Friday, September 30, 2016
"Masterworks of French Modernism", the title of Daniele Gatti's concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Debussy La Mer, the key piece that opened new horizons, a magical work which, like the ocean keeps changing, revealing its depths in good performance. "God is in the detail" said Gatti in the interval interview, explaining how the arc of a performance is built upon many layers of detail. The term "Impressionism" is a tag that's stuck because it does describe the idea of creating a whole made up of tiny cells of pure colour. Impressionist paintings shocked viewers because they seemed to shine from within, because each stroke of paint seemed to glow with inner light. Now, perhaps The Shock of The New has worn off with millions of reproductions on coffee mugs, t shirts and so on. But in music, every good performance is new, an original recreation in its own right. Daniele Gatti is too good to do routine, and with an orchestra as good as the Berliner Philharmoniker, there was no way this performance would fail. There are so many brilliant La Mers around that we've all heard better, but also even more that are infinitely worse, and that's something to be glad about in a world where mediocrity is increasingly prized over excellence. Not a "coffee mug" performance by any means, even if the real revelations on this occasion came in Honegger and Dutilleux. Arthur Honegger's Symphony no 3 and Henri Dutilleux Métaboles have both been part of the Berlin Philharmonic's repertoire for some years. Simon Rattle conducted Métaboles as recently as 2013, with more or less the same musicians. Although much of Dutilleux's best work lies in miniatures and chamber pieces, Métaboles is scored for large orchestra. It flows over five movements each wiuth a distinctive personality : not variations but a series of developments, characterized by meticulous detail - a kind of refined embroidery. To borrow metaphors from painting, Pointillism, as opposed to Impressionism. Gatti's approach is softer grained than Rattle's, which may be more authentic but which might appeal to the already converted than to those coming new to the composer. There is a powerful Dutilleux lobby, so influential that it could demand chapters on Dutilleux in books about Messiaen. A bit petty, since both composers are very different indeed, and there's no need to play silly status games. Better to absorb the music on its own terms. A few years ago, I attended a Dutilleux recital at the Wigmore Hall (read more here). The composer, then aged 92, was present, enjoying himself hugely because Jan Pascal Tortelier's father was a close personal friend. Afterwards, my friend and I had a long dinner, leaving close to midnight. And who should we see but Henri Dutilleux, walking back to his hotel around the block. We waved. He beamed. Herbert Karajan conducted Honegger's Symphony no 3 (Symphonie Liturgique) with the Berliners in 1969, so long ago that it's pointless to compare. Whoever uploaded the performance to YT knew what they were doing by illustrating it with a drawing by George Rouault. Connections to painting again. No pretty pointillism for Rouault : his work is marked by ferocious dark outlines, defining the images within . The colours in his famous series of paintings of Christ seem to glow like stained glass even though they are oppressed by savage framework, which is utterly appropriate. Written in the winter of 1945/6, Honegger's piece deals explicitly with the horrors of war, and the challenges of a new era. The Dies Irae with its ferocious outcries, expresses anguish. Rouault's suffering Christ, depicted in sound. Honegger, being Swiss was a neutral in occupied France, but no less involved with what was going on around him. The second movement, De profundis clamavi, is a slow, but not peaceful meditation. What must we do that to counter violence and hate ? Slower, more amorphous figures, long lines that seem to float on a stream of mysterious detail. Gatti's unhurried attentiveness works well: we cannot afford to gloss over these complexities. This is the dark soul of the whole symphony. The movement concludes with intense outbursts from the brass, angular shapes against the horizontal keening in the strings. The last movement, Dona Nobis Pacem, doesn't, however, "grant us peace". Instead, it moves in the form of a solemn procession, lit with violent alarums from brass. One could visualize a cortege marching at night, the darkness broken by malevolent flames, whipped by turbulent winds. Obvious connections with Honegger's masterpiece Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher written in 1938, when Honegger was well aware of the threat posed by Hitler. Joan of Arc stands up to invaders, but is martyred. As the flames rise round her, though, she sees visions of saints and angels, and the voices who lead her return at last, taking her up to heaven. Peace, of a sort, is achieved but only through confronting evil and suffering : no avoidance, no prettying up. Honegger's Symphony no 3 isn't just a masterwork of modernism but a powerful document of how music can inspire the mind and soul. Please read my other work on Honegger and especially on Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher by following the links below and on the right.
