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Perahia the humanist
Plus One Touch of Nature music for springtime
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten Bach and Bauhaus
the artist as composer
Riccardo Muti Vivaldi: Gloria & Magniﬁcat 5099908521125
Sabine Meyer Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
Carlo Maria Giulini, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Janet Baker Verdi: Requiem
Antonio Pappano Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos 4, 5 & 6
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Sir Simon Rattle Mahler: Symphony No. 5
EMI Classics relaunches the popular EMI Masters Series: The definitive reissues from the what is without a doubt the greatest archive of classical music recordings in the world. Available on CD and for digital download, this newly repackaged installment of 30 masters celebrates EMI Classics’ greatest artists, including Itzhak Perlman, Sir Simon Rattle and Riccardo Muti. All performances in this series were recorded, mastered, or re-mastered at the internationally renowned Abbey Road Studios in London.
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EMI Classics commemorates the 40th anniversary of Michael Rabin’s tragic early death with this collection that brings together his ﬁnest recordings in one comprehensive 6-CD set. This new addition to the ICON series displays Rabin’s technical mastery with a maturity of interpretation that belied his years. Michael Rabin - Young Genius of the Violin
Pablo Casals Bach: Cello Suites
volume 4 • number 1
features 30 The
Humanist Murray Perahia discusses the pull of Bach, the invention of Haydn, his love for Mozart, editing the Beethoven Sonatas, the influence of Heinrich Schencker, and the importance of rubato. By Ben Finane
Winter’s Rains and Ruins Are Over
A r a G u l e r / M ag n u m P h o t o s
Music in celebration of springtime By Jens F. Laurson 44 The
Curious Case of Benjamin Britten
By Daniel Felsenfeld
38 listen: Life with classical music • 3
Music & Life
music in my life
It’s the first time around for the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra.
The Pavel Haas Quartet puts a vibrant spin on a very old tradition.
The renaissance of polyphony
His compatriots made institutions of their music. William Schuman made institutions.
music in art
Considering the fugues of a
an ear out
A pianist revives her career — with a different kind of viral marketing .
Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes offers a vision of a fading and faded world.
Bauhaus painter 66 in
the hall Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall
Chamber orchestras: The next (not-so-)big thing
Sibelius from Osmo Vänskä and Minnesota; Rota from cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl; an homage to Paderewski; dueling Beethoven Symphony cycles from Christian Thielemann and Riccardo Chailly; Bertrand Chamayou plays Liszt; Lucy Crowe visits Handel in Italy; Tudor and Jacobean music from Stile Antico; Rome Symphony Orchestra offers Malipiero; Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk sound French; Martinů symphonies from BBC Symphony Orchestra; The Mahler Album from Amsterdam Sinfonietta; Ponchielli from maestro Matthias Foremny; and Handel suites from pianist
On the Road Matt Haimowitz takes a bus tour with the rock ‘n’ rollers.
Illustration of Murray Perahia by Gerard Dubois
Lisa Smirnova 90 on
Mounting a symphony orchestra in Kinshasa print
The mysterious world of Sibelius
4 • spring 2012
g r e g g r o gg e l
CD HMC 902105
BERG BEETHOVEN Violin Concertos
Editor in Chief Ben Finane Copy Editor Silvija Ozols Editorial Consultants Bradley Bambarger, Menon Dwarka Contributing Writers Mark Anson-Cartwright, Jed Distler, Colin Eatock, Daniel Felsenfeld, Monika S. Finane, Damian Fowler, Matt Haimovitz, David Hurwitz, Jens F. Laurson, Russell Platt, Lucia Rahilly, David Vernier, Brian Wise Special Thanks Joti Rockwell, Patrick Tuck
Isabelle Faust Claudio Abbado
Art Direction and Design Point Five, NY: Alissa Levin, Benjamin Levine, Nathan Eames Contributing Photographers Dario Acosta, David A. Land, Sarah Shatz Website Development Michael Murphy
Two top artists together for the first time
Publisher/President Eric Feidner Publisher/GM Jon Feidner Associate Publisher Ben Finane Director of Operations Brian O’Connor Director of Technology Michael Heckler Director of Marketing and Public Relations Marcelle Soviero
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Listen: Life with Classical Music (ISSN 1947-4431) is published quarterly in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter for $19.80 per year by ArkivMusic, LLC, 109 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 2012. Copyright © 2012 Listen: Life with Classical Music.™ Periodical postage paid New York, NY and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Listen: Life with Classical Music, PO Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834. UK_Abbado_ListenMagazine.indd 1
8 • spring 2012
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letter from the editor
theory & practice A
mong the many privileges of editing this magazine (which now enters its fourth year of publication) the greatest has been the opportunity to speak to artists I have long admired, and in the course of a half hour’s conversation, to be suprised — in spite of all my neurotic preparation — by what I learn.
With the great American pianist Murray Perahia (page 30), the suprise came for me in the relationship between theory and practice. I knew that Perahia was a discipline of the musical theories of Heinrich Schenker (of which I boast a slightly-greater-than-wikipedia level of understanding) but I was unaware, perhaps naively, of the degree to which Perahia’s devotion to those theories ultimately contributes to the warm transparency at the keyboard that I have come to know as “the Perahia sound.” It was a humble reminder given by a humble interviewee that no one, not even the great Perahia, lives or develops — or flourishes — in a vacuum.
“He takes the motto of Goethe: ‘Everything the same, but in a different way.’” — Murray Perahia on Heinrich Schenker
This issue of Listen, in celebration of the season, fittingly offers readers a guide to springtime music (page 38). We preempt the 2013 centenary of Benjamin Britten in order to determine his place in the conversation (page 44). We also reconsider the legacy of American composer William Schuman (page 57) and recall Bauhaus artist Lyonel Feininger’s contribution to the art of the fugue (page 61). We discover what Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes has to say about the state of the world (page 51) and how the Pavel Haas Quartet puts a vibrant spin on tradition (page 21). We visit with a Cambridge, Massachusetts–based choir specializing in Renaissance polyphony (page 27) and with a pianist making her Carnegie Hall debut (page 66). In New York, an orchestra gives late-starters a fresh start (page 15) and across the nation, small is the new big (page 69). Meanwhile, cellist Matt Haimovitz is eager to get on the bus (page 96). As always, we offer recommendations: on record (page 74), on screen (page 90) and in print (page 92). Enjoy! Best,
Every CD mentioned or recommended in the magazine can be found online here: arkivmusic.com/listen
Ben Finane Editor in Chief firstname.lastname@example.org
M a y u m i Y o s h i ma r u
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10 • spring 2011
We would love to hear from you! Please send your letters and comments to email@example.com.
reader response volume
‘Madness, Thievery and a Train Full of Dynamite’ — Vol. 3, No. 4 A touch of nostalgia
The Woeful Romantic Joshua Bell defends his ventures and aesthetic. By Ben Finane Photographs by Dario Acosta
listen: life with classical music
Yo-Yo Ma Plus Composer Portraits WoRtH a tHoUSanD WoRDS
Does Music Make You Smarter? We aSkeD SoMe ScientiStS
Salzburg & lucerne FeStiVal ReVelationS
LISTENMUSICMAG.COM WINTER 2011 • $4.95
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11/7/11 6:29 PM
‘The Art of Storytelling’ — Vol. 3, No. 4 A lifetime of learning I am always amazed when great artists remain humble, so hearing Yo-Yo Ma talk reverently about his fellow musicians on The Goat Rodeo Sessions left me with a warm feeling in my heart. A few years ago I heard Steven Spielberg give a talk in which he went on about different camera lenses, and I was reminded of that in the Ma interview when he talked about different bowing techniques. It’s nice to hear that even the great geniuses of our time get excited about working with new people and styles. Diana Pekelnaya Falls Church, VA
‘Worth a Thousand Words’ — Vol. 3, No. 4 Long-lost friends Loved the little-seen pictures of composers in your last issue. Something tells me Morty Feldman would have been real fun to hang out with! Kesler Feo Lansing, MI
12 • spring 2012
I find such pleasure in discovering new music from your great articles that you’re costing me money (well spent). This time, it’s Vittorio Grigolo’s Arrivederci and Hans Rott’s Symphony in E. There is great writing in this periodical. Of course, many of the articles are full of insightful tidbits that would turn any opera-hater into opera-lover. May I add that, for me, some of the features of this fine magazine are nostalgic? But in my old age, I miss Toscanini, Stokowski, Gigli, Mario del Monaco, Magda Olivero. . . . Where have they gone? At least the later generations of musicians are no slouches, and for this we are, as classical enthusiasts, forever grateful. . . . Keep ’em coming! Ralph Cavaliere North Massapequa, NY
State of the Union T
he American orchestra is living in interesting times. Brick-and-mortar problems — bankruptcy, staff cuts, deficits, declining attendance — are being met with creative solutions. Orchestras are touring, seeking to capture younger audiences, and launching their brands beyond the concert hall and the record label. We peek in from various angles in an effort to bring you a sense of the orchestral state of the union.
Th e Ambassador
By Bradley Bambarger, Brian Wise, Damian Fowler and Ben Finane
listen: life with classical music • 39
38 • fall 2011
Sobering statistics. Recent financial troubles in Baltimore, Charleston, Detroit, Louisville, Philadelphia and elsewhere have prompted many orchestras to rethink their equations.
7/29/11 4:50 PM
7/29/11 4:51 PM
‘American Orchestras: State of the Union’ — Vol. 3, No. 3 Forgot something? First, a happy New Year! Second, I love the magazine. It is a real service to the classical music community. Third, a little grumble: this issue failed to note the hundredth birthday of the San Francisco Symphony on December 8. Hopefully something to note in the next issue? Pat Waddell San Francisco, CA
irtuoso Joshua Bell is the most recognized American violinist today. Because of his profile, Bell has the Herculean burden of meeting the varied expectations of anyone and everyone. Over the past decade, he has suffered disappointment from many in the classical community for his oft-marketed image as a “crossover” artist. But those who would dismiss Bell have simply not been listening — either to his vast core-classical London/ Decca discography of the nineties or to the gems to be unearthed within his Sony Classical catalog of the aughts, namely a bluegrass album with Edgar Meyer, a film score by Corigliano and tasteful vintage-style albums of encore pieces. His forthcoming project is a “French” album — Franck, Ravel, Saint-Saëns — with pianist Jeremy Denk. Expectations and image have taken a visible toll on Bell. Sitting on the roof deck of his Gramercy apartment, any mention of a project that falls outside the coreclassical sphere invariably elicits the reflexive response, “That’s two percent of what I do.” He is a little nervous, a little wary, a bit weary. Introducing himself, he mumbles his name, almost apologetically. Yet pushing resolutely through any defensiveness is a driving passion for — and conviction in — the music he champions. listen: life with classical music • 29
4/28/11 4:41 PM
4/28/11 5:08 PM
‘The Woeful Romantic’ — Vol. 3, No. 2 For whom Joshua Bell tolls Thank you for giving your readers a fresh new perspective on classical music. On another note, I wanted to share this nice story that I hope you’ll enjoy. It happened last October, when violinist Joshua Bell gave an extraordinary performance of Tchaikovsky’s Meditation and Glazunov’s Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony. I have to say it was one of those exciting evenings where everything came together so splendidly. After the concert, I stood in line to present Mr. Bell with a copy of Listen magazine and express how much I enjoyed his interview. Joshua was very kind and gracious. He responded with a thank you and mentioned that he hadn’t seen this issue yet. For me, Joshua Bell will always be one of the most amazing artists in classical music today and I’m so looking forward to his new CD, French Impressions [see page 84]. Vivienne Fraijo San Francisco, CA
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DONIZETTI LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR NATALIE DESSAY PIOTR BECZALA EDITOR’S CHOICE
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music in my life
Autumn in Bloom The New York Late-Starters String Orchestra By Damian Fowler
Photographs by Sari Goodfriend
listen: Life with classical music • 15
n a recent Sunday afternoon, the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra gathered for its weekly rehearsal in midtown Manhattan. The ensemble — comprised of about twenty people of varying ages and abilities — started to play its first piece, a short concerto grosso by the Italian Baroque composer Guiseppe Torelli. The players sawed away on their instruments with focus and intensity, placing their fingers with deliberation on their fingerboards and finishing the movement without catastrophe. “Nice!” said the conductor, Magdalena Garbalinska, a professional violinist who works hard to galvanize this disparate group of adult players, beating time clearly and, from time to time, demonstrating phrases on her own violin. “Let’s work on this section. Maybe we could do it more dynamically?” Playing an orchestral string instrument is an act of bravery. They are notoriously difficult to master and require considerable technical and musical skill to achieve something that sounds pleasing. Jokes about violins abound — “Better to be sharp than out of tune” is the string player’s 16 • spring 2012
motto — because beginning violinists are an easy target. So there’s something audacious about the idea of an orchestra for amateur adult string players who have long dreamed of playing in an ensemble. Surprisingly, the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra is one of a kind in New York City. It was started in 2007 by Elena Rahona and Andrea Lockett, both enthusiastic violinists who wanted to fit classical music into their busy lives. Rahona works full-time managing the global health program at a local hospital, and Lockett is a professional poet, writer and editor. Before founding the orchestra, both women found themselves in a no-man’s-land of competent but non-professional playing ability — Rahona has studied the violin for the past ten years, Lockett for over six. They found that amateur orchestras were typically
music in my life • music + life
Once more, with feeling. Elena Rahona (left photo, center), one of the co-founders of the New York Late-Starters String Orchestra, smiles as her plucky ensemble tries out pizzicato.
‘All my children were musical, and I was the mother who never played anything. But now I feel so lucky to be playing in a real orchestra, and I’m appreciating music from a very different angle.’
made up of highly skilled musicians with conservatory training, and then there were youth orchestras for talented high-school players. “There’s a lot going on here, but not for adults who just want to play,” says Rahona. Rahona and Lockett took their inspiration from a similar group they discovered in England, the East London Late Starters Orchestra. Both women attended summer camps with ELLSO where they admired the camaraderie, sense of community and kinship within the group. The seed of an idea was planted and a New York version of the orchestra started to grow, initially by recruiting players online via Craigslist. Unlike many orchestras, there are no audition requirements and beginners are welcome, which means anyone can join the orchestra if they’ve been playing for longer than a year.
“We wanted to create a welcoming environment, and while we won’t turn anyone away, people do self-select,” says Rahona. Skill levels run from near beginner to advanced intermediate, she says, and depending on the difficulty level of the piece of music, players may choose to opt out of difficult passages. For the most part the repertoire is chosen so that nothing is too much of a stretch. There’s an emphasis on Baroque and Classical pieces, which work effectively as arrangements for string orchestra and tend to be less technically challenging. At this rehearsal, in addition to the Torelli, there was a piece by the Italian violinist–composer Corelli, as well as French Baroque composer Jean-Joseph Mouret’s famous Rondeau (the theme from PBS’s Masterpiece Theater). “A lot of people join the orchestra and have a cherished piece of music in their head, but are disappointed to find we can’t necessarily perform it,” says Rahona. “We try to pick pieces that are interesting to an adult performer and not, say, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ which would be condescending.” Despite its musical limits, NYLSO is a serious endeavor for all concerned. “This is fun, but there is work involved,” says Garbalinska, the conductor. “It’s not a Sunday afternoon milk-and-cookies-with-Granny kind of orchestra!” Perhaps the most difficult piece on the roster at this rehearsal was a transcription of a piece by Mendelssohn, No. 35 from Songs Without Words. The ensemble — more than halfway through the rehearsal — played the piece sluggishly and without much feeling. A general air of disappointment prevailed, and one of the viola players cried, “It’s one more than we can do!” listen: Life with classical music • 17
music + life • music in my life
encouragement. When he died in 2007, Sara became more devoted to the violin — it provided a connection to him and a comfort in her grief. Then in the summer of 2010, she found NYLSO, which proved to be a revelation. “It’s really amazing, this whole thing,” she says. “All my children were musical, and I was the mother who never played anything. But now I feel so lucky to be playing in a real orchestra, and I’m appreciating music from a very different angle.” Other members of the orchestra share this enthusiasm. Ron, a publishing executive in his early fifties, has been playing the viola with NYLSO since the orchestra’s inception. Although his initial goals were modest, he is thrilled by his musical progress. “It’s not about being perfect, but we’re way, way better than we were,” he says, adding that he believes the orchestra is now playing close to high-school level. “We’re the foundational level of musical New York,” he adds, and insists professional orchestras should take note of a group like NYLSO because it represents an inter-generational group of music lovers that listens to classical music “in a complex way.” He points out that there are many classes
for adults — from cooking to pottery to tango — but when it comes to approaching orchestral instruments, adults are often obliged to play alongside children. “It’s super humiliating when you have to play with these little kids!” NYLSO performs concerts for friends, family and — as Ron jokes — other victims. The organizers refer to these concerts as open rehearsals, but they’re important milestones on the road to musical confidence. “I found myself growing, being part of this larger sound as an amateur player,” says Meredith, a cellist whose confidence as a late-starting musician has blossomed. She now plays with other ensembles, such as the well-regarded community orchestra Downtown Symphony. “My goal is to keep learning. . . . I would eventually like to play all the Bach cello suites.” As the Late-Starters String Orchestra has flourished, its founding members have become more ambitious in their goals. In the spring of 2011 the orchestra debuted its very first commissioned piece, which thrilled everyone, including the young composer, Christopher Prodoehl. Rahona wants to develop more partnerships with emerging composers interested in composing adventurous but technically accessible new works. And as the concept of NYLSO develops, Rahona and Lockett envision other possibilities for this underserved adult demographic — a music festival, master classes, even a partnership with a professional orchestra. They hope that the orchestra will inspire the founding of similar ensembles in other cities. Says Rahona: “It would be great if this could become a movement!”
Sunday in the park. Magdalena Garbalinska leads the orchestra at an outdoor concert in New York’s Central Park. 18 • spring 2012
c o u r t e s y o f NYLSO
Garbalinska responded, “Should we skip this?” But the group decided to give it another shot. “What’s missing is the emotion,” said the conductor. “It doesn’t make sense if you just look at the notes. You’re creating some kind of atmosphere. So let’s try again.” This time when the orchestra played, something magical happened. It wasn’t perfect, but somehow the piece coalesced into the melancholic, slow-burning Romantic sound the composer surely intended. It was a moment of quiet breakthrough for the ensemble’s musical expression. When the last note had been played, the silence was charged. “I told you,” said Garbalinska, acknowledging the transformation. It’s moments like these that make the orchestra worthwhile, says Lockett: “It transcends more than music. It’s all about courage. It opens up other aspects of people’s lives when they say, ‘Oh, I can really do that!’ ” And NYLSO proves that courageous musical breakthroughs can happen at any age. Sara, a violinist in her seventies, had played the violin as a young child and then stopped after her family came to the United States to flee World War II. She hadn’t played for decades, but started again at her husband’s
20 • spring 2012
music + life
Democratic Give-and-Take The Pavel Haas Quartet puts a vibrant spin on a very old tradition. By Bradley Bambarger
M a r c o B o r gg r e v e
Just as each generation of Olympians
runs faster and jumps higher than the last, classical musicians keep pushing the limits of technical skill as if bent on breaking records. For music ensembles, an everheightening level of collective virtuosity might seem to be a trickier proposition, given the eternal vagaries of human interaction; but in the realm of the string quartet, dizzying expertise abounds as perhaps never before. The Pavel Haas Quartet — a Czech group that has been collecting international prizes since its founding in 2002 — is prime among this new breed in a very old art.
