American Maestra listen: life with classical music
Marin Alsop Plus Further Struggles of
Classical Radio The Rise of
Wind Bands Postmodernism and
spring 2010 â€˘ $4.95
volume 2 • number 1
Postmodern composers shuffled tunes long before the iPod era. By Menon Dwarka
Marin Alsop holds forth on Americans vs. Europeans, the enduring gender gap, and the evolution of the orchestra. By Ben Finane
A tradition at a crossroads By Thomas May
listen: Life with classical music • 3
Music & Life
behind the scenes The American wind ensemble is quietly
building a canon.
in the studio
Pianist–arranger Dejan Lazič rethinks the
Brahms Violin Concerto.
music in art
The art case piano remains a viable niche.
The Baroque concerto illuminated.
an ear out
Conductor Yannick NézetSéguin has his work cut out for him.
Dvořák’s four symphonic poems are progressive,
borders Gil Evans: jazz arranger,
New York City Opera’s Don Giovanni encourages us to reconsider our comfort zone for staging and direction.
On the Road
record 80 Organist Cameron Anne Sofie von Otter goes Carpenter bemoans the for Baroque; Norddeutscher immovable nature of his Figuralchor brings you secular instrument. Poulenc; Diana Damrau offers a coloratura recital; Bach on the cover Collegium plays . . . Bach; Simone Kermes sings Marin Alsop, photography by beautiful Italian; Pittsburgh Dario Acosta Symphony packs a punch Previous page: Marin Alsop into Mahler’s First; Detroit by Dario Acosta; Classical Symphony Orchestra records Radio by Scott Ellison Smith; Rachmaninoff live; Auryn iPod Shuffle by Serge Bloch. Quartet presents neglected Above: Gil Evans by Deborah Haydn; Thomas Dausgaard
and the Danes prove Langgaard is worth your time; Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire team up for piano duos; Christian Schmitt and Bamberg Symphony explore the works of Widor; and Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov join forces for Beethoven’s complete Violin Sonatas.
4 • spring 2010
at home Headphones from Audio-
Technica to Stax.
DANIEL HOPE: Air Daniel Hope traces the journey of four adventurous composer-performers across Europe in this collection of both popular and obscure Baroque violin treasures. Air mixes the most sophisticated and revolutionary compositions with irresistibly rhythmic, improvisatory and dance-like music by Bach, Pachelbel, Handel, Falconieri, Westhoff, Geminiani and many others
JEAN-YVES THIBAUDET: Plays Gershwin Jean-Yves Thibaudet returns with an album that has been years in the making! The Gershwin album is an energetic and masterful interpretation of Paul Whiteman’s original jazz arrangements making this release a rare historical event. Album includes Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F and Variations on “I Got Rhythm.” Featuring The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by the great Marin Alsop!
HILARY HAHN: Bach: Violin & Voice Featuring World-Renowned Vocalists Matthias Goerne and Christine Schäfer. This album has been years in the making and stands out as Hilary’s first collaboration with vocalists. Includes selections from the St. Matthew Passion, Mass in B minor, and many more.
YUJA WANG: Transformation Yuja Wang, whose DG debut recital was recently nominated for a Grammy®, returns with an all-new solo recital. Yuja tackles some formidable repertory and covers a wide-range of styles including two Scarlatti sonatas (K 87 & 380), Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrouchka, Brahms Variations on a Theme of Paganini (Books 1 & 2) and Ravel La Valse.
All-new Releases from Decca & Deutsche Grammophon
GOLIJOV: La Pasión según San Marcos Critically-acclaimed composer Osvaldo Golijov has returned to his landmark composition, La Pasión según San Marcos, and incorporated new revisions and edits for this all-new recording. Deftly exploiting the popular appeal and emotional immediacy of samba, salsa, flamenco and tango, La Pasión sets Christ’s betrayal, death and resurrection amidst the poverty of today’s Latin America. Includes 2-CD recording and DVD of a semi-staged performance.
ANNA NETREBKO: In The Still of Night Anna Netrebko’s first live solo album and first Lieder album is accompanied by Daniel Barenboim’s masterful, idiomatic playing. In this all-Russian evening, Anna’s voluptuous voice surrenders completely to the haunting, soulful melodies of songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and others. This Deluxe version will be packaged in a beautiful hardcover book and with additional texts, full translations, photos and more!
BRYN TERFEL: Bad Boys Bryn Terfel recruits a gang of “bad boy” characters from opera and musicals to serenade us with tunes from the sinister side of the bass clef. No singer morphs from Don Giovanni to Mack the Knife to Sweeney Todd with Terfel’s devilish ease – Bad Boys is a delightful box of mixed musical bonbons.
JONAS KAUFMANN: Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner Following the international success of Romantic Arias, Jonas Kaufmann returns with this album of arias from German opera; the music of his homeland which he grew up hearing. The album includes arias from the great operas of Wagner, Beethoven's only opera Fidelio, favorite arias by Mozart, and rarely heard opera arias by Schubert. The great opera conductor Claudio Abbado directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
© 2010 Decca Music Group Limited/Marketed by Universal Music Classical A UNIVERSAL MUSIC COMPANY
Editor in Chief Ben Finane Copy Editor Silvija Ozols Editorial Consultants Bradley Bambarger, Menon Dwarka Contributing Writers Cameron Carpenter, Jed Distler, Damian Fowler, David Hurwitz, Robert Levine, Thomas May, John Marks, Brian Wise
Art & Design Point Five, NY: Alissa Levin, Benjamin Levine, Nathan Eames Contributing Photographers Dario Acosta, David A. Land, Sarah Shatz Website Development Michael Murphy
Publisher/President Eric Feidner Publisher/GM Jon Feidner Director of Operations Brian O’Connor Director of Technology Michael Heckler Director of Marketing and Public Relations Marcelle Soviero
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8 • spring 2010
Listen: Life with Classical Music (ISSN 1947-4431) is published quarterly. Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 2010. Copyright © 2010 Listen: Life with Classical Music.™ Subscription rates: one year $19.80.
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S o n S • o n e S t e i n w a y P l a c e • l o n g i S l a n d c i t y, n y
• w w w . S t e i n w a y. c o m
letter from the editor
on compact discs M
y iPod was cranked this morning, earbuds jammed into my ears, shuffling (page 32) Steely Dan during the commute to the office; their concert will resume during my trek home. Apple holds sway at work, too, where I edit, write and traffic articles while listening to iTunes — occasionally Pandora.com or nutsie.com — with a pair of noise-canceling headphones (page 77). Today, I listened (sort of) to Stravinsky, Fauré and Brad Mehldau — never music with words when I’m working with words. But should I find the time and energy tonight to preview a new classical release from ECM, Harmonia Mundi or Naxos, I will be listening to it on a compact disc, played on a stereo, out loud, while I am centered and seated in front of speakers, liner notes in hand. This is the way I listen to music when I’m only listening to music.
Listen up. Every CD mentioned or recommended in the magazine can be found here: arkivmusic.com/listen
If the concert hall provides the ultimate listening exerience, the next best experience is a good — or even decent — stereo system with music played on CD.
I enjoy the accessibility, convenience and portability of listening to music online, on computers and on MP3 players, but these tools are best for music as incidental, as soundtrack, music as white noise. If the concert hall provides the ultimate listening experience (where we presumably give our undivided attention to performers we have paid to hear), the next best experience is a good — or even decent — stereo system with music played on CD. The compact disc remains the premier audio format available, second only to Super Audio CD (SACD), whose viability beyond independent labels remains questionable. The CD also offers a quality, permanence and packaging not available from MP3s or streaming, making our listening experience more immersive and therefore more complete. In our spring issue, we have a plethora of CDs to recommend, as well as headphones with which to listen to them. But first, we hear from Marin Alsop, look further into the struggles of classical radio and ponder postmodern precursors to the iPod shuffle. We investigate the growing community of American wind bands, the niche market of art case pianos and the history of the Baroque concerto. Conductor Robert Spano, pianist–arranger Dejan Lazič and producer Jared Sacks discuss their efforts to recast the Brahms Violin Concerto. Arranger Gil Evan’s fluency in classical, jazz and beyond is revealed. We learn what’s in store for conductor Yannick NézetSéguin, and I’ll wow you with my insight into contemporary staging of opera. Finally, organist Cameron Carpenter shares his idea for solving the conundrum of his instrument’s immovability. Best,
Ben Finane Editor in Chief email@example.com
10 • spring 2010
summ e r 2 0 1 0 ju ly 9 – s e p t 5
boston symphony orchestra
james levine music director
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The Bank of America Charitable Foundation is proud to support Tanglewood and its education initiatives for Massachusetts students.
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For its fourth recording, Stile Antico spotlights the work of a neglected Tudor master: John Sheppard. The program places his Latin music, including the mighty Media Vita, side-by-side with Sheppard’s enchanting, lesser-known English anthems written in the reign of Edward VI.
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We would love to hear from you! Please send your letters and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
reader response although I have a good set of speakers now, nothing compares to the Quads.
‘Radio Days’ — Vol. 1, No. 4 ‘Classical South Florida’
Barbara Barry Florida
I was delighted to read the letter from Eric de Weese in the November/December issue. I was an ardent fan of KUSC when I lived in southern California and it was one of the things I missed most about Los Angeles when I moved away — long may it flourish! However, I am thrilled to report that Classical South Florida at 89.7 FM, which has been on the air for the last two years, has the same combination of erudite commentary and great music selections that endeared KUSC to me.
Classical Endeavors of
Sting Plus The Architecture of
The New Beethoven
In the Studio
Lang Lang’s Power Trio
Collaboration in Risør At a Norwegian festival, a marriage of music and art By Ben Finane Photographs by Liv Øvland
Handel’s Messiah “
NOV/DEC 2009 • $4.95
hink Globally, Act Locally” is an old city-planning saw that is now so well traveled — from grassroots environmental group rallies to international corporation boardroom meetings — that no sooner is the mantra uttered than the heretofore attentive listener may be instantly overcome by a sense of gloom and detach himself from any material to follow out of sheer selfpreservation. Yet it is this very phrase, gentle reader, that comes to mind — fresh, hopeful and without its customary baggage — when I reflect back on the weeklong Risør Chamber Music Festival, held for the nineteenth year this past June in the picturesque former Norwegian fishing village cum tourist destination. First to the global thinking. The theme of this year’s festival was “Revolution.” Musically, that translated first and foremost as lots of Beethoven. There were performances of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, Diabelli Variations, incidental music from Egmont, selected piano trios and violin sonatas, and more. Also, Shostakovich’s Six Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva and Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet; Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat; Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces; as well as generally revolutionary works by many other composers, including Antheil, Bach, Eberl, Mahler, Mozart, Piazzolla, Schumann, Schubert, Richard Strauss and Rolf Wallin; and a sneak preview of Pictures Reframed, a work that reconsiders Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This collaboration between Norwegian pianist/Risør Festival director Leif Ove Andsnes and South African–born visual artist Robin Rhode will receive its proper world premiere at New York’s Lincoln Center — the commissioning institution — on November 13. As to the local action, the Risør Festival brings with it an unparalleled level of local enthusiasm. All the town’s residents appear to either attend the concerts, volunteer in aid of them, or both. The vast majority of concerts take
place at a wooden Baroque church, with the four hundred or so seats always filled — largely with Norwegians from nearby and far away. The increasing heat, which, with the presence of the midnight sun, remained through the evening concerts, ultimately necessitated opening the church doors during performances, but with everyone gathered within, the silence outside was unbroken apart from the occasional call of a seagull. When not sweating it out in the church, the musicians were stationed on a nearby ship (hotels being expensive in Norway), where they rehearsed and dined together. The last-minute cancellations, due to illness, of two scheduled soloists — violinist Lisa Batiashvili and cellist Truls Mørk — brought down the level of musicianship at the festival. But if the concerts tended to disappoint this concertgoer, the Norwegian audience (for whom the unison clap is a staple ovation) remained fiercely supportive, and there were, in any case, a number of worthy highlights. Oboist François Leleux played the Bach Concerto for Oboe and Violin without violin (Batiashvili, his wife), but with wondrous control and passion, reminding us why we always come back to Bach. Andsnes delivered thoughtful performances of two fugues by Anton Reicha from the composer’s 36 Fugues for Piano. Famed actress of Fassbinder films and Sprechstimme singer Barbara Sukowa electrified in a theatrical set of Lieder by Schubert and Schumann, Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai, artfully orchestrated, arranged and conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw. The incidental music for Egmont was also given a welcome dose of theatricality, with narration by the popular Norwegian actor Bjørn R. Sundquist. The festival’s closing concert took place outdoors, on an island less than a mile away, where a former lighthouse is now a restaurant. The concert included Andsnes’s account of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata and the bracing brass
Clear summer skies. The picturesque and pristine former fishing village of Risør, located on the eastern coast of Norway’s southern tip, hosts an annual chamber music festival in late June.
listen: life with classical music • 31
30 • September / OctOber 2009
Vol. 1, No. 5 ‘A Judicious Selection’ Just digested the November/December issue of Listen. What a feast! It’s a judicious selection of articles that covers musical ground in a gallop. It’s also erudite. I am frankly fatigued by the dumbed-down approach to the classics in the popular media. Yours, to the contrary, is a publication that shuns pretentiousness but provides a relaxed balance between insight and enjoyment. Listen is thoughtful coverage of our beloved heritage — and maybe it will even turn some disinterested parties into converts. Keep it up! Paul Basinski Milford, PA
‘The Electrostatic Panel Loudspeaker’ — Vol. 1, No. 5 ‘I [Heart] Quads’ I’m so glad you published the article on Quad electrostatic speakers. I had a set for fifteen years until I had to move; one of them got badly damaged and I couldn’t get it repaired. They gave the purest, fullest sound, and 12 • spring 2010
8/17/09 5:38 PM
8/17/09 4:04 PM
Paul Martin Coral Gables, FL
‘Collaboration in Risør’ — Vol. 1, No. 4 ‘Visualization and Contamination’ behind the scenes • music + life
Just a note to let you know how much I enjoyed your September/October issue. Listen is setting a new standard for reporting on the music scene. Not that you usurp Gramophone completely, but they would never dedicate a full page to a photo of Risør, which gave me a very strong sense of place even before I started to read the article. Not coincidentally, the piece speaks largely to how pictures can enhance one’s understanding of other art. To the discussion of ‘contamination’ I would add that some composers have at times contaminated their own work, e.g., Mozart’s self-deprecating use of a bit from Le nozze di Figaro in the banquet scene of Don Giovanni. The interviews with Michael Tilson Thomas and George Crumb gave both composers a chance to be substantial in their answers, which proved very enlightening for me. By all means, keep up your good work! Scott Rose New York, NY
Maestri. At left (from L–R): technical director Jon Pretnar, director Alan Skog, assistant director Henry Neimark, and score reader Howard Heller conduct the Live From Lincoln Center telecast. Another maestro, Alan Gilbert (right), rehearses with soprano Renée Fleming and the New York Philharmonic.
