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Ludwig van Beethoven

Friday, April 28, 2017


Classical iconoclast

April 20

The Ghost of Sir Henry Wood? BBC Proms 2017

Classical iconoclast The 2017 BBC Proms Season, just announced, is a travesty, far adrift from the founding principles of the Proms, and indeed of the BBC itself.  Once the BBC stood for excellence, with its guiding principles to "educate, entertain and inform", the logic being that the public can tell good quality from bad, and value learning and self-development.  Now we have a Proms season whose priorities are not musical so much as an ad for a BBC that is itself dumbed down beyond recognition.  Will the ghost of Sir Henry Wood rise, like the Commendatore, to smite those who have despoiled his legacy?   The First Night is only 70 minutes or so, so it won't tax the attention span. True, Igor Levit will play Beethoven, and Edward Gardner will conduct John Adams Harmonium, a big, if limited, blast. so it won't be bad.  But once we could expect more. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin to "launch this year’s cycle of Elgar symphonies". Direct quote from the BBC Proms website. What Elgar symphonic cycle? One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Third, realized by Anthony Payne, is probably too outré for the new Proms market.  It's been pushed to the doldrums of late August. Thankfully, Sakari Oramo conducts: he does it well.   What kind of audience is this year's Proms aimed at?  Read the summary here.  Sure, it's good to have pop, light music etc. but not at the expense of serious music. One of the basic principles of marketing is to believe in what you're trying to sell.  Raise the bar, aim for excellence, and grow the market .Pitch below the lowest possible denominator, and kill whatever audience you already have while lowering standards and decreasing expectations.  If the primary product is music, then sell music,. All the gimmicky sales patter in the world won't make up for non-product.  If people really believe  Scott Walker is a "Godlike genius", good for them, but don't downgrade Beethoven. Why sacrifice an existing market to try selling to another which might have completely different priorities?  Or perhaps that is the hidden agenda. The Far Right, the commercial sector, and vested interests have everything to gain from dumbing the BBC down. Sir Henry Wood believed that people were able, and willing to learn. Now, we live in an era where any kind of expertise is sneered at. Getting ahead means dismantling the edifices of advancement.  There's a whole lot more at stake than just the Proms and the BBC. Fortuntely, some of the principles of Proms planning remain, since they follow rules so simple anyone can master them.  Add a few big names - Haitink, Christie, Rattle, Salonen, Bychkov, Gardiner - and the punters will pay.  Bring in the BBC orchestras, most of which are good enough to do serious music and do it well enough without scaring the unwary.  Mark non-musical anniversaries like "Reformation Day" a term Martin Luther would have baulked at, then throw in music that has little to do with one of the revolutions in European history.  Hire famous foreign bands like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, whom everyone loves, and a few cheaper ones. Throw in a few blockbusters like Schoenberg  Gurrelieder.(Rattle 19/8) .and  Handel Israel in Egypt on 1/8 (William Christie and the Orchestra oif the Age of Enlightenment), Bring along an opera (usually Fidelio which needs little staging) and import a ready-made from Glyndebourne and bingo! The formula works, like a well-oiled machine, running with minimal human intervention. Thus, for those who actually like music  there are other good things to seek out. Hidden under the banner "Take a musical thrill-ride from the chaos of creation" on 19/7 is Pascal Dusapin's new Outscape. Look out too for Thomas Larcher's Nocturne-Insomia on 15/8  New British works - David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle on 29/7, and Mark-Anthony Turnage Hibiki on 14/8. Excellent younger conductors like François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles (16/8), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (21/8),  and Jakub Hrůša (26/8 - good programme).  

Classical iconoclast

April 24

Bruckner dances ! Bartók, Debussy - Roth, LSO Barbican

François-Xavier Roth conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in:Debussy, Bartók, and Bruckner. Roth has a flair for designing thought-provoking programmes that stimulate the mind as well as the spirit.  He's also a good communicator whose enthusiasm inspires listeners as well as musicians - no surprise he's now the LSO's Chief Guest Conductor. All music is "new" in that good music is original. Hence the value of making connections that enhance the unique qualities of each work.  Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune was a breakthrough. Though we hear it so often, it's bracing to remember that it was written 123 years ago. It defies categories. Its exoticism stretches tonality, its chromatics at once rich, yet clean and modern. Think of fin de siècle art with its curving forms, against chaste backdrops.  The Prélude lends itself to dance because it is sensuous, yet also lucidly disciplined.  You don't mess with dance or it falls apart. No chance of that with the LSO and Roth. From the familiar to the much less familiar: Bartók Viola Concerto sz 120 with soloist Antoine Tamestit.  A bit of an orphan work,  revised and completed, perhaps to fit conventional taste. But the point is not whether one likes or dislikes a piece so much as figuring out how it works.  Oddly enough, I kept thinking of Gérard Grisey Les espaces acoustiques. Though the pieces are completely different, they both explore the character of the viola.  Hence the combinations: viola, then flutes and oboes, the viola suddenly strident, communing with trumpets, then horns.  There are elements of dance, Gypsy czardas, Scottish reels and even, possibly jazz.  Perhaps I thought of Grisey because Roth and the LSO prefaced Bartók with Debussy, priming me to think in terms of microtonal colour. "spectralism" to use the buzz word.  By this stage in his life, Bartók wasn't in a position to innovate, but we can get a glimpse of what might have been. And so to Bruckner Symphony no 4. As so often the title "Romantic" is misleading.  It's not romantic in the sense of Hollywood and not even in the sense of Wagner.  Note the instrumentation, which is relatively limited.  Consider the use of horns and rustic imagery.  Aha! Bruckner's doing Weber Der Freischütz, or even Beethoven's Pastoral, even Smetana, in entirely his own way, of course. Thus the passionate tremelos and the sense of physical movement. Bruckner, dancing!  The relatively restrained forces of the LSO keep, the textures vigorous and lively. Very well suited to Roth's energetic style.  




Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

April 14

An Italian economist breaks my fear of late Beethoven

From our Friday diarist, violinist Anthea Kreston: Perfectionism I am being driven to the train from another glorious visit to the Queen Elizabeth Chapel in Brussels, where my quartet is the master chamber music teachers. Tonight, I am excited to have another opportunity to perform Beethoven Op. 130/133. To know that a late Beethoven is on the second half of a concert program makes one focus in a unique way. Concentration and energy must be precisely controlled throughout the concert (and during the rehearsal) to allow for the extreme demands of the work to come. Compounding this plan is the fact that this particular Beethoven has, as its final movement, the Grosse Fugue, perhaps the most dense and demanding work written for the string quartet. There are five movements before we reach the Fugue, each with their own specific technical and emotional demands. The first movement is a huge work itself – with interwoven 16th note passages and fragments of complex melodies which pass quickly between members. It is easy to make a mess of this movement – both for the musicians and the audience. Too much concern with the structure and details (which of course have to be controlled with the precision of laser surgery) mean that the danger of losing the audience, who we need with us for the next 50 minutes, is real and quite probable. Perhaps the same way as a surgeon has to equally balance her technique with her bedside manner. If trust with the audience is lost, regaining it is painstaking and often futile. My main goal here is to infuse the work with as much warmth as possible – the structure won’t speak to everyone, but the base emotions can. After these next concerts, I have, again, the opportunity to stand among three musicians who I respect and admire greatly, and to be welcomed by them into a world that they have taken thousands of hours to craft, to investigate. I prepare my part of the puzzle, knowing that they have performed this piece countless times, on stages throughout the world, and have recorded and won the coveted Echo Award (the Grammy of Europe) for this particular piece. There is no place for me to hide – no way for me to enter at the level of knowledge, technical perfection, or emotionally be on the same wavelength as them. There is no way to win. I must be humble as well as confident. So here is the dilemma. As musicians, we face enormous pressure to be perfect. Technically, emotionally, even physically. But this pressure can, in fact, produce the opposite results. It can lead to injury, self-doubt, and a lack of sincerity. It can tip the balance and make us start to care what others think more than what you, yourself, value. I get an extraordinary amount of input from all sides – not only from my colleagues, but from reviews, audience members, and business partners. How to balance this with my own incessant self-criticism can be crushing. So – what do I do? I create a series of locks – if one overflows, I have many other options on which to rely. I don’t step into that first rehearsal with one fingering option which has been drilled with a metronome. I have a handful of options – colors, fingerings, tempi, bowings. I read about the composer at that particular point in his life, the specific piece, the geopolitical climate during which it was written. I utilize the 80/20 rule – also known as the “the law of the vital few” or the “Pareto Principal”, after the Italian economist who discovered it in 1896. This is, actually, the way I have survived this past year in almost all ways. Vilfredo Pareto, an avid gardener, observed that 80% of his peas grew from only 20% of his pea pods. He then threw his net wider, and, as an economist, discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. This ratio is prevalent in business as well – 80% of income comes from 20% of clients, and this ratio exists through many natural and man-made situations. As a violinist, I was familiar with the method developed by my mother-in-law, which, I am sure, was discovered in a moment of sheer panic when she realized, as all mothers do, that we have about 10 times as much work that needs to be done, immediately, than we have the time for. Here is the method. Put your music on a stand as far away from you as you can – across the room. Then extend your bow arm, with bow pointed towards the page. Locate the darkest part of the page, and walk towards it, aiming with your bow. When the bow strikes the page, this is the part you have to practice. And you probably have 2 minutes to do it, because I can already smell dinner burning. So – this is the way I prepare – as much without the violin as possible – on trains or planes, in bed late at night with a score or book. With the 80/20 method. And, with a healthy dose of self-forgiveness and humor as I walk into that room, knowing that I am not here to replicate something that has happened before, but to respect, acknowledge, learn, and share.



Ludwig van Beethoven
(1770 – 1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. The crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time. Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in present-day Germany, Beethoven moved to Vienna in his early 20s, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. Beethoven's hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf.



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