Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Monday, July 13, 2020

Erdogan Defies World – UNESCO statement on Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Erdogan Defies World, Orders Hagia Sophia to be Turned Into Mosque

By Tasos Kokkinidis

Greek Reporter — July 10, 2020

Turkey's top administrative court, the Council of State, announced on Friday that the 1934 conversion of Constantinople's Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, paving the way for its reconversion into a mosque despite strong international opposition.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then issued a decree to formally declare Hagia Sophia as a mosque, minutes after the Council of State annulled the 1934-dated decision.

Erdogan's decree cited the Council of State's verdict as the basis of his move for the transfer of the powers concerning the use of the Hagia Sophia to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

In a message on Twitter, Erdogan offered his "best wishes" to the Directorate.

The Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reports that crowds were observed to be gathering in front of Hagia Sophia after news broke out on the status change.

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was central to the Christian Byzantine empire and is now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

The move has sparked international outrage, as well as strong condemnation from religious figures, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, who said a conversion would disappoint Christians and "fracture" East and West.

These are considered especially brave words since the Patriarch's seat is still within the city of Istanbul.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow, said turning the priceless edifice back into a mosque would "threaten Christianity".

Ambassador Sam Brownback, who serves as the US Ambassador of Religious Freedom, urged Turkey recently to abandon plans to reconvert the sixth century monument into a mosque.

"Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual and cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world", Brownback said in a tweet two weeks ago.

"We call on the Government of Turkey to maintain it as a UNESCO World Heritage site and to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum", the ambassador added.

A number of officials from the nation of Greece, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Greek-American Representative from Florida Gus Bilirakis have also strongly cautioned Turkey to keep the status quo regarding the hallowed building.

The longtime Florida representative says that he has repeatedly spoken to President Trump and Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and members of the National Security Council as well as Ambassador Brownback regarding the "serious threat" of Hagia Sophia's purported reconversion into a mosque.

"We bring this up all the time", Bilirakis stated, adding that he also speaks regularly to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the subject.


UNESCO statement on Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Paris, July 10, 2020

Hagia Sophia: UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, and calls for the universal value of World Heritage to be preserved

The Director-General of UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, to change the status of Hagia Sophia. This evening, she shared her serious concerns with the Ambassador of Turkey to UNESCO.

Hagia Sophia is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a property inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. "Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue", said Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

This decision announced today raises the issue of the impact of this change of status on the property's universal value. States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories. UNESCO must be given prior notice of any such modifications, which, if necessary, are then examined by the World Heritage Committee.

UNESCO also recalls that the effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities and other stakeholders concerned by the property is necessary to preserve this heritage and highlight its uniqueness and significance. The purpose of this requirement is to protect and transmit the Outstanding Universal Value of heritage, and it is inherent to the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.

These concerns were shared with the Republic of Turkey in several letters, and again yesterday evening with the representative of the Turkish Delegation to UNESCO. It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was made without any form of dialogue or prior notice. UNESCO calls upon the Turkish authorities to initiate dialogue without delay, in order to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage, the state of conservation of which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session.

"It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site's moveable property, or the site's management", stressed Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture. Such measures could constitute breaches of the rules derived from the 1972 World Heritage Convention.


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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.3 in D minor – Michelle DeYoung, Philharmonia Voices, Tiffin Boys' Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the famous Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Philharmonia Voices (Ladies), the Tiffin Boys' Choir and the American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung perform Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.3 in D minor. Recorded at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, London, on October 1, 2017.

Gustav Mahler's monumental Third Symphony embraces heaven and Earth, nature and love. He deploys a huge orchestra, choirs and a solo singer to draw his listeners into a rich and compelling musical landscape.

It's a work that means a lot to us at the Philharmonia Orchestra. Back in 1983, it was the first piece we played with an unknown young Finnish conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen. We hit it off straight away, and he's been our Principal Conductor since 2008.

In October 2017, we returned to this epic piece with Esa-Pekka for Mahler 3: Live from London, a live stream project watched by an audience of 126,000 worldwide.

Source: Philharmonia Orchestra (London, UK)

The Third is Gustav Mahler's longest Symphony, in six movements and lasting nearly two hours. Mahler's concept of the symphony as a world unto itself finds its complete exposition here in the highly diverse styles and elements, creating problems of continuity and coherence that he did not completely solve. The primary theme of the Third is Nature and Man's place therein, and its principal literary inspirations are Das Knaben Wunderhorn (as in the previous symphony) and Nietzsche. As in the Second Symphony, Mahler added words and voices to expand his means of expression and used material from one of his earlier Wunderhorn Songs. The original program ran like this: "The Joyful Knowledge: A Summer Morning's Dream". I. Pan Awakes: Summer Marches In; II. What the Meadow Flowers Tell Me; III. What the Creatures of the Forest Tell Me; IV. What Night Tells Me (Mankind); V. What the Morning Bells Tell Me (the Angels); VI. What Love Tells Me; and VII. The Heavenly Life (What the Child Tells Me). Ultimately, Mahler dropped the seventh movement and used it as the core around which he built the Fourth Symphony. The sum of this program represents Mahler's cosmological hierarchy at this point in his life and the Third Symphony as a whole is his most specific example of "world building" in artistic terms.

