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Serguei Prokofiev

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

July 3

Just in: Jurowski gets a record deal – but not the LPO

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe conductor Vladimir Jurowski today signed ‘a long-term, multi-album agreement’ with the Dutch label, Pentatone. But the recordings he will be making are not with his first orchestra, the London Philharmonic, where he has been music director since 2006. It is confirmed that Jurowski will record a cycle of Prokofiev symphonies with the Moscow-based State Academic Symphony Orchestra ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’ and other repertoire with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, where he becomes chief conductor in September. The LPO will not be pleased by this development. It may signal the unravelling of their relationship.

My Classical Notes

June 28

October 18: Gil Shaham Concert in LA

Here is an exciting event in Los Angeles, once the Fall concert season is in full swing: Date: Wednesday October 18, at 8:00 PM Venue: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California Performing artists: Gil Shaham, violin Akira Eguchi, piano Works to be performed: KREISLER Preludium and Allegro PROKOFIEV Five Melodies, Op. 35 FRANCK Violin Sonata in A BACH Partita No. 3 for solo violin SAINT-SAËNS Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Avner DORMAN Nigunim I must do some research on the last work. The Hebrew word, Nigunim, means melodies.




Tribuna musical

June 28

Reich, Xenakis and Messiaen: contemporary, demanding music

What is contemporary? The matter is polemic; my definition is whatever I feel corresponds with my own lifespan. But the word embraces two antagonic possibilities (in this case applied to what we call classical or academic music): a work that pushes the limits to open new horizons, or one that is content with following on the steps of predecessors. The ones I will comment are of the first type. Inaugurating the Mozarteum Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex, MusicaQuantica, conducted by Camilo Santostefano, premièred "The Desert Music" by Steve Reich in chamber version by Alan Pierson (2001) accepted by the composer. Reich, who visited us months ago, is one of the Big Three of minimalist American music, along with Philip Glass and John Adams. Inspired by poems of William Carlos Williams (1954), the score we heard was composed in1982-3. For the poet the desert is a metaphore: a place where humanity can contemplate itself, retrieve their spirituality and make the decisive choices between changing for the best or destroying their very basis. The text is used by bits as part of the total massed sound and is quite unintelligible; the mere listing of the variegated orchestra tells us the density of it: the Percussion ensemble of the Conservatoire Astor Piazzolla, eight-strong (directress, Marina Calzado Linage); the Wind Ensemble of the Colón´s Institute of Art (flutes and brass) prepared by Claudio Fenoglio (eleven players); the String Ensemble 440 (Ignacio Andrés Mandrafina), fourteen instrumentalists; and four pìanists. Plus the eighteen voices of the Choir. A grand total of fifty-five people. The five pieces last fifty minutes but the third is divided into three, so there are really seven. The technique Reich used is called "phasing" and consists in a combination of minimal patterns; the whole consists in entering or going out of phase. Relentless repetition of a rhythm with different colors combining the aforementioned ensembles, dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo, gradual changes, some counterpoint and dissonance, strong pulsating effect. The work has impact and as far as I could apprehend was quite well done under the expert hands of Santostefano. Architect, mathematician and composer, Yannis Xenakis (1922-2006) was a controversial creator who based his music on very complex mathematics-inspired schemes. In 1981 Les Percussions de Strasbourg premièred "Pléïades" for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo, and I was vividly impressed. The score had been commissioned by the Opéra du Rhin for those six brilliant players. Now Colón Contemporáneo offered it with the Percussion Group of The Hague, quite cosmopolitan: two Dutch, two Mexican, one Spanish, one Japanese (the only woman). It´s a long score (53 minutes) divided into four parts: Mixtures, Brass, Keyboards and Skins (Drums). The instruments include one invention of Xenakis: the sixxen, metallophone tuned microtonally similar to the vibraphone but with aluminum profiles