Thursday, July 28, 2016
At Prom 15, the world premiere of Anthony Payne's Of Land, Sea and Sky, with Andrew Davis and the BBC SO. A strange, but fascinating piece with clear antecedents in the British choral and orchestral tradition, yet, like Payne himself, utterly individual, even idiosyncratic. A landscapoe of visual images described in sound, yet also a landscape intuitively felt and interpreted. It begins quietly, eddying ripples of sound, a woodwind calling us forward, and then the words, "Of land and sea...." from the male chorus and "and sea and sky, and water" from the women. Immediately I felt a sense of confluence, of swirling forces separate yet moving together. "Calling, calling" the voices sing. But in the percussion we can hear the thud of thundering hooves. "Galloping, galloping" sing the chorus. The image apparently is of wild horses in the Camargue, running through waves on a windswept beach. For a moment the music stills and changes direction. This time bright, clear shards of sound dissipating into smaller, shining fragments. The voices create swathes of shimmering sound: a pity that diction smothered words but that added to a sense of mystery. Brasses thrust us along swiftly, then tense, pumping ostinato, swept away by trumpets, contrasted with circular pools of resonant sound, swelling and rising like a giant wave. .As an impressionistic piece Of Land, Sea and Sky engages the imagination, which is more than can be said for many works. Phrases such as "like symphony" pop out like signposts in a landscape of shadows and illusions. Towards the end, the choruses sing "Of land and sea", but I don't think we're back at the beginning at all. Like the landscape, something has changed in us, if we've been paying attention. Ralph Vaughan Williams Toward the Unknown Region (1906-7) reaffirmed Payne's connection to very deep roots in the English tradition, which perhaps spring from the transcendentalist poets of the 17th and 18th centuries, where conceptual ideas - not necessarily religious - underpin expression. "Walk out with me " wrote Walt Whitman, "Towards the Unknown Region, where neither ground is for feet, nor any path to follow". Mystical concepts, yet ideas which very much connect to the music of our own times. Luigi Nono, for example, might have understood. In 1906/7, RVW was setting forth, too, leaving behind the stolid certainities of Charles Stanford, and finding his own voice via Ravel. Andrew Davis, the BBC SO and the BBC Symphony Chorus at their finest. Prom 15 might have been an opportunity for the BBC to explore this strand in music in greater depth. Tchaikovsky's The Tempest actually worked very well, with its magical romance, beautifully realized. But the Powers That Be want Box Office rather than challenge. Hence Max Bruch's Violin Concerto noi 1 in G minor, which never fails to delight, even in a non-challenging generic performance. Maybe Ray Chen and his followers are the future of classical music, but folks like me would prefer accounts with more character.
Chicago pianist Lori Kaufman was among those who were present at Tanglewood’s farewell to Joseph Silverstein, much-loved concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, later, music director of the Utah Symphony. Joey, who died last November, aged 83, Joey was always so much more than the sum of his titles. Lori writes: Over 700 close friends, family members and former students filled Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood Sunday night for a celebration of the life and gifts of Joseph Silverstein, whose abrupt passing last November left much of the music world bereft. Impeccably curated by Deborah and Bunny Silverstein, with the Boston Symphony, the evening could not have been a more perfect homage to the achievements of Mr. Silverstein and the impact he had on thousands of musicians of all ages. To start, twenty-six string players purposefully strode onstage and played the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s exuberant Serenade in C. Impeccably led by Utah Symphony concertmaster Ralph Matson, they performed standing up, as though to bear witness to the legacy that they gratefully bask in every day, many of them still section players in the Boston Symphony. Fred Sherry called Silverstein the “soul of the BSO,” and indeed, his influence on that orchestra and many others will reverberate for generations. Anthony Fogg, the BSO’s artistic administrator and director of Tanglewood, invited us to “applaud robustly” for the “music that Joey loved and cherished.” Words would not usurp what mattered most to one of the 20th century’s best musicians, so Fogg emphasized that this evening would be full of sounds that would remind us that “our lives were better in some way because of what he gave us.” Of course the program needed to begin with JS Bach. Silverstein’s recording of the solo sonatas is THE textbook Bach, studied closely by all young violinists. Joey dug deep into every period of violin playing, and his knowledge of the baroque period was unsurpassed. He