Kräftig. Entschieden. (Strongly and Confidently). This is the single longest sonata-form movement ever written. Mahler sets bizarre, primordial, and harsh brass and percussion rumblings depicting Pan's awakening in opposition to pastoral music of bird calls and light fanfares over tremulous strings and woodwind trillings. These elements are transformed into the ultimate example of Mahler's symphonic military marches. The entire movement covers a vast soundscape of imagery, from bold, assertive proclamation to harsh and grotesque fugal passages, to despairing outcries, to a lighthearted and popular sounding march tune.

Tempo di Menuetto. (Minuet Tempo). This is a light and folk-like dance movement in the style of the comic Wunderhorn Songs. It stands in sharp contrast to the weighty first movement.

Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast. (Moving, Scherzo-like, Without Haste). This movement quotes extensively from Mahler's song Ablösung im Sommer (Relief in the Summer) about a dead cuckoo. Its comic vein is interrupted twice, once by a sentimental posthorn solo, and later by a dramatic outburst symbolic of the great god Pan's intrusion into the peaceful summer.

Sehr langsam. Misterioso. Durchaus ppp. (Very Slow, Mysterious, Pianissimo Throughout). Here Mahler moves into a more metaphysical realm by setting Nietzsche's "Midnight Song" in this slow and haunting movement.

Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck. (Happy in Tempo, Saucily Bold in Expression). Boys and women's voices are used here to sing this angel's song about the redemption of sin from Das Knaben Wunderhorn. Mahler imitates church bells to delightful effect in this innocent and uplifting movement.

Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden. (Slow, Peaceful, Deeply Felt). A majestic and awesome Adagio concludes the Symphony in a hymn-like paean on love. It rises to a powerful climax as "Nature in its totality rings and resounds".

Source: Steven Coburn (

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

♪ Symphony No.3 in D minor (1893-1896)

i. Kräftig. Entschieden (Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In)
ii. Tempo di Menuetto, sehr mäßig (What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me)
iii. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast (What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me)
iv. Sehr langsam. Misterioso (What Man Tells Me)
v. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (What Man Tells Me)
vi. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden (What Love Tells Me)

Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano

Philharmonia Voices (Ladies)
Tiffin Boys' Choir

Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen

Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, London, October 1, 2017

(HD 1080p)

Keep the Philharmonia Playing: a message from Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958, Helsinki) is a Finnish orchestral conductor and composer. He is principal conductor and artistic advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, conductor laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and music director-designate of the San Francisco Symphony.

Esa-Pekka Salonen's restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. He is known as both a composer and conductor and is currently the Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor for London's Philharmonia Orchestra. He is the Music Director Designate of the San Francisco Symphony; the 2020-2021 season will be his first as Music Director. He is Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. He recently joined the faculty of LA's Colburn School, where he developed, leads, and directs the pre-professional Negaunee Conducting Program. He is the Conductor Laureate for both the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. Salonen co-founded – and from 2003 until 2018 served as the Artistic Director for – the annual Baltic Sea Festival, which invites celebrated artists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea.

Source: &

Based in London at the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonia creates thrilling performances for a global audience. Through its network of residencies, the Orchestra has a national footprint, serving communities across England both in performance and through its extensive outreach and engagement programme.

Founded in 1945, in part as a recording orchestra for the nascent home audio market, today the Philharmonia uses the latest digital technology to reach new audiences for symphonic music. The Philharmonia is led by Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, its Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor since 2008. Fellow Finn Santtu-Matias Rouvali takes over from Salonen as Principal Conductor in the 2021-2022 season.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the Philharmonia's strong digital programme has enabled the Orchestra to maintain an international presence, with streams of archive performances, educational films, and videos made at home by individual players giving an insight into the life of the Orchestra to a global audience.

The Philharmonia is a registered charity that relies on funding from a wide range of sources to deliver its programme and is proud to be generously supported by Arts Council England.


More photos

See also

Béla Bartók: Piano Concerto No.1 in A major – Yuja Wang, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu opera reopens its doors with a concert for plants

Photo by Nacho Doce (Reuters)

Nursery plants are seen placed in people's seats during a rehearsal as Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu opera reopens its doors with a concert for plants, to raise awareness about the importance of an audience after the coronavirus lockdown, in Barcelona, Spain on June 22, 2020.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu reopens its doors, in which the 2,292 seats of the auditorium will be occupied on this occasion by plants. It will be on 22 June, broadcast live online, when the UceLi Quartet string quartet performs Puccini's "Crisantemi" for this verdant public, brought in from local nurseries.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

18-year-old African-American cellist Mouhamed Cisse was shot and killed amid Philadelphia race protests

Mouhamed Cisse at Camp Encore-Coda in Maine
Shooting death of ‘brilliant’ musician Mouhamed Cisse, 18, rocks a close-knit community

By Julie Shaw

The Philadelphia Inquirer — June 8, 2020

Shortly before he died of a rare bone cancer, Alex Moll told his mother he needed her to do something for his young friend, Mouhamed Cisse.

"I want you to promise me to keep him going with his music", Moll, then a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student, told his mother in 2013.

Moll had started teaching Cisse how to play the cello when Cisse was a fourth grader at Lea Elementary. Melanie Moll, of Greenville, N.C., said her son was so excited when he first met Cisse. "He's really talented. It's really kind of amazing to see his talent", she recalled her son saying.

The family kept Alex's dying wish, helping Cisse attend a summer music camp in Maine from 2014 to 2019, broadening his horizons beyond his West Philly neighborhood.