Named for a Czech composer killed in Auschwitz whose work included three string quartets that the group has recorded, the Pavel Haas Quartet has justifiably earned such labels as “the world’s most exciting string quartet” (bestowed by The Times of London). But it’s doing so not through dazzling multimedia productions or affiliations with cutting-edge composers; after all, its 2011 Gramophone Record of the Year was for a set of Dvořák (the oft-recorded “American” String Quartet and the somewhat lesser-heard Quartet in G major, Op. 106). The Haas comprises four musicians who range in age from late-twenties to mid-thirties and who, while attractive and hip enough, are turning heads simply through the vibrant spin they put on an august Czech tradition passed down from the likes of the Smetana, Janáček and Vlach quartets. A key mentor from that tradition for the Haas Quartet has been Milan Škampa, violist of the Smetana Quartet (active 1945–1989). Veronika Jarůšková, the Haas Quartet’s founder and first violinist, likes to quote Škampa’s double-edged quip that a string quartet is “the most beautiful prison in the music world.” The group is on its third second violinist since 2002, with violist Pavel Nikl
conceding that “this life, with the travel and intense rehearsals, isn’t for everyone.” But the current foursome — Jarůšková and Nikl plus cellist Peter Jarůšek and violinist Eva Karová — hardly seems strained or constrained, despite having to convene from different points across Manhattan for a morning interview prior to a long drive to Boston for a concert; they are bright-eyed and game for conversation over cappuccinos, even if a clanging Upper West Side bistro isn’t quite the “paradise” of Prague and their favorite café (Kaaba, where smoking is still allowed). Important breakthroughs for the Haas Quartet were winning Italy’s Premio Paolo Borciani competition in 2005 and a place on the BBC New Generation Artists roster from 2007 to 2009. But nothing has secured a wider listening public more than the quartet’s contract with Supraphon, the venerable Czech record company. The group’s debut release paired Janáček’s almost overwhelmingly passionate String Quartet No. 2 (“Intimate Letters”) with the magical, soulful String Quartet No. 2 by Pavel Haas, subtitled “From the Monkey Mountains.” A sequel featured the First and Third Quartets by Haas alongside the First of Janáček. A rare all-Prokofiev chamber disc followed, then last year’s listen: Life with classical music • 21
music + life • quartet
Dvořák album, recorded in the resplendent acoustics of the Prague Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall — “where the composer himself conducted,” Nikl points out. “There is so much atmosphere in the hall that it made recording his music there very inspiring for us.” English critic and broadcaster Rob Cowan, a devotee of Eastern European music, has expounded on what makes the Haas Quartet’s Dvořák special, particularly with the “mystery and scale” of the thirty-five-minute Op. 106. “One of the highlights is the opening of the Adagio second movement, music infused with feelings of legend and narrative that inhabit an elegiac world not too far removed from the Largo of the ‘New World’ Symphony,” he writes. “But as well as exploring the music’s mysterious core, the Pavel Haas Quartet drives it carefully forward so that the effect is of an arrival rather than a mere jolt.” In the “American” Quartet, it’s the “ghostly quiet playing in the trio of the third movement, or the sensitive way this otherwise dancing movement trails off ” that can be so striking, he says. “Above all, you sense musicians enjoying themselves on home territory.” Although keen to stake a claim on its native repertoire, the Haas Quartet is hardly limited to it. The group recorded an all-Beethoven program for the BBC, and its ten-date U.S. tour this April — culminating at Carnegie Hall — will see the foursome range from Russian repertoire (Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich) to Britten’s Three Divertimenti and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet alongside Czech material (the Haas Second Quartet, Smetana’s First). This summer the Haas Quartet will enter a Prague studio to record its second Supraphon album 22 • spring 2012
of non-Czech repertoire: Schubert’s “Death Czech mates. When it’s two against two in any Pavel Haas Quartet debate, “the fifth member and the Maiden” and his String Quintet in decides” — an MP3 player. Cellist Peter Jarůšek: C major (with Danjulo Ishikaza on second “We record rehearsals. He lets us know the right cello), for release in early autumn. thing to do.” The Haas Quartet’s partnership with the Prague-based Supraphon has been “a dream situation,” Jarůšková says. “We can record what deficiencies of the old Czech socialist chewing we want, and we have a technical team we gum called Pedro that they suffered with as trust. The producer knows how to get the most kids (“You could never blow a bubble with it”), out of us while conserving our resources, and and they talk about not being ready for much the engineer knows what we really sound like.” contemporary repertoire — although the Jarůšek adds: “The label has such a rich history, group’s performances of Australian composer too. That means something to us. We grew up Paul Stanhope’s Second String Quartet helped on LPs with the Supraphon logo.” And, says it win the Australian Music Centre’s award Karová, “it’s a hometown company. The people for Top Instrumental Work of 2010. As for with it speak our language, in every sense.” interpreting Janáček’s great quartets, Nikl says, The group’s namesake, the Brno-born, “It helps if you know Czech speech and its Jewish composer Pavel Haas (1899–1944), special rhythms, which are difficult to explain was a student of Janáček. In 1941 Haas was to someone who doesn’t know the language.” imprisoned by the Nazis in the Theresienstadt Karová adds: “It’s probably the way Americans work camp, where he composed a few final feel about the swing of jazz.” pieces before being sent to the gas chambers When it comes to discussions in rehearsal, of Auschwitz. In taking his name, the quartet the four-way give-and-take is “constant and received the blessing of Haas’s daughter. democratic,” Jarůšková insists. “Everyone Among the memorabilia she shared with the is giving their opinions and ideas.” When players were many closed-minded reviews of it’s two against two in a sticky matter of Haas’s Second String Quartet, a progressivetechnique or interpretation, it’s “the fifth for-1925 work that features percussion laced member who decides,” explains Jarůšek. “We into its final movement. Now the piece record all the rehearsals — the fifth member is is a signature for the group, one that has an MP3 player. He ultimately lets us know the Nikl marveling over “how people take to it right thing to do.” everywhere, in the U.S., even Japan.” One disagreement arises that probably The discussion at the table veers from couldn’t be mediated by an MP3 player. Jarůšková’s veneration of Russian violin icon Jarůšek, who is married to Jarůšková, is David Oistrakh to Škampa’s exhortations explaining the satisfaction of winning awards to read a composer’s letters and to look “because we are winning people over by our around the churches where his music was playing — it’s not about our faces.” His wife, performed — “and take that atmosphere with a sharp grin, corrects him: “It’s not about with you to the stage.” They laugh about the your face, you mean.”
SU P R A P HON
Just warming up. The Pavel Haas Quartet has recorded four albums for Supraphon, featuring music by Prokofiev, Dvořák, Janáček and the group’s namesake, a Czech composer murdered in Auschwitz.
listen: Life with classical music • 23
music + life
keep an ear out
Going Viral How social media boosted a pianist’s profile By Brian Wise If you’ve ever done a search on YouTube for Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, Liszt’s Totentanz or Chopin’s 24 Études, chances are you’ve encountered a clip of Valentina Lisitsa. The Ukrainian pianist with the long flaxen hair and powerful technique has become one of the most popular classical performers of the viral-video era. That her videos have surpassed those by more recognizable names is a story born of old-fashioned determination, luck and the machinery of social media. As of press time her relatively low-budget videos had racked up more than thirty-five million views and forty thousand subscribers, with the most popular — Beethoven’s Für Elise — amassing 2.2 million views over three years. The attention online has paid off: In June, Lisitsa’s recital debut at Royal Albert Hall in London will coincide with the release 24 • spring 2012
of her recording of Rachmaninoff ’s four piano concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Michael Francis. Lisitsa had released a self-produced DVD of Chopin Études in 2007 when she discovered that pirated versions had made their way onto the internet. After failing in her efforts to chase down the pirates, she decided to join them: “I won’t worry about sales,” she said. “I’ll just put them on YouTube.” At the time she “was this obscure pianist,” says Lisitsa, who had won a few competitions in the 1990s but, now in her mid-thirties, found that her career had hit rock bottom. Soon people started to take notice, however, and she proceeded to post more videos. “I was absolutely blown away by the success, but I started to agonize,” she says. “I started to get a fan base and people started to ask me
why don’t I play here or there. I didn’t have anybody to help me.” Eventually an agent at IMG Artists signed her, and a recording date with violinist Hilary Hahn followed; their collection of Ives sonatas on Deutsche Grammophon made many critics’ best-of-2011 lists. Lisitsa, meanwhile, continued to make videos any time she entered a recording studio or concert hall, which allowed her to build a closer connection with fans. With more concert dates ahead — including debut performances with the Helsinki Philharmonic, Colorado Symphony and the Ravinia Festival — Lisitsa believes that social media can play a part in speeding up the sometimes creaky classical music business, where performers wait years to get a spot on a recital series. “In rock or pop, you don’t have to wait two years,” she says. “If you’re hot, you get something instantaneously.”
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NEW RELEASES BENJAMIN BRITTEN
Violin Concerto, Double Concerto & Lachrymae
Goyescas A major new recording of one of the masterpieces of the 20th-century piano repertoire from American pianist Garrick Ohlsson. Granados’s Goyescas, a series of six tone-poems celebrating his fellow Spaniard, the painter Goya, has long been revered by pianists for its colour, its virtuoso demands and above all for the composer’s extraordinary powers of characterization. Ohlsson also performs El pelele and the Allegro de concierto.
Anthony Marwood joins the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov for a powerful new recording of Britten’s youthful Violin Concerto, a work abounding in potent lyricism and frenetic energy. It’s coupled with the even earlier Double Concerto, for violin and viola, written while Britten was still in his teens and still a rarity in the recording studio. Violist Lawrence Power also plays the moving Lachrymae.
ANTHONY MARWOOD violin LAWRENCE POWER viola BBC SCOTTISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ILAN VOLKOV conductor
GARRICK OHLSSON piano
Music for viola and piano GABRIEL FAURÉ
Star violist Lawrence Power makes his second appearance in this quarter’s releases, this time with regular pianist partner Simon Crawford-Phillips. Shostakovich’s searing Viola Sonata forms the centrepiece of a programme that also finds the composer in more upbeat mode, with transcriptions of a selection of piano Preludes and music from The Gadfly, including the famous ‘Romance’.
Cello Sonatas Alban Gerhardt and Cecile Licad perform two masterpieces of the cello sonata repertoire—those by Fauré, remarkably written when he was in his seventies— alongside some of his most seductive bon-bons, including the wistful Sicilienne and the heartfelt Élégie.
ALBAN GERHARDT cello CECILE LICAD piano
LAWRENCE POWER viola SIMON CRAWFORD-PHILLIPS piano
THE ROMANTIC PIANO CONCERTO – 56
THE ROMANTIC VIOLIN CONCERTO – 11
Volume 56 of Hyperion’s ground-breaking Romantic Piano Concerto series presents the final instalment of the concertos of Friedrich Kalkbrenner, one of the most jaw-dropping pianists of the 19th century, played with enormous panache by Howard Shelley and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
The 11th volume in Hyperion’s groundbreaking Romantic Violin Concerto series features Reger in lushly lyrical mode for the two Romances while his unashamedly symphonic Violin Concerto continues in the lofty tradition of Beethoven and Brahms. The soloist is rising young star Tanja Becker-Bender.
HOWARD SHELLEY piano TASMANIAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA HOWARD SHELLEY conductor CDA67843
TANJA BECKER-BENDER violin KONZERTHAUSORCHESTER BERLIN LOTHAR ZAGROSEK conductor
Endless border & other choral works
The Swede Bo Hansson has observed that ‘the human voice is the closest you can come to your soul’ and here Rupert Gough and his Royal Holloway Choir showcase works that combine innovative word-setting, darting energy and sustained intensity.
Howard Shelley and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conclude their cycle of Spohr’s ten symphonies with two programme symphonies that rival Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique in sheer imagination: No 7, subtitled ‘The earthly and divine in human life’ and No 9, based on that perennial favourite among composers, ‘The Seasons’.
Symphonies Nos 7 & 9
ROYAL HOLLOWAY CHOIR RUPERT GOUGH conductor
ORCHESTRA DELLA SVIZZERA ITALIANA HOWARD SHELLEY conductor
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music + life
The Renaissance of Polyphony Blue Heron tackles the early Tudors. By Damian Fowler
Photographs by Greg Groggel
Blue Heron sings about God. Its repertoire of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English and European church music remains sacred — but with a sensual undertow. The sound this virtuoso chamber ensemble makes is the sound of desire, yearning, lost love. It’s a lust for salvation that wouldn’t be out of place in an opera house. When the ensemble sings of Mary, mother of God, as “the fragrant flower of chastity,” there’s perfume in the air. She’s a real woman, and she can help. Such invocations to Mary and other holy saints are typical of the kind of repertoire to which Blue Heron is devoted. The ensemble’s
latest recording, just released, is volume two of an ambitious five-CD series of music from the Peterhouse partbooks — ornate gems from the English Renaissance that reveal the urgency and heat of this late-medieval sacred music. And that’s the point. “When I go to a concert, I want to hear real human beings singing to other real human beings. In terms of the emotional engagement and expressivity of this music, there’s no difference between [singing about] the body or the spirit,” says Scott Metcalfe, the music director of Blue Heron, founded in 1999 and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This music isn’t about zoning out to ethereal sounds.” In concert, there’s nothing pious about this youthful ensemble of thirteen singers, men and women who can ravish the cold cathedral air with a powerful sound. Last October, Blue Heron thrilled a New York audience at the St. Ignatius Loyola church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with their glorious five-part polyphony. Okay, it was a Renaissance Latin text in praise of God, but it was a sonic revelation — vibrant, dynamic and fresh — even if it has taken some pieces around five hundred years to arrive on our playlist. On its first record, released in 2007, Blue Heron mixed sacred and secular works by Guillaume Du Fay, a Franco-Flemish composer of the fifteenth century. He wrote in most of the common forms of his day — masses, motets, hymns and chansons — and Blue Heron offers a striking variety of selections, including one of Du Fay’s spectacular isorhythmic motets, Apostolo glorioso. Characterized by a repeated rhythmic pattern found in one or more of the voices, it is “rigorously mathematical in conception and deeply sensuous in realisation,” according to Metcalfe’s program note. After this, Blue Heron recorded volume one of the Peterhouse partbooks — a musical project that will be the focal point of its musical output in the coming years. The newly released volume two includes a world premiere recording of Richard Pygott’s Salve regina, another Marian antiphon with characteristic yearning. “Unto thee do we syghe, wepyng & waylyng in this vale of lamentacyon,” runs listen: Life with classical music • 27
music + life • a cappella
the 1537 English translation. The Peterhouse partbooks — so named because they belong to Peterhouse College, Cambridge — contain five-part religious pieces by English composers of the early Tudor period, including Robert Fayrfax, John Taverner, Nicolas Ludford, Hugh Aston, Pygott and others. Copied in 1540 for Canterbury Cathedral, the partbooks are the largest and most important source of preReformation English sacred music in existence. Much of this music has gone unperformed Vocal chamber music. Blue Heron music director Scott Metcalfe specialized in Baroque violin before since the time of Henry VIII because all the tenor parts, and some of the treble, are missing. discovering the joys of Renaissance repertoire. But now, thanks to meticulous detective work by British musicologist Nick Sandon, to take on the religious baggage and believe those missing parts have been carefully in Purgatory to appreciate this music. Music reconstructed, or as Sandon puts it, reanimated. deals in the abstract and doesn’t deal in This, his life’s work, has been a thrilling musical anything other than itself—a series of sounds, process across the centuries. “Somehow, when raised and structured by an individual hand you’re working on it, all that time disappears. that can speak across the years.” It’s almost as if you’re the composer looking According to Sandon, the fact that the at the text, making decisions in the same way partbooks were copied in 1540 indicates that as he would have done it,” says Sandon. “It’s this very traditional, Catholic music — with almost as if you lean over and shake hands.” its florid, melismatic style — still had The music of the partbooks is made up of powerful advocates late into Henry VIII’s masses and antiphons on a grand scale. One reign. Despite his break with Rome, says such is Hugh Aston’s “Ave Maria dive matris Sandon, Henry remained a religious Anne,” an antiphon in praise of the Virgin conservative to the end of his days (he died Mary that explores the collision of the flesh in 1547) and perhaps didn’t want to surrender and the spirit (typical of the liturgical fashion the aesthetics of this devotional music for the of the time) in lines that translate as “Hail, simpler music that religious reformers would Mary: you nourished Jesus your son at your ultimately insist upon. “This music tells us sacred breast/Hail, Mary: you washed him that the English church, late into Henry’s in your lap.” The music is notable for soaring reign, was in a state of confusion and flux. melodies over constantly shifting, elaborate It’s pure accident that history went one way textures. A characteristic feature of this instead of another,” says Sandon. pre-Baroque music is its pre-tonal harmony; By the time Elizabeth I took the throne in the music isn’t always driving towards a tonal 1558, this florid Catholic form was over and resolution—more typical of later Classical choral music went on a different trajectory. harmony—but instead explores the surprising “In some ways it didn’t lead anywhere,” says and shifting harmonies within a mode. This Sandon. “The whole infrastructure of church makes the music less obviously directional music was killed off finally by introducing and perhaps allows for an exploration of a liturgy that regarded church music of complex emotions, within scales that eschew concealing, or hindering the word of God.” the sunny disposition of a major or the But now, this interrupted legacy has a despair of a minor key. new advocate in the present tense through “The extraordinary thing about this music the efforts of people like Sandon, Metcalfe is how some of it grabs you by the throat and and groups like Blue Heron. It may seem that by the heart,” says Sandon. “You don’t have with the Peterhouse partbooks, at least, Blue 28 • spring 2012
Ornate gems. Blue Heron has just released volume two of the Peterhouse partbooks — music from the English Renaissance (Blue Heron).
Heron is undertaking musical archeology. But excavating music is quite a different proposition from excavating a dinosaur bone or Tudor building. It’s more than digging in the dirt because what we experience isn’t a broken fragment suggestive of the whole — it is astonishingly alive when produced and performed by a professional choir of the caliber of Blue Heron. What’s remarkable and exciting about experiencing this music in a concert is not just the sheer sound, but also the sense that Renaissance polyphony has a new lease on life. Although much of this music is too difficult for an amateur group of singers — its unaccompanied, complex lines require tremendous stamina — there are a number of professional ensembles that perform it well. Other groups in Britain and America, apart from Blue Heron, include The Byrd Ensemble, Stile Antico and Ensemble Plus Ultra, which performed alongside Blue Heron during the concert in New York — joining forces for a rousing finale. Scott Metcalfe believes that his passion for Renaissance music can start a new culture of vocal chamber music just as dynamic and virtuosic as the culture of instrumental chamber music. As well as releasing the second installment of the Peterhouse partbooks project, Blue Heron continues its thirteenth season with further concerts in Boston and New York, including a program of sixteenth-century Spanish love songs and motets from the Song of Songs, works on the later end of the spectrum of repertoire for this virtuosic ensemble. “We’re in a renaissance of this kind of singing where there are more singers with the chops, a good sense of style who are interested in Renaissance music,” says Metcalfe. “The pool is getting better.” And as for the name Blue Heron? Metcalfe suggests that it was inspired by the Great Blue Herons that live in New England. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. “Someone once mentioned to us a medieval legend which had it that the heron was the only bird that sang in parts, but we have been unable to substantiate the tale,” he says.
The Humanist Murray Perahia discusses the pull of Bach, the invention of Haydn, his love for Mozart, editing the Beethoven Sonatas, the influence of Heinrich Schenker, and the importance of rubato.
