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Riccardo Chailly

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Classical iconoclast

June 6

Andris Nelsons Leipzig Gewandhausorchester Mahler 6 listening link

Classical iconoclastAndris 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.  



Guardian

February 15

Overtures, Preludes and Intermezzi CD review – fine renditions of operatic rarities

Filarmonica della Scala/Chailly (Decca)Riccardo Chailly has had a recording contract with Decca for 30 years, which has followed him through his association with four orchestras. It began with the Berlin Radio Symphony in the 1980s, then 16 years with the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Leipzig Gewandhaus from 2005 and 2015, and now the orchestra at La Scala, Milan, where he took over formally as music director in January. Chailly no doubt intends to raise the profile of the orchestra in the concert hall as well as in the opera house itself. His first recording with them makes a neat bridge between the two, as well as signalling his determination to promote a much wider range of Italian music than the house has programmed in recent years.The 16 orchestral pieces included here are taken from operas that received their premieres in Milan; all except the two by Leoncavallo were first performed at La Scala. Chailly has resisted the temptation to present them chronologically, preferring to vary and contrast the mood of the numbers, but it’s still a fascinating forage through almost 100 years of Italian music, from the earliest, the overture to Rossini’s La Pietra del Paragone, first performed in 1812 (and later reused to begin his better known Tancredi), up to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly of 1904. The intermezzo from Butterfly is one of only four pieces on the disc that could be described as well known, together with the overture to Bellini’s Norma, the intermezzo from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and the Dance of the Hours from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Continue reading...

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