Tuesday, October 25, 2016
From the Lebrecht Album of the Week: For a troubled London teenager in the 1960s, there were three available sources of relief. One was illegal, one was immoral, and the third was available every other week at the Royal Festival Hall. I took myself to hear the Tchaikovsky Pathétique more often than I remember, sitting in the backless choir seats, watching the wealthier part of the audience indulge in plush catharsis. Over time, the relief wore thin. Tchaikovsky gave way to Mahler, and the Pathétique became a rare item, out of fashion, off the concert menu….. Read on here.
In his Guardian review of Jeremy Paxman's memoir, Will Self points out that the TV presenter is wrong to attribute the decline of the BBC's flagship Newsnight current affairs programme to demographic rather than technological changes. Will Self's observations on the "balkanisation of the media" are very relevant to the recent myopic soul searching about the future of BBC Radio 3 which coincided with the station's 70th anniversary. Technological change is the reason why the media landscape has changed so dramatically in the last decade. Yet, in her 1200 word exposition of how "BBC Radio 3 needs a rethink" Guardian cultural commentator and BBC biographer Charlotte Higgins does not use the word 'technology' once. Like Charlotte Higgins and others who wrote panegyrics at the time of the anniversary, I am indebted to Radio 3 for its past role of illuminating and educating. But times have changed, and, as we are told so often, classical music must also change. New technology means the supply of classical music has increased exponentially, personalisation is now a listener 'must have', and classical music is available anywhere anytime from multiple sources. As an illustration, my relatively modest car's standard audio system not only has a radio tuner. In addition it has an iPod socket, Bluetooth connectivity, and an SDHC memory card slot. The latter gives me literally fingertip access to 32GB - more than 400 hours - of the music that has featured on this blog over the years. So it is goodbye to Petroc Trelawny, Katie Derham and all those Mahler symphonies, and hello to Bax, Glazunov, Simpson et al interspersed by blessed silence. The core problem is that the fragmentation of the music market means that the the only homogeneous market left that is big enough to justify Radio 3's existence is that for high class background music. Which is why it has locked horns so disastrously with Classic FM. Yes, Charlotte Higgins is quite right in saying that Radio 3 used to be the envy of the world; but those days have gone and never will return. The BBC's penchant for serial self-harm combined with a death wish strategy of aping commercial stations make fundamental changes in the license fee model inevitable. The impact of those changes, which will shift funding towards a commercial model, will hurt. Because the BBC has been allowed, without appropriate checks or balances, to become a near monopolistic supplier of classical music in the UK. In a 2011 post I summarised that near monopolistic position as follows: 1. The biggest classical music festival in the world which receives a public subsidy of £62,000 per concert. 2. Five leading orchestras and a choir. 3. A year round programme of live concerts and music events. 4. Artist bookings and payments for all the above. 5. A substantial collateral promotional support programme including extensive TV coverage and social media activity. 6. A powerful young artist development programme that also co-produces commercial recordings. 7. A media partnership with a prestigous industry award scheme. 8. The largest new music commissioning budget in the world which awards more than £350,000 to composers annually. 9. Access to exclusive state of the art MP3 download and stream on demand technologies. 10. An online classical music presence that is part of a website ranked in the fifty most visited internet destinations worldwide. 11. Commissioning contributions from influential journalists. 12. Links to a co-branded print magazine with a monthly readership of more than 200,000. 13. A classical radio station with more than 2 million national listeners plus global reach via the internet and satellite 14. A guaranteed annual classical music budget of £50 million. Such largesse is wonderful, until it stops. And in the near future the funding brakes are almost certainly going to be applied by fundamental changes as the license fee system is progressively dismantled. The classical music industry, and particularly the BBC Radio 3 apologists, need to wake up and smell the coffee. Radio 3 needs a rethink; but that rethink must be far more dramatic than taking the station back to a time when the cat's whisker was the new technology. Radical rethinking is needed to ensure that the priceless contribution made by Radio 3 in the past continues, albeit in a different form. Let's assume that the license fee - which is effectively a form of poll tax - is abolished and the BBC is put on a commercial footing. The BBC performing ensembles and Proms should be set up as independent trusts*. Current funding levels for these independent trusts would be maintained for a five year transition period through regional arts funding bodies. The required increase in arts funding would be paid for by an increase in overall taxation. This increase would be very small, and can be sold to the electorate as a saving, as there will be significant central costs savings by the closure of BBC Radio 3. In addition funding would be provided for a New Music Centre internet radio station streaming content on demand. This station would be a co-operative managed by the liberated BBC performing ensembles; its funding would be conditional on 10% of its output being live music, 25% of its music coming from the managing ensembles, and 20% being new music or works meeting an agreed criteria of underexposure. After the five year transition available funding would be maintained, but would need to be bid for in the usual way. My proposal is offered in the spirit of brainstorming. BBC Radio 3's demise is on the cards, and the driver is technology, not demographics or changing tastes. The classical music industry needs to stop burying its head in the old technology sand. What is now needed is a radical reshaping of the music supply chain. * My 2009 article What price the BBC Proms contained a proposal as to how such a trust would work for a post-BBC Proms series. 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).