By Ben Finane Illustration by Gerard Dubois
30 • spring 2012
listen: Life with classical music • 31
urray Perahia lives in London, and his clean playing recalls the transparency of the great European pianists like Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Maurizio Pollini, to name only two. But the Bronx native’s lyrical, conversational phrasing at the keyboard, his calm command of scale and human sense of time all color his playing with a warmth that is distinctly American and earn him, in my estimation, the designation of our nation’s greatest living pianist. The first North American to win first prize at the Leeds Piano Competition (in 1972), Perahia became both a superior solo and chamber pianist. He spent formative summers in Marlboro, Vermont, where he was encouraged by Rudolf Serkin and collaborated with Pablo Casals and members of the Budapest Quartet. He remains the principal guest conductor of Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Vladimir Horowitz was a crucial confidant and influence in his development as a pianist, while the theories of Heinrich Schenker shaped Perahia as a musical thinker. At his home in London, the pianist was summoned by phone from the keyboard to speak to Listen. As readers will discover below, Perahia’s phrasing is as expansive as his musical phrasing. Some prominent musicians I’ve interviewed for this magazine champion modern and contemporary music. But I think it’s fair to say that you remain a champion for tonality.
Yes [laughs] — actually, reluctantly. I used to listen to a lot and was a champion of contemporary music at a certain time, but the more that I understood tonallybased pieces, the more I went into that world specifically and almost hit a wall with the rest because I just couldn’t understand it; I was . . . unclear about it. So more and more I understood — and I think correctly — that Bach and all of that is dependent on understanding tonality. 32 • spring 2012
To understand Bach it’s essential to understand dissonance and consonance and how it works. And when you give that up, you lose your bearings, I feel. I imagine there are many who — having hundreds of years of musical progress and innovation at their disposal — find themselves returning to Bach.
At least I do. Again, this is the path I took — maybe it’s wrong. I’m not saying that there aren’t very important musicians working in contemporary music — and they’re not silly, they’re interesting and intelligent people. But it’s not a way that I can follow because I needed the reference points of tonality in order to understand my work.
Could you discuss tackling the Goldberg Variations? Gould has, perhaps, a higher-profile recording, but I found yours to be so warm and transparent —
Thank you very much. It was a project for many years in my life, but first I decided to tackle the English Suites. I had played a few French Suites, I had played some of The Well-Tempered, I had played the Partitas after a concentrated look at the English Suites — wherein I started working on the harpsichord with a harpsichordist; I had a teacher. And I worked very carefully on how to present these pieces on the harpsichord in order, not to play it on the harpsichord, but to see what expressive devices could be used on the piano from that experience.
Exquisite. Perahia has recorded the complete Mozart Piano Concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra (Sony Classical).
And one of the strangest things was — which I didn’t expect — but on the harpsichord, the decay of the sound is not immediate. In some ways, the translation of that [decay] in recordings got a misapprehension and everything sounded detached. Because it was very closely miked, the harpsichord, when it was recorded, and so you had the feeling of ‘tack-tack-tack-tack-tack.’ But actually when you play the harpsichord, that’s the first thing that you feel is the overhang, and that was more reminiscent of [sustain] pedal, on the piano: the piano cannot do that except with a little bit of pedal. And so therefore I started to reassess the use of the pedal in Bach. When I was studying it was considered wrong to use the pedal, and now I’m convinced that it’s very much in the spirit and style of the[se] composers to leave a little bit of harmony overhanging, and the pedal sometimes — not always, obviously, but occasionally — is necessary, in order to make phrasing a little bit less abrupt. And it was expected during that time [the Baroque period] that a little bit of sound would overhang. Anyway, after working on the harpsichord I decided then to actually go through the Goldberg Variations, and then it wasn’t until after about two years’ worth of work — not continuously, but in the summers, mainly, I would just work on the Goldbergs — and after two years I decided to play it and then to record it. I find this evolution with the pedal fascinating. Do you take pedaling on a composer-to-composer basis?
F i v e G r ap h i c M u s i c A n a ly s e s ( D o v e r ) b y H e i n r i c h S c h e n k e r
Oh yes, very much. For instance, I feel — almost instinctually — that Brahms needs more pedaling, to get those warm sonorities. And Chopin, I feel it’s very important to study his pedalings, because they’re very unusual and they blend harmonies at certain points and then not at other points. So I think a study of Chopin’s pedaling is essential to Chopin. And I think because the instruments in Mozart’s day [the Classical period] didn’t have an overhang, had an escapement more clear, therefore I would use a little less pedaling in Mozart — of course, a certain amount, because it comes with the piano, but not as much as, let’s say, Beethoven. Now speaking of Mozart, when I think of your playing — as I said, transparency and warmth — I think naturally of the music of Mozart. And with all the work you did with his Concertos [with the English Chamber Orchestra on Sony Classical], it seems a natural fit, the two of you.
Well that’s very kind, thank you. I love Mozart. It never dims, my love of Mozart. No matter where I am with Bach — and I love Bach as well — I’ve always maintained this love of Mozart, and it’s exactly the reason that you said: personal warmth. I think that he understands people and loves people despite the disappointments and whatever. You can see it in all the operas, that somehow all the characters, no matter how bad or difficult they are — or impossible, really — that there is a love that Mozart has for
Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935)
The Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker began his career as a composer, pianist and critic, but then devoted most of his time and energy to his theories. His first major theoretical work, Harmonielehre (Harmony, 1906), gave a hint of the visionary ideas about musical structure that would crystallize in his mature writings of the 1920s and ’30s, such as Tonwille (The Will of the Tones) and Der freie Satz (Free Composition). The latter writings promoted — indeed, preached — the view that tonal music written by masters from Bach to Brahms (the only music Schenker valued) was organized on the smallest and largest levels according to the same basic contrapuntal principles. These principles had their roots in the eighteenth-century theories of Fux and C.P.E. Bach, but had never before
been synthesized into a comprehensive, multi-leveled way of understanding whole pieces. In short, Schenker believed one could hear, and therefore understand, a complete piece — even on so grand a scale as that of the first movement of the “Eroica” Symphony — by relating all its contrapuntal and harmonic events to something much more basic. That something was the Ursatz (“fundamental structure”) [see graph above]. Although critics of Schenker’s approach, which is widely practiced nowadays by theorists in English-speaking countries, scorn what they see as a reductive tendency in Schenker’s graphic analyses, the point of the approach is not merely to reveal the simplest (or deepest) level, but to hear the relations between the various levels, including the musical surface. — Mark Anson-Cartwright
them, a vivacity of spirit, constant in his music whether it’s programmatic, whether it’s for the stage, or whether it’s for the concert hall. You’ve said that musicians should ‘try to understand music from the inside rather than from the outside.’ And I’ve noticed that you take an interest in the analytical work of Heinrich Schenker, who seems to see music as layers of an onion, with integral parts, and with more fundamental layers underneath —
Yeah, I never thought of an onion, but yes, there is a foreground and there is background and there’s a middle ground in Schenker. And those are three very important listen: Life with classical music • 33
34 • spring 2012
‘There are some notes that are more important, and the direction is more important than the notes together, and there are somehow forces underneath the notes that determine the emotions and also the direction of the piece.’
concepts. And his graphs deal mainly with the middle ground. Because the background, he feels, is pretty much the same for all music — which is a very startling comment; it’s a very difficult concept to understand and I wouldn’t propose to explain it in five minutes or something like that. He takes the motto of Goethe: ‘Everything the same, but always in a different way.’ In other words, all nature, all humans work somewhat in the same way, but always different, always it manifests itself always differently. So every piece, according to Schenker, would have similar backgrounds, but it would be the middle ground that would determine a lot of what the piece is, and the foreground is an expression of that middle ground. What it basically takes away, I think, is this idea that every note is important. There are some notes that are more important and the direction is more important than the notes together, and that there are somehow forces underneath the notes that determine the emotions and also the direction of the piece. So what appeals to you about that approach?
It’s not what it seems. [Laughs.] It’s not what it seems on the surface, that there are layers of comprehension. That somehow, this allows you to see a totality, the way the composers said they saw the whole piece — which they had to [have seen], otherwise it would be a collection of this bit and that bit and the other bit, and that’s not the way music is: it has an organic whole. And this allows you to see that, because once you peel away layers of the foreground, you can see basic chords in the middle ground and direct the whole thing. And it becomes simpler for you to understand and you can keep it in your mind. I have the Schenker-edited Dover edition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, and now I see you’re editing the Beethoven
listen: Life with classical music • 35
No, I can’t think of it off-hand.
Urtext manuscripts. So in a way it seems you’re following in Schenker’s footsteps.
That’s nice of you to say that. I think so, somehow [laughs]. Inadvertently, yes, I’m retracing his footsteps through history — in that.
Fortunate, then, that I have it cued up here: [plays first movement of BWV 1052 (Sony Classical) 5'32"–6'03"] — and then the strings and continuo return. There’s something remarkable about how that phrase — this music — seemingly lives on the edge of disaster. It’s being propelled forward. You’re on the same page with St Martin. It’s a great example of how chamber music, which can sometimes have this unfortunate connotation of powdered wigs and severity, can just be so exciting — this realization of horizontal movement.
Yes, I really appreciate that and I really appreciate your use of the word ‘suspension,’ because they are suspensions, absolutely, and people don’t listen always to the music — we like that.
What does that entail, editing an Urtext? To me, it speaks to this sense of rubato that you —
It’s fascinating. I’ve really loved doing it. What I get, before we have the meetings with the editor, is all of the facsimiles of extant autographs, which in the sonatas I think is only about ten out of thirty-two, it’s not so much; so therefore, I’ve insisted on sketches, all of the sketches that the composer did, to determine notes and meanings and . . . just how he saw the evolution of the piece. So I see all of that plus the first edition before I have long talks with the editor to decide how our edition is going to look and what it will do. And one of the things we’ve tried to do is to re-create the phrasing of the manuscripts where phrase ends are not quite so clear — they seem to go to the next phrase. We tried to do that in certain crucial places in the Beethoven Sonatas. Also, we’re very careful about notes and things — we found some different ones, different dynamic shadings. I guess every editor is going to see different things in the material — anyway, it’s quite a fascinating endeavor and I really love it. And then there are the fingerings!
— yes — — and that’s not always done with Bach. I’ve heard you speak in the past about notes inégales rubato, but this is something a little more, with a bit more variation and pull and push.
Essential. Murray Perahia Plays Bach Concertos, a three-disc collection featuring Academy of St Martin in the Fields, is a must for any fan of Bach or the piano (Sony Classical).
It’s true. I feel music is always rhythmically dependent on voice leading. In other words, a rigid rhythm is not going to help the music because it doesn’t help the voice leading. If you have a suspension, you hold back a little until you resolve — it’s complicated. At any rate, the voice leading tends to be reflected in the rubato and therefore I think that there’s always a certain amount of rhythmic freedom. Interesting in that respect that C.P.E. Bach, when asked about rhythmic freedom, said, ‘My father’s music you could play pretty straight, but my music, you can’t play one bar of it straight.’ And I think that’s probably true. You could actually get away with playing [J.S.] Bach straight, because it’s so strong, although I don’t like it totally that way.
Yes, exactly, and the fingering will somehow reveal the phrasing, will be in partnership with the phrasing — so not for security or for ease only, although ease is important to some extent. The main thing is to indicate the phrasing with the fingerings, and that’s what I try to do. Five and a half minutes into the first movement of your recording of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor with Academy of St Martin in the Fields comes a remarkably sustained phrase of descending suspensions. Do you know what I’m referring to?
36 • spring 2012
‘It’s very important that the technique always be at the surface of the music and, therefore, always to expand one’s horizons both technically and musically.’
p r e v i o u s s p r e ad : f e l i x b r o e d e
Are the fingerings you select related to, for lack of a better term, the more important notes, which are going to be played with more important fingers?
done a lot of the Mozart symphonies — we’ve done 35 (the ‘Haffner’); we’ve done the ‘Linz’ [No. 36]; we’ve done the last three great ones, so, the ‘Prague’ [No. 38] — I get great enjoyment out of the Mozart symphonies. And now we’re doing Haydn symphonies, which are fantastic, absolutely fantastic. So that kind of Classical period is what I do most.
You certainly don’t play it straight.
No, I don’t. And Bach playing that I love, like Casals’, is not straight. Landowska is not straight at all. What she does with rubato is just unbelievable. And harpsichordists nowadays! [Gustav] Leonhardt, [Bob] van Asperen — they all play with rubato, it’s just natural to their playing. I think that harpsichord you can’t play completely straight. But at any rate, I think that with C.P.E. Bach, I think that once emotions [are] getting defined and then refined, I feel that even more rubato is demanded, which he himself said. [The Dutch keyboardist Gustav Leonhardt passed away shortly after this interview, in Amsterdam, at the age of eighty-three. — Ed.] Can you share a significant lesson or epiphany from a teacher in your life that changed the way you saw music?
Well, I would start with Casals saying Bach is always human and that the music involved human emotions. And that was very important to me, because in the fifties and sixties one heard performances, especially in German orchestras, that were very straight. And that influenced me. Horowitz telling me that ‘to be more than a virtuoso, first you should be a virtuoso’ and working with me on virtuoso music was also very important to me. I think it’s very important that the technique always be at the surface of the music and, therefore, always to expand one’s horizons both technically and musically. Those were very important lessons. The training I got at Mannes College with Carl Schachter and Felix Salzer was very important in determining how I saw music. So I think all three of those were important influences. Schachter has, incidentally, written the new preface to Schenker’s Dover Edition.
That’s right. So it must be nice to feel yourself in a sort of scholarly continuum with your teachers and teachers’ teachers.
Yes, I’m very grateful, actually.
Haydn in the symphonic world can often be overlooked in the wake of larger, more massive symphonists. Perhaps you could talk about why Haydn’s symphonies are appealing.
So inventive! I just did one with young people in Berlin, [at] what they call ‘The Academy’ because these people are going to go on to the Berlin Philharmonic; it’s sort of the training orchestra. And we just did the ‘Oxford’ Symphony [No. 92], and every bar is completely unexpected yet inevitable and it somehow is full of wit, all the time, but this wit is not in any way fey or in any way unnatural — it’s completely what the music speaks and I was just amazed at the inventiveness of it. He uses one motive, let’s say ‘Dee, ba ba ba bum, ba ba ba bum,’ and this is used upside down, long augmentation, diminution, in every way and yet it doesn’t feel intellectual, it’s completely natural and it was great, great fun. I’m amazed at Haydn’s breadth of imagination. Is there music for solo piano that you haven’t yet tackled that you’d like to give more time to?
Yes, I’d like to study the Diabelli Variations. I spend a little time with them every so often and I would like it prolonged so that maybe I’ll play them, hopefully. And there is one Beethoven sonata that I have not played and that’s the Opus 111. Although, again, I’ve looked at it but I’ve never played it in concert. There’s, wow, [laughs] all sorts of music, there’s a lot of Chopin I still haven’t played, Haydn sonatas, Schumann, there’s so much piano repertoire to look into. In an interview with Listen [Vol. 3, No. 1], Anne-Sophie Mutter said a problem with young, rising musicians is that they don’t have a point of view. And speaking with Arnold Steinhardt yesterday, he said what makes you great is that you have a point of view — and also that no one could ever accuse you of playing to the crowd.
Yeah [laughs], that’s very kind of him. But it’s true, I do have a very strong point of view, again based on my influences, based probably on my studies. It’s Schenkerian in some ways, but it is a point of view, and it does inform a lot of my music decisions.
Do you have firm ideas about orchestral performance practice? Could you see yourself conducting a cycle of Mozart symphonies down the road?
When I work with the Academy of St Martin’s, I always do a symphony with them, as well. And I think we’ve listen: Life with classical music • 37
For Winter’s Rains and Ruins Are Over
Music in celebration of springtime Jens F. Laurson
listen: Life with classical music • 39
lexander Pope tells us that hope springs eternal in the human breast, and if he isn’t referring to the eternal hope for spring, he really missed out on something. It’s just the thing after a long winter to find that spring has sprung, the grass has ’riz, and to wonder where the birdies is — as the anonymous bard so eloquently put it in “Spring In The Bronx.” Beethoven felt the same way.
1. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck Secular Vocal Music incl. Voicy du gay printemps l’heureux advenement Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam Harry van der Kamp, conductor (Glossa)
40 • spring 2012
Roughly twenty years before that he had already hinted at his feelings for spring when he penned his Op. 52, No. 4 Mailied (“Song of May”), a short, pretty song that anticipates his most famous lied, Adelaïde. It sounds particularly good in the voice of the twenty-five-year-young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who, at the time of his RIAS recording of it in 1951, was as old as the composer had been when he wrote it.2 Beethoven’s so-called “Spring” Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 24, by contrast, has no programmatic content and was nicknamed only later. The most famous musical incarnations of spring are paths well traveled and oft-heard: Schumann’s First
4. Alexander Glazunov The Seasons Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi, conductor (Chandos)
2. Ludwig van Beethoven Maigesang Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, baritone (Audite)
3. Astor Piazzolla Las Cuatros Estaciones Portenas Les Violons du Roy (ATMA Classique)
5. Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky The Seasons Mikhail Pletnev, piano (Virgin Classics)
6. Christoph Graupner Partitas Volumes 6 & 7 Genevieve Soly, harpsichord (Analekta) 7. Joseph Canteloube Chants d’Auvergne Veronique Gens, soprano (Naxos)
p r e v i o u s s p r e ad : M A G NU M P HOTOS /A r a G u l e r
So did Schumann, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky and just about every other composer who ever wielded his or her seasoned pen. They all wrote about spring in some way or other — famously or forgottenly, parenthetically or prominently. From Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s 1595 two-voice chanson Voicy du gay printemps l’heureux advenement1 to Benoit Mernier’s 2008 opera on Frank Wedekind’s play Frühlings Erwachen, the theme of spring has served as inspiration, picturesque expression and thematic link for composers. Beethoven paid his celebrated tribute to nature in general and spring in particular in his Pastorale Symphony.
Symphony, the corresponding movements in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Haydn’s Jahreszeiten, Stravinsky’s Rite and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatros Estaciones Portenas3 are now well known, and a popular companion to the Vivaldi. Their “Spring” isn’t just a riproaring affair; it also stands out as one of the few southernhemispherical springs, from September to November. One wonders what it says about Alexander Glazunov in particular or Russian springs in general that in his charming ballet The Seasons, Op. 67 — the work that gave Anna Pavlova her break — summer, fall and winter all get decent attention, while spring is skipped by with brief and subdued gaiety.4 Teasing spring out of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, Op. 37, can be done month-by-month, with March’s “Song of the Lark,” April’s “Snowdrop” (’tis Russia!) and “Starlit Nights” in May.5 Bach contemporary Christoph Graupner also offers a month-by-month cycle among his many keyboard works: his twelve suites titled Monthly Clavier Fruits include “Martius,” “Aprilis” and “Maius.” Because of their success, Graupner went on to compose a follow-up “Seasons” cycle, but only “Winter” (GWV 121) survives.6 Henri Sauguet’s “Seasons” is a little-known contribution to the symphony genre. Sauguet started out as a provincial organist, studied with Joseph Canteloube — who has a few spring references in his own Chants d’Auvergne7 — after the Great War, and got a gig writing for Ballets Russes. In the resulting work, La chatte, George Balanchine gave his debut. Sauguet did all that on the side, as an amateur composer who benefited from the advice of Milhaud, Debussy and Satie. Sauguet was drafted in World War II despite “incurable weakness” (a French precursor of “don’t ask, don’t tell”), from which he seemed to emerge with stoic confidence. In 1949 he wrote his Second, “Allegorical” (or “Seasonal”) Symphony, a grand two-hour tour of the seasons for large orchestra and mixed choir that sounds like a throwback to Debussy and D’Indy in the best sense.8 The lark brings to mind Haydn’s so-nicknamed String Quartet, Op. 64/5, and animals in general indicate spring in music where titles don’t spell it out.9 Schubert’s
‘Even if the stereotype of gaiety and fairy music does the work of Felix Mendelssohn an injustice, he is the composer we could most easily imagine prancing about in flowery fields.’
upstream-swimming Trout points likely, if not definitively, to spring. Respighi’s “Birds” from his Three Botticelli Pictures certainly do, and Frederick Delius tells us exactly when he heard his first cuckoo (namely, in a very calm spring).10 The opening movement of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony is a cornucopia of spring sounds without the label. Full of birdcalls, it’s right in line with the goldfinches in Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto, Op. 10/3, “Il gardellino.”11 “Pan awakens,” the first movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, is about “summer marching in,” which is a euphemism for all-out spring — and Mahler turned once more to spring with his drunkard from Das Lied von der Erde.