could justify every bowing and phrasing with historical evidence, and yet still made us hear something new and fresh in each sonata and partita. Venerable pianists Peter Serkin and Richard Goode then appeared, and their regal performance of three choral preludes by Bach was a master class in four-hand playing. The most elusive of ensemble playing, four-hand music is fraught with sonic landmines around every clumsy corner and demands flawless shading ability and creative sound architecture. These two champions of chamber music voiced the counterpoint luminously, expertly, and with an elegance that is rarely heard today. Mr. Goode returned to the stage with Curtis Macomber and Fred Sherry to play one of Joey’s favorite movements of all time, the adagio from the Brahms B major trio. I am sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was fortunate to have Mr. Silverstein’s coaching on this piece. It was with this very trio that he taught me everything I needed to know about Brahms—- what his unique rhythmic gestures were about, how his eighth notes need to be fat and spread out as looooooong as possible, how his mezzo pianos differ from every other composer’s, how his movements always relate to each other, and how the pianist’s left hand can make or break a performance. Richard Goode is of course one of the few pianists who understands all of these things and his partners helped him send this piece right up to the heavens where it belongs. The radiant Elena Urioste had the prodigious task of presenting Estrellita. I had the honor of playing this piece with Joey and I’m certain that everyone in attendance had heard Joey play it, even multiple times. Kreisler was one of his most closely studied idols; he cherished those “encore” pieces and snuck them into a recital program whenever he could. Well, Elena got it exactly right, and thankfully her partner Garrick Ohlsson exhibited the color palette and sensitivity to perfectly support the mood of this wistful souvenir. The duo won gasps and murmurs of approval from the audience immediately upon the final arpeggiated chord. Next we got to hear a recording of Silverstein playing The Russian Dance from Swan Lake while photos of him flickered across a gigantic screen. Graciously, the organizers put aside his most famous photos and let us see many rare mementos of Joey rehearsing, kibitzing, or playfully telling someone off with a glint in his eye. Late Beethoven was essential to the message of the evening, and it was lovely to hear a set of Joe’s more recent trainees throw themselves into opus 130. The excellent Dover Quartet maintained that Mr Silverstein was “an inspiring presence whose guidance was critical to our development as musicians and colleagues,” and they clearly heeded his lessons well. They glued themselves to each other’s fingerboards and locked eyes with a Joey-worthy focus. Their mentor would have kvelled. Late Beethoven segued inevitably into Schubert. You can bet that Joey knew every note and every harmony of Schubert’s immense song catalog, as it informed his lyrical playing of his chamber music works and symphonies. Hilary Hahn played a demonically difficult Erlkönig transcription by Heinrich Ernst effortlessly. One of the many musicians who benefited practically since toddlerhood from his generous counsel, he treated her (and so many of us) like additional children to the three biological ones he already had. Hahn obviously inherited his unparalleled work ethic and stunned this audience with her poise and prodigious technique, always and only in service to the music. The second Schubert piece was also based on a lied, the beloved Trout movement of the eponymous quintet. On hand were some of Joey’s lifelong friends from his hometown of Detroit, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, and the Curtis Institute. Ida Kavafian’s love shone through as she conjured the most profoundly poignant trout ever to have swum. This bucolic scene shifted from playful to philosophical in the able hands of Michael Ouzounian, Fred Sherry, Edgar Meyer, and Mr Ohlsson rounding out the stellar quintet. Between the two Schubert works, we got to hear from four special musicians who wanted very much to attend but sent adoring video messages instead. Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Silverstein drank from the same goblet in the elite club of top violinists, and they always shared a loving rivalry between them. To hear Perlman call Joey an “all around consummate musician” surprised nobody, and Zukerman was equally laudatory claiming “The command he had was second to none.” We then heard from longtime colleague Robert Levin, stuck in Stuttgart but wistfully wishing he was with us. I myself recall so many endearing moments of watching Levin onstage with Joey at Sarasota. An exceptionally erudite scholar, in addition to being a great pianist; for Levin to admit that he was humbled by Joey’s knowledge is telling, indeed. Smartly appreciative of not only their music-making but also their endless conversations, Levin may