the Romantic imagination could do to real kings like Ludwig II. Lachner's Die Meerfrau  was written in Vienna,  comes from early in his career and sets a poem by Heinrich Heine. A  water spirit appears and drags a mortal to a watery grave. The song comes from Lachner's magnum opus,  Sängerfahrt op 33 (1831) where there are numerous songs on  similar themes of supernatural seduction and death. Ironically, Lachner wrote the collection on the eve of his own marriage, dedicating it to his bride. One wonders what modern psychoanalysts might make of that. Prégardien and Gees also performed Lachner's Ein Traumbild from the same collection. Tjhe final strophe is particularly luscious: The cock crows at dawn, and the vampire seductress flees. 

Prégardien and Gees also performed Liszt's Die Loreley (S273/2 1854-9), whose long prelude contains the Tristan motif in germ, before it was developed by Wagner. As Richard Stokes writes in his programme notes, it "begins with a leap of a diminished seventh : the voice however begins with a fourth ...and then soars a sixth - identical in harmonic terms with the piano's diminished sevenths".  In the context of  these feverish succubi,  Hugo Wolf's Ritter Kurts Brautfahrt (1888) made an interesting contrast.  On the way to his wedding, the Knight meets many temptations that almost throw him off course, including a mystery nursemaid who claims that her charge is his child. Yet it's quite a cheery song with cryptic in-jokes that refer to the music of Wolf's friend, the composer Karl Goldmark, who lent Wolf money, knowing he wouldn't be repaid.

Prégardien's unique timbre and ability to float legato has inspired several composers, most notably Wilhelm Killmayer (b 1927). Killmayer's  Hölderlin Lieder were written for Peter Schreier and are, I think, the most exquisite songs of the last half of the last century. Prégardien has recorded them too.  Killmayer wrote his Heine Lieder for Prégardien, setting 35 songs by Heine. Killmayer's songs don't imitate Schumann's. They engage with the meaning of Heine's texts in a highly original style, with pauses, and piano resonances that float in the air. The effect resembles speech, yet also inner contemplation. Killmayer revisits the poets of the past, and writes music for them in  a new, refreshing way.

 In this Wigmore Hall recital, Prégardien and Gees performed Killmayer's Schön-Rohtraut (2004).  The poem is Eduard Mörike, from 1838. Rohtraut is King Ringang's daughter. She doesn't spin or sew, but hunts annd fishes like a man. Mörike was inspired by the strange sound of the names, which he found in an ancient book, but the princess could be a reincarnation of the wild and elusive "Peregrina" who might have led Mörike astray. The lines are simple and repetitive, which suits Killmayer's abstract, almost zen-like purity. As Rohtraut leads the boy into the woods, his excitement mounts. Killmayer's delicate, fluttering note sequences suggest a heart beating with nervous anticipation. We feel we are at one with the boy, as enthralled as he. 

Michael Gees is himself a composer, and Prégardien has performed and recorded his songs several times. This time, we heard Gees's Der Zauberlehrling (2005) where he sets Goethe's poem about the sorcerer's apprentice who uses magic to wash the floor and conjures up a flood. Gees setting is delightful. Rolling, rumbling figures to suggest the rising waters, and a stiff march to suggest the legions of broomsticks.  Syncopated rhythms and zany downbeats, used with great flair. The audience burst into spontaneous applause. Gees and Prégardien were taken by surprise. Gees was thrilled, and beamed with happiness. It's heart warming to see a composer get respect like that.

The recital ended with old favourites like Loewe's Edward (Op1/11818) Tom der Reimer (Op 135a 1860), Schumann's Belsazar (Op57 1840) ans Wolf's Der Feuerreiter (1888).  Schubert's Erlkönig made a rousing encore, Since Prégardien and Gees had done Loewe's Erlkönig (Op 1/23 1818)  earlier in the evening, it was good to reflect on the differences between the two settings. Loewe's real answer to Schubert's Erlkönig is his Herr Oluf, which is another song of prenuptial anxiety, murder and mayhem, . Prégardien and Gees could be doing recitals like this over and over and not exhaust the  Lieder repertoire. 

A more formal version of this review appears in Opera Today.

Thursday 23 January 2014

More free Abbado tribute broadcasts

More free Abbado tributes

On Mahler Symphony no 9 Lucerne, 2010 (one of the best).  Communion in art: that was Claudio Abbado’s almost sacred power. It is with a sincere humility and a profound respect that we wish to pay a tribute to this great musician and humanist; this is why, until January 31st, we broadcast for the first time on, and for free, this outstanding performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony recorded at the Lucerne Festival in 2010... Watch the concert for free until Jan. 31st

 The Berliner Philharmoniker has had an Abbado archive for some years which covers most of his time in Berlin. Now, for a limited period, it can all be watched for free:

European Concert 1991 from Prague
European Concert 1994 from Meiningen
The Berliner Philharmoniker in Tokyo
European Concert 1996 from St. Petersburg
New Year’s Eve Concert 1996 »Dances and Gypsy Tunes«
Johannes Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
New Year’s Eve Concert 1997 »Tribute to Carmen«
European Concert 1998 from Stockholm
New Year’s Eve Concert 1998 »Songs of Love and Desire«
W.A. Mozart: Requiem. Herbert von Karajan Memorial Concert
New Year’s Eve Concert 1999 »Grand Finales«
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1–8
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (European Concert 2000 from Berlin)
New Year’s Eve Concert 2000 »Viva Verdi«
Beethoven: Chorfantasie / Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2
European Concert 2002 from Palermo
Documentary »The silence that follows the music«

More conductor chess - Turgan Sokhiev to the Bolshoi

Amother surprise in the latest round of Conductor Chess !