10. Frederick Delius Two Pieces for Small Orchestra Royal Scottish National Orchestra David Lloyd-Jones, conductor (Naxos) 8. Henri Sauguet Symphony No. 2, “Allegorique” Moscow Capella, Moscow Symphony Orchestra Antonio de Almeida, conductor (Marco Polo)
9. Joseph Haydn String Quartet, Op. 64/5, “The Lark” Quatuor Ebène (Mirare)
11. Antonio Vivaldi Flute Concertos, Op. 10 Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)
12. Felix Mendelssohn Songs Without Words Lívia Rév, piano (Hyperion Dyad) 13. Felix Mendelssohn 6 Gesänge, Op. 34, No. 3, Frühlingslied Peter Schreier, tenor (Berlin Classics) 14. Aribert Reimann Song Cycles after Schubert, et al Cherubini String Quartet (Tudor Records)
15. Franz Schubert Frühlingsglaube, D686 Im Frühling, D882 Ian Bostridge, tenor Julius Drake, piano (EMI Classics) 16. Franz Liszt 12 Lieder, S558/ R243, No. 7 Oxana Yablonskaya, piano (Naxos)
listen: Life with classical music • 41
Even if the stereotype of gaiety and fairy music does the work of Felix Mendelssohn an injustice, he is the composer we could most easily imagine prancing about in flowery fields. His use of spring isn’t excessive, but it’s there, alright: The very pretty “Spring Song,” Op. 34/3 is one example, the six-part a cappella piece “The First Day of Spring,” Op. 48 another, and at least two further spring references can be found by dipping your ears into Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. Song No. 6 from Book Five, Op. 62 is easy, because he also titled it “Spring Song.” Op. 19/5, “Leise zieht durch mein Gemüth,” is the other, on a Heinrich Heine poem, and exists also as a song (Op. 19a/5). Its most intriguing incarnation, however, is Aribert Reimann’s reconception, “Mendelssohn — . . . or is it Death?” Scored for string quartet and soprano, Reimann lets the subtly sinister strings chirp with delicious ambiguity behind the hardly altered vocal part.12 13 14 Johann Ludwig Uhland’s poem Frühlingsglaube has proven a popular fountain of spring songs. Schubert, who never met a poem he didn’t put to music, created a setting that just needs the right singer to be very beautiful.15 Louis Spohr tried the same thing, but with less success and lesser interpreters having had a go at it. Franz Liszt took Schubert’s song and ran with it beautifully in one of his song transcriptions for piano.16 Among choral settings, it is Alexander von Zemlinsky who found Uhland’s poem an ideal way to elicit his late-Romantic orchestral-choral gorgeousness17 — a wonderful way to warm up to Zemlinsky’s music, if you don’t already know it. Christian Lahusen, the Argentine-born German World War I fighter pilot-cumcomposer, used Uhland’s text, along with several other spring poems, for his “Spring Songs,” a part of his large,
simply beautiful choral cycle Ein Schöpfungsgesang (“Song of Creation”).18 For a Norwegian, spring must have had that extra bit of importance. Little wonder, then, that Grieg should have actively engaged himself on that topic, often to famous effect. Spring — Våren in Norwegian — can be found in a great number of his opus numbers, but it’s often the same lovely work regurgitated in another form: for voice and piano (Op. 33/2), solo piano, piano two hands, orchestra (all Op. 34/2), and voice and orchestra (EG 177). The transcription Til våren (“To Spring”), Op. 41/6 is based on the song Op. 21/3.19 20 21 The famous lyric piece “To Spring,” Op. 43/6 is one of a kind, while the “Spring Dance” is an all-too-literal mistranslation of Springdans, which literally means “leaping dance” and might best be translated as “folkdance,” the Norwegian Springar. More romantic Norwegian spring incidences come from Christian Sinding’s short and effective piano piece “The Rustles of Spring” (Frühlingsrauschen), which helped the onetime Eastman School of Music professor (1921) to fame in his lifetime, if not in posterity.22 There are many other worthy spring-themed works — by the likes of Eben, Hindemith, Koechlin, Künneke, Ladmirault, Liapunov and Milhaud — that go unnamed here. But the following works deserve at least a nod for their gorgeousness: Ernest Bloch’s variously dancing, then ardent spring in Hiver-Printemps23; the reconstructed version of Debussy’s original Printemps for orchestra and chorus (rather than the standard version for orchestra, two pianos and no chorus by Henri Busser) that Emil de Cou concocted and recorded with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra24; and Benjamin Britten’s
‘For a Norwegian, spring must have had that extra bit of importance. Little wonder, then, that Grieg should have actively engaged himself on that topic, often to famous effect.’ 17. Alexander von Zemlinsky Complete Choral Works James Conlon, conductor (EMI Classics) 18. Christian Lahusen Ein Schöpfungsgesang Goethe University Chamber Chorus Munich Madrigal Choir Franz Burgert, piano (Divox)
42 • spring 2012
19. Edvard Grieg Lyric Pieces, Opp. 43, 54 & 65, Piano Concerto Leif Ove Andsnes, piano (Virgin Classics)
20. Edvard Grieg Symphonic Works, incl. Two Elegiac Melodies West German Radio Symphony Orchestra Eivind Aadland, conductor (Audite)
21. Edvard Grieg Symphonic Dances, incl. 6 Orchestral Songs, EG 177 Solveig Kringelborn, soprano Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra Gennady Rozhdest vensky, conductor (Chandos) 22. Christian Sinding Violin and Piano Music Christian Ihle Hadland, piano (Naxos)
23. Ernest Bloch Hiver-Printemps, et al Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra (Capriccio) 24. Claude Debussy Debussy Rediscovered San Francisco Ballet Orchestra & Chorus Emil de Cou, conductor (Arabesque)
rousing chorale “Spring Symphony,” Op. 44, with its very robust reawakening of everything in nature.25 Shortly after endeavoring to “collect” spring music for this article, I was invited to a Boulanger Piano Trio concert on the outskirts of Munich. Even amid special moments of Beethoven and Brahms, the definite highlight was the namesake-honoring encore D’un matin de printemps by Lili Boulanger. It was already on my list, but undiscovered. Now it came to life, and how! This superb miniature contains all the hints of budding modernity and lingering Debussy — in under five minutes. Lili Boulanger, the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, was as physically feeble as she was musically gifted. Few other composers achieved so much in so little time; she died at the age of twenty-four. Her famous older sister Nadia, teacher of a who’s who of twentieth-century composers and musicians, subdued her own composing urges because even if she was very mildly defensive about Lili’s output (“There are no technical novelties in Lili’s writings — she lived in an age when intellectual speculation had not yet arrived, but she was able to find the necessary elements for expressing her own very personal message”), she thought that her own talents as a composer did not hold up to the standards Lili had set. D’un matin de printemps, its moods as volatile as April weather, is hardly Lili’s most important work, but it is a perfect example of all that is magnificent about her compositions, regardless of which version one listens to: the one for colorful orchestra, violin and piano, piano trio, or the two-piano arrangement by Jean Françaix. Of all the above works, this has become the dearest to me while writing and listening to spring.26 27 28 29
Visit ListenMusicMag. com/Spring to learn more about or purchase albums listed in this article.
26. Lili Boulanger D’un matin de printemps (Piano Trio), et al Boulanger Trio (Ars Produktion)
25. Benjamin Britten Spring Symphony Royal Opera House Orchestra Benjamin Britten, conductor (Decca)
27. Lili Boulanger D’un matin de printemps (Piano & Violin) Olivier Charlier, violin Emile Naoumoff, piano (Marco Polo)
28. Lili Boulanger D’un matin de printemps (Orchestral) Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra Mark Stringer, conductor (Timpani) 29. Lili Boulanger D’un matin de printemps (Two Piano, arr. Jean Françaix) Waltraud Wulz, Antoinette van Zabner, pianos (Gramola)
From Atalanta in Calydon By Algernon Charles Swinburne When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, The mother of months in meadow or plain Fills the shadows and windy places With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain; And the brown bright nightingale amorous Is half assuaged for Itylus, For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces, The tongueless vigil, and all the pain. Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers, Maiden most perfect, lady of light, With a noise of winds and many rivers, With a clamour of waters, and with might; Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet, Over the splendour and speed of thy feet; For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers, Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night. Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her, Fold our hands round her knees, and cling? O that man’s heart were as fire and could spring to her, Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring! For the stars and the winds are unto her As raiment, as songs of the harp-player; For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her, And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing. For winter’s rains and ruins are over And all the season of snows and sins; The days dividing lover and lover The light that loses, the night that wins; And time remembered is grief forgotten, And frosts are slain and flowers begotten, And in green underwood and cover Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
listen: Life with classical music • 43
44 • summer spring 2012 2011
The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten T
he British composer Benjamin Britten is well documented on disc and in print, frequently performed, lionized by many — especially those in the opera world — and often referred to as The Greatest British Composer Since Purcell (which either praises him or damns him with faint praise). But music history is most often taught as a recounted lineage of aesthetic successions, influence writ large, a slew of begettings and begats, epochal waxings and wanings, dawns and dusks, ideas giving way to other ideas, the churning of centuries in the service of progress. While a sequential narrative is a necessary contrivance for those who need to address totality — one has to start (and end) somewhere — it leaves little room for counterargument, for those working outside the metanarrative. And so Benjamin Britten is left stranded outside the conversation.
The leading Brit. With Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten launched the revival of English opera.
By Daniel Felsenfeld
listen: Life with classical music • 45
Only your notes are pure contraption Only your song is an absolute gift. Pour out your presence, a delight cascading The falls of the knee and the weirs of the spine, Our climate of silence no doubt invading; You alone, alone, imaginary song, Are unable to say an existence is wrong, And pour out your forgiveness like a wine.
46 • spring 2012
There is no doubt to which composer Auden was referring. Britten, to him, had become music. After brief stints in New York City and Long Island’s Amityville, Britten became an international celebrity. He wrote early works for the Boston Symphony, built (like Wagner, and like him only in this way) his own opera house, and enjoyed the company of a famously insular and complicated clique of people. He wrote operas for his own touring company as well as for the coronation of Elizabeth II. He arranged folk songs and wrote symphonies in homage to spring [see “For Winter’s Rains and Ruins Are Over,” page 38]; he wrote cello pieces for his friend Rostropovich and made a requiem mass from the poems of a trench poet and pacifist; he wrote a ballet based on gamelan music and made several “operas” for church based on parables and Noh theatre. His output is as wildly varied as anyone’s — as that of Mozart, Richard Strauss, or even Leonard Bernstein. His surface naiveté often belied his artistic stubbornness: he intentionally misread a commission from Japan in order to write the piece he wanted to write (Sinfonia da Requiem), and he based his grandest opera (Gloriana) — a commission to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II — on a scurrilous and less-than-popular book among the royals.
Duo. Benjamin Britten with his lifelong companion and muse, Peter Pears, in Brooklyn.
P r e v i o u s s p r e ad : K u r t H u t t o n ; C o u r t e s y o f t h e B r i t t e n - P e a r s F o u n da t i o n
Music history teaches that two schools of thought formed in the early-to-mid-twentieth-century. These schools rallied around the Apollonian and Dionysian poles of Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, respectively (though such ill-matched and ex post facto descriptives only somewhat suit these two nuanced and complicated composers), while a separate group orbited the distant planet of French experimentalist Erik Satie. To oversimplify, Stravinsky began with native folksong and waxed retro-classical, while Schoenberg, the German expressionist, created a system of composition with twelve tones that paved the way for ur-systemic composition of the highest order (although the algebra in the process could, to some, become the process). Satie, meanwhile, held that major triads — verboten for Schoenberg and freighted for Stravinsky — could be rash and experimental. In these absurdly reduced historical narratives there is simply no room for Britten, which means his broad influence is often conveniently omitted. But perhaps there are also other, more complex reasons for his omission. Britten grew up middle class, which in the United Kingdom of the First World War meant quite a bit. Until that time, genius — real Mozart– or Beethoven–level genius — tended to originate from either the aristocracy or within bohemian squalor and burbling chamber pots. Britten had things easier than most. He so adored his childhood that he spent a lot of time pondering, through his music, how to return. He endured a customary, excellent/terrifying Dickensian education that taught him to “do a good day’s work” without undue fuss and to fear his superiors. When he made his move to London, he fell in with the usual bohemian circle of many an artist’s youth — his circle just chanced to include W.H. Auden. It is hard to imagine more opposite poles: Britten the deep still waters, Auden the effusive raconteur whose annoying gregariousness belied his capacity for nuanced thought and its passionate expression. Yet this dyad makes more than perfect sense: one can imagine the long, British discussions between them. At one point Auden offered succor to a young Britten about to play a piano concerto in public, assuring him it would be an aid to the seduction of a certain someone — who ended up being tenor Peter Pears, Britten’s lifelong companion and muse. Auden managed to both sum up and further enshroud Britten in mystery with his 1938 poem “The Composer,” which ends:
a possibly biased fellow countryman, but true. Before Peter Grimes, no British composer since Purcell had written any enduring operas, and Britten’s tale of the potentially murderous outsider in a seaside fishing village — replete with church hymns and drinking songs — fit the bill. Also essential to understanding and appreciating Britten is his way with words — not as a writer of prose (for he was less than gifted in this area, or at least fancied no side career as an essayist) — but as a setter of texts to music. Britten possessed the composer’s gift for finding
‘What makes Britten’s music great lies in plain sight, in the distilled essence of what makes Britten Britten: it is a music of conflicts from the pen of a man of conflicts.’
ken h oward
Game-changer. Anthony Dean Griffey (center) in the title role of Britten’s Peter Grimes at the Metropolitan Opera
This précis of his career helps little in reasoning him out, however. His talent is not the question, as few since Mozart have demonstrated such effortless prolificacy, have come by their music so quickly and with such ease (Britten could write a full-length opera like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, soup to nuts, in one unrushed summer). In fact, Britten’s barely-precedented level of mastery made his better efforts seem the product of no effort whatsoever. But mere fluency is a parlor game; the work produced has to say something essential. In Britten’s case it often says something not only essential but essentially British. Britten’s music is not only deeply British, but speaks to and of a certain type of essential Britishness. He does not rely exclusively on folk tunes, ballads, pastorales and music hall to make his mark, but neither does he shy away from them, borrowing from all of these genres, melding them into a music of his own specific design. It is little wonder that British novelist Wesley Stace placed the critic–narrator of his novel Charles Jessold Considered as a Murderer at the premiere of Britten’s first opera, Peter Grimes [see “Variations on a Theme by Gesualdo,” Listen Vol. 3, No. 3]. It was an epochal event in British music, the “rebirth of British opera,” says Stace, “and I wanted my fictional critic to experience the very moment of it” — strong words from
listen: Life with classical music • 47
Listening to Britten
Another place to go for excellent recordings of the operas is the Chandos label, which, under the baton of Richard Hickox (who had a gift for all musical things British), offers some stunning recordings of lesser-known pieces like Death in Venice, Owen Wingrave and Billy Budd, not to mention orchestral pieces like the Piano Concerto or Cello Symphony and chamber music that includes his neglected four string quartets (expertly done by the Sorrel Quartet). One perusal of the Naxos catalog offers an overwhelming amount, including discs devoted to Britten’s songs, arrangements of folk songs, choral works, church canticles and much more. Virgin Classics offers not only an excellent recent recording of The Turn of the Screw (with Ian Bostridge under the baton of Daniel Harding) but also a long-out-of-print recording of the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas conducted by Oliver Knuessen.
48 • spring 2012
C o u r t e s y o f t h e B r i t t e n - P e a r s F o u n da t i o n . P h o t o b y R o l a n d Ha u p t
We are fortunate that Benjamin Britten lived in the recorded age, because we have a whole legacy of documents (thanks to a contract with Decca) under his own baton, which is a little like having Homer reading the audio book of The Iliad. So when seeking a recording of anything Britten — the operas or, say, the War Requiem in particular — that is the ideal place to start. Beyond that, one especially moving recording of his orchestral work Four Sea Interludes (taken from Peter Grimes) is Leonard Bernstein’s rendering on his final concert on this earth, which gets much of it “wrong” but in the right way.
the appropriate words to match his music (rather than the other way around), telling the stories he knew he could tell effectively. But more than that, he had a gift for rendering the words into music. “Sir Thomas Allen,” says Mohammed Fairouz, a young Arab-American composer whose work is in the same lineage as Britten’s, “introduced to me, while I was in my early teens and producing my first art songs, the immense and lasting contribution that Britten had made to English prosody. My compositional life never recovered from the early impressions of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings or Rejoice in the Lamb, a choral work. The correct beauty of his setting of text (think of ‘e-ve-ry creature’ at the opening of Rejoice in the Lamb) has influenced hundreds of my songs and those of generations of composers setting text in English.” This, however, still fails to address the “how” of Britten, a topic vastly more complicated. It can be agreed (even by those who view him as retrogressive) that he was possessed of an ironclad musical technique and of the gift of being able to spin much out of little, to make a pithy little tune into a vast feast of a piece: listen to the opening moments of Peter Grimes, which oscillate between two simple motives but build the necessary dramatic tension; listen, as Fairouz suggests, to the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, which opens with a melody for solo natural horn that haunts the remainder of the piece; listen to The Turn of the Screw, Britten’s opera based on the Henry James novella, which is as deeply structured as any dodecaphonic Schoenberg work but is built — the whole opera — on a single theme that contains all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. Listen to Britten’s Third String Quartet: within the opening “kernel” you can hear the entire piece. The strict and unrelenting method and rigor to his work does not begin to scratch what makes these pieces so effective — that’s just the “contraption,” no matter how “pure.” All music of any quality plays in and around the ineffable, taking aim at the sublime, but what makes Britten’s music great lies in plain sight, in the distilled essence of what makes Britten Britten: it is a music of conflicts, from the pen of a man of conflicts. His technical ability to make a massively scaled work out of the smallest and most nugatory material is what makes his music overwhelming, but his insight into all aspects of human nature, from light to dark, is what makes it last. When Wesley Stace heard Peter Grimes for the first time, he was not only “quite overwhelmed with the music,” but also “very impressed with its acute psychology.”