St David’s Hall, Cardiff Tomáš Hanus marshalled his forces – including a stellar Karen Cargill – for a performance that seized the audience from the outsetTomáš Hanus has recently taken over as music director of Welsh National Opera, but this was only his second public appearance with his new company – the first being the occasion that effectively secured the appointment, so immediate was the rapport. In this performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony, the Resurrection, there was indeed chemistry between Hanus and his forces, and it could hardly have augured better. The conductor combined dramatic intensity with moments of great tenderness, suggesting an instinctive feel for Mahler, who was one of the great opera conductors of his time. Continue reading...
Alberto Menéndez Escribano was today named principal horn of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orch. Until today, he was principal horn of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester. No reason has been given for the move north. The press release (below) has misspelled his name. BBC Scottish has also chosen Charlotte Ashton as principal flute. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO) has appointed Alberto Menédez Escribano as its new Principal Horn and Charlotte Ashton as Principal Flute. French Horn player Alberto Menédez Escribano has built up a career as a soloist and orchestral musician throughout Europe. Speaking of his appointment, Alberto said, “I am delighted to be taking up the position of principal horn with the BBC SSO which I feel musically and personally very close to and I am very much looking forward to my first official concert: Mahler 4th Symphony with Maestro Runnicles.”
For decades the Mozarteum Argentino has been the main force in bringing us important orchestras from all over the world. Back in 1978 we had the first Argentine visit of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, conducted by their Principal Conductor Gerd Albrecht. The presence of the Tonhalle confirmed its European prestige. Then, in 1988 they returned with Hiroshi Wakasugi, their PC at the time, with pianist Rudolf Buchbinder; another positive experience. The venue was then and now the Colón. And this season they returned with their new PC, Lionel Bringuier, and the violinist Lisa Batiashvili. And the results were nothing short of stunning. The artists have youth in common: Bringuier is only 30, born in Nice, and was named PC at 28! And the violinist looks a similar age, though the biography gives no details about age; nor her place of birth, but her surname is Georgian. However it does inform about her career, and it is quite impressive, for she has played with the best orchestras and conductors of the world. As to Bringuier, he studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he received the influence of conductor and composer Peter Eötvös, for long the leader of the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain; now Eötvös has been named Creative Chair of the Tonhalle during this season, and several works of his will be played, one of them in BA. The other essential influence came from his six years as Resident Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, first with Salonen and then with Dudamel. About the Tonhalle: it started in 1862; after World War II it had eminent artists as PC: Vokmae Andreae ended his dilated tenure in 1949 and was succeeded by Rosbaud, Kempe, Dutoit, Albrecht, Eschenbach, Wakasugi, and before Bringuier, by David Zinman from 1995 to 2014. There´s a mistake in their hand programme biography: it isn´t the orchestra of the Zürich Opera, and it could hardly be: the Opera´s orchestra, called the Philharmonic, plays 250 performances a year! The 2016-17 season of the Tonhalle Orchestra boasts such names as Haitink, P.Järvi, Nagano, Ch.Von Dohnányi, Dutoit, Blomstedt, Zinman , Eötvös and Runnicles. They play at their New Hall, 1600 capacity. Their South American tour started at BA and continued at Montevideo, Sao Paulo and Rio, where the soloist was pianist Nelson Freire. Here they played two programmes, both having Batiashvili in Tchaikovsky´s Concerto. From the moment she started playing, there was no doubt that we were hearing an exceptional violinist: the timbre was as beautiful as she is, the phrasing was exact, the impulse and excitement were contagious, and when she had an ample melody she sang it as the best opera singer. She is also consistent, for on Tuesday she was as splendid as on Monday. And the Orchestra under Bringuier never lost pace nor technical perfection. The encore was unusual and welcome: the Kreisler arrangement for violin and orchestra of the principal melody of Dvorák´s Second Movement from the New World Symphony, interpreted as meltingly as can be. Two symphonies were heard: on Monday, Shostakovich ´s Sixth; on Tuesday, Mahler´s First. Before Shostakovich, a seven minute score by Ötvös with a particular title: "The gliding of the Eagle in the skies" (première). Written for the National Basque Orchestra in 2012, it features a big orchestra with much percussion, especially a "caja" (drum case), and flighty sounds from the flutes. I found the music evocative and interesting . The Sixth was premièred just as World War II started, and as it ends with a sarcastic Presto it was rejected at the time, but it starts with a desolate Adagio in the best stark mood of the author, and it is an important score. Apart from being overfast in the second movement, Bringuier was impeccable, and the orchestra, a round hundred players, showed first-rate quality in all sections. Mahler´s First was heard for the third time this year, but the music resists repetition as few others, for it is immensely creative and atractive throughout. Bringuier´s reading was quite satisfactory, and the playing had many moments of moving communication. Encores: on Monday, a sprightly rendition of Rossini´s Overture for "L´Italiana in Algeri". On Tuesday, a surprise: Florian Walser, the Tonhalle´s clarinettist, composed a funny showpiece with no name on traditional Swiss tunes, featuring characteristic wether bells, played with gusto by his colleagues. For Buenos Aires Herald
