Friday, September 30, 2016
The college orchestra has announced its European tour of the century for May next year, visiting Helsinki, Bremen, Berlin, Dresden, Salzburg, and Vienna. Minnesota’s Osmo Vänskä will conduct. Peter Serkin will play Brahms’s first piano concerto. In the other concerto, Penderecki’s Concerto doppio, the soloists will be Benjamin Schmid (Violin) and Roberto Díaz (viola). Mr Díaz is president and CEO of the Curtis Institute of Music. Not impressed? Then name another college president who goes out on the road in a contemporary concerto.
Our series continues with Germany’s second largest city – where Brahms and Mendelssohn were born, Telemann and Mahler worked and the Beatles came of ageThis week’s stop on our tour of Europe’s great musical centres is the northern German city of Hamburg, the country’s second largest, the eighth biggest in the EU and – Wikipedia tells me – the second biggest port in Europe.Wikipedia is less useful when it comes to music: the entry for Hamburg leads with the fact that the German premiere of Cats took place there 30 years ago. But the city is also the birthplace of Johannes Brahms and where the Beatles cut their teeth between 1960 and 62. It is also big in heavy metal and hip-hop. Continue reading...
A survey by New York singers’ agent Doug Schwalbe reveals that the leading North American orchestras are still desperately dependent on a tiny handful of dead white males. Doug looks at performances by seven orchestras – NY Phil, LA Phil, Boston, San Fran, Toronto, Philadelphia and Dallas – since 2011. He reports that Beethoven and Mozart accounted for over 15% of the 9,676 pieces performed. That proportion rises to 24% when he adds Tchaikovsky and Brahms. And you wonder why people have stopped going. Contact email@example.com to see the full charts.
I read an article today about several excellent Viola players. What totally surprised me was that German-born Tabea Zimmermann was not mentioned. As such, I feel the obligation to tell you about her. One of her recent recordings features the following: Zimmermann & Gerstein: Sonatas for Viola & Piano Vol. 1 Brahms: Viola Sonata No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 120 No. 2 Clarke, Rebecca: Viola Sonata Vieuxtemps: Viola Sonata in B flat, Op. 36 All performed by Tabea Zimmermann (viola) and Kirill Gerstein (piano). Tabea Zimmermann is an extraordinary musician, with a profound understanding of music and a natural way of playing. She is one of the leading contemporary viola players worldwide and last year was awarded the prestigious Echo Klassic as “Instrumentalist of the Year”. Her previous CD of Bach and Reger Solo Suites received excellent reviews and was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice. Gramophone Magazine wrote: “Zimmermann’s performance is masterly, strongly characterised in the positive first movement and the witty Scherzo [of the Clarke]…[In the Vieuxtemps] too Zimmermann and Gerstein give an ideal performance. Recording of all three works is excellent, a credit to this new label.” Here is Tabea Zimmermann in the wonderful music of Robert Schumann:
Finnish-born composer Jean Sibelius died on September 20, 1957 at the age of 91. He had composed symphonies, tone poems, and shorter pieces. For me, the violin concerto represents his ultimate achievement. This work is filled with wonderful melodies, as well as amazing technical demonstrations of the violinist’s capabilities. Sibelius was a violinist himself, and so he composed out of a total familiarity with what the instrument was capable of doing. Brahms also produced a violin masterpiece, but the composer was a pianist, and he required help from his friend, Joseph Joachim, to make certain passages more playable. As I recall, I first heard the Sibelius concerto performed by Russian violinist David Oistrakh many years ago. I was stunned by its beauty. Here is the late violinist David Oistrakh, performing the Sinelius concerto:
One essential talent if you manage a concert institution is to show quick reflexes in case of an unexpected crisis. The Mozarteum Argentino has always shown that capacity, and the sudden intoxication of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes , who had arrived to our city for two recitals, gave them just one day to find a suitable replacement; aided by luck and the good disposition of the artist, we had the presence of Brazilian pianist Jean Louis Steuerman, who not only saved the day but gave a quality programme with results that were quite good. The venue was, as usual, the Colón. On the one hand I regretted the absence of Andsnes, a distinguished artist who had visited us only once as soloist with the BBC Orchestra, and who promised several pieces of Sibelius, rarely heard here and beautiful; I do hope that he will be back in another season. On the other hand, Steuerman (whose names and surname make me think of an Alsatian