Perhaps Leonard Bernstein put it best in his gravelly voice-over at the beginning of Tony Palmer’s Britten documentary A Time there Was: Ben Britten was a man at odds with the world. . . . It’s strange, because on the surface Britten’s music would seem to be decorative, positive, charming — and it is so much more than that. When you hear Britten’s music, if you really hear it, not just listen to it superficially, you become aware of something very dark — there are gears that are grinding and not quite meshing and they make a great pain. It was a difficult and lonely time. . . . Yes, he was a man at odds with the world. Britten’s body of work is demure but terrifying, technically bulletproof but emotionally jarring, childlike but erotic. That chiaroscuro duality sets the twee against the profoundly dark, the easy and entertaining against the too horrible to contemplate. In Britten’s music the grace and fripperies of Mozart lie with Berg’s weltschmerz through Purcell’s baroque lens by way of the English countryside. He need not pluck one style of music and ask you to be impressed by its displacement; Britten’s music is itself a displaced style. So perhaps the world with which Britten was at odds was not merely the world at large — the world that was not keen on a pacifist or a homosexual, let alone an artist who was, maddeningly, both timely and ahistorical — but the world of perception, the black-and-white cultural conscience that believed in a single way to make one’s work. And yet, as history often bears out, in these dark cultural crevices and aesthetic oubliettes, truths are free to flourish, far from the maddening crowd. That is Britten’s gift to us, and in the approaching celebration of the year of our lord 2013, which would have been his centenary, we can thank him by listening. Daniel Felsenfeld is a composer who lives in Brooklyn.
At work. Benjamin Britten at his studio in Crag House, Aldeburgh, England listen: Life with classical music • 49
Games Beyond Frontiers Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes offers a vision of a fading and faded world. By Daniel Felsenfeld
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
listen: Life with classical music • 51
discovery • unsung
gor Stravinsky may well be the most documented composer this side of Richard Wagner. Not only are shelves of books available both by and about him, but there are also films — both fictive (one focusing on his affair with Coco Chanel) and documentary (the indispensable Once at a Border) — biographical novels, festivals and endless recordings. His place in history is assured by a wide panoply of imitators, advocates and keepers of the flame. And this is by no means a posthumous phenomenon: in his
day, Stravinsky rubbed elbows with royalty from Hollywood to New York. He knew Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood but also Charlie Chaplin; he knew Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot, but also Douglas Fairbanks. His circle was wide, his fame — and not just “for a composer” — something that will probably never come again. For this legacy we have Robert Craft to thank, the man whose devotion to the master defines the word amanuensis [one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript –Ed.]. For decades Craft was Stravinsky’s companion, 52 • spring 2012
trusted musical collaborator, friend, mouthpiece and defender, and in the four decades since Stravinsky’s death, he continues to do all that can be done for the man, his myth and his music. In Once at a Border, Craft takes us on a tour of Stravinsky’s composing “kit,” a little bag he toted from place to place and stuffed with essentials — favorite pencils and erasers, a rolling ink stylus with which one could furnish blank paper with staves, and, never to be omitted, a common deck of playing cards. Jeu de cartes, or The Card Game, is a three-movement ballet from 1935, Stravinsky’s
first commission from Lincoln Kirstein and an ex post facto collaboration with George Balanchine. As was often the case with Stravinsky, he wrote the exact piece he wanted and then found it a good home. “More than a decade before composing Jeu de cartes,” he said, “I was aware of an idea for a ballet with playing-card costumes and a green-baize gaming-table backdrop. . . . The score was not designed for any particular audience, and in fact it was nearly completed before I received the commission.” As an experienced composer for ballet, Stravinsky mapped out every moment of the piece, making his own scenario after Jean Cocteau turned down an offer to work together. The scenario involves a complex and specific interaction of playing cards presided over by the joker — “an element of chance,” according to the composer, “and an escape.” It is as if Petrushka, the titular hero-clown from an earlier Stravinsky ballet, is reconstituted in a less folksy, more urbane setting, with plenty of havoc to wreak. At one point he assumes the role of a fourth ace in order to rout three queens, only to be himself bested later by a trio of flushes. The work itself is divided into three “deals,” each of which opens with the exact same fanfare, a musical stunt effective in ballet but less so in more rigorous symphonic forms; though he was the most rigorous of composers, Stravinsky cottoned early to dance and only later came to write his symphonies and sonatas. One can think of the repeated fanfare as the shuffling of the cards, or, in the composer’s words, “the voice of the master of ceremonies at that first casino” — the casino being one Stravinsky remembered from an early family vacation to a Baden-Baden spa, where games were the order of the day. At the beginning of each hand, the dealer would make an announcement, “the timbre, character and pomposity” of which are musically represented at the beginning of each movement. Like all games of chance, each hand begins with a level playing field. In Jeu de cartes, unlike any work before or after, Stravinsky indulged in a riot of musical quotations, tributes to music “that might be imagined drifting from the Municipal
E r i c S c h aa l / P i x I n c . / T i m e L i f e P i c t u r e s / G e t t y Imag e s
Jack O’Diamonds is a hard card to play. With Jeu de cartes, Stravinsky (left) indulged in a riot of musical quotations.
Opera, or the concert by the Kursaal Band” in the casino of his childhood. There are scraps of music by Johann Strauss, Ravel, Beethoven, Debussy, and ultimately, in a piece of hysterical agon with the past, an asymmetrical but fully recognizable reading of Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville. This was hardly the first work in which Stravinsky had annexed another composer’s work — Pulcinella traded on the music of Pergolesi — but it was the first in which he spanned such a chasm of “other” for comic effect, or as part, let us say, of an involved musical gambit. This has raised an academic eyebrow more than once, eliciting the accusation of “postmodernism,” but there is more to Stravinsky’s use of others’ music than simple out-of-context, high–low joissance. Rossini aside, the quotes are buried, a trove for musicologists rather than a sleek, recognizable surface. Their more important function is to allow Stravinsky to leap from place to place, snickering along with his dancing cards. The quotes are an in-joke, yes, but they can also be heard as a vision of a faded and fading world. This is the work of a composer looking around, up and out — to the wider world of music — as well as in and back — to his vanished childhood, his distant mother country and, not to put it too dramatically, into a void from which he desperately needed diversion. One plays games of chance as distractions — they pass time, they invite conversation, they require temporary laser focus on a low-stakes event. Looked at in this fashion, and like any game worth playing, Jeu de cartes is a dead-serious set of concealed squibs that serve to mask the truth of the situation. Most composers’ music is difficult to describe in prose, but Stravinsky’s is especially so. With few exceptions, it tends to lack The Big Memorable Tune; his melodies are supple but often angular, arriving in unexpected places or built on well-plotted rhythmic inconsistencies (what Leonard Bernstein called “Igor’s asymmetry racket”). Events happen in an odd order, on slightly off beats; the toe is unable to tap to the
erratic pulse. And what makes his music so infuriatingly cunning is his disregard for any of the received notions of form, which were all built — whether the form was ballet, sonata or symphony — with physical movement in mind. “Stravinsky’s ‘and then . . . and then . . . and then’ is, of course, a controlled and choreographed ‘and then . . . and then . . . and then,’” writes composer Louis Andriessen in his indispensable The Apollonian Clockwork. The First Deal ranges from the fanfare through an almost drunken “waltz” to a Nutcracker–like dash and closes with sleepy winds. The Second commences, fanfare aside, with lush strings and then crashes into what feels like a chattering “oom-pah-pah” straight out of Verdi, culminating in a cheeky flourish. Stravinsky builds the Third Deal to a manic intensity reminiscent of the more high-decibel moments of Le sacre du printemps, only to collapse this momentum hysterically into the Rossini quote, after which he constructs a series of (if not variations on) quirky reconstructions of that unlikely source material. He ends the movement, and the work, with a deception that Brahms would have envied: What seems like chapter-and-verse return pivots into darkness and the fanfare is turned on its proverbial ear, a splat more than a crash. These wide moves within movements are built to match the complicated action of the ballet, but as a piece of pure concert music, the fleet nature of the moment-to-moment musical argument is certainly enjoyable, even funny. Le sacre du printemps retains its historical place within Stravinsky’s oeuvre and the musical world-at-large not because of its storied premiere (though that never hurts) but because of its innovative musical construction, wherein small sonic units both atomized and organized run into one another. This chaos of intricate, detailed “and then . . . and then . . . and then” was inspired by the delicate mobiles of Alexander Calder. With Jeu de Cartes, Stravinsky employed the universal, dime-store equivalent of the Calder mobiles: playing cards, available everywhere. When Balanchine set about choreographing the
Jeu de disques. After Stravinsky’s own spirited if icy reading on Sony, Riccardo Chailly’s warmer reading on the two-disc Decca set is as fetching, for different reasons, as the Solti reading on that same label. The balance of remove and arid note-by-note-ness with musical gusto and fury is difficult to achieve in much of this composer’s music, not least in Jeu de cartes, so hearing a few different recordings is not a bad idea.
‘Jeu de cartes is a piece of much-needed (and very well-planned) buffoonery, the comic moment that only serves to offset the fear of the larger tragedy, making it more real.’
listen: Life with classical music • 53
discovery • unsung
work, Stravinsky intervened only on behalf of the costumes. Based on tarot cards, they were “handsome in themselves,” the composer said later, “but too sumptuous for my ‘brittle’ and ‘heartless’ music.” He sent the designer to the corner store. The accusation of heartlessness plagued Stravinsky in this middle period of his life (handily referred to as his “neo-classical” phase, though it could be more aptly labeled his “cosmopolitan” or “urbane” or even “American” phase). He may have taken too much to heart his artistically simpatico friend T.S. Eliot’s aperçu that poetry is not an indulgence of, but rather an escape from, emotion. In Jeu de cartes, it would be easy to mistake the exactitude of the rhythmic clip and the absence of longueurs (in the form of gradual orchestral crescendos or soaring strings) as a kind of coldness. But to hear the music as the work of sexless, blunt reason is to do it a disservice, even miss the point. Like Eliot, Jeu de cartes can be read on several levels: the immediate; the deeper dig; and the terrified, 54 • spring 2012
all-too-knowing divertimento — or Eliot’s “objective correlative,” wherein two seemingly innocent things placed against each other serve to capture a horror too great to speak. Seen this way, many of Stravinsky’s “neoclassical” works stand as more substantial and complicated than those of his prior “Russian” stage or the period of atonal experimentalism to come. Jeu de cartes is a piece of muchneeded (and very well-planned) buffoonery, the comic moment that only serves to offset the fear of the larger tragedy, making it more real. It is a game to distract the mind and the world from a gathering storm. “The fortunes of my music in the Third Reich,” said Stravinsky, “are unaccountable.” It was in 1934 that Richard Strauss, of all people, came to the aid of the composer’s unjustly (and intentionally) blighted reputation. But this could not stop the wheels of history, and the Russian found himself and his music front and center at Hitler’s 1938 Entartete Musik exhibit along with other “degenerate” composers like Schoenberg, Berg, Hindemith,
Weill and Krenek. Stravinsky, not exactly a philo-Semite, was rumored to be Jewish, and in corrupt theocratic regimes, as we continue to learn, a raised question can do damage with or without an answer, regardless of the truth. For those who think it unwise to inspect context, Jeu de cartes might be an underappreciated work because of its outright simplicity, its seeming lack of seriousness, and the common yet somehow obscure nature of its “plot.” Perhaps that is why it falls short, in performance, against many of the same composer’s more recognizable pieces. As for those “notes only” thinkers who believe that the score tells the whole story, it might be conceded that on those terms, they are right: it is a puff piece. But with a glimpse into the time, place and person, this puff piece’s purpose and depth become apparent. At the gravest historical moments, light comedy can explain more than the deepest tragedy or the most incisive manifesto can; Jeu de cartes allows a giggle when a giggle ought not to be.
c o u r t e s y A B T/ M a r t y S o h l
A card game choreographed. John Cranko’s Jeu de cartes — set to Stravinsky’s score — at American Ballet Theatre in 2006
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56 • spring 2012
Master Builder His compatriots made institutions of their music. William Schuman made institutions.
B e r n a r d G o t f r y d / G e t t y Imag e s
By Russell Platt
On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., I
toured our national memorials for the first time since childhood and noticed — now with a musician’s eyes — that the capital’s oldest memorials revert to European models to lend their subjects ancient pedigrees. The Lincoln Memorial, a tomb-like, horizontal slab modeled after a Greek Doric temple, seems to summon the spirit of Beethoven, with its
awesome statue of the Great Emancipator and ‘Über-administrator.’ that immediately American composer condemnations of slavery incised into the made me think of William Schuman walls. The Jefferson Memorial, inspired by the William Schuman. (1910–1992) outside Roman Pantheon, conjures up the Classical Bigger and more Lincoln Center, New lightness — and emotional complexity — of physically impressive York City, 1970s Mozart; the four texts engraved on its gently than its two predecescurving walls (including a fragment of the sors, its design is Declaration of Independence) contain subtle also repetitive, grandiloquent, bombastic and, contradictions. The structure is open to the despite its genuine patriotic spirit, more than a wind, a force that can carry seductive music, little empty. or impassioned argument, to our ears. If there is a list of Great American When it came time to mourn its war Composers, William Schuman (1910–1992) is casualties, however, America was left to invent unquestionably on it. But he sits, with Walter its own designs. Maya Lin’s daringly original Piston and Ruth Crawford Seeger, on an Vietnam Memorial is an analogue to Samuel intermediate tier, beneath such luminaries as Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a single swerve Copland, Barber, Carter, Ives and Varèse but of melody, or stab of pain, carved into the above admirable master craftsmen like Persiground with elegance and force. The Korean chetti, Diamond and Menotti. And Schuman, War Memorial replicates Lin’s black wall but while proud of his accomplishments, knew it. adds human figures, making the whole design “One of the privileges of my life is being part lighter and less foreboding, more approachof the Copland Era, as our time will certainly able — more Aaron Copland. But it was a newer be known,” Schuman gushed at his older structure, the National World War II Memorial, colleague’s seventieth birthday celebration. listen: Life with classical music • 57
58 • spring 2012
‘The fact that Schuman’s Third and Fifth Symphonies are not regularly performed by our country’s first- and second-rank orchestras is a particularly American disgrace.’
Schuman’s next great podium advocate, second in a distinguished line that would continue with Eugene Ormandy, Antal Doráti and Leonard Slatkin. And yet Schuman devoted only part of his abundant energy to writing new work; according to Swayne, he was so “monstrously efficient” that he could calculate his composition time down to the minute. The rest of his energy went into music administration. This path began at Sarah Lawrence College, where he arrived as an assistant professor in 1935 and proceeded to revolutionize the school’s music program. It continued at Juilliard, where he put American contemporary music at the center of the conservatory’s mission, instituted color-blind admissions, brought in the rising star Robert Shaw to lead choral concerts, and enlisted a young violinist named Robert Mann to found the Juilliard String Quartet. Schuman also founded Juilliard’s dance division — a natural move for a composer who created some of his most
impressive scores (including Undertow and Judith) for such choreographers as Antony Tudor and Martha Graham. All of this time was allocated happily, since Schuman had a unique fear of having nothing to do but compose. “I spent months studying pension plans,” he once remarked of his administrative career. “If you mentioned this to one of my friends in music, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. I find it just as intriguing as fugue writing.” He met his biggest challenge at Lincoln Center, where he not only supervised the building of the campus but made the center a programming powerhouse unto itself — much to the consternation of such campus tenants as the Metropolitan Opera’s imperious Rudolf Bing. Schuman’s rise to the top was accompanied by his characteristic assertiveness, superconfidence and occasionally towering bursts of rage. At Lincoln Center he maintained a cavalier attitude toward budget restraints, expecting the board to simply go out and raise
R u d y S u l ga n / C o r b i s
But Schuman was also one of the paramount power players in American music, as a dynamic president of the Juilliard School (1945–61) and as the even more assertive inaugural president of Lincoln Center (1962–68). It is the great virtue of Steve Swayne’s new biography, Orpheus in Manhattan: William Schuman and the Shaping of America’s Musical Life (Oxford, $39.95), that we see how the creative and administrative sides of Schuman’s life complemented each other. The first thing to know about William Schuman is that he was neither a “tortured artist” à la Mahler or Tchaikovsky nor an impecunious child prodigy put to work in the musical salt mines like Mozart or Beethoven. Born to solidly middle-class German Jewish parents, he was an utterly normal American boy who loved baseball and music and girls. Young Billy pursued the first two over several summers at Camp Cobbossee, a Boys’ Own paradise in the Maine woods where he won athletic prizes and put on Gershwin- or Rodgers-and-Hart-style musicals with his buddies; his pursuit of the third was facilitated by a generous monthly allowance that allowed him and his friends to rent a series of Roaring Twenties bachelor pads. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that Schuman abandoned his attempts at Tin Pan Alley fame and got serious about classical composition. Haunting Carnegie Hall concerts several nights a week while taking lessons in harmony, counterpoint and orchestration, he formed, with astonishing alacrity, a distinctly schematic and muscular neo-classical style that would serve him, with minimal alteration, all his life. He broke through with his Third Symphony — triumphantly premiered by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1941 — and went on to win a bushel of honors, including the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for Music. Socially nimble, he transferred his allegiance from his mentor, the domineering Roy Harris (whose star, launched by the sui generis Symphony 1933, was already fading), to more mutually respectful friendships with Koussevitzky, Copland and the young Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein would become
composer • discovery
Enduring legacy. William Schuman was one of the paramount power players in American music but, like the National World War II Memorial, not without flaws.
more money to fulfill his grand ambitions. Eventually the board, which had expected Schuman to pursue independent programming, found that they had gotten rather too much of what they’d asked for; the “überadministrator” with the rare genius for public speaking was turning out to be spectacularly tone-deaf. (A devoted husband and father, Schuman kept his balance during these years through family life.) But we are the beneficiaries of his bull-headed, far-sighted idealism. New Yorkers who enjoy attending Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center or Mostly Mozart concerts, or Film Society of Lincoln Center screenings, have Bill Schuman to thank. Swayne, a professor of music at Dartmouth, does not let his diligent scholarship get in the way of a felicitous phrase. (After Bernstein was excused from service in World War II because of asthma, writes Swayne, he “breathed a two-page sigh of relief to Schuman” by letter.) But students of the era will find that American Muse, Joseph Polisi’s 2008 biography of Schuman, adds needed texture to our understanding of the composer. As the current president of Juilliard and a consummate music insider, Polisi knows where the bodies are buried, and he has stories to tell: one of the most startling reveals the naked muscle that Schuman used to oust Peter Mennin (Schuman’s successor as head of Juilliard) from the presidency of the Naumburg Foundation in 1971. If Mennin — likewise an author of wellcrafted, trenchant–lyrical polytonal symphonies — was a poor man’s William Schuman, where does that put Schuman himself? The answer, like the composer’s career, is complex. The fact that Schuman’s Third and Fifth Symphonies are not regularly performed by our country’s first- and second-rank orchestras is a particularly American disgrace, one shared by such native glories as Ives’ Three Places in New England and Barber’s Symphony No. 1. No other American symphony can match the Third’s combination of high musical content and brilliant orchestration: Schuman’s singular technique pits choirs of strings, winds, brass
and percussion against one another — when they’re not conversing energetically among themselves. The two movements — Passacaglia and Fugue, Chorale and Toccata — may make up two little Roy Harris Third Symphonies, both in their titles and in the free use of ancient European compositional devices. But this is Harris’s music polished and brought to market, crafted with a ruthless, machine precision that, leaving 1930s sentimentalism behind, made Schuman the “coming man” of the World War II years. And then there is the Fifth, written for strings alone. No American symphony is as expressively refined, as formally perfect, as this one: with no other instruments to distract him, Schuman weaved out of the string body mellifluous strands of what one critic, in an inspired adjective, called a splendidly “aerated” polyphony. The outer movements are vibrantly, aggressively optimistic, while the elegiac central movement, in which Ives and Vaughan Williams seem to meet, contains the most beautiful melody that Schuman ever wrote. The strength of Schuman’s melodies could also be a central weakness, as Swayne inadvertently reveals when he writes that the Third Symphony exhibits “a linearity that unfolds as both melody and counterpoint, coupled with a waywardness that often makes the content and contour of [the] lines difficult to remember . . . because of their intervallic content or their range or their length or some combination of these three.” In short, Schuman always seemed to be writing the same tune. (Samuel Barber had a lifelong love affair with the oboe, but the big melodies from “Overture to The School for Scandal,” the First Symphony and the Piano Concerto each inhabit a unique expressive world.) Schuman’s style was fiercely individual, but too often it became a series of stock devices: the brooding, major-minor opening chord and the “wayward” tune over pizzicato cellos; the herky-jerky rhythms enunciated, en masse, by the winds; the big, brassy, timpani-thwacking, polytonal finale. As Swayne admits, sometimes “the music barely avoids falling into aural quicksand.”
