Thursday, August 25, 2016
The outgoing Berlin Philharmonic conductor has been sharing some of his German experiences with journalists of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin (not online). Sir Simon says he quickly got to like the Chancellor, who loves coming to concerts. But he was even more impressed by her husband, Professor Joachim Sauer, who can speak with authority on serialism and modern music and was clearly th one who bought tickets to the more adventurous concerts. The Chancellor came to dinner at his place in Berlin. The conductor cooked lamb with aubergine. Wonder what’s on his menu for Theresa May.
August 5 marks the opening of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival [EIF]. Together with the Fringe Festival’s cladding of some three thousand satellite events, EIF’s exhaustive programme of theatre, music, dance and opera runs until August 29. In the words of The Spectator: “… you can sleep in September.” Founded in 1947, EIF has developed an enviable international reputation for matching the beauty of the city with the attractiveness of its programmes, and it’s always gratifying to run an eye over the roster of events each year, if only to get a shot of reassurance that the arts in live performance are thriving north of the border, Brexit or no. It’s a hazard of working for Naxos that, whenever the names of particular artists or works hit your eye, the brain shortcuts to entries for the same in the Naxos catalogue. And so it proved when riffling through this year’s EIF music programme. The first one was by proxy, in that the multi-talented Barry Humphries is fronting an evening of ‘degenerate’ music from Germany’s Weimar Republic on 8 and 9 August. Racy, degenerate qualities certainly characterise Humphries’ persona Sir Les Patterson and, to a degree, his alter ego Dame Edna Everage. But the latter proves all sweetness and light on her Naxos recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (8.554170 ), to which she stakes a somewhat unearthly claim: “I tend to believe in reincarnation, call me old fashioned but I do, and it may interest you to know that I am the reincarnation of Serge Prokofiev’s mother. She was a wonderful old Russian housewife, and when little Serge was knee-high to a grasshopper she would put him on her knee and croon old-fashioned folk-tunes to him … most of those tunes his mother hummed are in his masterpiece Peter and the Wolf. That’s why I’m an absolute natural to record this work. After all, I actually wrote it in a spooky sort of way, so I ought to know how to perform it—don’t you agree, possums?” Judge for yourself in this extract from the story’s entrance of the cat! There’s a more definitive case for the next artist’s bid for authority on the music in question. The Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits’ EIF concert on 20 August sees him directing the Russian National Orchestra in a programme of Mussorgsky, Mozart and Tchaikovsky; the following evening’s programme features works by Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Silvestrov. But in 2013 he treated Naxos music-lovers to the world première recorded performances of Three Concertos for Orchestra (8.572633 ), written in the 1980s by his father, Ivan Karabits. Following Ukraine’s independence in 1991, Ivan Karabits became the country’s leading musical figure. His works reflected three traditions in particular: Mahler, Shostakovich and the folk-music of his native country. His untimely death in 2002 undoubtedly robbed us of many outstanding scores. The critics raved unanimously about the Three Concertos for Orchestra. We hope you would readily agree with their response. Here’s an extract from the opening of the second movement of his Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 . Naxos Artist Marin Alsop appears at the EIF on 22 August directing the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in a programme of music by Villa-Lobos, Bernstein and Shostakovich. This month also sees the release of the latest volume in her Prokofiev symphony cycle for Naxos with the same orchestra. Their Edinburgh programme includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (8.559177 ), written in 1965 in response to a commission from the Dean of Chichester in England. Here’s an extract from the 3-movement, 20-minute work, scored for mixed choir, boy solo, strings, 2 harps and percussion. Marin directs the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra here in the jubilant closing section of the first movement , a setting of Psalm 100 (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands). Members of the splendid Australian Chamber Orchestra perform at the EIF tomorrow, Saturday 6 August, and their programme features a curiosity—the re-scoring of Mahler’s monumental orchestral song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde. Arnold Schoenberg began this arrangement for string and wind chamber forces, piano, celesta, harmonium and percussion, but died before its completion; this was eventually achieved by Rainer Riehn in 1983. Naxos Artist JoAnn Falletta has recently recorded the work with members of the Virginia Arts Festival Players, the Attacca Quartet and soloists. The recording doesn’t become available until October (on 8.573536 ), but we can give you a foretaste with this extract from the first movement, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow . My coda to today’s blog turns from a nod to Edinburgh to many happy returns of the day to Betsy Jolas, the indefatigable French composer who predates the EIF by some 30 years and celebrates her 90th birthday today, 5 August. She’s still going strong: the première of her A Little Summer Suite, a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, was directed by Sir Simon Rattle just a few months ago. To bow out, then, here’s an extract from a piano trio she wrote in 2007, dedicated to and premièred by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, and titled appropriately Ah! Haydn (C7020 ). The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs from 5 – 29 August.
