Tuesday, June 28, 2016
This week’s episode from the diary of Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet: When my violin was stolen on the train last week, I had the second experience with what I will now call the “dragon dance”. This is when, in an extremely time-sensitive, intense and complex situation, each member of the Artemis Quartet immediately assumes a super-power persona and the three (I don’t think I am yet in full-power mode) of them begin what seems to be a intricate and non-choreographed ballet. The first time I experienced this was when Ecki’s cello was denied entrance to a flight. One member stayed at the counter to work on the problem, one rushed ahead to hold the gate, and one worked with our secretary and travel person to find a solution. Speed, cunning, creativity, strength and charm were the powers used. No discussions, just three people swirling off to solve this problem, all avenues somehow seen at once and converging to a positive outcome. The second time this happened was the moment when I realized that my violin had been stolen from the fast train from Berlin to Freiburg. You know that moment in any movie with a dinosaur, when a dinosaur first locks eyes with the audience, and we all realize for the first time, “this creature is vastly superior to me in every way and I am about to be crushed”? That is how it feels. In a good way. I am an auxiliary dinosaur member. Or – to put it in a more contemporary setting – the moment when Rhaegal and Viserion emerge from the dungeons of Mereen to join Drogon to take back Meereen from the Masters. Oh gosh, can I be Daenerys? Not yet. Not yet. But I am working on it! I am not allowed to talk about my stolen violin at the moment – there is an investigation underway and mum’s the word until I hear otherwise. But I can tell you a bit about the moments immediately following the disappearance. After my seat-partner said someone had taken the violin and headed to the back of the train, I went to find the rest of my quartet, who were spaced out throughout the train. The first one I found was Gregor, the violist. We were about 20 minutes from the next stop. He grabbed his suitcase and bag, and I put his viola on my back. As I swept forward to find Eckart (the cellist), Gregor went backwards to the conductor to report the theft and to have police notified at the most recent stop. Next Eckart was found, and he took his things to go gather information from witnesses before he and I were to get off at the next stop to meet with police. Vineta (violinist) quickly gathered photos of my violin and put an SOS on social media. I contacted Norman at Slipped Disc. As Eckart and I left the train, witness information in hand, Gregor was sweeping bathrooms for any evidence of a discarded case or any clues. Vineta was on the phone with our secretary, publicist and manager to secure a borrowed violin for the concert which was to begin in short order. Eckart and I rushed to the police to make a full statement, and were able to get a train in just enough time to arrive at the hall, where 4 violinists were waiting, cases in hand, to lend me their precious instruments for the concert. No one broke a sweat, no one raised a voice, not one negative vibe was exuded. I tried each violin for a minute, quickly chose one, and we went to change for the concert, now 27 minutes until curtain. I had this time to get used to the violin and get changed. I noticed that this violin had a sweet tone, and the quartet said they were used to a louder and clearer tone from me. It was a beautiful violin for sure – but when I tried the opening of the second movement of Beethoven Op 59 #1, all that came out was a series of small squeaks – like a little happy mouse. I was also terribly out of tune. I decided, after getting changed, to use my last precious minutes to play scales in 4ths, 5ths, and octaves, and to play Meditation from Thais for bow control. As we headed out to stage, we looked at each other and shared a moment of resolve. The violin was shaky to start, but quickly we gained confidence together. I knew that I was going to have to adjust (we all would) on the fly – so I decided to enjoy the experience – to allow my mind and body to find its way, not thinking too much, but just trusting and forgiving. After the first piece, the quartet back stage gave me a big thumbs-up – all is well. During the Shostakovich I began to recognize the strong and weak parts of this instrument, and shifted my fingerings and bowings to suit – for a loud g string solo I decided to take it to the d string to avoid wolfs that I had found. A soft sad solo that I normally begin high up on the A string I took with backwards bowings – the touch at the frog was still eluding my complete control. During intermission I checked my phone – over 70,000 instrument shops had been notified in the States, a mass-email had been sent to all Violinists.com members, Norman had put up a notice on Slipped Disc, and we were soon to have over 100,000 views on Facebook. A country-wide notice for German violin shops had been sent by Andreas Kägi in Berlin. Things were moving quickly. But – now on to Beethoven. For me, Beethoven has always required the utmost in concentration and perfection from me – there are unlimited numbers of things I must do and react to – the control and musical demands are relentless. This was no time to let my mind wander – I must be at the top of my game. The opening solo in the second movement (Op. 59 #1) is one of those places which seem so simple – so easy in the practice room. Just 4 bars, pianissimo, first position. But it can come out sounding as if someone just threw some marbles in the washing machine and hit “start”. And also – everyone has the same solo one after the other, so