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Serguei Prokofiev

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

December 1

Maestro cancels because his name was not on ticket

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discWe ear that Gennady Rozhdestvensky pulled out on Monday at the Philharmonie de Paris a few minutes before the concert as due to begin. Apparently, he had seen a ticket from which his name was omitted. The orchestra was fortunate that concertmaster Alexei Bruni was prepared to take over conducting the Scriabin concerto. Pletnev conducted the rest of the programme: Prokofiev’s classical symphony and Shostakovich 9th. No review has yet appeared in French media. Our information is from a Russian source.

Tribuna musical

December 1

The world of symphony orchestras now expands to China

Of course, it was only a matter of time before Chinese orchestras started arriving to our city, although they existed even during Mao tse Tung´s regime: I certify that Beijing had an orchestra in 1962 that played such Occidental authors like Sibelius, along with Chinese composers. But the ironically called Cultural Revolution wiped them out for a long period. However, the almost miraculous reversal engineered by Deng Hsiao Ping gradually opened the immense country; musically this is recounted in that indispensable film with Isaac Stern, "From Mao to Mozart". Orchestras re-formed and others were created; and in 1999 Hong Kong became part of China, including its notable Philharmonic that has left so many fine recordings (they would be welcome visitors to BA). Changes take time, and it was only last year that a Shanghai Orchestra came here (a promised Beijing one didn´t materialize). And now we had the visit of the Qingdao Symphony. How many Argentines know something about this city? I didn´t, and I went to Google, for the programme gave me no information, except biographies of the interpreters and the listing of the players. They gave two concerts at the CCK¨s Blue Whale, the first combining China with the Occident, the second almost purely Chinese; I attended the first, missing two initial pieces due to a traffic jam (sounds familiar?). It turns out that Qingdao is a big port in the Province of Shandong with a population of around 6 million; German colony from 1891 to 1904, twice invaded by Japan and recuperated in 1949; it now has five universities. The Orchestra was re-established in 2005; its current Director is Zhang Guoyong (Herald readers may recall my review of his debut concert with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic this year, praising him in a difficult programme of Zimmermann and Prokofiev). Eighty players came in this tour, all with purely Chinese surnames. This people is gregarious and disciplined; on the evidence of this concert, the players have been carefully selected and are fully professional, and thoroughly trained by such a proficient conductor they gave first-rate performances of all the programmed pieces. As I wrote concerning other Chinese composers´ works played in BA (not many) I believe that the Occidental orchestra isn´t the right instrument for what remains a profoundly different culture. You do hear some pleasant pentatonic tunes but the orchestrations are showy and bombastic and the structures are haphazard. The pieces I heard both concerned concubines as they are depicted in Beijing Opera, as far from the European conception of the genre as possible in voice and instrumentation: voices are supposed to be used with extreme nasality and artifice, and there are very few players. The long symphonic fantasy "Goodbye, my concubine", by Guan Xia, suddenly includes a song; and then we heard a symphonic arrangement of a melody from Beijing Opera´s "The inebriated concubine". Zhang Ying, attired in colorful traditional clothes, sang both, in a way that decidedly for Occidentals is an acquired taste (if you do acquire it). But it is a matter of training: soprano Song Yuanming studied at Vienna and sang our opera and operetta with an agreeable voice of clean highs: the Waltz from Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" and the Csardas from Johann Strauss II´s "Die Fledermaus"; when she finished the First Part with a Chinese melody, "I love you, China", by Zheng Quiufeng and Qu Zong, she sang like an European. The Second Part was occupied by the most famous cantata of the Twentieth Century, Carl Orff´s "Carmina Burana", with the Coro Polifónico Nacional led by Darío Marchese, soprano Song Wuanming, baritone Alejandro Meerapfel and countertenor Pehuén Díaz Bruno. The rhythmic vitality and melodic charm of this celebration of Medieval love and wine dressed in modern clothes has seldom sounded so full and precise. The Choir was in fine shape, potent, in tune and exact; the Orchestra responded brilliantly to Guoyong´s commanding baton; and the soloists were well chosen, from the firmness of Wuanming´s highest register to the intelligent interpretation of Meerapfel and the adequacy of the countertenor singing the strange predicament of the roasting goose. How would this orchestra and conductor fare in, say, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, is anyone´s guess, for all I heard from them was lavishly colorful; anyway, they certainly have the right technical tools. The style? Maybe. For Buenos Aires Herald






