Saturday, July 23, 2016
I had a call the other day from the deputy editor of Bild, the Berlin tabloid, asking if I – as a foreigner with a strong interest in German culture – might contribute to a daily series they were running, titled Was ist deutsch? My first inclination was to decline. Who am I, after all, to tell the Germans what is German, or the Pope who is a Catholic? But a boyhood memory, risen from nowhere, proved too powerful to resist – especially in the present context when my country is redefining its position towards European civilisation. So this is what I wrote. (And the headline writer decided that I was, after all, a Pope.) Below is the (slightly fuller) English version of my article: What is German? I grew up in a North London community of Orthodox Jews, most of whom fled Germany after January 1933. Each Friday night they welcomed in the Sabbath to a tune from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. When talking culture, which they did obsessively, they spoke of ‘unser Goethe, unser Wagner’ – claiming stubborn ownership of a civilisation from which they had been racially excluded. That phrase, ‘unser Wagner’, stuck in my mind as something more profound and enduring than the traumas of Hitler’s Reich. The phrase taught me that what is German does not necessarily belong in Germany, and that the best of Germany belongs to a world beyond, a world where ideas travel by wordless transmission, a world where we can all be for a few concentrated minutes – or five concentrated hours, if it’s Wagner – intellectually, spiritually and aspirationally German. To be German, in this sense, is an out-of-body state, a transcendent exaltation. As a music critic, living in England, this idea formed part of my emerging Weltanschauung. The serenity of a Schubert Lied was not defined by the language of its verses; rather, it was achieved by the fusion of language with music and vocal expression into an ineffable wonder, one of the few precious ways we tiny humans can always understand each other. Beethoven himself was no less German when briefly enthused by Napoleon than he was when he wrote ‘Ah, perfido’ in the language of a country that existed only in his mind. Beethoven from Bonn, as much a Louis as a Ludwig, never traded in his van for a von. Being German in the age of Bismarck required Brahms and Wagner to relate to national revivalism, Wagner unpleasantly so. Yet if I sit in front of a page of orchestral writing by Wagner and another by Berlioz, I might be hard pressed to tell which is French and which German so powerful is the artistic impulse to reach beyond borders. With Gustav Mahler it becomes complicated. Using German as his mother tongue Mahler applied inflections of Jewish irony that imbue his music with challenging ambiguity. Yet a song like Um Mitternacht is neither more nor less German, in the most exalted sense, than Richard Strauss in ‘Beim Schlafengehen.’ At such moments, who does not want to be German? I write that question with a grimace of pain. Seventeen million of my countrymen have voted to deny John Donne’s poetic line that ‘No man is an island’. Emotional barriers are going up. England is drifting into the unknown. At this time, ‘what is German’ takes on a different connotation for me. It stands for ‘unser Wagner’, all that we now stand to lose. © Norman Lebrecht
The current paucity of truly great classical musicians is often lamented. To achieve true greatness requires an awful lot of talent and hard work, but it also requires the cultivation of mystique. A definition of mystique is 'a quality of mystery', and that essential and elusive quality of mystery is being destroyed by the petty revelations of social media. I now find it almost impossible to listen to the sublime music making of a certain young and very talented virtuoso without being distracted by flashbacks to the candid photos posted on Facebook of the lifestyles of the rich and famous summer vacation that the musician recently enjoyed. Elsewhere on Facebook my enthusiasm for the music of a contemporary composer is being solely tested by that composer's unremitting and uncritical self-promotion, while my respect for a leading conductor was seriously challenged when he publicly bit the hand that feeds him in order to achieve fifteen minutes of social media fame. And much that I lament Brexit, the unrelenting and unproductive Twitter outpourings on the subject by some musicians leaves me wondering how they find time to play any music. Whether we like it or not classical music is rooted in the past both in repertoire and conventions, which means we cannot totally discount the past. So if social media had been available, what would charismatic figures such as Britten, Toscanini and Mahler have used it for? Would Ben have posted home movies of himself cavorting with Peter Pears on the