instead of plaques. They were imitated by the Colón´s artisans. I found the whole work fascinating, with a colossal variety of timbres and rhythms and dynamics controlled by a mind that knew how to give a solid structure to what could have been a sprawling chaos. And the players were excellent, especially the Japanese Ryoko Imai, adrenalic but strongly disciplined. Before Xenakis we heard James Tenney´s "Having never written a note for percussion", and in its original version it would have been a frightful bore, for it merely was a tremolo tam-tam going from pianissimo to fortissimo to pianissimo, and it could last ad libitum "for a very long time". But the Hague players did something intelligent and interesting: not one but six tam-tams placed at different heights in the vast hall and a total length of seven minutes. The two culminating minutes had a visceral repercussion such as I have seldom experienced. There has never been a composer like Olivier Messiaen (1908-92) and there will never be another: he created a musical world that is completely personal. Not only his brand of mysticism is all-encompassing but, to mold it into music, he imagined a panoply of techniques that are all his own and of whom he was a past master. You need a very particular vision to call a symphony movement "Joy of stars´ blood". It is the fifth of the ten movements of the gigantic "Turangalîla Symphony", presented by the National Symphony under Francisco Rettig at the Blue Whale. It´s only the third time that it is played in BA; the second was two decades ago, by the same conductor and orchestra; and further back Pedro Calderón conducted the première. Last year occurred one of the Ministry of Culture´s habitual snafus: the plane tickets for Rettig and the Martenot player weren´t sent in time and the project collapsed... The score was commissioned by Koussewitzky for the Boston Symphony; it was written between July 1946 and November 1948 and premièred a year later at Boston conducted by Bernstein. There are two soloists although it´s a symphony: a pianist who has to surmount enormous obstacles; and a specialist in Ondes Martenot, electric instrument invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot; it can produce microtones; it has a keyboard, and registers can vary the sonority and produce glissandi; it is purely melodic and the sounds are quite beautiful and mysterious. Turangalîla is a Sanskrit word; Turanga is time, Lîla is play in the sense of divine action on the cosmos, and also love. The movements are based on four cyclic themes that recur and are complemented by many others. It is, says the composer, a song of love and a vast counterpoint of rhythm. The instrumentation is monumental and extremely varied, winds, strings, keyboards and a huge assembly of percussion. And it lasts almost 80 minutes. This isn´t just a concert, it´s an experience; let yourself be penetrated by it and you will come out transformed, at least for a while. The vast audience gave the performance a rousing ovation, which speaks well of them, but also of the great job done by Rettig and the orchestra (save slight misadjustments in the first minutes) in music of the utmost difficulty, and the tour de force of Marcelo Balat, again demonstrating that he is an admirable pianist, plus Thomas Bloch on the Martenot waves, although I found him too subdued now and then. A triumph for this lovable orchestra, so often mismanaged. I will end this article staying with the orchestra although not in contemporary material except for one work. In what was a commendable and desirable initiative, to bring the National Symphony to the Colón after an unconscionable 14-year absence, again the damnable bureaucracy of the Ministry of Culture botched it by not paying in time the orchestral and vocal material for Prokofiev´s Cantata "Alexander Nevsky", with the Coro Polifónico Nacional thus stranded and conductor Javier Logioia Orbe resigning in protest. Darío Domínguez Xodo came to the rescue; he respected the First Part, starting with "Elegía", a brooding and overlong score by Manuel Juárez (1937) and completing it with a brilliant interpretation by Tomás Alegre of Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto. The Argerich protégé is a real talent, and encored with a Chopin Nocturne and something of Scriabin. And the conductor presented after the interval a serious and honest version of the great Sixth Symphony, "Pathetic", also by Tchaikovsky. Rather sparse audience due to bad communication. For Buenos Aires Herald



Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 4

What went right at the Queen Elisabeth cello competition?