The Bolshoi Opera's general director­ Vladimir Urin  announced the appointment of Turgan Sokhiev, aged 36,  as Music Director effective next week - 1st February. The sudden change was preciptated by the resignation in December of Vassily Siniasky, two weeks before the premiere of a new Verdi Don Carlo. Urin described Sokhiev as "one of the most in-demand young conductors­ in the West."

 Sokhiev has not conducted the Bolshoi before, though he was for about a year Music Director at the Welsh National Opera. He conducts the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse (ONCT) and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO Berlin) and guests elsewhere, including with the Philharmonia in London.

Sokhiev's appointment comes at a critical point for the Bolshoi. Upheavals in the Bolshoi Ballet notwithstranding, the Bolshoi Opera, according to the Moscow Times , "since the resignation of Alexander Lazarev 19 years ago, the Bolshoi has lacked the strong musical leadership it enjoyed under an unbroken succession of notable conductors from near the beginning of the 20th century, among them, in addition to Lazarev, such outstanding figures in the musical life of Russia as Samuil Samosud, Nikolai Golovanov, Alexander Melik-Pashaev, Yevgeny Svetlanov and Gennady Rozhdestvensky" .

Of all Russian-born opera conductors,  bar Gergiev and Bychkov, Vladimir Jurowski has the widest repertoire,  and the highest profile. He would have been ideal for the Bolshoi, but he's a relative outsider in St Petersburg. He studied in Moscow, moving west aged 18.  He's possibly too "international". Sokhiev, on the other hand trained with the St Petersburg elite, under the famous Ilya Musin, ( d 1999) whose students included Rudolf Barshai,  Semyon Bychkov, Caetany, Siniasky, Temirakov,  Yakov Kreisberg and Valery Gergiev. Perhaps it is significant that Sokhiev, like Gergiev, hails from Ossetia.

According to the Moscow Times "Unlike his predecessor, Anatoly Iksanov, Urin seems determined to take a hands-on approach when it comes to shaping the future of opera and ballet at the Bolshoi......"For me, it was important in principle," said Urin, "that the new conductor be from Russia … a person who could speak with people in the theater in a common language. It was also important to know what this person believed in and how he viewed contemporary musical theater"

Mark Wigglesworrth to take over at ENO

It's not news that Edward Gardner would eventually be stepping down as Music Director at the ENO. He's taking over as Chief Conductor at the Bergen Philharmonic in October 2015. While it was assumed he'd be able to balance that with London, he needs to expand his portfolio beyond opera if he is to lay the foundations for a much bigger career. Plus CBSO hasn't said who's replacing Andris Nelsons. (Read what I wrote about that here.

What is news is his successor: Mark Wigglesworth. I did a double take when I saw the news, reading Ryan Wigglesworth by mistake - another drop dead handsome, stylish personality, Sexy Ed Mark II, perhaps, the sort of charismatic figure any orchestra needs. Mark Wigglesworth is much more of a wild card. What might this mean for him and for the ENO ?

Mark Wigglesworth is charismatic too, and has personality, to put it delicately. And as a musician, gosh, he's good, when he's focused. He was only 27 when the BBC hired him as one of their stable of conductors, which normally is a springboard for a solid career. When his recording of the performance edition of Mahler's Symphony No 10 was issued with a copy of the BBC Music magazine it became a cult hit. People were buying back issues of the magazine to get the free CD. He conducted it at the Barbican when Daniel Harding's wife went unexpectedly into labour. Harding's kids are teenagers now.Harding Mahler 10 leaves everything else for dead but the point is, Wigglesworth has enough going for him that makes him interesting.

Wigglesworth gets very good jobs but doesn't necessarily conform. Being emmollient is part of a conductor's job description. In fact here are several conductors who are better at pleasing benefactors and corporate interests than at making music. It hardly matters: audiences are swayed by status, not necessarily by art.  Maybe Mark Wigglesworth is exactly what the ENO needs: someone who will speak his mind at a time when the ENO is being bullied into becoming  bland to please  a section of the public who don't really like opera, music, stagecraft or indeed anything that challenges them. One thing we still have in Europe is a body of well-informed people who go out because they care about art, not simply to be seen spending money. 