have had the best description of the night when he called Joey a “radiant humanist.” Joey delighted so much in sharing his knowledge that it made each of us feel like a treasured confidante. And his advice was always so true and so compassionate that it seemed like everything he said was direct from the Torah and deserved an “Amen.” We all found his words so glowing, so valuable, we treated the most random conversations as unforgettable commandments, such as his insistence that bagels needed to be “warmed,” not toasted. Finally, Andre Previn sent in a lengthy clip regaling us with stunned impressions of their long collaboration. Previn said what many of us saw firsthand, that he never met anyone as musically prepared or as thorough as Joey: “Why was he the greatest concertmaster in the world? Because he made everyone feel secure, he made the orchestra feel secure, and he made the conductor feel secure.” Previn sheepishly admitted that he is still passing off many of Joey’s genius bowings as his own (and he is probably not alone.) The final live performance of the night brought us full circle back to Brahms. I always felt as though Brahms was the pinnacle for Joey. Those who are serious about chamber music know that the best small ensemble performance ever recorded is the two viola quintets by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. It has attained cult- like status, and there are certain shifts that Joey did that are listened to and replayed and listened to again late at night at conservatories everywhere. I once asked Joey if there were any performances he wanted to do but never managed to, and he replied that his big regret was never having had the chance to play the Brahms concerto with George Szell. (Obviously that would have been the definitive recording.) On Sunday night, in honor of Joey’s unending love for Brahms, the universe’s pre-eminent duo gave the best performance ever of a violin piece with no violin in sight. Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax drew us in with a devoutly personal Adagio of the d minor violin sonata, cleverly transcribed for Mr Ma’s instrument. Yo-yo is the consummate communicator, always regaling listeners with charming anecdotes and galvanizing stories…. but on this night he had no words. He said everything he needed to say with the look on his face. But no musician could have ended the evening more conclusively than Joey himself – a brilliant video of his 1972 performance of the Elgar violin concerto with his beloved BSO conducted by Colin Davis. This was a recap of what everyone had alluded to: the incredible command of the instrument, the insatiable investigation of the composer’s style, the flawless phrasing, the “unorthodox” bowing that made the music sound even better than it was conceived, the warm communication (mainly via eyebrows) with his onstage colleagues, the expansive generosity towards his students, the magic that he worked at creating every morning of every day of his life when he would wake up and take out his violin. What came out especially Sunday night was how successful Joey was at each of these roles he inhabited: the perfect concertmaster, a stunning soloist, an all-knowing conductor, a dedicated teacher, a guru of chamber music, a voracious scholar, a treasured counselor to orchestras and soloists and young quartets, a loving father, a devoted husband, a compassionate friend, and an irreplaceable colleague. The Silverstein family has set up a fund to support violin master classes at Tanglewood. If you would like to honor Joey’s astonishing legacy and join in promoting his love of music, please send your gift (made out to the Boston Symphony Orchestra) to: Gifts to the Joseph Silverstein TMC Violin Master Class Fund Boston Symphony Orchestra Gifts Processing Department Symphony Hall 301 Massachusetts Avenue Boston, MA 02115 USA
Royal Albert Hall, LondonConductor Sakari Oramo rightly began with an impromptu French national anthem, leading into Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and a compelling Elgar concerto from cellist Sol Galbetta, among other highlights Everyone, not only the Prommers, stood for the first piece played in this year’s BBC Proms. In an unannounced gesture of solidarity, conductor Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra led off with the Marseillaise, as the lights behind them turned red, white and blue. It may not have been what David Pickard had initially planned as the opening piece of his first season in charge of the Proms, but it was indubitably the right music to play.No one is expecting Pickard, formerly director of Glyndebourne, to take the Proms in a radical new direction, but the initiative in his first season of putting on a handful of concerts in different, one-off venues – including the Old Royal Naval College and the Roundhouse – is a promising one. There are no all-pervasive, stifling themes; nor, as the major anniversary this year is Shakespeare’s, will there be endless swathes of music from a single composer. Continue reading...