Last week, Cisse, 18, a high school student with promising talents as a cellist and drummer, was fatally shot on a West Philadelphia street. No arrest has been made. "Homicide detectives are actively investigating this tragedy", Police Staff Inspector Sekou Kinebrew said Saturday.

Police have said that Cisse was walking with a 17-year-old boy on Hobart Street near Arch about 12 a.m. June 1, when both were shot. Cisse died shortly afterward at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. The 17-year-old was treated for a gunshot wound to the hand.

Manance Cisse, his mother, had gone to sleep about two hours earlier and at some point heard gunshots from outside, but went back to sleep, she said Sunday.

"This area is known for gunshots", said her older son, Aboubakar Cisse, 19. He said he was not at home that night because he was working in Ardmore at his job as a studio engineer.

Cisse's older brother said Sunday that he learned from his brother's childhood friend, another 17-year-old, that he, Cisse, and the 17-year-old shot in the hand were walking to a 24-hour store at 56th and Market Streets when three males with masks walked toward them, and at least one of them fired.

"I don't believe they were targets", Aboubakar Cisse said. "I believe they were mistaken targets."

He at times interpreted for his mother, who came to the United States from the Ivory Coast in West Africa in 1999.

"I'm hurt. I can't sleep now. I pray for Mouhamed", she said.

Cisse's death touched the classical music scene in Philadelphia and beyond as well as the Philadelphia School District community, with more than 1,000 people donating online to a fund for his family.

He played cello with the nonprofit Musicopia String Orchestra, a youth orchestra, from 2013 to 2019. And he auditioned and got into the Philadelphia School District's All City Middle School String Orchestra.

He first learned the cello through a Penn program called Music and Social Change, run by the university's Molly McGlone, which is how he met Penn student and musician Alex Moll in the 2012-2013 school year. Penn students went to Lea Elementary to help teach music to students. Cisse continued on with his lessons the next year when Lea got its own instrumental music teacher.

"Mouhamed rose to the top as definitely the most musically talented in the school", McGlone said Friday. "We realized how strong he was at playing the rhythms." Cisse excelled at both bucket drumming and cello, she said.

When Alex Moll died, he left $15,000 of his inheritance from his grandfather for his mother to help Cisse continue studying cello. "Music could be the thing that could get him out", Melanie Moll said her son told her.

With that money and a scholarship from Camp Encore/Coda in Maine, she sent Cisse to the camp for the last six summers, and provided him with his own cello and supplemental lessons, she said.

"He was a very special person to me and I will miss him like he was one of my own", she said, crying.

Jamie Saltman, who runs the camp with his wife, said Friday that there's been a "tremendous outpouring of grief, best wishes, surprise and shock" from people in the close-knit music community over Cisse's death.

"This kid... was snatched away from us", he said.

On Friday, 100 people participated in a Zoom memorial service for Cisse, including the principal of the U School, in North Philadelphia, where Cisse was a junior. Also joining in were faculty from West Philly's Lea Elementary, a K-8 school, which Cisse attended; family and friends; and members of the music community who knew him in Philadelphia and from the Maine summer camp.

"When I think about Mouhamed, I think about a young man that was just brilliant in so many ways", U School principal Neil Geyette said during the memorial.

He said he would get frustrated when Cisse wouldn't tell people about his secret talents. "He always wanted to keep those close to his chest", Geyette said.

The city offers a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in any homicide. Tipsters can be anonymous and call homicide at 215-686-3334 or the tip line at 215-686-TIPS (8477).


Manance Cisse holds a photo of her son Mouhamed Cisse in her West Philadelphia home.
Photo by Yong Kim

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Influential composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki dies aged 86 — Obituary

Krzysztof Penderecki at the Krakow opera house in 2008. Photo by Jacek Bednarczyk

The Guardian — March 29, 2020

Polish musician won numerous awards, scored The Exorcist, and was admired by rock stars

Leading composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki has died at the age of 86 after a long illness, his family announced this morning.

The Polish-born Penderecki was a major figure in contemporary music whose compositions reached millions through celebrated film scores, which included for William Friedkin's The Exorcist, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and David Lynch's Wild at Heart.

Penderecki's stated aim as an avant-gardist in the early 1960s was to "liberate sound beyond all tradition", and his emotionally charged experimental 1960 work Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, for 52 strings, brought him to international attention and acclaim when he was only 26. Over a long career he has also written operas, choral works and concertos, and won multiple awards, including four Grammys, most recently for best choral performance in 2016.

One of his best known fans is Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, who collaborated with the composer in 2012. "His pieces make such wonderful sounds", said Greenwood. "I think a lot of people might think his work is stridently dissonant or painful on the ears. But because of the complexity of what's happening – particularly in pieces such as Threnody and Polymorphia, and how the sounds are bouncing around the concert hall, it becomes a very beautiful experience when you're there. It's not like listening to feedback, and it's not dissonant. It's something else. It's a celebration of so many people making music together and it's like – wow, you're watching that happen."

Penderecki had been tested for coronavirus after his carer was diagnosed with the illness, but the composer's result was negative, his daughter Beata Penderecka said.


Krzysztof Penderecki obituary

By Keith Potter

The Guardian — March 29, 2020

The Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, who has died aged 86, was an outstanding representative of musical modernism's success in the 1960s. From the early 70s he became equally emblematic of the subsequent failure of so many of that modernism's principal pioneers to sustain a lifelong career without abandoning their original principles.

