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Riccardo Chailly

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


On An Overgrown Path

August 21

Midnight's music

On An Overgrown Path Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight’s Children portrays India’s tumultuous journey to Partition and beyond, and the children of the title are those born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947 - the precise moment of Indian independence. It can be argued that the impact of Partition on contemporary Britain is at least equal to that of the Russian Revolution. But, despite this, the centenary of the Russian Revolution takes precedence over the 70th anniversary of Partition in the 2017 BBC Proms season. So there is a veritable glut of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, while works with links to the Indian subcontinent such as Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony, Gustav Holst's Savitri and Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream, John Foulds' Song of Ram Dass and Three Mantras, and John Tavener's Requiem are conspicuously absent. But all is not quite lost. There are two Proms featuring music from the subcontinent; the New Age elevator music of the Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass collaboration Passages which was performed on August 15, and a much more chewy concert of music from the Indian Hindustani and Carnatic traditions together with Sufi music from Pakistan - see photo above - on August 25. That is the good news. The bad news is that both concerts are in the insomniac slot, with the August 25 concert starting at 10.15pm and ending at half past midnight. Now late night Proms are not a new feature: for example the 1972 Proms performance of Cornelius Cardew's The Great Learning which featured in yesterday's post started at 9.45pm. But a lot has changed in the four decades since then. Supposedly we live in more inclusive, more cosmopolitan and more multicultural times. So why is any music that is not in the mainstream Western tradition immediately consigned to the graveyard shift? Preceding the Indian/Pakistani concert are Riccardo Chailly and La Scala Philharmonic playing at 6.30pm a distinctly pedestrian but definitely Western programme of Brahms' Violin Concerto and Respighi's Pines and Fountains of Rome. Of course, it is all about the box office. Brahms, Respighi and Chailly will put a lot more bums on seats than Canartic music. But the maths are not quite that simple: the fee for Chailly, soloist Leonidas Kavakos and the La Scala band is many times greater than that for ten little-known musicians from the subcontinent. So some empty seats for an Eastern music concert in the main evening slot would not bankrupt the BBC, which enjoys a legally protected annual license fee income of £3.7 billion. But if we leave that inconvenient truth aside, is the purpose of the BBC Proms or any other concert series simply to maximise ticket sales? Consigning this or any other non-mainstream music to the late night slot is a huge missed opportunity. A concert of Indian and Pakistani music spitting its audience out into central London at half-past midnight will only appeal to the committed cognoscenti. The same concert starting at 7.30pm or even in the afternoon will tempt people to try the unfamiliar. And it is not simply a case of Sufi versus Respighi. There is little overlap between the audiences and the Albert Hall is the worst possible venue for intimate devotional music. The Eastern musicians could have played at the same time as the big hitters from Italy, but in a more suitable venue such as the smaller Cadogan Hall which is already used for chamber music Proms. This is not just about two concerts of Indian and Pakistani music. It is about something much bigger. For years the BBC Proms have been no more than a box ticking exercise. Tick the Mahler box, tick the manufactured controversy box, tick the new music box, tick the Daniel Barenboim box, tick the Shostakovich box, tick the Simon Rattle box, and, above all, tick the cultural Health and Safety box. Integral to ticking the cultural Health and Safety box has been the establishment of a 10.00pm 'watershed', whereby challenging music has to be buddied up with an audience-friendly warhorse to be included in a pre-watershed concert - e.g. Anders Hillborg's Sirens buddied with Rimsky's conveniently Russian but not revolutionary Scherezade in a 7.30pm concert. This cultural apartheid means it is OK to break with the Proms convention of mainstream classical before the 10.00pm watershed with 'safe' innovations such as Oklohoma!. But anything suggesting that there is more to life than Oh! What a Beautiful Mornin' - whether Sufi or contemporary Western music - is marginalised in the late night ghetto. For too long the Proms have been on auto pilot flying towards destination maximum audience. Root and branch reform is needed to disengage the auto pilot. The budget for the Proms is around £10 million of which two-thirds is guaranteed from the BBC license fee and is therefore independent of ticket sales. With that kind of fiscal safety net in place surely some comfort zone-challenging programmes could be scheduled in the 7.30pm slots in addition to the mandatory Mahler symphonies and Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. But let's finish on a positive note. For those who like me do not consider the Circle Line at half-past-midnight to be a consciousness-enhancing experience, a recording of the Indian and Sufi music Prom is being shown on BBC Four TV on Sept. 2. Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

