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Serguei Prokofiev

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

April 5

Vienna Opera to stage work by child composer

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe company has released next season’s programme. It includes an opera, Cinderella, by the British child prodigy, Alma Deutscher. Full details: Prokofiev, The Gambler (4. October 2017 – D: Simone Young; R: Karoline Gruber; mit: Dan Paul Dumitrescu, Elena Guseva, Misha Didyk, Linda Watson, Thomas Ebenstein, Elena Maximova, Morten Frank Larsen); * Berg, Lulu (3 December 2017 – D: Ingo Metzmacher; R: Willy Decker; mit: Agneta Eichenholz, Angela Denoke, Bo Skovhus, Herbert Lippert, Franz Grundheber); * Handel, Ariodante (24 February 2018 – D: William Christie; R: David McVicar; mit: Sarah Connolly, Chen Reiss, Hila Fahima, Christophe Dumaux, Rainer Trost, Pavel Kolgatin, Wilhelm Schwinghammer); * Von Einem, Dantons Tod (24. March 2018 – D: Susanna Mälkki; R: Josef Ernst Köpplinger; mit: Wolfgang Koch, Herbert Lippert, Jörg Schneider, Thomas Ebenstein, Olga Bezsmertna); * Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila (12. May 2018 – D: Marco Armiliato; R: Alexandra Liedtke; mit: Elīna Garanča, Roberto Alagna, Carlos Álvarez, Sorin Coliban) * Weber, Der Freischütz (11. June 2018 – D: Tomáš Netopil, R: Christian Räth; mit Adrian Eröd, Camilla Nylund, Alan Held, Andreas Schager, Daniela Fally, Albert Dohmen) * Alma Deutschers Cinderella (28. January 2018 in der AGRANA STUDIOBÜHNE| WALFISCHGASSE; D: N. N.; R: Birgit Kajtna) Alma Deutscher is 12 years old. Erich Wolfgang Korngold was 13 when his balet, The Snowman, was staged at the Vienna Opera, in the presence of the Emperor Franz-Josef.

Classical iconoclast

April 22

Formula saves the BBC Proms !

Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017!  This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms.  Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart.  So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving   (Read here what I wrote about The Formula)   Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial  Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho' Juanjo Mena conducts  Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho's the rest of the programme, though good isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte  On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle  On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion   On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz.  On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with  Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra  Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2.   Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist  music seem immune.  See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8   Perhaps these Proms attract  audiences who care what they're listening to  Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant."  Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Faarage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic  The music's OK, but notn the marketing. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8   Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar   On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák   More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme  Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted  These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset On 1/9,  Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm  An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with  Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth  which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled".  It's Mahler,  not a musical.  Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5.  Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill   For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms   Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest     




Guardian

March 20

Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Andsnes review – quicksilver musical rapport

Cadogan Hall, London This captivating ensemble offered a life-enhancing account of Prokofiev and danced their way through Grieg in what felt like a get-together of old friendsI defy, I absolutely defy, anyone not to feel unalloyed pleasure when the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra are playing at their best. Traditionalists get annoyed by “all that emoting”, as James Galway once called the visible mutual encouragement that accompanies the playing of ensembles like this. For most of us, though, troubles slip away and the quicksilver musical rapport is captivating, especially when the NCO produces life-enhancing accounts of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, with which this London visit started, or of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which ended it. Conventional accounts of the Prokofiev tend to emphasise clockwork precision and surface sheen. But playing standing up, and entirely from memory, the Norwegians found something different and new. It became an improvisatory conversation piece, with the inspirational Terje Tønnesen and Daniel Bard leading the first and second violins in a high-spirited conversation. Yes, there was the occasional error of ensemble, but that really was not the point. It was like being at a jovial get-together of old friends who happened to have brought their instruments along. That impression became reality in the orchestra’s Grieg party piece, when the players started to dance – as much as a double bass or a cello allows – as they played the final Rigaudon. Continue reading...



