Monday, September 26, 2016
An Italian, Luchino Visconti, brought Gustav Mahler to media attention by using the Adagietto from his fifth symphony as the theme music for his film Death in Venice, in 1971. It was perfectly suited to the film’s themes of love and death and it reflected the fact that Thomas Mann had modelled its central character, physically and temperamentally, on Gustav Mahler, whom he knew and revered. Mann and Viconti respected the man and the music. Gucci have now used the same theme, non-contextually, for naked commercial gain. Watch. Does anyone known which orchestra is playing on this corruption? UPDATE: Apparently, it’s Alain Lombard with the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. An old recording, and not one I had heard before.
That rock formation was photographed by me in the Zakros Gorge in the remote east of Crete where I am currently staying. The gorge is known as the Valley of the Dead because of the Minoan cave burials that have been discovered there. After hiking through the gorge yesterday I read John McLaughlin Williams' astute observation on Facebook that Arnold Bax's Fifth Symphony is “elemental in effect.... this is one of the great symphonies of the 20th century”. Bax's Fifth is clearly influenced by Shostakovich without being derivative, just as the symphonies of Malcolm Arnold – the tenth anniversary of whose death has just passed - are influenced by both Mahler and Shostakovich. Contemporary audiences appear to have an insatiable appetite for both Shostakovich and Mahler; yet the cartel of celebrity musicians and concert promoters that controls classical music does not give audiences the opportunity to hear Bax and Arnold. If classical music really wants to expand its reach it should heed these thoughts from the Buddhist teacher Rama-Dr Frederic Lenz*: Human beings usually train their young to run way from things that they don't understand. It is an old bad habit. They teach their children to hide from, rationalize and be unduly afraid of, death, the immensity of life, and the experience of the spirit. When human beings live this way, they shut out both the high and low frequencies in their lives. This leaves them with the boring midrange experiences in daily living that they perceive to be safe. In this way the world of human experiences is reduced to a world of feeding, toiling for a living, reproducing and continuously fending off the unknown.* Rama-Dr Frederic Lenz (1950-1988) was a controversial spiritual teacher, sometime record producer and best selling author. He left an $18 million estate which included two homes and two Range Rovers; the proceeds from this have been used to support many Buddhist organisations in the States. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
Our series continues with Germany’s second largest city – where Brahms and Mendelssohn were born, Telemann and Mahler worked and the Beatles came of ageThis week’s stop on our tour of Europe’s great musical centres is the northern German city of Hamburg, the country’s second largest, the eighth biggest in the EU and – Wikipedia tells me – the second biggest port in Europe.Wikipedia is less useful when it comes to music: the entry for Hamburg leads with the fact that the German premiere of Cats took place there 30 years ago. But the city is also the birthplace of Johannes Brahms and where the Beatles cut their teeth between 1960 and 62. It is also big in heavy metal and hip-hop. Continue reading...
Barton Swaim just didn’t get it. So he made another pass at the composer’s 9th symphony. “Mahler’s achievement, if I’m right, was to translate the things that make human life by turns fulfilling and painful, elegant and stupid—the tawdriness, the chaos, the dignity and comedy and splendor—into exquisitely beautiful works of art. They are overpowering and outrageous in their scope, but beautiful all the same. Six months ago I didn’t see the point of Mahler’s music. Now, as I write, I hear the jokey pulsations and majestic horn trills of the Ninth’s second movement in my head, and it’s hard to see the point of anybody else’s.”