comparison is quick and obvious. This is the solo that I completely bombed in the quick dress rehearsal. But – it was totally fine in concert – I had a little supportive eye contact with Vineta – all is well. Then – the solo note at the beginning of the devastatingly tender slow movement. A single c, piano, played by the second violin before the rest of the quartet enters – a feeling of suspension, desolation, timelessness and urgency – both a hollow sound and a sound which gives birth to a tender sadness – this is what my personal goals are for this moment. But, as string players know – a changing of a bow can be more difficult that the changing of an instrument. I closed my eyes and it came out – different from my Becker, but it came. After the concert, I met the owner of the instrument. We talked as I headed to the CD signing area. We had not had time to speak before the concert – I did not know what I was playing. She told me – an Amati – with gut strings! So – I was playing on an an instrument that was 300 years old, and on gut strings for the first time in my life. Gut strings – the way strings were made before metal strings were invented – have a warm sound but are softer and go out of tune very quickly. I did notice that I had to adjust a lot in the concert – after the first several minutes, I could not play open strings anymore, and used my fingers to dampen and adjust as I went. As a second violinist, my duty is often to supply the middle of chords – often on double stops. My fifths required minuscule acrobatics during this concert, but I didn’t want to be tuning between each movement so I just adjusted. The owner of the violin said – “well – that is certainly the first time Shostakovich has been played on this violin – I didn’t know it was possible!”. I am glad, in retrospect, that I didn’t know what I was playing – better to just trust your instincts and jump in. So – maybe some day I can talk about the next day – but for now I cannot speak about it. I had a flight booked back home, but I needed to go to that train station – Mannheim – where the violin disappeared. I stayed awake and make posters for taping up – American style. In the morning, Gregor called the Mannheim police and told them I wanted to come, talk, look, tape up posters, see video footage. They were nice but firm – it is illegal to tape up posters and to see the footage. No point in coming. The quartet said – don’t go! There is no point. But – I did. I had to. I wanted to meet the police, make a personal connection, walk around the train station. It was quite a day – maybe I can talk about it next week. Until then – an amazing thing did happen. By the time I got home late the next night, a donor had come forward. I have, on indefinite loan, a beautiful Italian violin from the 1700’s and a gorgeous bow. It happened. I don’t know how, but it did.
Fromental Halévy La Juive at the Bayerisches Statsoper, Munich last night - horribly, frighteningly pertinent to events this week - and last week, too, when MP Jo Cox was murdered. Yet already Farage claims "no shots were fired" in his adventure. Now it seems that the whole country has been murdered, too, poisoned by an eruption of dishonesty and sheer bloody-minded pettiness. This isn't "democracy" but a spilling out from the hell of the Universal Troll. In La Juive, everyone gets destroyed, whatever their faith, whatever their station. This production, by Calixto Bieito, pulls no punches. No comic-book costumes to distance us from the brutal message. These terrible things can happen anywhere, at any time and on all sides of the political spectrum. No one is immune. Just as conductors have individual styles, so do opera directors. Bieito is the one to go to for insights on social issues. His Carmen (more here) highlighted the cruel objectification of women. His Aida reminded us that there are slaves in modern society : we call them the underclass, especially if they're the wrong race. And his Fidelio (more here) was so powerful that audiences couldn't figure it out, though it was a lot truer to Beethoven than they realized. Bieito shocks, but he does so for constructive purpose. So we don't see a palace, but that kind of luxury can hide the brutality within? Instead we see hard "stone" walls and massive columns that lean down oppressively over proceedings, a subtle reference to the Gothic arches in the stage directions. Roberto Alagna, singing Eléazar, looks anonymous, moving furtively, almost in disguise behind hat and dark glasses. As a hunted refugee would. When he does start to sing, however, the glory of his voice asserts itself, conquering the grimness around him. Alagna is an idol but here he's a true artist. Eléazar shines, not the "star". He's a decrepit old man but what he represents is something finer than what the Emperor and Cardinal de Brogni stand for. Alexandra Kurzak sings Rachel,. She;s dressed in green, so she stands out from the hard black and white around her. Green, too, symbolic of freshness and renewal. When she's killed. a lot dies with her, including the Cardinal's soul. John Osborne sang Prince Léopold and Vera Lotte Bocker sang Princess Eudoxie. The simplicity of Bieito's set concentrated attention on the human drama , and on the music. Bertrand de Billy conducted well, but the singers - especially Alagna - were able to dominate. Last night someone who doesn't have prejudices about what opera "should" be, wondered why Bieito is considered controversial. A perceptive observation, since Bieito's approach goes straight to the heart of the opera, no messing about. This was an overwhelming experience, so strong in fact that I couldn't bring myself to write about it, in view of the events of this weekend. But read Opera Traveller's account HERE. he says it so well.