The cameramen are musically literate, too. They know their way around the orchestra, what a bassoon looks like, the difference between a viola and a violin. vioLiniSt JoShuA BeLL writes his own
cadenzas, but doesn’t write them down. Inside the production van (aka “the Truck”) parked just outside Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Bell’s masterful musical memory is presently a cause for nervousness. The two-hour Live From Lincoln Center broadcast — the only performing-arts series telecast live on American television — is planned out to the second, but the crew won’t have an exact estimate of the duration of Bell’s cadenza for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.The
assistant producer assures me that it will be rectified at the end of the show by adjusting the length of the final bows. The late, iconic Beverly Sills was the longtime host for the program, and now there are rotating guest hosts. Tonight it’s Alan Alda, and at just a few minutes before eight o’clock, the actor fastidiously works out the kinks in his intro to one of the nine cameras in the hall, invoking the Savior as he stumbles over “Mostly Mozart,” as in the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, gathered to perform
Mozart and Mendelssohn to launch the Live From Lincoln Center season and celebrate Lincoln Center’s 50th anniversary. Alda chuckles and elicits a few from the Truck. It’s go time. “Speed!” the recordist calls out, indicating that the tapes are rolling. “Remember when it used to take half an hour to get speed?” a crew member muses. “You must have been in the wrong neighborhood,” his colleague responds. Any doubts for public-television viewers
a warning of an impending thunderstorm. at home that they’re about to see a New York City production are removed by the opening “Cue the water!” someone cracks in the Truck. When the music starts, the jokes cease and voiceover: “Live from Lincoln Center is made the crew is all business. Strictly timed, the possible by a major grant from MetLife, the performance is also rigidly choreographed. company that awkestrates guarantees for the The Truck’s front row is set up as it would be if in life. . . . ” for a news show. The assistant director tells Alda’s literate introduction to the concert the cameramen what their next shots are. The reveals that twilight is referred to as “the blue director communicates with his cameramen hour” by the French and “the gloaming” by the Scots. Adjusting seamlessly to live weather as needed and then cues the technical director, to his right. The technical director, conditions, the actor excises a description of receiving the cue, physically switches or lights in Manhattan windows and improvises
listen: life with classical music • 17
16 • november / december 2009
fades the live feed from camera to camera. But for a live classical-music broadcast, the team is plus one: a score reader, who sits to the left of the assistant director. He follows the music and warns the director when the cue is due to arrive. His face is buried in the score; the assistant director has an eye on the cue list; the technical director is watching the director; and the director is watching the screens. The pacing is frenetic and all the cueing, gesticulating and beat counting in the front row gives Mostly Mozart Festival
10/20/09 4:41 PM
10/20/09 4:41 PM
‘Conducting Cameras’ — Vol. 1, No. 5 ‘Both Sides Now’ I was in the audience for Joshua Bell’s Live From Lincoln Center performance. What a pleasure to be given a behind-the-scenes tour afterward, courtesy of Listen’s article! The description of the production’s goings-on made me appreciate what I witnessed firsthand all the more — I had never before stopped to think what might be involved in bringing live music to the screen. Kudos on this delightfully informative and much-needed magazine. Joan Hamilton Brooklyn, NY
Valery Gergiev with the London Symphony Orchestra and Mariinsky Theatre
Romeo & Juliet Valery Gergiev
Editor’s Choice Gramophone (UK)
A NIS M
London Symphony Orchestra
Choice of the Month – Orchestral BBC Music Magazine (UK)
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3 Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Denis Matsuev (piano) Valery Gergiev Mariinsky Orchestra New release
Eine Alpensinfonie Bernard Haitink
London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink’s first LSO Live recording since his award-winning Beethoven cycle
T RGEI ALEK SE KRISTINSAS HE A HK IIN MAR SKY O KA I R
Shchedrin The Enchanted Wanderer Valery Gergiev Mariinsky Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus New release The world premiere recording of Rodion Shchedrin’s ‘concert opera’. Although it now forms an important part of the Mariinsky Theatre’s repertoire, The Enchanted Wanderer received its first performances in New York
Also available 2SACD MAR0501
Strauss Eine Alpensinfonie Bernard Haitink London Symphony Orchestra New release
TAKOVICH OS ND CHORU S SHA A EV I TRERG
MARIIN SK Y
New from Bernard Haitink
ENY AKIMOV VG KAYA , E INS N ST STRA AND CH PU HE RY GERGI OR E C E
ISTS, ORC LO VALER HES Y SO G
Laura Claycomb London Symphony Orchestra
DRI HNE TED WAN N DE RE HENCCHA V
Symphony No 4 Valery Gergiev
Gergiev continues his acclaimed Mahler cycle with the release of the Fourth Symphony
The celebrated young Russian pianist joins Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra to perform two of Rachmaninov’s most popular works
O N O NC R NI I N E ACH MA A RTO NO 3 GAN Y THE ME OF PA LER SK VA RIIN MA
Mahler Symphony No 4 Valery Gergiev Laura Claycomb London Symphony Orchestra New release
C O Y PIANOD RHAPS
‘the LSO powerhouse strings are quite magnificent throughout. Gergiev’s new version is hard to beat’ International Record Review (UK)
O V N G I Y ER O GIE RC V HE S T RA
New Mariinsky releases SACD MAR0505
Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet Valery Gergiev London Symphony Orchestra Available now
New LSO Live releases
Valery Gergiev conducts The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera during March and tours throughout the US with the Mariinsky Orchestra Distributed by harmonia mundi usa. The Mariinsky label is made available in association with LSO Live Ltd
Shostakovich The Nose Valery Gergiev Mariinsky Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Best Opera MIDEM Classical Awards (France) Nominated for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Grammy Awards (US) Discs of the Year Washington Post (US) Discs of the Year Chicago Tribune (US) Discs of the Year Boston Globe (US)
AdriAnne PieczonkA And Piotr BeczAlA return to the Met AdriAnne PieczonkA
"She possesses the kind of power, radiance and technical command that opera companies are eager to find — qualities that are all in evidence on this recording." (Opera News)
“A tone of liquid gold... It's a simply glorious sound.” (Opera) *DISC OF THE MONTH*
Also AvAilABle froM QuAliton: ORFEO 665061
"The Sieglinde of our time... Pieczonka glitters with a lyrically expressive, well nuanced soprano, appearing effortless even in top range." (Die Zeit)
ORFEO D'OR 793093
“…with James Levine's unerring instinct for the theatre firing the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit, Offenbach's opéra fantastique was brought to vibrant life.” (Presto Classical)
www.ADRIANNEPIECZONkA.COM www.bECZALA.COM www.quALITON.COM
behind the scenes
Beyond the Halftime Show The American wind ensemble is quietly building a canon.
Senior Airman Tim Chacon
By Damian Fowler
listen: Life with classical music • 15
complex and brilliant piece Angels in the Architecture, the first thing an audience hears is the haunting whistle of air produced by three rubber tubes being swung furiously by a percussionist. The otherworldly and delicate sound of tuned wine glasses follows, giving way to a soprano soloist who sings an old Shaker song called “Angel of Light.” Then, and only then, does the brass slide in underneath — a shifting tectonic plate of sound — to destabilize the sonorities just established. There’s nary an oom-pah to be heard. Ticheli’s piece, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2008 and was released on disc last year, is just one of the many new and daring compositions written specifically for the wind ensemble, or concert band. “It flies in the face of your average Joe’s impression of the stereotypical concert band sound,” says Ticheli, who is a professor of composition at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. The American composer has built a reputation as one of the foremost composers of concert band music, which Ticheli says is going through a growth spurt. “Concert bands are building their canon,” he says. “There’s more music happening here than in any other medium.” It seems the wind ensemble’s image needs a makeover. In the popular imagination, wind bands remain rooted in the European and American traditions of the military band, with heavy emphasis on marches and other ceremonial pieces. Of course, those bands still thrive, including the five bands of the U.S. armed forces, but the wider culture of wind bands is alive with innovation and enthusiasm. “The quality of music for wind bands, and the repertoire, has gotten more and more exciting over the last twenty years,” says Ticheli. A culture of commissioning is flourishing across the country, most prominently driven not by professional ensembles but university and college wind bands. From the University of Southern California to Texas to Michigan to Indiana to Rutgers, this tight-knit community of musicians is devoted to building and 16 • Spring 2010
premiering new concert music for winds. “We are the instigators of forming this repertoire,” says Eric Rombach-Kendall, the director of bands at the University of New Mexico. He’s also the president-elect of the College Band Director National Association (CBDNA), which serves — according to its website — as a “dynamic hub connecting individuals to communities, ideas and resources.” The CBDNA is a forum for promoting serious wind music; it organizes conferences, holds competitions for bands, publishes a newsletter and recently sponsored a series of short broadcasts on NPR to highlight wind music in America. University wind bands are able to commission, according to Rombach-Kendall, because of “the collective effort of the whole community.” College band directors share the common goal of building repertoire, which has led to the forming of consortia between universities, enabling schools to solicit funds together and allowing everyone to buy in to a new work — whether it costs $5,000 or the $100,000+ required for a large-scale work from a big-name composer. Rombach-Kendall recently organized a consortium to commission a “double trombone concerto” from American composer Joseph Turrin. Written for Joseph
Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, and jazz trombonist Marshall Gilkes, it premieres in April at the University of New Mexico. “I wanted something to mix the jazz and the classical genres together,” says Rombach-Kendall. “We’re really trying to enrich the DNA of our repertoire.” Another advantage of the consortium system is that the piece will get plenty of outings all over the country from concert bands that bought in to the commission. Says Rombach-Kendall, “For the composer, it’s an opportunity to get their voice heard in, say, fifteen performances,” which, he says, compares favorably with a commission by a major orchestra, where a work may receive only a couple of outings before it goes to the archive. This fact is not lost on major composers whose work for wind bands gets played and played. Colleges are not bashful about commissioning works from the likes of William Bolcom, whose First Symphony for Band was premiered in February 2009 by the University of Michigan’s Symphony Band. Other popular composers include Joan Tower, whose notable work includes Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, scored for three trumpets, four horns, three trombones, tuba and percussion, and John Corigliano, who
C o u r t e s y SS gt R a c h e l G h a d i a l i , US M a r i n e B a n d
At the beginning of Frank Ticheli’s
Winds at work. (Clockwise, from left): The Marine Band; horns from Forbes Middle School Honors Band in Georgetown, TX at the 63rd Annual Midwest Clinic in Chicago, December ’09; Indiana University Wind Ensemble of the Jacobs School of Music
‘What makes composing for wind bands all the more urgent is that the repertoire for concert band music is much smaller and younger than that of the orchestra.’
wrote Circus Maximus — Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble. In his program note to the piece, published in 2004, Corigliano’s thoughts on the wind band are worth quoting at length: The repertoire of band music is largely contemporary. As a result, the audiences expect and look forward to new works. Listening in an environment largely ignored by the press, they learn to trust their own ears and respond directly to what they hear. Most important of all, concert bands devote large amounts of rehearsal time over a period of weeks — not days — to learning thoroughly the most challenging of scores.
behind the scenes • music + life
“We’re not like the symphony orchestra, with thousands of pieces written over centuries,” says Rombach-Kendall. To be sure, even in Mozart and Haydn’s day many of the great courts of Europe had so-called Harmonie bands, which played for outdoor and recreational events. In a letter to his father, Mozart even mentions that street musicians had serenaded him with his own composition, the Serenade in E-flat Major, K.375, which was scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two trumpets. But the modern idea of a concert band developed somewhat later, in the nineteenth century. “The thing that changed wind bands The composer John Mackey wrote an and enabled them to move into a new era of amusing blog about the joys of writing for music-making was the industrial revolution,” band instead of orchestra. At the beginning, every composer flirts with Orchestra, he writes, says Robert Foster, a professor of music at the Kansas University School of Music and because it’s the most alluring — but then along comes Band, who “loves what you do. Whereas the author of the upcoming book Band — A Historical Perspective. “As the technology it was like pulling teeth to get Orchestra to evolved, people started to write more look at your new music (and if she looked, she sophisticated music for wind instruments.” was generally not impressed, often comparing But it wasn’t until 1909, when the English you unfavorably to one of her many exes, like composer Gustav Holst wrote his First Suite Dvořák), Band thinks it’s awesome.” in E-flat major for Military Band (Op. 28, What makes composing for wind bands No. 1) and then a sister piece, Second Suite all the more urgent is that the repertoire in F for Military Band, that the concert band for concert band music is much smaller repertoire really came of age. Until then, most and younger than that of the orchestra. listen: Life with classical music • 17
music + life • behind the scenes
Aim high. During the summer months, different components of the United States Air Force Band — also pictured at the opening of this article rehearsing for President Obama’s inauguration in January — provide free public concerts at the base of the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
pieces for concert winds, with a few exceptions, were transcriptions of symphonic works. As the twentieth century progressed, major works for wind ensembles entered the canon, notably Stravinsky’s Symphony for Winds (1920), Paul Hindemith’s Symphony in B-flat (1951), Arnold Schoenberg’s Variations, Op. 43a (1943) and Percy Grainger’s masterpiece Lincolnshire Posy (1937), which attempts to render English folk music in a modern concert band setting. Essentially, the core repertoire is just over a hundred years old, so the hunger for new material is not surprising. Concurrent with all the commissioning twenty-five-year-old undergraduate French the spring, at least in the band world. activity is a concerted effort to record and horn player at Manhattan School of Music, The wonder of this creative surge is that promote this new music. “I feel the wind band founded his very own wind ensemble in most of the bands playing (and recording) is the next generation of classical music,” says new repertoire are not professional, but highly New Jersey, Patriot Brass. It’s a flexible unit Mark J. Morette, who runs his own record of brass instruments that specializes in music skilled university and college ensembles. label of more than a hundred and forty for veterans and patriotic music of the United “We can be a lab for this new art,” says Eric entries. He has recorded wind bands from all States. “I feel we’ve lost a lot of our function Rombach-Kendall. “We don’t have the over the country, including a superb version in society,” says Behnke, who is well versed pressure of selling tickets and subscriptions of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy, transcribed for in the concert repertoire but feels the wind [like a professional symphony orchestra], so winds and performed by the United States Air band should not drift too far from its social it’s more than just entertainment.” Force Band, that he considers the best band mandate, which might include playing service There are some notable professional CD ever. His label also records newer works hymns on Memorial Day or the bugle call for wind band, including several discs featuring bands, especially in Texas, the home of “Taps” at the funeral of a war veteran. the Dallas Wind Symphony and the Lone the music of Frank Ticheli. Their immediate social function Star Wind Orchestra. But the majority “We love to record,” says Morette, who is notwithstanding, college bands have evolved of wind ensembles are to be found under keen for wind ensembles to be recognized by significantly since the 1950s. But what really the umbrella of the university, where they the National Academy of Recording Arts and opened up the field for the symphonic concert continue to thrive. Sciences in their own Grammy category. “We band was the establishment of the Eastman School bands really flourished in the have tried hard, but we’re lumped in with the Wind Ensemble in 1952 by Frederick Fennell. United States after World War II and have Orchestra category. We don’t get a lot of love Since its founding it has premiered more become a fixture at football games and from radio stations.” than a hundred and fifty new works for winds other athletic events. “The school band is Four years ago, classical label Naxos started and helped popularize many more. Jazz an American phenomenon,” says Robert its own Wind Band Classics label with a disc trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has even sat in Foster, who explains that the model has been featuring John Mackey’s Redline Tango, still one on occasion. “It provided a new kind of role of the most popular in the series. “Until recently exported all over the world to countries from model,” says Donald Hunsberger, who led the there hasn’t been any real push for band record- Sweden to Japan. Bands initially developed ensemble from 1965 to 2001. He argues that ings,” says Randall Foster, who created the series out of a huge social need for recreational for Naxos. “The interesting and wonderful thing groups playing music on durable instruments by raising the musical bar high, the Eastman Wind Ensemble made composers want to it has done is to put music from American wind suited to the outdoors, which created opwrite for them. “It created the notion that the portunities for wind and brass players. These ensembles on a global platform.” wind ensemble is a musically serious affair Foster’s goal is an ambitious one: to “record “social organizations,” as Foster calls them, eventually morphed into some of today’s very and should be taken on the same basis as any everything ever written for band,” he says. other classical unit.” sophisticated ensembles. He’s forging ahead enthusiastically. This year Some music students are still attracted Naxos will release Christopher Rouse’s Wolf to the idea that a wind band can have great Rounds, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in social utility. Just last year, Steven Behnke, a 2007 and looks likely to be the hot item for 18 • Spring 2010
S e n i o r M a s t e r S gt. R o b e r t M e s i t e
‘Their immediate social function notwithstanding, college bands have evolved significantly since the 1950s.’
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music + life
in the studio
Brahms’ Third Piano Concerto? Pianist–arranger Dejan Lazič transforms the Brahms Violin Concerto into a work for his instrument.