Metropolitan Opera, New York Nina Stemme’s voice is a force of nature, while the orchestra, under Simon Rattle, is ravishing – but the incoherent staging amounts to a juvenile rejection of the work’s erotic powerTristan und Isolde, we are often told, is one of the truest measures of a grand opera company’s resources. It takes a formidable orchestra, a visionary conductor, a hardy cast of supple singers. Less frequently itemized in this array of requirements is a director possessed of useful ideas – but that’s also important, as the Metropolitan Opera’s strange new misfire of a production makes clear.This season in New York, we have soprano Nina Stemme giving a high-powered, gorgeous account of Isolde – and some ravishing Wagnerian orchestral sweep driven by conductor Sir Simon Rattle. Both of those musicians are too infrequently heard here. Unfortunately, they are laboring in and around a concept by director Mariusz Treliński that isn’t anywhere close to their mutual level of artistry. Judged by the ear, Monday’s premiere was a marvel. By the eye, it was a nearly five-hour parade of unforced errors. Continue reading...
The opening production of Tristan and Isolde, conducted on Monday by Simon Rattle and sung by Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton, has suffered an unfortunate clash with the first Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton TV debate. Bloomberg reports: Julie Macklowe, founder of skincare-products maker vbeaute, is splitting her evening, starting with Wagner’s tragic love story and then leaving Lincoln Center “to catch the slugfest” before the final act. “There will probably be a mass exodus out of the opera then,” she said. There could also be a similar walkout from the live simulcast crowd on Times Square.
The BBC have just released audience figures for this summer’s Proms, which end tonight. Average attendance for the main evening Proms in the Royal Albert Hall this year was 88% with 45 of 75 concerts in the Royal Albert Hall selling out. That’s not bad, but not good, either. Between 2009 and 2013, uptake was consistently above 90 percent, peaking at a record 95%. In 2014, a penny-pinch year after Wagner-Verdi-Britten extravagances, it fell back to 88% . The Proms director Roger Wright left shortly before the season began. Last year, under interim management, audiences rose marginally to 89%. Now, with David Pickard installed as boss, the uptake has settled again at 88%. In another setback, fewer first-timers bought tickets than in 2015. The heavily spun BBC press release follows its presenter-driven promo picture. Tonight the BBC Proms concludes with the world famous Last Night of the Proms led by conductor Sakari Oramo and starring Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. Once again more than 300,000 people attended the Proms demonstrating that classical music is in rude health. The fantastically rich display of world class music making this summer has included some standout moments from Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich performing Schubert’s Rondo in A major together as an encore; Quincy Jones conducting the finale of a Prom celebrating his life and work, and the Ten Pieces II Proms which brought the innovative BBC project bringing classical music to school children to life. From Bernard Haitink marking his 50th anniversary conducting at the Proms by leading Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the London Symphony Orchestra, Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla making her Proms debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Christian Thielemann bringing a trio of world class German orchestras in the final week, the orchestral offering has been truly outstanding. For the first time in 2016 an innovative new series Proms At… went to four new corners of London: the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark, The Chapel, Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, the Roundhouse in Camden and the Bold Tendencies Multi-Storey Car Park in Peckham – the first Prom to take place in a car park! Average attendance for the main evening Proms in the Royal Albert Hall this year was 88% with 45 of 75 concerts in the Royal Albert Hall selling out. More than 35,500 people bought tickets for the first time. Over 10,000 under 18s attended concerts across the season. A record 57,000 tickets sold in the first hour of booking. David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms 2016, says: “It has been a thrill to be part of this extraordinary festival for the first time and I’m delighted that the 2016 BBC Proms has once again seen audiences embracing the huge breadth of music on offer throughout the eight weeks of the festival, from the Royal Albert Hall to a car park in Peckham. I am delighted that thanks to the ongoing commitment of the BBC, the Proms remains true to Sir Henry Wood’s founding vision to bring the best music to the largest possible audiences”