Classical iconoclast

February 23

More than a sum of parts : Jurowski, Berg, Denisov, Shostakovich

Vladimir Jurowski, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, London Philharmonic Orchestra,  photo : Sven Lorenz, Essen Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Patricia Kopatchinskaja presented Alban Berg's Violin Concerto.  Kopatchinskaja, Jurowski and the LPO recorded Stravinsky's Violin Concerto and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no 2 nearly four years ago, and the disc is a best seller, for good reason. Sine Berg's Violin Concerto is perhaps even more popular, the prospect of  hearing it with Kopatchinskaya, Jurowski and the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall was hard to resist. Hopefully, it will be released at some stage. In the meantime, listen to the repeat broadcast on BBC Radio 3.  But this concert was also memorable because it connected Berg's Violin Concerto with Edison Denisov's Symphony no 2 and Shostakovich's Symphony no 15. Jurowski has a genius for devising programmes that are greater even than the sum of their parts.  Anyone can put a programme together; very few can do so on this level.  Please read my review of  Jurowski's Kancheli, Martinů and Ralph Vaughan Williams concert.  This evening's inspired combination drew out the  more esoteric levels from all three pieces, absolutely justifying  the theme "Belief and Beyond Belief". Although so much about South Bank marketing is gimmick, Jurowski's "Belief and Beyond"  is genuinely well thought through, and adds considerable depth to this year's series of LPO concerts.  By no means is the term Belief limited to conventional, organized religion.  The concept of Belief  informs the whole way we respond to the human condition, even when we don't believe in fixed concepts.  Jurowski's programmes relate to much wider ideas of spiritual and intellectual questioning.  Comic book rigidities go against the grain of creative expression. Edison Denisov's Symphony no 2 (1996) is typical Jurowski territory: stretching boundaries. Although Denisov lived under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, he didn't conform. His perspectives were modern and international. He learned from Debussy, Messiaen, Boulez and Stockhausen and eventually was able to move to Paris, where his music was supported by IRCAM.  Denisov's Symphony, written after he'd moved to Paris, inhabits a world of shimmering almost micro tonality,  sounds blending yet separate, like fluids of different densities flowing together. The voice of a violin emerges from the complex confluences, then  a group of low winds, then a murmur of bassoons and a rumble of percussion.  Swirling figures, very high tessitura, creating forward thrust, broken by staccato cross-currents. Harps and gunfire, I thought.  Savagely angular discords, and the music stops dead. Perhaps literally. Denisov was seriously ill  and passed away six months later.  On the broadcast, Jurowski says there's a quotation from a bassoon solo in Tchaikovsky's Pathétique,  transposed for double bass. In programmes as esoteric as Jurowski's, it's wise to beware of clichés. Following the obvious idea that Berg's Violin Concerto represents Manon Gropius who died aged 16, South Bank marketing plays up the "Memory of an Angel" aspects of the piece. But Berg, being Berg, is cryptic, hiding behind surface appearances. Kopatchinskaja reminds us of Albina, Berg's secret love child, whom he never really knew. Listen to Kopatchinskaja sing the Carpathian (not Austrian) folk song Berg quotes in the piece! Her singing voice is sweet and bird like, which enhances what the piece represents.  When she plays, she defines the part with strong, affirmative poise. The melody is bittersweet, yet undaunted, even when the orchestra storms around her.  Disquieting shapes in the violin part and crashing chords in the orchestra: this isn't  dewy-eyed sentimentality but something far more profound.  Tonality hovers on the point of breaking and then dissolves, when no more can be said.  The quote "Es ist genug", is a reference to Bach. Jurowski understands that Berg, even at his most passionate, uses structure with the clarity of a mathematical mind. Puzzles and patterns are integral.  Hence the innate  power of this piece, and this very strong performance. Shostakovich's Symphony no 15 starts with exuberance, rushing forward into quirky march with references to Rossini's William Tell.  Is Shostakovich thinking of military oppression or slyly satirizing music for the movies? Perhaps both, for this symphony is in many ways Shostakovich's memoir.  Was he a puppet in an insane toy shop, or was he pulling  strings?  The poignant Adagio might be a reflection, but, like Berg, Shostakovich can be enigma.  The single chord progressions suggests isolation, yet the violin takes up the pattern, leading the orchestra in a dance that is deflated by  typical Shostakovich raspberries.  Though the protagonist may be alone, he's surrounded by other voices.  The orchestration lets many individual instruments have their moment.  This symphony might be an ironic parody of film, unfolding in different scenes, with quotations from Shostakovich's own work and others.  Thus the dramatic chorale of percussion, complete with crashing gongs.  Yet the underlying melody flows, its way lit by unearthly celesta and xylophone.  A thoughtful performance,  highlighting the many individual sections in this excellent orchestra. Definitely a concert that was more than the sum of its parts.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