Jeff Roffman (2x)
By Bradley Bambarger Backstage in his office-cum-lounge at the Woodruff Arts Center, home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conductor Robert Spano is hosting a little post-concert celebration. Cocktail in hand, Spano is very excited about the last of three concerts featuring pianist Dejan Lazič’s transformation of Brahms’ Violin Concerto into a work he calls Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 3. “That was so great — you have to get on the Sibelius next!” Spano gushes, singing out one of the themes in the Finn’s beloved Violin Concerto as he leaps to his office piano to On the record. Pianist Dejan Lazič, left, and Atlanta Symphony music director Robert Spano performed Lazič’s Brahms arrangement live for Channel Classics microphones. bang it out further. “That’s the way it ought to go, something like that, right? Do it!” his own works and those of others every which Lazič, a genial 32-year-old Croatian, hums Although it seems strange today, a popular along gamely, appreciating Spano’s enthusiasm. way. Brahms, too, was a keen transcriber, even 19th-century quip about Brahms’ Violin turning Bach’s towering Chaconne for solo It was Spano who — after overhearing Lazič Concerto was that it wasn’t a concerto for the fiddling with his Brahms transcription before a violin into a piece for piano left-hand. violin but “against the violin.” Virtuosos of the Still, though it has started to fade, there is Beethoven performance two seasons back — inday like Wieniawski and Sarasate disdained a modern bias against transcriptions, deemed sisted they premiere the work in Atlanta. Still, the piece as “unplayable” or as more of a unnecessary at best, disrespectful at worst. A Lazič laughs off the Sibelius suggestion, as the symphony with violin obbligato. practiced re-arranger, Stravinsky pooh-poohed Brahms project was a labor of love that took “I do believe that Brahms wrote this work such a puritan attitude, saying, “You respect, him six years. When he finally unveiled it with not as a concerto for violin, per se, but as but I love.” Nevertheless, a skeptical critic Spano and company last October, his label of a a concerto for his friend, Joseph Joachim, recently asked Lazič if customizing the Brahms decade, Channel Classics, was on site to record one of history’s greatest violinists,” Lazič was like “putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.” says. “And because Brahms always composed the concerto for a March release. “That’s funny, but I certainly don’t think The idea of turning the totemic Brahms like a symphonist and thought like a pianist, what I did is musical vandalism,” Lazič insists. Violin Concerto into a vehicle for another Joachim suggested many changes to make the “Brahms’ Violin Concerto is still there, after instrument might seem like an exercise in solo part more idiomatic for the violin.” chutzpah, if not hubris. But there are precedents. all. This was never an act of provocation, but Lazič — who began composing at age ten, an act of devotion — I just wanted so deeply Beethoven, by request, arranged his Violin before he moved from Zagreb to Salzburg to play this piece, my favorite work. The Concerto as a concerto for piano (a more imto study both piano and clarinet at the first concerto recording I ever heard was the probable prospect, given the original’s flowing Mozarteum — didn’t change a note in Brahms’ Brahms, the famous Heifetz/Reiner LP.” lyricism). The ever-pragmatic Bach transcribed orchestral score; the Atlanta Symphony played listen: Life with classical music • 21
music + life • in the studio
from its library parts. But to transfer the concerto’s solo part from the violin (a vocal instrument) to the piano (a percussive one) took leaps of imagination. How to re-create the missing vibrato, slurs and legato? “That took years to resolve,” Lazič says, his eyes widening to express the effort. “I had to go deep into the bone of Brahms’ piano writing. I played the two concertos and the solo pieces, along with recording the cello sonatas with Pieter Wispelwey. I’ve also played Brahms’ pieces for clarinet, which helped me with his notions of breathing with the music. “Of course, you can’t expect the piano to sing like the violin,” Lazič admits. “It’s like a beautiful woman who doesn’t happen to have great legs. So she doesn’t wear miniskirts. She tries to accentuate other attributes. . . . There are things, after all, that the piano can do in the areas of polyphony and overtones that the violin can’t, and this helps me create the illusion of legato. And the pedal is the piano’s version of vibrato.” Harder to translate was the original concerto’s gypsy fire — the attack of the violinist’s bow on the strings, the tension of the hand on the fingerboard. Lazič traded this grit for grandeur: “Yes, con grandezza. I have to use blocks of chords, much as Brahms did in his Ballade, Op. 118, No. 3. I also thought of the sound of an instrument often used in gypsy music, the cimbalom.” Lazič’s cadenza edges into Liszt–Busoni territory, and the virtuoso cascades delighted the Atlanta audience (which didn’t always wait to applaud, despite the live-recording notice). In the finale, however, the coordination of piano and orchestra proved tricky. “The orchestra is so used to waiting for a violinist to change bow strokes that it was difficult to manage the timing so that the orchestra wasn’t early or I wasn’t late,” Lazič explains. “They also have to play heavier, louder than they are used to in this piece. Finally, it all came together on the last night.” Channel Classics producer-principal Jared Sacks — a former horn player born in Boston but based in Holland for three decadesplus — had his own challenges. He and Lazič 22 • spring 2010
made their first live concerto recording last year — Rachmaninoff ’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with the London Philharmonic — from just one general rehearsal, one performance and a post-concert patching session of exactly nine minutes. Although they had more to work with in Atlanta, the Woodruff acoustic is notorious. “Honestly, it’s not a good room for recording — not warm, no depth,” Sacks says. “Michael Bishop, who made Grammy winners here for years with Telarc, told me they learned to deal with it, putting plywood over seats, working studio-style. This was live, though, and I had to use the orchestra’s radio microphone setup, which I’m not used to. But I did add my surround-sound mics plus two for the piano.” Those soloist–ensemble timing issues in the finale were exacerbated by the difficulty the orchestra players had in hearing Lazič, explains Sacks: “You have to decide whether you’re going to balance things on stage for the orchestra or the microphones or the audience. Ultimately, since this was a concert, you have to think of the audience first. There are things I can do with perspective in post-production, with ambience, too. Most important, the orchestra is playing great. The solo by the principal oboist [Elizabeth Koch] in the Adagio was fantastic.” An indefatigable advocate of the audiophile Super Audio CD format (the last hundred and twenty discs in his twenty-year, threehundred-title catalog have been released on SACD), Sacks admits that swimming against the twenty-first-century lo-fi tide can sometimes feel thankless: “Here I am working to make the best-sounding recordings possible in a world satisfied with crappy MP3s.”
Trial under fire. Dejan Lazič’s longtime producer, the Hollandbased Jared Sacks, had to overcome tricky acoustics and balance issues in live recording.
This was Sacks’ first stateside production, and like many from Europe who venture orchestral recordings here, the producer says he is no fan of the American musicians union: “It can seem as if the orchestra is working for the union, not the other way around. Believe me, it’s much easier working in Hungary with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. But Spano made it all worthwhile. He is one hundred percent about the music.” Lazič will complement his live Brahms concerto on disc with studio solos of Brahms’ Rhapsodies, Op. 79 and Scherzo, Op. 4. The pianist’s eleven-title Channel discography also includes a probing series of solo sets juxtaposing Scarlatti with Bartók and Schumann with Brahms (and, coming up, C.P.E. Bach with Britten). Such recordings have been a ticket to a broader career: “I have played three times in Medellín, Colombia, where I never could’ve gone had they not heard my CDs.” But more than any recording project so far, his reimagined Brahms in Atlanta reaffirmed for Lazič how a little idealism can go a long way. “I did this transcription or arrangement or whatever you want to call it out of love,” he says, “but it will be on a record because Jared and Robert never asked why. They said, ‘Why not?’ ”
music + life
keep an ear out
In Demand Yannick Nézet-Séguin distinguishes himself on the podium.
The Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-
Séguin has the world at his feet. Not only did the thirty-four-year-old just make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera (conducting a new production of Carmen to glowing reviews), he also has plum jobs as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and as principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He is booked for the next five seasons at the Met and his second EMI release, an all-Ravel program with Rotterdam, is being greeted with more than the usual routine approval. At a time when the outlook for many orches24 • spring 2010
tras is perilous — with skyrocketing deficits and plummeting attendance — Nézet-Séguin is riding a youth movement on podiums, along with the twenty-nine-year-old Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Comparisons are inevitable. Short and energetic with short spiky hair and a predilection for black jeans and designer shirts, the dapper Nézet-Séguin lacks Dudamel’s multicultural flamboyance and Hollywood trappings. He is also a more contradictory figure. His numerous recordings with the Orchestre Metropolitain de Grand Montreal, which he has led since 2000,
include some slow, magisterial interpretations of works by Bruckner and Mahler as well as more offbeat, colorful works like Nino Rota’s La Strada and Kurt Weill’s Symphony No. 2. While Dudamel has a firm foothold in American concert halls and repertoire, Nézet-Séguin is mostly a creature of European capitals, often conducting French composers: Debussy, Messiaen, Poulenc. Still, “YNS” isn’t without a populist side: his iPod reportedly includes the English band the Arctic Monkeys, and, as he told one London newspaper, after every concert there is a cold beer waiting for him in the dressing room.
courtesy of EMI Cl assics
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American Maestra Marin Alsop holds forth on Americans vs. Europeans, the enduring gender gap, and the evolution of the orchestra. By Ben Finane Photographs by Dario Acosta
26 • spring 2010
ith her appointment as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, Marin Alsop became the first woman to head a major American orchestra. She is also the first woman to record the complete cycle of Brahms symphonies (Naxos) and to record a Mahler symphony (the Fifth) with a major orchestra (LSO Live). From 2002 through 2008, Alsop was principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in the United Kingdom. In 1989 she was a student conductor at Tanglewood, where she worked with and learned from Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. Her interest in Brahms, Mahler and Bartók is coupled with a passion for American composers — Barber, Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass and others; most recently, she released an acclaimed recording of John Adams’ Nixon in China with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Naxos), where Alsop is conductor laureate. It was in Colorado where Listen caught up to Maestra Alsop by phone. She had been rehearsing with the CSO for performances of Too Hot to Handel, her gospel version of Messiah. So tell me a bit about Too Hot to Handel.
This is an idea I had, oh gosh, a long time ago now, in the early ’90s, of updating Handel’s Messiah. So I got a couple of arranger friends of mine on board and we went through the whole piece and talked about each number and treated it differently. It’s a different orchestration — it’s got a big rhythm section with Hammond B-3 organ and gospel piano and five saxes and full brass and strings. So it’s totally wild. It’s on iTunes if you want to have a listen. I’ll check it out. Are you still playing jazz violin?
No, not too much. I just don’t have the time, unfortunately. With Concordia [Alsop’s fifty-piece orchestra founded in 1984], you championed American repertoire that included jazz. Do you think jazz is something you can bring to the podium at Baltimore?
Well, I think I have already to a certain degree; we did Too Hot to Handel there last week. I try to do programs that cross all kinds of listen: Life with classical music • 27
boundaries because I think that’s an important component, or addition, to what we do. Standard repertoire is my meat and potatoes — like every maestro — but there’s only so much of that ‘product’ that audiences can really support, and then we have to think outside the box and do different kinds of things. This big Gershwin project we just did with Jean-Yves Thibaudet is a good example of crossing boundaries. And I’ve done some projects with the tap dancer Savion Glover and these kinds of things — it’s really fun! Is there a time coming when we’ll see Ellington and Monk earning a place within the classical repertoire?
I think they definitely have a place already. I think in the last twenty years, it’s emerged and grown toward a far less rigid and bounded field. When I was doing Concordia, the term ‘crossover’ hadn’t even been coined yet. Nowadays this kind of eclecticism is — I wouldn’t say commonplace, but certainly more common. The idea of integrating Ellington into a subscription concert, these are things I do all the time. And I do meet some resistance, but not usually from our listeners. [Laughs.] I think listeners — you know, the young people today — are so eclectic in their listening habits. They’ll download a movement of Vivaldi next to a pop tune, and as long as everything is well performed and the music is valid, I see no reason why these things can’t live side by side. There’s that famous quote from Duke Ellington: ‘There’s only two kinds of music: good music and bad music.’ ‘Vivaldi next to a pop tune’ reminds me of the Bernstein Mass —
Yeah! — a piece which has historically had trouble with the critics, but you seem to be making quite a case for it. What is it that attracts you to this work?
Well, I think it was really misunderstood when it premiered, and it has been misunderstood for, I think, decades. People looked at it and listened to it very much from polarized vantage points of ‘Oh my God, that’s a rock ’n’ roll song next to a twelve-tone meditation’ and ‘How is that possible?’ I think, again, with the crumbling of the walls — appropriate with the Berlin Wall celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its fall — with the blurring of boundaries, people are really able to listen to this piece now not as a shocking genre mixture, but rather as an integrated, through-composed, brilliantly, skillfully written theater piece, which is what it is and what it was intended to be, instead of being jarred by the vernacular, you know? And it’s a piece with a tremendous storyline, with a tremendous message, a piece that has endured and grown in meaning over the decades. I think it’s a lot easier to make a case for the piece today than it was in ’71 when it premiered, because people would have gotten hung up on his audacity 28 • spring 2010
‘We have to look at our orchestras as evolving to new places, and in future orchestras, musicians are going to need to employ additional skill sets besides just playing the notes really well.’
listen: Life with classical music • 29
to juxtapose these genres and mix them up and blur the boundaries. I think that would have been very upsetting to the listeners, or certainly the critics, as we know. Why is it that Bernstein took a hit for this polystylistic piece while Berio and Schnittke were lauded for similar approaches?
Yeah, well, neither Berio nor Schnittke wrote West Side Story — and that says it all, you know. Bernstein got typecast early. Nobody could give him a break and allow him out of the box. And I think there’s probably some envy that someone from the classical world could write a multi-million-dollar hit musical [laughs] and revolutionize American musical theater. I’m sure it’s probably a complex question, but Gershwin experienced the same thing: when you come at something from the popular end rather than the serious end, it’s hard for people to take you legitimately. You don’t have the gravitas. I don’t understand that at all, but that seems to be traditional. Bernstein was a great educator. Boulez brought his avantgarde to his audience. You have been a great champion of American music. Is this what you hope for your legacy as a conductor?
Hmm. Well, I hope it would be to bring a special perspective to a range of repertoire, from the Brahms symphonies with the LPO [London Philharmonic Orchestra] all the way through Dvořák with Baltimore and John Adams’ Nixon in China. So I hope that it’s bringing some kind of special connection with the composer, regardless of the era or the nationality. I think American music has played a big role in my career for any number of reasons, not least of which is that it was a good entrée for me. I mean, I was passionate about it, that’s the first important element, of course, always. But it was a way to begin in Europe, because I am American. I’m very wary of this xenophobic stereotyping — that if you’re French, you can do French music. I know a lot of American conductors who don’t do American music particularly well, but do German repertoire beautifully. And also my relationship with Naxos, which developed early in my career, led me in that direction. They were just embarking on their American Classics series, so the first major recording cycle I did was of Samuel Barber. I’m still wildly in love with that music, so it was a win–win on every level. I try not to think about legacy too often, but when I do, I hope it’s not terribly narrow, let’s put it that way. I imagine in Europe that you’re twice-branded as an American conductor and as a woman conductor, but it doesn’t sound like you feel pressure to push certain repertoire because of that branding.
No, not at all, and I think what was an entrée became an advantage, because then on my second appearance, my 30 • spring 2010
third appearance with orchestras I was able to branch out. Particularly in Europe, particularly in the U.K., I’m not actually very well known for American music at all. [Laughs.] It’s interesting how careers develop. Do you see your American and European careers as parallel universes?
Well, I don’t think my American career is typecast anymore either, now that I have a big canvas in Baltimore, but I’m very proud and pleased to promote the American music that I feel passionate about just like the contemporary British and German music I feel passionate about. I think you have to follow and champion the composers you feel a deep connection with and profound commitment to. You’ve clearly also felt a deep connection to Mahler. How has your relationship changed with the Mahler symphonies over the course of your career?
I think my relationship with Mahler is probably the most consistently changing relationship I have. I find Mahler to be absolutely fascinating on many levels. Of course, I have that very superficial connection to Mahler through Bernstein. Maybe it’s not that superficial: Bernstein really felt that he was the direct descendant and the true ambassador for Mahler’s music, having brought it back to Vienna and just exploring it so much in depth over his lifetime. So I saw Mahler first through his eyes, and then, going to the next level, connecting to Mahler through my own eyes and my own experience, I find that Mahler is a composer who really encapsulates so much of not only who I am, but who we are in history as a human race — the idea of self-exploration and, perhaps sometimes, self-indulgence. And pushing the envelope, yet remaining connected to our heritage and our popular elements. There’s so much in Mahler, and every single Mahler symphony for me is a very complete journey of some kind. I find it a very, very satisfying experience. You had a bit of a rough transition coming into the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which you obviously conquered, and I hate to even ask you about it now because I know it’s old news and can be tiring to revisit, but why still does it remain overwhelmingly a man’s world behind the podium?
[Sighs.] Well, I think it might be slightly disingenuous of me to attribute all the pushback to the gender issue. I think in Baltimore there were some specific challenges and issues that the musicians had tried to deal with, with very little success. I think a lot of the pushback was not personally related to me but more about process and being heard and feeling frustrated. So it’s a complex issue; suffice it to say that I was able to depersonalize it and try to assess the situation to figure out how I could be most helpful to them, and ultimately I was successful with that. But that said, I do think that there are big issues still facing women in ultimate leadership positions, whether president or a music director. In their own world, these
John Adams Nixon in China Various soloists Colorado Symphony Orchestra Marin Alsop, conductor Naxos This new recording, taken from a live performance at Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House in June 2008, is brilliant. —Robert Levine / ClassicsToday.com
Leonard Bernstein Mass Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Marin Alsop, conductor Naxos For its sheer musical integrity, combined with the advantage of the composer’s final revision to the score, this version is unbeatable. . . . Mass has its detractors, but when performed with this kind of conviction, the piece can be inexpressibly moving. —David Hurwitz / ClassicsToday.com
Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 3 London Philharmonic Orchestra Marin Alsop, conductor Naxos
represent the ultimate authority. And I think society is still not accustomed to that. And so I don’t think it’s a particular matter of prejudice — I think that has too many strong connotations — I think it’s just simply a matter of lack of conditioning. People aren’t accustomed to something, so they don’t gravitate toward it, and it makes them uncomfortable. So I think that’s really more the case. But I do — I don’t know, I said this twenty years ago — I do think it’s changing. But classical music is also a very slow-moving, conservative industry, as we know. So it’s sort of like dog years: I think for every year of society moving ahead, it takes classical music at least seven years to get up to speed.
Alsop’s Brahms cycle has given us one truly outstanding performance (the Third) and three very good companions. —D.H.
A few years ago, you said that you can’t ‘get a complete picture by listening to someone for twenty minutes behind a screen.’ You were talking about blind auditions. I found that to be quite a progressive view of the audition process. Do you think we are at last at a place in the United States where we can do away with the blind audition?
related. I think it’s that we’re such a visual society and we human beings are so trained to respond to visual stimuli that I think it’s really hard to be objective. My ideal would be to combine the anonymous listening process with an interview after you’ve narrowed it down. And maybe that’s what the probation process is about. But I do think we have to look at our orchestras as evolving to new places, and in future orchestras — in my opinion, anyway — musicians are going to need to employ additional skill sets besides just playing the notes really well. Looking toward the next decades, I think we’re going to need to be more involved in the community, more involved in promoting what we do, explaining and curating what we do, so I see the next evolution as an evolution in participation, rather than people coming to consume music and it being rather passive. I think there’s an active element that needs to be ingested into what we do.
You know, you would hope so, wouldn’t you? I don’t think so, though. And I don’t think it necessarily is genderlisten: Life with classical music • 31
The Shuffle Effect Postmodern composers shuffled tunes long before the iPod era.
By Menon Dwarka Illustration by Serge Bloch
George Rochberg String Quartets Nos. 3, 4, 5 & 6 Concord String Quartet New World Records What cannot be denied is Rochberg’s exquisite, idiomatic string writing and unerring command of form and time scale. —Jed Distler / ClassicsToday.com
32 • spring 2010
f you’re like most enthusiastic listeners, you probably own a portable MP3 player and listen to your favorite tunes as you commute, exercise or relax at home. And you’ve probably read magazine articles on how these gadgets have changed the world, from crippling the record industry and rendering the sale of CDs and DVDs irrelevant, to offering independent music producers (hip-hop artists and chamber music groups alike) instant access to a market previously held by four or five multinational corporations. But could the iPod have an impact on the composition of classical music? Specifically, could a composer’s ability to easily and randomly “shuffle” bits and pieces of his previous works — serious and casual, early and later pieces — create novel associations, spark new creative decisions or affect his choice of material? The answer is “of course,” since this jumbled approach to music making has already been investigated by many classical composers, in particular twentieth-century artists who explored what is now called postmodernism. Though the term is almost intentionally vague, one thing can be definitively said about postmodern music: all of its composers shared an ahistorical approach to their material, believing that the entire canon of Western music, with all its various styles and epochs, could be shuffled to create something new. These compositions tend to fall into two categories: those that mix styles of music from movement to movement and those that mix styles within a movement.