'... the EU Commission has been dysfunctional throughout the process and unfit for purpose. What needs to be done to make these time-servers democratically accountable?' - Slipped Disc: 31/5/2016 'This EU press release has just landed. It’s an instant fudge that admits no error and patches over the recent chaos. An appalling piece of misgovernance from start to finish' - ibid: 1/6/2016Those are just two of the public attacks made by Norman Lebrecht on the EU during his coverage of the recent European Union Youth Orchestra funding crisis. It is bad enough that this is the same 'cultural commentator' who tweeted yesterday that "Turkey just voted for Christmas" and "All things considered, we're screwed". But what is worse is that none of classical music's great and good have the balls to disassociate themselves from Lebrecht's cynical opportunism. Readers will know that I am passionately pro-inclusivity, and it goes without saying I believe that the UK EU referendum arrived at the wrong decision. But we need to understand that the 'leave' vote was not just prompted by misguided views on immigration. It was also also an understandable but wrong-headed rejection of the cynical opportunism of our politicians and other opinion formers. Krishnamurti told us that leaders destroy followers and followers destroy leaders. Unless we stop behaving like sheep and following without question David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Norman Lebrecht and others, all things considered, we're screwed Much solace during difficult times has come from Alia Vox's reissue of Jordi Savall's interpretation of the Eroica Symphony. The performance by the early instrument Le Concert des Nations was captured during an all-night session in 1994, and in remastered SACD sound it blazes even more passionately than in the original release. It's current relevance is enhanced by Beethoven's redaction of its dedication to a contemporary leader. No review samples involved in this post. 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.
Berliner Philharmoniker/ Abbado/ Barenboim/ Boulez/ Dudamel/ Haitink/ Mehta/ Muti/ Rattle (Warner Classics, 25 DVDs)The Berlin Philharmonic gave its first ever concert in 1892, on 1 May. Since 1991, it has been marking that anniversary with a one-off May Day concert, which is given in a different historical-cultural centre in Europe each year, and which is televised live widely across Europe, though not in the UK. This set of DVDs documenting the first 25-year history of the Europa Concerts has been taken from these broadcasts. Though some of the performances are far more memorable than others, it makes for a fascinating collection. The recordings are generally first-rate, and are blissfully free of video gimmicks, voiceover introductions or commentaries, though there are no subtitles or printed texts for the vocal works. It’s the performances pure and simple, though a few of the discs include additional short documentary films about the cities in which the concerts took place. Those venues range from St Petersburg to Palermo, Istanbul to Oxford, with no fewer than three of them, for some reason, having been in Prague.Concerts under nine conductors are included in the set. As you might expect, the Berlin Philharmonic’s two principal conductors over the quarter century concerned, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle, feature most prominently, but Daniel Barenboim conducts five concerts, as well as making two appearances as a soloist. Programmes tend to be determinedly populist and mainstream – there’s lots of Mozart and Beethoven, and quite a bit of Brahms; even the one concert that Pierre Boulez conducts, in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, in 2003, includes a Mozart piano concerto, the D minor, K466, with Maria João Pires as the wonderfully fluent soloist. Continue reading...