February 18

Vladimir Putin personally renews Bolshoi chief

In a conversation reminiscent of the darker years of Stalin’s rule, the Russian president has ordered a contract renewal for the Bolshoi boss, Vladimir Urin. Here’s the text of the conversation, carried on Putin’s official website: President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Urin, how long have you been General Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, three and a half years? General Director of the Bolshoi Theatre Vladimir Urin: Yes, Mr President, three and a half years. Vladimir Putin: The Culture Minister [Vladimir Medinsky ] and I have discussed this, and we have agreed that, judging by what theatre lovers say, you have achieved a great deal. Vladimir Urin: Thank you. Vladimir Putin: We have agreed to talk about life at the Bolshoi Theatre and your work there, including the material side of creative work at the theatre. Tell me about your plans. Do you need any additional support? Vladimir Urin: Well, I can tell you that everything is going well at the Bolshoi Theatre. I am referring to the financial side of the matter. And so I have no financial requests. This is true, because I am aware of the general situation. But the theatre now has everything it needs for its operation. We are completing the renovations, as I have told Mr Medinsky. The third and final phase includes the renovation of workshops plus rooms for visiting performers. Regarding our creative plans, I would say that we have entered a smooth working regime. We stage eight new performances every year. Vladimir Putin: This is a lot. Vladimir Urin: Mr President, we have two stages. But then, you may be right, because attendance at Bolshoi Theatre performances is almost 100 percent, or more precisely 97.4 percent a year. In other words, the house is full almost every day. We could have continued to live on the performances that were staged 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago, but this would have created problems in the troupe. Performers must have opportunities to perform new roles, make new discoveries. This is extremely important for creative groups. We have a large troupe, and so eight new performances a year, considering that we have two stages, is an absolutely ordinary achievement. We give some 500 performances in Moscow, plus we have a busy touring schedule. This March, our opera troupe will perform Tchaikovsky’s Jeanne d’Arc opera concert in the Philharmonie de Paris. In late May or early June, we will go to Japan for the Russian Seasons. Vladimir Putin: Yes, I wanted to ask you about this. How will the Bolshoi Theatre fit into the Russian Seasons? Vladimir Urin: We go on these tours every other year, and people in Japan love the Bolshoi Theatre. This time we will take three performances there: two of them staged by Yury Grigorovich, who turned 90 this January, but you know this, because you sent your greetings to him. Thank you very much. We will take Swan Lake, Giselle and The Flames of Paris choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. We will begin the tour with Swan Lake. We will give 12 performances in Japan, not just in Tokyo but also in other large cities. We will tour these cities. The bulk of our ballet troupe will go to Japan. Yesterday I held talks with our Japanese colleagues. They told me delightful news: nearly all tickets to the bulk of our performances have been sold out. It is only February, and the tickets are already in short supply. Vladimir Putin: Very well. I was also informed of your plans to take part in events related to the FIFA World Cup. Vladimir Urin: Yes, this is true. If everything goes as planned, on July 14, on the eve of the World Cup final, the Bolshoi Theatre will hold a gala performance to celebrate this magnificent event. The concert will feature performances by internationally acclaimed Russian soloists, as well as our foreign colleagues who agreed to perform at this concert. Most of them already agreed to participate in the concert, and preparations for this wonderful event are underway. Vladimir Putin: Great. You have already mentioned, albeit briefly, the creative part of your work. But how about the financial aspect? My question is simple and pragmatic: How much do soloists and corps de ballet dancers earn? Vladimir Urin: Yes, I was just going to tell you. The average salary for