One essential talent if you manage a concert institution is to show quick reflexes in case of an unexpected crisis. The Mozarteum Argentino has always shown that capacity, and the sudden intoxication of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes , who had arrived to our city for two recitals, gave them just one day to find a suitable replacement; aided by luck and the good disposition of the artist, we had the presence of Brazilian pianist Jean Louis Steuerman, who not only saved the day but gave a quality programme with results that were quite good. The venue was, as usual, the Colón. On the one hand I regretted the absence of Andsnes, a distinguished artist who had visited us only once as soloist with the BBC Orchestra, and who promised several pieces of Sibelius, rarely heard here and beautiful; I do hope that he will be back in another season. On the other hand, Steuerman (whose names and surname make me think of an Alsatian rather than a Brazilian) is an artist of important trajectory, and in his sixties his style and technique are in full maturity. Years ago he played with our Philharmonic Rachmaninov´s First Concerto. His programme was made up of four masterpìeces of contrasting aesthetics. He started with Johann Sebastian Bach´s First Partita: he has been awarded the Diapason d´Or for his recording of the Six Partitas, and has recently recorded the Goldberg Variations, so he is recognised as an authoritative voice in Bach for piano. Mind you, there will always be two controversies: whether it should be played on the piano, as the originals are for harpsichord; and if they are, should players imitate the harpsichord. On the evidence of what we heard, Steuerman believes in the second variant; three examples: the limpid articulation without pedal; some chords played as arpeggios, as harpsichordists do to make the sound less dry; and the ornamentation of repeats, for in the Baroque, both in opera and instrumental music, the first time you play the music straight, but the second is ornamented to avoid monotony. Steuerman played with taste and knowledge, avoiding the full decibels of the modern piano. Then, the challenge of Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 30, one of the famous last three where the composer explores new roads constantly. Although I wasn´t quite convinced in the First movement, where the speed contrasts weren´t as natural as they can be and the light cascades of sound should have been more poetic, the Prestissimo was firmly met, and the theme with variations of the last movement was impeccable. The Six little pieces for piano, Op.19, by Arnold Schönberg, are little jewels of atonal Expressionism of great historic importance, and Steuerman proved to be in complete empathy with the language (he has recorded the complete Schönberg piano scores). Curiously, Edward Steuermann (two "ns") studied composition with Schönberg and premièred all the composer´s piano works. And then, Chopin´s great Third Sonata, tackled by Steuerman with a sense of form often distorted by colleagues that opt for ultra-Romantic interpretations: he gave us the music as written, with no exaggeration. The First movement had all the necessary emphasis of its varied moods, the Scherzo was airy and light, and if the Largo felt a bit monotonous, it always does: there´s too much repetition; the breathless Finale is a tour de force and in it Steuerman showed his controlled virtuosity. More Chopin in the encores: a charming Mazurka, and a "Minute Waltz" where he took the nickname too literally; it benefits by a less hectic tempo. Two weeks ago the 2016 cycle of Chopiniana, the piano institution led by Martha Noguera, started its season at the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar) with a recital by Luis Ascot which unfortunately collided with the Mahler Third Symphony by Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, but the second concert had no such problem and I was there. The Palacio is undergoing some changes and the first floor hall that was used for the concerts is now a restaurant, so we were back (as some years ago) at the lavish oval hall in the ground floor: attractive visually with its marbles and fine decoration, typical of the early Twentieth-Century, but too resonant. Tomás Alegre is only 24 and has been studying with Nelson Goerner at Geneva with a scholarship. His programme was short but difficult: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", and Rachmaninov´s Second Sonata, presumably in its revised version of 1931. Nº 21 may be the most energetic of Beethoven´s sonatas with a first movement that is relentless in its brilliance and intensity; after the pause of the slow movement, the third starts with serene feeling but soon piles up tremendous problems of coordination, magnified in the long Prestissimo coda. I believe that there is merit in virtuosity, and Alegre certainly has privileged fingers; however, he sometimes relaxed the basic pulse and the marked slowing downs ("ritenuti") were much slower than necessary and with silences that were too long. Alegre was in his element in Rachmaninov´s powerhouse of a sonata, with its ample rhetorics; of course the composer was also the best Russian pianist and he wrote it for himself. The young Argentine attacked it fearlessly with total command, showing the solidity of his training. The encores were quite good: the splendid Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 Nº1 and a typical Piazzolla in skillful piano transcription. For Buenos Aires Herald