There are other gems in Schuman’s catalog, however. The ballets Undertow and Night Journey have an emotional richness and complexity unmatched in the rest of his oeuvre; the Violin Concerto fulfills the lyrical promise of the Symphony for Strings (as well as the Third Symphony’s formal plan); and the Eighth Symphony, influenced by Webern, is a whirling and rhythmically buoyant kaleidoscope of orchestral color. New England Triptych, which has never gone out of style in either its orchestral original or its band adaptation, is a burnished escutcheon of Cold War patriotism. (Its secret twin is the Second Symphony. In 1938 it won first prize from a “Musicians Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy” that included Copland and Harris, but Schuman, who grew up in a liberal Republican family that distrusted radicalism, had already intuited that an attachment to leftist politics could come back to damage one’s career. He officially withdrew it, supposedly because of bad reviews.) In the end, we are left with an impression of Schuman as an intelligent, driven, fundamentally creative but not particularly introspective artist. Why? Because the composer and the businessman were one. “Self-criticism was not a posture Schuman adopted,” writes Swayne. “He didn’t have time for reflection, so busy was he creating universes ex nihilo.” Copland’s cool, supple style and wider range, and Barber’s sheer melodic genius, have given their works a firmer place in the international repertory. But let’s not be harsh. As Swayne eloquently puts it, “No man gets to finish everything that he starts in this life. Schuman finished more than most men dream of starting.” His institutional influence, and the best of his music, should echo for generations. Russell Platt, a music editor at The New Yorker, is a composer of chamber works, concertos and songs.
listen: Life with classical music • 59
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‘A frighteningly intelligent and powerfull master of the instrument who in every respect is in a class above his colleagues’
www.onyxclassics.com 60 • spring 2012
P h o t o g r ap h y © T h e A r t I n s t i t u t e o f C h i c ag o ; © 2 0 0 8 A r t i s t s R i g h t s S o c i e t y ( A RS ) , N e w Y o r k / V G B i l d - K u n s t, B o n n
music in art
Bach and Bauhaus Considering the fugues of an expressionist painter By Monika S. Finane and Ben Finane
orn in New York in 1871 to an international concertizing violinist and an accomplished pianist, Lyonel Feininger seemed destined — by his German-American parents — to an ambitious musical career. Sent on an ocean liner to Germany to continue his study of the violin at the Leipzig Konservatorium (where his father had studied), the sixteen-year-old Lyonel literally jumped ship in Hamburg — as much to gain firm ground as to liberate himself from a musical path that had been all too well laid out for him. listen: Life with classical music • 61
discovery • music in art
Feininger instead immersed himself in his other talent, draftsmanship, and by the early 1900s had become a leading cartoonist, contributing to German periodicals as well as some American ones. (His Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World comic strips, created for the Chicago Sunday Tribune, are considered milestones of cartoon history.) Although Feininger was always considered “der Amerikaner,” he settled in Germany without ever taking trips home to the States until 1936, when he and his Jewish wife moved to New York in the face of rising Nazi oppression. By that time, Feininger was part of the leading group of avant-garde artists in Germany whose work was declared “degenerate” by the authorities. Despite his success as an illustrator, for a long time Feininger had aspired to become 62 • spring 2012
a serious artist, namely a painter. His early paintings and watercolors were extravagant combinations of lanky figures in dreamlike old-world places filled with humor and whimsical nostalgia. Organized in distorted perspectives, stark color contrasts and contours, these paintings were at times crammed with figures. Next to Feininger’s matchless characters — his gentlemen in top hats, stumpy workers, questionable damsels or fierce churchmen — the occasional musician appeared. A tall loner playing a fiddle and a carnivalesque horde blowing trumpets are among the most memorable. In Feininger’s work, music was not used as a mere gimmick. The artist, who continued to play the violin and often sat at his Estey reed organ, described his paintings as “sound contained.” In 1914 he declared
in a letter to his wife, Julia: “The thirst for sound is powerful in me. . . . It is necessary for my very sustenance.” A few years later, in which time Feininger had both lived through the Great War (in its last year as an enemy alien) and also struggled to find his own way towards abstraction, the sound and sometimes roar of his early paintings had given way to a more mature tone. “When I was unable to paint, I played Bach; it was the only way to lull my troubles,” he wrote. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach had long been an inspirational source for Feininger: he prized “the architectonic side of Bach, whereby a germinal idea is developed into a huge polyphonic form.” Feininger’s artistic approach became more and more structural. He worked on establishing a formal idea that would let him transform reality into something larger, even monumental, something “nearing closer to the synthesis of a fugue.” Most of Feininger’s paintings were now stripped of all earlier narration and focused instead on single, simple motifs, such as a village church, that would dominate the canvas and set the overall theme. The color contrasts had become finely nuanced, directed by an intricate play of light and shade recalling Bach’s elaborate harmonic modulations. By 1919, the year Feininger became a founding master of the Bauhaus in Weimar, he had reached a highpoint in his work. His paintings were now complex compositions of great clarity, harmony and calm monumentality,
Playing Bach? The artist Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956) at the organ in his studio, 1922
The mature tone. (Left:) Feininger’s High Houses IV (1919)
C o l l e c t i o n o f J o s e p h Ed e l ma n a n d Pam e l a K e l d / V i l l a G r i s e ba c h A u c t i o n s ; bp k , B e r l i n /A r t R e s o u r c e , NY
Early roar. (page 61:) Feininger’s Carnival in Arcueil (1911), Joseph Winterbotham Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago
where geometrical planes of translucent color were organized like overlapping voices harmonically echoing, modulating or inverting a simple theme — just as in a fugue. Coined by leading art critics as “crystalline Cubism,” Feininger’s work hit a nerve of its time, the term invoking the prevailing notion of the crystal as a symbol of dematerialized spirituality. The crystal was further equated with abstraction, and by extension, the desire for the eternal. Feininger, who may not have disagreed with this characterization, was, as he was so often, more comfortable speaking in musical terms, and wrote in 1923: “Bach’s essence has found expression in my ‘Musical’ masters. (From R to L:) Bauhaus paintings.” colleagues Lyonel This time, Feininger (circled), Feininger was Paul Klee and Wassily speaking from an Kandinsky, 1926 even more musically informed angle. After being presented with an organ fugue for his fiftieth birthday by his son’s piano teacher, Feininger spent the next thirteen days composing a fugue of his own. Eleven more would follow until 1927, when his wife put an end to Feininger’s career as a composer, insisting that he return his focus to his painting, the production of which had dipped precipitously.
his past fall, in conjunction with “Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World” at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art (curated by Barbara Haskell and now on listen: Life with classical music • 63
discovery • music in art
Village church (on a high note). Feininger turns a simple motif into something monumental with Gelmeroda IX (1926).
64 • spring 2012
were “remarkable, clearly inspired by Bach,” with a “multilayered quality” and “clashes of counterpoint.” “What’s a professional composer anyway?” Botstein mused from the stage of Isaac Stern Auditorium, permitting his Bauhaus focus to expand. “Was Ives’ greatness accidental? A result of his ineptitude? Schoenberg was an amateur painter, and Feininger was a deeply literate student of music whose skill was,” he paused, “non-trivial. Feininger’s obsession with the fugal form,” Botstein concluded, “is what’s interesting here.” Hearing three of the Feininger fugues, the artist’s Fugue in D seemed the most
E r i c h L e s s i n g /A r t R e s o u r c e , NY
view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until May 13), the American Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its music director, Leon Botstein, performed a Carnegie Hall concert titled “Bauhaus Bach.” The program gave Bach a modernist bent, in the form of twentieth-century orchestrations by Arnold Schoenberg, Max Reger and others. The concert also featured performances of three of Lyonel Feininger’s fugues, with orchestration by Richard Wilson. After seemingly dismissing Feininger’s fugues in pre-concert lecture as a “novelty,” Botstein recanted to Listen upon crossexamination. Feininger’s fugues, he said,
traditional of the three, well constructed and the closest to Bach pastiche. Fugue III was a bouncing gigue, given charming and cheeky orchestration by Wilson that leant on pizzicato strings and vibraphone. But Feininger’s Fugue IV was most remarkable, launching into its subject as though interrupting Bach mid-phrase, unafraid to enter spaces of modernist dissonance, and rife with passages of fanciful ascension. Although music was not taught as a discipline at the Bauhaus, there was great musical talent among its students and also the masters, and concerts were an integral part of social life. Wassily Kandinsky, who was a close friend of Schoenberg, likened painting to composing music and used musical terms to identify his works, as did Paul Klee, who was an accomplished violinist and often played duets with Feininger. “Music is the language of my innermost self which stirs me like no other form of expression,” Feininger would later write.
Chicago-born violinist Tai Murray, a BBC New Generation Artist in 2009 and winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, makes her harmonia mundi dĂŠbut in a dazzling reading of the six solo Sonatas by EugĂ¨ne YsaĂże. Murrayâ€™s superb technique and burnished tone allow YsaĂżeâ€™s fascinating music to sing as never before.
â€œA superb player.â€?
â€“ THE NEW YORK TIMES
6 Sonatas Op.27
listen: Life with classical musicâ€‚ â€˘â€‚ 65
in the hall
A Virtuoso’s Debut Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall By Ben Finane
It has been some fifteen years since the movie Shine — which depicted pianist David Helfgott’s battles with mental illness and with Rachmaninoff ’s Third Piano Concerto — rocketed the popularity of “Rach Three,” and by extension “Rach Two,” to a stratospheric altitude. The market is now saturated with recordings of both crowd-pleasers, so it was with a feeling of resignation that I pressed play on pianist Yuja Wang’s Rach Three (Deutsche Grammophon) 66 • spring 2012
over a year ago. By no means worthy for consideration as a top recording of the warhorse, Wang’s transparency and effortless virtuosity nevertheless permit us to hear the music with fresh ears. That essay, in combination with Jed Distler’s earlier glowing recommendation of the pianist’s Transformation album (DG) in the pages of this magazine (Vol. 2, No. 2), earned Wang a spot on my watch list. Wang made her New York recital debut at the age of twenty-four last October. The pianist had recently made headlines for outrageous fashion (read: a short skirt) during a performance of Rach Three at the Hollywood Bowl, which is really such ado about nothing that I must apologize for even mentioning it here; her Carnegie Hall debut attire was subtler though still stilettoed — see above. To the music. Though Wang is, generally, an aggressive player, I was again struck, this time live, by her transparency in the midst of virtuosity — notably in her third Scriabin
selection, the Etude in G-sharp minor. The following Scriabin, a Poème in F-sharp, arrived with something beyond rubato and was truly meditative. Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 in A featured an Allegretto that seemed to be always trying to catch up with itself as well as a closing Vivace that was a wonderfully orchestral encapsulation. The highlight was the pianist’s delivery of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. Taking in this work can be like watching figure skating and waiting for the triple lutzes, so Wang’s transitions between sections were all the more impressive: the seams absolutely didn’t show. Liszt’s hymn-like middle passages were methodically voiced and tender — ultimately very Chopin (or in the context of this program, Scriabin). In the late fugue, it was remarkable to hear what Wang could track. Wang’s four pocket-ace encores included her own arrangement of Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Cute, but she doesn’t need it, not when she can realize those difficult Russians.
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The Next (Not-So-)Big Thing New chamber orchestras are popping up all over America.
Scaling down to ramp up. The Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra has ensured continued success by holding fundraisers — as soirees — in private homes.
By Colin Eatock
It’s no secret that these are tough times for America’s symphony orchestras. News from the classical-music world features grim accounts of orchestras struggling with deficits, seeking bankruptcy protection and even going out of business. In this harsh environment, the idea of starting a new orchestra might seem like sheer folly. And indeed, it might well be unwise to launch an orchestra modeled after the large, traditionally structured ensembles. And yet a certain kind of new orchestra is thriving. Chamber orchestras — smaller, more flexible and often more innovative than big symphony orchestras — are sprouting up all over the United States. According to the League of American Orchestras, more than thirty have been founded since the year 2000. This new breed of chamber orchestra tends to be the creation of one person with a
dream. Administrative staff ranges from small to nonexistent, and some ensembles don’t even have boards of trustees. The players tend to be on the young side, eager, talented and temperamentally suited to a freelance lifestyle. Generally, there are no formal auditions to join one of these bands; players are recruited on a who-knows-who basis. These groups are also usually based in cities that already have well-established symphony orchestras — so they’re mindful of local “turf ” issues, setting up shop a polite distance from flagship concert halls and performing-arts centers or moving around from one area to another. Finally, they are all looking for ways to renovate the concertgoing experience and are willing to experiment — with new repertoire, unusual concert venues, informal
presentation and a variety of audiencefriendly initiatives. Below, we offer a look at three American chamber orchestras all less than a decade old. For these ensembles, the label “chamber orchestra” isn’t an apology, it’s a badge of honor: they don’t want to be bigger than they are. And the word “chamber” is the key to their identity. Often, they’re run more like small chamber groups expanded to modest orchestral proportions than full-scale orchestras shrunk down. For (almost) everyone involved, these ensembles aren’t a full-time job; they’re a labor of love. KNICKERBOCKER CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Manhattan Island is surely one of the most orchestra-intense places on the planet — so why would anybody start another there? Yet listen: Life with classical music • 69
discovery • chamber
sends chamber quartets and quintets to do school programs. Fagin has a board of directors in place, but only one staff member and no office. “We’ve spent so much of our time raising money for our concerts,” he explains, “that our infrastructure isn’t yet developed.” But lack of infrastructure hasn’t stopped him from presenting about three concerts a year — carving out a place for classical music among the office towers of Lower Manhattan.
There’s a happy noise. The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts
that’s exactly what conductor–composer Gary Fagin did when he founded the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra. “There are some extraordinary classicalmusic organizations in New York City,” he readily acknowledges, “but they don’t really have a presence downtown. My initial impetus was to create a classical-music presence in Lower Manhattan, which has the fastestgrowing residential population in New York.” For four years the KCO has been performing in the Financial District, attracting audiences from the local community and commuters who work in the area. For Fagin, serving this specific part of the city is central to his mission: he’s not interested in taking his orchestra uptown to Lincoln Center or finding his way to Carnegie Hall. He likes to take a long view of things, pointing out that New York’s first theater district was on Broadway between Battery Park and City Hall, some fifty blocks south of its currently location. “The great performing venues were down here,” Fagin points out, “including Castle Clinton, where Jenny Lind performed in the 1850s. So there’s a history of culture in this part of the city.” He also likes to create programs that invoke the spirit of Lower Manhattan — such as a commemoration of the arrival of Henry 70 • sppring 2012
Hudson in New York Harbor four hundred years ago, or the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. But the theaters and concert halls of Lower Manhattan are long gone, and finding suitable digs for orchestral concerts in the heart of the Financial District required some ingenuity. “I must have looked at forty or fifty different spaces,” he says. “And there are some incredible public spaces downtown — but only a few that are acoustically appropriate for an orchestra.” So rather than settling on a specific venue, the KCO became an itinerant ensemble, playing at the World Financial Center’s palmy Winter Garden, at Trinity Church on Wall Street and at Pace University’s Schimmel Center for the Arts, among others. As for finding his musicians, Fagin knew just where to look. “I’ve been involved in the music scene in New York for thirty years or so,” he says. “I have a background in theater — and a real appreciation for those musicians who have classical training but make their living playing in Broadway theater pits. We have a wonderful core of people who have a very broad versatility.” At its largest, the KCO is a thirty-threepiece ensemble — with strings, woodwinds and brass — though it can also be a string group of one to two dozen. The orchestra also
Pa t r i c k B e r t o l i n o
RIVER OAKS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
River Oaks is an upscale Houston neighborhood known for its stately homes amid expansive lawns and tree-lined boulevards. And for the last seven years, it’s been home to the thriving River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. When oboist Alecia Lawyer founded the ensemble, she first thought of calling it the Why Not Orchestra. “Why not have a five o’clock concert?” she asks rhetorically. “Why not have child care and music education? We can try new things without really changing what an orchestra is all about.” Lawyer has lived in Houston since 1996. When she discovered the Church of St. John the Divine in River Oaks — a large and elegantly modern building with fine acoustics — she knew she’d found the perfect place to launch a chamber orchestra. She started big, by chamber orchestra standards: with forty players, some Houston–based and some flown in from around the country. This season ROCO is presenting twenty concerts, but only five are at St. John the Divine. The rest are in a brewery, a zoo, a hotel, a university, a different church, and several art galleries and museums. “We have lots of different series,” notes Lawyer. “We want each section inside the orchestra to have its own personality and culture. So we have a string quartet series, a brass quintet and recital series. It looks scattershot, but it’s actually very purposeful. We’re finding ways for people to enter into a relationship with the musicians, so when they come to our big concerts they’ll know the people on stage.”
is that it’s a collaborative experience, a small group of musicians who are passionate about what they do. I do always ask for input from them, for ideas on repertoire and places to play.” As for that repertoire, there’s been a strong Baroque leaning in the music Helnwein puts on the music stands. But he’s also attracted to new works. “More recently,” he says, “we’ve been featuring contemporary local composers. There are a lot of composers in L.A., and I’m interested in what they’re doing. Also, the audience responds to new music surprisingly well. You’d think they’d prefer the traditional repertoire, but some people respond well to the most atonal piece on the program.”
Bright ideas. Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra performs in a downtown Los Angeles loft.
VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE
The orchestra has an active commissioning program for new works. It also has all the concerto soloists it could ever want within its own ranks. What ROCO doesn’t have, however, is a permanent conductor. These are hired on an ad-hoc basis — and have included JoAnn Falletta and Edwin Outwater — or are dispensed with altogether for conductorless concerts. While repertoire decisions ultimately lie with Lawyer, she actively polls her players for suggestions and is quick to praise their versatility and propensity for new ideas. “We need musicians,” she explains, “who can perform a concerto, play in the orchestra and then do a recital — all in the same week.” For this reason, she has deliberately set aside standard “blind” audition procedures, preferring to handpick her musicians. “Auditions aren’t organic,” she claims. “You wouldn’t marry someone by listening to an audition behind a screen, would you?” TRACTION AVENUE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Traction Avenue is a main artery of the Los Angeles arts district, an edgy neighborhood where old warehouse buildings have been converted into studio lofts. This is where violinist–composer–conductor Ali Helnwein established the Traction Avenue Chamber
Orchestra. So far, his motivating hunch — that a new kind of orchestra would attract a new kind of audience — has been validated. “When I talk to young people,” says Helnwein — who himself is not quite thirty — “many will say they’re interested in classical music and would love to go out to concerts. But they never end up doing it. So I started this orchestra as an experiment, to go and play in the places where they do hang out.” Helnwein did just that: his orchestra played its first concert at a skateboarding park and has played on rooftops and in alleyways. He’s also taken his orchestra indoors — to art galleries, a circus school and even the Herbert Zipper Concert Hall (home of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra). There’s an ephemeral, impromptu quality to this ensemble; concerts are planned on a one-off, ad-hoc basis. But the Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra has found traction: it’s now in its sixth year, presenting four or five concerts per year. There’s no staff or board of directors yet — and Helnwein does most of the organizational work himself. But he’s quick to share artistic credit with others in the ensemble. “I run it,” he says, “and I end up making the final decisions. But what I like about the orchestra
These are just three of the numerous start-up chamber orchestras that dot the musical landscape. Though they have many common attributes, it would be rash to draw too many general conclusions or to assume they represent anyone but themselves; each new orchestra exists as a response to place-andtime-specific resources and opportunities. And for every generalization, there are exceptions. For instance, although many new chamber orchestras do not hold traditional auditions, the Chamber Orchestra of New York is a fully auditioned ensemble that plays in major halls — including Zankel Hall and Merkin Hall — as well as other Manhattan venues. While some new ensembles hope to build a paying audience, CityMusic Cleveland is committed to presenting free concerts. Some groups, like the Arcos Orchestra and the Knights (both based in New York), have permanent conductors, while Boston’s A Far Cry is proudly conductorless. And new chamber orchestras aren’t necessarily located in big cities: the Heartland Festival Orchestra, established two years ago, plays in an auditorium on the outskirts of Peoria, Illinois. Still, while there may be no cookiecutter formula at work here and while they themselves may not realize it (they are often unaware of each others’ existence), all of these orchestras are part of a trend — possibly even a movement. listen: Life with classical music • 71
NEW RELEASES BY A NEW GENERATION OF VIRTUOSO MUSICIANS
Anne Akiko Meyers Air: The Bach Album Anne Akiko Meyers performs the music of Bach including the ‘Concerto for Two Violins’ playing both parts on her two different Stradivarius violins!
Andreas Seidel & Steffen Schleiermacher Rihm Music for Violin & Piano Yevgeny Kutik Sounds of Defiance - Music of Shostakovich, Schnittke, Pärt and Achron “I love what I have heard so far” is what acclaimed critic Norman Lebrecht wrote to Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik, after hearing Joseph Achron’s Hebrew Lullaby, part of this debut recording, inspired by his family’s history and cultural heritage.
Alina Ibragimova Beethoven: Violin Sonatas, Volume 3 Those heard their recitals at Wigmore Hall will know, this young partnership mesmerizes and captivates, achieving rare freshness and vitality in the most familiar repertoire.
Hardly any other contemporary German composer is as productive and multifaceted as Wolfgang Rihm. Andreas Seidel and Steffen Schleiermacher have recorded three works by Rihm representing his complete oeuvre for violin and piano from 1992 to 1994.
Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley Shuffle.Play.Listen Helen Callus Bach: Cello Suites for Viola Helen Callus has been called one of the world’s greatest violists. Her recording of the Bach Cello Suites played on Viola is ‘exhibit: A’ for establishing the viola’s ability to stand alongside the other strings as a viable solo instrument.
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Norman Lebrecht: “This could be the coolest classical disc of the year!” San Francisco Chronicle: “Inventive and compulsively listenable!” Hear Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley in concert this year!
recommended 74 on
Sibelius from Osmo Vänskä and Minnesota; Rota from cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl; an homage to Paderewski; dueling Beethoven Symphony cycles from Christian Thielemann and Riccardo Chailly; Bertrand Chamayou plays Liszt; Lucy Crowe visits Handel in Italy; Tudor and Jacobean music from Stile Antico; Rome Symphony Orchestra offers Malipiero; Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk sound French; Martinu symphonies from BBC Symphony Orchestra; The Mahler Album from Amsterdam Sinfonietta; Ponchielli from maestro Matthias Foremny; and Handel suites from pianist Lisa Smirnova
Mounting a symphony orchestra in Kinshasa print
The mysterious world of
d e c c a / ma t h e n n e k
listen: Life with classical music • 73
recommended • on record
Winter Sun Jean Sibelius Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5 Minnesota Orchestra Osmo Vänskä, conductor (BIS)
ver-compelling Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä — music director of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003 — has embarked on his second recorded cycle of Sibelius symphonies for the Swedish label BIS, having set down his first with Finland’s Lahti Symphony Orchestra in the midnineties as part of the complete BIS Sibelius Edition. That cycle was justly hailed as a landmark of idiomatic atmospherics, with recorded sound ideally attuned to the music and its interpretation. This first installment of Vänskä’s Sibelius with the Minnesota Orchestra, pairing Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5, features interpretations generally emphasizing dynamics and power over mood and atmosphere. These performances tend to feel swifter than those from the Lahti, with Vänskä taking full advantage of the energized virtuosity of his American players. To put it in picturesque terms, the music can seem less redolent of moonlight glimpsed through swirling mists than it does a winter’s sun glinting off a running stream. The orchestra is perfectly balanced, a function of the conductor as much as the engineer. Sibelius said that creating the themes for his Fifth was more like discovery: “God opened his doors for a moment and his orchestra was playing the Fifth Symphony.” Grander, more lush phrasing of the climaxes makes the experience of the Fifth more moving in the Lahti version, but the Minnesota account’s meticulous subtlety still leads to something fresh and beautiful. Either way, the Sibelius Fifth sounds like one of the twentieth century’s most magical creations. — Bradley Bambarger 74 • spring 2012
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ANGELA DENOKE KIM BEGLEY DORIS SOFFEL ALAN HELD MARCEL REIJANS STAGE DIRECTOR NIKOLAUS LEHNHOFF CONDUCTOR STEFAN SOLTESZ DEUTSCHES SYMPHONIE ORCHESTER BERLIN
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Shamelessly Musical Nino Rota Cello Concertos, Il Gattopardo Friedrich Kleinhapl, cello Augsburg Philharmonic Orchestra Dirk Kaftan, conductor (Ars Production)
An Anniversary Deferred Homage to Paderewski Jonathan Plowright, piano (Hyperion)
76 • spring 2012
ino Rota’s reputation was tarnished by success as one of the finest composers for film, but he is increasingly taken seriously as a “classical” composer. Being unseemly popular (Korngold suffered a similar fate), with scores for 8 1/2, La Strada, Il Gattopardo and The Godfather to his name, it takes advocates like his onetime student Riccardo Muti or Josep Pons or Yannick Nézet-Séguin for Rota’s classical-classical works to sneak
into concert halls and discs. Cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl, an advocate of unfamiliar and contemporary music who made a splash with a recording of Beethoven Sonatas (Ars Production), is Rota’s latest champion with this recording of the Cello Concertos (1972, 1973), two unforgivably approachable, shamelessly musical pieces. As a Curtis Institute student Rota had been neo-classical when it was still popular, and he never stopped,
even as he started to supply his music with the vitality he found in jazz. If Offenbach or Dvořák can be said to lurk behind the First Concerto, a more classical spirit — explicitly Mozart’s — inhabits the Second. Kleinhapl excels in both, and David Kaftan and his Augsburg Philharmonic show off the capability for greatness (especially in the waltz-happy Il Gattopardo score) that Munich critics have lauded for some time. — Jens F. Laurson
Schelling’s Nocturne (Ragusa), all of the works are brief, largely unfamiliar and absolutely captivating. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Hommage à Paderewski channels this composer’s cosmopolitan, harmonically sophisticated style through the filter of a Chopin Mazurka, yet makes a couple of Debussy–like detours. By contrast, Eugene Goossens’ Homage, Felix Lebunski’s Threnody, Theodore Chanler’s Aftermath and Darius Milhaud’s Chorale are stark and introspective. Martinů’s Mazurka, Rathaus’ Kujawiak and Weinberger’s G major Étude fuse virtuosic sparkle and
musical substance. The intense side of Bartók’s lyricism permeates his Three Hungarian Folk Songs. Deft rhythmic invention and spicy melodic charm also characterize Vittorio Rieti’s Allegro danzante, which is one of my favorite pieces in the collection. Plowright’s enthusiasm, natural musicality and idiomatic ease with such a wide range of styles makes you forget about his effortless, flexible technical mastery and range of nuance and tone color. All piano mavens ought to investigate this unusual, stimulating and well-recorded program. — Jed Distler
n 1941 Boosey & Hawkes planned an anthology of piano pieces by seventeen contemporary composers to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Ignace Jan Paderewski’s American debut. But with the pianist’s death that year, it eventually was published as a memorial edition. Seventy years later, Jonathan Plowright has recorded the anthology’s pieces all together, along with five other compositions dedicated to Paderewski. Excepting Chaminade’s delightfully flashy Étude symphonique, Britten’s enchanting Mazurka elegiaca for two pianos, and Ernest
CANCIONES & CONCIERTOS
Featuring three of the most accomplished soloists of our time, this recording celebrates the centenary of the birth of composer Xavier Montsalvatge, one of the most inﬂuential Catalan artists of the last century.
Lucia Duchoňová mezzo soprano Jenny Lin piano Rachel Barton Pine violin NDR Radiophilharmonie Celso Antunes conductor
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LWA_Opus2.pgs 01.27.2012 15:14
recommended • on record
Beethoven: Complete Symphonies Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Christian Thielemann, conductor (Sony Classical)
Two Masterful Cycles
APOW! BAM! You couldn’t describe the entire character of Riccardo Chailly’s Beethoven Symphonies in Batman vernacular, but you’d get pretty far. Listening to the lavishly presented box set from Decca, explosiveness is the first element you notice in every movement of every symphony. And the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra sound is as dark as Gotham during a new moon’s night. In his fourteen years with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Chailly didn’t record Beethoven once. When he became Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 2005 — the orchestra that premiered Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and played all his symphonies during his lifetime — it became only a matter of time when he would. He has now set another exclamation mark. 78 • spring 2012
Christian Thielemann, too, has thrown his hat into that ring. The Vienna Philharmonic picked him to lead their first such cycle in a decade, and every performance is a testament to how much the orchestra adores him. These recordings — on DVD and Blu-ray (C-major / Unitel) and now also in an even more luxurious CD set from Sony — are further proof of their very happy relationship. Thielemann audibly, visibly enjoys surprises. In the fawning interview sections, Munich’s critic-emeritus Joachim Kaiser neatly sums Thielemann up as an “adventurous-conservative chappy.” It is that adventurous spontaneity that makes Thielemann concerts so interesting, and much shines through in this Beethoven. Yes, there is the “old-fashioned” ideal of oomph and burnished sound and an Eroica Symphony (with much rubato) that clocks in at fifty-six minutes. (Chailly takes 43'30".) But Thielemann’s style, which skips right over Karajan and goes back to
Furtwangler, also offers reflection, transparency and élan that you would not find in, say, Bernstein’s high-romantic Beethoven. It is surprising, perhaps, that Thielemann has moments of greater finesse and buoyant elasticity (usually mid-movement), while it is Chailly who offers more menace and darker-still, forceful vigor from the get-go. Usually on the comparatively slow side, Thielemann does let the virtuosic, string-dominated Vienna Philharmonic loose in places like the fourth movement of the Fourth Symphony or the Presto of the Seventh. Chailly’s increasingly notable penchant for emotionally dark, daring, even disturbing interpretations, meanwhile, combines beautifully with the naturally broad-shouldered sound of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. There’s scarcely a bar where he doesn’t give the impression of wanting to have the music burst out of the score.
Asked about his U.S. Beethoventour two years ago, Chailly said: “I hope we will surprise with our Beethoven, which has shook up things a little in Leipzig. It was new for the orchestra, but after the initial surprise, the players saw the musical reasons behind it and followed courageously. That doesn’t mean changing the sound of the orchestra, though. You can’t ‘improve’ that.” Thielemann might be a touch drab in the Pastorale; Chailly squanders opportunities in the Fourth. In the Ninth, neither Chailly (hasty-ecstatic) nor Thielemann (hysterical-momentous) offer the most elated readings. But any quibbles are far outweighed by the differently rapturous moments and individuality of these two interpretive approaches. To hear the symphonies more beautifully than with Thielemann is difficult, to hear them more explosively-exciting-brooding than with Chailly, too. And both sets celebrate the rich palette of orchestral color like none else. — J.F.L.
A LI SCH A FLER
Beethoven: Complete Symphonies Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Riccardo Chailly, conductor (Decca)
SUMI JO THE ERATO RECITALS
10 CDs US SRP: $44.99
The complete set of all ten of Sumi Jo’s acclaimed recital albums, including “Bel Canto,” which showcases Sumi in the operatic repertoire for which she is most renowned and “Only Love,” her best-selling Broadway album.
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NEW CHANNEL CLASSICS RELEASE
Iván Fischer &
Budapest Festival Orchestra ccs sa 32112 Rite of Spring Firebird Suite Scherzo Tango
“What style, what technique, what sound, what personality, what unanimity, what attack, what passion, what dynamism, what total engagement.” The Independant, London
“Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra have taken a place among the top orchestras of today’s world.” Audiophile Audition
‘A pagan, sacrifice ritual with shocking music and shocking choreography: three exceptional talents - Roerich, Nijinsky and Stravinsky - brought about an artistic revolution with a masterstroke. Hundred years later it still sounds fresh, pagan, scary, new and beautiful’ (Iván Fischer, from liner notes, CCS SA 32112)
www.arkivmusic.com | distributed by harmoniamundi usa | www.channelclassics.com CHANNELCLASSICS
recommended • on record
An Italian Sojourn Il Caro Sassone — Handel in Italy Lucy Crowe, soprano English Consort Harry Bicket, conductor (Harmonia Mundi)
oprano Lucy Crowe’s first solo recording draws on Handel’s very fruitful but rarely explored three-year sojourn in Italy (1706–08). Here we have first-rate performances of two solo cantatas — Armida abbandonata HWV 105 and Alpestre monte HWV 81 — as well as magnificent and quite challenging arias from other cantatas and the oratorios Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno and La resurrezione. The couple well-known pieces here are the arias “Ah! crudele . . . ” (from Armida) and “Lascia la spina” (from Rinaldo by way of Almira). We’re also treated to Salve Regina, a minimallyscored yet substantial sacred work whose four movements are as filled with emotional power and dramatic presence as any of the cantatas. Crowe is
Artistry and Color Franz Liszt Années de pelerinage Bertrand Chamayou, piano (Naïve)
n November 2011 I heard Bertrand Chamayou for the first time during the Lucerne Piano Festival, where his recital in the Lukaskirche featured an ample selection from Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage. I was, frankly, bowled over by the young French pianist’s staggering technique, commanding artistry, wide color palette and controlled concentration. These qualities consistently inform his Naïve recording of the complete cycle, which may well become a version of reference alongside Muza Rubackyté’s out-of-print Lyrinx edition. As is so often the case with great musicians, ear-catching details can be traced to the score itself. In the three Petrarch Sonetti, for example, Chamayou goes out of his way to clarify Liszt’s phrase 80 • spring 2012
groupings and articulations, while the slightly sec texture he conveys in the Pastorale’s second theme stems from Liszt’s seldom-observed “un poco marcato” directive. He dispatches the octaves in Orage, the Dante Sonata and Vallée d’Obermann with zero effort, volatile sweep and shapely musicality. Book Three’s starker, slower pieces benefit from faster tempos and more transparent voicings, in contrast to Rubackyté’s weightier (though no less convincing) vantagepoint. If his repeated notes in the Tarantella do not quite match MarcAndré Hamelin’s near-inhuman speed and evenness, Chamayou’s intelligent dynamic scaling and shimmering translucence positively ravish in Les jeux d’eau de la Villa d’Este. — J.D.
simply in a class by herself in this repertoire. It’s not only the easy, fluid technique, the accurate delineation of notes in fast passages (without aspirating) or the luminous tone, consistent across all registers, but her way with the texts, the phrasing and her delightful manner of ornamentation that enable her not just to sing beautifully, but to truly, convincingly convey the mood and character of each piece. The program also contains three instrumental “sonatas,” expertly played; the most enchanting is from Delirio amoroso, with irresistible melodies and scurrying string figures. Harry Bicket leads the entire recital with a stylistic flair and sensitivity to singer and ensemble — and to Handel — that all obviously found just the ticket. — David Vernier
t h i ba u lt s t i pa l / n a i v e ; M a r c o B o r gg r e v e
“...one of the finest conductors of her generation” Also Available:
—The New York Times
LWAFINNISH.pgs 01.27.2012 14:33
Domestic Devotion Tune Thy Musicke to Thy Hart Tudor and Jacobean music for private devotion Various composers Stile Antico; Fretwork (Harmonia Mundi)
82 • spring 2012
he British vocal ensemble Stile Antico is young in age and
accordingly fresh in its approach to programming, a trend exemplified in this latest release of works from sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury England. Here the group focuses on the lesser-known but fertile repertoire of sacred music whose purpose was “private or domestic devotion” — that is, for types of worship outside the formal church setting. While the composers’ names are certainly familiar, the music tends to be texturally simpler and more straightforward than we usually hear in their finest church works. Certainly “simpler” should not
be taken for less interesting, involving or exciting. Listen to Tomkins’ “O praise the Lord” or John Amner’s verse anthem “O ye little flock” or Orlando Gibbons’ own verse anthem “See, see, the Word is incarnate” and try to remain unmoved by their sheer beauty and fullness of expression. Exceptions to simple can be found in the melodic turns and dramatic devices of John Browne’s remarkable carol “Jesu, mercy, how may this be?” or in the striking harmonic richness of Robert Ramsey’s “How are the mighty fall’n” and in Amner’s “A stranger here.” And there’s no more perfect depiction of words
in music than Thomas Tomkins’ unsurpassed setting of “When David heard.” As an ensemble, the conductorless twelve-member Stile Antico prefers a sound that celebrates the fact that it’s made of individual voices, and thus allows us to hear inside the group — an approach that quite possibly more closely represents the kind of sound that the sixteenth-century singers would have produced in their homes and private chapels. The participation of the superb viol consort Fretwork on six of the fifteen tracks enhances the program’s musical authenticity and adds yet another layer of vibrant color. — D.V.