>Artists take risks. Philistines panic. In the wild game of conductor chess, who knows who will be moving where and when? Whatever happens, the next few years at the ENO are not going to be boring.

photo : Sim Canetty-Clarke

Abbado, Pollini Prohaska - 2011 video

Courtesy of The Berliner Philharmoniker, a recent interview with Claudio Abbado and two friends, old and new - Maurizio Pollini and Anna Prohaska

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Abbado's last Lucerne concerts - BBC pulls schedule

In aa special tribute to Claudio Abbado, BBC Radio 33 has cleared its Friday afternoon schedule to broadcast Claudio Abbado's last  concerts in Lucerne. Read more HERE

This is the programme (which will be available on line, internationally for 7 days)

Brahms Tragic Overture in D minor, op. 81
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor)
Schoenberg Orchestral Interlude and Song of the Wood Dove, from Gurrelieder
Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano),
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor)
c. 2.30pm
Schubert Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 ('Unfinished')
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor)
c. 3.00pm
Bruckner Symphony No. 9 in D minor, WAB 109
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor).

Wigmore Hall 15 for 12 offer

Tonight, Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees gave a fantastic recital at the Wigmore Hall. I'm writing it up now, listening to CDs of the songs in the exceptionally well planned programme. Many in this audience were long-term Wigmore Hall stalwarts who know the Lieder repertoire  practically by heart, yet found something new to discover . The Wigmore Hall built its reputation on concerts like these. Prégardien sang Wolf, Schubert and Schumann but also Loewe, Lachner, Lizst, Gees and Killmayer, proving that the Lieder tradition is alive and well. I reflected on what the Wigmore Hall has meant to me over the years.

When I first started going, an elderly couple befriended me. They'd known Arnold Schoenberg, personally! He was closer to their parents but they knew him, nonetheless before he (and they) went into exile. Tonight was, for me, a moment of reflection. William Lyne was sitting in his usual seat: he who discovered Prégardien when he was starting out.  Others too, were there, equally precious and treasured.  As the years roll by, they've grown older and greyer but their minds are still sharp, stimulated by intelligent music  even into their 90's. My Dad used to say "Stop learning and you die".

This month, the Wigmore Hall is offfering 15 months' Friends membership for the price of 12.  Most people assume that being a "Friend" means advanced booking privileges etc. But what kind of "friend" would you be to anyone if you were only there for material advantages?  I'm a Friend because I care about what the Wigmore Hall does, for chamber music, Lieder and art song. More details here. 

photo Stephen McKay

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Claudio Abbado. Versuch einer Würdigung

A very perceptive and poetic tribute to Claudio Abbado:

"Claudio Abbado war ein stiller Mensch. Und doch hat kaum einer so viele Spuren hinterlassen in der Musiklandschaft wie er. Einige seiner Stationen: Er gründete das Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, in Bozen gründete er dazu auch die Gustav Mahler Akademie - die Förderrung der Jugend war ihm ein Anliegen -, er gründete das Festival "Wien Modern", das der doch sehr traditionell ausgerichteten Wiener Musikszene neue Impulse gab, er gründete das Lucerne Festival Orchestra, er gründete das Orchestra Mozart, um dem Orchester-Defizit Italiens durch ein Ensemble höchsten Niveau entgegen zu wirken. Überall versuchte er, die Mängel und Defizite zu beheben, auch aus einer linken ideologischen Position heraus (die ihm wiederholt zum Vorwurf gemacht wurden, besonders in Mailand)."

Kirchschlager Thibaudet Liszt Brahms Wigmore Hall

A dream team with a dream programme : Angelika Kirchschlager and Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the Wigmore Hall.  Kirchschlager and Thibaudet have been working together from very early on in their careers. Her voice is warm and natural, ideal for Brahms,  He is a superb Liszt interpreter. What could be more perfect?

Ominously the recital started late. Performers of this calibre are so professional that almost nothing throws them off stroke. But performers are human, too, affected by things an audience might know nothing about. Kirchschlager is a natural communicator, whose unique capacity to connect with her audience has made her deservedly a perennial favourite. When she missed an entry, she smiled and started again, winning the audience over with her sincerity. I couldn't fault her, since I wasn't feeling well either and missed most of the Brahms set.  No problem, though. We hear her at her best so often and will do so again soon (13/2 Joseph Marx).

In Franz Liszt's songs , the piano sings. These aren't Lieder so much as songs for piano accompanied by voice. His transcriptions of Schubert, for example, are so elaborate that they overwhelm the purity of Schubert's expression. "Spring flowers pressed and gilded", someone once said.

 In Über allen Giopfeln ist Ruh (S306/2 1859) Thibaudet played the opening chords so they seemed to levitate, so by the time Kirchschlahger sang "Gipflen" we were already on the mountain top, The contemplative lines suggest the stillness in the air. Goethe's punchline, however, is in the final strophe "warte nur, balde ruhest du auch".  Schubert's setting of this text, Wanderers Nachtlied D768, employs a similar single chord  progression, but his song is shorter and more direct, imnlpying death rather than repose.