A work in the latter category resembles something closer to a remix, complete with cross-fades, splice cuts and dreamlike chaos — as in the Scherzo movement from Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia or Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 — while the former comes closest to the experience of listening to a shuffled iPod. George Rochberg’s String Quartet No. 3, from 1971, is a work that exemplifies this former polystylistic approach, though Rochberg actually went one step further: instead of simple stylistic mimicry, he appropriated the specific voices of other composers. The movements of this quartet don't just sound Romantic or modern in style, they actually sound like lost pieces of Beethoven and Bartók. How did this composer end up intentionally writing in someone else’s style? During the years after the war, within the ranks of serious composers, a high priority was placed on technique, and Rochberg’s early music was characterized by a severely disciplined form of serialism. But in 1964 he was confronted by the death of his son, and the composer found himself unable to express his grief in his chosen idiom. His compositional voice slowly went mute. He would find it again only by examining the very nature of style in music. The function of a new work often dictates which stylistic choices are open to its composer. An international style, embodying traits of austerity, symmetry and harmony, might be better suited to a Roman Catholic Mass from the Renaissance period, while a piano virtuoso in the post-Napoleonic era
34 • spring 2010
might favor a work displaying an individual, heroic voice, replete with bold modulations and battle-inspired themes. Just as we select music to suit our moods and tastes, composers choose their materials and techniques to produce desired emotional perspectives. Rochberg’s masterstroke was to identify the circumscriptive nature of all styles, and recognize that if he were to avoid another compositional crisis, he would have to forgo an allegiance to any style of music. Rochberg must have been a man of keen selfawareness, for while the door was completely open to him to explore any and all styles of music, he also knew that his expertise resided within the realm of Western classical repertoire. Failure to recognize this might have resulted in a work like Bernstein’s Mass, where the composer’s dabbling in 1960s pop resonates as feeble and inauthentic next to the contemporaneous work of The Beatles or Brian Wilson. Rochberg realized that there was enough variety within classical music to suit his own needs, and his training had prepared him to compose in virtually any style within that genre. Appropriating the styles of Beethoven and Bartók permitted Rochberg to draw from an extremely wide
L e i f S k o o g f o r s / C OR B IS
No, it’s a Rochberg. George Rochberg wrote in the styles of other composers to express his innermost thoughts.
palette of compositional materials. The chords (tonal to atonal), rhythms (refined to the barbaric) and textures (choral and contrapuntal) virtually encompassed the whole of Western music, which Rochberg could now deploy in any manner according to his expressive needs. Hearing Rochberg’s String Quartet No. 3 on an iPod might confound unwary listeners, leading them to believe they were hearing the work of several different composers shuffled from various albums. In live performance, however, these changes in style succeed, thanks to the sheer power of Rochberg’s music, which sweeps the listener along its narrative arc. “Narrative” here does not refer to a specific program or story that the work is trying to recount, but rather to the elements of struggle, climax and resolution that belie our Western aesthetic. I will refrain from saying that Rochberg manages to “channel” Beethoven’s spirit, but the effect of his slow movement evokes a transcendental air that adds up to much more than the notes on the page. Rochberg, with his fastidious training as a composer, could not resist the opportunity to create hints of large-scale unity, and he masterfully connects the movements with reccurring motives that appear regardless of the texture or style. Other composers have made similar attempts to write large-scale works that balance stylistic diversity and compositional unity. Stravinsky, for whom the exploration of style was a creative preoccupation over the course of a very long career, also tried his hand at postmodern composition in the ballet Agon (1957). The piece has always been regarded as somewhat of a transitional work for Stravinsky — not quite tonal, but neither fully serial. The changing of style from movement to movement has been seen as one of the work’s chief weaknesses. However, like many great works of art, the surface only tells part of the story. Stravinsky effectively supersedes the whole argument of tonal versus atonal music by demonstrating that these opposite worlds paradoxically share the same roots, a concept not widely held at the time of the work’s composition. Stravinsky always said Agon was a ballet without a plot, but to my ears, the work seems to recount the whole history of Stravinsky’s career as a composer. Stravinsky had lived so long by the time he composed Agon that he didn’t have to adopt another composer’s voice to change styles, as Rochberg did. In fact, Stravinsky had changed styles so many times during his own career that he was able to reference himself, at once giving the work a diverse surface while always sounding like “authentic Stravinsky.” The stylistic changes almost mirror the chronology of his own evolution: Russian (Pas de quatre), shades of L’histoire du soldat (the first Pas de trois), exploring the past (Galliarde) and contrapuntal experiments (the second Pas de trois), culminating in the Bransle Double, written in a style reminiscent of his archrival, Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg and his pupil Anton Webern had made deep impressions on Stravinsky through Robert Craft, then a young American conductor who championed the music of both Stravinsky and the Second Viennese School, and who later became Stravinsky’s personal
T i m e & L i f e P i ct u r e s / G e tt y Im a g e s
‘As listeners, we search for meaningful connections between what we’ve just heard and what might come next.’
assistant. It was clear after the war that young composers saw Webern as a model for the future of music, with Stravinsky being horribly out of date and even backwards in his approach to harmony and form. Stravinsky himself began to view Webern and Schoenberg with awe, which led to his own compositional crisis. Would the acceptance of this forward-looking style mean the rejection of the previous four decades of work? His solution was nothing short of astonishing. After the Pas de deux — the most lilting, languid and decidedly un-Stravinskian passage of Agon — the composer begins to introduce various elements that reassert his musical personality — metronomic pulse, stuttering chords and the recently acquired penchant for imitation. By the time we reach the work’s penultimate section, we feel Stravinsky’s presence, but can’t yet quite recognize him. Stravinsky begins the Four Duos movement using Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, presented as an unadorned linear statement. The texture builds over the Four Trios into a contrapuntal texture reminiscent of Schoenberg’s mature works, only to be cut off by a return of the Four Duos music. The unaccompanied walking bass, visually resembling the classical transformations of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone rows, is interrupted by muted French horns, intoning a very Stravinskian series of stuttering chords. Without oversimplifying this music, one would be hard pressed to find musical elements that represent each composer in such a succinct manner. The chords, actually drawn from the movement’s twelve-tone row, also recall the opening of the ballet, and just as the listener makes this association, Stravinsky recapitulates the opening movement of the work. The various opposites that the composer invokes — tonal and atonal, past and future, even personal history and collective history — are all shown to be two sides of the same coin. Stravinsky was seventy-five when he completed this work — a full fifteen years before Rochberg’s quartet. In his essays on creativity, physicist David Bohm writes that it is man’s nature to assimilate his experience, to find a meaningful whole out of the disparate stimuli we constantly experience through our senses. On the surface, Rochberg’s String Quartet No. 3, Stravinksy’s Agon and the iPod’s shuffle function all appear to offer an equivalent listening experience: a succession of pieces varying in style to a lesser or greater degree. One of the vehicles for the “assimilation” that Bohm refers to might
be our search for narrative. As listeners, we search for meaningful connections between what we’ve just heard and what might come next. Rochberg and Stravinsky brought many years of skill and training to the fashioning of large-scale works, guiding the listener through various forms, textures and, in this case, styles, to create a satisfying experience. The iPod has no such guiding hand. If we find pleasure in listening to a shuffled playlist, it may be because we are assimilating that experience by creating our own narrative, our own story to fit the changing music. These postmodern works by Rochberg and Stravinsky predate the iPod by more than several decades, and the assimilation by the listener of the polystylistic surfaces in the String Quartet No. 3 and Agon is not just an idle wish on the part of the composers, but something they actually composed into the work. By creating motivic connections between movements, they revealed the underlying paradox of our musical perceptions: that a work can be a series of seemingly disparate pieces born from the same material.
Rewriting history. Stravinsky’s Agon features the many musical styles of the composer’s long career.
listen: Life with classical music • 35
36 • spring 2010
A tradition at a crossroads By Thomas May
ncreasingly, classical music seems caught in a Catch-22. It’s clear that the survival of the art depends on cultivating new audiences. But the vehicles that have traditionally played that role are themselves struggling to survive. One of the most powerful of these, classical radio, is making its way to the endangered species list with alarming speed. The situation took an especially dramatic turn toward the end of last year. Legacy stations in two of the country’s epicenters for classical music went through sudden transformations soon after Listen published the first in its ongoing series on what stations are doing to stay alive in today’s media environment. Manhattan’s WQXR, up until then the oldest commercial classical station in the United States, changed to a public-radio model when The New York Times sold it to WNYC. Within months, a parallel transition occurred in the Boston area as WGBH acquired the formerly commercial WCRB. [Disclosure: Listen’s publisher, ArkivMusic, partners with all of the stations surveyed in this feature as the destination for its recommended recordings of playlists. —Ed.] In both cases, the twenty-four-hour classical radio format was no longer commercially viable; it would have simply disappeared from these major urban centers had public radio not made the move to rescue it. Other cities have been less fortunate, the most recent possible addition to the list of disappearing stations being KFUO in St. Louis,
listen: Life with classical music • 37
The Melding Pot
But crisis can also spawn creativity and a desire to rethink basic premises. “We have the opportunity to step back and look at what it means to be a classical radio station in the twenty-first century,” says Laura Walker, president of WNYC. In a three-way deal with The New York Times and the Spanish-language media company Univision, WNYC acquired WQXR’s intellectual property last year for $11.5 million but ceded that station’s signal at 96.3 FM in exchange for one further upstream, at 105.9. Commanding the largest public-radio audience in the country, WNYC (93.9) has retained some offerings familiar from the old WQXR — such as the live Metropolitan Opera matinee broadcasts and the New York Philharmonic on Thursday evenings—as well as three of its iconic hosts (Elliott Forrest, Jeff Spurgeon and Midge Woolsey). “Our approach is to take WQXR’s long tradition and meld it with the best of public radio,” Walker says, describing a multi-platform strategy. “We’re paying attention to how we program, so that every piece is collected and handcrafted for a reason. We also think it’s essential to expand our connections to other local institutions, from Carnegie Hall and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to Le Poisson Rouge, and to locally based performers.” Those performers, she adds, can be brought in to WNYC’s new one-hundred-twenty-seat Jerome Greene studio, where live performances are taped and broadcast. WNYC itself is continuing to produce Spinning on Air, a long-running show that spotlights “unusual music,” as well as Soundcheck, a wide mix of news, interviews and 38 • spring 2010
performances. Along with handcrafted playlists and live events, Walker points to web initiatives and HD radio as sources for innovation. Reactions to Q2, an online-only stream devoted to contemporary classical, have been especially enthusiastic. Hosted by Nadia Sirota, Q2 launched in December with a weeklong, festival-style immersion in Steve Reich’s music. A visit to the websites for WNYC and WQXR reveals rich content beyond the standard playlists, with arts news and blogs. Walker mentions plans to curate videos there as well. “We want to combine the power of radio and the power of digital,” she says, “using that to build out more interactive developments and connections with New York’s classical music world.” One significant trade-off in the acquisition of WQXR was the decline in signal strength when the station moved to its new spot at 105.9. FCC licensing rules prohibit WNYC from boosting the signal. According to Walker, about eighty-six percent of current listeners have access to the signal, while station engineers are working on enhancing it with repeaters for problem areas. The weaker radio signal is doubtless responsible for the increased popularity of the station’s live streaming options, as listeners search for alternatives. Walker deems the increase in web traffic a positive development, since the internet is a key part of “the next-generation delivery system.” Crossed Signals
The issue of signal reception has come painfully to the fore further to the north, where in September the venerable WGBH — the public broadcast service that operates multiple TV and radio stations in the greater Boston area — acquired the formerly commercial WCRB for $14 million, thus rescuing the region’s only twenty-fourhour classical format from oblivion. John Voci, general manager of WGBH, points out an obvious key advantage of public radio: “We are able to provide much more music per hour than there was with a heavy commercial spot load.” In addition, he says, “we felt that over the years the playlist had become more and more restrictive. We want to open that up by playing complete works. Our aim is to represent the entire spectrum of classical music, while still being conscious of how that fits into the lifestyle of listeners, such as during peak daytime hours.” Like WNYC, WGBH has an excellent onsite venue (the Fraser Performance Studio) — an asset, Voci says, that will help create a station with “a strong commitment to celebrating the local classical community.” But the story of WCRB’s transition from a commercial to a non-profit model is more convoluted than New York’s. WCRB had already changed hands a few years before WGBH entered the picture, resulting in a move from its long perch on a prime part of the dial to the much less desirable current signal at 99.5, broadcast from Lowell, Massachusetts. The loss was especially ironic considering WCRB’s reputation for technical innovation. In the more recent acquisition, WGBH, which had been broadcasting significantly more classical music than WNYC, opted to consolidate all of its classical offerings on WCRB so as
p r e v i o u s s p r e a d : K . Ta y l o r / C o r b i s
which may switch over to a Christian contemporary format this year (although petitions challenging the sale have been filed with the FCC). If the switchover does occur, it would leave only twenty or so commercial stations nationwide that offer classical music. “Simply put, the classical format fits better with the public model,” says Marc Hand, managing director of Public Radio Capital, a consultant group for public media. Part of the reason, he explains, is that commercial radio depends on advertisers who are in pursuit of younger audiences. “The stronger position of public radio is that it is built mostly on a public contribution model. The more stations can move people from being on the fringe to core listeners who are closely affiliated, the more likely they are to become donors.” Accelerating the crisis is the recent introduction by Arbitron — the industry’s leading purveyor of listener metrics — of a more sophisticated method to measure ratings: the so-called Portable People Meters (PPMs). These electronic devices, similar to those long in use by the Nielsen ratings, are more accurate than the old-fashioned system of having a sample population manually log in their listening choices. But they’ve also resulted, Hand notes, in a significant decline in ratings for classical music (the same has been true for other “niche” formats, such as jazz). And lower ratings mean a shrinkage of advertising dollars — which has, of course, only been intensified by the deep recession.
to expand its news-information format. (The station has also dropped its folk and blues programs but retains its overnight jazz and weekend Celtic music broadcasts.) The result is that Boston area listeners who tuned in to WGBH for classical may now find themselves out of luck. The weaker WCRB signal inherited by its new owner appears to be especially problematic to the south of the city, and even within (in areas such as Back Bay) — although it should be pointed out that the former WCRB’s weekly listener base of three hundred forty thousand is about three times as large as that of WGBH. “There are some listeners who have become disenfranchised,” Voci concedes, “so we’re trying to point them in new directions. We resorted to online streaming, and we’re putting the signal on WGBH’s HD channel.” Management is looking into additional remedies as well, which may include buying another station. Growing Pains
In both the New York and Boston changeovers, classical radio aficionados have been voicing with passion — and occasional vitriol — their concerns regarding the loss of beloved hosts or long-familiar programs. Of course, one of the advantages of the public radio switch is that the majority of the stations’ support comes from listeners instead of advertisers: stations must remain directly accountable to their listeners if they want to stay afloat. For example, early in January — in true New England town-hall style — over four hundred music lovers gathered in Boston’s New Old South Church and expressed concerns about the new WGBH/WCRB format, which took effect on December 1. As Steve Landrigan reports in the blog The Boston Musical Intelligencer, the chief complaint was the disenfranchisement of those unable to obtain satisfying access to WCRB’s signal. Another source of controversy is WGBH’s decision to cut broadcasts of the Boston Symphony’s Friday afternoon concerts. Voci points out that there will be a net gain in coverage of the Symphony, including the broadcast of live
concerts on Saturday nights, all weekend Tanglewood performances and BSO recordings. But for aficionados, the extra Friday afternoon broadcasts had been a tradition lasting over a half century, and they worry that more widespread appreciation of the BSO will be hampered by limiting its main season broadcasts to Saturday nights. It’s clear that the transition from commercial to public will result in growing pains as the new station owners try to balance their overall vision with longstanding traditions of classical radio and the ongoing evolution of alternative media. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But both New York and Boston are looking to what lessons can be gleaned from another major radio market further down the East Coast, where the shift to a public model has already successfully taken root. In January 1997, the Washington, D.C. area lost its sole commercial classical station (WGMS). Instead of acquiring it as an extra station, Arlington, Virginia-based public radio station WETA (90.9) changed its format from news to twenty-four-hour classical. WETA — which, like WGBH, is affiliated with a PBS TV station — had previously had a long tradition of classical broadcasting as part of a mixed format; at that time its all-news incarnation was only two years old. Daniel DeVany, WETA’s vice president and general manager, says he was surprised by “how quickly we were able to establish ourselves as the only classical music station in the area. The classical audiences adopted us right away.” One advantage was that everyone benefited from the shift to WETA’s powerful signal — the strongest FM signal in the Washington area. Even with the introduction of the less-favorable Portable People Meters, the station has retained a formidable ranking in the area’s top ten radio stations, with more than four hundred thousand average weekly listeners tuning in. How did the transition go so smoothly? “One of the things we wanted to do was to provide former WGMS listeners with a safe landing place. We invited them to listen to us by providing a lot of the kind of music they
Sc o tt E l l i s o n Sm i t h
Dressed for radio. Joshua Bell performs in WNYC’s street-level performance studio, The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.
listen: Life with classical music • 39
were used to hearing,” explains DeVany. “We hired Jim Allison [former director of WGMS] as our long-term program director. But over time we’ve augmented our programming in some ways that are different. For example, the choral community is such an important part of musical life in D.C. that we decided to have a choral showcase on Sunday that features locally recorded performances.” In fact, Choral Showcase is a rare instance of classical programming — whether in the commercial or public model — that defies the paradigm to avoid vocal music on a mainstream channel. Both models share a distinct preference for instrumental music, with the exception of special slots for, say, weekly Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, or sacred music by Bach and company on Sundays. In the end, the question remains whether public radio stations encourage more exploration of genres and periods than their commercial counterparts. DeVany mentions that WETA recently devoted an entire month to Mahler. As a counterpart to the usual complaints about short, lightweight pieces, some listeners objected to the Mahler as “too ponderous.” There’s a “never-ending balancing act in trying to provide musical diversity while still being inviting to those who are less familiar,” says DeVany. “One of the most important things a classical music station can do is to be an advocate and invite people with various levels of experience. Our strategy is to be as all-encompassing and inviting to as broad a base as possible.” He also refers to partnerships with local organizations, and the broadcasting of their performances, as vital. “Remember where your family is: they’re right outside your door.”