The Marseillaise on the First Night of the Proms 2016, a powerful start to the BBC Proms season, acknowledging the atrocities in France. Most of the Royal Albert Hall audience stood up in tribute. Terrorism is a global issue even when perpetrators act alone. Nations united are stronger than nations alone. Perhaps that message is lost on some, and the BBC will get it in the neck from vested interests who'd like to replace public services with commercial control, who look for any excuse to accuse the BBC of "bias" real or imagined. Tonight, the BBC placed humanity above political manipulation. The BBC is a more effective ambassador for British integrity than schemers and selfish policies ever could be. This First Night of the Proms was obviously planned ages ago, but we cannot but reflect on how it relates to current events. Music doesn't exist in isolation, and we'd be much lesser people if we didn't care. Hate and division have always been part of the human condition. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote about implacable rivalries, and the pointless waste of young life. Beautiful as it is, Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture ' Romeo and Juliet' would be nothing if we overlooked the tragedy behind Especially niot after that Marseillaise and the images of dead bodies we've been seeing today. The image of Elgar as jingoist persists even though from what we know of the composer, the image is far from the truth. Elgar's Cello Concerto is anything but "pomp and circumstance"; it's poignant and deeply felt. It was written after the death of Alice, his wife and muse, but also after the end of the First World War, in which millions of others were killed, not only in war but through famines, epidemics and ethnic cleansing. In those circumstances victory could not but be tinged with sorrow, In any case 1914-1918 was the beginning of a much wider, global conflict that didn't end until 1945, and a radical new approach to ending conflict. Perhaps we should reflect more on the years of idealism after 1945 than on endless squabbles. In this performance, with Sol Gabetta as soloist, I was particularly moved by the quieter moments, ie the lento, which "spoke" with more depth than a short movement usually gets. First Nights of the Proms often feature blockbusters, since their size suits the cavern that is the Royal Albert Hall. Prokofiev's Cantata Alexander Nevsky was ideal material, featuring as it does massed forces of a scale that the Soviet Union could produce when it needed to make major propaganda impact. I've written extensively on Sergei Eisenstein's monumental film Alexander Nevsky and the role Prokofiev's music played in it. Please see HERE and HERE for more. In this performance, Sakari Oramo, the BBC SO, the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC National Chorus of Wales and soloist Olga Borodina let rip with intense ferocity. Perhaps a little on the wild side, but rightly so, because this is impassioned music. The Russians under Alexander Nevsky were fighting for their very existence. In 1938, when the film was made, the irony of the plot was not lost. The Soviet Union didn't trust the Nazis any more than Nevsky trusted the Crusaders. Although the forces used in the Battle on the Ice were small by modern standards, the conflict was epic, a fight to the death with Nature itself creating havoc. Human history isn't pretty but if we don't learn, we're lost.
Violinist Sarah Chang will appear in a concert on July 23rd. Here are the details: HOLLYWOOD CHAMBER ORCHESTRA W/ SARAH CHANG Saturday, July 23, 2016, 08:00PM The Montalban Theater 1615 Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028 www.themontalban.com Program: Sarah Chang will be performing the dazzling Four Seasons violin concerti. Guest conductor Lucas Richman will also lead the orchestra in performances of a rarely heard John Williams piece entitled Essay for Strings (1965), and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.