Liszt's piano version of Am Rhein in schönen. Strome (S272/2 1855) is exquisite, the piano song version more restrained. Both glory in fluid lines that suggest flowing water. Dancing notes suggest sunlight playing on the waves. But the poem is Heine, It's not the river he's concerned with but a painting of the Virgin Mary in Köln Cathedral, whose eyes, lips and cheeks remind the poet of physical love. Thibaudet's notes sparkle, and Kirchschlager emphasizes the sensual vowels in "Wänglein". Schumann's setting of the text is ferocious , the voice attacking from the very first bar. In Liszt, we rejoice in the scenery and the lovely high tessitura in "freundlich hineingestrahlt"

Liszt respond well to the bitterness in Heine's Vergiftet singt meine Lieder  (S289 1844-9).. Thibaudet made the piano snarl turbulently. In contrast, the lines in O Liebe  so lang du leiben kannst ( S298/2 1845) curl curvaceously, clinging to the phrasing in the poem (Ferdinard Freiligrath). The piano part is beautiful, though relatively restrained, the voice leading. This is a song that fits Kirchschlager's timbre perfectly.It's almost Brahmsian.  She expressed its meaning well.

Thibaudet played a lovely Consolation no 3 in D (S172 1844-50) but the highlight of the evening was Die Drei Zigeuner (S320 1860)  The poem, by Nikolaus Lenau, describes three gypsies amusing themselves. This gives Liszt a chance to have fun, creating a kind of miniature theatre piece. One gypsy plays a fiddle, another a cimbalom and the third lazily smokes a pipe. It's a surprisingly dramatic piece because Liszt imitates the instruments and writes nice "smokey" figures to suggest how laid back the gypsies are. The text doesn't mention a woman, but Kirchschlager's humour and sensuous delivery created an invisible fourth gypsy. Perhaps there is a tambourine in those, circular piano rhythms ?The relative folksiness in the poem brings Liszt closer to the spirit of Volkslieder, bringing us back to Johannes Brahms.

Monday 20 January 2014

Claudio Abbado is dead

Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) is dead, aged 80. Nearly 15 years ago, he had cancer, but beat it. Last summer in Lucerne, he looked frail, sustained by the fire of doing what he loved. It was as if he were somehow invincible. But in many ways, he is immortal. We have him forever on recordings and on DVDs. The orchestras he founded  will go on, giving musicians a system created for and by musicians. Tributes will be everywhere. I can't add anything meaningful except to say that it feels like a light has gone out in my life, too, with his passing

A Song at Midnight 1937

A Song at Midnight has cult status in Chinese cinema. Although the film compares to Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera (1925), the music and the socio-political context lift it above the level of ordinary horror story.  A Song at Midnight (夜半歌聲) is usually billed as the first Chinese horror movie, but that's not what makes it really interesting.  The music was written by China's foremost composer in the western style, Music is integral to the film, and is part of its symbolism.

Xian Xing Hai (1905-45) was born destitute in Macau but managed through hard work and scholarships to train at conservatories in Shanghai, Beijing and Paris. He was a virtuoso flautist, in the western classical tradition, but studied Chinese music as well, aiming to create a unique new form for a new nation. The May Fourth Movement was an attempt to modernize China through changes in art and social attitudes. Cinema was thus part of this reformist zeal. Chinese movies entertained, but also educated. The studio was Xin Hua (New China). The writer and director was Ma-Xu Weibang (馬徐維邦) (1905-61) like Xian, a poor orphan who made his way up in progressive film circles. A Song at Midnight was made in 1937, when the Japanese invasion escalated, and Shanghai itself fell to the occupiers. Xian made the long trek from Shanghai to Yenan to join the Communist party. I don't know what happened to Ma-Xu but he ended up in Hong Kong,

A Song at Midnight is art film, every bit as much as French and German film in this period often combined high cinematic standards with serious music. Caretakers in a disused opera house patrol the building with lanterns, beating time with a stick. A shadow appears at midnight singing a song of lost love.When we hear the shrouded figure sing, we can hear, even through the grainy recording, that he has a glorious, western operatically classically trained voice.  A woman appears with her elderly maid. She's come to listen to the shadowy figure, for he sounds like her lost lover, an opera  singer called Song Dang Ping. Her expression is steely, not sentimental. She's wearing a mourning robe. She thinks her lover had been brutally murdered.

In a rainstorm, a new theatre troupe arrive in town. They wear snappy western outfits, and the women wear makeup and fashionable dresses: what a contrast to the dilapidated old building thick with cobwebs, with old-fashioned paper in the windows instead of glass.  Beautifully photography. Troupes like this used to tour the country bringing modern theatre and modern ideas, and often performed in makeshift places. The Director hands out the script. They're doing a piece of music theatre about a woman who,has lost her lover on the mighty Yellow River. Xian Xing Hai would write his masterpiece, The Yellow River Cantata in exile in the caves at  Yenan. The Yellow River Cantata describes the might river, also known as a "China's Sorrow" and its role in shaping Chinese history (Read more about it here)  The song in the film becomes part of the wider work. The small town agit prop theatre troupe is translated into a seminal work of modern Chinese music.