August 11

The 10 best press offices in the music world, 2017

There have been some drop-offs from the 2014 list – and some important add-ons. Here’s our selection of the nicest, kindest, smartest, quickest press offices of 2017. 1 La Scala, Milan All warm and cuddly since Chailly became music director 2 Chicago Symphony A sleek, swift Muti machine 3 Salzburg Festival The coffee’s on the counter before you’ve opened your mouth. 4 Berlin Philharmonic Efficient as you’d expect, now with added Kirill smiles 5 Vienna State Opera Fast, frank and fantastically professional 6 Boston Symphony Busily proactive, literate and unfusty 7 Bavarian State Opera Anything Vienna can do, we can… 8 Los Angeles Philharmonic Still on the ball but less to do now Borda’s gone and Gustavo’s protecting his Caracas. 9 Garsington Festival Model press operation, alert and good at follow-through 10 Dallas Opera Feisty, fast and fearless And the worst? Click here.




Classical iconoclast

June 6

Andris Nelsons Leipzig Gewandhausorchester Mahler 6 listening link

Andris Nelsons outside the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra hall Andris Nelsons, new Kappellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester in Mahler Symphony no 6, available here on MDR Kultur.  A powerful performance , ull of vitality and insight . This orchestra is one of the oldest in the world, and easily one oif the best, with a highly individual sound. Also a highly individual ethos - this was Mendelssohn's orchestra.l When the Nazis wanted his statue pilled down, the then Mayor Carl Friedrich Goerdeler defied the Nazis and paid the price. In 1989,Leipzig again stood for freedom, when the then Kapellmesiter Kurt Masur led the orchestra in performances of Beethoven which helped topple the East German regime. You don't mess with Leipzig !  Inn the years after the fall of the DDR the orchestra, like so many institutions at the time, underwent a period of readjustment. When Riccardo Chailly took over in 2005, Leipzig was revitalized, eager to take off on a new era.  I remember their first keynote concert together (Mendelssohn)  and the sense of energy that was generated.  This time round, only the evidence of an audio broadcast, but wow ! a performance so invigorating, and so electric that it could well signal even greater things to come.  With Thielemann in Dresden and Bayreuth and Nelsons in Leipzig and Lucerne, things are looking up.  I haven't got time to write the performance up in full, but suffice to say, this was an inspired approach, which captured the vitality in the piece, very much in line with ehat we know of Mahler the man and of the traverse of his symphonies as a whole. Sure it's "tragic", but without abundant life beforehand, would the loss thereof be so horrific ?  Muscular, energetic playing, wonderfully together - tho' listen to the percussion thumping like a heartbeat.  Yet also the elusive, sensuous waltz, suggesting softer feelings and the haunted, ghost-like passages.  Altogether an intelligent performance, full of intelligent insight, and musicianship of the highest order.  The Leipzigers know what they want and do it perhaps better than anyone else.  With Nelsons, they're a dream team.  BTW, it's ridiculous to knock Nelsons for "doing too much". His schedule is no different to anyone else. Even in the past, conductors moved round, and some of the best weren't stuck to any one orchestra at all.   