beach in Bali? Would Toscanini have kept the world informed via Twitter of his falling-out with the fascist regime at the Salzburg Festival? Would Mahler have instagrammed daguerreotype of the Hotel Belvedere's tafelspitz and flowed exclusive updates on his deteriorating heart condition to Norman Lebrecht? That classical music is undervalued is now a constant complaint of insiders. But value is a function of scarcity, and almost without exception every current promotional strategy involves increasing what is already an oversupply of classical music, with social media and streaming being the prime culprits. As Leopold Stokowski explained: 'A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence...' The rule of 'no silence means no music' applies just as much on social media as it does in the concert hall. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Inevitably also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Royal Albert Hall © David Samuel 2012 Prom 2: Mussorgsky – Boris Godunov (16 July) Boris is back - and conveniently for us, compiling this list in date order means the Royal Opera House Prom comes out on top. With a cast led by bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and conducted by Antonio Pappano , this concert performance of Mussorgsky ’s operatic masterpiece tells the tragic tale of a Russian Tsar plagued by guilt. The semi-staged performance is preceded by a workshop from the BBC Singers , where aspiring performers can join in with some of the opera’s choruses. Prom 5: Beethoven — Missa Solemnis (19 July) Fresh from conducting Verdi ’s epic Il trovatore on the Covent Garden stage, Gianandrea Noseda is at the helm of – if possible – an even larger masterpiece. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was composed over four years towards the end of the composer’s life and is considered to be is one of his supreme achievements. With a stellar cast of singers including soprano Camilla Nylund, mezzo-soprano Birgit Remmert, tenor Stuart Skelton, bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann, the Hallé Choir , Manchester Chamber Choir and BBC Philharmonic , the effect is sure to be breathtaking. Proms 10 and 11: Wagner and Tippett (23 July) A full day of Wagner may feel relatively short for those attuned to his lengthy operas – but for newcomers to this composer’s work, 11 July should serve as an introduction. Prom 10 at 11am showcases the 'Ride of the Valkyries' from Die Walküre in a family-friendly performance, alongside other classical staples from the BBC’s Ten Pieces series – music designed to open up the world of classical music to children and young people. The evening’s Prom 11 includes the final scene from Die Walküre, alongside Tippett ’s contemplative oratorio, A Child of Our Time. Prom 14: Rossini – The Barber of Seville (25 July) There’s something of a Rossini focus at this year’s BBC Proms, and who better to celebrate the 200th anniversary of The Barber of Seville than our friends at Glyndebourne ? Danielle de Niese leads the cast as Rosina, a young girl eager to escape the elderly Count Almaviva’s affection, with comic consequences. There’s also a pre-concert talk for those wanting to learn more about the role and politics of hair-styling in 18th- and 19th-century Europe (!) with Alun Withey and historian Kathryn Hughes. Proms 27 and 30: Stravinsky (5 and 7 August) Fans of Stravinsky ’s ballet scores won’t be disappointed with this Proms Season: over the weekend of 5, 6 and 7 August, audiences will be treated to Petrushka (1947 version) , The Firebird , and The Rite of Spring , complete with pre-performance talks. Those looking to collect all the performances of Stravinsky’s works over the 58 day-long festival should also save the date for the Pulcinella Suite on 20 July . Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe (13 August) A suitably Shakespearean recommendation in the 400th anniversary of his death. This performance takes regular Prommers away from the familiar surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall to an altogether smaller performance space: the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe . Expect English Baroque music in spades, with music by Purcell , Blow , Locke and Draghi , as well as incidental music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest . Prom 41: The Hallé – Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (16 August) Tenor Gregory Kunde stars alongside mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and the Hallé in Mahler ’s synthesis of song and symphony, Das Lied von der Erde, conducted by Mark Elder . Continuing the Season’s focus on cello music, (kicking off on the First Night with a digital light projection from Sol Gabetta), Leonard Elschenbroich will perform a London premiere: Colin Matthews’s Berceuse for Dresden, which