The actor Sun Xiao Ou practises singing the new anthem, alone, in the dark, but he can't quite get it right. Then the ghostly voice of Song Dang Ping sings it for him, bringing out the deeper meaning.  and intensity. Posters go up in town, announcing the new show. Now Sun Xiao Ou can sing with passion, "O! Huang Ho!" (O Yellow River). he's a hit! That night  Sun creeps into the bowels of the theatre to thank Song for teaching him. Wonderful sequence where single, hollow piano notes lure young Sun up rickety stairs. Intense discords and dissonance as Song Dang Ping materializes out of the shadows, holding a candle.The shrouded Song Dang Ping tells his story. He was a revolutionary who worked in theatre groups just like the one Sun is working in. He sang versions of western operas about freedom, costumed in a Beethovenian greatcoat before a line of Napoleanic soldiers. In this simple image, the film connects to Fidelio, to the rise of democracy and freedom in the west,  and to the way China was subjugated by foreign powers, not only Japanese but European. the ideals of Liberté et Fraternité didn't apply to subject nations.

He falls in love with Li Xiao Mei. Unfortunately she isn't free, she's kept by a  rich man. In itself this is a subtle hint as to the deeper meaning in the film.  Her jealous protector has Song tortured in front of her, before acid is thrown at his face. He survives, hiding out with a  peasant family, whose small daughter adores him. The day comes when the bandages are removed. Song is hideous, his matinee idol good looks destroyed.  "No! No !" he wails in horror," I've become a devil"  He sends the little girl to Li Xiao Mei, to tell her that he's died. She goes insane. Juxtaposed frames intersect suggesting how her mind fragments. She's no longer any use to the criminal leader. Song hides himself inside the disused theatre, where Li's servant brings her to hear the mystery song at midnight.

Song knows he's beyond help, but can Li be saved ? Young Sun sings for Li, who comes into her garden, wraith-like, thinking that Song has returned, while Song watches from behind a bush. Music returns, sweetly fluttering like mad nightingales. Li is in a pavilion over a lake, delirious with joy, but still delusional.

Crowds flock to see the new play in town where Sun reprises Song's old role as a Florestan figure.  Song watches from the rafters. The music then borrows Bach Air on a G string, while the camera pans on Song's expressions of tenderness and sorrow.  Sun has a girlfriend called Lu Die, a perky modern girl, very different from Li, who has been seen in Republican period costumes. Times have changed, but wicked people stay the same. Lu Die is in her changing room when the bad guy who destroyed Song and Li comes in, to slithering strains of Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue.. It's not hard to read a political dimension into thius, given the situation in China at the time. Finishing the opera with a rousing finale about defiance, Sun rushes backstage and saves Lu from getting raped but the bad guy shoots her dead. Then Song appears, confronting the villain with the face he had destroyed. Having heard the gunshot, a crowd chases Song and the villain up into the rafters, through trap doors. Great shot of the outside of the theatre lit up by electric bulbs, and the grimy. cobweb covered backstage that is Song's world.

 The villain falls and is killed. Young Sun calls for calm but the soldiers want to catch Song at all costs. Waving firebrands the mob pursue "the monster" in a sequence that references the 1931 Frankenstein movie, shot in almost abstract dark and light, which is very effective. It doesn't matter whether the mob are Chinese or Transylvanian or whatever. They exist the world over. Sun explains everything to Li, who faints with horror. The tower Song flees to is set alight and he jumps to his death. Li awakes as if from a nightmare. The final shots show Sun supporting her as she stares into the distance.

Saturday 18 January 2014

International Broadcasts coming up

From Andrzej :

Sunday - 19 January 2014     Jewels  Bolshoi Ballet  Cinema  LIVE Feed 
Tuesday 22 January 2014 - Arditti Quartet and ORF (Pacsal Pophé) Dusapin

Friday - 24 January 2014  19.30  TV  BBC Four  Britten Dowland Bostridge Gilchrist
Friday - 24 January 2014  20.00  Julian Bream at the BBC     TV  BBC Four
 Sunday - 26 January 2014  9.15  Rameau Les Paladins  Paris  TV  3SAT   Sunday -
26 January 2014  21.40  Les Noces de Figaro  Salzburg 2012  TV  Arte 
Monday - 27 January 2014     Giselle  Covent Garden  Cinema  LIVE Feed

Tuesday - 28 January 2014     Elijah in Italian Cinemas (Gerhaher)   
Thursday - 30 January 2014  16.00  Don Giovanni (Netrebko, Schrott)  Baden
Baden  TV  Mezzo  

Friday 17 January 2014

Barbican Baroque Blockbusters 2014-15 (3)

Despite its brutalist architecture, the Barbican is Britain's foremost centre for baroque and early music. It sponsors top-flight international musicians and larger -scale works. The 2014/15 season offers many delights.

