Monday, June 26, 2017
Our diarist Anthea Kreston left her idyllic smalltown life in the US last year to play in an international string quartet based in Berlin. While the quartet is on sabbatical, Andrea and her family have been reflecting on the meaning of it all. Some of her Curtis classmates have hit the headlines. Others live in a one-room apartment, waiting for then phone to ring. All were trained for the same kind of success. But success, finds Andrea, comes in many forms – some more satisfying that others. Read on. What is success? Often, we see success through the lenses of the world, through the filter of history, from others in our chosen field. A beautiful workspace, a name which is recognized, deferential treatment, power. In many ways, I have experienced these types of successes in the past year and a half. The number of sharply dressed men in pony tails, who deliver glasses of champagne, the nitty-gritty of my professional life parsed out to a large group of people, many of whom I don’t even know by name, cars which transport me to famous halls filled to capacity, glamorous afterparties and swank hotels – these things have appeared in my life. But – what, really, is success? Is it a feeling, or something tangible? Is it measured by others, or is it possible that is can be completely owned by the participant, regardless of public perception? As a student at Curtis, I was naturally placed into the highest echelons of classical music – the expectations after graduation were careers as soloists, or entering a top 10 orchestra. Nothing else (it seemed) was acceptable. There is something I would call the “Curtis Effect”, where a percentage of graduates don’t find an easy path towards their definition of success, and end up living a hermit’s life – frozen and unable to take advantage of the huge collection of gifts they have, and instead, thinking that any activity below the top level career is unthinkable. I remember, when there was a last-minute opening as conductor of Connecticut College Orchestra (a wonderful liberal arts college where Jason and I taught). I looked up one of my old school-mates, who had not gotten his dream job yet. He turned down the interview before my sentence was finished – the idea of conducting a college orchestra was worse than scraping by in a shared apartment in Queens. So – they offered the job to Jason – and Jason said he would take it only if he could split it 50/50 with me. By the end of three years, we had grown the program by 100% and also begun a popular free series for families – it is one of our fondest memories of our Connecticut years. Curtis is no longer like this, by the way – under the steady and open-minded hand of Roberto Diaz, they now have an active outreach and educational component. So – what is success? For me – it is joy, it is challenge, it is connection, it is surprise and failure. At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back and realize that I followed someone else’s cookie-cutter definition of success. Next week I play again (viola) with the Berlin Philharmonic – with Sir Simon Rattle. And – I return soon to Venice to solo again with the Interpreti Veneziani. Maybe this time I will participate in the underpants group changing room. Ha ha. I met someone the other week – a famous musician – who said, “well, I would never play in an orchestra – not even Berlin, and certainly not viola”. As if, somehow, playing viola (god forbid) in the best orchestra (oh dear) in the world was beneath them. I should have said, at that point, “well – I have to run now – my three year old student comes tomorrow and I need to get to McPaper for more construction paper and glitter glue!” My student did come today – and I made up a new game called “Mrs. Twinkle Mix-Up”, and after that, I ran to meet Norman Lebrecht for coffee – our first meeting. In some ways, the lessons with my youngest students are my most difficult challenges, and my most satisfying successes. Norman was wonderful! I got a selfie of our cups, but forgot to snap a photo of us together. Gives me something to look forward to next time. An afterthought from Ralph Waldo Emerson: What is Success? To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.
"The London Symphony Orchestra teamed with techies from the University of Portsmouth and Vicon Motion Systems, who captured Rattle's movements while conducting, appropriately, Elgar's Enigma Variations. Digital artist Tobias Gremmler was then called in to convert the gestures into animated films."
In Berliner Morgenpost Simon Rattle tells how there were London Symphony Orchestra musicians weeping after the Brexit vote and goes on to say about the post-Brexit visa process "People simply don’t know how complicated it’s going to be". Earlier this year the same LSO musicians with conductor Daniel Harding toured Korea and China. A description of the convoluted visa application process for China begins: "A work visa is required for persons wanting to work in China for pay. It is also issued to aliens who come to China for commercial entertainment performance. It is only granted if you and the employer meet certain requirements..." I have searched in vain for reports of LSO musicians weeping about the complications of non-nationals performing in China. But I did note that like Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding is managed by Askonas Holt. This agency also managed the LSO's Asian tour, and, as previously explained, has more than one finger in the anti-Brexit pie. Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).