How does that translate into programming? “We decided we had to program the station keeping in mind that our listeners are multitasking, on the way commuting to work and so on. Plenty of stations with other formats are like that but aren’t considered background. We don’t think we’re background. Just that we have to program with this sensibility. At the same time, we’re trying to be very careful when we play shorter excerpts for what fits best on the radio.” The ambience KDFC strives for undeniably focuses on a certain spectrum of eighteenth-century Baroque and Classical orchestral music. But in terms of “stationality” — the station’s sense of personality — the approach Regular Radio could be that of any number of pop music channels, with But not all classical radio is going from commercial to contests, an “alphabet soup” of composers, and request public. An intriguing exception can be found over on the West Coast, where KDFC (102.1 FM) — the Bay Area’s only hotlines, all in the name of unpretentious fun that involves listeners. This extends to live “casual concerts” in KDFC’s classical station — has been defiantly bucking the trend. lobby and happenings at Yoshi’s (a San Francisco venue In fact, as a commercial station, KDFC should be more comparable to New York’s Le Poisson Rouge). vulnerable than its public counterparts to the Portable Charges that the programming content amounts to People Meter metrics; but it maintains staggering popular“musical wallpaper” don’t faze Lueth at all. “The question ity, with over seven hundred thousand weekly listeners. boils down to: How do you find the middle? It’s not about The station lives by its ubiquitous motto: Casual being the lowest common denominator, with Pachelbel’s Comfortable Classical. When Bill Lueth came on board as program director in 1997, he promptly devised a strategy to Canon wall-to-wall. But it’s not the other extreme either. bring in a younger demographic. The goal, Lueth explains, The great fat middle of the audience is the goal.” At the centered on “mainstreaming the classical format as regular same time, Lueth believes the station has a responsibility to connect with its local constituency — a view that clearly radio, so that it doesn’t feel like you’ve landed on another chimes with the public-radio classical model. planet. We’ve taken classical music out of church since I “We have an important community base and do promo got here and decided we can’t be a radio concert hall. You work with others in the arts community, too. After all, we could go back to protect and preserve an old model or move forward and expand it. My main philosophy is to get are a Bay Area radio station and don’t want to be generic. Even syndicated shows have a local touch since we present more people to get into the music.” them with our own hosts. We have local events like the Lueth points out that the traditional classical audience ones at Yoshi’s, and we’re the home for San Francisco tends to be older. Listeners in their forties “and either side Symphony and Opera.” In the end, Lueth thinks the of that” are the target for KDFC. “And we want people station’s success comes from demystifying exposure to the to feel comfortable to hear the music as kids, too, so we art. “We’re just a radio station that plays classical music invite parents to listen with children and enjoy a classical instead of Planet Art. Music stations need to remember presence together.” The listeners are “people who didn’t that they serve the community and its listeners.” grow up staring at the radio.” 40 • spring 2010
Take me out to the opera. KDFC emcees for the free San Francisco Opera broadcast at AT&T Park — where families reportedly pushed strollers onto the infield — appear on the Diamondvision Jumbotron.
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music in art
Casing the Piano
The art case piano remains a viable niche. By Jed Distler
listen: Life with classical music • 43
occupy a strong niche market that firmly holds its own among collectables of value. Online resources point the way to a large community of dealers and restoration specialists, who, in turn, lead potential buyers to rare or unique models. Some pianos even turn up on eBay, including, recently, a well preserved, lavishly decorated 1874 vintage Broadwood eight and a half foot grand, priced at a mere 9.5 million dollars. Could Liberace’s singular 1976 Baldwin Grand covered in glittering splendor. More often than not, the pedals mirrored squares fetch that amount? were supported by a lyre-shaped object. In 1857, a little more than a year after Art case aesthetics influenced more modestly designed pianos as well as the large, heavy producing its first grand piano in New York, Steinway built its first art case piano, inauuprights that eventually gave way to today’s gurating a tradition of limited editions and smaller models. “Back in the mid-nineteenth one-of-a-kind instruments that continues to century when we first started building instruments, grand pianos were square, heavily this day. “It is the customers who find us,” says Losby. “We’ve had a following among many ornate with hand carved legs and elaborate design houses or private designers whose arch work,” explains Ron Losby, president of clients have the interest and the resources to Steinway & Sons in the Americas. “Generally, purchase such unique and expensive pianos.” their design grew out of furniture styles that Considerable cost and workmanship were popular at the time, and had little to do with anything simple or sleek. Harpsichord and go into creating an art case piano, and the process from beginning to end is not unlike clavichord styles reflect the tastes of their era, ordering furniture to one’s specifications, or and pianos followed this course as well.” building a house from scratch. “We start Art case pianos may have a lower profile first by asking questions,” Losby explains. in the early twenty-first century than in their “What periods of architecture do you feel an aforementioned heyday, but today they still
f someone asked you to define a modern concert grand, you’d likely describe it as a long, shiny black case supported by three legs, with a keyboard at one end. That’s a reasonable answer; after all, the public has long embraced this look as an archetype, in marked contrast to the diversity of design that characterized piano manufacturing from the late nineteeth to early twentieth centuries. This was the time when the piano reached the height of its popularity as the family’s home entertainment center, long before television, radio and recordings transformed music appreciation from an active to a passive avocation. Numerous piano firms emerged, aiming to serve a broad range of consumers with an equally wide selection of models to suit all tastes and budgets. These included custom-built art case pianos which held particular appeal for wealthy clients wishing to distinguish themselves from less affluent consumers. A piano lid was not merely a lid, but a large, double-sided canvas that allowed decorative artists plenty of room to depict mythical characters or family members strolling about the estate. Legs were not just functional, but lovely to look at in their ornate, elaborately handcrafted
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music in art • discovery
‘So far as I know, there’s never been a case of a piano where the design we have sanctioned sounds awful, although, as a rule, no two Steinways sound quite alike.’ affinity towards? Something that’s modern, or reflective of the past? What colors do you like? Do you imagine something gilded, ornate, or baroque? Something that’s a bit more streamlined? Should it be hand painted or hand carved? What is the size of the room? To be sure, some customers do not have a clear understanding of what they want. Or, if they do, they might see something they like better. Then the process starts to take on a transmogrification, where it starts in one place, but ends up somewhere else, just like a musical composition. That actually can be fun, although it can also be frustrating, especially when more than two parties are involved, like the client and the designer, or husband and wife. However, in many cases we’ll meet with the designer long before we deal with the client in person.”
Playable art. Steinway art case pianos, from left: “Summertime” by Timothy Martin; “St. Croix” by Timothy Philbrick; “Rhapsody” by Frank Pollaro; “Pear Grove” by Silas Kopf
Although clients generally concern themselves more with the visual side of things than how their piano actually sounds, Losby is quick to point out that musical values are the number one priority. “Steinway has a rule that if any exterior design might compromise the piano’s interior, its stability, or its sound quality, we simply will not build it. So far as I know, there’s never been a case of a piano where the design we have sanctioned sounds awful, although, as a rule, no two Steinways quite sound alike.” This is because Steinways are largely built by hand, without recourse to an assembly line. Steinway’s past and present inventory lists feature a veritable who’s who of design, from J. Burr Tiffany, who headed the company’s newly established art department in 1897 and oversaw the execution of the
first White House Steinway, to contemporary luminaries like Wendell Castle, Silas Kopf, Dakota Jackson and Frank Pollaro. Pollaro made his reputation reproducing and designing furniture in the style of French Art Deco icon Jacques Emile Ruhlmann, and created the midnight-blue, silver inlaid “Rhapsody” piano, commissioned by Steinway to celebrate George Gershwin’s 1998 centennial. Flora, fauna and other airy wildlife images painted by contemporary Tiffany artist Timothy Martin run rampant all over a Model 501A grand called “Summertime.” A more “classic” modern art case design by Timothy Philbrick, “St. Croix,” uses rare red-copper Cuban mahogany, putting a gentle, twenty-first-century spin on the early-twentieth-century Beaux Arts style. Still, according to Losby, art case clients lean towards more traditional designs and outright re-creations. Is this due to the desire for proven value in uncertain times, or out of nostalgia? Maybe neither, says Losby: “The fact that Steinway has continued producing art case and limited edition pianos pleases me, because the designs reflect not just the Romantic era, but also the music that represents it, and this is music that I love deeply.” listen: Life with classical music • 45
hopin B i c e n t e n n i a l
Argerich Plays Chopin
Celebrated pianist Martha Argerich is featured in an entire CD of previously unreleased radio recordings from 1959 and 1967. These recordings give a rare glimpse at the young Argerich and include the Third Sonata and a selection of Mazurkas, Nocturnes and the Ballade No. 1.
Chopin: Complete Edition The ultimate birthday celebration is this 17-CD edition of the composer’s complete works as taken from the extensive Deutsche Grammophon and Decca catalogs. Featured are some of the great Chopin interpreters – Argerich, Ashkenazy, Pires, Pollini, Rostropovich, Zimerman – with significant contributions from exceptional pianists of the younger generation such as Rafał Blechacz and Yundi Li.
Rafał Blechacz: The Piano Concertos
The young Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz, the 2005 winner of the Chopin Competition, releases his own interpretations of the two concertos on his Deutsche Grammophon orchestral recording debut. Jerzy Semkow conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Nelson Freire: The Nocturnes In celebration of The Chopin Year, Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire records a 2-CD collection of the beloved Nocturnes. A Chopin interpreter of unique discernment, Freire is a pianist’s pianist whose playing sings with every refinement of the school of bel canto.
Alice Sara Ott: The Complete Waltzes
Rising young piano virtuoso Alice Sara Ott makes her international recording debut on Deutsche Grammophon with the complete waltzes of Chopin. Ott is surely one of the few pianists to watch as she has the rare combination of youthful energy and restrained elegance. process version (100C80M & 100M100Y)
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The Attributes of Music (1770) By Anne Vllayer-Coster [Louvre]
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Evolution of Form Everything you always wanted to know about Baroque concertos (but were afraid to ask) By David Hurwitz
When we think of a concerto, we usually mean a piece for a single solo instrument with orchestra, but this use of the term is, in fact, more recent than you might imagine. The word itself means “to strive together,” and like “sonata” can refer to just about any combination of forces, including voices. Indeed, vocal music is key in considering the concerto, because until very recently it was universally assumed that (a) the greatest instrument of all was the human voice, (b) all supposedly abstract instrumental music aspired to reach the same level of communicative specificity as music with words, and
(c) the highest form of instrumental technique was that which came closest to imitating the technique and emotional expressivity of a great singer. Accordingly, the forms of instrumental music as they evolved in the Baroque period were modeled closely on two basic human activities: singing and dancing. In addition to these very general parameters, composers took their bearings from where the music was destined to be performed, be it the church, theater, concert hall or aristocratic salon. Dance-type music was deemed appropriate only in secular settings — for obvious reasons — while music intended for liturgical listen: Life with classical music • 47
Beyond Le quattro stagioni. Antonio Vivaldi wrote more than five hundred concertos.
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‘The reasons for the concerto grosso dying out in the second half of the eighteenth century are complex and still not fully understood.’ (including dancing, storms, birds or images of the four seasons), then it’s a “chamber,” or secular, concerto. As the concerto developed in the early eighteenth century, these lines became increasingly blurred. The next significant factor governing the evolution of the Baroque concerto concerns the number of solo instruments and how they are used. Here we meet the first major name in concerto history: Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713). Corelli wrote only twelve concertos, and they were not published until 1714, a year after his death, but there have been few collections of pieces more widely
admired and imitated. Designated as his Op. 6, Corelli wrote eight “church” concertos (concerti da chiesa) and four “chamber” concertos (concerti da camera), including his most famous piece, the so-called “Christmas Concerto” (No. 8 in the set). The “Christmas” aspect comes from the finale, a gentle pastoral similar in mood to the “Pastoral Symphony” found in Handel’s Messiah. Although published posthumously, Corelli’s Op. 6 concertos were composed considerably earlier, and their final versions are thought to represent the end-result of a lengthy process of refinement through practical performance.
Sc a l a / A r t R e s o u r c e , NY
use emphasized the more serious side of things, with solemn, slow movements and quicker ones that featured intricate counterpoint and other supposedly “learned” musical devices. Of course, in real life, composers often mixed the secular and liturgical. Popular works written for the church could be played in the concert hall, and as with all human institutions, the major religions have always understood the need to put on a good show. Indeed, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the death of a monarch or a major holiday (and they had many more of both than we do now) meant the closing of theaters and restrictions on other forms of public entertainment, the church was often the only place that the public could go to hear music performed, and the only place that musicians could find steady work. J.S. Bach famously complained in one of his few surviving letters that when “a healthy wind” blew through Leipzig he suffered serious financial harm, owing to a decline in the need for funeral music. Baroque composers wrote concertos not so much as a repertoire of works designed to be appreciated in formal concert settings, but as an integral aspect of people’s daily lives, as part of the natural rhythm of both the secular and liturgical calendars. This, then, is the first important characteristic that should be considered in any discussion of Baroque concertos: whether they were deemed suitable for the church (to provide interludes between major portions of the service) or designed more for the “chamber” (or concerto room). Nowadays when we see works called “chamber concertos,” such as those by Vivaldi, we think of “chamber music”— that is, pieces for a small number of players. But the word “chamber” in a title from the Baroque period has little to do with the number of performers and more to do with the kind of music it most likely contains. The rule of thumb is this: if a concerto (or any other instrumental work) composed in the Baroque period begins with a full-fledged slow movement, it probably belongs to the “church” category, whereas if it begins with quick music or features imitative elements
T h e G r a n g e r C o l l e ct i o n , NY ( 2 x )
repertoire • discovery
This is one reason why the music still “works” so well today, and has withstood the test of time. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, music publishing was still an industry in its relative infancy, a privilege reserved for the most important pieces, particularly if these consisted mostly of concert or secular music. The very fact that Corelli’s concertos were published and achieved wide international dissemination attests to their exceptional importance, both in their own time and afterwards. All of these pieces fall into the category of concerto grosso, which simply means “big concerto.” As defined by Corelli with these works, a concerto grosso consists of a group of soloists — in this case, two violins and a cello — opposed by a larger orchestra of strings called the ripieno, which, not too surprisingly, means “everyone else.” Each group, both small and large, is accompanied by a permanently subordinate continuo consisting of harpsichord, lower strings and possibly a plucked instrument (a lute, theorbo, guitar or something similar). What made Corelli’s work so important was, first, the amount of color and variety he was able to achieve through the interaction of the soloists with the full ensemble, and second, the sheer lyrical beauty of his melodies, which, of course, brought them closer to the vocal ideal. Indeed, although there are twice as many “church” works in Op. 6 as there are in the “chamber” style, Corelli was noted for his avoidance of strict counterpoint and for his emphasis on tunes accompanied simply. This practice naturally emphasized the key point of contrast in any true concerto — the opposition between the soloists and the full orchestra — and made Corelli’s concertos unusually clear in terms of expression, ensuring their popularity right through to the present day. They also initiated an explosion of concerto composition in Italy and abroad. Some of Corelli’s more interesting successors were:
of the Violin”), are landmarks in the history of violin technique. The twelve concertos contain twenty-four capriccios, free-form movements for solo violin that exploit the instrument’s virtuoso potential. Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770)
Famous as both a composer and a pedagogue, Tartini’s best-known composition is the “Devil’s Trill” violin sonata. However, he also composed more than one hundred thirty violin concertos, and his treatise on violin playing heavily influenced Leopold Mozart when he needed material for the first edition of his violin school, which appeared in the 1750s.