Contrasting figures, two very different premieres at the Proms.: Julian Anderson's Incantesimi and Bayan Northcott's Concerto for Orchestra. Both composers are big names in British music. Northcott's new work is more ambitious in scale, and impressive as a study of large forces. It seems tailor made for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, reminiscent of standard orchestral fare, big on full-bodied tutti and brass effects, lovely, rippling passages for winds. A good and worthy piece, though I suspect it needs a more dynamic performance. Please read the review in 5:4, a very good site on new music, which I wish ran year round rather than just in summer. "The work comports itself in a conflicted way, on the one hand sounding laboured and stylistically somewhat dated (a sort of ‘post-neo-romanticism’ if you’ll forgive the construction; think Walton with plenty of late 20th century twists), yet with a stream of invention sufficiently cogent to lend it a veneer of freshness. Considering this is Northcott’s first work for orchestra, it displays an impressive combination of complexity and clarity, although many of the ideas could do with a bit less stodge (making it sound as though the conductor is stirring treacle). A little over halfway through it attains a climax that’s made up of many elements; it’s a really nice moment, enhanced by the orchestra’s subsequent enigmatic withdrawal into the middleground. This, and the work’s more pensive episodes, are by far the most immersive; Northcott’s faster music (which dominates overall) feels shallow by comparison, and the abrupt end is an entirely unconvincing cop-out, But notwithstanding these difficulties, plus the fact that it’s not really a concerto for orchestra at all, more a symphonic poem, the piece makes for an interesting enough diversion." All music is "abstract" in the sense that sounds aren't as explicit as words, and even text can be elusive. Thomas Larcher's Symphony no 2 "Cenotaph" might have initially been inspired by images of Syrian refugees, but that doesn't at all mean that the music is literal, in any way. Like Strauss's Alpine Symphony, programmes are like scaffolding, useful as an aid to construction. What really counts is the building itself. Please read here what I wrote about Larcher and Strauss, and on the programmatic structure. In any case, music is processed by human minds, so it's not possible to experience listening without some human input: what one hears depends on an individual's emotional range, expectations and experience. And so to Julian Anderson's Incantesimi.. commissioned for Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. In theory this piece was inspired by an orrery, a multi-dimensional creation designed to demonstrate the movements and interactions of planets in the universe, each with their different orbits and speeds of traverse. Science, thus, abstract concepts made visible, helping ordinary people understand the universe. Anderson has always been a remarkably "visual" composer : some people just are. But that doesn't mean that his music is literal. Anderson describes the five elements in his piece as a Nocturne which has five musical ideas juggled in perpetual motion, interacting but never all at the same time. "Instead of being an outward display of flamboyance, it's an inward display of lyrical qualities and calm meditation, like Giant Chamber Music". Thus the growling lower registers from which clean, clear lines emerge. A cor anglais solo, then. Exquisite, glittering, fragmenting sounds. All held together by a sense of circular movement, shifts in volume and tempi, highlighted by sudden single bell-like chords, then percussion and high winds. On the re-broadcast, the announcer says the percussive clicks represent a Japanese night watchman signalling all is well. Nuts, I thought. Nightwatchmen exist even outside Japan. If there's extra-musical reference here, consider the Nightwatchman in Die Meistersinger, who signals the restoration of order on chaos, hence the elegant structure of the piece. Much more than a tone poem, it's a mini symphony in less than 15 minutes, totally to the point. I hadn't heard Anderson's comments before listening, so I was delighted that I'd guessed the idea without having to be told. Anderson's Incantesimi. is definitely a keeper, proof that good, original new music can appeal without dumbing down or being elitist. Fascinating, imaginative and really quite magical.
Royal Albert Hall, London The Berlin Philharmonic lead two superb concerts devoted to the late Proms fixture Pierre Boulez, while violinist Jeanne-Marie Conquers triumphs with Anthèmes IIThough not explicitly announced as such, the penultimate Friday of this year’s Proms had become a tribute to Pierre Boulez, who died in January. Between 1965 and 2008, Boulez appeared almost 70 times at the Proms. The first of the Berlin Philharmonic’s two concerts this year with Simon Rattle and the subsequent late-night programme shared by the BBC Singers and Ensemble InterContemporain under Baldur Brönnimann were programmes that Boulez himself might have devised. Related: Pierre Boulez: 'He was one of the naughtiest of great artists' Continue reading...