Few artists have had such a prolonged and successful career as Lettish violinist Gidon Kremer, born at Riga in 1947. By 1965 he was studying with no less than David Oistrakh at Moscow. In his early twenties he started on a sui generis, maverick way that alternated the standard repertoire with innovative new material, some of it impregnated with the impish humor of a Shostakovich. His virtuosity impressed, but in a leaner, more modern style than his teacher´s. A gregarious man, he soon made friends among colleagues such as Argerich and they recorded brilliant Beethoven. Emulating our pianist´s love for chamber festivals with artists she appreciates, the violinist founded his own Lockenhaus Festival in Austria: there he often experimented with new composers along with the great classics, but he also did humoristic concerts (there´s a truly funny CD of that Kremer trait). And it was at Lockenhaus that he presented in 1997 the string orchestra he called Kremerata Baltica, integrated by 23 youthful interpreters from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the three Baltic countries liberated when the USSR imploded. Kremer was 50 then, he is now 69. His Kremerata (in itself a playful denomination) visited (according to the "biography" in the hand programme) 50 countries in 600 cities (!), offering a thousand concerts and recording 20 CDs. And they have their own Festival in Sigula, Latvia. During his young years Kremer did concertos with symphony orchestras, recitals with piano and chamber music. He came to BA with his pianist wife of that time and showed his double nature playing such curious things as a piece called "Ferdinand the Bull"! Biographies in our hand programmes have the nasty habit of giving no information about previous visits of the artists presented by the institution; they are just translations of an international short biography that often leaves out important information, and to boot sometimes are poorly translated. I can´t believe that Kremer should be described as the violinist with the most traditional career when he is quite the opposite, but that´s what´s printed...Anyway, although I don´t have an archive, I can vouchsafe that Kremer visited us several times, either in recitals or at least once with the Kremerata. Kremer (counting those of the Kremerata) has recorded 120 CDs and has premièred a great number of scores, especially from Russia and the Baltic countries. His contribution has been quite valuable and a reviewer has to take a trajectory into account. However, what we heard at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia was a prime example of talented excentricity, something rarely seen at that conservative concert association. So the evening was at turns fascinating and arbitrary. As playing I anticipate a verdict: bingo for the Kremerata, a crack group of fantastic players; but an uneven Kremer, sometimes below his reputation. And in the choice of scores, ear-opening novelties alternated with anodine ditties or bad arrangements. The Polish composer Miecyslaw Weinberg (1919-96) was known in the USSR as Moses Vainberg; a man of real creative power, friend of Shostakovich, his career was ruined by the detestable Cultural Commissar Andrei Zhdanov: Vainberg was arrested in 1953, for his composing was in "Jewish nationalist bourgeois style"... After Stalin´s death the artist was rehabilitated and gradually some of his music was recorded, but he is still little-known. In an incomprehensible mistake, the hand programme lists that we heard his Concerto for violin and orchestra; no, it was the Concertino for violin and strings published posthumously in 2007; and in three movements, not four! It is a beautiful work in a style that respects tradition but always has a personal touch, and it turned out to be the best interpretation from both Kremer and his orchestra. Although the audience went wild, I can´t agree about the strange arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov called "Quadro porteno", based on Piazzolla´s "Las Cuatro Estaciones porteñas"). The arranger mixes our composer with Vivaldi (bad joke) and veers from the Piazzolla style with winks to Salgán or Pugliese. Kremer´s playing was often harsh but the orchestra was splendid, especially the cellist Giedre Dirvanauskeite. The high point of the evening was the very skillful arrangement for strings by Jacques Cohen (b. 1969) of Mussorgsky´s wonderful "Pictures at an Exhibition", though the addition of percussion by Andrei Pushkarev (member of the Kremerata, along with a colleague, for just this score) wasn´t always helpful. But the playing of the orchestra was memorable, goaded by the extraordinary concertino Dzeraldas Bidva: not just technical perfection but an ideal understanding of each picture´s content. Here comes the moot point. For Kremer did a strange thing: he asked the audience not to applaud until the last item and started the Second Part playing Tchaikovsky´s "Melancholy Serenade" in a correct arrangement by Desyatnikov played lightly by Kremer, without the rich tone such music requires; he went discreetly off the stage and Mussorgsky started. And as the tremendous fortissimi of the last measures of "The Great Gate of Kiev" subsided to a pianissimo (!), Kremer came subtly back and played Valentyn Silvestrov´s slow short "Serenade" for solo violin, in this case appropriately softly...and that was the end! The encores, with soloist and orchestra, were disparate and opposed: a small Oriental melody, very quiet, "Umebayshi", by Jumi Lee; and what seemed like Shostakovich in his most unbridled sarcastic humor but turned out to be Vainberg´s music for a cartoon, "Bonifacio´s vacation", brilliantly played. For Buenos Aires Herald
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 - November 6, 1893) was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. His wide ranging output includes symphonies, operas, ballets, instrumental and chamber music and songs. He wrote some of the most popular concert and theatrical music in the classical repertoire, including the ballets Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, his First Piano Concerto, his last three numbered symphonies, and the opera Eugene Onegin. Born into a middle-class family, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant, despite his obvious musical precocity. He pursued a musical career against the wishes of his family, entering the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1862 and graduating in 1865. This formal, Western-oriented training set him apart from the contemporary nationalistic movement embodied by the influential group of young Russian composers known as The Five, with whom Tchaikovsky's professional relationship was mixed.
Great composers of classical music