J.S. Bach Das Alte Werk Complete Harpsichord Concertos Leonhardt Consort Teldec
Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762)
Another student of Corelli, Geminiani moved to England in 1714 and composed three sets
Period pieces. Late seventeenth-century English baroque violin and baroque oboe
Pietro Locatelli (1695–1764)
A student of Corelli, Locatelli’s Op. 3 concertos subtitled L’Arte del violino (“The Art listen: Life with classical music • 49
Corelli Concertos Op. 6 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Nicholas McGegan, conductor Harmonia Mundi 50 • spring 2010
of concerti grossi (Op. 2, Op. 3 and Op. 7) that include the viola in the solo group, effectively turning them into concertos for string quartet and orchestra. As a violinist, Geminiani was nicknamed “the madman” for the passionate intensity of his playing and his freedom of tempo. He also wrote a very important violin treatise (1751) that stands with those of Tartini and Mozart among the most important pedagogical works of the period. Perhaps the most important of the many works crafted in the image of Corelli was another set of a dozen concertos also published as “Opus 6,” in this case by Handel in self-conscious homage to his illustrious predecessor. Composed in 1739–40, these “Twelve Grand Concertos,” as they were called, are grand in every sense of the term, full of delightful melodic invention, formal ingenuity and colorful exploitation of string sonorities. Nevertheless, they represent the end of the road for this particular type of concerto.
Lebrecht Music & Arts
Baroque finish. Harpsichord from sixteenthcentury France made by Henri Hemsch (born in Germany)
The reasons for the concerto grosso dying out in the second half of the eighteenth century are complex and still not fully understood. Some of it had to do with changing tastes and the rise of the new, continuo-free style of instrumental writing in the Gallant and later the Classical periods, whose seeds had in fact been planted by Corelli. Concertos for multiple soloists naturally favor polyphony, the use of counterpoint so that all of the soloists can engage in simultaneous dialogue among themselves and in opposition to the full orchestra. Reduce the amount of counterpoint, and there’s not much use in having more than a single soloist. This is exactly what composers such as Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) did. In the first decades of the eighteenth century, Vivaldi wrote more than five hundred concertos. Of these, the majority (around three hundred fifty) are for a single soloist, mostly violin. Curiously, the instrument that Vivaldi favored most after the violin was the bassoon, then — as now — a relatively unlikely candidate for solo treatment. Vivaldi was in charge of an orchestra of orphan girls in Venice, a group that achieved considerable acclaim for its collective virtuosity. He also composed concertos for the heavily Italianate court musicians resident in the East German city of Dresden. The type of concerto Vivaldi pioneered was quite different from the concerto grosso, at least in theory, though as always in these cases, the practice of a form varied widely from one composer to another. Most of Vivaldi’s concertos, including the set of four that make up The Four Seasons (actually part of a larger set of twelve comprising his Op. 8), contain only three movements, in the order fast–slow– fast. Counterpoint is minimized; melody, instrumental virtuosity and color maximized. At times the invention turns formulaic (if you wrote five hundred concertos you’d come up with a few tried-and-true shortcuts yourself), and there’s some truth to the quip that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto five hundred times, but the more you get to know the individual pieces the more complex and well-crafted they appear. Bach, for example, was fascinated
repertoire • discovery
‘Composers in the Baroque period were expected to limit the music of an aria to a single emotion, or ‘affect’: love, sorrow, vengeance, heroism or terror, as dictated by the text.’ by them, and arranged a number for solo keyboard. In one famous case, he took a concerto for four violins from Vivaldi’s Op. 3 set and turned it into a clangorous romp for four harpsichords and string orchestra. The reduction of the number of movements to three signaled a different approach to form, one that brought the music even closer to its roots in the Baroque opera aria (at least in the quick movements). Known as “ritornello” form, the concept is simple: the orchestra states a theme, the solo enters with its first episode, and the orchestra breaks in with bits of the original theme (or ritornello) in various related keys between each solo, finishing with a complete restatement of the opening in the original key. But instead of a singer the new concerto form used a solo instrument, which freed the composer from the need to convey actual words. This had significant consequences. Most aria texts are short and get repeated about a million times, leaving the singer a chance to ornament the vocal line with impressive coloratura embellishments. Also, composers in the Baroque period were expected to limit the music of an aria to a single emotion, or “affect”: love, sorrow, vengeance, heroism or terror, as dictated by the text. None of these limitations apply to purely instrumental music, at least not to the same degree, and composers were quick to understand that they could now create longer movements and fill them with music of greater variety. This compensated to some extent for the lack of expressive immediacy and specificity inherent in music with words. J.S. Bach seized the opportunity with particular relish. His largest concertos, including several in the well-known “Brandenburg” set and his intensely dramatic Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, last twice as long as a typical concerto by Vivaldi. But if a composer knows what he is doing, he will justify a longer running time by writing especially interesting music, and that is exactly what Bach did in his best concertos. Unfortunately, there aren’t many. Most of Bach’s orchestral music is lost, and many of the surviving concertos have only come down to us in the form of arrangements.
His keyboard concertos, for example, were mostly written for the violin originally. Aside from those we only have the six Brandenburg Concertos, each for a different combination of instruments, the three violin concertos (one of these is for two violins) and the Triple Concerto. What Bach’s concertos lack in number, however, is more than made up for in terms of musical importance. In transcribing his works for the harpsichord, for instance, Bach invented one of the most important of all types of concerto: that for solo keyboard. It’s always dangerous in the history of music to say that anyone did something first, but Bach’s harpsichord concertos (including Brandenburg No. 5) evidently really are the first examples of their kind. His son, Carl Philip Emanuel, became the most authoritative keyboard composer and pedagogue of the eighteenth century. He wrote some five dozen keyboard concertos, many of them superbly enjoyable and all but unknown today (although a very fine complete edition is in progress courtesy of BIS Records). These works, often intensely emotional and dramatic in tone, represent the connecting link between the Baroque concerto and the great Classical works of Mozart and Beethoven. The niftiest thing about a harpsichord (or piano) is that, harmonically speaking, it can do everything the orchestra can. It is not limited merely to playing the melody, and can challenge the full ensemble in ways that a melody instrument, such as a flute or violin, simply cannot. The result is the opportunity for a more dramatic, confrontational relationship between the soloist and the orchestra. This is precisely the aspect of concerto form that inspired composers of the Classical period, and it explains why the instrument of choice for the greatest concertos of that era, such as those by Mozart and Beethoven, was not the violin, but the piano. Still, no matter what instrument takes the solo role, all concertos, without exception, embody the basic, even primal opposition of the one versus the many, and they remain the Baroque period’s prime contribution to the evolution of orchestral music.
Handel Concerti grossi The English Consort Trevor Pinnock, conductor Archiv
listen: Life with classical music • 51
52 • spring 2010
Things That Go Bump in the Night Dvořák goes Grimm with his four symphonic poems on Czech folk ballads. By David Hurwitz
Few pieces by Dvořák have staged as impressive a comeback in recent years as his four great symphonic poems based on Czech folk ballads, all composed in the late 1890s after the Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”). After being almost universally derided, the ballads are now rightly seen as some of his finest — and certainly most progressive — works. Two factors were instrumental in this change of perspective. The first was the recognition of the genius of Leoš Janáček, who loved these pieces, praised them in print, premiered two, and saw in them the origins of his own style of composition — that of creating melodies from the natural rhythms of speech (in addition to endowing each work with its own satisfying form, Dvořák based his melodies on the ballads’ poetic verses). The second factor leading to the rehabilitation of this music was the softening effect of the intervening years. When Dvořák, music’s ultimate Mr. Nice Guy, started setting
Illustrations by Clare Melinsky
these tales of axe-murder, rape, infanticide, poisoning and suicide, audiences and critics responded with the same sort of horror a mother today might feel upon learning that Disney Studios had decided to give up animated children’s films in favor of pornography. The very prospect seemed unbelievable, and so the resulting music was assumed to be a failure. Of course, it was no such thing, and the whole point of using stories of horror and grotesquerie was to permit Dvořák to stretch his instrumental palette to the maximum, employing an entire repertoire of new and unusual sounds and reaching new heights of vividness. The most interesting of the four works in this respect is The Wood Dove, which depicts a widow burying the husband she has poisoned so as to be able to marry her lover. After the funeral, with its graphic imitation of the woman’s false lamentation (descending violins weeping crocodile tears), party music strikes up and she celebrates
her marriage to husband number two. Outside, over the grave of her first husband, grows a tree, and on its branches sits a dove that coos day and night, a sound that she cannot get out of her mind and greets her at every turn. This arouses pangs of guilt so violent that the woman at last kills herself by leaping into a river and drowning, leading, finally, to a transfigured ending in which the cooing dove and the tormented spirit of the murderess find peace at last. Janáček conducted the premiere, and Gustav Mahler led one of the first subsequent performances in Vienna. Mahler claimed to dislike the work, perhaps because it contains much of what might now be called typical Mahler, including a sleazy funeral march (with solo trumpet and “Salvation Army” percussion) and offstage brass announcing the impending wedding (whose music contains one of the greatest tunes Dvořák ever wrote). The spooky cooing of the dove is evocatively created by harp and listen: Life with classical music • 53
discovery • masterwork
woodwinds. The Wood Dove, in short, is an amazing piece of orchestration, perhaps the most refined and magical single movement in Dvořák’s extensive output — and that’s saying a lot. The Noonday Witch is the simplest and shortest of the four works, though its story may be the saddest. A child is making mischief (humorously, to Beethoven’s Fifth in the woodwinds), and his mother warns him to behave or the Noonday Witch will come for him. Naturally he ignores this advice. The witch appears and twice demands the child. The mother refuses, and leads the witch on a mad chase. Cornered, she clasps the child to her as the noon bell rings and the witch vanishes. Coming home for lunch, the father discovers his wife and son unconscious on the floor; the wife regains consciousness, but the child is dead, suffocated in his mother’s frantic embrace. The music ends with the witch’s demand for the child blasting out in the brass in tones of utmost horror and despair, while the coda offers a last ironic reminder of her evil laughter. This cruelly forthright piece is no joke, certainly not coming from a composer who lost three of his own children. The music is both captivating in its various moods as well as stunningly scored (there’s some particularly evocative writing for bass clarinet at the witch’s initial appearance). Its intensity and, in a good performance, gut-wrenching impact stem from the unflinching emotional accuracy with which Dvořák takes the listener through each element of the story, from the innocence of the opening right up to the grim change to the minor key when both parents realize their child is dead. The Golden Spinning Wheel has the grossest story, but it’s also the most fantastical of the four works. A girl meets a prince while he’s out hunting. (The music of his hunting horns opens the piece and serves as 54 • spring 2010
Dvořák Complete Symphonic Poems Royal Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi, conductor Chandos
the thematic germ for much of the ensuing material.) They fall in love. The girl tells her stepmother and identical-looking stepsister, who promptly chop her to bits, keeping a few parts to make sure she stays chopped up (you never know). They then join the prince at the palace to celebrate the wedding. A holy hermit finds the body and trades pieces of a golden spinning wheel for the missing parts. He reassembles the girl and revives her. They show up at the castle, whereupon the spinning wheel magically tells everyone the whole story. A happy ending ensues. Despite its grim (Grimm?) elements, this piece is, first and foremost, great fun. It requires a light touch in performance and should sparkle. This leaves only The Water Goblin. The music, which follows the outline of the original folk poem exactly, illustrates each event in the story in turn. It begins with a portrait of the water goblin, in an obstinately memorable tune almost always given to the woodwinds. Next, the strings sing out a charming pastoral scene in which a young girl tells her mother that she wants to go to the lake to do her laundry. The mother warns her about the goblin, but she goes anyway. The water goblin spies his prey and collapses the
bridge (big crash from cymbals and gong) on which the girl is standing. He drags her down to his home under the lake, where she eventually gives birth to a baby goblin to the strains of a gentle lullaby. Soon there are domestic troubles. The girl asks permission to return home to see her mother. Reluctantly, the goblin agrees on the condition that (a) she must come back at the tolling of the church bell, and (b) she must leave the baby as a pledge of her good faith. During an impressive orchestral storm, through which we hear the bell chiming, the goblin (via trombones and bass drum) pounds on the door of the house, demanding that his “wife” return. Her mother prevents her. In a fury, the goblin kills the baby and flings the corpse against the door. Scary stories, evocative settings and extreme emotional highs and lows, all cloaked in gorgeously graphic, colorful music — the perfect recipe for a Romantic masterpiece!
listen: Life with classical music • 55
Gil Evans The jazz arranger who summoned orchestral magic for Miles Davis and more By Bradley Bambarger
The art of orchestration can be as
singular as a fingerprint, the sound of a score by Ravel, Kurt Weill or Magnus Lindberg being immediately recognizable, even if the piece is unfamiliar. Jazz has produced its own masters of ensemble instrumentation. Prime among these is Gil Evans (1913–1988), a modest man with a one-of-a-kind imagination. The Toronto-born arranger–composer created three masterpieces of orchestral jazz with Miles Davis — albums key to the trumpeter’s iconic path. Although revered for these pioneering collaborations, Evans toiled in and out of the shadows after that. He remained quietly resolute, rejecting commercial compromise in favor of an evolutionary muse that led him from taut big-band impressionism to loose-limbed jazz-rock fusion. That evergreen Davis/Evans triptych of 1957–60 comprised Miles Ahead, a suite of soulful updates on the jazz ensemble sound; Porgy and Bess, a definitive instrumental re-envisioning of Gershwin’s American folk opera; and, most celebrated, Sketches of Spain. The latter presents Evans’ deeply felt compositions on Iberian folk themes, as well as his re-compositions of pieces by twentieth-century Spaniards Manuel de Falla and Joachín Rodrigo. His dirge-like treatment of the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez achieves a uniquely intense grandeur, with the sun-baked atmospheres swirling around Davis as he cries through his horn like a muezzin at dawn. In his autobiography, Davis wrote, “Of all the people I knew, Gil Evans was one of the only ones who could pick up on what I was thinking musically . . . who knows what I would have become if I hadn’t had someone like Gil to remind me?” Evans maintained
that what he and Davis — two very different personalities — shared most was “an interest in timbre, the pure sound of the music.” Evans was always a sonic alchemist, mixing unlikely elements. His sound was born of the blues, bebop, flamenco and the harmonies of Debussy and Ravel. Although he grew up listening to the dynamic Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson bands, Evans also put in hours at the library copying out scores by the French Impressionists in an effort to augment his harmonic language “with an edge, a spice.” That new palette soon featured singular chord voicings, unusual juxtapositions of
instruments, intricate inner parts, rhythms that avoided standard swing, and seamless, painterly forms that blurred the line between composition and improvisation. Maria Schneider, an assistant to Evans in his last years and a Grammy-winning jazz composer–arranger, recalled how Evans would say “no, no, no” when she handed him a textbook-perfect arrangement. “He didn’t like that at all,” she said. “He would say, ‘Make some of these high instruments play in their lower ranges and the low instruments play high.’ He wanted the intensity that the players’ struggle would add.” listen: Life with classical music • 57
Cool. Miles Davis and Gil Evans in the recording studio, where they created such classics as Sketches of Spain
Apprentice years Evans spent with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra set the tone for a revolution in jazz. Known for a dreamy ballad style, Thornhill sought a subtly sophisticated timbre — what Evans described as “a distant, haunting, no-vibrato sound,” with French horns and massed clarinets. Making the method his own, Evans arranged everything from Tin Pan Alley to Tchaikovsky for the group. He also created — to his employer’s chagrin — charts for several of Charlie Parker’s avant-garde themes, including “Yardbird Suite” and “Donna Lee.” Later, in a basement apartment a few blocks from the bebop mecca of Manhattan’s 52nd Street, Evans hosted a funky salon, becoming an older catalyst for a budding generation in tune not only with bebop but with Stravinsky and the cool-toned brand of West Coast jazz. Evans’ open house was where Davis, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis and other like minds compared chords and formulated a new aesthetic. With Davis as leader, a chamber-styled nonet from this crew created a hugely influential string of singles in 1949-50, collected on the Capitol LP The Birth of the Cool. It includes an Evans arrangement for the Johnny Mercer tune “Moon Dreams” that remains a marvel of languorous, otherworldly counterpoint. 58 • spring 2010
Following their trio of hits and an aborted bossa nova experiment (issued as the 1964 LP Quiet Nights), Evans would only contribute — often uncredited — to a few smaller-scaled Davis recordings. The trumpeter-arranger team never released another orchestral album, although incidental pieces finally saw light via Sony Legacy’s 12CD boxed set devoted to the pair’s complete Columbia studio sessions. Beyond Davis, Evans collaborated with other jazz notables: singer Helen Merrill, sax man Cannonball Adderley, guitarist Kenny Burrell. But under his own name, Evans had only sporadic success, bouncing from label to label. Featuring piquant arrangements of blues and standards, his 1957 Prestige debut Gil Evans & Ten drew upon such key associates as Lee Konitz on alto sax. More top-flight sessions would yield Out of the Cool (Impulse, 1960) and The Individualism of Gil Evans (Verve, ‘64). The moody, multi-hued Individualism was blessed by such supreme players as Burrell, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Elvin Jones. Alongside Kurt Weill and Willie Dixon tunes, the album’s highlight is Evans’ own “Las Vegas Tango.” His languid, heat-haze tempo stretches the Argentine dance to its limit, as the brass and reeds move
over the earthy rhythm section like lonely, neon-lit clouds above a desert horizon. Like Davis, Evans was on the forefront of inflecting jazz with psychedelic rock, and with a younger breed of players came electric instruments and more emphatic rhythms. Good intentions couldn’t rescue The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays Jimi Hendrix from being a botched tribute, with ill-advised vocals and charts by band members. The best arrangements are those by Evans himself for “Up From the Skies” and the sublime ballad “Little Wing.” Sensing another kindred spirit from the rock world, Evans later joined with the jazz-honed Sting for concerts of Hendrix and more; they reprised “Little Wing” for the singer’s sophomore solo album, Nothing Like the Sun. In the mid-’80s Evans followed a freer aesthetic, his bands playing longer solos off less written material. Multiple live albums recorded from New York to London document the period, along with a DVD filmed at a Montreux concert. It shows Evans at the piano fronting an all-star band, with the set highlighted by a definitive version of the exquisitely mournful Evans original “Variations on the Misery.” Evans’ last studio session before he died in 1988 was Paris Blues, a duet disc with Steve Lacy, whose soprano sax had graced many Evans arrangements. The pair traced a set of obliquely autumnal melodies, including an Evans favorite: the romantic strip tease “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue” by Charles Mingus. On both acoustic and electric piano, Evans couched Lacy’s searching arabesques in indigo-tinted abstractions. Whether small combo or orchestral, acoustic or electric, Evans’ music mirrors the man, according to Schneider: “I can almost see Gil’s music visually . . . But his music is like his personality — this intense presence that doesn’t overwhelm you.”