As readers know, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional José de San Martín is having an important season. The concert they offered last Sunday morning at the Blue Whale confirms it. It had attractive traits on paper, and they became reality at the hands of Venezuelan clarinetist Valdemar Rodríguez and conductor Pablo Boggiano. And the programme was enticing: the première of Esteban Benzecry´s Concerto for clarinet, and Sibelius´ marvelous First Symphony. Boggiano studied with Mario Benzecry, founder of the Juvenil, and at the Catholic University. He went on to Europe where he had several teachers, especially the Finnish Jorma Panula. He made an early debut at 18 in BA, and in Europe has had vast activity in Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. But Vienna and other Austrian cities are. his principal working ground. He also conducted in Slovakia and with a first-rate orchestra in London: the Royal Philharmonic. And since 2010 he is invited by our National Symphony. Esteban Benzecry is Argentine (son of Mario); he has carved a place for himself in Paris with his personal style based on a mixture of Latin-American roots with contemporary procedures, specially emphasizing orchestral variety. The Pasdeloup Orchestra is playing this season no less than eight of his works! But some of his scores have been heard in BA, so we know what to expect. A clarinet concerto generally has little to do with the telluric; his is an exception, and the titles of the movements are the evidence: "Ecos del Horizonte", "Danzas Volcánicas", "Baguala Enigmática" and "Toccata caribeña". The orchestra is rather big with lots of percussion featuring typically American instruments. The Concerto starts with an introspective clarinet solo and has a big slow cadenza in the middle of the final hectic Toccata. There is an influence of the Ginastera of such scores as "Cantata para la América mágica" or "Popol Vuh", but Benzecry has something of his own to say and by now has a thorough command of his craft. Although there are colorful and loud episodes, the clarinet is never swamped, and the music feels American and modern. Rodríguez has an impressive curriculum; among his teachers were no less than Gervase de Peyer and Guy Deplus. Apart from an intense concert life as First Desk of the famous Simón Bolívar Orchestra and as soloist, plus chamber music, he is also a distinguished teacher (Director General of the Bolívar Conservatory). Here he premièred the original version for clarinet "di bassetto" (lower than the normal one) of Mozart´s Clarinet Concerto. Predictably, his playing was impeccable in every sense: a master of his art. And Boggiano (after a correct Overture to Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro") showed his mettle with a clear and intense interpretation; the orchestra collaborated with full concentration. The Second Part was pure pleasure: Sibelius´ is among the very best First Symphonies in History, along with Brahms, Shostakovich , Prokofiev and Mahler. Written in 1899, the same year of "Finlandia", when at 34 his technical command was quite mature, it is personal from the very beginning and maintains tension, variety and fresh imagination throughout its almost 40 minutes. I don´t believe in Tchaikovsky´s influence: Sibelius had a style of his own and is a major figure in the evolution of the symphony. This is quite a challenge for a conductor, and Boggiano showed he is ready: the speeds were logical, there was contrast and cohesion, admirable playing particularly from the brass and the tympani, and that sense of desolate drama that can only be Nordic, but also energy and excitement. An enthralling trip into a unique sound world. A final comment: if you sit around the tenth row the acoustics are much better than farther upstairs, where stridency appears. For Buenos Aires Herald
Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 - 18 May 1911) was a late-Romantic Austrian-Bohemian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer, he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 the music was discovered and championed by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, Malherhe held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York's Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Mahler's uvre is relatively small and is confined to the genres of symphony and song, except for one piano quartet. Most of his ten symphonies are very large-scale works. These works were often controversial when first performed. Mahler's immediate musical successors were the composers Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten are among later 20th-century composers who admired and were influenced by Mahler. The International Gustav Mahler Institute was established in 1955, to honour the composer's life and work.
Great composers of classical music