The Academy of Ancient Music, based at the Barbican,  presents Monteverdi L'incoronazione di Poppea on 4 Oct - excellent cast including Antonacci. Richard Egarr conducts the AAM.  Six days later on 10/10, Joyce DiDonato heads a possibly even better cast in Handel Alcina, Harry Bicket conducts the English Concert. Only 4 years ago Marc Minkowski conducted an excellent Alcina (read more here). DiDonato should be outstanding though because she can really camp up the curlicues in this crazy part!

Even more spectacular will be the big Rameau extravaganza on 18/11. William Christie conducts Les Arts Florissantes and an excellent French cast in Rameau's Daphnis et Églé (Pastorale héroïque) and La Naissance d’Osiris (Acte de ballet).  Rameau in his time was considered shockingly avant garde. Christie understands that and conducts Rameau with the ideal mix of wit and audacity. (Please read my review of Christie's Rameau Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne). Les Arts Flo are doing Monteverdi too, Madrigals book 8 (24/5).

More still! Europa Galante and Fabio Bondi on 20/2, Vivaldi L'Oraculo in Messina,. Again a superlative European cast - Vivica Genaux no less. And if that's not enough, Handel Hercules (not so common) on 4 March, Harry Bicket, the English Concert and some of the best British baroque singers. The AAM is also doing Scarlatti and Mozart (4/2/15 Christopher Hogwood) and of course, Handel's Messiah for Christmas and Bach St Matthews for Easter. .

There is so much going on at the Barbican that it pays to read the full schedule carefully and spot the treasures. Please also see my piece on  the Barbican 2014-15 LSO and international orchestras season and my analysis of the Barbican's 2014-2015 BBC SO and related goodies. Far too many interesting things to deal with in one post.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Barbican 2014-15 (2) BBCSO plus

There's hope for classical music in London!  The Barbican 2014-2015 season is a lot stronger than it looks at first glance. It's a relief to get away from gimmicks and back to "own curated" series created by musicians rather than marketing men.

To prove the point, the Barbican is hosting a traverse of Carl Nielsen's symphonies, where Sakari Oramo will be conducting the BBCSO.  Starting on 11/10, (running til May)  the Nielsen series complements Rattle's Sibelius series with the Berliner Philharmoniker which runs from 10-12 February 2015. That's inspired programming ! It will be interesting to compare and contrast two of the greatest Scandinavian composers, performed by two of the best bands and conductors in the genre.

The BBCSO is perhaps the backbone of the Barbican because its resources are so big that it can draw on a wide range of conductors and specialities and forms. Plenty of mainstream concerts ahead, spiced up, in BBC tradition, with excursions into new-ish music.  They're doing a John Tavener Total Immersion on 8/10 supplemented with extra concerts by the Britten Sinfonia and the BBC Singers.

Even more important (and more my thing) is the Boulez at 90 on 21 March 2015. Hopefully Boulez will be present, but even if he's not, this will be not to be missed under any circumstances, since François-Xavier Roth is conducting Pli selon Pli, Notation I-IV and VII, Éclat/Multiples and Piano Sonata no 2. Roth is a quirky but very original conductor. I've not heard him do Boulez before but I think we can count on him. Read my account of  Pli selon Pli with Boulez, Hannigan and Ensemble Intercontemporain when they did it in October 2011, which may have beeen Boulez's last concert before his illness. Then on 28/4/15 Ensemble Intercontemporain themselves come to the Barbican conducted by Matthias Pinscher, doing Sur incises, Mémoriale, a Pintscher piece and a Boulez favourite, Debussy Syrinx. Unmissable. Barbara Hannigan is singing two concerts with the Britten Sinfonia on 6 and 7 May.

Wolfgang Rihm was the subject of a Total Immersion a few years ago (read more on this site)  Now he gets a second Total Immersion, based around the UK premiere of his Tutuguri on 31/1. Kent Nagano makes a rare UK appearance conducting the BBCSO which alone will be a draw. Hopefully, Rihm himself will be at the talks, because he's a character.
The BBC Singers are another of the assets that come with the BBC's association with the Barbican. This year, they're giving even more concerts than usual and some very challenging programmes too, including a keynote James MacMillan concert on 12/2/15, part of the year-long MacMillan series which also features the Britten Sinfonia. Even  more adventurously, they'll be singing Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland on 8/3/15 in a Netia Jones video semi staging.I thought the original Munich straging (with the big eyeballs) was by far the best part of the opera, so who kmows? We might be lucky if the edition performed is the one by Lloyd Moore, first heard in Santa Fe; the thing with new music is that things take time to settle. For every Barry, Dean or Muhly who gets big money backing there must be many others writing good music that we don't get to hear. But the business has always been this way: it's nothing new.

Joyce DiDonato, Mathias Goerne and Ian Bostridge ensure that  vocal music will be well served this year. I'm also booking quicksmart for Smetana's Dalibor on 2nd May 2015. This was once a huge hit, conducted by Mahler, no less. Jirí Belohlávek returns to the BBCSO with his loyal Prague singers.  Belohlávek brought so much Czech repertoire to Britain that it was a dark day for true music lovers when he quit. Pretty boy pianists are a dime a dozen, but there are very few truly specialist conductors with such a passionate and idiomatic feel for unusual repertoire.