the whole theatre is 77,000 rubles. Corps de ballet dancers make 130,000, and soloists about 240,000 rubles. Vladimir Putin: How about opera? At a meeting with Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and General Director of the Bolshoi Theatre Vladimir Urin. Vladimir Urin: Opera soloists make 180,000, which is due to the fact that they have fewer performances. We have both our own and invited soloists singing in the theatre, so the figure refers only to our soloists, who make 180,000. Orchestra musicians have a lot of work, since they perform at both opera and ballet performance. Their average salary is 130,000. We increase their wages incrementally, little by little every year to the best of our ability using money we make. Talking about the bottom line, I can tell you that revenue from ticket sales rose from 1.4 billion rubles in 2014 to 2.2 billion 2016. Vladimir Putin: Not bad. Vladimir Urin: We have been able to achieve this result by adopting flexible pricing. Some performances are very popular, and as soon as tickets go on sale they are gone in a matter of two or three days. There are also performances that are not as popular, but we are still able to sell out by regulating prices. Price adjustments can be substantial. Orchestra seating is the most expensive, followed by the dress circle, the upper circle is cheaper, and so on. By introducing flexible pricing we generated almost 800 million in additional revenue. The same goes for proceeds we get from sponsors. In 2014, these proceeds stood at 400 million, and last year we practically doubled this figure, earning 800 million from sponsors. However, 2016 may not be representative of a general trend, since we received substantial contributions from sponsors for bringing La Scala to Russia, which boosted our bottom line. Mr President, we have ambitious projects in the area of international cooperation, and I very much hope that everything will come to pass. Serious talks with the Paris Opera regarding two joint productions are underway. We have almost agreed on one of them, War and Peace by Prokofiev. That is, we will work on it together. The Paris Opera will come here on tour and we will go there, accordingly, in 2018. We had serious negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera as well. We reached an agreement with Peter Gelb on a joint production of three shows. In March (I don’t want to jinx it), we will sign a protocol of intent on three joint productions. Of these three shows, two will premiere in Moscow and then in New York. We have interesting projects with La Scala as well. We have received them, and in 2018 La Scala Theatre will receive our ballet. I’m not even talking about this year, which is also very busy. I’ve already mentioned the tour in Japan and a concert performance of The Maid of Orleans in Paris. In addition to that, we will participate in the festival in Aix-en-Provence, France, which is a famous music festival. We are going to Finland with Iolanta by Tchaikovsky and Eugene Onegin. We will take Eugene Onegin to the festival in Aix-en-Provence, as well. All of that will take place this year. Meeting with Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and General Director of the Bolshoi Theatre Vladimir Urin. We will wrap up the year with a tour to New York. In conjunction with the Paris Opera and the New York City Ballet, we will bring Jewels by Balanchine to New York. We will also bring Taming of the Shrew there, which is immensely popular in Russia. After this show ran in the cinemas, the Americans asked us to come on a tour. We agreed. Vladimir Putin: It’s great. Mr Medinsky, do you have anything to add to that? Vladimir Medinsky: Yes. Mr Urin was one of the youngest theatre directors in the Soviet Union. I believe he became one at the age of 26. Vladimir Urin: I was 26 and a half. Vladimir Medinsky: Well, young if not the youngest. Mr Urin will celebrate his anniversary soon. Based on the excellent creative and economic track record of the Bolshoi Theatre, we are about to approach the Government with a proposal to renew Mr Urin’s contract as the Director-General of the Bolshoi Theatre and are asking you to support us in this regard. Vladimir Putin: It’s my pleasure to do so. Of course, I support this.

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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