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Igor Stravinsky

Monday, September 26, 2016


My Classical Notes

September 17

Jurowski Conducts Stravinsky

My Classical NotesComposer Igor Stravinsky was a controversial figure during his lifetime. He was so innovative that it was difficult for some people in his audience to accept or comprehend his music. Time has marched on, and Stravinsky’s music is much more accepted and enjoyed now. Here is a new recording for your consideration: Vladimir Jurowski conducts Stravinsky Stravinsky: Petrushka (1911 version) Symphonies of Wind Instruments Orpheus Performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. This recording features one of today’s most sought-after conductors, Vladimir Jurowski, who was appointed Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2007, with many of his recordings on the LPO Label being chosen for special mentions by BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone Magazine. Igor Stravinsky was a musical master, and these three works performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski showcase his incredible versatility of style, and feature one of his most colorful and wide-ranging scores, Petrushka. Stravinsky’s original version of Symphonies of Wind Instruments composed in 1920 is heard alongside his original Petrushka, a piece he descibed as ‘an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogeneous instruments’. Classical elegance and restraint are brought into focus in the first new recording of Stravinsky’s Orpheus since 2009. Here is Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky:

Guardian

September 19

Soundtrack to Shakespeare: uncovering the RSC's forgotten treasures

The RSC has teamed up with the Southbank Sinfonia to revive some of the most compelling scores written for our favourite Shakespeare playsWhat’s your favourite ballet music? For me, it is Stravinsky’s Firebird. Favourite film music? Bernard Herrmann’s scorching score for Vertigo. But your favourite music written for a play? Not so easy to recall. In fact, what can I even think of that qualifies? Wracking my brains, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to mind, but even that, technically, was originally written as a concert piece and only later padded out to accompany a stage performance.Why is it that music for ballet – and lately films – packs out concert halls, but we seldom remember, let alone celebrate, music written for theatre? Is the music less substantial, its job less important? It’s a question that set me and conductor Simon Over on an expedition to Stratford-upon-Avon to find out what noteworthy music had been written for the Royal Shakespeare Company in its century-long history. There we met its head of music Bruce O’Neil. Continue reading...