American cellist David Finckel and Taiwanese pianist Wu Han need no further introduction to visitors of “Chamber Music Encounters,” an intense 6-day educational chamber music workshop, and their latest brainchild featured by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Culminating in a free concert performance at Alice Tully Hall, audiences shared the results of a dynamic coaching effort focused on communal mentorship between CMS’ Encounters renowned faculty and new talent. In the sessions, which implement paradigm-shifting coaching conduct based on workshops led by the late Isaac Stern, students are challenged to relate to multiple masters’ viewpoints while making the music their own. With live-streamed workshop sessions, CMS indulges even remote audiences with a behind-the-scenes peek into their chambers of music making, brimming with eagerness and motivation. Wu Han and David Finckel (Photo credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco) David Finckel and Wu Han, the powerhouse couple of chamber music named “Musicians of the Year” by Musical America in 2012, have spearheaded artistic leadership at CMS since 2004. Chamber Music Encounters, presented in collaboration with The Juilliard School, represents yet another educational initiative in their ever-growing New York performance series. A blend of artistic excellence and savvy entrepreneurship, the secret of this series’ enduring success is not only found in the sauce: a meaty title of largest worldwide producer and presenter of chamber music, but in the spice, as the institution has gained substantial critical acclaim for its omnipresent high standards, and inspiring artistic verve and vision. Together with Wu Han, his partner in life and music, Finckel began establishing a network of chamber music institutions during the early days of his busy touring and recording schedule with the eminent Emerson String Quartet, which he only just left in 2013. Educating young musicians has always front-lined the duo’s activities. Han and Finckel began their appointment as Artistic Directors of CMS at Lincoln Center not long after founding Music@Menlo in 2003 in San Francisco’s Bay area. Their beginnings at Lincoln Center in 2004 opened up the prospect of a dynamic bi-coastal artistic exchange. When Han was approached in 2009 to bring the culture of chamber music to Taiwan and Korea, the infinite potential of leading international artistic and educational initiatives became apparent, and the pair set off. Backed by a grant-supported effort to provide performance culture and give back to its local music community, Chamber Music Today was established in Seoul in 2011 as an annual music festival with its own Chamber Music School supported by LG. With recent enterprises that include co-commissions of new works with London’s Wigmore Hall, and the latest addition of CMS’ residence at SPAC, the artistic summer retreat of New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga last year, a spider web of alliances continues to spring up throughout Europe and the US, solidifying the pair’s identities as engineers of chamber music education and collaboration. “We are chamber musicians and there is a whole new generation out there that needs to perform; that’s what we do. It’s a constant work in progress and to keep it in flux these ‘satellite’ venues, as we call them, are vitally important to the growth and emanation of the work,” explains Finckel. Hands on approach: David Finckel during an Encounter session (Photo credit: Lilian Finckel) To perform chamber music, musicians require not only the talent and technique to master great accountability for their own instruments’ parts, but they must navigate nuanced musical and inter-relational sensitivity to convincingly communicate their engagement with both the score and one another. Intimate settings showcasing each of the individual ensemble members demand immensely interpretative coherence and individual artistry. “In its original definition thought of as music performed in a private group setting for pleasure by amateur musicians ‘in their chamber,’ one may argue that the profound interplay of diverse voices virtually defines the entire canon of Western music as chamber music,” remarks Arnold Steinhardt, renowned first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet and a student and later collaborator of Stern, during a spellbinding panel with the eminent CMS Encounters faculty. “I at least think of all musical interplay as chamber music,” he adds. Session in progress, masters discussing details, from right: violinist Arnold Steinhardt, pianist Leon Fleisher, violinist Shmuel Ashkenazi (Photo credit: Lilian Finckel) To a great extent, chamber music’s mounting success in the United States has profited from concepts expanding on it as a communal experience, and it does not come as a surprise that most mentors involved in the Encounters workshops developed their love for this – up