In Penderecki's case, that appeared to mean the substitution of his early trademark emphasis on sound itself, the innovative textures of his choral and orchestral music replacing themes and tonality as the basis for musical construction, with a more lyrical and Romantic style that seemed more like a continuation of 19th-century compositional concerns than a radical reappraisal of received materials.

The composer's earlier manner reached its apogee in the St Luke Passion for two vocal soloists, reciter, three mixed choruses, children's choir and orchestra; its world premiere took place in March 1966 in Münster Cathedral.

As the German critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt put it: "A large ecclesiastical choral work, composed by a representative of the new music in socialist Poland, performed for the first time in a centre of West German Catholicism, in the former bishop's seat of the daring anti-Nazi Graf von Galen [a prominent critic of the Third Reich when bishop of Münster during the 40s]: this gives occasion to a variety of thoughts". Many performances worldwide of the Passion took place over the next few years.

Penderecki's later approach is perhaps best exemplified by the First Violin Concerto, written in 1977 for Isaac Stern; by the Polish Requiem for four soloists, chorus and orchestra (1984, revised in 1993), many sections of which are dedicated to individuals or mass martyrs from Polish history; or by the Credo for five vocal soloists, chorus, children’s choir and orchestra (1998), in which Bach and Polish sources are encountered in a broadly 19th-century harmonic idiom.

Krzysztof Penderecki, Gdańsk, 2008
Penderecki was born in Dębica, in south-eastern Poland, the youngest of three children of Zofia (nee Wittgenstein) and Tadeusz Penderecki. His father was a lawyer, and an amateur violinist and pianist. Armenian ancestry came from a grandmother, who took the young Penderecki to an Armenian church in Krakow; this aspect of the composer's heritage was highlighted in 2015 with the premiere of a new choral work, Psalm No.3, commemorating the Armenian Genocide of 1915, at Carnegie Hall, New York.

Composition studies with Artur Malawski and Stanislaw Wiechowicz at the State Higher School of Music (now known as the Academy) in Kraków (1954-1958) led to his being appointed a teacher of composition there himself. This was only five years after the death of Stalin; and, despite the advent of the Warsaw autumn international festival of contemporary music in 1956, communist rule in Poland discouraged modernist tendencies.

Penderecki himself was then still writing music essentially neoclassical in style, and in 1958 it must have looked as though the young composer was set for a safe but dull career of merely local significance.

In the following year, however, came a rise both to sudden maturity and to fame surely as swift as that experienced by any composer at any period. Penderecki had, anonymously, as its terms required, submitted three works to a competition organised by the Union of Polish Composers.

When his name turned out to be on the scores winning all the top three prizes, the works involved – Strophes, Emanations and Psalms of David – all immediately became well-known in European avant-garde circles, and commissioners of new works quickly beat a path to his door.

The reasons for Penderecki's increasing popularity during this time clearly lay in the fact that his reliance on sound itself, rather than on melody or harmony as such – an approach that came to be called "sonorism" – was allied to a highly expressive manner that quickly resonated with listeners beyond the avant garde, promising to create a new public for contemporary music.

The works that Penderecki now began to write – deploying sound masses including unusual instrumental and vocal techniques, and combining conventional and more graphic methods of notation – extended this coupling of experimental sound-world and immediacy of expression to develop a texture-based language of assertive individuality.

In the St Luke Passion, the use of chant, recitative and chorales, not to mention the BACH motif (using German note-names, B flat-A-C-B natural) and occasional major triads, helped to make it famous as an instinctively dramatic reworking of a genre familiar from the baroque period. The work was also very timely since, despite emerging from communist Poland, it expressed a spirit of post-second world war reconciliation. Penderecki's Passion became regarded as a kind of avant-garde counterpart to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, premiered only four years before it.

An expressive approach to new materials and means such as Penderecki's found contemporary parallels in the outputs not only of other Polish composers such as Henryk Górecki and, to some extent, Witold Lutosławski, but also in those of Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti. Part of the broader agenda here was a concern to find a way forward that addressed the problems of musical structure and comprehensibility raised by the so-called total serialism of such composers as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and that yet retained a radical attitude to musical materials.

West Germany, in particular, opened its doors to Penderecki in the 60s: the publisher Hermann Moeck and Heinrich Strobel – a radio producer who also ran the Donaueschingen Music Days – were soon prominent champions. It was not long before Penderecki was showered with awards, both in that country and elsewhere.

One of the first of these, a Unesco prize, went to his most famous early composition before the St Luke Passion, his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960). Written for 52 strings and originally known as 8'37" (the work's length), Threnody is classic early Penderecki: its vividly unconventional writing for massed strings, including quarter-tones, tremolos and multiple glissandi, allied – after the composer changed the title – to highly emotive and political subject matter.

This combination would serve him well both at this period and later. Indeed, just as the highly expressive, sometimes programmatically charged, approach of other early works such as Polymorphia for 48 strings (1961), with its thunderously concluding C major chord, or the Dies Irae for three vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra (1967), which commemorates the dead of Auschwitz, was subsequently carried over into the more conventional sound-world of Penderecki's output from the 70s onwards, so the potentially incompatible range of musical materials to be found in some of his 60s compositions can sometimes be detected in his output too.