On An Overgrown Path

November 21

The Tao of acoustics

Frederic Chiu's new recording of the piano music of G. I. Gurjieff/T. de Hartmann Hymns & Dervishes was recorded at Manifold Studios, Pittsboro, NC. In Russia Gurdjieff's circle included Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Nicholas Roerich, while in America Frank Lloyd Wright was an early enthusiastic evangelist for the multi-faceted mystic. The music of Gurdjieff/Hartmann has a number of distinguished advocates including Keith Jarrett. But Frederic Chiu gives a refreshingly different interpretation that emphasises the music's lyrical rather than calisthenic nature. I already have many recordings of Gurdjieff's music, but I will be returning to Hymns & Dervishes frequently, thanks I suspect in part due to the Tao of acoustics*. Photos 1 to 4 show Manifold Studios, which was designed around the sound and dimensions of a concert grand piano by Wes Lachot, who based his design on the acoustic architecture theories of Gurdjieff's student Frank Lloyd Wright. Links between the Enneagram model of human personality that is central to Gurdjieff's teachings and the harmonic ratios that are fundamental to music have been identified. The centuries old discipline of 'speculative music', whose proponents included Johannes Kepler, Alexandra Scriabin, Hazray Inayat Khan and Jonathan Harvey as well as Gurdjieff, views the vibrating energy of music in cosmic terms, and the vibrating energy of the cosmos in musical terms - a view that quantum field theory is now supporting. Speculative music and other esoteric sonic disciplines can be viewed as elaborations of concepts first found in the Tao Te Ching - the core text from which, arguably, all the other great wisdom traditions flow. In the 4th century BCE Lao Tse, the author of the Tao Te Ching, identified Tao as the principle of energy underlying everything in the natural world - a conclusion confirmed in the 20th century by sub-atomic physics. Various Taoist tools were developed to manage energy flows including Tai Chi, Quigong and feng shui. The science of acoustics manages flows of sound energy, and before its misappropriation by the interior design industry, feng shui was an accepted tool in China for optimising total energy flows in a building. Einstein's theory of relativity identified the equivalence of mass and energy. All matter including solids is vibrating energy, and quantum field theory has identified the interaction of subatomic particles that are physically distant. To date acoustics has limited its scope to the interaction effect between sound energy and building materials. But we now know that building materials and all solid matter are pulsating energy just like sound waves, and we also know that the interaction effect of energy fields is not limited by distance. So the Tao of acoustics explains that the reason why London's Barbican and Royal Festival halls refuse to respond to expensive acoustic makeovers is because of the copious amounts of negative energy emanating from the urban wildernesses in which they stand - so forget about the proposed Museum of London site for a new concert hall. Similarly the abundant positive energy of the Suffolk coast contributes to the outstanding sound of Snape Maltings - see photo below - and the magical energy originally harnessed by the mystical Gnawa explains why the unlikely venue of Essaouira in Morocco proved to be such a good venue for Mozart. And before dismissing all this as hippy babble, please remember that modern science cannot explain why the most powerful computer is unable to write a symphony, and why a violin made using the latest additive manufacturing technology (3D printing) cannot replicate the sound of a Stradivarius. Manifold Studios is one of a new breed of studios that leverages the Tao of acoustics. Another studio offering more than Pro Tools is Vega Studio outside Carpentras in Provence. Eagle-eyed readers will note the anachronistic mixing desk at Vega Studio in the photo below. The desk is an EMI TG12345; this was EMI’s first solid-state mixing desk which came into service in 1968 at Abbey Road for the Beatles' post-Sgt. Pepper albums. Its sound is so prized that a Waves software plugin developed with Abbey Road Studios allows modern digital desks to replicate the sonic characteristics of the vintage desk, including optional harmonic distortion and hum and noise! In another example of what literally goes around comes around, Waves also market an Abbey Road Vinyl studio plugin which "gives your music the vintage warmth of vinyl records played on classic turntables and needles" - in other words the Tao of vinyl. But the desk in Vega Studio is not virtual. It is the real thing bought from the EMI Pathé Marconi studios in Paris where the Rolling Stones were among the bands that recorded with it. Vega Studio offers other 'old school' studio equipment as well as the standard digital solutions. One notable album recorded there that is high on my playlist is, quite appropriately, Dawâr, the Trio Chemirani's persussion hymn to the mystical and ineffable. * Synchronicity continues as Chiu's sleeve note credits the late Julien Weiss, who founded the Al Kindi Sufi music ensemble which has featured here several times, with tuning input. Also credited is another Overgrown Path mystic traveller Alain Kremski. His La Montagne de la Grande Pureté played on sacred percussion instruments from Tibet, Burma, Nepal, India and China ends with Siloti's transcription of Bach's Prelude in B minor, and Frederic Chiu reciprocates by ending Hymns & Dervishes with his own transcription of Erbarme dich, mein Gott from the St Matthew Passion. In a further example of auspicious synchronicity, shortly after drafting this post I read the recently published Soundscapes: A Musician's Journey through Life and Death by the late Paul Robertson, founder of the Medici Quartet. In it Paul Robertson discusses how his music and life were influenced by the teachings of Gurdjieff and his disciples, particularly Dr F. C. Roles. No review samples or other freebies used in this post. Photos 1 to 3 from Manifold Studios website, photo 4 from Studio Vega. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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