Tomorrow, I'll write about the Barbican's Early Music and Baroque plans for 2014-2015 and the Academy of Ancient Music. Please come back, because the Barbican is proving to be London's greatest centre for this repertoire.

Also see an overview of the Barbican 2014-15 season with an emphasis on the LSO and international orchestras

And a guide to the Barbican's Blockbuster Baroque season coming up

A closer look at the Barbican 2014-2015 season (1) LSO

London Barbican Hall LSO a

The Barbican's 2014-2015 season's just been announced. It's not wildly glamorous, but, on closer examination, it's a more solid season than expected. Last year the South Bank chose commercial pull over music, handing the place over to marketing The Rest is Noise. The South Bank once was a hothouse of artistic vision,  pioneering ventures like the Messiaen year, the Bartók series, the Nono series and so on.  There are, or were, people at the South Bank with knowledge and integrity. "Own curated" series keep music in the hands of musicians.  In the long term if you want to run an arts centre, you need to build on the unique resources you already have. Have we become so obsessed with anniversaries that we've forgotten  core repertoire?  Gimmicks come and go. Back to basics isn't such a bad thing.

The Barbican Centre is home to several good orchestras such as the BBCSO, the LSO, and The Academy of Ancient Music. There will always be a market for good music, done well, even if it's not trendy. The LSO, for example, is building upon Valery Gergiev's strengths by doing a lot of Russian music What's more Gergiev is bringing the Mariinsky Opera to London, with "two contrasting operas dealing with archetypical aspects of Russian identity",  Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Rodion Schedrin's The Left Hander (3rd and 4th November). How Vladimir Jurowski (a superb programme planner) would love to be able to do that. The Mariinsky Opera Chorus and the LSO Chorus are giving concerts too, Russian sacred music and Rachmaninov Vespers.  The LSO is also doing a violin series with soloists like Kavakos, Znaider, Ehnes, Tetzlaff, Bell and others. Bernard Haitink returns to conduct Bruckner and a Mozart/Beethoven programme with Mitsuko Uchida. In June he does two more concerts: Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart. No harm in that! More unusually he's conducting Mark-Anthony Turnage Frieze with Beethoven 9. 

In January, Simon Rattle conducts the LSO in two major concerts: Schumann Das Paradis und die Peri with a superlative cast. This is an importamt piece in the evolution of German music theatre. It's oratorio with operatic ambitions. Had Schumann lived would he have developed a different route to Wagner? Rattle and John Eliot Gardner, each in their own ways, have done much to bring this piece to attention. This will be one of the highlights of the year, and will be augmented by an LSO Discovery Day exploring the piece.

Rattle will also be bringing the Berliner Philhamoniker to London in February 2015 with  a complete Sibelius cycle.  This is majorly important because Sibelius is a composer whose work benefits from being heard in sequence. Rattle is one of the best exponents and the Berliner Philharmoniker are so good that they're always worth hearing.. Book now - this will be a blockbuster.

See also The BBCSO season and concerts around that, even bigger and more interesting.

AND a summary of the Blockbuster Barbican Baroque season.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

More sense from Beyoncé than Marin Alsop

Beyoncé speaks more sense than Marin Alsop! "Gender Equality is a myth!" writes Beyoncé, in an article in The Shriver Report, a media initiative led by Maria Shriver (JFK's neice) that seeks to modernize America’s relationship to women. "It isn’t a reality yet", says Beyoncé .... Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect. Humanity requires both men and women, and we are equally important and need one another. So why are we viewed as less than equal? These old attitudes are drilled into us from the very beginning. We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible." (read the full report here)

When  Marin Alsop became the first woman  to conduct the BBC Last Night of the Proms, she said " I have to say I’m still quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can still be firsts for women.” Millions of women the world over would not have been shocked in the least. They have to live with the day-to-day reality that glitzy events like the Last Night of the Proms mean very little if you earn a quarter of what men earn, if you get hired or get an education in the first place.

The media went wild in a frenzy of self-satisfaction because it was easy copy, and popular. Some reports were so fawning that they confirmed the idea that women get praise simply for being women.  Gender equality won't come about until people genuinely don't care who is conducting, but how they conduct. And like it or not, classical music is middle-class art for middle-class people. Perhaps some of the world's poor and oppressed were watching but the victory would have seemed hollow in the light of real life experience. Even women who have worldly success, eg in the banking sector, know only too well how entrenched misogynistic attitudes are. So all the more respect to Beyoncé, who struggled hard to get where she is. She's rich, talented and famous but she still hasn't forgotten what life is like for millions of ordinary women.
photo Sergio Savarese, Sao Paolo

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Manon's Des Grieux - Matthew Polenzani

Tonight at the Royal Opera House, Jules Massenet Manon, in its first revival, with the divine Ermonela Jaho as Manon asnd Matthew Polenzani as the Chevalier des Grieux. Together they sang the parts in this same production in Milan in 2012. He sang it with Anna Netrebko when the ROH toured Japan in 2010.