The Polish Requiem and Credo offer two contrasting approaches here: the former incorporating 60s sonoristic effects, the latter more consistently conventional in idiom.

More rigorously modernist commentators soon criticised Penderecki's scores of the 60s for cheap eclecticism, producing "effects-without-causes" music.

Subsequently, his move into what was often called "neo-Romanticism" supplied them with fresh ammunition, as the view of Penderecki as a "sheep in wolf's clothing" appeared vindicated. Now that most of the more obviously avant-garde surface aspects of his music had largely disappeared, thematic and tonal underpinning could show through, unencumbered by any remaining equivocations about expressing musical and extra-musical ideas as approachably as possible to a public for whom most contemporary music remains anathema.

Yet those early works, which at the time struck so many as so arresting in their dramatic challenge to convention, now seem – for some listeners at least – shallow, simplistic, or even opportunistic. Penderecki's subsequent manner, meanwhile, retained the endless chromatic melodic sequences and tritones of the earlier manner in the context of a thematic tonality that could now prove simply banal.

A notable example is the Second Symphony, subtitled the Christmas Symphony (1980), with its quotation of the carol Silent Night: this seems inadequate to the task of handling the religious and political meanings with which it is often charged. Some would argue that the composer had long since proved to be a spent force.

Penderecki's later, as well as his earlier music, retained some champions, however; both before and after the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981, the composer's works were adopted as a representation of the struggle between church and state. This did not stop Penderecki from maintaining links with the Polish political establishment in the years immediately after 1981, something that his compatriots Lutosławski and Górecki – the latter also directly linked, like Penderecki, with the Solidarity movement – refused to do.

Works such as the Te Deum for four vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra (1980) – dedicated to Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Kraków, who became Pope John Paul II in October 1978 – and the Polish Requiem – both of which quote old Polish hymns – should be understood in this light.

Other signs of Penderecki's acceptance included the number of leading international soloists who premiered works by the composer, among them Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom the Second Cello Concerto (1982) was written, and Anne-Sophie Mutter, for whom both the Second Violin Concerto, subtitled Metamorphosen (1995), and the capriccio for solo violin solo, entitled La Follia, premiered in 2013, were composed.

Four operas – beginning with a suitably lurid Devils of Loudun (1969), based on a book by Aldous Huxley – received prominent performances, if not very many productions in the UK. Parts of this work, as well as his String Quartet and Kanon for Orchestra and Tape, were used on the soundtrack to the film The Exorcist (1973); and Penderecki's music featured in films including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990), Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men (2006) and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010).

The most recent of the composer's eight symphonies – subtitled Lieder der Verganglichkeit (Songs of Transience), for three vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra, a 50-minute choral symphony in 12 movements setting 19th- and early 20th-century German poets – was completed in 2005 and revised in 2008.

Penderecki also worked frequently, and internationally, as a conductor – including, notably, of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich as well as his own. He was rector of the Krakow Academy (1972-1987), and taught at Yale University (1973-1978).

He is survived by his second wife, Elżbieta Solecka, whom he married in 1965, and by their son and daughter; and by a daughter from his first marriage.


Krzysztof Penderecki conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem"
at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Friday, March 27, 2020

Australian-Chinese violinist Christian Li becomes youngest ever Decca Classics signing

Photo by Jess Brohier

The Strad — March 20, 2020

The 12-year-old is also the youngest ever winner at the Menuhin Competition

Decca Classics has announced its youngest ever signing, to 12-year-old Australian-Chinese violinist Christian Li. The first release on his debut recording is "La Ronde des Lutins" (Dance of the Goblins) by Antonio Bazzini, for violin and piano, and further tracks will be released throughout 2020.

Li came to international attention in 2018 when he became the youngest-ever winner at the Menuhin Competition, jointly winning (with Singaporean violinist Chloe Chua) the Junior first prize in Geneva when he was aged ten. Last year he made debuts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. This year he is scheduled to perform at the 2020 Australian Festival of Chamber Music with British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in August.

Speaking about his debut recording, Li said: "I’m so excited to have signed to Decca Classics just after my 12th birthday, and to be releasing my very first recording! I love playing the violin, and really hope you enjoy listening".

Helen Lewis, executive producer at Decca Classics, said: "Christian's musicianship and technical mastery of his instrument at such a young age is truly astounding, and all of us at Decca look forward to supporting him on the exciting journey ahead".

Li was born in Melbourne in 2007 and began learning violin at the age of five. In 2014 he won first prize in the Golden Beijing violin competition in China, and in 2017 he received first prize in the young artist violin category of the Semper Music International Competition in Italy. He went on to give solo and chamber music performances as part of the Semper Music International Festival and Summer Academy, and was also selected to perform at Carnegie Hall Isaac Stern Auditorium as part of the American Protégé Showcase 10-year Anniversary concert.

In 2019 he performed with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at the Sydney City Recital Hall and the Melbourne Recital Centre; he also gave UK debut recitals at the Cheltenham, Harrogate and Gower International Festivals and performed in Tel Aviv and Norway.

Li studies with Dr Robin Wilson, Head of Violin at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne and plays a 3/4 size violin made by Dom Nicolo Amati in 1733, on loan from Reuning & Son Violins Boston, and a rare 19th century bow made by Pierre Simon, on loan from Florian Leonard Fine Violins, London.