Tribuna musical

September 15

Triumphant return of Krzysztof Penderecki at the Blue Whale

An old friend of our city came back after a long period and got an ovation at the packed Blue Whale of the CCK: Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, aged 82. In the Seventies two scores of his made a vivid impression here: the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and the St.Luke Passion (conducted by Henryk Czyz, and unfortunately not played since). Later Penderecki came here in several seasons conducting his own works, and in one visit with a Hamburg orchestra, the standard repertoire. He became a respected and admired artist in Buenos Aires. Along with Witold Lutoslawski, Penderecki was clearly at the head of the astonishing Polish composers of the period after World War II. Having gone through terrible experiences during the war, they and many others found the sounds for a new era. They did it in parallel to the great film makers led by Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Roman Polanski, who communicated the transformation of an injured society in unforgettable images. Unfortunately the hand programmes of the National Symphony contain no information on the scores, which is unfair to both the audience and the composer. So I did some research. Picture the young years of Penderecki after his musical studies at Cracovia (Poland´s most lovely city) during the Iron Curtain. Even in those years the Occidental avantgarde creeped in, and Penderecki knew Stockhausen, Nono and Boulez. After having a traditional musical education, he decided to experiment with sound and soon he was producing some of the most radical and imaginative works of what an analyst called "Sonorism": "Fluorescences", "Polymorphia", "De Natura Sonoris" I and II, represented his position at the time; he wrote in 1962: "all I´m interested is liberating sound beyond all tradition". But by the time he was forty he felt differently, and when he was a professor at the Yale School of Music (the same institution that was illustrated decades before by the presence of no less than Hindemith) he said: "This experimentation and formal speculation is more destructive than constructive. I was saved from the avantgarde snare of formalism by a return to tradition". How curious that he should attack Occident for formalism, the same grave fault according to the Soviets of composers that were very different indeed from the avantgardists: Prokofiev and Shostakovich. My own idea is that, after being genuinely innovative, he didn´t burn the past as others did but incorporated it, for our present is the summing up of all our pasts. And he felt, as others did, that you can give a personal stamp to tonal music. Indeed, Penderecki´s music of all his styles is intense, dramatic and searching. When tonal it has plenty of dissonant climaxes, and dense, complicated textures. But his experimental music obviously touched a nerve, for such film makers as Kubrick, Lynch and Scorsese used it. And the later Penderecki wrote the music for the tremendous Wajda film on Katyn, the Soviet massacre of Polish officers. The composer´s ability to create dramatic music shows in his operas "The Devils of Loudun" (on witchcraft) and "Ubu Rex" (premièred at the Colón in 2004), an antecedent of surrealism and the theater of the absurd. The results of his new views on music showed on many fields. Penderecki is a devout Catholic and has written many important works apart from the mentioned Passion (Magnificat, Stabat Mater, etc.). But he has been equally prolific in writing concerti and symphonies, and that´s the field he showed in this visit. He started with the Adagio movement from his Third Symphony, in the arrangement he made for strings. The score has several other movements. The Adagio is very tonal and shows a perfect command of textures. It lasts ten minutes and grows gradually to a potent climax before subsiding into calmer fields. The Concerto grosso is a sui generis work written for three cellos and big orchestra, a combination I´ve never heard before. Baroque Concerti grossi are generally for two violins, cello and string ensemble, and Stravinsky´s Neoclassic one is for strings and short. Instead, Penderecki wrote six movements all joined to each other and in contrasting speeds, where the three cellos combine their phrases but find themselves in dialogue with multiple soloists from the orchestra: violin, viola, cello, bass, winds. The contrapunctal writing is masterly and the variety of colors fascinates. It was admirably played by Eduardo Vasallo, Jorge Pérez Tedesco and José Araujo. Vasallo was a guest for although he is Argentine he has been first cello of the Birmingham Symphony since 1989. The National Symphony collaborated with great concentration and good solos and Penderecki showed that at 82 he maintains his fine control as conductor. He has written eight symphonies by now, although the Sixth is still in progress. The Fourth is named "Adagio", for that is the principal tempo, but it contrasts with two long faster movements (II, Più animato; IV, Allegro). The five movements again form a continuous block, 35 minutes of coherent and powerful music in which I felt a Shostakovich influence though with Penderecki´s personal character. Three trumpets were placed far from the orchestra at the entrance of the hall and gave intense interventions with the main orchestra, of continuous variety of moods and colors. The orchestra responded well to the composer´s firm indications. Welcome back, Krysztof Penderecki premièring his own creations. For Buenos Aires Herald



