Sunday, August 28, 2016
We have been sent a list of the 100 most searched classical pianists on Wikipedia, the global reference site. Since the site lists every musician who ever touched a keyboard as a pianist, it’s not suprising that Mozart comes first with an average 5,631 searches a day, Beethoven second with 4,668 and Chopin third with about half as many. The big eye-opener is who comes fourth. It’s John Cale, one of the founders of Velvet Underground and about as classical as Johnny Rotten. 5 Gershwin 6 Liszt 7 Stravinsky 8 Ludovico Einaudi, the icy Italian minimalist 9 Herbie Hancock 10 Leonard Bernstein, averaging 1,077 searches a day 11 Rachmaninov 12 Shostakovich. No one else tops 1,000 searches a day. The findings, collated over viewings in the past two weeks, suggest that Wikipedia needs to tighten up its search criteria to define what is classical and what is a pianist. Among other personalities listed are Samantha Bentley, an English porn star (421 views) and Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister (338). It may be safely assumed that those searching their names on Wikipedia are not planning to book them for a Liszt concerto. From the above data, we have compiled a mini list of professional concert pianists still alive and playing. Click here for thrills and spills.
Meta4/Kuusisto, etc (BIS)Finnish conductor/composer/violinist Jaakko Kuusisto writes nimble, muscular music that wears its influences proudly (Debussy, Stravinsky), sometimes roams into misty or overheated places, but is mostly pretty spirited and playful. The titles are a bit of a giveaway on that last point: this survey of recent chamber music includes Play II and Play III, and the fact that Kuusisto is a violinist himself – like his brother Pekka – is everywhere in the quixotic, very physical-sounding string writing and the sparky dialogue between instruments. Play III collapses from hectic rhapsody into a lament for solo violin, with slow panting in the accompaniment; in Play II, the piano splutters and provokes while the strings hold out wan harmonics, then fiercely retaliate. It all sounds like music written to be delivered with vigour and fluidity and these performances from (among others) the Meta4 quartet, pianist Paavali Jumppanen and Kuusisto himself run with that. Continue reading...
LPO/Jurowski (LPO)Vladimir Jurowski has been principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007 and what comes across brilliantly on this new Stravinsky disc – recorded live in concert in 2014 and 2015 – is how focused and un-faffy he and the orchestra sound together by now. The playing is bright and elegant – occasionally too much so. Petrushka (the original 1911 version) is short on crazed energy and urban hubbub, but instead we get chamber-like clarity and a really crisp sense of the score’s architecture. Orpheus has a sombre, stately beauty, and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments is performed in the original version, with alto flute and alto clarinet giving excitingly mellow, gooey textures. Stravinsky described the piece as “an austere ritual” but also dedicated it to Debussy, and this performance clinches that balance between solemn observance and splendid colours. Best of all are the strange closing chorales, full of quiet, attentive poise. Continue reading...
The CETC ( Colón Center for Experimentation) has organized an audacious cycle of what might be called Argentine New Opera (within chamber limitations). Miguel Galperin, its Director, had to recur to several venues, for the CETC´s cellar couldn´t possibly shelter the six selected works. Nor can any reviewer cover all six. In fact, collisions with other events made it impossible for me to see "Av. De los Incas", music and libretto by Fernando Fiszbein, at the Sala Argentina of the CCK. And I couldn´t see "Genealogías"; it isn´t an opera but a scenic concert made up of pieces of "emblematic XXth Century works that marked the way to the new opera": Svetlichny, Schwitters, Schnebel, Berio, Duchamp, Cage, Kagel and Aperghis, with the peculiar Swiss duo UMS´n JIP (voice, flute, electronics). This happened at the UNSAM Center of the Arts. I was able to be present at the Usina del Arte´s Auditorium; it offered the Argentine première of a staged version of a vocal work by Oscar Strasnoy with the troublesome German original denomination "Hochzeitsvorbereitungen (mit B und K)", which translated in Spanish as "Preparativos de bodas" and in English "Preparations for a wedding". Strasnoy has premièred two operas here: one I found revulsive, "Cachafaz" on Copi´s text; the other, a full-fledged opera, was presented with success at the Colón: "Requiem", on Faulkner. In what is indeed a strange conflation, Strasnoy in his libretto takes texts by Franz Kafka (K) and contrasts them with Johann Sebastian Bach´s (B) lovely Cantata Nº 202, one of his most tuneful and