Antonio Bazzini (1818-1897)

♪ The Dance of the Goblins (La Ronde des Lutins), Scherzo fantastique, Op.25 (1852)

(HD 1080p)

See also

Christian Li – All the posts

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.8 in E flat major “Symphony of a Thousand” – Meagan Miller, Ricarda Merbeth, Eleonore Marguerre, Claudia Mahnke, Gerhild Romberger, Nikolai Schukoff, Boaz Daniel, Albert Dohmen – Maîtrise de Radio France, Choeur de Radio France, Choeur philharmonique de Munich – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Théâtre Antique d'Orange, July 2019, HD 1080p)

Under Jukka-Pekka Saraste's baton, the Maîtrise de Radio France, the Choeur de Radio France, the Choeur philharmonique de Munich, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Orchestre National de France, and the soloists Meagan Miller (soprano), Ricarda Merbeth (soprano), Eleonore Marguerre (soprano), Claudia Mahnke (mezzo-soprano), Gerhild Romberger (mezzo-soprano), Nikolai Schukoff (tenor), Boaz Daniel (baritone) and Albert Dohmen (bass) perform Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand"). Filmed in the Théâtre Antique d'Orange, France, on July 29, 2019.

Chorégies d'Orange (The Orange Festival) is held every summer at the old 9000-seat Roman amphitheatre in Orange. The festival, dating from 1869 and the oldest festival in France, is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a special performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.8, using an exceptionally large orchestra. Although the performance will not reproduce Mahler's original orchestration, it nevertheless means using the 24 first violins which the composer originally requested for the first performance of this work in Munich in 1910.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

♪ Symphony No.8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand" (1906-1907)

i. Hymnus "Veni creator spiritus"
ii. Final Scene from Goethe's "Faust"

Meagan Miller, soprano..........Magna Peccatrix
Ricarda Merbeth, soprano..........Una poenitentium
Eleonore Marguerre, soprano..........Mater gloriosa
Claudia Mahnke, mezzo-soprano..........Mulier Samaritana
Gerhild Romberger, mezzo-soprano..........Maria Aegyptica
Nikolai Schukoff, tenor..........Doctor Marianus
Boaz Daniel, baritone..........Pater ecstaticus
Albert Dohmen, bass..........Pater profondus

Quentin Guérillot, organ

Maîtrise de Radio France (conductor: Sofi Jeannin)
Choeur de Radio France (conductor: Martina Batič)
Choeur philharmonique de Munich (conductor: Andreas Herrmann)

Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Orchestre National de France

Conductor: Jukka-Pekka Saraste

Video director: Andy Sommer

Théâtre Antique d'Orange, France, July 29, 2019

(HD 1080p)

Symphony No.8 in E flat major, Symphony by Gustav Mahler, known as "Symphony of a Thousand" for the great number of performers required, vastly more than were needed for any other symphony to that time. The work premiered September 12, 1910, in Munich to thoroughly favorable notice. With its massive performer requirements, Mahler's Symphony No.8 is not frequently performed; it is, instead, reserved for grand and celebratory occasions, though the composer's own correspondence suggests that this is exactly how he intended the work to be heard.

Mahler's Symphony No.8 might have been his last. A superstitious man, he noted that two previous important Viennese symphonists, Beethoven and Schubert, had both died after completing nine symphonies; he believed that he, too, could not survive beyond a ninth. Therefore, he intended to stop at eight, that is, with the composition of this particular symphony. Although he did eventually write more symphonic works, at the time that he created this piece, it was seen as a final statement, as the last symphony of a man who excelled in the field. Thus, it had to be the most magnificent of all.

After a full year of work, interrupted only by encroaching heart disease (he had been diagnosed with subacute bacterial endocarditis) and conducting duties both in Vienna and in New York City, Mahler produced a musical marathon, a ninety-minute symphony scored for a large orchestra with organ, adult and children's choirs, and eight vocal soloists. The myriad performers brought to the new symphony its nickname, "Symphony of a Thousand"; indeed, its premiere performance featured 1,028 performers, including an orchestra of more than 100, three choruses, and the vocal soloists.

The work's philosophy is as vast as its population. As Mahler described it to a friend, "Imagine that the whole universe bursts into song. We hear no longer human voices, but those of planets and suns circling in their orbits". The symphony is cast in two expansive sections. The first is based on the ancient hymn for Pentecost, Veni creator spiritus, which begins, "Come, creator spirit, dwell in our minds; fill with divine grace the hearts of thy servants". Such a text, though of sacred origin, can also be interpreted artistically; it is impossible to be certain which way, if either, Mahler intended.

For the symphony's second half, Mahler turned to a more recent source, though one still steeped in spirituality. Here, Mahler set the final scene from Part Two of Goethe's epic drama-in-verse, Faust. This is not the familiar portion in which Faust sells his soul to the devil in return for youth and love; rather, Part Two takes place decades later when Faust's earthly misadventures have at last come to an end, and the devil is seeking to take possession of his recruit. He fails, losing Faust to the angels, and in the final scene, the one that so enraptured Mahler, the angels and other spirits are ascending to heaven with Faust's redeemed soul.

It was not everyday material for a symphony, and Mahler was wary of how it would be received, but he need not have worried. The premiere in Munich on September 12, 1910, with additional performers recruited from Vienna and Leipzig, was greeted by a 30-minute standing ovation from an audience of 3,000. That the composer had spent the past several years in New York City leading both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, and that his health was known to be tenuous, might have contributed to the favorable reception. However, it is undeniably a masterful piece of craftsmanship, benefiting from Mahler's years at the helm of symphonies and opera companies alike and his genius at mustering the grandest of performing forces.