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, leader of the Simon Rattle campaign for a new concert hall in the City of London, has returned to the fray after a period of quiet contemplation. He argues in the Telegraph today that, after the Brexit vote, ‘London and the UK will need standout projects: the sort of infrastructure that will help fuel our economy, and attract both visitors and artists who want to come or continue to work here because of our thrilling cultural scene.’ Which is exactly what he argued before Britain voted to leave the EU. The case for a new hall on the site of the Museum of London has some merits in a sunny economic climate, which is a thing of the past. In present conditions it will (a) cost half a billion pounds, (b) be furiously resented by the rest of the UK, specifically those parts that voted for Brexit and (c) lack any kind of political backing now that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, its chief nodder and winker, has been sacked from the Theresa May government. To make the case now for a new hall displays woeful timing and an astonishing lack of emotional intelligence. Mrs May is unlikely to be amused.
Bernard Haitink conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the London Symphony Orchestra at BBC Prom 18 on Friday, available audio and video on BBC4 TV. I couldn't be present live since I was at Gloucester for the Three Choirs Festival Mahler Symphony no 8 (read my review here) Repeat broadcasts are a boon especially with Haitink because he doesn't do "instant gratification" but rewards thoughtful concentration. In a career spanning over 60 years, Haitink has probably conducted more Mahler than anyone else, and with orchestras that have long Mahler credentials, like the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam, which Mahler himself listened to when Willem Mengelberg conducted, over 100 years ago. Haitink has authority: in London, we've been lucky enough to hear him conduct several times a year, with the LSO and with the Royal Opera House – so often indeed that he feels like part of the family. Yet even though he's conducted so much over so many years, he nearly always finds something new to say. Never take Haitink for granted! His Mahler carries authority. Mahler's Symphony no 3 unfolds like a spiritual journey across a vast terrain. A friend perceptively observed that this performance was "not a young man's Mahler" but something much more unusual – a wise, mature traversal born of a lifetime's engagement with Mahler and his music on a very deep level. It carried authority. The LSO horns called out, projecting into the vast expanses of the Royal Albert Hall. I thought about the Salzkammergut, and the mountains of the hoher Dachstein range which tower about the Attersee, on whose shores Mahler spent summers, working in a "composing hut" by the edge of the water. Scale counts, but it's not the size of the orchestra that counts, nor the length of the symphony that matters, but context, the bigness of vision. What matters is the way Mahler evokes the power of Nature through powerful blocks of sound, which rise like mountains, drawing the listener ever upwards. Haitink understands the "hiking pulse" in the steady pace which suggests purposeful footsteps and strength. No neurasthenic neurosis! Mahler was a hiker and mountain biker, who understood the physical discipline involved. Just as you can't do mountains ill prepared, you can't do music without first mastering the basic discipline of respecting the score and its execution. Thus the firmness of Haitink's conducting, honed by experience. The snare drums rattle and the brass breaks free, but notice the taut control and the quiet rumble of concentration: greater peaks lie ahead. The trombones evoke mountain horns, whose sound is meant to carry across vast distances in space. The "hiking pulse" in the violins sets the tone for the expansive exuberance to come. The moments of warmth were particularly moving: as if Haitink was reflecting on happy times. Yet this was much more than a sunny, open-air interpretation. We can't stop in the "meadow" with the flowers, however sweet they might be. Lovely dialogue here between then "earthly" instruments and the "celestial" off-stage flugelhorn. Pan rushed in with anarchic vigour. Sarah Connolly sang the haunting "O Mensch". Take heed, for the woodwinds curl and twist around the voice evoking the images of death, pain and night in the text. But the solo violin enters, connecting to the fifth movement where the women of the London Symphony Chorus and the Tiffin Boys Choir sing of angels and of celestial bliss. For all the "Nature" elements in this symphony, for Mahler, the spiritual is never far away. The Finale was proof of Haitink's concept - emotions as deep and as complex as this can't be expressed with surface bluster. Haitink's wise, calm confidence is powerful because it is sincere: it's grown almost organically from a lifetime of experience. When the timpani boom and the strings shine, we have reached a destination beyond mortal ken.