happy scores and the best of several cantatas of that sort. It was premièred in December 2000 at Edenkoben, Germany, conducted by the composer. Curiously it was a command to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Bach´s death. There were two other versions in 2002 at Stuttgart, and in 2005 at Paris´ Auditorium of Radio France, a definitive revised version. Says Strasnoy: "Stylistic purity has no sense in our time. There´s nothing more antimodern than dogma". The first phrase is wrong: purity isn´t easy but it is possible and desirable. I agree with the second phrase; the problem is that so many don´t know what is modern and create according to trends. Neither Stravinsky nor Schönberg followed trends: they found new roads. But there are no geniuses nowadays: competent technicians galore, instead. Strasnoy is one of them: he has skill. But he can´t do what Stravinsky did in "·Pulcinella": convert Pergolesi (or fake Pergolesi) into Stravinsky so perfectly that the fusion gives us both worlds. Here the wonderful Bach arias are merely retouched but suddenly we have yuxtaposed Strasnoy, and need I say it? Bach 1, Strasnoy zero. Yes, pastiche is tricky. This badly assorted musical couple, however, does mirror what we are seeing: increasing signs that this bride and bridegroom won´t make it to the wedding. I´m not an expert on Kafka but I venture to say that the choice of material could have been more relevant to the story Strasnoy wanted to tell; anyway the bridegroom seems more hysteric than the bride. Soprano Chantal Santon was impressive, veering easily from fine Bach singing to increasingly distempered Strasnoy. The choice of a countertenor (not a tenor or baritone) tends to underline the growing tension of the relationship, though that doesn´t justify the frequent harsh timbre of Daniel Gloger, very Expressionist in singing and gesture. The stage direction by Edgardo Mercado and Mariana Ciolfi is probably responsible for the intervention of a dancer who is simultaneously the one that brings things and removes them according to the needs. This was done brilliantly by Carla Di Grazia, agile, personal and impish, on good choreographic steps by Mercado. The stage design is basically an enormous white tissue that initially veils the bridegroom and will eventually disappear by bits. Is the obsession with a wedding cake of both protagonists Strasnoy´s or Mercado´s idea? I don´t know, but they end up with a whipped-cream (or meringue?) masque. In the final stretch of this 50-minute piece comes a surprise: the producer taking advantage of the hall´s architecture, 45 girls in white wedding suits slowly climb the right-side ramp, proceed to the far back of the stage and then start going down the left-side ramp. In the strange ending, the man covers himself (he is in underpants) with female garb and jumps into the procession, whilst the bride does the same...Bad marriage ahead, no doubt. Eleven excellent players (such as oboist Michelle Wong or violinist Lucía Luque) were conducted metronomically by Annunziata Tomaro. Good costumes by Magda Banach and lighting by Claudio del Bianco and David Seldes. Anecdote: the CETC sent a mail weeks ago looking for volunteers to participate in this production; among the takers was the daughter of a friend of mine. For Buenos Aires Herald
As I commented recently, La Plata´s Teatro Argentino is now run by Martín Bauer, known for the Colón Contemporáneo cycle and for two decades the November Cycle of contemporary music centered on the Teatro San Martín. Now he has followed his bent for current trends presenting Louis Andriessen´s "De Materie", a scenic concert, not an opera; an Argentine première. Louis Andriessen was born in 1939 and is the son of distinguished Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen. The Dutch school of composition has been important during almost the whole of last century, but very little of its vast output has been known in Argentina. Those of us who believe in the power of records cherish the Donemus collection, in which the recordings were accompanied by the scores. Louis Andriessen has delved in many styles and from a minimalist base has added many other conceptions of sound, a trend that in good hands can lead to interesting results, such as Tippett´s profane oratorio "A child of our time", but also to unpalatable jumbles such as Bernstein´s Mass. Well, for me "De Materie" is half-and-half. The composer has had singular accolades in recent years, such as festivals dedicated to his music at London´s Southbank and Barbican, or New York´s Lincoln Center. But Philip Glass has also been much promoted and a lot of what he does isn´t good. However, mixtures of all kinds are the rage also in popular music during the last three decades and "purity" is looked upon as passé. However, some of us deplore it, and I´m not even elaborating about the lack of true theatre