c o u r t e s y o f s o n y m u s i c e n t e r ta i n m e n t / D o n H u n s t e i n ( 2 x )
discovery • crossing borders
listen: Life with classical music • 59
at the opera
Don Giovanni A classic reduced, but not diminished By Ben Finane
New York City Opera’s delightful 2009 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni demands that we afford staples of operatic repertoire the same liberties in staging and direction that we afford theatrical staples, by which I mean Shakespeare — or at least the most familiar tragedies: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. We have all seen modern, postmodern, minimal, post-colonial and post-apocalyptic takes on these works by the Bard, and have even come to expect (and, yes, sometimes dread) them. These stories are now as familiar as fairy tales, and familiarity encourages new 60 • spring 2010
angles and points of entry. Yet within the U.S. operatic world, productions that deviate from the traditional are still often labeled “controversial,” their directors “provocateurs.” But we all know the stories of Carmen, Giovanni and Faust as well as we know those of the star-crossed lovers, the Scottish king and the hapless Dane. In the twenty-first century, is a Zeffirelli set really required to provide a staircase for the Don’s escape? Must we witness Tosca hurling herself from the battlements in order to comprehend her suicide? Director Christopher Alden’s Don Giovanni readily demonstrates that compelling drama can be achieved without the use of fake ivy and stone. The set of his production, which blurs the line between staged and semi-staged, consists of green linoleum and gray walls, a neon crucifix and forty straight-back chairs, variously rearranged by chorus and soloists to make up whatever set is required. Many scene changes are done with lighting alone. Costumes are vaguely 1930s gangster. With no rotation of the stage, props and detritus mount. And the production is enjoyable and gripping throughout. Instead of a duel with the Commendatore — whose murder serves as the opera’s
inciting incident — Giovanni brutally smashes the man’s head into a wall, leaving a bloodstain that lingers throughout the opera as a visual reminder of this murder most foul. Much attention is paid to the dysfunctional relationship of Giovanni and Leporello (the original wedding crashers), with Leporello portrayed as a manic depressive trapped in a sadomasochistic situation: he slithers along the floor, accepts petting from Giovanni, romps passionately with Elvira disguised as his master, juggles and balances chairs on his chin — making this Giovanni very much the story of Leporello’s redemption. Most remarkable about this production is the way scenes staged in close physical proximity also bleed into each other from a dramatic standpoint: characters in separate scenes interact, knitting storylines together. Giovanni shows up in scenes where he oughtn’t; Leporello flirts with Elvira’s maid when he should be tending to the Don. The Commendatore’s coffin sits on the dining room table where Giovanni eats what will be his last meal, affecting the opera’s finale in a thought-provoking way. Ultimately, none of these staging aspects detract from superior singing, which should be the aim — and payoff — of any opera. Welcome back, City Opera.
AVI_Arkiv1/4S_AVI_Arkiv1/4S 06.01.10 15:23 Seite 1
CAvi-music - Service for music · www.avi-music.de 5 Years - CAvi-music SABINE MEYER, clarinet & TRIO DI CLARONE W.A. Mozart · J.S. Bach: Adagios & Fugues CAvi8553162 LARS VOGT & CHRISTIAN TETZLAFF & TANJA TETZLAFF Franz Schubert: Piano Trio No 1 CAvi8553099 Franz Schubert: Piano Trio No 2 in E Flat major op. 100 D929 CAvi8553044
CONCERT DATES: Feb 25, Philadelphia Feb 26, Wolftrap Feb 27 & 28, New York, Carnegie
Distributed by Allegro Media Group · www.allegromediagroup.com www.avi-music.de All CDs also available as digital download
CC [09-857] Listen Magazine Prégardien OL.indd 1
Andreas Staier (Anthony Sidey harpsichord after Hass) Includes bonus DVD (Andreas Staier on the Goldbergs) Andreas Staier waited nearly a quarter of a century to play the Goldberg Variations in public. His long-awaited first performance was in Montreal at the end of April 2000, and this new set for harmonia mundi is his first recording of Bach’s keyboard masterpiece.
recommended 64 on
record Anne Sofie von Otter goes for Baroque; Norddeutscher Figuralchor brings you secular Poulenc; Diana Damrau offers a coloratura recital; Bach Collegium plays . . . Bach; Simone Kermes sings beautiful Italian; Pittsburgh Symphony packs a punch into Mahler’s First; Detroit Symphony Orchestra
records Rachmaninoff live;
Auryn Quartet presents neglected Haydn; Thomas Dausgaard and the Danes
prove Langgaard is worth your time; Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire team up for piano duos; Christian Schmitt and Bamberg Symphony explore the works of Widor; and Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov join forces for Beethoven’s complete Violin Sonatas. 77
at home Headphones from Audio-
Technica to Stax.
listen: Life with classical music • 63
Von Otter in France Ombre de mon Amant: French Baroque Arias Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano Les Arts Florissants William Christie, conductor Archiv Produktion
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he musical language of the French Baroque has a bittersweet voluptuousness that can be intoxicating. To hear the plangent string harmonies of the Prelude from Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Concert à Quatre Parties de Violes or the ghostly lyricism in Michel Lambert’s air “Ombre de mon Amant” (“Shade of My Lover”) is to experience hundreds of years falling away, the emotional-sensual aspect
of the music still so vital and rich. Anne Sofie von Otter inhabits the Lambert song with all the technical sensitivity and emotional intelligence one could imagine. Few singers stretch themselves stylistically like this fifty-four-year-old Swedish mezzo; in William Christie, she has the ideal guide to the subtleties of rhythm and ornament in the French Baroque, with his period-instrument
Les Arts Florissants in ravishing form. Many will have special memories of a younger Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Médée on Christie’s 1995 set of Charpentier’s tragédie-lyrique, but von Otter’s maturity suits the pain of a woman who has lived and loved, just as it does with Phèdre in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, her final beseeching scene with chorus deeply moving. — Bradley Bambarger
H a r a l d H o f f m a n n / DG
Listen up. Every CD mentioned or recommended in the magazine can be found here: arkivmusic.com/listen
Secular Poulenc Francis Poulenc Secular Choral Works Norddeutscher Figuralchor Jörg Straube, conductor MD&G
his collection boasts all of Poulenc’s a cappella secular choral works, including the infrequently heard Petites voix. While the masterpiece Figure humaine, written in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of France, is the big work here, the generous program also reminds us of the
merits of the composer’s “lighter” works, particularly the Chansons françaises of 1945/46, Chanson à boire, for male choir, and the aforementioned Petites voix (1936), for treble voices. The German choir is notable for its mastery of style and conveyance of a wide array
of moods and color — from the dark and brooding “Bois meurtri” in Un soir de neige (can any three chords be more evocative than those that open this piece?) to the “click, clack” of the clogs and the “tip and tap” of the weavers’ looms in the Chansons françaises.
a complementary acoustic that allows us to appreciate the full, finely polished sound, whether of men or women alone or of the entire fifty-voice ensemble. — David Vernier / ClassicsToday.com
This expert recording finds
Definitely Damrau Coloraturas Diana Damrau, soprano Munich Radio Orchestra Dan Ettinger, conductor Virgin Classics
D r . P e t e r Sc h u l z - K n a pp e
iana Damrau is almost a throwback to the “Golden Age” sopranos like Hempel, Tettrazzini, Galli-Curci, et al; her voice sits very high and the listener never worries that she won’t execute a trill or a florid run or a high note impeccably. Where she differs from those songbirds, however, is in her commitment to the music and text: She comes AC (after Callas) and cannot be happy just making spectacularly high sounds à la Lily Pons or Roberta Peters. This is not to say that she would not be fascinating just resting on her technique, but she also creates a total character with each aria. While her Juliette
and Gilda may not quite sound as girlish as some, we believe what her characters are saying and feeling. And then we hear her Zerbinetta — simply the most flavorful performance around, sung with sarcasm and sex appeal, not to mention high notes plucked out of the stratosphere as if it were the most natural thing. Her “Glitter and be Gay” from Candide has just as much “face”: we know who this woman is. And a surprise is Anne Trulove’s grand aria from The Rake’s Progress, lyrical yet full, with increasing determination as the aria comes to its conclusion. —Robert Levine
listen: Life with classical music • 65
recommended • on record
Effortless Bach J. S. Bach Six Brandenburg Concertos; Four Orchestral Suites Bach Collegium Japan Masaaki Suzuki, conductor BIS
hese Brandenburgs are distinguished by a clarity of texture that, combined with Masaaki Suzuki’s ideally chosen tempos (not too fast, but always lively), gives Bach’s counterpoint an expressive joy very different from the full-speed-ahead mechanical relentlessness typical of so many period-instrument performances of this music. This is particularly evident in the First Concerto, whose first movement finds a natural and effortless balance of what — all too often — can be lopsided instrumental lines. The Second Concerto is noteworthy for some very nimble trumpet playing, while the flutes and violin in the Fourth and the harpsichord in the Fifth are all outstandingly played. Best of
all, though, is Suzuki’s handling of the two concertos for strings: lyrical, transparent and pleasing to the ear (the well-balanced continuo helps too). In the Third Concerto Suzuki interposes a full slow movement between the two quick ones Bach has left us, in the form of a transcription of the second movement of the Concerto for Three Harpsichords, itself thought to have been transcribed from an original triple violin concerto. It works fabulously well. First-class engineering and generous timings round out this outstanding period-instrument recording. — David Hurwitz / ClassicsToday.com
Kermes in Naples Lava — Opera Arias from 18th Century Napoli Simone Kermes, soprano Le Musiche Nove Claudio Osele, conductor Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
recisely why Simone Kermes is not better known in the United States is a mystery: she is probably the most interesting singer of music-before-1850 in the world. She seems incapable of doing anything by rote — each run, trill, bit of phrasing, attack on a high note and plunge into chest voice is decided by the aria and text she is singing. As a result she can come on a bit strong, but being incapable of blandness is a great gift and could almost be enough. The fact that she is also an incredibly accomplished singer with a sound that can enchant as well as terrify is what makes her truly great. Nine of the twelve arias on this release are world premiere recordings and most are gems. She launches into the first, a rage aria by Pergolesi, sounding 66 • spring 2010
both crazy and like a Baroque violinist attacking a bow; a similar style is used in an aria from Vinci’s Artaserses in which she uses a breathless, almost spoken approach to the text. It is hard to believe the same singer can enchant with an exquisite legato and long, gentle lines in Leonardo Leo’s Il Demetrio. And for an entirely different experience, in a scene from Hasse’s Viriate, she adds a cadenza near the close that runs from high E natural to the A two-and-a-half octaves below. Sometimes she uses vibrato, sometimes a pure white tone. Long-breathed phrases and notes held pianissimo are as beautiful as they are unexpected. She is a singer of extremes and not for the staid, don’t-surprise-me opera lover. — R.L.
m a r c o b o r g g r e v e ; S o n y M u s i c /A n d r e a s D o mm e n z
Linn Records Listen Spring 2010.pdf 08/01/2010 13:53:25
listen: Life with classical music • 67
recommended • on record
A Fantastic Mahler First Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 1 Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Manfred Honeck, conductor Exton
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n one of the great Mahler That’s exactly what he does. Firsts, Manfred Honeck leads The first movement “wakes up” a performance that has abundant naturally, atmospherically (great character, ideas that work and offstage trumpets), by impercepastounding playing, particularly tible degrees, rising to a crushing from the Pittsburgh horn section. climax leading to a raucous Honeck claims that he has tried coda. The scherzo is a rustic, to emphasize the music’s debt heavily accented, foot-stomping to Austro-Bohemian folk music, frenzy, while the trio has enough and to bring out (even exaggerschmaltz to cause cardiac arrest. ate) its brilliant orchestral colors. It works, though, because both
here, in the central melody of the (splendidly parodistic) funeral march, and in the lyrical second theme of the finale, Honeck gets the strings to “float” their melodies with such gentleness, such seductively sweet vibrato, that the massive rubatos and hesitations work beautifully. A totally committed performance.
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ALAN HOVHANESS EXILE SYMPHONY
“CHILDHOOD MEMORIES” CONCERTO FOR MARIMBA AND ORCHESTRA 13 DANCES FOR ORCHESTRA Richard Stoltzman clarinet Nancy Zeltsman marimba
ARMENIAN RHAPSODIES 1-3 SONG OF THE SEA | CONCERTO FOR SOPRANO SAXOPHONE AND STRINGS Kenneth Radnofsky soprano saxophone John McDonald piano
“The gung-ho orchestra rapped a little too.” “Complex, deliberate, ultimately captivating grandeur.” the boston globe the boston globe BMOP/sound, the label of the acclaimed Boston Modern Orchestra Project, explores the evolution of the music formerly known as classical. Its eclectic catalog offers both rediscovered classics of the 20th Century and the music of today’s most influential and innovative composers. BMOP/sound gives adventurous listeners a singular opportunity to explore the music that is defining this generation and the next.
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Strauss: Salome - Herbert von Karajan Strauss: Fledermaus - Herbert von Karajan Verdi: Don Carlo - Carlo Maria Guilini Verdi: La Traviata - Maria Callas, Carlo Maria Giulini Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Antonio Pappano
© 2010 Angel Records
listen: Life with classical music • 69
recommended • on record
Live Rachmaninoff Sergei Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2; Vocalise Detroit Symphony Orchestra Leonard Slatkin, conductor Naxos
ere’s a live performance of the Second Symphony that really lives up to the expectations of a live event: exciting, spontaneous and impulsive, but also beautifully shaped and extremely well played. Slatkin brings out detail and still addresses the big picture. The first movement,
urgently flowing, rises to a huge climax, assisted by some terrific brass playing. The scherzo is very quick, and hugely exciting. The return to the opening theme after the central fugato and march is unforgettable. Slatkin never lets the Adagio bog down or turn soggy; it’s fresh and lyrical, while
the finale is just plain thrilling, with the horns and trumpets aptly celebratory in the main theme and the strings playing their collective hearts out in the big tune at the end. The sonics are excellent, crowd noise is minimal, and the Vocalise makes a nice filler. — D.H.
ike Op. 9, the Op. 17 quartets receive little attention not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because they were eclipsed by Haydn’s later masterpieces in the genre, from Op. 20 on. Still, they contain magnificent music and were enormously popular in their day. The Auryn Quartet captures that special conversational quality, the give-and-take of the musical discourse produced by the interplay of the various motives, as have few other groups. The slow movements in this set are very special: all of them are quite slow — adagio or largo (as in No. 6) — and they embody Haydn’s newfound 70 • spring 2010
brand of emotional intensity through stylized vocal writing. This is particularly true of the Adagio of the G Major Quartet (No. 5), a miniature operatic scena. Happily, the Auryn players understand the need to sing, a requirement underscored by Haydn’s use of his favorite expressive designation: cantabile. The group’s timbre throughout is unfailingly warm and appropriate to the emotional context, their use of vibrato tasteful and, happily, never stingy. Magnificent sonics provide the final, enticing touch on what is unquestionably a major achievement in the Haydn quartet discography. — D.H.
Donald Dietz; Manfred Esser
Joseph Haydn String Quartets Op. 17 Auryn Quartet Tacet
Edith Finton Rieber, Pres./Director Christopher O’Riley, Vice Pres. Harvey Wedeen, Vice Pres. Dmitry Rachmanov, Sec./Treas.