"Even though he has done the part several times, each new run is unique because dynamics change with different casts. “Anna and Ermonela are both fabulously beautiful, but they have different personalities and different voices. And this time, I’m also singing with Ailyn Pérez in the last few performances in this run. I’ve worked with her before, too, so I know her sentiments about Manon. It’s good to make changes with different singers at different times, it keeps things interesting. A director can’t just tell a singer ’in bar 52, walk stage left’. You need to be able to work with each other so it feels natural”.

“I gravitate towards Massenet. Des Grieux is good to sing because he touches a lot of things that are important to me in my life. He’s an honest guy, and he’s moved by his heart. I was just talking to Christian Rath, Pelly’s associate director, about how Des Grieux’s feelings work. Soon after they meet he calls her ‘Enchanteresse’. He’s no longer master of himself. Then, in the seminary, he wants to place God between himself and the world, but goes off with Manon when she turns up. He calls her “Sphinx etonnant… que je t’aime et te hais”. He’s not taking responsibility for himself, he lets himself be manipulated because he won’t own up to what happens. A part of me understands that youthfulness, yet as a father myself, although my sons are much younger, I can understand how his father feels. The Comte wants what’s best for his son, and what’s good for the family, but sons are headstrong”. 

Read the full interview with Matthew Polenzani in Opera Today.
Read my interview with Ermonela Jaho HERE
Read my interview with Laurent Pelly HERE
Read my review of the London premiere HERE.

Monday 13 January 2014

MILESTONE NEW SET Mahler recordings 1903-40

At last, probably the definitve set of recordings of the music of Gustav Mahler from issued 78's between 1903 and 1940. Although some of these recordings have been known for some time, this new 8 CD set from Urlicht Audio-Visual is a collectors item because it's so beautifully put together. 

This is the most comprehensive collection ever assembled, including every recording listed in Peter Fulop's Mahler Discograhy. The booklet, with notes by Sybille Werner and Gene Gaudette, is a work of scholarship. It evolved from Werner's research with Henry-Louis de La Grange into the reception of Mahler's music in this period, which proved that the composer's music was heard more often than previously assumed. 

Werner and Gaudette's notes for this set contain the most comprehensive description of the world of recording in this era, and the people involved. They explain the odd sound balance on the first acoustic recording, Ein Mädchen verloren (from Die Drei Pintos) by Leopold Demuth in 1903: the baritone has to shout into the horn of the recording machine. This sort of insight informs the way we listen to performance practice. Read her analysis of Oskar Fried's portamento and "surprisingly steady tempo" in his pioneer recording of Mahler's Symphony no 2 in 1924, one of the first full orchestra recordings made possible by new electrical technology. This was one of the last major acoustic recordings made by Polydor. Had they only waited about a year!  Fried knew Mahler personally, as did Willem Mengelberg,  whose 1926 Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony no 5 is included, but it would be wrong to deduce how Mahler himself might have conducted. This is also an opportunity to compare Mengelberg's Adagietto with Bruno Walter's, made in Vienna in January 1938.

Some of these recordings are well known, such as Jascha Horenstein's 1928 Kindertotenlieder with Heinrich Rehkemper, which Benjamin Britten played incessantly. But Mahler enthusiasts will treasure this new set because the transfers are new, and made by the best people in the business, Ward Marston and Mark Obert-Thorn. You can hear the difference. Surface noise is reduced and the music shines more clearly. Hidemaro Konoye's pioneer recording of Mahler's Symphony no 4,  plagued by poor sound quality, now shows why Konoye was involved with Franz Schreker, Richard Strauss, Fürtwangler and Erich Kleiber. Marston and Obert-Thorn used originals in their own collections and also from a number of extremely scarce discs that were lent from the collections of Raymond J Edwards Jr, Nathan Brown and Charles Niss. The transfer of Mahler's Symphony no 1 ((Mitropoulos, Minnesota Symphony Orchestra), was provided by Charles Martin. 

Great classics like Bruno Walter's Das Lied von der Erde (Kerstin Thorberg, Charles Kullmann) are on this set, in cleaner sound, but also relative rarities like  a 1928 potpourri of Das Lied von der Erde (Dol Dauber Salonorchester, Wien), and Um Mitternacht transcribed for voice and organ, recorded in Central Hall, Westminster, London, in the same year. These ventures may suggest that attitudes to music were different to today. That's why we need to know the archaeology of musical performance. There are no rigid rules. Styles change, just like accents in speech change. These recordings were made when Mahler was "new music". But all good performance approaches the score in an original way and makes the music feel new. 

This Urlicht Audio Visual set, Gustav Mahler issued 78's 1903-1940 is a milestone, an essential reference work for anyone interested in Mahler and in perfomance history. The transfers superede earlier versions, and Sybille Werner's notes are unique. Click on the link at thes beginning of this paragraph to purchase. The set has been compiled not by anonymous mega business, but real Mahler enthusiasts who care passionately about what they are doing. They deserve our support.