Will things start livening up at the Proms next month ? In July, the fare predictable with rehashed reheated leftovers which were good first time round but not so exciting second time round. Maybe this pasteurized blandness represents the Future if Classical Music, as defined by government thinktanks and BBC suits who think the public can't cope with real sustenance. Sir Henry Wood must be rolling in his grave ! He believed that the public would rise to the challenge of interesting work, and that ordinary people could develop listening skills. Now, instead we get pablum like Ten Pieces, catering to the lowest possible denominator, and to those don't even want to pay attention. "We don't like experts!" the end of civilization ? So here we are, coming to the halfway point in this year's Proms, what do we have ahead ? On Monday 1/8 I'm looking forward to John Storgårds conducting Neilsen 5 and Jörg Widmann's Armonica for glass harmonica. On 4/8, Oliver Knussen conducts Reinbert de Leeuw Der nächtliche Wanderer On 8/8 Esa Pekka Salonen conducts Schoenberg A Survivor from Warsaw, with Mahler's First interesting combination ! Janacek The Makropulos Affair on 19/8 will be a high point, with Karita Mattila and Jiří Bělohlávek. I'll be listening to a lot (eg Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with the CBSO) but, while there are good things, there's a lot of not so good and little that's thrilling. Somr odd mismatches between performer and repertoire. So on to September when things wake up. Baldur Brönnimann conducts a very interesting late nighter on 29 with Ensemble Intercontemporain. and on 49 Mark Elder conducts thge OAE in Rossini's Semiramide. In the Last Week, the Big Bands : The Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Berlin and Staatskapplle Dresden with Rattle, Barenboim and Thielemann. The media are playing this up as some kind of battle, but that's silly. People really into music don't need to play games with musicians as pawns. At this level there's no "competition", just excellence. All is not lost, yet.
Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh Conductor Jonathan Lyness handled the emotional undercurrents of the Czech composer’s classic work with care in a stark, controlled new productionThe tragedy of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa – its painful love and infanticide – never fails to stab at the heart. The first act is deceptive, taking its time to establish the humdrum and claustrophobic nature of life: from the opening bars, the xylophone’s monotone rattle captures the turning mill wheel. Yet Janáček’s concern is with the internal workings of the mill family and, in this new production by Longborough Festival Opera, its passions and motives as played out across three generations are unmistakable. Relationships in this opera, however, can be confusing – even the composer had trouble explaining to his publisher who was who. Essentially, of Grandmother Buryovka’s three grandchildren by her two sons, the two half-brothers Steva and Laca are in love with their cousin Jenůfa. Steva’s inheritance of the mill at the expense of his half-brother causes the bad blood. The strong tenor voices of Andrew Rees as Steva (the charming but irresponsible drinker by whom Jenůfa is pregnant) and Daniel Norman (the disgruntled but eventually gracious Laca) made for feisty portrayals. Continue reading...