Kent Nagano is one of the most complete conductors and some years ago vividly impressed the Mozarteum audiences when he came with the Montreal Symphony. Now he was back with the Hamburg Philharmonic at the Colón with two programmes focussed on German/Austrian Postromantics and they became a major event of the season. Nagano has had a great European career which in principle one wouldn´t expect from a Californian of Japanese ascendance, but he explains that he was trained by a German teacher who imbued him with the very essence of style in the greatest symphonic repertoire. In his DNA there was an innate musicality and it was nurtured by an intelligent guide. A brief résumé. He has held main posts at Lyon Opera (a very innovative tenure), the Hallé Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, Deutsche Symphonie Berlin, the Bavarian Opera (Munich). And since September 2015 he is Musical Director of the Hamburg State Opera, whose Philharmonic Orchestra gives two hundred performances of opera and ballet plus thirty symphonic and chamber concerts, a tremendous amount of work. I recall that this orchestra came here decades ago led by Aldo Ceccato and for the Mozarteum: a solid ensemble, though not as important as it was on this year´s visit. They trace their origins to as far back as 1828, and during the Twentieth Century they had illustrious conductors: Muck, E.Jochum, Keilberth, Sawallisch and G.Albrecht. Then Ceccato, and afterwards Metzmacher and for ten years before Nagano, Simone Young, the outstanding Australian lady conductress. As it came in this tour they numbered 96 players, big enough for Strauss. They really have 130 players because their enormous yearly task necessitates some rotation of players. And with them came two admirable artists: cellist Gautier Capuçon, who with his violinist brother Renaud played a memorable Brahms Double Concerto here in one of the Argerich Festivals; and Japanese mezzosoprano Mihoko Fujimura, unknown here but very appreciated in Germany, particularly in Wagner. Richard Strauss´ "Don Quixote" (1897) demonstrates his inexhaustible orchestral imagination, who had only one possible match in the late Nineteenth Century: Gustav Mahler. "Don Quixote" has a subtitle, "Fantastic variations on a chivalric subject". The cello is the Don and the viola is Sancho. Between the Introduction and the Finale there are ten variations, some of them with astounding orchestral effects (the sheep sound like advanced atonalism, and flying is cunningly imitated). But it is also a warm portrait of character. It needs a crack orchestra and an inspired cellist: it had both this time. True, Capuçon was somewhat arbitrary as to note values, but his interpretation was expressive and convincing, with beautiful timbre and fine technique. Nagano and the orchestra were stalwart throughout, with perfectly chosen tempi and immaculate playing of the very difficult music, as well as intensity and sustained concentration. Naomi Seiler (viola) and Konradin Seitzer, the concertino of imposing presence and virtuoso quality, made fine contributions. Brahms´ Symphony Nº 1 is probably the best First in history; to say that what we heard was outstanding in the myriad versions we have heard through several decades is no exaggeration. The composer was born in Hamburg and was homaged by the players fully and excitingly. The encores were the subtle Entr´acte from Schubert´s "Rosamunde", lovingly done, and curiously with no hiatus, a fascinating movement from Ligeti´s "Concert Romanesc", as wild a piece as can be imagined, where conductor and orchestra showed that the moderns have no secrets for them. The second programme was very coherent. Before the interval, Wagner´s Prelude to Act One and Love-Death from "Tristan and Isolde", the latter in the orchestral arrangement of the composer; and the five "Wesendonck Lieder", arranged by Felix Mottl the first four and the fifth by Wagner from the original for voice and piano. As two of them have melodies that reappear in "Tristan...", it was a good idea to programme the songs on the poems of Wagner´s muse, Mathilde Wesendonck. Nagano proved a fine Wagnerian, and Fujimura sang with powerful voice and clear understanding of the style. Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony (1881) isn´t as long as the following ones (55 minutes); I find it more technical and less attractive than the Seventh or Eighth, but quite representative of his distinctive personality. Again Nagano and the orchestra showed conclusive professionalism, energy and power of communication. There were no encores. 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