Classical iconoclast

May 4

Edgard Varèse Total Immersion, Barbican

On Saturday at the Barbican London,  there'll be an Edgard Varèse Total Immersion : a major retrospective, augmented by a talk, a film and a reconstruction of Varèse’s Poéme électronique.  This is the third big festival featuring Varèse festival in recent years, following on from the excellent Total Immersion on Xenakis at the Barbican in 2008  (read more here) and the  Varèse 360˚ weekend, at the South Bank in 2010 (read more here), plus other performances of individual works over the years.  In his lifetime,  Varèse was a cult figure. Now he's practically mainstream.  The time has come, for the "First Wild Man of Music". The film will be The One All Alone, Frank Scheffer's documentary from 2009, including  interviews with Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Morton Feldman,  Riccardo Chailly and Prof Chou Wen-Chung who worked closely with the composer and produced performing versions of incomplete pieces.  The installation of  Poéme électronique.is important, too, because it makes concrete, or rather non-concrete Varèse's ideas on the confluence of all sensory experience.  Written for tape, it was a pioneering moment in the development of electronic music.  Through multiple images, aural, visual and atmospheric, Varèse hoped to create a universe spanning space and time. In 2008, the Barbican recreated Poéme électronique.as closely as possible to the original in 1954, at the Philips Pavilion in Holland, where the performance took place in a structure specially designed for the occasion by Xenakis,who was then best known as an architect.  Sound operating in many dimensions, structurally held together in myriad,intricate patterns.  Poéme électronique is unique, and an excellent key to understanding the music of Xenakis's and Boulez. Read more here about Xenaki's designs for realkising this piece.  The evening concert in the Barbican Hall, will be conducted by Sakari Oramo, with the BBC SO, the BBC Singers and Alison Bell.  Featured are the "big" works, Arcana, Nocturnal, Étude pour Espace, Déserts, Tuning up  and  Amériques.  The afternoon concert in Milton Court with the Guildhall New Music Ensemble features Un Grand Sommeil Noir, Offrandes, Hyperprism, Octandre , Intégrales , Ionisation, Density 21.5  and Dance for Burgess. Though Varèse is extremely influential, his output isn't huge, so the two concerts, cover nearly all he wrote, except alas, the amazing Equatorial.  The two benchmark recordings are the sets by Pierre Boulez and Riccardo Chailly, quite different yet both authoritative, though I keep returning bto Boulez who brings out the quirkiness in the music more.incisively.   Arcana is the biggest of Varèse's works, and relatively accessible.  It's scored for massive forces-   roughly 120 players altogether,  68 strings, 20 woodwinds, 20 brass and a phalanx of percussionists playing 40 different instruments from timpani to castanets.  Every performance is a feat of logistics, so it doesn't get done as often as it should be.  It's also extremely visual : watching is very much part of the experience.  It's not every day you see rows of trumpets and trombones, some muted, some not,playing together, or 8 horns raised heavenwards. Arcana is big, but its bigness springs from its musical function. Arcana proceeds like a gigantic beast, its component parts articulated to move in stately formation, groups of instruments impacting on each other in constantly varying combinations. I've never quite been sure what Varèse  meant by its title, but I've often imagined it as a mythical creature brought to life by arcane spells and incantations. Even more thrilling, Amériques, featuring klaxon and dramatic percussion effects - a collage of found sound and formal,  which represented a breakthrough in modern music.  Pretty shocking, considering it was first written between 1918 and 1921.  I don't know if Oramo and the BBCSO will be doing Déserts as a multi media event, though I hope so, since when I've experienced it before the link between visuals and sound can be very rewarding.  The afternoon concert isn't as high profile but the music is superb. I'm particularly fond of Ionization, Octandre, and Intégrales.  Varèse's works, which really benefits from being heard live as it's very visual..   The film will be Frank Scheffer's documentary from 2009, In a series of interviews with the likes of Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Prof Chou Wen-Chung and Ricardo Chailly and with archive footage, documentary maker Scheffer unveils the mystery behind the man he admires so much; an alchemist in sound.



My Classical Notes

May 2

Nikolaj Znaider Plays Beethoven and Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn and Beethoven: Violin Concertos The compositions on this recording include the following: Bach, J S: Partita for solo violin No. 1 in B minor, BWV1002: Sarabande Sarabande from Partita No. 2 in D minor Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 All performed by Nikolaj Znaider (violin), with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Riccardo Chailly conducting The Daily Telegraph describes Nikolaj Znaider as “the most stimulating young musician playing today, drawing on musical intelligence, perception and dynamism to give performances of rare intensity.” This release presents one of the world’s foremost violinists playing two landmark concertos, accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester ‐ “one of Europe’s finest orchestras” (The Guardian) ‐ under the baton of its music director Riccardo Chailly. It was the Gewandhausorchester that, in 1845, first performed Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E minor. Mendelssohn himself had conducted Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major several times and helped this milestone in the history of music to its great breakthrough. Riccardo Chailly does a masterful job of weaving the orchestra into the fabric of the solo violin. The orchestra is never too loud… always below the magic created by Mr. Znaider’s wonderful playing. Here is the Beethoven concerto, as played by Mr. Znaider:

Classical iconoclast

April 8

Mahler 8s I have known and loved

Mahler rehearsing his Symphony no 8Vladimir Jurowski conducts Mahler Symphony no 8 with the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall. Time to reflect on M8's past!  Organizing the logistics of performance are daunting, so Mahler 8s don't come along as often as other symphonies, but live M8s are by no means rare. Indeed  there was a Mahler 8 at the Royal Festival Hall only two years ago, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Philharmonia.  For some reason that concert wasn't as heavily promoted as the Jurowski concert has been this time round.  "South Bank Mahler" is a strange beast, conjured up by hype and the South Bank management's downgrading of serious music - even their website's a nightmare to navigate.  That might fit in with the dumbing down of government arts policy, but it isn't necessarily a good thing, because it creates false expectations. Mahler's 8th has been cursed from birth by false assumptions that it should be a "Symphony of a Thousand", that quantity is better than quality, that volume matters more than art.  In any case, the Royal Festival Hall couldn't physically accommodate 1000 musicians,. Besides everyone's hearing would be damaged. . Twice, I've heard Mahler Symphony no 8 live at the Royal Albert Hall which is big enough, but the results haven't been worth the effort. Once I heard it live in a sports stadium in Paris which seats 8000 (see more here). That, surprisingly, was a good experience because the crowd was relaxed, having a good time. No illusions about music as status symbol!  The whole thing was being filmed, and there were screens round the stadium so people could see the musicians close up.  They were having a whale of  time, too.  The sound was amplified, but properly done, so the music wasn't lost. That concert was a one-off, never to be repeated extravaganza.  Extremely enjoyable, because the atmosphere was so cheerful. Later, when I heard the tapes and saw the film, they proved that it wasn't a bad musical experience, either  (Eschenbach, Orchestre de Paris). Two years ago, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia did M8 in the RFH. I wasn't convinced that some in the audience were really listening since there were problems with one of the choirs and some of the soloists. What a relief it was when Salonen and the Philharmonia got to the long, hushed section at the beginning of the Second Part!  Holding the vast forces of M8 together is a challenge. Twice, I've heard performances go awry because the choirs came apart. Once, the First Violin saved the day, leading the orchestra while the conductor (Daniele Gatti) brought the choirs back in line.  Even Bernard Haitink had problems, in the notorious performance where Dame Gywneth Jones's voice cracked and then went progressively into meltdown. No one's fault! Jones was the diva of her day, and very, very good.  She struggled on until the end and probably has never lived that down. Ive also been to a M8 where the choirs were astonishingly good, compensating for a non-idiomatic orchestra (oddly, the same band that did so well for Salonen). That was at the Three Choirs Festival last year in Gloucester Cathedral. The choirs at Three Choirs are a phenomenom, arguably the best large-scale choral ensemble in the world. They sing together, and in their own Cathedrals all year round, and inherit a tradition of excellence that goes back 300 years. No way is there any comparison with other choirs, no matter how good.  That M8 was truly memorable. Read more about it HERE.   Another interesting thing about Mahler 8 is that it is not operatic, though it employs multiple voices.  The various "names" don't sing "parts" or really interact. Mahler, and Goethe before him, were inspired by medieval paintings where modern perspective doesn't apply. Exquisitely detailed figures stand proud of one-dimensional landscapes. They don't interact, like roles in an opera. Mahler's Eight is a symphony, employing voices to extend the instrumental palette.  The structure is bizarre, but that, too, reflects the idea of unworldly non-realism.  Good music should stretch the soul, always opening out new possibilities. Otherwise why listen?  Even when you're listening to a recording, when the sound is fixed, you yourself are different to what you were the last time you heard it.  Revelatory isn't a word to be used lightly, but the two most revelatory performances  I've ever heard expanded my understanding of the music, the composer and of myself.  Of all the many M8s Ive heard, these two stand out. Both are game changers, so might come as a shock to anyone who thinks they know everything there is to know. But these two are immensely rewarding, for they engage with the spirit of creative illumination that runs so powerfully through this symphony. Light, illumination, the coming down of divine wisdom through creative growth. Pierre Boulez, with the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Philharmonie, Berlin. Prof Henry-Louis de La Grange was in the audience, and wrote the notes to the recording, made a few days later at the Marienkirche.  Read more about that performance HERE.    Riccardo Chailly, with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.  The M8 that Claudio Abbado never got to conduct. The more I listened to it, it felt like a mystical experience of great emotional depth.  Truly in line with the "Poetic thoughts" which Mahler was referring to.  Read more about that performance HERE.  

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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