These performing forces included not only the usual suspects and the aforementioned organ, but also four harps, celesta, piano, harmonium, mandolin, and an offstage brass ensemble – in addition to an abundance of brass in the orchestra itself. Woodwinds are also supplemented, with everything from piccolo to contrabassoon, and the percussion section includes glockenspiel, bells, tam-tam, and triangle, for a wealth of musical timbres. Mahler had spent the past two decades conducting orchestras, and he knew well which of those resources best suited the moods he had in mind.

The symphony opens with resplendent organ and chorus. Orchestral support, particularly from brilliant brass, further reinforces the celebratory mood. Reflective moods will appear, as Mahler makes use of his numerous vocal soloists, often shifting quickly from one to another. However, orchestral color is never long neglected; it has a principal role to play not only in support to the chorus and the specific meaning of phrases of text, but also in transitional instrumental passages, in which the orchestra serves to continue driving the musical motion forward.

Even more expansive is the symphony's second, Faust-derived portion. Here, a spacious orchestral introduction first haunting, then increasingly bold in character, sets the stage for ghostly lines from the male chorus evoking a forest scene. Male solo voices begin to speak of Faust's rapture in coming to God, with orchestral parts often surging in expression of those visions. Women's voices and those of the boys' chorus Mahler generally reserves for choirs of angels, though even here, he does not neglect his orchestra. When the women are singing of breaking away from earthly burdens, Mahler includes a violin solo, nimble or flowing in turn. One might suppose it represents the soul on the wing, and in later portions of this half of the Symphony No.8, the violin again returns to the spotlight; Mahler has not declared in the scoring that there is specifically a solo violin, but that is the ultimate effect.

That Faust, despite his adventure with Mephistopheles is now welcomed to heaven, is made clear with the "Neige, neige" scene. Here, it is not the French word of that spelling, which would imply snow, but rather German (after all, the text author was Goethe); in that language, it is a verb form for "approaching". The soul that here welcomes Faust is that of Gretchen, whom in the drama's earlier half, Faust had so wronged, though Mahler underscores her joy at seeing Faust again with graceful strings and light-hearted woodwinds. It is just before the "Neige" passage that the mandolin makes its brief appearance, in a serenade-like scene as three female souls are absolved of their sins; much the same effect could have been achieved with pizzicato orchestral strings, but Mahler had a more specific aural vision.

For the symphony's closing ten minutes, Mahler chooses to alternate between peaceful rapture and glorious grandeur. Had he indeed ended his symphonic career at this point, as evidence suggests was his intention, one could scarcely imagine a more resplendent way to draw down the curtain.

Source: Betsy Schwarm (

More photos

See also

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand" – Manuela Uhl, Juliana Di Giacomo, Kiera Duffy, Anna Larsson, Charlotte Hellekant, Burkhard Fritz, Brian Mulligan, Alexander Vinogradov – Simón Bolívar National Youth Choir of Venezuela, Niños Cantores de Venezuela, Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, Schola Juvenil de Venezuela – Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (Caracas 2012, HD 1080p)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Robert Schumann: Waldszenen – Peter Serkin

Peter Serkin performs Robert Schumann's Waldszenen, Op.82, at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Studzinski Recital Hall, in Brunswick, Maine, United States, on July 29, 2018.

Schumann's Waldszenen ("Forest scenes") is a cycle of fragments, written in a matter of days over New Year, 1849; it was his last major cycle for solo piano. The forest that it explores was a subject close to the heart of any self-respecting Romantic, be they writer, poet, artist or musician. Its appeal lay in its contrast: nature at its most beautiful but also an unknowable place. But there's more to it than that, for it is not simply about "nature" per se but the notion of man's position within that wilderness, and indeed how engagement with such a thing could in turn affect man's own view of himself; the external as a means of examining the internal, in other words. Certainly, in Waldszenen this is no objective foray into the woods but a very personal reaction to this imagined landscape; and equally striking is the sense that each piece represents just a shard of a larger experience, an aural snapshot, if you will.

On the whole it is the more bucolic aspect that Schumann explores, though these pieces are not without darker shadows. And while they may be technically fairly straightforward, their changeability calls for the quickest of reactions and a wealth of subtle nuance.

All seems well in the first number (Eintritt, "Entry"), its gently murmuring theme welcoming us into the forest in the most benign manner possible. The energetic Jäger auf der Lauer ("Hunters on the lookout"), horn calls aplenty, gives the lie to the idea that Schumann – beset by personal demons by this point in his life – had lost his compositional way, and there's a delightful mock-seriosity to the throwaway ending. The mood switches again in the next two pieces, Einsame Blumen ("Lonely flowers") and Verrufene Stelle ("Place of evil fame"), tinged in turn by sadness and then a persistent unease that is only banished by the rollicking Freundliche Landschaft ("Friendly landscape"), which is followed by a study in consolation and reassurance, Herberge ("Shelter"). With No.7, the famous Vogel als Prophet ("Bird as prophet"), Schumann seems to reach almost proto-Impressionistic realms, its central chorale-like section lending it an almost sacred gravitas. We return to compositionally safer, more pastoral territory with Jagdlied ("Hunting song"), which presents an image of the play of horses' hooves and the jolly red coats of the hunstmen, a notably child-friendly vision. With Abschied ("Farewell"), the innocence of the opening seems to be regained as we bid the forest a poignant farewell.