M a r c o B o r gg r e v e
Listen up. Every CD mentioned or recommended in the magazine can be found here: arkivmusic.com/listen
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HAYDN: Symphonies No. 104 “London” 88 101 “The Clock”
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Lorraine Hunt Lieberson L B BERLIOZ: Les Nuits d'été HANDEL: Arias H
“Commanding… dazzling…astounding” –The New York Times
VIVALDI: The Four Seasons Violin Concertos RV275 RV277 Il favorito RV271 L’amoroso
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Productions Available at philharmonia.org, iTunesHUKÄULYLJVYKZ[VYLZL]LY`^OLYL
vivaldi orlando furioso world premiere staged complete performance of ViValdi’s legendary opera
Antonio ViVAldi 1678-1741 orlAndo furioso draMMa PEr MusiCa in ThrEE aCTs
Jean-Christophe Spinosi CONDUCTOR Pierre audi director Marie-Nicole lemieux, Jennifer larmore, Philippe Jaroussky, verónica Cangemi, Christian Senn, Kristina Hammarström, Romina Basso Ensemble Matheus recorded in March 2011 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (france)
1 dVd naïVe dr2148 i proUdly distriBUted By naXos of america
Gian-Francesco Malipiero Impressioni dal vero; Pause del silenzio Rome Symphony Orchestra Francesco La Vecchia, conductor (Naxos)
t’s always difficult to speak authoritatively about performances of unfamiliar music, but these works are so strange, so beautiful and so remarkable that criticism is disarmed. Impressioni del vero (“Impressions from life”) consists of three threemovement suites of strikingly colored, harmonically arresting, melodious music. The titles give some impression of these
A Return to (Sonata) Form
T French Impressions Joshua Bell, violin Jeremy Denk, piano Works by Franck, Ravel and Saint-Saëns (Sony Classical) 84 • spring 2012
his is Joshua Bell’s first album of sonatas since he left Decca for Sony in the late nineties. For it, the forty-five-year-old violin star teamed with up-andcoming pianist Jeremy Denk, a fellow Indiana University alum. Their rapport is revealed in the refinement of their interpretations, which aim to evoke what Denk’s liner notes say “makes
atmospheric pieces: Dialogue of Bells, The Cypresses and the Wind, The Woodpecker and Festival in the Valley of Hell. “Haunting” is perhaps the best term to describe the music — it gets under your skin, and doesn’t sound like anyone else. Pause del silenzio (“Breaks in silence”) consists of two suites, one of five movements and one consisting of seven brief episodes played continuously. There’s an improvisatory quality to
these pieces that makes them completely unpredictable, and yet somehow they work well together. Okay, let’s forget about describing the impossible and turn instead to performances that sound remarkably confident and assured. The orchestra plays very well, conductor Francesco La Vecchia leads with a masterly sense of pacing, and the sonics are excellent. — David Hurwitz
French music French: sounds that hover . . . harmony like perfume evaporating into air.” The opening of Franck’s A major Sonata is more perfumed and decoratively old-school in Bell’s hands than in those of young label mate Ray Chen, whose recording features lighter vibrato and a bigger tone. As for which is most authentic, Chen’s bracing air or Bell’s hothouse atmospherics, Bell can boast of a direct line to the Franck
sonata, having studied with Josef Gingold — who studied with violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, for whom Franck wrote the piece as a wedding present. With his experience in Gershwin, Bell also has a feel for the Jazz Age glitter and grit of Ravel’s Violin Sonata. Bell and Denk do right, too, by enlivening Saint-Saëns’ rarely recorded Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor. — B.B.
Lisa Marie Mazzucco
recommended • on record
153 CDs 12 Volumes
Representing nearly four decades of Bach performance.
â€œA set which, like the Bib ble e and Shakespeare, ought rightlyy to accompanyy any thinking person to a de esert island.â€? â€”Gramophone e
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recommended • on record
A Concept Album The Mahler Album Works by Mahler and Beethoven Amsterdam Sinfonietta Candida Thompson, conductor (Channel Classics)
iri Belohlávek would appear
A Great Match Bohuslav Martinů The 6 Symphonies BBC Symphony Orchestra Jiri Belohlávek, conductor (Onyx)
86 • spring 2012
to be ideally suited to Martinů. He’s basically a gracious and elegant conductor, just as Martinů is a gracious and elegant composer. Take a look at any of the latter’s scores: fortissimos are rare. The dynamic range is classical, the tempo markings full of qualifiers such as “poco.” The heavy brass are reserved for big climaxes, but the textures are usually very full, the colors luminous, the perpetually syncopated rhythms unflaggingly vital. In this cycle, everything goes right. The BBC Symphony plays with impressive conviction and rhythmic acuity.
There’s a trick to this music: you have to hit the syncopations with enough snap to prevent the staggered entries from sounding like bad ensemble but at the same time keep the music flowing over the bar lines. These players do just that. The performances are so consistent, and so consistently fine, that there’s no need to single out specific performances. They are all of a piece. If I had to pick, I’d single out the incredibly life-affirming Second Symphony, or the equally dynamic but much darker Third. But they are all excellent. — D.H.
his is a wonderful concept, perfectly realized, that features Mahler’s string-orchestra orchestration of Beethoven’s compact, eruptive “Serioso” Quartet, Op. 95, bracketed with the Adagietto from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Hans Stadlmair’s 1971 arrangement for string orchestra of the Adagio from Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony. Here is an hourlong mini-concert full of colorful textures and contrasts: echt Mahler, Mahler as arranger, and as arranged. The playing of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta — which numbers just a bit less than two dozen players — is so well balanced, romantically passionate and sonorously recorded that the ear rapidly adjusts. These players really dig into the music, and the lack of woodwind and brass timbre is much less problematic than you might suspect when the playing is so fine. As for the Beethoven, the performance is as accomplished as any in the catalog. It offers orchestral fullness with the natural, nuanced flexibility of real chamber music. There’s no attempt to go for an astringent period sound — this is Beethoven reimagined as a late-Romantic composer, which is of course exactly the point of Mahler’s transcription. A project like this, not so well executed, could easily have sounded gimmicky, but this is a pleasure from first note to last. — D.H.
A lv a r o Ya ñ e z
La forza del destino Stunning on Blu-ray Disc and DVD, this all-star cast and the Vienna State Opera create a La Forza for the ages. NINA STEMME SALVATORE LICITRA CARLOS ÁLVAREZ NADIA KRASTEVA ALASTAIR MILES CHOR UND ORCHESTER DER WIENER STAATSOPER ZUBIN MEHTA
DVD: 708108 • 814337010812 BLU-RAY: 708204 • 814337010829
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recommended • on record
Unpretentious Instrumental Amilcare Ponchielli Various works Mecklenburg Staatskapelle Schwerin Matthias Foremny, conductor (MD&G)
any classical music lovers know Ponchielli as the composer of La Gioconda but have no idea that he wrote some delightful, entertaining and totally unpretentious instrumental works. These concerted works for soloist and orchestra aren’t so much strict concertos as fantasias filled with catchy opera tunes, bravura
passagework and beautifully crafted orchestral accompaniments. The Euphonium Concerto, for example, resembles an extended coloratura aria, except that instead of Joan Sutherland tossing off murderously difficult filigree and decorative passages with stupefying agility we have Roland Fröscher’s dazzlingly suave and seamless euphonium mastery. What intonation, speed and breath control! I like Giuliano Sommerhalder’s thin, cornet-like trumpet sonority and his relaxed yet surgically precise way with rapid arpeggios (slurred or detached, it doesn’t matter) and repeated notes. Indeed, he makes light of the La traviata fantasy’s eloquent fireworks to the point where you don’t miss a real singer, not to mention the text. The Gran Capriccio’s plaintive repeated phrases and forceful wind and brass work in orchestral tuttis occasionally evoke Carl Maria von Weber’s idiom, but the melodic cadences and sudden silences are pure, unadulterated late nineteenthcentury Italian opera. — J.D.
Handel at the Keyboard
andel, famous for his oratorios, operas and orchestral suites, doesn’t have a universally beloved corpus of solo keyboard music like Bach. But he did compose sublime music for the keyboard. The core of these works has been dubbed his “Eight Great Suites,” published meticulously by the composer himself in 1720. Pianist Lisa Smirnova, born in Moscow but long resident in Vienna, has recorded all eight on a modern grand piano for this double-disc set; although her articulation is incisive and tempos fluid, she isn’t trying to imitate a harpsichord (or a spartan, Gouldian style) on her Hamburg Steinway. Her cantabile 88 • spring 2012
touch is allied to a piano sound of beguiling richness. Some authenticists always raise their nose at harpsichord music on piano, but you would have to be the hair-shirt type not to be moved by the sheer beauty on offer here, as Handel’s contrapuntal lines and singing melodies glow like liquid pearls in Smirnova’s hands. The pianist’s deeply lyrical, holistic interpretations make for the sort of entrancing experience that one wants to return to over and again. — B.B.
c o u r t e s y EC M R e c o r d s
George Frideric Handel Die Acht Grossen Suiten Lisa Smirnova, piano (ECM New Series)
Opening the Vault of Cast Recordings RARE and NEVER-BEFORE-RELEASED Albums Available NOW DAVID MERRICK PRESENTS HITS FROM HIS BROADWAY HITS John Gary, Ann-Margret and The Merrill Staton Voices * On CD for the first time * The 1964 celebration of the famous producer, featuring the stars JOHN GARY and ANN - MARGRET * Includes the standards “Small World” and “Make Someone Happy,” the hits “Take Me Along” and “Love Makes the World Go ’Round,” plus songs that deserve another listen like “Anyone Would Love You”
A THURBER CARNIVAL 1960 Original Cast Recording * On CD for the first time * Sketches from the satirical revue which brought James Thurber’s famous New Yorker cartoons and short stories to life, with music by DON ELLIOTT
* Featuring Tony®-winner PEGGY CASS , PAUL FORD , JOHN M C GIVER , ALICE GHOSTLEY, PETER TURGEON , WYNNE MILLER , MARGO LUNGREEN and CHARLES BRASWELL
THE SAINT OF BLEECKER STREET 1955 Original Broadway Cast Recording * On CD for the first time * The Tony® and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical drama by composer/ librettist GIAN CARLO MENOTTI (Amahl and the Night Visitors) * Conducted by THOMAS SCHIPPERS , with riveting performances from soprano GABRIELLE RUGGIERO and tenor DAVID POLERI
SONG OF NORWAY, MAKE A WISH, BABES IN ARMS, ON YOUR TOES, THE MERRY WIDOW, THE THREEPENNY OPERA, DO RE MI, MAGDALENA, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER, REGINA, WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?, THE ZULU AND THE ZAYDA, INNER CITY and more!
For information on these albums visit: WWW.ARKIVMUSIC.COM/CAST
WHERE SHOW TUNES TAKE CENTER STAGE © 2012 Sony Music Entertainment
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n the opening shots of Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer’s remarkable documentary Kinshasa Symphony, an outdoor gathering of singers rehearses the famed choral finale to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Ringed by a shoulder-height, green plastic fence, their gaze riveted on their conductor, the vocalists seem momentarily sequestered from the riot of sound and activity around them: men pushing a brightly painted, broken-down bus; clutches of teenagers idling on motorcycles; an electrician perched barefoot atop a vertiginously canted pole. And then, the German lyrics falter and cease, and the conductor utters the film’s first words of dialogue: “What on earth is that?” A cloud of smoky particles has coalesced above the fence, provoking a cacophony of throat-clearing and coughs. Kinshasa Symphony tells the against-all-odds tale of the amateur Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste as it prepares for 90 • spring 2012
a highly publicized open-air concert in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the orchestra’s founding in 1994, Congo — whose citizens rank among the poorest in the world — has undergone enormous upheaval, including a years-long war considered the deadliest conflict since World War II. Beset with such seemingly insurmountable challenges as ongoing violence, disease and limited access to food, jobs and health care, the musicians persevere, crafting bells out of bus-tire rims, replacing broken strings with bicycle-brake cables, and fitting orchestral and individual practices into grueling, hardscrabble schedules. The group’s manager matter-of-factly says, “During the plundering, a lot of [the instruments] were stolen. There were no jobs, very little food. We were fighting to survive. Everything else took
The orchestra’s members find themselves surrounded by crowds of confounded onlookers or confronting perplexed (and sometimes mocking) friends and relatives. The surprise and bewilderment in these encounters elicits a mirroring sense of wonder in the viewer: Congo is already musically celebrated, across Africa and beyond, for its immensely popular rumba, called soukous. Why invest — at a time of such scarce resources and in a country still negotiating the burden of a brutal and complex colonial past — in a musical genre so locally novel, so labor-intensive, and so evocative of European high culture? As the film’s opening sequence illustrates, boundaries in Kinshasa are largely permeable. Noxious smoke suffuses a fenced-off rehearsal area. Domestic dynamics spill into commercial spaces. People shave, bathe, sleep and Kinshasa Symphony eat on the street, performing Claus Wischmann conventionally private acts in and Martin highly visible ways. The porosity Baer, directors of borders has an array of negative (C Major) effects: An apartment broker ascribes Kinshasa’s atrocious real-estate market, for example, to the flood of villagers into the city. second place. The difficulties But the corollary of this inceswere enormous. Then we started sant boundary-breaking appears making the instruments ourselves.” to be an implausible sense of posStirring, suspenseful and sibility, including the notion that at times genuinely astounding, two hundred extremely part-time Kinshasa Symphony weaves musicians, most with little to no the stories of eight individual formal training, could successfully musicians into the vividly colored perform Beethoven’s Ninth fabric of the orchestra’s colSymphony before an audience of lective project and the chaos initially skeptical — and ultimately and frustrations of Congolese buoyant — thousands. “We are urban life. And as the narrative amateurs,” one of the orchestra’s unfolds, the conductor’s opening violinists explains. “Our playing is question — “What on earth is average, not tremendously good. that?” — assumes a thematic But when we’re working on the resonance. For a good many of music, there are no limits. . . . I the inhabitants of Kinshasa, clasdream of doing great things sical music is a curiosity — and with my music. Why shouldn’t the sight of Congolese performwe do the same as Mozart and ing Beethoven an astonishment. Beethoven?” — Lucia Rahilly
ST E i N WAY S E T S T H E STAG E
Photo of Steinway Artist Richard Goode with Conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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‘The Idea of North’
ince 1990, the Bard Music Festival and Princeton University Press have produced a series of essay collections devoted to a single composer and “his world,” focusing on canonical icons from Haydn to Copland. These books are invaluable opportunities for music lovers — whether lay or professional — to delve more deeply, guided by top scholars. Jean Sibelius and His World, the twenty-second in the series, is typically absorbing. Sibelius (1865–1957) is a figure as mysterious as his music, with the great Finn’s creative process, influences, personality, milieu and varying reception all fascinating avenues for exploration. Edited by Daniel Grimley of Oxford University (who also edited Cambridge Companion to Sibelius), this collection takes a yin and yang approach, including its response to Sibelius’s music: from the warm reception in the U.K. and U.S. at the start to the strange, even chauvinistic 92 • spring 2012
Jean Sibelius and His World Edited by Daniel M. Grimley (Princeton University Press) 370 pages $35
resistance in Germany and Austria that hasn’t entirely abated. Referenced throughout is the just identification of Sibelius’s music with, to quote Glenn Gould (a keen enthusiast of the composer), “the idea of north” — not only the awesome, wintry landscape of Finland but a heightened sense of elusiveness, individualism, isolation. Other threads include the often-competing ideas of nature and modernity in art, as well as Sibelius’s role as the catalytic icon of Finnish national identity. The life’s work of Sibelius — and though he lived until age ninety-one, he was silent creatively for his last three
decades, one of those haunting Sibelian mysteries — centers on his seven symphonies and many tone poems. But he also wrote scores to numerous theatrical productions, and two chapters focus on this output. “Theatrical Sibelius: The Melodramatic Lizard” deals with the obscure chamber music bound into the symbolist play Ödlan (which revolves around a character whose name is close to Finnish for lizard). It’s one of the composer’s rare theatrical scores that he didn’t later adapt into a concert suite, as he judged “the music impossible for anything but the theater.” The chapter “Storms, Symphonies, Silence: Sibelius’s Tempest Music and the Invention of Late Style” explores echoes of past scores in the composer’s last work, that for Shakespeare’s final play; it also considers his identification with Prospero, the isolated conjurer who chooses to give up his magic. Among the period documents included is an excerpt from a
novella by a member of Sibelius’s decadent circle during his postgraduate days in Berlin. These sketches of a young composer in Adolf Paul’s A Book About a Human Being depict Sibelius as leaping up in reverie to improvise “a disjointed fantasy” at the piano, with such music having synesthetic links for him to colors, moods and times of day. The description of him as “the unhappiest man in the world” until he satisfied cravings for a cigar or alcohol buttresses what we know of Sibelius as an addictive type. The “wondrous machinery of his brain,” writes Paul, was able to find “connections between the most incompatible objects” yet “did least well in coming up with a normal, commonsensical idea in the way of the decent citizen.” — Bradley Bambarger
S t e v e Ra y m e r / COR B IS
Warm isolation. Flowers bloom near Ainola Cottage, one of Finland’s national landmarks and the residence of Sibelius from 1904 until his death in 1957.
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Daniel Asia on Summit Of Songs & Psalms Symphony No. 5 Nonet Asiaâ€™s works are cogent, coherent, and powerful as well as moving. I rejoice in a modern American composer who is so generously endowed with a gift for writing important and beautiful new music. He is a major American talent, and Iâ€™ve yet to encounter anything by him, that I havenâ€™t thoroughly enjoyed. â€“ Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Magazine
Featuring: The Pilsen Philharmonic Koji Kawamoto, conductor NovĂĄ ÄŒeskĂĄ PĂseĹˆ (New Czech Song) ZdenÄ›k Vimr, director Chris Pedro Trakas, baritone Robert Swensen, tenor The Czech Nonet
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Out of Water A bus tour with the cool kids By Matt Haimovitz
In the fall of 2004, I was invited to join the Ropeadope New Music Seminar: twenty rock and jazz musicians, and me, on a ten-day, ten-city bus tour. Each marathon show would be a seamless arc of music, with spontaneous and varied combinations of musicians improvising their way through the evening. Frankly, they had me at “bus.” At the time, I was touring mostly by myself, driving around the country to gigs in concert halls, clubs and coffee houses. I always imagined and wondered about a true rock-‘n’roll lifestyle, with a luxuriously outfitted tour bus, waking up each morning to a new city. 96 • spring 2012
The adrenaline was pumping for our first show in Des Moines, Iowa. At the sound check I met some of the musicians — Charlie Hunter; DJ Olive; Bobby Previte; Stephen Bernstein and his big band, Sex Mob; Critters Buggin’; and Lyrics Born. I had no repertoire in common with any of them and was terrified by the idea of improvising with no rehearsal or pre-planned musical architecture. The promoters asked me to start things off with a solo cello set and I dove into the most cutting-edge contemporary pieces I knew: David Sanford’s “7th Avenue Kaddish,” Steven Mackey’s “Rhonda Variations,” Luna Pearl Woolf ’s “Impromptu” and my arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” from Woodstock. In the middle of this last selection I started hearing some cacophonous drumming effects. I looked up and there was Bobby Previte on the electric drum kit, laughing his head off at how long it had taken me to realize there was someone else on stage.
Afterwards the tour promoter said, “That was great, but next time, before you dive into the hardcore stuff, could you start by giving them a little love?” I started with solo Bach the next night, and I have never forgotten those lessons: the universal connection that Bach can make with an audience, and that only with the establishment of trust can you take an audience to new places. By the time we reached Chicago, I was beginning to let my hair down, making new musical friends. Still sheepish about my improvisational chops, I found myself on stage with Stephen Bernstein and Sex Mob. In front of a thousand dancing twenty-somethings, I reminded Stephen that I don’t play jazz. He shrugged, told me to “play legato, staccato, whatever” and dove into his real-time arranging. He brought the band down to a whisper, and pointed to me. Perhaps inspired by a girl in the front row gyrating in a quasi-New-Age belly dance, a klezmer-infused modal romp came alive under my fingers. It was a revelation that I could make music on the spot with musicians of completely different backgrounds. The improvisations continued, going in different directions every night. The tour ended in Los Angeles at the Troubador Club, made famous by the likes of Led Zeppelin. Paying tribute, Charlie Hunter taught me some licks from Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” which all the musicians joined in on together. I ended up making my own arrangement of “Kashmir” for four cellos, exploring its modal relationship to Bartók’s Rhapsody for Cello and Piano. It was a wonder to absorb rock music, improvising with the same listening skills one employs in chamber music, and seeing unexpected connections and expanded perspectives grow organically out of music’s continuum. Cellist Matt Haimovitz’s latest album is Meeting of the Spirits (Oxingale).
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Violin by A. Stradivari, Cremona 1734 “Willmotte”
RARE VIOLINS SEOUL SHANGHAI
Violin by Christophe Landon, New york 2010 (copy of A. Stradivari, Cremona 1734 “Willmotte”) played by Mikhail Simonyan
A comprehensive collection of rare instruments from the 1600s to the present
Published on Sep 24, 2012