or of great easel painting. In the case of "De Materie", I´m surprised that there exists a recording of just the music by Reinbert De Leeuw, for a lot of it means very little by itself. It is long, about 110 minutes, and there are parts of it so basic that you can doze for three minutes and wake up and you would be hearing the same boring chords. But why is it called "De Materie" ("Matter")? Well, this 1988 work is a series of episodes with scenic but not argumental continuity. As the hand programme says, Andriessen incorporates noisism (yes, noise as a style), impressionist orchestral textures, influences of Bach and Stravinsky, traditional Dutch song and rock (here I differ, I heard jazz but not rock). "Built in four different parts, for soprano, tenor, two speakers, eight voices and atypical orchestra, it reflects on the connexions between matter and spirit". Tall order, indeed. As the action progresses, we will have as materials "the 1581 Dutch declaration of Independence, a 1690 book on naval construction, a 1651 philosophical and scientific essay, the religious and erotic vision of a XIIIth Century nun, a manifest on the History of Art, a private note on Piet Mondrian and the diary of Marie Curie" (mixed with fragments of her Nobel Prize speech). There are elevated intellectual aims in this choice of materials; their yuxtaposition sometimes worked but also could seem quite incongruous. This is the second production of the work, and I can´t compare Heiner Goebbels´ views with those of his predecessor. I haven´t seen a score and don´t know which visuals are indicated by the author and which are not. But I surmise that many things are Goebbels´ aesthetic views. Those that saw in March his strange "Stifters´ Dinge" at the Colón know that he likes to relate wildly divergent things, and as this seems to be Andriessen´s own credo, I suppose the composer probably agrees with Goebbels´ inventions. We have choreography, projections, a strange filming that looks like old mute cinema in very poor condition but with modern cars...; and aggressive lighting directed to the spectator whose effect is to make unintelligible the supertitles. I disliked most of Part I because it is based on wretchedly repetitive fortissimo chords, but one element was worth hearing: the brilliant tenor Robin Trichter (a Mozartian) singing perched on high the texts of Gorlaeus (1591-1612, strangely short life) about the atomic structure of matter. Part II was enjoyable: after a long string introduction, the nun sings Hadewych´s Seventh Vision, an ample vocal line that gets very high and has emotional intensity. It was beautifully sung by Oriana Favaro. With low candlelight it had the proper climate, and especially it veered from the stated idea. Part III mixes Mondrian with mathematician Schoenmaekers´ thoughts about "the pure straight line", and as the music gets jazzy with the admirable Spanish Sigma Project ensemble of four saxophones, we have a choeography by Edgardo Mercado for six Teatro Argentino dancers. The music and the dancing were quite pleasant but I fail to see the relationship with Mondrian. Part IV: as in Part I, the excellent Nonsense Vocal Ensemble of Soloists (eight-strong) gave their contribution, this time more rewarding musically, with sonnets by Dutch poet Willem Kloos. But the Madame Curie final episode is hardly helped by the aforementioned film, as dim in its looks as in its meaning, so the ending is anticlimactic, even with the good actress Analía Couceyro. Specialised conductor Peter Rundel (debut) led a 62-piece orchestra that included two synthesizers, two electric guitars and an electric bass, metal boxes, three marimbas, three pianos and a celesta. Minou Maguna and Andrés Denegri collaborated with Goebbels in the projections. Something different, with a couple of high points. For Buenos Aires Herald
Šaturová/Essener Philharmoniker/Netopil (Supraphon)We might hear more of Ariane, Martinů’s penultimate opera, if it were not so couched in of-its-time, 1950s psychology: the Minotaur is effectively Theseus’s alter ego, and the demons he must slay are his own – you know the drill. As it is, this recording, made live in 2014 in Essen, is the first in around 30 years – and it’s very much worthwhile, thanks to a strong, idiomatic cast, conductor Tomáš Netopil’s sympathy with the score, and the Essen orchestra’s flowing, characterful performance. In just one act, lasting around 45 minutes, it’s a brief and relatively light traversal of the gruesome story; after Ariane’s long, final aria – beautifully sung by Simona Šaturová, with heart-stopping high notes – the ending is almost throwaway. There’s room on the disc for Martinů’s 1938 Double Concerto, a restless, defiant, Stravinsky-esque piece shaking a fist at the gloom of its time. Continue reading...
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.
Great composers of classical music