Source: Harriet Smith (

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

♪ Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op.82 (1848-1849)

i. Entritt (Entry). Nicht zu schnell, in B flat major
ii. Jäger auf der Lauer (Hunters on the lookout). Hochst lebhaft, in D minor
iii. Einsame Blumen (Lonely Flowers). Einfach, in B flat major
iv. Verrufene Stelle (Haunted Place). Zeimlich langsam, in D minor
v. Freundliche Landschaft (Friendly Landscape). Schnell, in B flat major
vi. Herberge (Wayside Inn). Mässig, in E flat major
vii. Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet). Langsam, sehr zart, in G minor
viii. Jagdlied (Hunting Song). Rasch, kräftig, in E flat major
ix. Abschied (Farewell). Nicht schnell, in B flat major

Peter Serkin, piano

Bowdoin International Music Festival, Studzinski Recital Hall, Brunswick, Maine, United States, July 29, 2018

(HD 720p)

The American pianist Peter Serkin, who has died at the age of 72, had an exceptional musical pedigree: his father was the pianist Rudolf Serkin and his maternal grandfather the violinist and conductor Adolf Busch. Serkin's musical sympathies were enormously broad, and though he played a huge amount of contemporary music he never liked to be referred to as a new music "champion", he merely felt playing the music of his time part of his role as a musician.

He entered Philadelphia's Curtis Institute in 1958, aged 11, and studied with Mieczysław Horszowski, Lee Luvisi and his own father. He made his debut the following year at the Malboro Music Festival which then led to major engagements with top-flight orchestras and conductors like the Cleveland and George Szell and the Philadelphia and Eugene Ormandy.

In 1968, aged 21, he took a break from music, moving with his wife and young child to Mexico. It was apparently hearing the music of JS Bach on a neighbour’s radio that convinced him of his need to play again. He returned and continued a major career which also included, in 1973, forming the chamber group Tashi (with Ida Kavafian, violin, Fred Sherry, cello, and Richard Stoltzman, clarinet), initially assembled to play Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (which they performed over 100 times and recorded in 1975). Together they commissioned numerous works and recorded for RCA. (The group reformed in 2008 for a tour to mark Messiaen's centenary.)

Serkin's repertoire ranged from Bach's Goldberg Variations (which he recorded five times, the first at 18 and the last at 70) to numerous modern works written especially for him by major composers including Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio, Peter Lieberson, Oliver Knussen, Alexander Goehr, Tōru Takemitsu and Charles Wuorinen.

He recorded extensively for RCA, and among his finest releases were Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus ("Messiaen's harmonic colours take on a luminous quality under his fingers, the rhythmic ostinati are imperiously compelling; the dynamic range, immense, yet always within musical bounds; the total effect, overwhelming" wrote Felix Aprahamian in Gramophone's December 1976 issue), a Takemitsu programme, an album of six Mozart piano concertos with the ECO and Alexander Schneider, the Brahms violin sonatas with Pamela Frank (for Decca) and an album of music for two pianists with András Schiff (for ECM New Series). Serkin was unusual among top-flight pianists in playing on both modern pianos and period fortepianos, using a Graf instrument to record the last six Beethoven piano sonatas (for Musical Concepts).

Serkin taught at Curtis, Juilliard, Yale and, latterly, at Bard College in Upstate New York near where he lived.


It all began in May 1964, when Bowdoin College Music Department chair Robert K. Beckwith invited Lewis Kaplan to propose a concert series to take place at the College that summer. Thus the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival was born. After a successful first season of concerts, the Festival returned in 1965 with 19 students and a cadre of contemporary composers including Elliott Carter, Meyer Kupferman, George Rochberg, and Morton Subotnick. The Festival's contemporary music component became known as the Charles E. Gamper Festival, after its chief patron. In 1966, George Crumb made the first of many Festival appearances for the world premiere of his Eleven Echoes of Autumn. This solidified a tradition of commissioning and offering residencies to notable composers.

Early students who have gone on to prominence, such as Emanuel Ax and Fred Sherry, helped to cement the Festival's reputation as an attractive summer program for top musicians to hone their skills. With alumni in many major orchestras, chamber groups, and conservatories worldwide, that vibrant reputation continues.

The Festival grew rapidly as a program of the Bowdoin College Music Department through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, changing its name along the way to the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival. In 1997, the Festival became an independent non-profit organization, and in 2004 changed its name to the Bowdoin International Music Festival in recognition of its world-wide reach.

In September 2014, David Ying and Phillip Ying, members of the famed Ying Quartet, succeeded co-founder Lewis Kaplan as the Festival’s Artistic Directors. Through their leadership, the Festival engages exceptional students and enthusiastic audiences through world-class education and performances. After a competitive admissions process, over 270 students are invited to attend the Festival and study with distinguished faculty and guest artists. Audiences are invited to more than 175 free events such as student performances, lectures, masterclasses, studio classes, and community concerts.

The Festival continues to thrive, attracting record numbers of applicants, continuing to build a diverse and world-renowned faculty, and reaching thousands of music lovers across the globe.


More photos

See also

“Remembering Peter Serkin, the Searching Pianist”