Journal of The Scriabin Societ y of America Vol. 14, No. 1
Winter 2009 - 2010
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Regina Davidoff, Director James Kreger, Director Jerome Lowenthal, Director Farhan Malik, Archivist David Minshall, Editor HONORARY BOARD
Vladimir Ashkenazy Håkon Austbö Milton Babbitt Tamasaburo Bando V Van Cliburn David Diamond Valery Gergiev Henry-Louis de la Grange Thomas Hampson Dmitri Hvorostovsky Byron Janis Evgeny Kissin Oliver Knussen Anton Kuerti Benjamin Lees Robin McCabe John O’Conor Garrick Ohlsson Ivo Pogorelich Santiago Rodriguez Gunther Schuller Thomas Schumacher Alexander S. Scriabin Jerzy Semkow Alexander Toradze Vladimir Tropp Luigi Verdi ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Peter Goodrich Simon Morrison Jay Reise Jerome Solomon Maria Kaplun, Russian Language Consultant
Scriabin And Russian Symbolism by Ralph E. Matlaw Scriabin’s View of Art by V. Ivanov Ivanov on Skrjabin by Patricia Mueller - Vollmer
The Scriabin Society of America was founded in 1995 to promote the music and ideas of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Members of the Scriabin Society of America receive a free copy of the annual Journal and invitations to special events as well as discounts on additional publications, music and CDs. Join us at
recommended • on record
Considering Langgaard Rued Langgaard Symphonies Nos. 1–16; Orchestral Works Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Choir & Symphony Orchestra Thomas Dausgaard, conductor Dacapo
anggaard was out of his mind. Was he a crazy genius, or just plain crazy? It’s hard to say. His sixteen symphonies range in length from one hour (No. 1) to slightly more than six minutes (No. 11). There’s a concertante work for solo piano, chorus and orchestra (No. 3), music of Straussian refulgence (No. 6, “The Heaven-Rending”), some quirky faux Mendelssohn (Nos. 8 and 9) and lots of nature poetry (Nos. 2, 4, 5, 15 and 16). Most of the works have fanciful titles, ranging from No. 10, “Yon Hall of Thunder,” to the religious mysticism of “Belief in Wonders” (No. 13) to No. 14’s
individual movements, such as “Dads rush to the office” and “Radio-Caruso and forced energy.”
God only knows what all of it means, but one thing is certain: it’s all tremendously entertaining and never dull. Thomas Dausgaard and his team deliver uniformly excellent performances captured in first-rate SACD stereo sonics. It’s great to see a national label working so hard and so successfully to preserve its cultural heritage and disseminate it abroad. This project both deserves and will reward your support. — D.H.
Martha Argerich / Nelson Freire — Salzburg Works by Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Schubert Argerich and Freire, piano Deutsche Grammophon
his gorgeously engineered release reveals Argerich and Freire in staggering pianistic, musical and ensemble form, from the impeccable chord balances in the Haydn Variations theme to La Valse’s furious yet breathtakingly controlled climaxes. The two pianists shade Brahms’ subtle cross-rhythmic effects in the Fifth and Eighth variations with effortless aplomb, while their vivid, perpetually supple Rachmaninoff embraces such a wide spectrum of dynamics and colors that you hardly miss the composer’s large orchestra.
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These words equally apply to La Valse, which far surpasses the pianists’ earlier attempts in both tonal allure and unrelenting diablerie. The duo’s fleet, assiduously paced, organically singing A Major Rondo bodes well for future Argerich/Freire Schubertian explorations, should they wish to further expand their duo repertoire. Maybe one day we’ll hear the encore that Bernhard Neuhoff refers to in his booklet notes! This release defines piano heaven on earth. — J.D.
T h e R o ya l L i b r a r y, C o p e n h a g e n ; W o l fg a n g L i e n b a c h e r / D e u t s c h e G r a mm o p h o n
Argerich & Freire
recommended • on record
Works from Widor Charles-Marie Widor Symphonies for Organ & Orchestra Christian Schmitt, organ Bamberg Symphony Stefan Solyom, conductor CPO
t’s great to have this music available in spectacular SACD surround-sound. The organ in the Bamberg Symphony’s concert hall is a magnificent instrument, and very well suited to both the grand and intimate aspects of Widor’s writing. The Op. 42 symphony was arranged from one of the composer’s earlier symphonies for organ solo, and Widor’s use of the contrast between massive, fortissimo chords for organ as
opposed to the orchestra is very effective. Organist Christian Schmitt exploits the varied tone colors of his instrument at lower dynamic levels in the central slow movement, and the whole piece is just great fun. The Sinfonia Sacra is one of the great masterpieces in the literature for organ and orchestra. Cast as a single continuous movement some thirty minutes long, it’s a probing,
mostly meditative, harmonically interesting piece that brilliantly exploits the organ both alone and in every conceivable combination with the orchestra before rising to a grandly solemn final climax. Conductor Stefan Solyom accompanies alertly here, keeping the music flowing and creating some lovely interplay between the orchestra and the soloist, and the orchestra follows him with total conviction. — D.H.
his set of Beethoven violin sonatas has everything: excitement, character, explosive contrasts, subtle shadings and the long cantabile line that Beethoven demands. Faust and Melnikov form a true partnership, imbuing the music with a genuine, conversational quality. Lyricism and an effortless cantabile also permeate the music and these interpretations. The opening of
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the “Spring” sonata seldom has sounded so fresh and natural, while the finale of Op. 12, No. 2 is truly “piacevole.” Faust and Melnikov never turn sticky or drown the music in excessive sentiment. There’s a clarity to the phrasing here, a sharpness of focus and an understanding of Beethoven’s large musical paragraphs that’s very much part of the expressive point. — D.H.
P e t e r Eb e r t s
Ludwig Van Beethoven Complete Violin Sonatas Isabelle Faust, violin Alexander Melnikov, piano Harmonia Mundi
NEW RELEA SES www.hyperion-records.co.uk DOWNLOADS NOW AVAILABLE BEETHOVEN CELLO SONATAS VOLUME 2 The mercurial partnership of Hewitt and Müller-Schott brought ‘overwhelming intensity and emotional gravitas’ to a first disc of Beethoven’s cello sonatas. Here in Volume 2 they present two more of these groundbreaking masterpieces, together with the composer’s homages to Mozart and Handel. Hewitt’s characteristic digital dexterity and Müller-Schott’s vibrant playing combine to create performances of great energy and sensitivity that will delight their many fans. DANIEL MÜLLER-SCHOTT ANGELA HEWITT
PALESTRINA MISSA TU ES PETRUS & MISSA TE DEUM LAUDAMUS The celebrated Choir of Westminster Cathedral goes back to its roots with this recording of some of the towering masterpieces of Renaissance polyphony – a genre which the choir has made its own through the ritual of daily liturgical performance. Recent reviews have declared the choir to be at the peak of its powers, and this disc is an important celebration of a great musical tradition. THE CHOIR OF WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL / MARTIN BAKER
DVORÁK PIANO QUINTETS The performing team of Piers Lane and the Goldner String Quartet has won many plaudits for their enlightening interpretations of the more obscure piano quintet repertoire. Now they turn to a composer who triumphed in the genre. DvoÚák’s two piano quintets were written at different stages of the composer’s career: the first during a period of poverty and uncertainty, the second when the composer was approaching the zenith of his international fame. GOLDNER STRING QUARTET PIERS LANE
HUME PASSION & DIVISION Susanne Heinrich’s first solo release for Hyperion was a deliciously atmospheric award-winning disc of music by Abel. She continues her exploration of the world of the viol with this fascinating selection of works by Tobias Hume – a paradoxical figure: sometime mercenary solider and popularly described as a dilettante, the suggestive titles of some of these pieces reinforce that picture – a picture that is belied by the melancholy music itself. SUSANNE HEINRICH Compact Disc CDA67755
Compact Disc CDA67785
Compact Disc CDA67811
Compact Disc CDH55356 (budget price)
BRUCKNER TE DEUM MASS IN D MINOR ‘A glowing culmination to another outstanding Hyperion project’ (The Independent) ‘New standards of excellence … stunning’ (Gramophone) ‘Highest honours must go to the outstanding 140-voice chorus who sing with earth-shattering conviction, utmost clarity of diction and enviable precision of ensemble and intonation … the combined strengths of this Hyperion version guarantee prime recommendation’ (BBC Music Magazine) CORYDON SINGERS & ORCHESTRA MATTHEW BEST KOECHLIN SONGS ‘This really must be a find for those who wish to be captivated by some relatively unknown turn-ofthe-century French songs’ (Hi-Fi News) ‘Claudette Leblanc is a major recording discovery. A model presentation – landmark, classic, and indispensable’ (Fanfare, USA) CLAUDETTE LEBLANC BOAZ SHARON
Compact Disc CDA67805
BACH PIANO TRANSCRIPTIONS VOLUME 8: D’ALBERT COMPLETE BACH TRANSCRIPTIONS Hyperion’s Bach Piano Transcriptions series reaches volume 8 with a disc containing many first recordings. The controversial figure of Eugen d’Albert was one of the greatest pianists of his day and, although largely forgotten now, a composer of international renown. Like other great nineteeth-century pianists, d’Albert saw in the monumental scale of Bach’s organ works an opportunity to synthesize the works of the Master with Compact Disc CDA67709 the expanded capabilities of the modern piano. PIERS LANE 03_2010_listen.qxd 28/01/2010 11:40 Page 1
Compact Disc CDH55163 (budget price)
Compact Disc CDH55345 (budget price)
MONTEVERDI SACRED VOCAL MUSIC ‘Music of exhilarating inspiration, superbly performed. A recording as near as may be to the ideal’ (Hi-Fi News) ‘One of the most beautiful records I have heard this year’ (The Guardian) ‘If you don’t already own this joyous disc … add it to your collection without delay. It will repay the outlay a hundred times’ (Goldberg) EMMA KIRKBY / IAN PARTRIDGE / DAVID THOMAS / THE PARLEY OF INSTRUMENTS PETER HOLMAN / ROY GOODMAN Hyperion Records PO BOX 25, LONDON SE9 1AX email@example.com · TEL 020 8318 1234
Headphones at Home Listen offers standout headphones from cheap to luxe.
wing to the iPod and its earbuds, more people are using headphones today than at any time in history—but most portable headphones suffer from severely compromised performance, due to considerations of lowest cost and maximum portability. There are some worthwhile upgrades from earbuds if you are willing to trade off compactness, while for serious listening at home, there
has never been a better selection of high-performance headphones at all prices. Most consumer headphones today feature open-back designs, which offer an appealing sense of spaciousness. Professional headphones have usually featured closed-back designs, which isolate the listener from environmental noise and largely prevent leakage of what is playing.
And what makes closed-back headphones advantageous in a recording studio also makes them attractive for the bus or subway. Closed-back models have also been making a comeback among premium headphones for the excellent bass performance the design makes possible. Headphones are the most personal pieces of audio gear— they are the only electronics you
wear. So, the shape of your head and of your outer ears will not only influence how comfortable you find a pair of headphones, but also the way they actually sound. Therefore, a careful audition, or shopping for a money-back guarantee, would be prudent. Here’s a selection of standout headphones, from the cheap and cheerful to the ultra-luxe. Prices listed are the lowest widely advertised price. l
listen: Life with classical music • 77
recommended • at home
1 Audio-Technica ATH-AD700
2 Sennheiser HD 650
Sony Pro MDR-7506 $100
Sony’s affordable closed-back 7506s are a recording-industry workhorse, delivering durability and great performance for the price. Their basic sound is lean and forward, which suggests that the 7506s would partner best with budget gear that might sound a bit on the plummy side, and also suggests that better source equipment might only highlight their shortcomings. But the 7506s are hard to beat at the price and will be a major improvement over most earbuds. The 7506s are an easy load to drive, and so should provide adequate volume from players such as an iPod. Furthermore, their earpieces fold into the headband, making them more portable than any of the others. 1 Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 $149
3 Denon AH-D7000
Audio-Technica’s open-back ATH-AD700s are an upgrade from the Sonys in fit and finish, ergonomics and performance. In place of a conventional headband, the AD700s have adjustable “wings.” The AD700s have a smooth midrange and an airy sense of ambience, although their slightly reticent bass performance and lack of finest detail don’t really compete with more expensive models. Nonetheless, the AD700s are appealingly balanced and gratifying to listen to. 2 Sennheiser HD 650 $500
4 Stax SR-007 Omega II Mk2
78 • spring 2010
The yellow foam earcushions of Sennheiser’s HD 414s, the first open-back headphones, were a cultural icon of the 1970s. Since then, Sennheiser has held onto its position as the most widely known maker of high-quality headphones. The open-back HD 650s improve upon the previous-model HD 580s and 600s, which were breakthrough products in the professional market and, among audiophiles, a revolution not only in sound but in comfort as well. Their earpieces are elongated ovals instead of the usual circle, and their earcushions are covered in
crushed velvet. The 650s are like a rewardingly complex $36-a-bottle Châteauneuf-du-Pape, compared to the Audio-Technica’s $12-abottle good regional Rhône. The HD 650s have a silky sound that is rich, full, and seamless, with sweetly refined highs. A price/ performance best buy.
(The m902 also has a USB connection for music over a computer network.) The m902 even has a switchable “crossfeed” circuit to make headphone listening more resemble listening to loudspeakers. If most of your listening is with headphones, I think that you will find the Grace m902 worth the money.
3 Denon AH-D7000 $1000
Denon’s ultra-luxe closed-back AH-D7000s are not only one of the half-dozen best headphones I have ever used, they are also perhaps the most comfortable. Their leather-covered earcushions are not the usual donut shape, but are asymmetrically fashioned to fill up the space below and behind your ear. The headband sits more forward than is usually the case, but you soon become used to it. Construction quality and fit and finish are exceptional, with non-endangered solid-mahogany ear cups and precision hardware. But the payoff is the superb sound, especially the dynamic, extended, non-boomy bass—the best overall of any headphone I have heard. Grace Design m902 headphone amplifier $1700
You won’t get everything you paid for from your premium headphones unless you drive them with electronics that are up to the task. The headphone jacks on most receivers and CD players are simply not up to the task. There are dozens of dedicated headphone amplifiers at all price points, but my favorite, for its combination of features, performance and price is Grace Design’s m902. The m902 combines a high-performance digital-toanalog converter (DAC) with an exceptional headphone amplifier. It is entirely likely that providing the m902 with a digital feed from your CD player will give you better sound than the CD player’s own analog output section can. For such cases, the m902 provides output jacks so its sound can also be fed to your amplifier, to come out through your loudspeakers.
4 Stax SR-007 Omega II Mk2 Headphones and SRM-007T II Amplifier $4220
Stax headphones work on the same electrostatic principle as the Quad loudspeakers I profiled in Listen Vol. 1, No. 5, so, just like the loudspeakers, they require external energizing. Hence, the requirement to use a power supply/amplifier only from Stax. Electrostatic headphones embody the same virtues as electrostatic loudspeakers: immediacy, clarity and refinement. This combination is top-of-the-line; other Stax setups start at $760. What the extra money buys you is Stax’ best headphones, plus an amplifier that uses vacuum tubes and balanced circuitry for exquisite fidelity. I used a previous Stax top-of-theline vacuum-tube/balanced setup while pre-editing Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas, Vol. II (John Marks Records). That sound was preternaturally revealing but entirely non-fatiguing, and remains one of my most memorable audio experiences. — John Marks Record producer John Marks is a senior contributing editor of Stereophile Magazine.
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listen: Life with classical music • 79
on the road Organist’s Impasse Wherein the player bemoans the immovable nature of his instrument By Cameron Carpenter
gamelans of Kubla Khan are one thousand times more portable than the Brobdingnagian pipe organ, its immobility making martyrs of its players. Every pipe organ is different, and each one must be learned afresh. If a lifelong relationship with a treasured ’cello is a decades-long happy marriage, a recital on an unknown organ in Baltimore or Belokonsk is a one-night stand. How to commit one year in advance to repertoire for an instrument you’ve never played or seen, whose musical resources are unknown to you until you step off the plane? What of the variation in the organ’s action, its rapidity (or — horrors! — dull slowness) of speech, its probable hostility to individual approach? Let’s not discuss the onsite hours spent not on actual practice of the music to be performed, but instead on persuading — cajoling — an uncooperative instrument, racing against the clock to find the hundreds of sound combinations needed in time for the recital! Having arrived at the concert hall, look forward to no easy afternoons; the organ, being located in the busiest hall in the complex, is unavailable for rehearsal until hours appointed by the Inquisition. My most recent submission to torture by organ pipe occurred in Russia. In the manner of the Soviet show-trials, it was cheerfully billed as my Russian debut, at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall. While my first visit to Russia was filled with sweet confirmation of my expectations — the best in dance, dumplings, vodka, women and winter — my dread of 80 • spring 2010
the Tchaikovsky Hall organ was not without reason. To play even Bach on this organ was like pulling the Trans-Siberian Express with a chain gang of political dissidents. There — on this broken-down musical famine — I starved, slaved and scratched, all the while painfully aware that my listeners, hearing me for the first time, were among the world’s most musically astute audiences in the epicenter of a legacy of high-octane pianists. The solution to all of this, at least for me, is the virtual pipe organ. I’m designing a touring organ that, with sound samples from organs the world around and a modular console that’s easily movable, will give me a beautiful, enjoyable instrument through which I can achieve unimpeded expression night after night. Who can deny that an organist “on the road” shouldn’t have the same relationship
with his instrument — and his audience — that the great performers enjoy? But for now, the Soviet organ did its expression-killing duty while I fought on. Backstage after the torture, the final chance for an international incident was presented: the organ’s curator insisted that I write down and sign my impression (confession?) of the Tchaikovsky Hall organ’s beauties, in honor of its coming fifty-year anniversary. Doublechecking that my passport was still where I’d left it in the dressing room, I summoned what diplomatic prowess I could muster and wrote: “To my good friends at Tchaikovsky Hall: here’s hoping that, through the liberating influence of technology, organists may be heard here for another 50 years!” Cameron Carpenter is an American organist.
The corpulent contrabass and the
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LISTEN: LIFE WITH CLASSICAL MUSIC SPRING 2010 Featuring: American Maestra Marin Alsop; The iPod Shuffle Effect; Retuning Classical Radio; T...
Published on Mar 15, 2010
LISTEN: LIFE WITH CLASSICAL MUSIC SPRING 2010 Featuring: American Maestra Marin Alsop; The iPod Shuffle Effect; Retuning Classical Radio; T...