takes inspiration from the eight bells of the Dresden church at which it was premiered. Prom 45: Janáček — The Makropulos Affair (19 August) A dream team of singers assemble for a concert performance of Janáček ’s tragic satire, The Makropulos Affair, performed under the baton of Czech conductor Jiří Běhlohlávek . Finnish soprano Karita Mattila — acclaimed for her portrayal of the opera’s heroine at New York’s Metropolitan Opera — leads the cast. Prom 59: (More) Beethoven (29 August) A rare treat to hear music from Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio . Despite his prolific musical output, the composer appeared to struggle with the overture, eventually writing four versions. This version (Leonore No. 2) is the first attempt and is thought to have been composed for the 1805 premiere – but nowadays the final version, Leonore No. 1, much lighter in style and with fresh musical material, is often heard in performance. This Prom also features András Schiff playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, 'Emperor', and the Symphony No. 7, performed by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and conducted by Herbert Blomstedt . Prom 67: Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel (4 September) The conductor affectionately dubbed ‘The Dude’ is back, conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra in their first Proms appearance since 2011. In this Olympic year, the Proms is celebrating South American music and musicians with a premiere of Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne ’s Hipnosis mariposa, alongside Villa-Lobos ’s effervescent orchestral tribute to J. S. Bach, Bachianas Brasileiras No 2. For ballet fans, the performance ends with two dizzying works by Ravel : La Valse , originally conceived as a ballet but now frequently heard as a concert work, and the Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe . Prom 75: The Last Night of the Proms (10 September) There’s much more to the Last Night than tub-thumping Elgar and flag-waving pomp (although if that’s your cup of tea, you won’t be disappointed). Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez is the star soloist for a diverse evening of music, including 'Una furtiva lagrima’ from Donizetti’s L'elisir d'amore , 'Ah ! mes amis' from La fille du regiment , as well as a generous helping of lush English song. Jette Parker Young Artist Lauren Fagan is also set to perform in a jewel in the evening’s programme, Vaughan Williams ’ Serenade to Music, scored for 16 soloists, alongside the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo. Don your black tie and get queuing! What are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s BBC Proms? Let us know via the comments below. Tickets for the BBC Proms 2016 can be purchased from the Royal Albert Hall website . All Proms will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 , with a selection available to watch on BBC Four .
The Bach Prelude that was secretively put up for sale at Christie’s by Japanese owners fetched £2.5 million yesterday. The hammer price was at the very top of the auctioneer’s rosiest hopes, and way above most other expectations. It suggests the market for manuscripts is heating up again and that the Mahler Second Symphony autograph, which is being sold at Sothebys in November , is likely to break all known records. Watch this space.
La Plata´s Teatro Argentino is a big institution, the only rival for the Colón. The huge brutalist building is young but already needs repairs, and that even applies to the stage of the great Ginastera Hall. It also has a chamber one, the Piazzolla, and an equivalent to the CETC, the Centro de Experimentación y Creación (TACEC), and of the Colón´s Art Institute, the Escuela de Arte y Oficios. Totally integrated, it has an orchestra, two choirs, a ballet, production technicians, administration and a Foundation. There´s only one difference; the Colón has two orchestras, the Argentino one. La Plata depends on an impoverished Province, so there are budgetary problems; arguably the structure is too expensive for current conditions and anyway the Argentino has a much smaller possible audience than the Colón, even if the betterment of the thruway makes it easier for porteños to travel to the Province´s capital. The orchestra has been growing absurdly during the last decade: the hand programme lists 118 players, a number that can be used in very few scores (e.g., Mahler´s Eighth), particularly when the orchestral pit´s capacity was poorly calculated and can only hold about 85 players, less than the hundred needed for Wagner or Strauss´ "Elektra". The orchestra has been trying to obtain for the last thirty months that all of them should have permanent status ("estables"); no, two things should have been done previously and weren´t: amplify the pit