The conductor tells the Berliner Morgenpost that in the past 11 months the London Symphony Orchestra has received fewer applications from Europe for its auditions. ‘People simply don’t know how complicated it’s going to be (after Brexit),’ he says. ‘Nobody wants something bad to come out of this decision, but it’s hard not to think of it as an act of self-injury. Myself, I feel more European than ever.’ He says he was rehearsing with the orchestra the morning after the Brexit vote last year and players were weeping in their seats. Full interview here.
At the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Karina Canellakis made her debut conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Given that orchestra's knack for finding exceptionally good young conductors to liven up the stable, this concert deserved attention. Canellakis was a violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic's junior ensemble, the Orchester-Akademie, where she became a protégé of Simon Rattle, like Dudamel and others before. His agents, Askonas Holt, have taken her onto their books, which should launch her career very nicely. In 2014 she stepped in for Jap van Zweden in Dallas. This concert with the CBSO is so far her highest-profile European gig, broadcast on BBC Radio 3. César Franck's Le chasseur maudit is a show stopper, almost guaranteed to blast audiences out of their seats. It's inherently dramatic. A fanfare of horns announces a hunt: but no ordinary, pastoral hunt. Percussion rings out, suggesting the tolling of church bells in the distance. This Sunday, though, the Huntsman's off to the woods instead, killing animals. The tale goes way back in European folklore. Think, for starters, Goethe's Die wandelnde Glock, set by Loewe, and Schoenberg's Gurrelieder and much else Gothic and demonic. Thus the piece ends with a loud sudden bang. It's not a rarity: I last heard it live barely 18 months ago. It's effects come from its being pictorial: not a great deal of musical imagination needed. Thus it needs more punch in performance to compensate, and here needed more vivid character. Another surefire crowd pleaser: Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances op 45, also vividly pictorial. It's as if we see dancers swirl before us, as if in an elusive dream. Certainly, in this performance the dreamlike quality prevailed, but there are darker, more nightmarish depths to the piece. That repeated pounding motif and its quieter echo, can be disturbing. Towards the end of his life, Rachmaninov was looking back on a lost world, and a life spent in exile, sometimes in creative impasse. The waltzes can seem haunted. The violin plays alone, for a reason. The horns can be strident, and the winds can be sinister. But for all we know, Rachmaninov might have been writing to soothe himself. The CBSO is a such a good orchestra that it can convince whatever it does. So, perhaps the fluid smoothness had purpose. An undemanding though enjoyable performance. Picturesque music sometimes plays itself, though it works best when better thought through. The highlight was Camille Saint-Saëns Piano concerto no.5 in F major Op.103 (Egyptian) (1896) with Cédric Tiberghien. Much is made of the "Egyptian" aspects of the piece, since it was written in Luxor, but it is fundamentally an example of Belle Époque syncretism. For men of Saint-Saëns's generation, European civilization was the height of progress, and that civilization encompassed the world. Napoleon's conquest of Egypt differed from the British conquest of India, just as French and British colonialism followed different models. The French fascination with "The East" was long standing : think Les Indes galantes, where the "natives" are Frenchmen in disguise. Or Lakmé, or The Pearl Fishers. Ultimately, Saint-Saëns Piano concerto no.5 is far more than picturesque travelogue. It's not "light music". It's a work of bold musical inventiveness and originality. Perhaps that's why the piano part is so strong : the soloist as pioneer, very much the leader. Tiberghien faces the fearsome technical challenges : arpeggios fly with faultless confidence and elegance, and the frequent changes of imagery flow naturally. Like the Nile, with its confluent tributaries! Vaguely Arabic motifs blend into harmonies that are "modern" and European. Thundering passages suggest constant flux,with swirling diminuendos and passages of flamboyant brilliance. Nothing backward here, though the references may come from things remembered. Tiberghien played with highly individual flourish. Perhaps his enthusiasm invigorated the orchestra, who were playing at their best at this point in the concert.