Classical iconoclast

September 7

Gergiev Ustvolskaya Shostakovich Berlin Musikfest

At the Musikfest Berlin, Valery Gergiev conducted the Münchner Philharmoniker in Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 "Jesus Messaih, save us!" with Shostakovich Symphony no 4. A musically astute programme, much wiser that the odd ragbag Gergiev and the Müncheners had to do at thr Proms in July where Ustvolskaya's remarkable piece was buried in crowd-pleasing Strauss and Rachmaninoff.   Ustvolskaya's piece is powerful but forbidding and really  needs to be heard in proper context, not submerged in the ragbag mix the Proms inflicted on Gergiev. In Berlin, he could give Ustvolskya the prominence her music deserves, and present it in proper context. Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) was an outsider, her career so restrained that, in comparison, Shostakovich was almost a matinee idol. But as this symphony shows, isolation intensified her originality.  The power of this work lies in its emotional honesty,  built on the foundations of unshakeable faith.   Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 Jesus Messiah, save us!  is based on the life of an 11th-century monk, Hermann of Reichenau, aka "Hermann the cripple" who was born with so many birth defects that he lived in constant pain and had speech defects. Nonetheless, he became a theologian, an astronomer, a mathematician and wrote a treatise on the science of music. He lived to age 44, ancient by the standards of the time and was canonized in 1863. A paralyzed musician without a voice? What a metaphor for a composer in the Soviet era!   Not for nothing, Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 evolves from a single, unaccompanied voice.  Alexei Petrenko (pictured with Gergiev at the Proms performance) intones the text with uncompromising gravity, as if his voice has materialized from an ancient past.  Thus the austerity of the orchestration, and the utterly uncompromising nature of the work, closer to Orthodox traditions than to medieval Europe.  The instruments operate in tight units: five basses, five trumpets, five oboes, three tubas, three percussion desks, with large timpani and smaller, militaristic drums.  Thus a sense of ritual, a sense of unshakeable austerity, pitting the solo voice against small but strong forces. The piano mediates, sometimes supporting the idea of a wayward individual, yet also employed as percussion, with  long drawn sequences of ostinato, a lone trombone wailing balefully long lines against the piano's firm "footsteps".  "Save us, save us" Petrenko whispers, (in Russian) his eyes raised upwards, as if listening for a sign, as the music quickly dissipates into silence.  Whether or not Shostakovich compromised with the Stalinist regime, he managed to balance on the edge. Ustvolskaya wasn't sent to Siberia, but seems to have struggled on in a kind of external exile. Shostakoviuch dominates to such an extent that it masks the originality of Ustvolskaya's idiom. She and Shostakovich didn't get on for various reasons. In any case, the integrity in her music comes from very deep sources. Thus she's closer to Stravinsky and the "primitivism" of the Rite of Spring,  and to the brief explosion of modernity which flourished in the early years after the Revolution, and produced works like Alexander Mosolov's The Iron Foundry (1925-6)   Ustvolskaya's music even connects  to the fierce awkwardness of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass, and indeed to Messiaen's ground-breaking masterpieces like Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Boulez was a great interpreter of Stravinsky, Janáček and Messiaen, so his disdain for Shostakovich needs to be appreciated in context.  Maybe one day, when modern music is better understood, we can see things from a wider perspective.  Follow this link HERE to a discussion of  Ustvolskaya, her place in Soviet music and her relation to Shostakovich.  Also, this excellent documentary, made when Ustvolskya was, at last, being valued for her own sake. She was nearly 90 when the film was made but her mind is sharp. She knows who Reinbert de Leeuw is and what he stands for.  With Gergiev's championship of Ustvolskaya, perhaps now her time has come.  She was famously sniffy about some Soviet-era performances of her work, and with good reason, from what I've heard,  but Gergiev is sophisticated enough to get it.  Even though Gergiev turned up nearly 20 minutes late, not at all long by his track record, as soon as he reached the stage he snapped into form.  Extremely tightly focussed, a performance informed by the same kind of mental and emotional discipline Ustvolskaya insisted upon. This Berlin performance was so much stronger that the London performance seemed sloppy in comparison. Catch it on The Digital Concert Hall when it's rebroadcast in a few days.  Gergiev is unpredictable. When he's bad, he's very bad but when he's good, he's very good. The skill of a listener is to recognize which is which.   Gergiev has been conducting Shostakovich forever, hardly surprising, since the composer, who once had to compromise with the Soviets, is now thoroughly mainstream.  So this Shostakovich Symphony no 4 was rewarding, since Gergiev knows it like the back of his hand.  The interest, this time round, was his relationship with the Münchner Philharmoniker,  whose Chief Conductor he's become. The Munich Philharmonc is quite different from the London Symphony Orchestra, which Gergiev headed for ten years.  So far, so good.  I like the sound. Though Gergiev will conduct regularly in Munich, he'll still be based in London, where airline connections are better than in Munich, so he can commute between his various bases in oligarch enclaves all over the world.    

Igor Stravinsky
(1882 – 1971)

Igor Stravinsky (17 June 1882 - 6 April 1971) was a Russian-born, naturalized French, later naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and influential composers of 20th century music. He was a quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the century. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1934 and a naturalized US citizen in 1945. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works. Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911/1947), and The Rite of Spring (1913). The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design. In the 1950s he adopted serial procedures, using the new techniques over his last twenty years. Stravinsky's compositions of this period share traits with examples of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells, and clarity of form, of instrumentation, and of utterance.



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