to a hundred and pare down the orchestra to the same number; only then give the players that category. On the other hand, the improvement in quality of the orchestra and its renovation with young people have been going on steadily, even before Alejo Pérez took charge during the Lombardero years. The Orchestra´s Principal Conductor nowadays is the talented Carlos Vieu, equally proficient in standard opera and concert repertoire. But the new General and Artistic Director, Martín Bauer (still in charge of Colón Contemporáneo), followed his bent and brought Christian Baldini to the Argentino for two very difficult and special concerts of XXth-XXIst Century music. I have no doubt that they have been very positive both for the orchestra and the mostly young audience, even if both football and weather conspired against greater attendance. For the combination was surefire: a young Argentine conductor who is having a brilliant career at San Francisco and has the technical savvy and the affinity with extremely complex music; and a perfect choice of programmes lasting one hour but of colossal density. To boot, players willing to learn and put their best effort in a hard endeavor. The first Sunday concert offered two premières for La Plata and only the second performance there of the seminal symphonic Twentieth Century score "par excellence": Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring". György Ligeti´s "Lontano" (1967) follows his micropolyphony style in which the orchestra subdivides in multiple groups obtaining a compact timbric texture. Juan Carlos Tolosa, who was in the hall, is a composer born in Córdoba (1966) who has lived in Brussels a long time, absorbing teachings from famous contemporaries. "Dimmi chi fosti" ("Tell me who you were"), the work played, is inspired on verses from Dante´s "Divine Comedy": we are our past. The three brief movements reminisce such composers as Berio, Ellington, the spectralists or Xenakis, not as quotations but as "déjà vus" on Tolosa´s musical psyche; rather interesting. The second concert was even more important. The La Plata première of Edgar Varèse´s "Amériques" in its second version (1927) is an event of prime significance; I confess I don´t recall a performance in our city. He was French but emigrated to the USA in 1915 and became an American citizen. Before WWII there were two great misunderstood visionairies in the USA: Charles Ives and Varèse; both saw far into the future and stopped composing for long periods. Varèse, born 1883, destroyed all his youthful works; so the initial version of "Amériques" (1920-21) is the first score he recognised as valid. He accepted a revision of the incredibly massive original orchestration, and this was premièred in 1926). It is still stunning, with nine percussionists including a siren, reinforced brass and a full complement of woodwinds and strings. Would you believe it in such a huge orchestra as the Argentino´s? There were 15 added players! But I´m pretty sure that all the 118 didn´t play; so? Description: fiercely dissonant chords; rhythmically complex polyphonies; continuous evolution with recurring short motifs juxtaposed without development; self-contained blocks of music against one another; enormous climaxes; the ominous siren adding tension. That´s the New York of the Twenties for Varèse. Twenty-three minutes written ninety years ago and seem penned yesterday. The impact of hearing it is electric and unforgettable. There was another high point: the beautiful Third Piano Concerto by Bartók finished by Tibor Serly (just the last 17 measures). More lyrical, less motoric than the other two, it had a convincing performance by Helena Bugallo (a La Plata musical family: there are three Bugallos in the orchestra!), who has led a distinguished career in Europe; she lives in Basel since 2003 and has had particular experience in contemporary music. Her playing was neat, powerful and sensitive, and she was abetted by the dynamic conducting of Baldini. Two short pieces preceded the longer ones: Silvestre Revueltas´s tellurian "Sensemayá" and Bernstein´s brilliant Overture to his operetta "Candide"; they had fine performances. For Buenos Aires Herald