until recently – underappreciated art form at one point or another in their lives at Marlboro’s Chamber Music School and Festival. Incorporating novices and masters in collaborative rehearsals and performances, Marlboro is a unique educational environment, and Marlboro’s alumni play a huge role in cultivating America’s greater chamber music scene, infusing it with strong musical and personal relationships forged throughout weeks spent in Vermont’s summer hills. Relating pianistic ideas: Wu Han in a workshop session at CMS Encounters, Photo credit: Lilian Finckel Wu Han fondly remembers her days at Marlboro: “I was used to performing solo repertoire and big concerti as a soloist with an orchestra. But it’s a lonely road, practicing alone, travelling alone, and when I came to Marlboro, I fell in love with the whole idea of this intimate interaction. Having to match all the strings’ colors, study the others’ scores…it’s a different process and you are not just looking at your own part, but one gets to learn the entire concept of the music and to explore it together; I am so grateful for the discovery. Opening up your own sound world and being challenged to match the other musicians’ voices changes you every time anew, you become a different pianist each time, and that goes for performing as well as for teaching.” Now with the inner-city efforts of Chamber Music Encounters, coined after the series of spirited chamber music workshops offered by the late Isaac Stern, CMS continues where Stern has left off, taking up his strategy to implement diverse artistic vision into the coaching process. Stern had commenced this path, with initial workshops held in 1994 in Jerusalem and at Carnegie Hall, and some exemplary sessions in Germany, Holland and Japan. Right up until his passing in 2001, Stern, the iconic violin virtuoso and musical activist whose personal crusade saved Carnegie Hall from looming destruction, passionately taught his workshops shoulder to shoulder with an illustrious faculty of colleagues and friends, tirelessly shaping and inspiring an entire generation of young musicians, including the attending Encounters faculty; most of the Encounters mentors have taught in collaboration with Stern; next to pianist Wu Han and violinist David Finckel, pianist Leon Fleisher, violinists Shmuel Ashkenasi, Ani Kavafian and Arnold Steinhardt, as well as Juilliard’s provost and dean Ara Guzelimian are partaking in the workshops at CMS. Relying on the same pedagogical cross-pollination of interactive teaching and learning, students are coached by multiple faculty members in various groupings. Bringing differing opinions and solutions to the table allows each student to examine facets of his or her playing in a communal quest, focusing on varying concepts, but with the universal goal of learning how to learn, and how to develop their own artistic perspectives. Close up investigation by Leon Fleisher during a workshop (Photo credit: Lilian Finckel) While different input may be confusing at times, an investigative game plan that leads to the why – instead of blindly following one-dimensional instructions of how to – certainly engages creative responsiveness. Says Wu Han: “I wished something like this had existed when I was a budding musician.” Like Finckel, Steinhardt, Fleisher, Ashkenazy and Kavafian on the faculty of Stern’s sessions, she experienced the impact of the clever concept. “It is so helpful to include some open ended discussions during one’s studies. Sometimes you realize the fruitions of a suggestion only later on. There are so many choices and if one just listens to one teacher during weekly lessons, this curiosity of exploring different possibilities may not get sparked – and then, where is the searching for answers with this incredible ‘aha’ moment that brings one to the next level and makes for a true artist’s development?” Arnold Steinhardt explains his view of what makes the experience different: “Just like in Stern’s workshops, where he was not only interested in getting to the finished product but rather looked for the kernel of truth that could stand for the general viewpoint of how to look at music, we are focusing on crucial musical elements in the students’ performance that would be easily glossed over in regular lessons, trying to cover a lot of repertoire. Here, varied outlooks can open different points of entry for further artistic exploration.” “Inquiry was at the center of Stern’s spirit,” explains Ara Guzelimian, who, comparing varying approaches through historic recordings, lectures on the differences in performance styles over time. While working with Stern, serving as artistic director of programming and education at Carnegie Hall, he says he “was hugely influenced by Stern’s unique concept of wrestling with multiple approaches. Stern did not believe in the usual master class setting, promoting submissiveness. Exploring collective inspiration was at the core of his idea