There was very little international coverage, the website was the worst of any major competition and the results were published in the dead of night. Yet, despite losing several crowd-pleasers at the semi-final stage, there seems to be a feeling that the Brussels competition did most things right. Here’s an assessment from one of the TV commentators, the cellist David Cohen, exclusive to Slipped Disc. An insider’s testimony into the first Queen Elisabeth Cello Competition by David Cohen Yesterday I was in Belgium, my native country, and I was so happy to be making the TV commentaries for Musique 3 during the first ever Queen Elisabeth Cello competition held in Bruxelles’s beautiful Palais des Beaux Arts. Let me start by sharing with you how proud I feel of my country for having finally agreed, after decades of pleading from leading cello teachers in Belgium and around the world, to finally add the cello as a category to the Queen Elisabeth International Competition. Why was it not possible sooner? The competition’s most influential director, Le Comte De Launoy, felt it was his duty to respect her Majesty’s wishes of the categories she had specifically instructed to be used. They also happened to be her favourite instruments: violin, voice, piano and composition… not the cello. But since the passing of this great and benevolent music lover, the competition was able, after the collapse of the last Rostropovich cello competition in Paris, to take a chance and add the cello as another category to the competition. As a child, I so often dreamed that this pinnacle of music competitions would finally open its doors to my instrument… The cello has always been important in the Belgian music making. The influential school of Belgian cello playing (Servais, the Paganini of cellists) is well documented. Yesterday was the finale of this well organised competition. Like a well oiled engine, after weeks of early rounds, the tradition of seven days of seclusion, including all technical devices, was imposed, allowing the 12 finalists to learn the compulsory piece specially composed by Toshio Hosokawa. They were shown the score seven days prior to the final round in the confines of the Chapelle Reine Elizabeth, a private music institution just outside of Brussels. I awoke yesterday to find my social media busy with posts, comments, tweets and likes about the different candidates who had already performed and were awaiting the prize announcements this evening. It was a real frenzy out there with a big buzz; the candidate with rings and long hair who dropped his bow (no thanks to the conductor for kicking it! accidents do happen to everyone), the candidate who broke her strings, the candidate whose late parents pleaded with his teacher to look after him (both teacher and student ended up present at the final… the former was playing, and the latter commentating for the RTBF). There was some controversy with regard to the poor variety of concertos being performed for the finale. There were 6 Shostakovich concertos, 4 Dvorak concertos and 2 Schumann concerto. Also disappointing was the lack of Belgian competitors, with countless articles in the newspapers about their absence. Although Shostakovich’s first concerto has more of a “Wow!” factor (especially the ending), I wished someone would have taken the risk of doing the Barber, Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, or even the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante. These last few days and weeks reminded me of my time as a competition junkie and how juggling studying, performing concerts and hopping from one competition to another ruled my life as a young musician. As Bartok famously once said, “Competitions are for horses”. In a horse race, there is a definitive winner. It is impossible to be so black and white in music. In tennis as we all know, there are clear points to be gained, but in a music competition, we try to quantify something which is in it’s very essence, unquantifiable. Each competitor receives points from each jury member, and in the Queen Elisabeth (to keep bias at bay), apparently the highest and lowest scores are thrown out for each competitor. What we then see is an illustrious line-up of averages. But the question is; how does one judge these young musicians, especially when the likeliness of these jury members to ever actually sit in the audience of one of these young musicians future performances is quite slim? I say it’s the public that matters, and that is why I was always more interested in winning the Public’s prize in an international competition. This, because these were the people to whom I was and would be ultimately playing for, and knowing the Belgian audience as well as I do, they are the ones that really matter. Having listened to some of the semi finals, I was saddened, but not surprised, that many incredible young musicians were taken out in order to place in the finals some admittedly very fine instrumentalists, but some of whom arguably had less musical individuality. Time will tell us which one of these magnificent and so deserving young cellists will make it long term on the international scene or if they will face the fate of so many before them. For my part, I wish them the absolute best this musical life has to offer. It is impossible to tell which one of these competitors will go where, do what, and who will fulfil a boxed up star-studded future we have in mind for them. Often times, it is the ones who seemingly do not succeed early, who are the ones that actually push through in the end. Other times, it is very close to what the jury decided. And other times still, it is exactly the upside-down version of the prizes awarded. The reality is that there is no ranking. As wise and illustrious as this jury was, no one has a crystal ball. Competitions are a means to an end, rather than a goal to be conquered. They should be used to gain priceless experience, push ones self through massive pressures, present ones self on an international platform which would be hard to come by through other means and ultimately, to find ones true voice through it all. Each competitor, to whom I had the pleasure of listening, had something special, truly unique and I sincerely wish them the very best for their futures, which will all no doubt be rich, varied and a completely personal journey, of which the Queen Elisabeth Competition has been a multi faceted and illustrious stepping stone.

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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