rather than a Brazilian) is an artist of important trajectory, and in his sixties his style and technique are in full maturity. Years ago he played with our Philharmonic Rachmaninov´s First Concerto. His programme was made up of four masterpìeces of contrasting aesthetics. He started with Johann Sebastian Bach´s First Partita: he has been awarded the Diapason d´Or for his recording of the Six Partitas, and has recently recorded the Goldberg Variations, so he is recognised as an authoritative voice in Bach for piano. Mind you, there will always be two controversies: whether it should be played on the piano, as the originals are for harpsichord; and if they are, should players imitate the harpsichord. On the evidence of what we heard, Steuerman believes in the second variant; three examples: the limpid articulation without pedal; some chords played as arpeggios, as harpsichordists do to make the sound less dry; and the ornamentation of repeats, for in the Baroque, both in opera and instrumental music, the first time you play the music straight, but the second is ornamented to avoid monotony. Steuerman played with taste and knowledge, avoiding the full decibels of the modern piano. Then, the challenge of Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 30, one of the famous last three where the composer explores new roads constantly. Although I wasn´t quite convinced in the First movement, where the speed contrasts weren´t as natural as they can be and the light cascades of sound should have been more poetic, the Prestissimo was firmly met, and the theme with variations of the last movement was impeccable. The Six little pieces for piano, Op.19, by Arnold Schönberg, are little jewels of atonal Expressionism of great historic importance, and Steuerman proved to be in complete empathy with the language (he has recorded the complete Schönberg piano scores). Curiously, Edward Steuermann (two "ns") studied composition with Schönberg and premièred all the composer´s piano works. And then, Chopin´s great Third Sonata, tackled by Steuerman with a sense of form often distorted by colleagues that opt for ultra-Romantic interpretations: he gave us the music as written, with no exaggeration. The First movement had all the necessary emphasis of its varied moods, the Scherzo was airy and light, and if the Largo felt a bit monotonous, it always does: there´s too much repetition; the breathless Finale is a tour de force and in it Steuerman showed his controlled virtuosity. More Chopin in the encores: a charming Mazurka, and a "Minute Waltz" where he took the nickname too literally; it benefits by a less hectic tempo. Two weeks ago the 2016 cycle of Chopiniana, the piano institution led by Martha Noguera, started its season at the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar) with a recital by Luis Ascot which unfortunately collided with the Mahler Third Symphony by Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, but the second concert had no such problem and I was there. The Palacio is undergoing some changes and the first floor hall that was used for the concerts is now a restaurant, so we were back (as some years ago) at the lavish oval hall in the ground floor: attractive visually with its marbles and fine decoration, typical of the early Twentieth-Century, but too resonant. Tomás Alegre is only 24 and has been studying with Nelson Goerner at Geneva with a scholarship. His programme was short but difficult: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", and Rachmaninov´s Second Sonata, presumably in its revised version of 1931. Nº 21 may be the most energetic of Beethoven´s sonatas with a first movement that is relentless in its brilliance and intensity; after the pause of the slow movement, the third starts with serene feeling but soon piles up tremendous problems of coordination, magnified in the long Prestissimo coda. I believe that there is merit in virtuosity, and Alegre certainly has privileged fingers; however, he sometimes relaxed the basic pulse and the marked slowing downs ("ritenuti") were much slower than necessary and with silences that were too long. Alegre was in his element in Rachmaninov´s powerhouse of a sonata, with its ample rhetorics; of course the composer was also the best Russian pianist and he wrote it for himself. The young Argentine attacked it fearlessly with total command, showing the solidity of his training. The encores were quite good: the splendid Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 Nº1 and a typical Piazzolla in skillful piano transcription. For Buenos Aires Herald
Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms' popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs. Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he also worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished. Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.
Great composers of classical music