of life as a musician.” Faculty and students at CMS’ Encounters (Photo credit: Lilian Finckel) This summer, 15 students were geared to experience inspirational encounters with their prominent coaches. Split up into their performance groups for four of the repertoire’s staples: Mozart’s quartet in D minor, K.421, Schubert’s Trio No.1 in B-flat major, Op.99, Beethoven’s trio in B-flat major and Brahm’s quintet in F minor, Op.34, students practiced and were coached together. The atmosphere is generously friendly, with temperamental discussions and casual jokes varying slightly depending on the different combinations of faculty members and ensemble groups. When it comes to the serious efforts dispersed behind the music stands, doubled up scores and insights shared from heartfelt convictions forged during years of firsthand experiences, there is no business as usual. During a fiery discussion, these mentors, sometimes with hands on demonstration, wild gesticulations, whistling, humming or rhythmic stomping, can sudden upon any minute detail that may unhinge or open up a world of musical ideas. The characteristic elements of Stern’s workshops continue to live on in these interactions, even during a tight schedule of coaching sessions: “Mr. Stern opposes the idea of the master class and prefers teaching with others. This is chamber teaching of chamber music,” writes Philip Setzer, violinist of the Emerson String Quartet, of his firsthand experience working with Stern in an article, published in 2000 in the New York Times. Everyone working under CMS’ Encounters faculty has been influenced by decisive moments and prolific individuals in their lives, which led them to careers in music. And while each of the coaches brings their own differently-flavored personalities and viewpoints as well as specific instrumental expertise to the sessions, it becomes obvious early on that the success of the workshops’ structural dynamic comes through its reflection on chamber music’s own distinct platform – making music in intimate collaboration, keeping it fresh for the students and the faculty. Students’ work is under scrutiny from different angles throughout the sessions. Pianists mixing into strings’ fingerings and violinists suggest the pianist’s singing tone does not project enough. Sound a little intense? Perhaps, but the insightful disagreements between coaches not only keeps the process colorful, but can lead to eye-opening realizations. Performance at Alice Tully Hall, Sahun Hong, piano; Stephen Waarts,violin; James Jeonghwan Kim, cello – Franz Schubert Trio No.1 in B-flat major, D.898, Op.99 (Photo credit: Cherylynn Tsushima) Final performance at Alice Tully Hall: Jenny Chen, piano; Petery Ilvonen, violin; Brandon Garbot, violin; Cong Wu, viola; Jiyoung Lee, cello – Johannes Brahms Quintet in F minor, Op.34 (Photo credit: Cherylynn Tsushima) A better balance between players, more expressiveness and fine-tuned changes in tempi, and coherence in color and rhythm are noticeable after each session, but the students’ most important lessons lie deeper than just surface improvements in their playing and collaboration. The students have not just been prepared to perform in a successful concert at Alice Tully Hall, which evidenced much of the sessions’ fruitful advice. They have not just partaken in a beautiful performance of a Schubert trio or a Brahms quintet. These students will remember the nods towards exploring further, and look to carry on the musical discussion they’ve become a part of in these workshops for years to come, and perhaps even inspire others in turn.
Barbican, London The luminous beauty of Perahia at his best was missing in a performance that struggled on its way to the biggest piano sonata of allNext season at the Barbican, Murray Perahia will devote himself to Beethoven, playing all five piano concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, as well as giving a solo recital devoted to the composer. The main work in his latest appearance was by Beethoven, too – the biggest of all the piano sonatas, the Hammerklavier Op 106.When Perahia is at his best, one can only wonder at the polish and luminous beauty of his playing, even when some of his interpretative details are less convincing. But this never became one of those occasions. As if to counteract the major-key assertiveness of the Hammerklavier to follow, the first half had been made up of works in which minor keys and introspection predominated. Haydn’s F minor Variations sounded as wistfully Schubertian as ever, but the performance of Mozart’s A minor Sonata K 310 was a fierce, almost intimidating exercise in Sturm und Drang, and Brahms’ final set of piano pieces, Op 119, never evoked the confessional intimacy they can in the early numbers, or became convincingly affirmative in the final rhapsody, which sometimes seemed to take Perahia out of his technical comfort zone, too. Continue reading...
Great composers of classical music