German conductor Günter Neuhold gave a very good concert with the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) at the Blue Whale on May 13; I wrote about it in the Herald. This time, on June 15 and 17 (I attended the latter), it was even better. Neuhold is a distinguished Austrian born in 1947 who has held posts at Parma, Flanders, Karlsruhe, Bremen and Bilbao. Equally at home in opera and concert music, his excellent technique (disciple of the famous Swarowsky and Ferrara) and vast trajectory are coupled with deep stylistic study of the scores; his presence with the NS is quite positive (he has conducted them in earlier seasons). There was a further reason to be optimistic: the fine curriculum of the Canadian violinist (Montreal, 1979) Alexandre Da Costa (debut). Two thousand concerts, many premières and twenty CDs whilst still quite young speak of his capacity. He chose Max Bruch´s famous First Concerto, written in 1866; proving the lack of coordination betwen our city´s orchestras, it was also played by Xavier Inchausti (curiously, the NS´ second concertino) on June 16 at the Coliseo with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic conducted by Tolcachir. Bruch wrote for violin and orchestra no less than eight scores; once in a while it would be nice to vary the diet, especially with the Second Concerto. But there´s no doubt that the First Concerto rules with good reason, for it has convincing melodism, innovations in form and perfect imbrication between soloist and orchestra. From the start Da Costa showed four principal qualities: a terse, beautiful sound; very accurate playing in tune; precise articulation; and musical phrasing at all speeds. Just one caveat: I would have welcomed a richer, more Romantic tone (what he did was ideal for Mozart, rather). But it´s true that Neuhold gave its full due to the orchestra, as much a protagonist as the soloist (and that´s surely right). The Concerto emerged then as a collaboration whose joins were impeccable. Da Costa´s encore was a surprise: a fast Jimi Hendrix piece (!) where Da Costa was accompanied by the "pizzicati" of cellist José Araujo. I liked the music and it was dazzlingly played. Valid crossover. I met Mahler´s First Symphony in an early batch of LPs in 1952: Mitropoulos conducting the Minneapolis Symphony. I was in the first of my teenager years and it marked my musical life ever since. From 1953 to 1970 I heard it in eight concerts, evidence that this was the only Mahler symphony that could be considered repertoire then, and with such able conductors as Sevitzky, Van Otterloo, Frühbeck de Burgos, Moralt, L.Ludwig, Horenstein and Dixon. It has been a staple ever since, and it stands to reason: probably , along with Brahms´, they are the best First Symphonies in history. Neuhold´s reading was on the highest plane, with extraordinary attention to every nuance asked by Mahler, the most obsessive of all composers concerning score indications. E.g., in the initial movements of the First movement a fanfare must be heard from afar, and it was calibrated magisterially. Or the parodic moments of that so original Funeral march on Frère Jacques, never exaggerated but making their point. (One divergence, though: the movement must begin with just one bass playing in the minor the melody, and here there were several; why? The acoustics are very clear and a single bass in pianissimo is heard). The careful buildup of climaxes was sensitively followed by the very attentive orchestra, and in the fourth movement the final minutes were overwhelming, but never forced: the players in topnotch condition. I was reduced to tears as also happened last year at the very end of the Second, then conducted by Diemecke. I mentioned Minneapolis earlier in this review: that city, capital of Minnesota, a cold Northern state, had one of the best orchestras of the USA, and recorded memorably under Ormandy, Mitropoulos and Dorati. Now they call it the Minnesota Orchestra, a bad change; it´s still first-rate. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are divided by the Mississippi River and they are called The Twin Cities. It´s from them that come the players of the Minnesota Youth Orchestra, made up of the best high school musicians; they gave a debut concert here at the Law School (Facultad de Derecho) conducted by the experienced Mark Russell Smith. Their programme included two premières from the USA and a standard symphony. John Williams is famous as film composer; we heard "The Cowboys Overture", based on his music for the homonymous 1972 film. It is loud, rhythmic and melodic. "Into the Wild" was written by a Minnesota musician, Jacob Bancks, for the orchestra; in two movements (almost 19 minutes). The first is slow but has a nervous, quirky episode; the second is violent and dissonant. The Orchestra, rather big (about 80) played with youthful enthusiasm under the very professional baton of Smith. Brahms´ Second Symphony is his most leisurely, and felt more so, for the conductor observed the repeat of the exposition of the first movement, thus lasting 23 minutes! It was a serious, generally well-played performance, except for some horn mistakes. Encores: the vigorous Malambo from Ginastera´s "Estancia" and Bach´s Aria from the Third Suite, sensitively played. Of course, throughout the afternoon the resonant acoustics didn´t help. Curiosity: only ten days before, another Minnesota youth orchestra played here: the St. Olaf. 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